Saturday, March 20, 2010

Swimming Against the Tide: Provocative Ideas

Ignaz Semmelweis, a hungarian obstetrician who lived in the 19th century, is nowadays credited with being the father of infection control. In his time, however, his propositions faced harsh skepticism and he was eventually forced to quit medicine altogether. In the end, he died in an institution for mentally ill patients.

By 1847 he discovered that the incidence of childbed fever could be drastically reduced if the doctors washed their hands with chlorinated lime before dealing with pregnant women.

As long as pathogens were not yet known, it is hardly surprising that his claims were not taken seriously. Just try to imagine how crazy they must have sounded.

This case is a good example of an apparently weird idea that was actually right. Although most seemingly ridiculous ideas regarding natural and human sciences are indeed no more than ridiculous ideas, there are some that turn out to be correct. For this reason, no ideas should be considered invalid a priori. This, of course, does not mean that they should be accepted a priori, as it is frequently the case with myths and pseudoscientific claims.

On the videos below you will come into contact with some controversial ideas that contradict commonly held assumptions, beliefs and theories. I do not necessarily agree with them. My purpose here is to stimulate reflection and critical thinking.


SUMMARY: "Michael Pollan, one of the best-known names in food-related issues, offers a guide about health and food. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual is a set of memorable ideas for eating wisely. Many of them are drawn from a variety of ethnic or cultural traditions. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat buffet, this handy, pocket-size resource is for people who would like to become more mindful of what they are eating". (FORA TV)


SUMMARY: "Sustainable Development: Why bother to recycle? Advocates say recycling is essential for a healthy planet, but others say recycling has more to do with conspicuous 'good citizenship' than good waste management. Is recycling not only inconvenient but unnecessary for sustainable development? In this clip, Thomas Deichmann of the German magazine Novo says recycling is a waste of time. The best way to dispose of household waste, he says studies show, is to burn it. Recycling has become a political issue, rather than a practical problem for engineers, and Deichmann says this is a mistake". (FORA TV)


SUMMARY: "Stephen Dubner - Stephen J. Dubner is an award-winning author and journalist who lives in New York City. He is the co-author, with Steven D. Levitt, of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. He is also the author of Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family (1998), Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper (2003), and a children's book, The Boy With Two Belly Buttons (2007)". (FORA TV)


SUMMARY: "Given $50 billion to spend, which would you solve first, AIDS or global warming? Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg comes up with surprising answers". (TED Talks Diretor)

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