Taxonomic axes of epidemiologic study designs: a refutationist perspective

J Clin Epidemiol. 1991;44(10):1045-53. doi: 10.1016/0895-4356(91)90006-u.


Overlap among the axes of study design used for classifying epidemiologic research creates a taxonomic problem, the complexity of which may be illustrated by Venn diagrams. The diagrams also suggest a solution: to rank axes according to their bearing on study validity. This is consistent with the refutationist criterion for distinguishing strong from weak science--the potential to refute alternative explanations. In epidemiology, this means refuting confounding, reverse-causation bias, selection or allocation bias, and misclassification bias. Using susceptibility to bias as a criterion for ranking axes, a simple taxonomy emerges that is compatible with widespread usage of terminology.

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Epidemiology / classification*
  • Humans
  • Random Allocation
  • Research Design*