8
$\begingroup$

Is there a specific year that marks the official acceptance of the germ theory? In the references, it is always quoted the work of Pasteur, Koch, and Lister, but their work is spread over decades and does not mean that their papers were accepted by the medical community.

Is there a watershed year instead? Perhaps a peculiar conference where the doctors wrote black on white that the new theory had become the new paradigm? Or a paper that encountered the agreement of all the peers?

$\endgroup$
7
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Perhaps Max Plank's famous quote, "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” applies here? $\endgroup$
    – user338907
    Feb 21 at 19:24
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Since this appears to be a historical question rather than one asking about biology as defined in the help center, I think this would be more appropriate on History of Science and Mathematics. If that is what you want, please delete your question from this site before reposting there because cross-posting is impolite. Alternatively, you can request migration of this question by flagging your post for moderator intervention and explaining what you want and why. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Feb 21 at 19:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The decades long process apparently is still under way. $\endgroup$ Feb 22 at 16:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As in most sciences, there’s not really such a thing as “officially accepted” in Biology because there is no office and no officials who have that authority. Rather, the usual term that I have heard is “generally accepted”. $\endgroup$ Feb 22 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because it is asking for an opinion (judging whether something is "official accepted") as well as being off-topic for this site. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Feb 22 at 20:18

1 Answer 1

14
$\begingroup$

It was only after Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution sparked an interest in chemical evolution as an explanation for life that the germ theory was accepted. ref As a comparison theory, it took until the 1950's for a majority of scientist to agree that evolution was caused only by natural selection, a 90 year gap until consensus.

Pasteur published his germ theory in 1861. It took about twenty years for the most eminent international scientists (i.e. Tyndall) to give conferences on it in the UK and for Koch to evidence it in Germany. From the 1880s, Germ Theory was hugely influential, affecting nearly every aspect of medicine including public health, surgery, hospitals, training and treatments. In the 1950's we can find books like i.e. "Pasteur, plagiarist, imposter: The Germ Theory Exploded"

In France, Louis Pasteur was elected a free associate of the French academy of medicine in 1873, won the Copley medal of the Royal Society of London in 1874, medal of Grand-Officier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1878, and designed a vaccine for sheep in 1881.

Following France, Germany was one of the first to officially recognize germ theory:

On 24 March 1882 at the Berlin Institute for Physiology, Koch announced the discovery of the tuberculosis pathogen – with his lecture on the “Aetiology of Tuberculosis” he became world famous overnight. In the course of the 19th century, Roughly a seventh of the population of the German Reich died of the disease. Now Koch demonstrated that tuberculosis was triggered by the tubercle bacillus.

In 1885, Friedrich-Wilhelms-University in Berlin founded the Hygiene Institute, which was managed by Robert Koch.

In 1891, Koch agreed to direct the newly-founded Royal Prussian Institute for Infectious Diseases. ref

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1905.

A famous epidemiologist, William Farr, working on cholera, published "a monograph" which showed that mortality was extremely high for people who drew their water from the Old Ford Reservoir in East London. Farr's work was then considered conclusive... Physicians were publicly denouncing germ theory in major newspapers 20 years later:

Irish physicist and science popularizer John Tyndall was superintendent at the Royal Institution in London and had published scientific works on heat, light and sound, as well as popular books. His ideas on germs became controversial in January 1870 after giving a lecture to the Royal Institution entitled Dust and disease. Here, he first reported experiments demonstrating that dust was mainly composed of organic matter, something he had not anticipated. He then demonstrated, using his light scattering assay, that air filtered by cotton wool was ‘optically empty’, meaning that the path of the beam appeared black, which he also saw with air that had been left to settle for long periods of time in a sealed glass chamber. Finally, he reported that his own breath, especially the end of his expiration, was remarkably free of floating matter. He had recently been taken by Lister’s methods for antiseptic surgery, which argued that infection spreads through the air due to the microbes contained within it and viewed his data as entirely consistent with these. Hence, Tyndall extrapolated his conclusions to make a strong statement in favor of the germ theory of disease; an idea which had not yet found acceptance with the majority of the English medical profession. Following Tyndall’s 1870 lecture, there was much criticism of his conclusions from prominent physicians who believed that ideas relating to the nature of disease ‘pertain most to the biologist and the physician’ and that a physicist should know better the facts of epidemic disease before delving into the living world. The pathologist Charlton Bastian confronted Tyndall directly in a series of letters to The Times, playing down the evidence supporting germ theory and discussing his own experiments which disagreed with previous work by Pasteur, Lister and the like. Bastian then published a 1,115-page book in 1872 describing many experiments that he argued proved that microbial growth could occur in conditions in which Pasteur argued...ref

$\endgroup$
4
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A majority of scientists accepted evolution via natural selection as long ago as the 1950s? Damn, seems like the rest of American society is lagging very far behind. Did most of those scientists also believe in Human evolution? $\endgroup$
    – TKoL
    Feb 22 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ 87% of Americans with a science degree believe in the theory. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ Feb 22 at 18:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @TKoL I think you'll find that the general population lags behind scientific consensus in just about every field, and particularly in America where we seem to have a prevailing sense that the lay person is just as qualified to decide the truth of a topic as an expert is $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Feb 22 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ @TKoL By the time Darwin published the Origin, evolution in the broad sense of "change over time" and life unfolding in a gradual process was already broadly accepted by scientists, the public, and influential clergymen who saw divine intervention in evolution as a crude view of God. By 1874 Tyndall could declare almost unchallenged that creation was a natural processes in which God played no scientifically detectable role. But prominent scientists had serious reservations about natural selection as the mechanism which persisted until the Modern Synthesis in the 20th century. $\endgroup$
    – David42
    Feb 23 at 16:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.