Science in the undergraduate curriculum during the 20th century.
BACKGROUND: The conflict between the art and science of medical practice has always posed problems for the presentation of the scientific basis of medicine to medical students. This issue is examined by a brief description of the changing methods of medical education over the last century. OBSERVATIONS: The various approaches to attempting to teach the scientific basis of medical practice are discussed, together with the increasing complexities that followed the explosion of knowledge in the basic biological fields towards the end of the 20th century. Although progress was made by a more integrated approach to medical education, there are still considerable problems in presenting the basic sciences to students in a way that convinces them that such material is relevant to their future practice. CONCLUSIONS: A more broadly based background in modern biology, including evolutionary biology and biological complexity, would undoubtedly better prepare students for dealing with the infinite complexities they will encounter in sick people.