The Semmelweis reflex or “Semmelweis effect” is a metaphor for the reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms.
The term originated from the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered that childbed fever mortality rates reduced ten-fold when doctors washed their hands with a chlorine solution between patients and, most particularly, after an autopsy (at the institution where Semmelweis worked, a university hospital, physicians performed autopsies on every deceased patient). Semmelweis’s decision stopped the ongoing contamination of patients—mostly pregnant women—with “cadaverous particles”. His hand-washing suggestions were rejected by doctors of his time, often for non-medical reasons. For instance, some doctors refused to believe that a gentleman’s hands could transmit disease.
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