Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Medicine and BioMed Central.

Journal App

google play app store
Open Access Open Badges Comment

Does reductio ad absurdum have a place in evidence-based medicine?

Florian Naudet123* and Bruno Falissard145

Author Affiliations

1 INSERM, U669 Maison de Solenn, 97 Boulevard de Port Royal, Paris cedex 14, 75679, France

2 Centre d’Investigation Clinique CIC-P INSERM 0203, Hôpital de Pontchaillou, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Rennes et Université de Rennes 1, Rennes, France

3 Centre Hospitalier Guillaume Régnier, Service Hospitalo-Universitaire de Psychiatrie, Rennes, France

4 Université Paris-Sud and Université Paris Descartes, UMR-S0669, Paris, France

5 AP-HP, Hôpital Paul Brousse, Département de Santé Publique, Villejuif, France

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medicine 2014, 12:106  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-12-106

Published: 25 June 2014


In a meta-analysis published in BMC Medicine, we explored whether evidence-based medicine can actually be sure that ‘sucrose = sucrose’ in the treatment of depression. This paper, based upon a reductio ad absurdum, addressed an epistemological question using a ‘scientific’ approach, and could be disconcerting as suggested by Cipriani and Geddes’ commentary. However, most papers are based upon a mixture of observations and discussions about sense and meaning. Ultimately, there is nothing more than a story, told with words or numbers. Randomised controlled trials provide information about average patients that do not exist. These results ignores an entire segment of therapeutics that plays a crucial role, namely care. This information is usually set out using a ‘grammar’ that is ambiguous, since statistical tests of hypothesis have raised epistemological questions that are not as yet solved. Moreover, many of these stories remain untold, and unpublished. For these reasons evidence-based medicine is a vehicle for many paradoxes and controversies. Reductio ad absurdum can be useful in precisely this case, to underline how and why the medical literature can sometimes give an impression of absurdity of this sort. Even if the data analysis in our paper was rather rhetorical, we agree that it should comply with the classic standards of reporting and we provide the important extra data that Cipriani and Geddes have requested.

Please see related articles: webcite and webcite.

Epistemology; Evidence-based medicine; Publication bias; Reductio ad absurdum; Statistics