Math + Medicine = Confusion
“Why do so many people have trouble with the notion of probability and chance? Mathematicians chalk it up to innumeracy, the arithmetic equivalent of illiteracy. Simply put, people are uncomfortable with mathematical concepts like probability because they never learned them in the first place.

Innumeracy explains much of the public’s confusion about the risks of various drugs and medical treatments. But not all of it. In a classic 1966 study, a group of subjects was told that a man had parked his car on a hill and that the car had rolled back into a hydrant after the man had left. The subjects were sympathetic to the man.

But a second group of subjects, told that the car had rolled into another person after the man walked away, held him responsible, even though the cause was the same.

People might chalk up a minor mishap to chance, but they are reluctant to blame a serious event on bad luck. Someone or something has to be held responsible.

I can say something relating this to medical malpractice, but I won’t.

The article states that dealing with probability and chance does not come naturally. People like absolute yes/no answers – and medicine often does not come prepackaged that way. One of my favorite sayings is that “the only absolute in medicine is that there are no absolutes”.

I often watch law shows on TV where the physician witness is being hositally cross-examined: “Is it possible that [xxx] can happen?”. The answer is always yes! Anything is possible. It’s also possible that I can win the lottery or find the cure for cancer, but the chances are slim. A better question that lawyers should consider: “Is it probable that [xxx] can happen?” Of course, that makes too much sense, and thus, won’t happen. (via shrinkette)

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