Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Art than Science

Today, during my annual physical, my doctor, who is well known and widely quoted in the Washington region, asked me what I did for a living.

I said "Oh, I work in international development." And then, after a pause, I said, "We are trying to become more scientific, by doing more randomized controlled trials like you do in the medical field."

He looked up at me sharply and laughed.  "Are you crazy?" he replied.  "Only a very small proportion of what I do is based on randomized trials.  In fact, most medical treatments are not based on rigorous evidence at all.Whatever anyone might tell you, people are just too complex and too different to do lots of good randomized trials."

"Well, then, why do people say you are such a good doctor?" I asked him.

"I guess I may be better than other doctors at trial and error.  I just get people to try things, and if they don't work, then I get them to try other things.  Being a doctor is really much more of an art than a science."