What Do Ignatz Semmelweis and Robert S. McNamara Have in Common?

That was the question posed in this recent contest.

As usual, it didn’t take long for the correct answer to be posted. In this case, it came from one P. Mardel, commenter No. 3:

Both introduced low-cost interventions that had dramatic results. Both were also ostracized by the then-conventional wisdom. Ignatz Semmelweis promoted hand-washing in maternity wards, Robert S. McNamara introduced seat belts in Ford cars.

We tell the stories of Semmelweis and McNamara in greater detail in SuperFreakonomics, but it is hard to improve on P. Mardel’s rendering. Nicely done. P. Mardel wins two tickets to our Symphony Space lecture tonight.

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  1. Zaglossus says:

    Significant difference though:

    Conventional Wisdom aka “the Establishment” drove Semmelweis crazy. Not so McNamara.

    And, in all fairness, it wasnt McNamara who figured out that seat belts save lives. Wasnt it the Swedes – aka Volvo?
    Semmelweis did conclude himself that handwashing was the cause of the mortality difference even though he did not know about bacteria and other germs – the reason Joseph Lister gets the fame.

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  2. frankenduf says:

    i agree with Zaglossus and cry foul- Ralph Nader was the activist who fought the auto industry and made them introduce seat belts- see Unsafe at Any Speed, one of the bibles for consumer activism- as to the origins, it wasn’t the Swedes, it was the Romans- one of my favorite Nader lines: ‘ the auto industry claims it is not feasible to put in seat belts- well, the Romans used seat belts in their chariots, so i’m sure we can figure out a way to do it’- not sure anyone would associate McNamara with seat belts- most likely the man who transited from running the Ford company to running the Vietnam War- in fact there’s a moral in there somewhere…

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  3. jimi says:

    Both jewish?

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  4. P. Mardel says:

    I’d slightly edit my post to:

    Both introduced low-cost interventions that had dramatic results. Both were also ostracized by ***holders of*** then-conventional wisdom. Ignatz Semmelweis promoted hand-washing in maternity wards, Robert S. McNamara introduced seat belts in Ford cars.

    Had I taken any more time to craft my answer though, I would have been nicked by Jason S, just two minute behind my post.

    I make no claim that these are true, only that it’s the answer Stephen was looking for. Just like in High school.

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  5. bob says:

    http://www.cruxlux.com/rc/smallworld?a=Ignaz+Semmelweis&b=Robert+S.+McNamara

    Another (convoluted) way in which they’re connected

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  6. science minded says:

    so you mean the answer that you were looking for from the beginning– Reminds me of most of the teachers I have had and that my daughter continues to have who cannot look a gift horse in the mouth.

    AS in what do Robert S. McNamara (secretary of defense under Kennedy) and Semmelweis have in common– as in what do policians and real scientists have in common– and I say a real understanding of the difference between scientific knowledge (including knowledge that political science embodies) and the use towards which it put. From that standpoint, Obama is not a political scientist and he never suggested that he was. I may not agree with his treatment of the Dalai Lama, but given the size of our debt to China, I bet that even the Dalai Lama himself understands it.

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