Skip to Main Content

A hundred and forty years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to conjure a more alarming four-letter word than “stat.” Vulgarities might have triggered a pub brawl or flushed a socialite’s cheeks, but “stat” was an attention-getter of a different stripe.

Take this medication immediately was its message, invariably scrawled as a kind of exclamation mark beneath a life-saving prescription of the day.

Let’s forget, for the moment, the fact that many such medications were, well, poison. Think mercury, or antimony, now used in car batteries. (On the plus side, doctors also prescribed cannabis, which, one hopes, took the edge off an antimony overdose.)

Back to the point: When you saw “stat,” you snapped to attention.

It takes a bit of chutzpah to name a digital-age life-sciences publication after a buzzword born when leeches still roamed the apothecary. But we’ll be honest: We’re coming at this with no small amount of ambition.

“We take you inside science labs and hospitals, biotech boardrooms and political backrooms,” STAT’s mission statement reads. STAT will, it continues, examine controversies, introduce power brokers, puncture hype, and hold accountable those who would mislead the public.

That’s a lot for any brand name to convey, especially in a publishing world bristling with edgy new labels. But “stat” comes with a certain pedigree.

Its first common usage as a medical term appeared in 1875, in William Handsel Griffiths’ seminal (or not) text: “Lessons on Prescriptions and the Art of Prescribing.” Griffiths, a surgeon and professor in Dublin, tucked “stat” between “stet” and “somnus” on a list of jargon used by doctors who, he wrote, suffered from “hurry, laziness or ignorance.”

Stat: abbreviation of the Latin word “statim,” meaning “immediately.”

Since Griffiths’ day, “stat” has taken on other meanings. The term’s adoption by math geeks came in the 1950s, as shorthand for statistics courses. Sportswriters in the Nixon-era later dragged the word into the mainstream.

The medical “stat” has also been co-opted by the mobile masses, floating in a sea of social media shorthand, and usually appearing atop a must-watch video or anything else that qualifies for FOMO-related urgency.

So. With all of these “stats” occupying such a major chunk of real estate in the media landscape of today, it’d be understandable if a new life-sciences publication ceded “stat” to the digit-heads and click-baiters.

But let’s face it: Despite the meltdowns some people may experience while watching a game, or the thrill others may find in sharing goat videos, or identifying a data-related glitch in, say, an employment report, “stat” rarely rises to the dramatic level of “stat.”

Take this. Immediately.

On the other hand, life-sciences news that carries with it the potential for actual life-changing information? Now that qualifies as urgent.

STAT: “Read this. Immediately.”

It may well be just what the doctor ordered.

Bob Tedeschi