Inference to the best explanation as a theory for the quality of mechanistic evidence in medicine
Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) is usually employed in the Scientific Realism debates. As far as particular scientific theories are concerned, its most ready usage seems to be that of a theory of confirmation. There are however more uses of IBE, namely as an epistemological theory of testimony and as a means of categorising and justifying the sources of evidence. In this paper, I will present, develop and exemplify IBE as a theory of the quality of evidence - taking examples from medicine and showing that IBE can thereby provide the epistemological underpinning and justify the criteria of grading quality of mechanistic evidence that have been recently provided in the Clarke et al. (2014) paper on how evidence of medical mechanisms is to be construed alongside population studies.
KeywordsInference to the best explanation Mechanisms Medical causation Testimony Quality of evidence
This article was written as part of the project ‘Grading Evidence of Mechanisms in Physics and Biology’, funded by the Leverh ulme Trust (http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/jonw/projects/gradingevidence-of-mechanisms-in-physics-and-biology/). I have received useful comments from Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij, Rachel Cooper, Veli-Pekka Parkkinen, Jon Williamson, and three anonymous referees for this journal.
- Adler, J. (2012). Epistemological problems of testimony. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/testimony-episprob/.
- Audi, R. (1997). The place of testimony in the fabric of knowledge and justification. American Philosophical Quarterly, 34, 405–422.Google Scholar
- Bovens, L., & Hartmann, S. (2003). Bayesian epistemology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
- Braunwald, E., & Chidsey, C. A. (1965). The adrenergic nervous system in the control of the normal and failing heart. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 58(12), 1063–1066.Google Scholar
- Cartwright, N. (1989). Nature’s capacities and their measurement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Darsee, J. (1983). A retraction of two papers on cardiomyopathy. The New England Journal of Medicine, 308, 1419.Google Scholar
- Douven, I. (2016). Inference to the best explanation: What Is It? And Why Should We Care? In K. McCain & T. Poston (Eds.), Best explanations: new essays on inference to the best explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Douven, I., and S. Wenmackers. (2015). Inference to the best explanation versus Bayes’s rule in a social setting. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Online first. http://bjps.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/07/31/bjps.axv025.abstract. Accessed 8 March 2016.
- Dragulinescu, S. (2012). On ‘Stabilising’ medical mechanisms, truth-makers and epistemic causality: a critique to Williamson and Russo’s approach. Synthese, 187(2), 785–800.Google Scholar
- Dragulinescu, S. (2016a). Inference to the best explanation and mechanisms in medicine. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 37(3), 211–232.Google Scholar
- Dragulinescu, S. (2016b). Mechanisms and difference-making. Acta Analytica. doi: 10.1007/s12136-016-0292-1.
- Feldman, M. D., Copelas, L., Gwathmey, J. K., Phillips, P., Warren, S. E., Schoen, F., Grossman, W., & Morgan, J. P. (1987). Deficient production of cyclic AMP: pharmacologic evidence of an important cause of contractile dysfunction in patients with end-stage heart failure. Circulation, 75, 331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Graham, P. J. (2006). Testimonial justification: inferential or non-inferential. Philological Quarterly, 56, 84–95.Google Scholar
- Hempel, C. G. (1970). On the ‘Standard Conception’ of scientific theories. In M. Radner & S. Winokur (Eds.), Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science (Vol. Vol. IV, pp. 142–163). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Hume, D. (1977) . An Enquiry concerning human understanding. Eric Steinberg (ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
- Lackey, J. (2006). It takes two to tango: beyond reductionism and non-reductionism in the epistemology of testimony. In J. Lackey & E. Sosa (Eds.), The epistemology of testimony. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Lee, T. (2013). Eugene Braunwald and the rise of modern medicine. Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
- Lipton, P. (1993). Making a difference. Philosophica, 51, 39–54.Google Scholar
- Lipton, P. (1994). Truth, existence, and the best explanation. In A. A. Derksen (ed.), The scientific realism of rom Harré. Tilburg University PressGoogle Scholar
- Lipton, P. (2000). Inference to the best explanation. In W.H. Newton-Smith (Ed.), A companion to the philosophy of science (pp. 184–193). Maalden: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Lipton, P. (2001). Is explanation a guide to inference? A reply to Wesley C. Salmon. In G. Hon & S. Rakover (Eds.), Explanation, theoretical approaches and applications (pp. 93–120). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
- Lipton, P. (2004). Inference to the best explanation (second ed.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- McCain, K., & Poston, T. (2014). Why explanatoriness is evidentially relevant. Thought, 3(2), 145–153.Google Scholar
- McMullin, E. (1992). The inference that makes science. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.Google Scholar
- Mill, JS  (2002). A system of logic. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.Google Scholar
- Niiniluoto, I. (2007). Abduction and scientific realism. In F. Keskin (Ed.), The proceedings of the twenty-first world congress of philosophy, vol. 12: Philosophical trends in the XXth Century (pp. 137–142). Ankara: Philosophical Society of Turkey.Google Scholar
- Psillos, S. (1999). Scientific realism: how science tracks truth. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Russo, F., & Williamson, J. (2011). Epistemic causality and evidence-based medicine. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 33(4), 563–582.Google Scholar
- Waagstein, F. (2002). Beta-blockers in congestive heart failure: the evolution of a new treatment concept – mechanisms of action and clinical implications. Journal of Clinical and Basic Cardiology, 5(3), 215–223.Google Scholar
- Woodward. (2002). What is a Mechanism: A Counterfactual Account. Philosophy of Science 69, supplement. Proceedings of the 2000 Biennial meeting of the philosophy of science association. Part II: Symposia Papers: S366–S377.Google Scholar