JacPLUS BLOG: The Semmelweis reflex


I'll believe it when I see it!

This is our defensive response when we are asked to believe in something. Show me the visible evidence and only then will I believe you.

Evidence before belief.

Ingaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian doctor who noticed high incidences of infant deaths in Vienna's maternity hospitals during the 1840′s. He was puzzled as to why there was a much lower incidence of infant death with women giving birth at home.

After conducting a controlled experiment, Semmelweis concluded that mortality rates would improve ten-fold if doctors would wash their hands with a chlorine solution between having contact with infected patients and non-infected patients.

Sounds like common sense, right?

But Semmelweis couldn't convince other doctors that washing their hands with chlorine solution would dramatically reduce the incidence of death. The other doctors said that his theory lacked reasoning and evidence.

Two decades later Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory of disease - that microorganisms are the cause of diseases. Only then were Semmelweis' findings accepted by the medical establishment.

The reason why doctors didn't believe Semmelweis two decades earlier is because he challenged the established scientific and medical opinions of his time. He challenged their belief system. The doctors didn't believe because they expected to see the evidence that fitted their own belief system.

This became known as the Semmelweis reflex - a metaphor for our reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence because it contradicts our beliefs.

School principals and eLearning Coordinators face a similar dilemma. They believe that using technology can add significant value to teaching and learning. They want to convince teachers. But some teachers first want to see the evidence. It is a natural reflex-like defensive response from teachers.

What principals and eLearning Coordinators need to do is start with existing belief systems. This means serious conversations with teachers about their existing beliefs about what does effective teaching and learning look like. It means asking teachers to first explore and think beyond their own belief system. Challenge them to test and experiment with new ideas outside their own paradigm before passing judgement.

When teachers believe first that technology can add value to teaching and learning then they will proactively seek further possibilities. No more reflex-like defensive responses.

Belief before evidence.

I'll see it when I believe it!

JR @ JacPLUS: Ideas from JacPLUS's Customer Development Manager

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