Friday, June 29, 2012

"Nobody believes you": the Semmelweis reflex

Ignaz Semmelweis 1860 (Copper plate engraving ...
Ignaz Semmelweis 1860 (Copper plate engraving by Jenő Doby) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some whistleblowers, who realized something is fishy about a certain opportunity, lamented that they are NEVER believed by their peers, which either leads him (or her) to leave, or keep silent.

When this sort of thing happens to oneself, it is called the Semmelweis Reflex

Here is an example:
  1. A examines idea. 
  2. A accepts the idea as logical
  3. nobody in A's group will accept it, 
  4. therefore A shall disregard idea
Semmelweis Reflex is a type of "negative confirmation bias", where instead picking information that confirms your positions, you discard information that does not fit your position. Actually, it's NOT your position, but position of your peers. And you do it so readily and reflexively you may not even realize it. 

Semmelweis Reflex is named after Ignaz Semmelweis, a physician working in Vienna General Hospital in early 1800's. In 1847, he was looking for the cause of "childbed fever". Somehow the doctor's maternity ward has  fatality rate of 10%, which is THREE TIMES the rate of the nurse's maternity ward in the same hospital, and arguably the doctor's ward had better care! The mothers were not sicker when they were admitted either. So what was the cause?

Semmelweis does not know the cause, but he made a correlation... that the doctors often go directly from the autopsy room to the doctor's ward. Such doctors don't go to nurse's ward. Semmelweis postulated the existence of "invisible cadaver particles" which causes the childbed fever. He required the junior (intern) doctors to wash their hands in chlorinated lime solution as they exit the autopsy room. The fatality rate in the doctor's maternity ward dropped to 1-2%. However, while he could order around the junior doctors to wash hands, the senior doctors felt extremely insulted and refused to accept his idea. It also does not fit with contemporary theory that diseases were caused by "internal imbalance" of various elements. 

Semmelweis died a broken man committed to an insane asylum. It was only decades after his death, with advent of germ theory, did his idea became widely accepted. 

The lesson to take away: don't dismiss ideas just because it doesn't fit with the "status quo". It is okay to hold a different opinion from those of your peers. If you have thoroughly studied the factors and made the right decision, and you have accounted for all the mental biases, then you need to consider the possibility that your peers are wrong.

This is especially true in MLM, which can be considered a "commercial cult", where members will do everything they can to "save" a member about to "go rogue" and/or quit. They will pull every string possible, like, such as sunken cost fallacy, shame, guilt, friendship, and sometimes, verbal abuse and physical threat... just like one of those destructive cults.

Beware of Semmelweis Reflex, and don't let it deter you from the truth.

(And yes, this sometimes apply the other way, when everybody else tells you NOT to join a particular opportunity, but you somehow believe you know better... Well, you better ask a friend who will be brutally honest with you)

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