‘Evidence-Based Medicine and Evidence-Based Policy: The world’s most perfectly developed method & the 79-pound weakling?’

Egad! Pawson will attempt a methodological comparison of evidence-based medicine (EBM) and evidence-based policy (EBP). Conventional narratives have honoured clinical (especially pharmaceutical) RCTs as the world’s most perfectly developed method. The quarrelsome, paradigm- heavy field of EBP is often dismissed as a seventy-nine pound weakling. This presentation seeks to tear up these storylines. Pharmaceutical RCTs are only possible and meaningful because of many, prior years of basic biological and pharmacokinetic science. The underlying engine of drug developments is in fact a classic Popperian cycle. The starting point is a problem, which evokes tentative solutions. These are subjected to the process of error elimination using a whole repertoire of research methods. In the course of these activities new problems emerge. EBP utilises the same logic of inquiry under a method called ‘realist evaluation’. At a stroke the bodybuilder and the weakling become one.

Given his job title, it will come as no surprise that Professor Pawson’s main interest lies in research methodology. This does not quite bracket him with the technical nerds, however, for he has written widely on the philosophy and practice of research, covering methods qualitative and quantitative, pure and applied, contemporaneous and historical. There is a comon ‘realist’ thread underlying every word, albeit a modest, middle-range, empirically-rich kind of realism.