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Decision Theory for DoctorsOften when a philosophy course is introduced into a School of X, it is a course in the philosophy of X. This sometimes makes students feel they know more about the topic than the teacher does, and may make it challenging to get the students to take it seriously. At King's College London we have introduced a philosophy course into the compulsory curriculum for the medical school degree (MBBS) that could best be summed up as a course in decision theory, which the students are unlikely to think they already know or be able to dismiss as fluff.
In the UK, the degree that makes a person a medical doctor replaces the undergraduate university degree. The student must learn a great deal of specialized knowledge in this period – much of which is to be simply absorbed as information -- and this severely reduces his or her opportunity to gain a broader perspective and tools for evaluation of knowledge claims and reasoning about decisions. My university has a very large medical school that has re-invented its curriculum, beginning 2016-17, and we have introduced a course in the compulsory part of the first-year medical curriculum that is called “Belief and Decision under Uncertainty”. This is a philosophy course covering the topics of conditional probability, base rates, screening off, subjective probability, falsification, base rate fallacy, affirming the antecedent, reference class problem, expected utility, dominance, risk aversion, confirmation bias, framing, auxiliary hypotheses, catch-all probability, conceptual scheme, reliability, calibration, miscalibration, re-calibration, and various concepts of health.
The medical school is enthusiastic about this course, because it recognizes that as the world becomes more and more complex, and because a doctor makes high-stakes decisions affecting a lot of people, their graduates need general training in good reasoning and the challenges that incomplete information presents to a decision-maker. This initiative is funded by the Peter Sowerby Foundation and the course will go live in Spring 2017. In the long term we will consider the possibility of creating an online distance learning version of the course to be made available more broadly, particularly to practicing doctors. The syllabus for 2017 is now set, but it will be a work in progress and I encourage input from everyone, especially philosophers of science and medics.
King's College London