UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Seminar: Jacob Stegenga (Cambridge) - Medical Nihilism

Start: Nov 15, 2017 04:00 PM

Location: UCL Malet Place Engineering building, room 1.2


15th November 2017, starting at 16:30, with tea and coffee available from 16:00.


UCL Malet Place Engineering building, room 1.2 starting at 16:30, with tea and coffee available from 16:00.


Many prominent physicians and journalists have expressed arguments supporting medical nihilism, which is the view that we should have little confidence in the effectiveness of novel medical interventions. In this talk I assess the case for medical nihilism. Salient arguments are based on the frequency of failed medical interventions, the extent of misleading and discordant evidence in clinical research, the sketchy theoretical framework on which many medical interventions are based, the malleability of even the very best empirical methods employed in clinical research, and the social context of medical research. To evaluate medical nihilism with care I articulate the general argument in formal terms. If we attend more broadly to our evidence, malleable methods, and background theories, and reason with our best inductive framework, then I argue that our confidence in the effectiveness of most medical interventions ought to be low.

About the speaker

Jacob Stegenga is a Cambridge University Lecturer in philosophy of science. His research focuses on methodological problems of medical research, conceptual questions in evolutionary biology, and fundamental topics in reasoning and rationality. Stegenga's present work is culminating in a book titled Medical Nihilism, in which he argues that if we attend to the extent of bias in medical research, the thin theoretical basis of many interventions, the malleability of empirical methods in medicine, and if we employ our best inductive framework, then our confidence in medical interventions ought to be low. His research employs empirical findings, analysis, and formal methods to establish normative conclusions about science.

Before coming to Cambridge, Stegenga taught at University of Utah and University of Victoria, and was a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Toronto. He received his PhD from the University of California San Diego.

STS research seminars

The purpose of this series is to provide colleagues with an opportunity to present their latest research results and discuss them within a collegial atmosphere. 

STS research seminars are open to scholars from any academic field. These normally are research intensive, specialised events, of interest specifically to scholars in the discipline. More upcoming talks in the STS research seminar series are listed in the STS calendar (link).