Digitizing Diagnosis: Medicine, Minds, and Machines in Twentieth-Century America by Andrew S Lea

Congratulations to Andrew on his book Digitizing Diagnosis: Medicine, Minds, and Machines in Twentieth-Century America, which is available for pre-order through Amazon or directly from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Beginning in the 1950s, interdisciplinary teams of physicians, engineers, mathematicians, and philosophers began to explore the possible application of a new digital technology to one of the most central, and vexed, tasks of medicine: diagnosis. In Digitizing Diagnosis, Andrew Lea examines these efforts—and the larger questions, debates, and transformations that emerged in their wake.

While surveying the continuities spanning the analog and digital worlds of medicine, Lea uncovers how the introduction of the computer to medical diagnosis reconfigured the identities of patients, diseases, and physicians. Debates about how and whether to apply computers to the problem of diagnosis, he demonstrates, were animated by larger concerns about the nature of medical reasoning, the definitions of disease, and the authority and identity of physicians and patients.

In their attempts to digitize diagnosis, these interdisciplinary groups of researchers repeatedly came up against fundamental moral and philosophical questions. How should doctors classify diseases? Could humans understand, and come to trust, the opaque decision-making processes of machines? And how might computerized systems circumvent—or calcify—bias? As medical algorithms become more deeply integrated into clinical care, researchers, clinicians, and caregivers continue to grapple with these questions today.


About the Author

Andrew Lea is a resident physician in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in History and Science and went on to receive his PhD (DPhil) in History of Science and Medicine from the University of Oxford. During his doctoral studies, he was a residential fellow at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (MPIWG) in Berlin. He earned his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he was selected as Match Day speaker. His research explores the history of diagnosis, disease, and medical technology and has appeared in leading historical and medical journals, including Isis and the New England Journal of Medicine.