Advancement of Medical Knowledge: Lessons Learned From the Past
Since the days of Hippocrates and Galen, medical knowledge has expanded at a seemingly exponential rate. While many of the early discoveries have stood the test of time, many of the early and even recent “advances” have been found to be totally incorrect. Unfortunately, this not only results in the publication of inaccurate data, but may lead to incorrect assumptions, ineffective directions for further research, and in the end, negative or harmful clinical trials and therapies for the treatment of human illnesses based on false information. How can we decrease the likelihood that false information will be propagated? One way is to consider that all scientific knowledge, even well established dogma, is not necessarily correct. Another way is to acknowledge that one study does not prove anything. Furthermore, it is often the case that an incorrect conclusion is not due to incorrect data, but misinterpretation of the data. As it has been demonstrated on many instances, acceptance of knowledge as irrefutable fact can set back science decades or in some cases centuries. How can we prevent the propagation of inaccurate, irreproducible or fabricated information? One must be skeptical of all scientific findings, and especially clinical findings. Even those seemingly well established may in the future be found to be wrong. Data derived from in vitro or animal experiments may be interesting and potentially important, but should reflect what happens clinically. Finally, just because someone is an expert, does not mean that person is correct. Having healthy skepticism of all scientific findings may prevent the propagation of incorrect information and optimize overall scientific advancement.
- © 2011 by American Heart Association, Inc.