The Authority of Evidence-Based Medicine

In the early part of the 20th century, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein sought to demonstrate that metaphysical claims are meaningless. Statements which couldn’t be proven true in some way—through logic or evidence—weren’t even false, they had no meaning at all. But he ran up against a problematic irony. His book, …

The Positivity Machine: “Evidence-Based Alternative Medicine” and Grades of Recommendation

By definition, I begin, Alternative Medicine, I continue, Has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine. —Tim Minchin, Storm   In his beat-poem Storm, the musician and comedian Tim Minchin lays …

The Parachute Problem: Extracorporeal Life Support and the Demand for Trials

“One of the best things about [extracorporeal life support] is that it acts as a parachute. It’s there when everything else fails and has known results”. Robert Bartlett   1: Parachutes and the Demand for Trials   The United States Parachute Association recorded 120 deaths while skydiving in America in …

The Avoidable Scandal: Benoxaprofen and Theories of Medical Evidence

“This debate is about Britain’s greatest drug disaster. It is about the scandal of a huge United States pharmaceutical company coming to Britain and boasting of Opren, a new wonder drug to treat arthritis — with tragic results.” —Lord Jack Ashley Benoxaprofen, marketed as Opren in the UK, created a …

Against “Effective Treatments”

I am agitating for philosophers of medicine and philosophically-minded clinicians to lead the charge against the term “effective treatment”. This phrase has become ubiquitous in the medical and philosophical literature. But it is a misguided choice which misleads the public and practitioners alike. In general, I want to promote talk about …

Two Dogmas of Evidence Hierarchies

Hierarchies of evidence in Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) come in many varieties and have been very influential in medical practice and policy since the late 1990s. However, two fundamental problematic assumptions underpin the use of hierarchies of any kind in clinical practice: (1) that evidence can and should be appraised in …