Statistical Evidence and the Reliability of Medical Research

Authored by: Mattia Andreoletti , David Teira

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Medicine

Print publication date:  October  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138846791
eBook ISBN: 9781315720739
Adobe ISBN: 9781317519850


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Statistical evidence is pervasive in medicine. In this chapter we will focus on the reliability of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) conducted to test the safety and efficacy of medical treatments. RCTs are scientific experiments and, as such, we expect them to be replicable: if we repeat the same experiment time and again, we should obtain the same outcome (Norton 2015). The statistical design of the test should guarantee that the observed outcome is not a random event, but rather a real effect of the treatments administered. However, for more than a decade now, we have been discussing a replicability crisis across different experimental disciplines including medicine: the outcomes of trials published in very prestigious journals often disappear when the experiment is repeated (see, e.g., Lehrer 2010, Begley and Ellis 2012, Horton 2015).

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