Placebo controls and epistemic control in orthodox medicine

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 18 (2):213-231 (1993)
Abstract
American orthodox medicine consolidated its professional authority in the early 20th Century on the basis of its unbiased scientific method. The centerpiece of such a method is a strategy for identifying truly effective new therapies, i.e., the randomized clinical trial (RCT). A crucial component of the RCT in illnesses without established treatment is the placebo control. Placebo effects must be identified and distinguished from pharmacological effects because placebos produce actual but unexplained therapeutic successes. The blinding necessary for a proper placebo-controlled RCT therefore introduces an epistemic bias into orthodox medicine: therapeutic successes that rely upon a direct link between knowing and healing, such as placebo effects, are discarded in favor of therapeutic successes that rely upon an indirect link between knowing and healing, such as pharmacological interventions. Where the capacity to produce therapeutic results once validated the method of clinical medical science, now method validates results. The clinical consequences of this method of testing therapies include a diminished vision of the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship and of the potential human resources available for healing. Keywords: doctor-patient relationship, epistemology, placebo effect, professionalization, randomized clinical trials CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this?
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