Thomas L. Petty, M.D.

Professor of Medicine, 
University of Colorado

Chairman, National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP)

  The Catalog of Our Ignorance

January 2001
Second Wind
Lomita, California

  Dear Friends:

  When Isaac Newton announced the notion of gravity in the 17th century to explain his careful observations, he was charged by his contemporaries with surrendering to mysticism. Yet empiric observation is the basis of all science. Science is based on fact, not mystic.

  What about telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis? All of these concepts imply that the mind can work remotely. What about intercessional prayer? In fact, praying for a favorable outcome has been studied scientifically, and found to be effective.

  Americans believe in the power of prayer to improve the course of illness. Indeed, nearly 70% of physicians report that they inquire about their patient's spirituality at times of great crisis.

  As we accrue clinical science as the basis for therapeutics, let us remember that only about 15% of what we do in medicine is based upon hard science. Much, if not most, of modern day medicine still lacks a scientific foundation. So it is too with alternative medicine, complementary medicine, and Chinese medicine. Yet, there are many disciples of these forms of treatment for a variety of illnesses.

  What will we learn about ourselves and about medicine in the next 50 years? Probably the greatest discoveries will be those that we cannot even imagine today.

  We can remain cautiously skeptical about any new notion, but it should not be set aside, without considering whether or not a new frontier is before us.

  Let us not be bound by conventional thinking, and go always forward, adventurous about health and the pursuit of happiness.

  Here's wishing everyone a happy New Year!

  I will be in touch next month.

  Your friend,

  Thomas Petty, MD

Published: Jan 31 2002