February 27, 1991

Skeptical of Skeptics

Author Affiliations

Asheville, NC

Asheville, NC

JAMA. 1991;265(8):964. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460080032011

Skepticism permeates our profession. It is ingrained during medical training and reinforced by professional experience. Who among us has not repeatedly seen claims for fourth-generation drugs with no side effects, new operations that yield glowing results with minimal complications, or the latest infallible, high-tech diagnostic procedure... only to discover months or years later that these claims missed the truth by miles. Small wonder most of us are skeptics. To be skeptical is to be detached, rational, and objective. Skepticism is widely perceived as the prudent, conservative way to deal with ambiguous situations—times when even experts are confounded. Healthy skepticism is the "in" attitude for intelligent, discriminating physicians.

But healthy for whom?

Four years ago I was diagnosed as having chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The experience has given me a new perspective of my profession, one that is not always flattering. In one early report, the average CFS patient had previously