Bayes and health care research.

ALLMARK, P. J. (2005). Bayes and health care research. Medicine, health care and philosophy., 7 (3), 321-332.


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Bayes’ rule shows how one might rationally change one’s beliefs in the light of evidence. It is the foundation of a statistical method called Bayesianism. In health care research, Bayesianism has its advocates but the dominant statistical method is frequentism.

There are at least two important philosophical differences between these methods. First, Bayesianism takes a subjectivist view of probability (i.e. that probability scores are statements of subjective belief, not objective fact) whilst frequentism takes an objectivist view. Second, Bayesianism is explicitly inductive (i.e. it shows how we may induce views about the world based on partial data from it) whereas frequentism is at least compatible with non-inductive views of scientific method, particularly the critical realism of Popper.

Popper and others detail significant problems with induction. Frequentism’s apparent ability to avoid these, plus its ability to give a seemingly more scientific and objective take on probability, lies behind its philosophical appeal to health care researchers.

However, there are also significant problems with frequentism, particularly its inability to assign probability scores to single events. Popper thus proposed an alternative objectivist view of probability, called propensity theory, which he allies to a theory of corroboration; but this too has significant problems, in particular, it may not successfully avoid induction. If this is so then Bayesianism might be philosophically the strongest of the statistical approaches. The article sets out a number of its philosophical and methodological attractions. Finally, it outlines a way in which critical realism and Bayesianism might work together.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: The original publication is available at
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bayes, Bayesianism, frequentism, critical realism, statistics, Popper, induction, health care, research
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Centre for Health and Social Care Research
Identification Number:
Page Range: 321-332
Depositing User: Ann Betterton
Date Deposited: 13 Jul 2007
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 14:16

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