Arguments in favor of greater research-practice integration in medicine have tended to be ethical, political, or pragmatic. There are good epistemic reasons to pursue greater integration, and it is important to think through these reasons in order to avoid inadvertently designing new systems in ways that replicate the epistemic elitism common within current systems. Meaningful transformation within health care is possible with close attention to all reasons in favor of greater research-practice integration, including epistemic reasons.
In Science as Social Knowledge in 1990 and The Fate of Knowledge in 2002, Helen Longino develops an epistemological theory known as Critical Contextual Empiricism (CCE). Knowledge production, she argues, is an active, value-laden practice, evidence is context dependent and relies on background assumptions, and science is a social inquiry that, under certain conditions, produces social knowledge with contextual objectivity. While Longino’s work has been generally well-received, there have been a number of criticisms of CCE raised in the philosophical literature (...) in recent years. In this paper I outline the key elements of Longino’s theory and propose modifications to the four norms offered by the account. The version of CCE I defend, which draws on lessons learned by medical researchers in recent years, gives principles of epistemic diversity a central role and also provides greater specification of three of the four norms. Further, it offers additional resources for defending CCE against Alvin Goldman’s suggestion that there is a need for a “healthy dogmatism” in science, as well as a concern about “manufactured uncertainty” arising out of recent work by David Michaels. Finally, the modified version proposed here is also well positioned to respond (negatively) to a suggestion from Kristen Intemann that CCE needs to be adapted to incorporate a central insight from feminist standpoint theory. In light of the variety of social pressures influencing contemporary scientific research, and the role of science in shaping public policy, I argue that a rigorous social epistemology such as CCE is indispensable for understanding and assessing contemporary scientific practice. (shrink)
Most phase III clinical trials today are explanatory. Because explanatory, or efficacy, trials test hypotheses under “ideal” conditions, they are not well suited to providing guidance on decisions made in most clinical care contexts. Pragmatic trials, which test hypotheses under “usual” conditions, are often better suited to this task. Yet, pragmatic, or effectiveness, trials are infrequently carried out. This mismatch between the design of clinical trials and the needs of health care professionals is frustrating for everyone involved, and explains some (...) of the challenges inherent in attempts to enhance knowledge translation and encourage evidence-based practice. The situation is more than simply frustrating, however; it is potentially unethical. Clinical trials must be socially valuable in order to (1) warrant the risks they impose on human research subjects and (2) fairly and efficiently assess new clinical interventions. Most bioethicists would agree that trials that have no social value, for instance, because their results do not have the potential to advance clinical care, should not be performed. What is less widely appreciated is that given limited research resources, trials that are more socially valuable should be preferred to trials that are less socially valuable when all else is equal. With respect to clinical trial design, I argue that while explanatory trials often have some social value, many have less social value than their pragmatic counterparts. On the basis of this general ethical assessment, I provide a preliminary defense of the position that clinical researchers should aim to conduct pragmatic trials, that is, that researchers face a burden of justification related to any idealizing elements added to trial designs. (shrink)
Clinical research has at least three problematic features: it tends to be redundant, secretive, and isolated.1 Research with these features not only wastes resources and causes harm, it also fails to meet a basic ethical requirement of research: scientific validity. As bioethicists, we should be asking why, if research with these three features is ethically unjustified, it has been so routinely approved by research ethics committees over the past half century. In what follows, I provide one answer to this question. (...) The first section of this paper outlines empirical evidence for the redundant, secretive, and isolated nature of much contemporary clinical research. Next, I argue that a lack of clarity .. (shrink)
The volume of clinical research is increasing exponentially—far beyond our ability to process and absorb the results. Given this situation, it may be beneficial to consider reducing the flow at its source. In what follows, I will motivate and critically evaluate the following proposal: researchers should conduct fewer clinical trials. More specifically, I c onsider whether researchers should be permitted to conduct only clinical research of very high quality and, in turn, whether research ethics committees should prohibit all other, lower-quality (...) research, even when it might appear to meet some minimal ethical standard. Following a close analysis of the social-value requirement of ethical clinical research, I argue that this proposal is defensible. The problem identified in this paper has two parts, quantity and quality, and some clarification is needed about the latter because “quality” is a highly contested term in the medical literature. When some scholars advocate for high-quality trials, they mean large-scale, simple, explanatory randomized controlled trials. Others, including myself, have defended a different characterization of high-quality research that tends more toward pragmatic trial design and the use of methods other than RCTs. Pragmatic trials aim to provide evidence that directly supports clinical decision-making in “usual” care settings. Unlike explanatory trials, which aim to abstract away from particular settings and patients, in the hopes of creating ideal conditions for the success of an intervention, pragmatic trials deliberately pursue knowledge of high applicability, through the use of representative subjects, clinically important questions, flexible treatment protocols, patient-oriented outcome measures, and so on. I see applicability as a marker of high-quality research. The context in which research is meant to be applied should be the context in which new interventions are evaluated. (shrink)