Medicine is dominated by the quants. We learn about human health from facts, and facts are measurable. A disease is present or not present; a reckonable proportion of people respond to a particular drug; the inability to predict gene-environment interactions reflects only a failure to map facts we will eventually be able to determine; and if the observable phenotype varies for an established genotype, the differences must be caused by calculable issues. In this version of things, the case histories that constituted most of medical literature up to the early 20th century reflect a lack of empirical sophistication. Only if we can’t compute something are we reduced to storytelling, which is inherently subjective and often inaccurate. Science trades in facts, not anecdotes.
Sacks’ interest, however, is not merely in helping his patients construct their stories, but also in recounting them to the rest of us. The ethics of that undertaking have often been questioned... Continue reading the main story
Related in Opinion - Op-Ed Contributor: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer