Monday, January 17, 2011

The Decline Effect

"The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything. We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that’s often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe."

Have you ever heard of the "decline effect?"  It's a phenomenon that doesn't have an official name, but it is a new, touchy subject in the scientific community and the subject of the above-cited and fascinating New Yorker article.  For us as medical trainees, awash in the realms of evidence-based medicine and scolded so long with the stick of the scientific method, this article was fascinating.  The article tackles a recent baffling trend within science and medicine, in which "all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain," in a way, attacking the veracity of reproducibility and the scientific method itself.  

I know, the article is 7 pages long.  Still, it's worth a late-night read or a long trip to the Powder Room.  Read it, think about it, then come over for dinner and wax philosophic (or not so much) with us about it.  T and I live a good bit of our professional lives in a world where evidence-based, double-blind, statistically-proven science is king.  The decline effect resonates with us because it suggests anew that whether scientific or not, we are all taking leaps of faith, it just depends on where we place our faith.

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