October 19 - November 5, 2017

Concord, Massachusetts

Two weeks of talks, readings, and discussions celebrating the written and the spoken word.
  • Colman Andrews
    Colman Andrews
  • Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman
  • Gordon Wood
    Gordon Wood
  • Gish Jen
    Gish Jen

Steven Hatch

Events: Uncertainty in Medicine

Book: Snowball in a Blizzard: A Physician's Notes on Uncertainty in Medicine

Steven Hatch is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is also a practicing physician, clinical consultant, and medical student educator. Prior to his medical training, Hatch worked as a science writer for the Boston University School of Medicine.

There’s a running joke among radiologists: finding a tumor in a mammogram is akin to finding a snowball in a blizzard. A bit of medical gallows humor, this simile illustrates the difficulties of finding signals against a background of noise. Doctors are faced with similar difficulties every day when sifting through piles of data from blood tests to x-rays to endless lists of patient symptoms.

Diagnoses are often just educated guesses, and prognoses less certain still. There is a significant amount of uncertainty in the daily practice of medicine, resulting in confusion and potentially deadly complications. In Snowball in a Blizzard, Steven Hatch argues that instead of ignoring this uncertainty, we should embrace it. By digging deeply into a number of rancorous controversies, from breast cancer screening to blood pressure management, Hatch shows us how medicine can fail—sometimes spectacularly—when patients and doctors place too much faith in modern medical technology. The key to good health might lie in the ability to recognize the hype created by so many medical reports, sense when to push a physician for more testing, or resist a physician’s enthusiasm when unnecessary tests or treatments are being offered.