When Science Finally Confirms Your Cherished Beliefs — Worry

David Shaywitz in Forbes:

960x0“Girls rule, boys drool,” tweeted VC (and my Tech Tonics co-host) Lisa Suennen today, succinctly summarizing a paper recently published by respected Harvard public health researcher Ashish Jha (who is also a friend).

Suennen isn’t alone–Jha’s report has created a media frenzy. “Evidence Of The Superiority Of Female Doctors,” announcedThe Atlantic. “Want to save 32,000 lives a year? Get male doctors to practice more like women,” advised Vox.

The study–explained nicely by Jha in his blog–examined a large number of Medicare hospitalizations–about 1.5 million–over a four-year period, and found a relatively small but statistically significant difference in the outcomes associated with female vs. male doctors. This little difference becomes a big number, and an important finding, when you multiply by the total size of the Medicare population, as Jha argued in his blog, noting that the discrepancy is especially striking given the “pretty strong evidence of a substantial gender pay gap and a gender promotion gap within medicine.”

While the science itself may be solid (I’d expect nothing less from Jha), I doubt this is what’s driving the paper’s popularity. Rather, it’s the intuitive appeal of the conclusions, together with a dollop of social justice. “My priors are confirmed,” tweeted Aledade CEO Farzad Mostashari, echoing the instinctive response of many–including me.

But it’s exactly when published science confirms our priors and tells us what we’ve been hoping to hear that we should begin to worry–not about the specific paper, necessarily, but rather about how to appropriately contextualize the conclusions.

More here.