The postmodernist war on evidence-based practice

Samuel Porter, Peter O'Halloran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, we examine the war of words between those who contend that health care practice, including nursing, should primarily be informed by research (the evidence-based practice movement), and those who argue that there should be no restrictions on the sources of knowledge used by practitioners (the postmodernists). We review the postmodernist interventions of Dave Holmes and his colleagues, observing that the postmodernist style to which they adhere, which includes the use of continental philosophy, metaphors, and acerbic delivery, tends to obscure their substantive arguments. The heated nature of some responses to them has tended to have the same effect. However, the substantive arguments are important. Five main postmodernist charges are identified and discussed. The first argument, that the notion of ‘best evidence’ implies a hierarchical and exclusivist approach to knowledge, is persuasive. However, the contention that this hierarchy is maintained by the combined pressures of capitalism and vested interests within academia and the health services, is less well founded. Nevertheless, postmodernist contentions that the hierarchy embraced by the evidence-based practice movement damages health care because it excludes other forms of evidence that are needed to understand the complexity of care, it marginalizes important aspects of clinical knowledge, and it fails to take account of individuals or their experience, are all seen to be of some merit. However, we do not share the postmodernist conclusion that this adds up to a fascist order. Instead, we characterize evidence-based practice as a necessary but not sufficient component of health care knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)740-748
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Impact Factor, 2.08, Q1, Nursing, Cited x21

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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