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The reification of numbers: statistics and the distance between self, work, and others

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 05 April 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:771
  1. Rick Iedema, senior lecturer,
  2. Jeffrey Braithwaite, associate professor and director (,
  3. Ros Sorensen, senior researcher, centre for clinical governance research, faculty of medicine
  1. University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

    We have been presenting papers at healthcare and medical conferences, workshops, and symposiums for many years, and have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Health professionals, particularly doctors, are acutely heedful of data in the form of tables and charts and less so of words and models. We have not seen this described before and we seek to label it “numerical supremacy syndrome.”

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    Have we become bored with the familiar?

    When PowerPoint replaced traditional slides and overhead transparencies in the 1990s, it enabled many of us to provide information more accessibly within a clear narrative outline. Typically a conference talk of from 10 to 30 minutes will include several slides setting out what the talk is about or what the research involved. These initial ideas are invariably couched in words in “dot point” format …

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