The Corona crisis brought anybody in the world closer to science. Everybody suddenly listens to the statements of scientists. Often the information and advice from scientists are for some people not satisfying, sometimes it seems contradictory. This is not the failure of scientists. It is how they work. DR. HOUSE, A medical drama series, gives us insight into why that is and how science really works. It could have also taught us about the extreme danger everybody is facing now in an early stage.
Dr House, a long-running series from FOX is one of the most remarkable TV series with a background in science. It is a lighthouse of science and entertainment exchange because it let us understand what Cutting-edge science is about. Dr House did not only transform medical topics into storylines for a show. It became a tool to teach students. A cardiology professor in Germany showed his students episodes of Dr House. It is the perfect introduction to understand how medicine and how science works.
Dr House centres around the eccentric but brilliant Dr Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie, and his team. Unlike many classic medical dramas, the main character Gregory House is not a very likeable person. He seems to have little if no empathy with his patients. But he is exactly the person they need. Marcelo Gleiser called Dr Gregory House the ultimate Empiricist in an article on npr.org. He is right about the precision in the series of the how scientific method are applied. It’s very realistic. The writers and producers did a terrific job.
How science works
Gleiser provides an excellent analysis of how DR. House works. More precisely he explains how cutting-edge science works. And this is what we need to understand in these times. There is a particular mention of data and hypothesis.
In his article Gleiser describes a typical DR. House plot: Mostly the original diagnosis of the illness (the storylines mostly start with a new case) is wrong. They must think in innovative ways. They gather data and try to put a puzzle together. They “must give meaning to the data”. Gleiser emphases that cutting-edge science works similarily: “Hypotheses are constructed and tested against the data”. It is an ongoing process: More data gets collected, there may support the hypothesis or not. It’s trial and error.
Why is this important now?
We had seen that in the evolution of the coronavirus some preliminary hypothesis and their interpretation by politicians had many (and fatal) consequences. The virus was a new phenomenon which raised many questions for scientists. Very soon there were a couple of hypotheses: The data said that the virus is mostly killing elderly people and people with health conditions. This is a trend but like in a new case in a Dr House episode it was the first hypothesis. It doesn’t mean it is like the flu or anything like that. Neither it was a statement how the virus exactly works in a medical sense. This is what many people got wrong. The virus was underestimated. Everybody is in grave danger now, some more, some less, but there is extreme danger. Young doctors died and there are many things which need explanations.
It will take years to really understand how exactly this virus affects human bodies. We will have to learn so much. Does that mean we shouldn’t trust the scientists? No, it is quite the opposite. But we need to understand how science works. The film and TV industry can help to achieve this goal with great shows like Dr House. Gregory House is sometimes a rude person but if there is one thing we can learn from him it is his Skepticism. House doesn’t believe in speculation or in wishful thinking. Until we do know a lot more we need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. New shows can help to improve communication between science and the public.