Today is my ‘day of rest’ – well more precisely day off the bike. Whilst the machine was doing its job in the laundry I pottered in the garden on what was a most beautiful morning. I am pleased to report that all is well. Even the little Hawthorn tree that I rescued from a rubbish bin, and planted out, like Lazarist, has risen from the dead and is now sprouting a mass of white flowers.
Ignaz Semmelweis, who in 1840 was trying to understand why women were dying from Puerperal fever (childbed fever) went on to discovered how millions of microbes affect our everyday life.
I had been reading an article in iScot magazine, how a neurosurgeon in a Glasgow hospital, began to recognize the earlier work of Semmelweis, and in 1867, two years after Semmelweis’ death, the idea of sanitizing hands and surgical instruments to halt the spread of infectious diseases started to take hold.
On the back of this work the Scottish surgeon Joseph Lister had forced a change in his operating theatre, such as scrubbing up before operations. The sterilization of instruments, and wiping down operating theatres before performing operations, these measures dramatic enhanced the life chances of his patients. Such work later led to Louis Pasteur’s development of germ theory, which changed how doctors care for their patients. It took some time however before the idea of sanitizing hands and instruments caught on and it was 1870 before the practice took hold within the medical profession and almost 100 years after these first studies that it was written into health care.
I watched a documentary many years ago how Robert Koch work on a cure for Anthrax and how in 1877 developed his famous Koch Postulates Throughout.
Anthrax is is believed originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia. And amongst many scholars, the 10th plagues of Egypt, (at the time of Moses) anthrax may have caused what was known as the fifth plague, described as a sickness affecting horses, cattle, sheep, camels and oxen.
Koch had noticed how soup would go off very quickly when open to the atmosphere, He wondered if this was universal so carried jars of soup up the mountainside close to his home and exposing them at different altitudes. Those that had been opened and exposed at the high altitudes stayed fresh the longest. Suspecting whatever caused the soup to go off was carried in the atmosphere set him on a path that would lead to a vaccine against anthrax in cattle. He also discovered that burying the deceased cattle, was the wrong thing to do, the anthrax was held in the ground and passed onto unaffected cattle that ate the grass, now contaminated with anthrax. He also developed the idea that by injecting a weak dose of anthrax into an animal the animal would build up an immunity to the disease. In the documentary he tried to introduce his ideas of the sterilization of instruments and cleanliness into hospitals, but with little success.
The work of such scientists as Robert Koch in the 1800s led to the development of modern microbiology, and how to grow and produce large stocks of specific germs.
We really do stand on the shoulders of giants, but what is also clear is that science does not happen in isolation, theories – beget – theories.
When the science of Work-Study came into being in the early 1900s, an experiment was carried out in the American Electric Company. The idea was to split the works into two halves. One half would carry on as they had always done their work. The other half would do their work in accordance with the work-study men’s instructions, no matter if they may be against all the ways they had been taught to do their job.
As it turned out that not only did the production rate for those working under the new regime but to their surprise production on the other half of the factory also improved. This was found to be the result of communication between the two sides outwith working hours.
Humans learn by feeding on the ideas of others and why some of the best work and ideas will always emulate from social contact, in groups such a universes, or even the lowly art class.