Sunday, March 3, 2013

Data Analysis, or Gambling?

I just got back from a continuing education meeting which happened to be located in Las Vegas. I also watched the movie "21" which is based on the real life story of a group of MIT students who learned how to count cards and beat the casinos at blackjack.  They made millions.  They did not let the emotion of the moment influence their decisions.  They used simple math, counting the cards already dealt to increase their chances of a winning bet: data analysis and rather fast arithmetic.

How much of dentistry is pure data analytics and how much is gut instinct?  Well, there are two ways to look at it. First, is cold science, numbers, and analytical data analysis.  We do a clinical exam, we look at x-rays, perform diagnostic tests, ask questions.  We consult the published research.  In medicine and dentistry this might be likened to flow chart decision making, or to something called evidence based science.  We use experiments, data and facts to decide the most likely outcomes.  If we don't, we are just guessing.

Second, there is the theory that real world experience makes the difference, raw talent, esthetic sense, gut instinct.  This is actually backed up by the study that mastery comes about with many hours of practice, error, corrections, and well, experience.  The more you have done something, the better you are at accomplishing the task at the level of a master, the expert.

My analysis is that they both matter.  You have to make decisions based on real science and study of the available data.  Dentists spend four to ten years after college in graduate education and training in science and techniques. Then, there are years of continuing education classes after that.  Collect the facts, the data, analyze, compare, then decide, act.  The problem with dentistry and medicine is that there is always a lot of data that is not knowable, that is missing or not timely.  That is where experience comes into play.  That is, making decisions when you do not have all the data you would like to have.  Sometimes there is more than one appropriate option.  Sometimes you go on experience and gut instinct.  Count the cards if you can, but sometimes you develop senses that tell you the card count at a subconscious level.  I'd like to think going to the dentist is not a gamble, but as close to a sure thing as you can get.