Number Doctors: The History of Biostatistics and the Origins of Precision Medicine
Modern medicine in inescapably bound to statistical calculations, which have become essential for diagnosing diseases, measuring therapeutic effectiveness, and determining causal factors of complex conditions. In short, visits to the doctor have largely become exercises in probabilistic calculations. As recently as 1930, however, formal statistics had essentially no place in either the clinic or medical literature and statistical measures were treated as useful only for population-level (aggregate) analysis. This talk will trace how and why statistics became essential for clinical medicine, focusing in particular on a group of biostatisticians at the National Institutes of Health. Though long obscured by both academic mathematical statistics and physician-initiated reforms, the emergence of biostatistics and clinical epidemiology in the 1950s and 1960s played a critical role in establishing the intellectual and institutional foundations for our own era of "precision medicine."