“Science is not for the benefit of scientists, but for the benefit of humanity.” – Louis Pasteur (1870)
The above is what Pasteur tells his wife who worries that once his vaccine is seen to be successful, he will have no respite. Little did she know that the resistance to change especially of a set of beliefs comes much after the empirical evidence provided by the experimenter is established beyond doubt. We do not acknowledge our saints before we have burnt them at their own stake. Until then genius is met only by scorn.
When I had heard the condemnation of Pasteur by the French monarchy, I cannot but draw an analogy with Ibsen’s play – “An Enemy of the People”. Both lived around the same time period. In fact, his play is a parallel of the life of Louis Pasteur. Ibsen wrote the play in 1877 just a decade after Pasteur was condemned to leave Paris and settle down in the village of Arbois (where he experimented on the first vaccine for Anthrax). Dr. Stockmann was scoffed at for suggesting that their baths were polluted, just as Louis Pasteur was condemned for suggesting that the doctors who did not rid themselves of germs were actually killing their own patients! The concept that an organism which was a ten thousand times smaller than the humans could not affect humans!
In this age of virus, vaccine and antibiotic we have come to accept that we live in a world full of microbes, the very concept that was scoffed at as late as 1870s. The genius was driven to exile. Shaw follows Ibsen’s streak in believing that all genius is misunderstood and the imbeciles often decide public opinion. Ibsen also proves to you that the multitude is always wrong and science should not suffer at the hands of the common multitude. Shaw’s Joan of Arc meets her tragic death where she was burnt as a heretic. Shew preached exactly those sentiments that run all over the world – nationalism.
It brings us to the postulate – “No man is understood in his own times”. I understand Shaw and Ibsen’s disillusionment with the masses. For every genius existing, it takes another to recognize him, otherwise he will be scorned. However, Pasteur was recognized in his own times. The obstinate and proud academy of science succumbed to his genius. The chemist became a doctor! Though I understand the disillusionment of Shaw and Ibsen, I do not agree with them.