Sutton's law

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Sutton's law states that in attempting to diagnose a problem, one should first do the experiment that can confirm the most likely diagnosis. It is taught in medical schools to guide new doctors in ordering tests in a way that leads to faster treatment, while minimizing unnecessary costs. It is also applicable to other disciplines, such as debugging computer programs.

A more thorough analysis will consider the false positive rate of the test and the possibility that a less likely diagnosis might have more serious consequences.

The law is named after the bank robber Willie Sutton, who supposedly answered a reporter inquiring why he robbed banks by saying "because that's where the money is." He later denied saying it, however.

A similar idea is contained in the physician's adage, "When you hear hoofbeats in Texas, think horses, not zebras."

See Also


  • Altman, Lawrence (1970-01-03), "A Law Named for Willie Sutton Assists Physicians", The New York Times Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Rytand, David. "Sutton's or Dock's Law?". New England Journal of Medicine. 306 (21): 1263–8.