I am currently working on a history of statistics in medicine, tentatively titled Number Doctors: The Emergence of Biostatistics and the Reformation of Modern Medicine. The project centers on a group of biostatisticians at the National Institutes of Health and their efforts to transform measures of causality and proof in medicine through the development of novel statistical measures from the 1930s to the 1970s. It is, in a sense, the prehistory of our current moment of “risky medicine” and “precision medicine,” as well as of algorithms and artificial intelligence in medicine. In this project I ask how and why medicine became a science of numbers.
In 2020-2021, I will be conducting research for the project as a National Library of Medicine Michael E. DeBakey Fellow in the History of Medicine and at the American Philosophical Society as a Leon and Joanne V.C. Knopoff Fellow.
I have already published some preliminary pieces on the topic:
- 2021: “Behind the Numbers,” LA Review of Books (May 12, 2021).
- 2021: “The Curve,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 51/1 (February): 159-161.
- 2021: “A.B. Hill’s 1962 Watson lecture: The statistical consultant as consensus maker,” Statistics in Medicine 40/1 (January 2021): 49-51.
- 2020: “Screening for Colorectal Cancer in the Age of Simulation Models: A Historical Lens,” Gastroenterology 159/4 (October): 1201-1204. [with Robert E. Schoen]
- 2020: “Precision Medicine and its Imprecise History,” Harvard Data Science Review 2(1).
- 2020: “Bradford Hill’s The Environment and Disease: Comment,” Observational Studies 6: 24-29 [with Joel Greenhouse].
- 2020: “Advanced analytics in healthcare: ready for primetime?” BMJ Quality and Safety Blog (April 19).
- 2019: “NIH Statisticians and the Transformation of Medical Proof,” Viral Networks: Connecting Digital Humanities and Medical History, eds E. Thomas Ewing and Katherine Randall (Blacksburg: VT Publishing).
- 2012: “Moneyball and Medicine,” The New England Journal of Medicine 367 (October 25, 2012) [with Jeremy A. Greene and Scott H. Podolsky].