Iatrogenics

By Shane Parrish via http://www.farnamstreetblog.com   Article

“If we are to intervene in what would otherwise happen, we need an idea of not only the benefits of our interventions but also the harm. Otherwise how will we know when, despite our best intentions, we cause more harm than we do good.

Intervening when we have no idea of the break-even point is “naive interventionism,” a phrase first brought to my attention by Nassim Taleb.

In Antifragile, he writes:

In the case of tonsillectomies, the harm to the children undergoing unnecessary treatment is coupled with the trumpeted gain for some others. The name for such net loss, the (usually bitten or delayed) damage from treatment in excess of the benefits, is iatrogenics, literally, “caused by the healer,” iatros being a healer in Greek.

… Think about how a typical meeting starts. In response to a new product from a competitor, for example, the first question people usually ask is “What are we going to do about this?” The hidden assumption that goes unexplored is that you need to do something. It could be that the cost of doing something outweighs the benefits.

Medicine has known about iatrogenics since at least the fourth century before our era-primum non nocere (“first do no harm”) is a first principle attributed to Hippocrates and integrated in the so called Hippocratic Oath taken by every medical doctor on his commencement day. The concept applies to domains outside of medicine and relates to everything where we cause more harm than good under the guise of knowledge.”

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