The ignorance displayed by his doctors was of their choosing. The great British surgeon Joseph Lister, picking up on the discovery of germs by Louis Pasteur, had been preaching the process of antiseptic surgery for years. The results were dramatic. His methods reduced the incidence of death from gangrene in surgeries from the 50 to 80 per cent common in hospitals at that time to zero. The facts were overwhelming.
This kind of arrogant ignorance in the face of scientific knowledge, even among intelligent and well-educated men when their cozy little world is threatened, led me to think of climate change. Here, too, science is threatening people's comfortable ideas about how the world works, just as heliocentricity did in the time of Galileo and evolution in the time of Darwin. And now as then, many people are reacting adversely, some angrily, to the news—the facts be damned.
Unfortunately, this time the stakes are much higher. U.S. surgeons tenacious ignorance killed many thousands of Americans. An equally tenacious ignorance of climate change may kill many thousands of entire species and bring down Homo sapiens' civilization as well.
And as the stakes are much higher, so is the resistance. Vested interests of great influence and wealth conspire with the ignorant to undermine the science. Lister's truth eventually won out, as did Galileo's and Darwin's—at least among the educated. Whether the truth of climate change will win out in time to avoid catastrophe is still very much in doubt.