2016 Annual Sowerby Lecture

24 November 2016 - 19:30-21:00

Medical Nihilism: Should we trust medical research?

Lecture: Jacob Stegenga – University of Cambridge History and Philosophy of Science
Comment: Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal


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, and the malleability of even the very best empirical methods employed in clinical 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.

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