Influence and prioritization of non-epistemic values in clinical trial designs: a study of Ebola ça Suffit trial

Synthese 198 (Suppl 10):2393-2409 (2018)
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The recent Ebola virus disease outbreak in Western African countries has raised questions regarding the feasibility of adopting conventional trial designs such as randomized controlled trials for conducting experimental trials in the midst of a fatal epidemic. In the context of Ebola ça Suffit trial conducted in Guinea for testing the efficacy and effectiveness of rVSV–ZEBOV, a candidate vaccine, I argue that the trial design and the methodologies adopted for the trial have been rightly chosen for their ethical appropriateness and social utilities rather than only epistemic advantages. In this paper, I propose and defend the view that in varying scientific research contexts, it is entirely legitimate that non-epistemic values may be prioritized over epistemic considerations. Two vital methodological choices scientists should make while designing a clinical trial are: the choice of appropriate control group and the choice of appropriate randomization. Given this background, I show that the choice of delayed vaccination arm as the control group over placebo control group and the choice of cluster randomization over individually controlled randomization for conducting Ebola ça Suffit trial are perfect instances of such a scenario where addressing social and ethical issues have been justifiably prioritized over epistemic values so that the research in a specific scientific context could be conducted in a socially relevant manner.



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Joby Varghese
Central University of Hyderabad