A few decades before doctors understood basic germ theory, a curious process played out in 19th-century Austria. At the time, doctors were trying to find the cause of a deadly fever striking many mothers and newborn infants in the delivery room. Among the possible causes they considered were tight corsets and women upset by the presence of men in the room. The actual cause was eventually uncovered by the relentless and data-driven work of Ignaz Semmelweis, a doctor whose work ulimately saved uncountable lives.
Dr. Semmelweis' line of reasoning is now highlighted by Stephen Dubner, co-author of the "Freakonomics" book and blog. The new book, "SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance," comes out next month.