Peter Sowerby Essay Contest 2018

Topic: “Doctor, will my treatment make me better?” Who is responsible for reducing uncertainties about the effects of treatments?

Patients would like certainty regarding their treatment—certainty about whether a treatment will be effective and what side-effects it might have. But medical treatments are beset with uncertainty, which arises at multiple points in our attempts to decide what interventions to use. History tells us that treatments once regarded as effective are now known to be harmful. We know that many treatments still in use have not been properly tested. And if we do attempt to assess a treatment, our efforts may be stymied by biases and other failings of the research process. Even when armed with the best conducted research, we may face uncertainty about how a treatment may affect a particular patient.

Uncertainty has profound consequences for individual and public health—witness the consequences of uncertainty created by the MMR vaccine scare. Even if the desire for complete certainty cannot realistically be met, we might hope to reduce the degree of uncertainty. Given the many places where uncertainty can arise, there are also many potential routes to reducing uncertainty, from better conducted research to the expansion of personalized medicine. Likewise there are many individuals and institutions who may be involved in reducing uncertainty, from researchers through government bodies to clinicians.

The 2018 Peter Sowerby essay contest invites submissions that reflect on the nature of medical uncertainty, and which consider the responsibility to reduce it and where that responsibility lies.

Eligibility: Students and alumni of all University of London schools, including undergraduate and postgraduate, and medical and professional schools.

Prize: £500

Length: less than 4,000 words

Due: 28 October 2018 (at 23:59 GMT)

Submission: Prepare your paper for blind review by making sure your name does not appear anywhere in the pages of the file, and send it to Essays will be assessed by a panel of distinguished academics from the University of London, chaired by Dr Tuomas Pernu.

Award Ceremony: The prize will be awarded at the Fourth Annual Sowerby Lecture in Philosophy and Medicine on 13 November 2018.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does the 4,000 word limit include references?

No. It doesn’t include references, but it does include footnotes.

2. Can two people submit an essay they write together?

Yes, papers may be co-authored as long as all authors fulfil the eligibility criteria.

3. Should the essay take a philosophical or scientific or clinical approach?

Philosophical, scientific, clinical, historical, psychological, and other factors may all be relevant to your answer to the question. The important thing is that the essay give an answer to the question and a thoughtful defence of that answer, and use a clear writing style without jargon. An approach to avoid is that of a book report or literature review.

4. What should the title be?

That is up to the author. You may want to tailor the title to your own answer to the question, or you may want simply to title it “Who is responsible for reducing uncertainties about the effects of treatments?”.

5. What does a winning essay look like?

You can see past winning essays here.