In his book “Medical Philosophy: Conceptual issues in Medicine”, Mario Bunge provides a unique account of medical philosophy that is deeply rooted in a realist ontology he calls “systemism”. According to systemism, the world consists of systems and their parts, and systems possess emergent properties that their parts lack. Events within systems may form causes and effects that are constantly conjoined via particular mechanisms. Bunge supports the views of the evidence-based medicine movement that randomized controlled trials (RCTs) provide the best evidence to establish the truth of causal hypothesis; in fact, he argues that only
RCTs have this ability. Here, we argue that Bunge neglects the important feature of patients being open systems which are in steady interaction with their environment. We show that accepting this feature leads to counter-intuitive consequences for his account of medical hypothesis testing. In particular, we point out that (i) the confirmation of hypotheses is inherently stochastic and affords a probabilistic account of both confirmation and evidence which we provide here; (ii) RCTs are neither necessary nor sufficient to establish the truth of a causal claim; (iii) testing of causal hypotheses requires taking into account background knowledge and the context within which an intervention is applied. We conclude that there is no “best” research methodology in medicine, but that different methodologies should coexist in a complementary fashion.
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