Philosophical controversies in the evaluation of medical treatments: With a focus on the evidential roles of randomization and mechanisms in Evidence-Based Medicine
This thesis examines philosophical controversies surrounding the evaluation of medical treatments, with a focus on the evidential roles of randomised trials and mechanisms in Evidence-Based Medicine. Current 'best practice' usually involves excluding non-randomised trial evidence from systematic reviews in cases where randomised trials are available for inclusion in the reviews. The first paper challenges this practice and evaluates whether adding of evidence from non-randomised trials might improve the quality and precision of some systematic reviews. The second paper compares the alleged methodological benefits of randomised trials over observational studies for investigating treatment benefits. It suggests that claims about the superiority of well-conducted randomised controlled trials over well-conducted observational studies are justified, especially when results from the two methods are contradictory. The third paper argues that postulating the unpredictability paradox in systematic reviews when no detectable empirical differences can be found requires further justification. The fourth paper examines the problem of absence causation in the context of explaining causal mechanisms and argues that a recent solution (Barros 2013) is incomplete and requires further justification. Solving the problem by describing absences as causes of 'mechanism failure' fails to take into account the effects of absences that lead to vacillating levels of mechanism functionality (i.e. differences in effectiveness or efficiency). The fifth paper criticises literature that has emphasised functioning versus 'broken' or 'non-functioning' mechanisms emphasising that many diseases result from increased or decreased mechanism function, rather than complete loss of function. Mechanistic explanations must account for differences in the effectiveness of performed functions, yet current philosophical mechanistic explanations do not achieve this. The last paper argues that the standard of evidence embodied in the ICE theory of technological function (i.e. testimonial evidence and evidence of mechanisms) is too permissive for evaluating whether the proposed functions of medical technologies have been adequately assessed and correctly ascribed. It argues that high-quality evidence from clinical studies is necessary to justify functional ascriptions to health care technologies.