>Cutting edge stuff

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To minimise exposure to the royal wedding, I spent part of the weekend reading Gabriel Weston’s short semi-autobiographical memoire-cum-collection of short stories Direct Red: A Surgeon’s Story, the tale of an English graduate turned surgeon and how things really look from behind the surgeon’s mask. Its a finely described, slightly detached account of  surgery; life and death, good and bad decisions by doctors; and medical and social hierarchies that structure their world. There are also beautifully written and finely gory passages about surgery. Most striking though is that surgeons need not only steady, sure and fine hand in cutting people open and quick and calm judgements in critical situations – the biggest danger when things do not go according to plan seems to be patients bleeding to death on the operating table – but also to know precisely their level of competence and incompetence: the  moment when they need to recognise their limits ask for help and call in someone more specialised (who may in turn need to go through  the same process and call up someone still more specialised).
Academics, of course, do not cut people open – although I have eviscerated a few books and PhD theses in my time – and, generally speaking, do not kill people, if they do things wrong. But I couldn’t help wondering if academia and academic research there  not be an equivalent mechanism.

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