popular science/medicine

Doctors haven’t been good at explaining to patients some of the principles that underpin medical practice. A lot of the misunderstandings which occur relate to risk and probability, and that in turn is something that our schools have failed to teach their pupils. A good explanation of some of the issues is given at this site.

We repeatedly see evidence of this general ignorance of probability and risk assessment. A good recent example was Covid vaccination, with the appearance of groups opposing it on on grounds of varying risibility, including claims that the vaccine included a microchip courtesy of Bill Gates, or that it would render you sterile. Even if the one possible side effectfor which some evidence exists proves to be genuine, it would still be safer to be vaccinated than not.

And the media don’t help – they tend to be really poor at presenting stories involving health topics or science generally, not least in their tendency to give a platform to anyone fraudulently claiming expertise in a topic, in the interests of ‘balance’.  I could rant on at length about this, but this chap does it much better than I ever could.

I spent quite a bit of time over the years trying to do something about it myself – even writing a book that, possibly deservedly, sank without trace. But I still think there are some useful bits in it, especially the sections on understanding health tests, and screening tests in particular. See this page, or  go direct to our friends at Amazon and pick it up for nothing.

And many years ago I contributed a few articles to Cambridge University’s Naked Scientists site, which now produces excellent podcasts, but was then a text-only site. Remarkably, they are still available. Some are basic explanations of how medical imaging works, but others deal with the issue of risk and risk/benefit analysis:

how do x-rays work?

CT, nuclear medicine and PET imaging

imaging without radiation (ultrasound & MRI)

risk assessment in radiology

screening for disease – always a good thing?

treatment decisions – black and white or a bit of a gamble?

risk assessment in healthcare

As you’ll guess from the above topics, and the fact that I’m a retired NHS radiologist, I have a special interest in the public perception of radiation and its attendant risks, both in its medical uses and more generally. Hence this page.



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