It is sometimes thought that randomized study group allocation is uniquely proficient at producing comparison groups that are evenly balanced for all confounding causes. Philosophers have argued that in real randomized controlled trials this balance assumption typically fails. But is the balance assumption an important ideal? I run a thought experiment, the CONFOUND study, to answer this question. I then suggest a new account of causal inference in ideal and real comparative group studies that helps clarify the roles of confounding (...) variables and randomization. 1Confounders and Causes2The Balance Assumption3The CONFOUND Study 3.1CONFOUND 13.2CONFOUND 24Disjunction C and the Ideal Study 4.1The ultimate ‘other cause’: C4.2The ideal comparative group study4.3Required conditions for causal inference5Confounders as Causes, Confounders as Correlates6Summary. (shrink)
What meaning does epidemiological evidence have for the individual? In evidence-based medicine, epidemiological evidence measures the patient’s risk of the outcome or the change in risk due to an intervention. The patient’s risk is commonly understood as an individual probability. The problem of understanding epidemiological evidence and risk thus becomes the challenge of interpreting individual patient probabilities. I argue that the patient’s risk is interpreted ontically, as a propensity. After exploring formidable problems with this interpretation in the medical context, I (...) propose an epistemic reinterpretation of individual patient probabilities as credences. On this view, epidemiological evidence informs medical uncertainty. (shrink)
Introduction: Clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) are an important source of justification for clinical decisions in modern evidence-based practice. Yet, we have given little attention to how they argue their evidence. In particular, how do CPGs argue for treatment with long-term medications that are increasingly prescribed to older patients? Approach and rationale: I selected six disease-specific guidelines recommending treatment with five of the medication classes most commonly prescribed for seniors in Ontario, Canada. I considered the stated aims of these CPGs and (...) the techniques employed towards those aims. Finally, I reconstructed and logically analysed the arguments supporting recommendations for pharmacotherapy. Analysis: The primary function of CPGs is rhetorical, or persuasive, and their means of persuasion include both a display of their credibility and their argumentation. Arguments supporting pharmacotherapy recommendations for the target population follow a common inductive pattern: statistical generalization from randomized controlled trial (RCT) and meta-analysis evidence. Two of the CPGs also argue their treatment recommendations for older patients in this style, while three fail to justify pharmacotherapy specifically for the older population. Discussion: The arguments analysed lack the auxiliary assumptions that would warrant making a generalization about the clinical effectiveness of medications for the older population. Guidelines reason using simple induction, while ignoring important inferential gaps. Future guidelines should aspire to be well-reasoned rather than simply evidence-based; argue from a plurality of evidence; be wary of hasty inductions; appropriately limit the scope of their recommendations; and avoid making law-like, prescriptive generalizations. (shrink)
What kind of a thing are chronic diseases? Are they objects, bundles of signs and symptoms, properties, processes, or fictions? Rather than using concept analysis—the standard approach to disease in the philosophy of medicine—to answer this metaphysical question, I use a bottom-up, inductive approach. I argue that chronic diseases are bodily states or properties—often dispositional, but sometimes categorical. I also investigate the nature of related pathological entities: pathogenesis, etiology, and signs and symptoms. Finally, I defend my view against alternate accounts (...) of the nature of disease. (shrink)
COVID-19 epidemic models raise important questions for science and philosophy of science. Here I provide a brief preliminary exploration of three: what kinds of predictions do epidemic models make, are they causal models, and how do different kinds of epidemic models differ in terms of what they represent?
Simple extrapolation is the orthodox approach to extrapolating from clinical trials in evidence-based medicine: extrapolate the relative effect size from the trial unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. I argue that this method relies on a myth and a fallacy. The myth of simple extrapolation is the idea that the relative risk is a ‘golden ratio’ that is usually transportable due to some special mathematical or theoretical property. The fallacy of simple extrapolation is an unjustified argument (...) from ignorance: we conclude that the relative effect size is transportable in the absence of evidence to the contrary. In short, simple extrapolation is a deeply problematic solution to the problem of extrapolation. (shrink)
With the ascent of modern epidemiology in the Twentieth Century came a new standard model of prediction in public health and clinical medicine. In this article, we describe the structure of the model. The standard model uses epidemiological measures-most commonly, risk measures-to predict outcomes (prognosis) and effect sizes (treatment) in a patient population that can then be transformed into probabilities for individual patients. In the first step, a risk measure in a study population is generalized or extrapolated to a target (...) population. In the second step, the risk measure is particularized or transformed to yield probabilistic information relevant to a patient from the target population. Hence, we call the approach the Risk Generalization-Particularization (Risk GP) Model. There are serious problems at both stages, especially with the extent to which the required assumptions will hold and the extent to which we have evidence for the assumptions. Given that there are other models of prediction that use different assumptions, we should not inflexibly commit ourselves to one standard model. Instead, model pluralism should be standard in medical prediction. (shrink)
Over the past several decades, we devoted much energy to generating, reviewing and summarizing evidence. We have given far less attention to the issue of how to thoughtfully apply the evidence once we have it. That’s fine if all we care about is that our clinical decisions are evidence-based, but not so good if we also want them to be well-reasoned. Let us not forget that evidence based medicine (EBM) grew out of an interest in making medicine ‘rational’, with the (...) idea that rational clinical evaluations should be evidence-based. I agree with the uncontroversial statement that the best decision is supported, at least in part, by the best available evidence. Rationality, however, is constituted by reasoning, not evidence. Complete arguments are necessary for rational evaluations, arguments that begin with general evidence and end in a conclusion about a particular patient. In order to traverse these inferential gaps, medicine must address the issue of how to establish, as an intermediate premise, what the evidence has to say about the efficacy of an intervention for particular patients in a particular practice setting. (shrink)
The new field of meta-research investigates industry bias, publication bias, contradictions between studies, and other trends in medical research. I argue that its findings should be used as meta-evidence for evaluating therapies. ‘Meta-evidence’ is evidence about the support that direct ‘first-order evidence’ provides the hypothesis. I consider three objections to my proposal: the irrelevance objection, the screening-off objection, and the underdetermination objection. I argue that meta-research evidence works by rationally revising our confidence in first-order evidence and, consequently, in the hypothesis—typically, (...) downward. (shrink)
Last year saw the 20th anniversary edition of JECP, and in the introduction to the philosophy section of that landmark edition, we posed the question: apart from ethics, what is the role of philosophy ‘at the bedside’? The purpose of this question was not to downplay the significance of ethics to clinical practice. Rather, we raised it as part of a broader argument to the effect that ethical questions – about what we should do in any given situation – are (...) embedded within whole understandings of the situation, inseparable from our beliefs about what is the case, what it is that we feel we can claim to know, as well as the meaning we ascribe to different aspects of the situation or to our perception of it. Philosophy concerns fundamental questions: it is a discipline requiring us to examine the underlying assumptions we bring with us to our thinking about practical problems. Traditional academic philosophers divide their discipline into distinct areas that typically include logic: questions about meaning, truth and validity; ontology: questions about the nature of reality, what exists; epistemology: concerning knowledge; and ethics: how we should live and practice, the nature of value. Any credible attempt to analyse clinical reasoning will require us to think carefully about these types of question and the relationships between them, as they influence our thinking about specific situations and problems. So, the answers to the question we posed, about the role of philosophy at the bedside, are numerous and diverse, and that diversity is illustrated in the contributions to this thematic edition. (shrink)
Over the past 25 years, several new “medicines” have come screeching onto health care’s various platforms, including narrative medicine, personalized medicine, precision medicine and person-centred medicine. Philosopher Miriam Solomon calls the first three of these movements different “ways of knowing” or “methods,” and argues that they are each a response to shortcomings of methods that came before them. They should also be understood as reactions to the current dominant model of medicine. In this article, I will describe our dominant model, (...) which I call “the new medical model.” I will argue that several towering problems in modern medicine can be traced to its philosophical foundations, which calls for philosophical analysis. (shrink)
When the editorial to the first philosophy thematic edition of this journal was published in 2010, critical questioning of underlying assumptions, regarding such crucial issues as clinical decision making, practical reasoning, and the nature of evidence in health care, was still derided by some prominent contributors to the literature on medical practice. Things have changed dramatically. Far from being derided or dismissed as a distraction from practical concerns, the discussion of such fundamental questions, and their implications for matters of practical (...) import, is currently the preoccupation of some of the most influential and insightful contributors to the on‐going evidence‐based medicine debate. Discussions focus on practical wisdom, evidence, and value and the relationship between rationality and context. In the debate about clinical practice, we are going to have to be more explicit and rigorous in future in developing and defending our views about what is valuable in human life. (shrink)
Many epidemics consist in individuals spreading infection to others. From the population perspective, they also have population characteristics important in modeling, explaining, and intervening in epidemics. I analyze epidemiology’s contemporary population perspective through the example of epidemics by examining two central principles attributed to Geoffrey Rose: a distinction between the causes of cases and the causes of incidence, and between “high-risk” and “population” strategies of prevention. Both principles require revision or clarification to capture the sense in which they describe distinct (...) perspectives on the same phenomenon, each perspective capturing a different level of contrastive analysis. (shrink)
Despite its potential hazards, the activity of questioning theoretical frameworks and and proposing solutions is necessary if progress is even to be possible. Intellectual history has by no means ended so we cannot expect to have all the answers, and from time to time the activity of critical questioning will be frustrating. But intellectual progress requires us to continue the process of asking fundamental questions. The alternative to thinking in this way is indeed unthinkable.
In this article, I will reconstruct the monocausal model and argue that modern 'multifactorial diseases' are not monocausal by definition. 'Multifactorial diseases' are instead defined according to a constitutive disease model. On closer analysis, infectious diseases are also defined using the constitutive model rather than the monocausal model. As a result, our classification models alone cannot explain why infectious diseases have a universal etiology while chronic and noncommunicable diseases lack one. The explanation is instead provided by the nineteenth-century germ theorists.
Medical interventions that cure or prevent medical conditions are central to medicine; and thus, understanding them is central to our understanding of medicine. My purpose in this paper is to explore the conceptual foundations of medicine by providing a singular analysis of the concept of a ‘preventive or curative medical intervention’. Borrowing a general account of prevention from Phil Dowe, I provide an analysis of prevention, cure, risk reduction, and a preventive or curative intervention, before turning to preventive and curative (...) medical interventions. The resulting counterfactual-mechanistic account holds that preventive and curative medical interventions reduce the probability of a medical condition in an actual population compared to their counterfactual omission, commonly by disrupting an etiological or constitutive mechanism for the condition. (shrink)