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What I’m Reading: Gloria Donnelly

March 4, 2013

Dr. Gloria Donnelly

As dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, Gloria Donnelly certainly has enough to keep her occupied—but that doesn’t stop her from indulging in a number of books on her Kindle. Donnelly has recently been interested in the concepts of ignorance and wrongness, especially as they apply to medical practice and outcomes. She is currently reading three books—Ignorance: How it Drives Science, by Stuart Firestein; The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don’t by Nate Silver; and finally, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz.

Why did you choose these books?

I’m reading The Signal and the Noise because I’m interested in prediction, and I was fascinated with how Nate Silver so accurately predicted the results of the last election state by state.   We do a lot of projections around enrollment—what societal needs will be for health care for professionals in 10 years, or in 20 years—and we design programs and track enrollment to see if we’re right. We’ve been pretty successful with our enrollment growth in this college and with graduates entering health careers. I attribute some of that to the fact that we make special efforts to read the market to predict which programs will really take off and which will be obsolete.

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error especially resonated with me largely because there’s so much error in health care today. One of the very startling statistics you’ll read in many reports on adverse events in health care is that there are approximately 98,000 deaths a year in error. I’m trying to become a student of error, and the trend now is not to hide error—which is what used to be done—but to put it all on the table and discuss the error with patients and families, which has actually decreased litigation. In academia, being wrong is generally not something we embrace. But, we work with students to encourage the exploration of error. We design scenarios that give students the opportunity to make specific errors, and then we look at who does or doesn’t make the error and why.

So far, have the selections lived up to your expectations?

Actually, yes. When I buy a Kindle book I read the reviews first, and I shy away from books that are described as lightweight. If the book has good reviews, I’ll buy it. These three books are really outstanding reads.

Is there a passage/quote you find particularly interesting? Why?

This quote is from Firestein’s Ignorance: How it Drives Science:
“Indeed, when new evidences forces science to modify theories it is considered a triumph, not a defeat.”

Some scientists and practitioners desperately hang onto theories even when new evidence is revealed that forces the theory in another direction. Sometimes people get so caught up in their own ideology and conceptualizations that they see new evidence as defeat. Firestein says its triumph—it’s about the progression of science. I like that!