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Perspect Biol Med. 2012 Winter;55(1):59-70. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2012.0007.

Interpreting evidence: why values can matter as much as science.

Author information

1
Division of Medical Ethics, Department of Public Health, Weill Cornell Medical College, NewYork, NY 10065, USA. imd2001@med.cornell.edu

Abstract

Despite increasing awareness of the ways in which non-epistemic values play roles in science, many scientists remain reluctant to acknowledge values at stake in their own work. Even when research clearly relates to risk assessment and establishing public policy, contexts in which the presence of values is less likely to be contentious, scientists tend to present such research as merely involving empirical questions about what the evidence is. As a result, debates over policy-related science tend to be framed as purely epistemic debates over the state of the evidence. We argue that this neglects the important ways that ethical and social values play legitimate roles in judgments about what we take to be evidence for a particular policy. Using the case of recent disputes about the relative safety of home birth, we argue that although the debate has been framed as a purely scientific one about the empirical evidence for home birth, it actually involves disagreements about underlying value assumptions. If our claims are correct, then in order to move the debate forward, scientists will need to engage in a critical discussion about the values at stake.

PMID:
22643716
PMCID:
PMC3615245
DOI:
10.1353/pbm.2012.0007
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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