Do Doctors Have Male Answer Syndrome?

I used to be a bit of a boy racer and car tinkerer in the old days so I enjoy listening to Tom and Ray on Car Talk. But I enjoy not just the mechanical conundrums listeners’ call in with, but their philosophy.

Like “male answer syndrome” which Tom notes is “the need by many men to provide authoritative sounding answers despite the fact that they have no idea what they’re talking about.”

It has always struck me doctors are a bit like that. Or they will tell you, in an authoritative way, you have this or that, even when they don’t know for sure. It’s all part of the paternalistic trip and this business of never letting the patient think you might have any doubt.

So I was intrigued to read of research at Michigan State University, published in Journal of the American College of Radiology: Vol. 3, p. 423, 2006 . This was a study that looked at radiologists reading X-rays. And specifically addressing the issue of the degree of certainty they had about whether they were right.

The study compared the top 20 radiologists (who had 95% diagnostic accuracy) with the bottom 20 (just 75% accuracy). It found that “radiologists who performed poorly were not only inaccurate, they were also very confident that they were right when they were, in fact, quite wrong.”

Really inspires confidence.


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