Clinical recommendations: The role of mechanisms in the GRADE framework
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The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) framework has become one of the most influential frameworks for assessing quality of research and developing clinical recommendations. The GRADE framework has been presented as an evolution in the Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) movement. Both GRADE and EBM emphasize effect estimates derived from population-level clinical trials and, as a consequence, devalue the role of mechanisms as the basis for clinical decisions. Although mechanisms do not hold the epistemic privilege of rigorous clinical trials in EBM reasoning, this paper will argue that mechanisms appear to be important in the use and application of GRADE, as described in the literature. The seemingly necessary role of mechanisms in the development of clinical recommendations has, so far, received little attention and is not explicitly featured in the literature describing GRADE. The analysis of the GRADE framework presented in this paper reveals an apparent tension between EBM's willingness to downplay mechanisms and what seems their inevitable use in GRADE. In this paper, we take the position that if mechanistic reasoning is inevitable in the use of GRADE, then the instructional literature on the framework would benefit from more explicit discussion of how to consider and integrate mechanisms.
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