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Article
February 18, 1956

THE UNVERIFIABLE HYPOTHESIS IN GENERAL PRACTICE

JAMA. 1956;160(7):563. doi:10.1001/jama.1956.02960420043013
Abstract

A physician is the better for being able to recognize the unverifiable hypothesis when he encounters it. And it does turn up every day, to worry the patient and the patient's family and friends. Indeed, it must worry everyone who deals with problems of sickness and health. It may take the form of a question unanswerable because it requires one to imagine the opposite of something that has already happened. Or it may take the form of a belief as to what would result if something impossible happened in the future.

The patient undergoing vaccination may wonder, "How do I know that I would get smallpox if I were not vaccinated?" The parents of a patient with carcinoma of the lung may ask, "Would he have escaped this if we had punished him when he smoked his first cigarette?" The question may take the form of an unspoken thought, as

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