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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > Claude Bernard Quotes > Statistics

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Claude Bernard
(12 Jul 1813 - 10 Feb 1878)

French physiologist who helped establish the principles of experimentation in the life sciences. His Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865) is a scientific classic.



A great surgeon performs operations for stone by a single method; later he makes a statistical summary of deaths and recoveries, and he concludes from these statistics that the mortality law for this operation is two out of five. Well, I say that this ratio means literally nothing scientifically and gives us no certainty in performing the next operation; for we do not know whether the next case will be among the recoveries or the deaths. What really should be done, instead of gathering facts empirically, is to study them more accurately, each in its special determinism. We must study cases of death with great care and try to discover in them the cause of mortal accidents so as to master the cause and avoid the accidents.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 137-138. (Note that Bernard overlooks how the statistical method can be useful: a surgeon announcing a mortality rate of 40% invites comparison. A surgeon with worse outcomes should adopt this method. If a surgeon has a better results, that method should be adopted.)
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As soon as the circumstances of an experiment are well known, we stop gathering statistics. … The effect will occur always without exception, because the cause of the phenomena is accurately defined. Only when a phenomenon includes conditions as yet undefined,Only when a phenomenon includes conditions as yet undefined, can we compile statistics. … we must learn therefore that we compile statistics only when we cannot possibly help it; for in my opinion, statistics can never yield scientific truth.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-137.
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I do not … reject the use of statistics in medicine, but I condemn not trying to get beyond them and believing in statistics as the foundation of medical science. … Statistics … apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still [uncertain or] indeterminate. … There will always be some indeterminism … in all the sciences, and more in medicine than in any other. But man’s intellectual conquest consists in lessening and driving back indeterminism in proportion as he gains ground for determinism by the help of the experimental method..
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 138-140.
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In the patient who succumbed, the cause of death was evidently something which was not found in the patient who recovered; this something we must determine, and then we can act on the phenomena or recognize and foresee them accurately. But not by statistics shall we succeed in this; never have statistics taught anything, and never can they teach anything about the nature of the phenomenon.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 138.
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The first requirement in using statistics is that the facts treated shall be reduced to comparable units.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 136.
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The goal of scientific physicians in their own science … is to reduce the indeterminate. Statistics therefore apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still indeterminate.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 139.
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When a physician is called to a patient, he should decide on the diagnosis, then the prognosis, and then the treatment. … Physicians must know the evolution of the disease, its duration and gravity in order to predict its course and outcome. Here statistics intervene to guide physicians, by teaching them the proportion of mortal cases, and if observation has also shown that the successful and unsuccessful cases can be recognized by certain signs, then the prognosis is more certain.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 213.
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See also:
  • 12 Jul - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Bernard's birth.
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote The alchemists founded chemistry - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote “The alchemists founded chemistry” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote The experimenter - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote The experimenter - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote Make experiments to … control our ideas - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote Make experiments to … control our ideas - Large image (800 x 600 px)

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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