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“in the Balance”: Weighing the Evidence

Edward J. Huth, MD, Editor
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Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1994;120(10):889. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-120-10-199405150-00012
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In their classic text on how to analyze and revise expository prose, The Reader Over Your Shoulder [1], Graves and Hodge describe the “natural arrangement of ideas in critical argument”: A question or problem is stated; evidence supporting, or conflicting with, a tentative answer or solution is presented; the relative strengths of all evidence are weighed; and the answer most strongly supported is delivered. They were writing about argument of any kind—a debate on foreign policy, criticism of a government's fiscal management, literary criticism—and not specifically about “argument” in science. Their notion of critical argument applies, however, just as well to resolving questions through the procedures of science and reporting the results of research [2]. The terms used for the elements of critical argument in science may differ from theirs, but the essence of their view is as correct for science as for other fields. The initial question or problem posed for a piece of research may be called “hypothesis” and the evidence may be called “results” and “the cited literature.” Regardless of the terms, the aim in science is to take all the available evidence possibly supporting or rejecting a hypothesis or potentially answering a question and to come to a conclusion.

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