By Rani Lill Anjum (@ranilillanjum)
This is a blog for the research project Causation, Complexity and Evidence in Health Sciences (CauseHealth). Allow me to present the team and some of our ideas.
CauseHealth is based at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, in the School of Economics and Business. We are a small but active group of philosophers here, and there is no other place we’d rather be than at the beautiful NMBU campus (see photo above). The core team consists in the principal investigator, Rani Lill Anjum (me), two postdocs, Samantha Copeland and Elena Rocca, and a visiting professor, Stephen Mumford.
But the CauseHealth network is much larger than this. At this point we have about 45 collaborators on the project. It will probably grow during the next years, but so far we have a nice group of philosophers, health practitioners and medical scientists from a wide range of specialisms: philosophy of medicine, epidemiology, qualitative health research, person-centred medicine, public health science, disease ontology, medical humanities, MUS/MUPS research (CFS, LBP, FM), physiotherapy, neuro-biology, behavioural science in medicine, pharmacology, nursery, cancer research, mental health, probability theory and risk, autism, burnout, medical anthropology, philosophy of psychiatry, medical research ethics, experimental psychology, phenomenology, paediatrics and philosophy of causation.
As a group, we have many and diverse interests. But one common starting point seems to be that the health sciences, in order to meet the patient’s complex needs, have to look beyond disciplinary specialisms and bring in perspectives and knowledge from a variety of areas. Medical humanities is one example of a multidisciplinary trend in medicine, and person centered healthcare is another. Both of these movements can be seen as a counter-reaction to the biomedical model that has reigned within health sciences for decades.
The standard scientific approach has been to explain human suffering in terms of physiological or biochemical processes. A problem with this is that one might then stop looking for other and equally relevant factors that could cause or prevent the suffering, such as the personal, relational and contextual situation. The obvious explanation is that all of these are highly individual and unique matters, which are difficult to treat statistically, scientifically and universally. In contrast, the detection of common biomedical factors might allow us to explain and treat different individuals in the same way, independently of what else distinguishes them. It also makes it easier to focus on one single factor rather than many, something which fits the standard mono-causal model of medicine.
CauseHealth starts from the perspective that human health and illness are some of the more complex and therefore unique phenomena that science has to deal with. In physics, there are physical entities, in biology, biological entities, and so on. But for health, all levels of nature are united within one single patient: physiological, biological, psychological and social. All of these affect and are affected by health and illness. To treat illness as belonging to a part of the patient, the liver, the heart, the brain, only makes sense if we think that wholes are composed of parts that don’t themselves interact. But no one seems to really believe that this is how human health works. Still, the health sciences are organised as if this were the reality. When co- and multi-morbidity is the rule rather than the exception, we might ask how efficient it is for medicine to be organised into separate specialisms, each with their own clinical guidelines.
Anyways. The motivation behind the blog is to have a forum for the CauseHealth network to share their ideas and research with each other and with others who have an interest in the meeting point of philosophy and medicine. We hope that many will read and engage with the blog, so we invite you to leave your comments for further discussion. Another point of the blog is that it seems a perfect open access forum for publishing shorter versions of papers presented at the project events. Rather than producing edited volumes or special journal issues from the meetings and workshops, we thought it would be time better spent to get the fresh ideas out swiftly, informally and widely.
We hope you will enjoy our blog!