A case for Bayesianism in clinical trials

Stat Med. 1993 Aug;12(15-16):1377-93; discussion 1395-404. doi: 10.1002/sim.4780121504.


This paper describes a Bayesian approach to the design and analysis of clinical trials, and compares it with the frequentist approach. Both approaches address learning under uncertainty. But they are different in a variety of ways. The Bayesian approach is more flexible. For example, accumulating data from a clinical trial can be used to update Bayesian measures, independent of the design of the trial. Frequentist measures are tied to the design, and interim analyses must be planned for frequentist measures to have meaning. Its flexibility makes the Bayesian approach ideal for analysing data from clinical trials. In carrying out a Bayesian analysis for inferring treatment effect, information from the clinical trial and other sources can be combined and used explicitly in drawing conclusions. Bayesians and frequentists address making decisions very differently. For example, when choosing or modifying the design of a clinical trial, Bayesians use all available information, including that which comes from the trial itself. The ability to calculate predictive probabilities for future observations is a distinct advantage of the Bayesian approach to designing clinical trials and other decisions. An important difference between Bayesian and frequentist thinking is the role of randomization.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem*
  • Bias
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Decision Making
  • Effect Modifier, Epidemiologic
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Forecasting
  • Logic
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Research Design / standards*