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Uncertain About Uncertainty

I spoke with the one of the deans in charge of the School of Medicine’s graduate programs. We spoke about the program and I asked about the PhD and MS in physiology.

She said there are positives and negatives to science and a job as a scientist. One big positive is the feeling one gets when making a big discovery. There is nothing like it. Unfortunately, those times are rare and one must cherish and hold on to those special moments.

Then she asked me how I deal with uncertainty because, in her mind, there is quite a bit of uncertainty when doing research.

I told her that I wasn’t quite sure. “I guess I’m uncertain about uncertainty,” I answered with a chuckle.

By the look on her face, I don’t think she was too amused…

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Picture Perfect

Originally posted on The differential on August 17, 2008.

*****

Like many Americans and non-Americans alike, I have been following the 2008 Summer Olympics. It’s been fun watching Michael Phelps grab a record 8 gold medals, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh dominate on the sand, and the “Redeem Team” (I’m not sure who came up with that nickname) led by Kobe Bryant and Lebron James handle business in the early preliminary rounds.

But it’s also been amusing to read the news about how Beijing has focused on putting on the perfect show. First there was news that some of the fireworks outside of the Olympic stadium were faked using the wonders of modern technology. Then I read that the cute little singing girl dressed in red was, well, just cute and little. She wasn’t actually singing. The real singer wasn’t “cute enough” and so the red-dressed girl was told to lip-synch.

It looks like China has been doing a whole lot to convince the world that all is well and perfect in their country behind that bamboo curtain. And maybe it is. But most likely it isn’t. Of course, I have yet to find any place on earth that is perfect.

The whole idea of projecting perfection, though, reminded me of some of the things we discussed in class. One professor noted that doctors have this strong desire to stick together. They want to give a colleague the benefit of the doubt. As a result most doctors are very slow to offer any criticism, often exercising their right to remain silent because they weren’t present during the procedure.

I think that giving the benefit of the doubt is great. False accusations can lead to devastating consequences. But there have been instances when certain doctors no longer deserved the benefit of the doubt. An extreme situation is described in the book Blind Eye by James Stewart. In that book, Stewart writes about a doctor that got away with murder.

Would transparency in the medical field be beneficial to both doctors and patients? I’d like to think so. But sadly, with our current litigious environment, complete transparency would be a nightmare.

And so, doctors may very well have to continue painting that picture perfect image of medicine.