Evidence amalgamation, plausibility, and cancer research

Synthese 196 (8):3279-3317 (2019)
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Abstract
Cancer research is experiencing ‘paradigm instability’, since there are two rival theories of carcinogenesis which confront themselves, namely the somatic mutation theory and the tissue organization field theory. Despite this theoretical uncertainty, a huge quantity of data is available thanks to the improvement of genome sequencing techniques. Some authors think that the development of new statistical tools will be able to overcome the lack of a shared theoretical perspective on cancer by amalgamating as many data as possible. We think instead that a deeper understanding of cancer can be achieved by means of more theoretical work, rather than by merely accumulating more data. To support our thesis, we introduce the analytic view of theory development, which rests on the concept of plausibility, and make clear in what sense plausibility and probability are distinct concepts. Then, the concept of plausibility is used to point out the ineliminable role played by the epistemic subject in the development of statistical tools and in the process of theory assessment. We then move to address a central issue in cancer research, namely the relevance of computational tools developed by bioinformaticists to detect driver mutations in the debate between the two main rival theories of carcinogenesis. Finally, we briefly extend our considerations on the role that plausibility plays in evidence amalgamation from cancer research to the more general issue of the divergences between frequentists and Bayesians in the philosophy of medicine and statistics. We argue that taking into account plausibility-based considerations can lead to clarify some epistemological shortcomings that afflict both these perspectives.
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Archival date: 2017-12-03
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Laws and Symmetry.van Fraassen, Bas C.

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2017-10-20

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