DOGMA: something held as an established opinion; a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
LYSIS: a process of disintegration or dissolution (as of cells)
It’s my favourite thing in medicine. I don’t know why – perhaps because of my admiration since childhood for irreverent scientists who questioned authority, like Feynman and Sagan. Or perhaps it is because I think at times we physicians need to experience the humility of having our ignorance exposed. This is necessary to keep medicine science-based.
My undergraduate and much of my postgraduate training consisted of being taught medical certainties that I was required to regurgitate under exam conditions. The reality of clinical practice then revealed the awesome irreducible complexity of biology in our patients who ‘don’t read the textbooks’. As we learn in emergency medicine to navigate the perilous Bayesian jungle to a ‘very unlikely’ or ‘very likely’ life-threatening diagnosis, and when we have to weigh up the benefit:harm equation of an intervention that could either kill or cure, we begin to appreciate that certainty without evidence – dogma, or faith – can be lethal.
The problem is, however, that our human brains seem to thrive on it. We have evolved a whole senate of cognitive biases, which enable us to function well in everyday social situations, but which prevent us from conducting an impartial analysis of objective clinical data. An enlightening example of the degree to which our interpretation of the same information can vary is illustrated by a handful of trials on fibrinolytic therapy for stroke, producing a spectrum of reactions from aggressive promotion to skeptical opposition.
Being human, I have no doubt that I am occasionally dogmatic about topics to which I erroneously believe I have applied skepticism. I appreciate the courage of trainees who have the guts to challenge my assertions and who demand the evidence to justify them. Keep doing it. Keep asking. Keep challenging.
Keep lysing the dogma.
No-one said it better than Carl: