A Gastroenterologist Asks, What Is Truth?

Rodin's The Thinker (Wikimedia Commons)

from the International Liver Congress sponsored by the European Association for the Study of the Liver, Vienna

Since the time of Socrates, philosophers have pondered the question, what is truth?

The latest insight comes from gastroenterologist Dr. Thierry Poynard, of Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, who has calculated that, in gastroenterology at least, truth is an entity with a half-life of 55 years.

He analyzed 474 studies on hepatitis and cirrhosis published in 1945-99. He wanted to learn how long a study’s main conclusions stood the test of time. He determined that by 2009, subsequent work had rendered 19% of the findings obsolete and 21% were proved false. By his estimate, the half-life of truth was 55 years.

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood And Envy by Francois Lemoyne (public domain)

His hypothesis had been that the Hirsch Index of a study’s lead author–that is, the total number of scientific publications in which that author has been cited–would correlate with the study’s ‘truth survival.’ Nope. It didn’t matter how illustrious and extensive a researcher’s scientific output was in terms of the work’s truth survival. But studies deemed of high methodologic quality were three-fold more likely to have a long truth survival.

And that’s the absolute truth.
—Bruce Jancin
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Filed under Drug And Device Safety, Gastroenterology, IMNG

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