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August 17, 1979

TherapeuticsArt or Science?

Author Affiliations

From the University of Oxford, Oxford, England.

JAMA. 1979;242(7):649-653. doi:10.1001/jama.1979.03300070045021

WHEN I was a clinical student, my teachers, with few exceptions, believed that medicine was an art and could never be a science. Since then science and the scientific method have belatedly invaded medicine. It is perhaps opportune to consider the meaning of science and the meaning of art in relation to that branch of medicine that lends itself best to the scientific method: therapeutics.

The Practical  Therapeutics is essentially practical. It seeks to alter the patient's way of life or the structure or chemical composition of his body so that he will live longer, more productively, or more happily. In so ancient a profession as medicine, it is natural that a code of practice has been built up and is constantly changing. This code is based partly on knowledge and partly on belief. Medicine, like theology, cannot tolerate ignorance. If it does not know the answer, it must invent