Uncertainty in public health and clinical medicine

I joined Twitter 10 years ago in May 2013. One of the lessons I’ve learned from social media is that too many people want “certainty”. But in public health and medicine, there often aren’t certainties; just probabilities of certain outcomes or unknowns due to a lack of evidence. This can be frustrating for people who are looking for clear answers, but science is a process of discovery, and there is always more to learn; either from new research or from summarising and synthesising evidence from current and past research. By looking at the existing evidence, we can make informed decisions about our health and the health of our communities.

Uncertainty is a critical aspect of scientific inquiry and helps researchers refine their understanding of health-related issues over time. Uncertainty can arise due to factors such as incomplete data, limitations in research, or the complexity of the systems being studied. Another way to deal with uncertainty is to be open to new information. As new research is conducted, we may learn more about the risks and benefits of different interventions. It is important to be willing to change our minds in light of new evidence.

Uncertainty doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing can be done to address health issues. Rather, it means that we need to rely on the best available evidence and make informed decisions based on that evidence, while recognising that there may still be unknowns and potential risks. Communicating clearly and transparently about the state of evidence, the limitations of that evidence, and the potential implications for health can help build trust and ensure that people have the information they need to make informed decisions about their health.

Finally, we are all in this together. Public health and medicine are complex areas, and we need to work together to find solutions. By working together and gaining public support, we can have a positive effect on the health of our communities.