UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Philosophy of Medicine: New Article

30 October 2012

The evidence that evidence-based medicine omits

Not one, but three STS staff have collaborated with colleagues from the University of Kent on a new a article which has just been published in the Journal Preventative Medicine. Dr Brendan Clarke, Dr Phyllis Ilari and Prof Donald Gilles worked with Dr Federica Russo and Prof Jon Williamson from the University of Kent on the article "The Evidence that Evidence Based Medicine Omits"

You can find the article online here


According to current hierarchies of evidence for EBM, evidence of correlation (e.g., from RCTs) is always more important than evidence of mechanisms when evaluating and establishing causal claims. We argue that evidence of mechanisms needs to be treated alongside evidence of correlation. This is for three reasons. First, correlation is always a fallible indicator of causation, subject in particular to the problem of confounding; evidence of mechanisms can in some cases be more important than evidence of correlation when assessing a causal claim. Second, evidence of mechanisms is often required in order to obtain evidence of correlation (for example, in order to set up and evaluate RCTs). Third, evidence of mechanisms is often required in order to generalise and apply causal claims.

While the EBM movement has been enormously successful in making explicit and critically examining one aspect of our evidential practice, i.e., evidence of correlation, we wish to extend this line of work to make explicit and critically examine a second aspect of our evidential practices: evidence of mechanisms.