Chapter

In Praise of Randomisation: The Importance of Causality in Medicine and its Subversion by Philosophers of Science

DAVID COLQUHOUN

in Evidence, Inference and Enquiry

Published by British Academy

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780197264843
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754050 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5871/bacad/9780197264843.003.0012

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

In Praise of Randomisation: The Importance of Causality in Medicine and its Subversion by Philosophers of Science

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The job of scientists is to try to distinguish what is true from what is false by means of observation and experiment. That job has been made difficult by some philosophers of science who appear to give academic respectability to relativist, and even postmodernist, postures. This chapter suggests that the contributions of philosophers to causal understanding have been unhelpful. It puts the case for randomised studies as the safest guarantee of the reliability of scientific evidence. It uses the case of hormone replacement therapy to illustrate the importance of randomisation, and the case of processed meat and cancer to illustrate the problems that arise in the absence of randomised tests. Finally, it discusses the opposition to randomisation that has come from some philosophers of science.

Keywords: philosophy of science; causal understanding; scientific evidence; randomisation; hormone replacement therapy

Chapter.  7902 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Research and Statistics

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