Also known as the “Semmelweis Effect”, the Semmelweis Reflex is a behavioral tendency for a person to hold on to their preexisting beliefs about a subject and to summarily reject new knowledge or evidence that contradicts the person’s preexisting belief even if said knowledge or evidence is strong or unequivocal.
The term Semmelweis Effect originates due to a Hungarian scientist and physician named Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. Semmelweis was born on July 1, 1818 and lived until August 13, 1865. Semmelweis was one of the first doctors to adopt antiseptic procedures when performing medical duties. Semmelweis found while working in Vienna General Hospital’s First Obstetrical Clinic, located in Vienna, Austria, that wards overseen by midwives had ⅓ the mortality rate compared to that of wards run by doctors. He found that the midwives had been washing their hands prior to medical procedures. In 1847 Semmelweis proposed that doctors begin washing their hands in a chlorinated lime solution before performing procedures. He was mocked for his propositions, had a nervous breakdown, was institutionalized, and passed away two weeks after being institutionalized due to injuries suffered from beatings by the guards. It wasn’t until several decades after his death where in the 1890’s his propositions gained traction and were taken seriously. The term Semmelweis Reflex is now used to describe human behavior where someone automatically rejects new knowledge or evidence if it doesn’t support their preexisting beliefs.
Here are three other examples of the Semmelweis Reflex.
1) One of the most common examples of Semmelweis Reflex is that some people reject evolution. Science considers it a fact due to indisputable evidence, but some people, due to the Semmelweis Reflex, choose to reject it due to the reason that it doesn’t support their preexisting religious beliefs that life in any form was created by a deity.
2) Someone has worked for a business for a long time and is used to handling procedures in a certain way. A study group within the company finds a more time efficient and cost effective way of completing a major component of the work. Everyone is happy to accept the new procedure except for one person that, due to the Semmelweis Reflex, who refuses entertain the idea of change because they believe that the way things have been done is the best way to do it.
3) A plague infects nearly 250 million people worldwide. Science dating back 18 years existed due to scientists developing treatments for related viruses. Due to technological advances it didn’t take long for scientists to map the genetic code of the virus and an mRNA vaccine for the virus became available soon thereafter. Even though the science overwhelmingly showed that the vaccine was safe, and for most people could prevent a serious infection from the virus with only minor short lasting side effects, due to the Semmelweis Reflex, many people rejected the vaccine due to their preconceived opinions regarding them.
How does the Semmelweis Reflex come into play during paranormal investigations?
Here are three examples of the Semmelweis Reflex pertaining to paranormal investigations.
1) A paranormal investigator watches a paranormal television show that is known to use controversial investigative methods and technology in order to bolster ratings for the show. The paranormal investigator sees someone on the show use a device referred to as a “Ghost Box” or a “Franks Box”. Such a device was proposed and created by Frank Sumption in 2002. He proposed that a modified short wave radio would allow a deceased entity to speak to the living through the device. Frank claimed that he received the instructions on how to build a device from the spirit world. Although there isn’t science of any kind to back up his assumptions many in the paranormal investigation field began using copies of the device as they enjoyed the premise that such a device could be feasible. Users of this device believe that somehow after death a spirit has gained the skillset to speak through radio waves being picked up by the device, which scans through radio frequencies at a fast rate. Some people swear by this device even without a shred of science to back it up. The paranormal investigator loves the thought of there being such a technology and quickly orders one for themselves and begins to use it everywhere claiming that voices coming through are paranormal in nature. Due to the Semmelweis Reflex someone who loves using the device would reject any evidence given to them that clearly shows that the device is incapable of performing such an act, or that a human could ever unilaterally speak over radio frequencies even if the person offering said evidence is a long term paranormal investigator with decades of experience in both paranormal investigation and radio communications.
2) A client contacts you to open a paranormal investigation case. The client has experienced some recent phenomenon after their significant other died. They report that their cabinets with magnetic locks in the corner of the room have begun opening on their own. Previously in that cabinet were the snacks of the significant other who had died. The client is convinced that the spirit of their significant other must have returned to the house and is opening the cabinets looking for a snack. Upon initiating an onsite investigation you find a large electromagnetic field encompassing a portion of the room where the magnetically locked cabinets are in. You trace that electromagnetic field to outside the house where just several feet away from the corner of the house is an electric pole with a transformer on it. The shielded cover to the transformer is damaged and due to that an electromagnetic field was created that is overpowering the magnetic locks on the cabinets in the corner of the house. You call the electric company and they soon arrive to repair the damaged transformer. You find that the electromagnetic field is no longer present in the house. You contact the client to inform them of your findings. The client reports that the cabinets hadn’t opened in the two days since you had done the investigation. They claim that their deceased love one used to go a few days without food occasionally due to stomach issues and the client believes that this is what is going on. As the paranormal investigator you explain to the client your findings and how the transformer was repaired and the magnetic field will no longer cause the cabinets to open. Due to the Semmelweis Reflex the client absolutely refuses to believe the indisputable proof that the phenomenon was caused by the transformer because they so desperately wish to believe that their loved one is still around visiting them.
3) You are called by a client who claims that paranormal activity in their house is tearing apart the relationship between them and their significant other. Their significant other doesn’t believe in the paranormal and tells them that they are crazy and should get help from a psychiatrist. The significant other humors your client and allows for a paranormal investigation to be conducted, assuming that nothing would be found. They had hoped that this would put to rest the claims by your client. You as a paranormal investigator complete a thorough science based investigation and are able to capture a very strong apparition on camera along with recorded Direct Voice Phenomenon that showed intelligent response from an entity that was a parent of the significant other. During the case reveal you present all of the evidence to the client and their significant other. Even though evidence strongly shows that there is paranormal activity, due to the Semmelweis Reflex, the significant other refuses to believe that there is any paranormal activity thereby not supporting their partner and further damaging their relationship.
There are many situations throughout your paranormal career where you will be confronted with the Semmelweis Reflex. It would be beneficial to keep an open mind so that you yourself do not exhibit the Semmelweis Reflex. How do you deal with it with others? All that you can do is present any evidence, science, or knowledge that you have regarding the situation and be willing to accept it when someone refuses to believe what is right in front of them. Basically said you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. In most situations you are able to get through it unscathed, however there may be a situation where you are a lead investigator and one of your investigators refuses to follow company standards due the Semmelweis Reflex where they won’t entertain an idea that doesn’t support their preexisting beliefs. You may have to respect their beliefs as a person, but remind them that the group follows a specific standard and that the investigators personal belief on a subject isn’t in line with the group standard and must not be exhibited during group operations. You may be an investigator and find that your lead investigator becomes enthralled with a new device that you know isn’t capable of doing what they claim it does. Due to the Semmelweis Reflex they wont listen to your evidence that such a device couldn’t possibly due what it claims. If it doesn’t strongly effect the function of the team, you may have to learn to live with it. Perhaps the rest of the team agrees with you and as a team you can speak with the lead investigator about your feelings and ask that such a device not be used in a group function. Sometimes as an investigator you may find over time that a team that once fit you like a glove now no longer meets your needs as an investigator and you decide to move on to a different team or to start your own. As a team lead from time to time after all other means have been exhausted you may be forced to remove someone from your team. Unfortunately these things can happen, and although we wish that they didn’t happen, it is important to be prepared for such situations.
The Semmelweis Reflex is not a term commonly known, but it is a human behavior that we all have to contend with. Do your best to be cognizant to not exhibit the behavior yourself and do your best to work with those those that do during you career as a paranormal investigator.