Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 81–98 | Cite as

The role of basic science in evidence-based medicine

  • Adam La Caze


Proponents of Evidence-based medicine (EBM) do not provide a clear role for basic science in therapeutic decision making. Of what they do say about basic science, most of it is negative. Basic science resides on the lower tiers of EBM’s hierarchy of evidence. Therapeutic decisions, according to proponents of EBM, should be informed by evidence from randomised studies (and systematic reviews of randomised studies) rather than basic science. A framework of models explicates the links between the mechanisms of basic science, experimental inquiry, and observed data. Relying on the framework of models I show that basic science often plays a role not only in specifying experiments, but also analysing and interpreting the data that is provided. Further, and contradicting what is implied in EBM’s hierarchy of evidence, appeals to basic science are often required to apply clinical research to therapeutic questions.


Evidence-based medicine Epidemiology Basic medical science Clinical decisions Randomised controlled trials 



I would like to thank Mark Colyvan, Jason Grossman, Neil Thomason, Jeremy Howick, Lindley Darden and Carl Craver for helpful discussions on previous versions of this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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