Rationality and the generalization of randomized controlled trial evidence

Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 19 (4):644-647 (2013)
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Over the past several decades, we devoted much energy to generating, reviewing and summarizing evidence. We have given far less attention to the issue of how to thoughtfully apply the evidence once we have it. That’s fine if all we care about is that our clinical decisions are evidence-based, but not so good if we also want them to be well-reasoned. Let us not forget that evidence based medicine (EBM) grew out of an interest in making medicine ‘rational’, with the idea that rational clinical evaluations should be evidence-based. I agree with the uncontroversial statement that the best decision is supported, at least in part, by the best available evidence. Rationality, however, is constituted by reasoning, not evidence. Complete arguments are necessary for rational evaluations, arguments that begin with general evidence and end in a conclusion about a particular patient. In order to traverse these inferential gaps, medicine must address the issue of how to establish, as an intermediate premise, what the evidence has to say about the efficacy of an intervention for particular patients in a particular practice setting.


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