When Is a Difference Not a Difference: Medicine or Shooting Craps?

Gil Gaudia, PhD

Disclosures
In This Article

Introduction

When gamblers make mistakes, it costs them money. In medical research, mistakes are paid for by adopting medications or drugs that may be harmful or rejecting drugs that may have potential benefits. People who wager billions of dollars each year based on the outcome of random events may be surprised to learn that the same laws of probability that govern their decisions also play a part in determining whether a drug or treatment will become an accepted practice in medicine.

The gambler's dilemma is to decide whether to have the certainty of keeping his/her hard-earned (but perhaps small) bankroll or to risk it in an attempt to have even more. The researcher's dilemma is to decide whether the results of his/her experiment warrant the acceptance of a new treatment that may eventually prove to be useless (or even dangerous) or rejection of a procedure that may actually have potential benefit.

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