At first glance it might appear that cardiologists are the worst people on earth. In his blog post “Cardiologists and Chinese Robbers“ Scott Alexander lists a long string of horrible misdeeds that might lead you to prefer an encounter in a dark alley with a Mafia henchman instead of a cardiologist:
You may have read about one or another of the “cardiologist caught falsifying test results and performing dangerous unnecessary surgeries to make more money” stories, but you might not have realized just how common it really is. Maryland cardiologist performs over 500 dangerous unnecessary surgeries to make money. Unrelated Maryland cardiologist performs another 25 in a separate incident. California cardiologist does “several hundred” dangerous unnecessary surgeries and gets raided by the FBI. Philadelphia cardiologist, same. North Carolina cardiologist, same. 11 Kentucky cardiologists, same. Actually just a couple of miles from my own hospital, a Michigan cardiologist was found to have done $4 million worth of the same. Etc, etc, etc.
He’s just getting started. He then goes on to mention “cardiology insurance fraud, cardiology kickback schemes, or cardiology research data falsification conspiracies.” ”
Then he turns to the really bad stuff. I follow cardiology misdeeds pretty closely but I didn’t know there were so many cases of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. And then there are the killers. (Surprisingly, though, Alexander fails to mention the Montreal cardiologist who is now on trial for the second time for murdering his two children.)
But, Alexander eventually reveals, it turns out that anecdotes are not data. A numerator is meaningless without a denominator, and both are meaningless without understanding the context and relevant comparisons with other groups. “If you don’t like Chinese people, you can find some story of a Chinese person robbing someone, and claim that means there’s a big social problem with Chinese people being robbers.”
Or in the USA:
There are lots of people – 300 million in America alone. No matter what point the media wants to make, there will be hundreds of salient examples. No matter how low-probability their outcome of interest is, they will never have to stop covering it if they don’t want to.
Finally, Alexander reveals that cardiologists are “wonderful people.” Well, mostly:
By now you’ve probably figured out the gimmick, but just to come totally clean – cardiologists are wonderful people who as far as I know are no less ethical than any other profession. I chose to pick on them at random – well, not quite random, one of them yelled at me the other day because apparently contacting the cardiologist on call late at night just because your patient is having a serious heart-related emergency is some kind of huge medical faux pas. I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that there’s any general issue with cardiologists, and as far as I know there’s no evidence for such.
Hat tip: Parker Brown