Some doctors are scientists—just as some politicians are scientists—but most are not. As medical students they were filled full with information on biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, and other sciences, but information does not a scientist make—otherwise, you could become a scientist by watching the Discovery channel. A scientist is somebody who constantly questions, generates falsifiable hypotheses, and collects data from well designed experiments—the kind of people who brush their teeth on only one side of their mouth to see whether brushing your teeth has any benefit. Most doctors follow familiar patterns and rules, often improvising around those rules. In their methods of working they are more like jazz musicians than scientists.
Questioning whether doctors are scientists may seem outrageous, but most doctors know that they are not scientists. I once asked a room of perhaps 150 medically trained educators which of them thought of themselves as scientists. About five put up their hands.
If doctors are not scientists then it seems odd to supply them, as medical journals do, with a steady stream of original scientific studies. Teachers and social workers are not sent original research. Nurses are sent some, but are they simply aping the illogical ways of doctors?
The inevitable consequence is that most readers of medical journals don’t read the original articles. They may scan the abstract, but it’s the rarest of beasts who reads an article from beginning to end, critically appraising it as he or she goes. Indeed, most doctors are incapable of critically appraising an article. They have never been trained to do so. Instead, they must accept the judgment of the editorial team and its peer reviewers—until one of the rare beasts writes in and points out that a study is scientifically nonsensical.
— Richard Smith, MD, editor in chief of The BMJ and chief executive of the BMJ Publishing Group from 1991 to 2004
Smith R. Doctors are not scientists. The BMJ June 17, 2004; 328