Generalizability: Beyond plausibility and handwaving

Eyal Shahar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The question of how we apply knowledge from biomedical science to medical and public health practice has been the subject of heated debates about generalizability and related concepts, such as applicability and inductive inference. In this essay, I interpret the term from the perspective of two causal models: determinism and indeterminism. I suggest that theories of generalizability can be formulated on the basis of both models and take the form of testable but unverifiable hypotheses, an attribute that is common to all scientific theories. Nonetheless, there is one noteworthy difference between the two models: determinism allows one to rationalize a decision to treat a certain kind of patient but only indirectly a decision to treat any particular patient, whereas indeterminism accommodates both types of decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-159
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Applicability
  • Determinism
  • External validity
  • Indeterminism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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