Between ridicule and recognition

Most scientists who have changed the paradigm in their fields, go through three stages – ridicule, neglect and eventually recognition. Each of those stages may last anywhere between a couple of years to decades. By the time they are recognized, several of them are already dead.

Cases in point:
Ignaz Sammelweis – a pioneer of antiseptic procedures, who proposed that doctors wash their hands with chlorinated lime before delivering babies. He faced ridicule and suffered from depression as a result. He died at the age of 47, after being beaten by guards in an asylum. His work was recognized only when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory, years after his death.

Gregor Mendel – a priest who identified recessive and dominant genes with his meticulous experiments with pea-plants. His groundbreaking work in genetics was largely neglected by the scientific community, and he went back to his church duties. He died as an abbot and his work was recognized only in the 20th century, more than three decades after his death.

Charles Darwin – who proposed the theory of evolution based on his voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle in his early twenties. Darwin produced a manuscript with his theory in 1839, but locked it up for 20 years, fearful of the perfect storm it would brew among his contemporaries. Only after another biologist, Alfred Russel Wallace, produced a manuscript proposing the same theory did Darwin rush to publish his own findings.

In the pursuit of any truth (scientific or otherwise) resistance always bridges the gap between ridicule and recognition. The key question is if one’s dedication to that truth is strong enough to weather the unpleasant journey it entails.

Inspiration: Read The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson for a hundred other such examples

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