Analogical reasoning as a tool of epidemiological investigation

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Few, if any, scientific inquiries are conducted against a background of complete knowledge, a background in which inquirers are in possession of the 'full facts' that relate to a particular question or issue. More often than not, scientists are compelled to conduct their deliberations in contexts of epistemic uncertainty, in which partial knowledge or even a total absence of knowledge characterise inquiry. Nowhere is this epistemic uncertainty more evident, or indeed more successfully controlled, than in the branch of scientific inquiry called epidemiology. In this paper, I examine how epidemiologists overcome the unique challenges to inquiry that are posed by epistemic uncertainty. In specific terms, I contend that epidemiologists employ analogical reasoning strategies in an attempt to advance their inquiries in situations that are epistemically uncertain. The context for my claims will be the early inquiries that were conducted into the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the United States. I argue that early scientific work in relation to HIV/AIDS was directly premised upon epidemiological investigations in which analogical reasoning with hepatitis B had featured significantly. I conclude that epidemiological investigations of AIDS exemplify the capacity of analogical reasoning to advance inquiry under conditions of epistemic uncertainty. To this extent, analogical reasoning should be a concern both to those who address practical problems of uncertainty management and to those who pursue theoretical debates within argumentation studies and epistemology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-444
Number of pages18
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Analogical reasoning
  • Epidemiology
  • Hepatitis B
  • Plausibility
  • Presumption
  • Scientific inquiry
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


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