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October 1995

Is Dermatology Slipping Into Its Anec-dotage?

Author Affiliations

3701 Lone Tree Way Suite 6 Antioch, CA 94509

Arch Dermatol. 1995;131(10):1206-1207. doi:10.1001/archderm.1995.01690220114025

Dr Guy Webster2 decries the use of anecdotes in dermatology. Unfortunately, his philippic did not address a profound and far-reaching philosophical dichotomy in science in general and in medicine specifically: science based on mathematical models, as opposed to that derived from storytelling. Donald N. McCloskey, PhD,3 professor of economics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, discusses this conflict in an illuminating and thought-provoking recent essay in Scientific American. McClosky avers that the notion of ''science as divorced from storytelling arose during the last century.'' He proceeds to relate:

Most sciences do storytelling and model building. At one end of the gamut sits Newtonian physics—the Principia (1687) is essentially geometric rather than narrative. Charles Darwin's biology in The Origin of Species (1859), in contrast, is almost entirely historic and devoid of mathematical models. Nevertheless, most scientists, and economists among them, hate to admit to something so childish-sounding as telling stories.