International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-R340
Individual papers
Epistemology, Objectivity and Marketing in Biomedicine

Applying epistemology to help bridge the translational gap

Jessica Bolker (University of New Hampshire, United States)

While epistemological perspectives can’t answer biological questions, they can clarify questions, identify assumptions, and examine how the practices of scientific research shape its direction and findings. As in biology itself, however, global abstractions about how things might work have limited value: we learn more by studying particulars. In this talk, I focus on the intersection of epistemology and translational research (that is, research aimed at closing the gap between basic biomedical science and its clinical application). I point out a few key epistemological issues that arise in the domain of translational research, some ways philosophy might begin to address them, and how doing so could help bridge the “translational gap” between bench and bedside. One set of questions centers on representation and modeling, particularly the ways animal models and clinical trial participants represent the diseases and patient populations they’re used to study. A second concern is the epistemological ramifications of current biomedical research practices, some of which may ultimately impede translation. The most effective way to address such issues is for philosophers and scientists to work together; both can contribute to bridging the gap, and both disciplines stand to benefit.

The objectivity of clinical trials outcomes

Roger Stanev** (University of Ottawa, Canada)

Composite outcomes, wherein different outcome measures are combined, are becoming frequent in clinical trials. They are used to increase statistical power by obtaining more outcome events. Advocates argue their appropriate use is more patient relevant than single endpoints (e.g. death), while reducing sample size and cost requirements, thus improving trial efficiency and availability of new treatments. Critics, on the other hand, argue their use is problematic, since components are often unreasonably combined, inconsistently defined, and inadequately reported. Here, I examine common use of composite outcomes in cardiovascular trials and how composite results can be misleading, threatening the objectivity of the trial, particularly when treatment effects vary across components making the net effect on the composite difficult to interpret.

Profitable little pills: Marketing biological sex and gender​

Kate Grauvogel (Indiana University Bloomington, United States)

Hormone therapies are a popular treatment option marketed towards individuals for problems associated with biological sex, such as menopause. Pharmaceutical companies, however, often cash in on hormone treatment by attempting to convince doctors, patients, and non-patient consumers that such products are necessary to maintain good health. This paper examines the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and consumers, with an eye toward the effect that implicit biases about gender, sex, and medicine may have upon treatment options. Joining larger, ongoing debates about the roles of biological sex and gender in medicine as well as the characterization of health as the absence of disease, I suggest that the marketing techniques implemented by pharmaceutical companies have skewed perceptions about gender and biological sex, suggesting a symbiotic relationship where one does not necessarily exist. Conversely, health and disease are often depicted as extremes on a spectrum instead of as having a symbiotic relationship. Rethinking these relationships might lead to improved treatment outcomes. ​