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Lister and the reputation robbing historians

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 11 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2603
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

Few medical heroes are allowed to rest in peace, and Joseph Lister is no different. Buried in glory as the saviour who brought us antiseptic surgery, on the centenary of his death Lister’s legacy has been roughly exhumed and his bones picked over by historians who threaten to rob him of his reputation.

Not only was Lister (1827-1912) not the first to champion antiseptic practices, it now seems doubtful that his methods were the chief cause of reduced hospital mortality, and they may even have caused harm.

Trained in London, Lister worked first in Edinburgh before becoming professor of surgery in Glasgow in …

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