Think the Answer’s Clear?

Look Again

That’s a headline from the NYTimes this morning. Subtitile: Scientist at work: Dr. Donald A. Redelmeier.

As an Internist who works at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Canada’s largest trauma center, he’s figured out that talking on a cell phone while driving is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated (I knew that).

He’s also figured out that changing lanes is not a good idea – those other people are not really going faster than you, it just looks that way (I didn’t know that and I still think they are going faster, but I’ll think about it).

And be careful about driving on Election Day or Super Bowl Sunday, because there are more accidents on those days (OK, that’s news to me).

Other things he researched and learned — If you are applying to college, don’t go for an interview on a rainy day (I don’t have to worry about that).

And Academy Award winners live longer than the runners up (I don’t have to worry about that, either).

But, more than what he came up with, I am more interested in how he comes up with it and what he’s derives from his discoveries.

“He’ll go totally against intuition, and come up with a beautiful finding,” said Eldar Shafir, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, who has worked with Dr. Redelmeier on research into medical decision-making. (Next time, I have an intuition about something, I think I’ll try going the other way on purpose…).

“Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” Redelmeier said. “A great deal of mischief occurs when people are in a rush.” (Slow down. Slow down. Slow down. How many times do I have to tell myself that?)

And how about this?

In 1990, he and Professor Tversky published a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine showing that when physicians make a medical decision for a single hypothetical patient, they favor more expensive treatments than when making a decision for a group of hypothetical patients with similar symptoms. And in 1996 the two scientists found that increased arthritis pain had nothing to do with the weather. They attributed the misperception to the human tendency to look for patterns even where none may exist. (Next time I go to the doctors, I’m going to say: “I need to know this (or that), because all my friends have this problem and they need to know what to do…”)

And what about this?

Dr. Redelmeier takes the results of his research seriously. He rides his bike to work, and when he does drive, he resists “small temptations to change lanes.” (I’m going to try that in real life.)

This particular study intrigued me, too, because, in the past, I’ve thought long and hard about it.

Dr. Redelmeier is currently looking at attention deficit disorder among teenage drivers, and whether, like epilepsy, the disorder should be considered a medically reportable condition.

I saw that one clearly when my youngest daughter was learning to drive. I thought it was a no-brainer that kids with ADD or ADHD shouldn’t drive, and talked to her driving instructor, an ex-cop, about it.

He said, “Nah, she’ll be ok. Just get her to take her medicine.”

I wanted her to turn her license in. Of course, she said, no. It was many accidents later – thank god, not serious ones – that she finally got the message to slow down, and not to drive on top of the car in front of her…

So, thoughts to take away? I am not driving in the wrong lane. I am not going slow, and I should be going slower. Intuition is not it’s all cracked up to be, beware of patterns, I’m making it up, and, next time I interview, I’ll cancel if it’s raining.