May 4, 2022

Against black box medicine (2)

 Time to reality check the promises of machine learningowered precision medicine

Both machine learning and precision medicine are genuine innovations and will undoubtedly lead to some great scientific successes. However, these benefits currently fall short of the hype and expectation that has grown around them. Such a disconnect is not benign and risks overlooking rigour for rhetoric and inflating a bubble of hope that could irretrievably damage public trust when it bursts. Such mistakes and harm are inevitable if machine learning is mistakenly thought to bypass the need for genuine scientific expertise and scrutiny. There is no question that the appearance of big data and machine learning offer an exciting chance for revolution, but revolutions demand greater scrutiny, not less. This scrutiny should involve a reality check on the promises of machine learning-powered precision medicine and an enhanced focus on the core principles of good data science—trained experts in study design, data system design, and causal inference asking clear and important questions using high-quality data.