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April 25, 1977

The Question Mark of Uncertainty

JAMA. 1977;237(17):1858. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270440048023

Readers of medical journals can hardly fail to note the increasing number of editorials bearing titles that end with a question mark. This trend is a departure from tradition. An editorial is expected to express an opinion, to make an authoritative statement, to provide an answer rather than to pose a question.

Questions are not always inseparably wedded to answers. The rhetorical question, for instance, requires no answer because the latter is obvious (Isn't good health desirable?). The answer, on the other hand, is far from obvious—in fact, it is usually impossible—to a metaphysical question (When did time begin? What is life?). Between these two extremes are more or less answerable questions that differ from one another by their intent. This may be a demand for information, a request for help, a test of knowledge, a researcher's probe, an inquisitor's trip-up, a debater's spar, or an opponent's heckle. The question