Semmelweis’s methodology from the modern stand-point: intervention studies and causal ontology

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Downloads (Pure)


Semmelweis’s work predates the discovery of the power of randomization in medicine by almost a century. Although Semmelweis would not have consciously used a randomized controlled trial (RCT), some features of his material—the allocation of patients to the first and second clinics—did involve what was in fact a randomization, though this was not realised at the time. This article begins by explaining why Semmelweis’s methodology, nevertheless, did not amount to the use of a RCT. It then shows why it is descriptively and normatively interesting to compare what he did with the modern approach using RCTs. The argumentation centres on causal inferences and the contrast between Semmelweis’s causal concept and that deployed by many advocates of RCTs. It is argued that Semmelweis’s approach has implications for matters of explanation and medical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-209
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: The Vårdal Institute (016540000), Department of Philosophy (015001000), Theoretical Philosophy (015001002)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Philosophy, Ethics and Religion

Free keywords

  • intervention study
  • randomized controlled trial
  • internal validity
  • external validity
  • cause
  • Semmelweis
  • ontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Semmelweis’s methodology from the modern stand-point: intervention studies and causal ontology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this