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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Seminar - After Medical Nihilism

14th December 2015, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Dr Jacob Stegenga (University of Victoria, Canada)

The chief editor of the Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, recently gave a pithy articulation of medical nihilism: “Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” How can we resist this turn toward darkness that has become so ubiquitous in medical science? In this seminar Dr Stegenga explores what medical nihilism might entail for medical research, regulation, and clinical practice. Medical nihilism motivates therapeutic humility—that is, greater caution in employing medical interventions in clinical practice—or what he calls ‘gentle medicine’. For medical research there have been many proposed solutions to the problems that motivate medical nihilism, ranging from minor modifications (such as requiring the registration of trials prior to data collection, and open access to trial data), to revolutionary changes (such as the complete socialization of medical research). Some have suggested that there ought to be changes in the intellectual property laws governing the results of medical research. Other proposals include stricter epistemological standards for detecting benefits and harms of medical interventions, a closer scrutiny of corporate research, and a shift in the research agenda away from “trends of dubious importance” toward projects consistent with gentle medicine and with potential for greater impact (such as research on the importance of diet and exercise, and on neglected tropical diseases). A second-order problem is how to motivate the translation of such proposals—fostered in ivory towers and at the desks of journal editors—into policy. 


Fellows' seminars take place on Monday lunchtimes in the seminar room at Cosin's Hall.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

The aim of these seminars is to develop new thinking on the big issues that are of current concern/interest for the Fellows . Each Fellow is asked to present a core idea that informs their current work, or a problem that they are tackling, that could benefit from cross-disciplinary thinking. These seminars are informal and designed to encourage discussion.

Contact for more information about this event.