Philosophical Perspectives in Epidemiology




Epidemiology, and more generally, patient and population based research is founded on a set of theories and assumptions – the scientific method. There is a strong philosophy of science that has led to our understanding of the scientific method. Our graduate students are taught ways of applying science to get valid and meaningful inferences that will, hopefully, improve human health. However, not everyone agrees with the science that we teach, nor should they. We should challenge the methods that we use and teach, and the assumptions that guide these methods; challenge will make sure that our science is as strong as it can be, and our impact is as high as it can be. In this course, we will examine i) theories of causation and the hegemony of ‘evidence based medicine’, ii) statistical inference, frequentist and Bayesian epistemology, and the ‘reproducibility crisis’, iii) measurement theories, their implied ontologies and issues of ‘validation’, and iv) how values and cognitive science inform clinical and policy decisions. The course is meant for students near the end of their coursework who have some familiarity with these principles of science.



This course is a seminar course in which students will lead discussions based on readings. This is a pass/fail course and there are no assignments outside of the readings and class discussions. The facilitators (scientists and philosophers of science) will aid in the reading choices and discussion process.