Bayesian analysis of a mastitis control plan to investigate the influence of veterinary prior beliefs on clinical interpretation

M. J. Green*, W. J. Browne, L. E. Green, A. J. Bradley, K. A. Leach, J. E. Breen, G. F. Medley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The fundamental objective for health research is to determine whether changes should be made to clinical decisions. Decisions made by veterinary surgeons in the light of new research evidence are known to be influenced by their prior beliefs, especially their initial opinions about the plausibility of possible results. In this paper, clinical trial results for a bovine mastitis control plan were evaluated within a Bayesian context, to incorporate a community of prior distributions that represented a spectrum of clinical prior beliefs. The aim was to quantify the effect of veterinary surgeons' initial viewpoints on the interpretation of the trial results. A Bayesian analysis was conducted using Markov chain Monte Carlo procedures. Stochastic models included a financial cost attributed to a change in clinical mastitis following implementation of the control plan. Prior distributions were incorporated that covered a realistic range of possible clinical viewpoints, including scepticism, enthusiasm and uncertainty. Posterior distributions revealed important differences in the financial gain that clinicians with different starting viewpoints would anticipate from the mastitis control plan, given the actual research results. For example, a severe sceptic would ascribe a probability of 0.50 for a return of <£5 per cow in an average herd that implemented the plan, whereas an enthusiast would ascribe this probability for a return of >£20 per cow. Simulations using increased trial sizes indicated that if the original study was four times as large, an initial sceptic would be more convinced about the efficacy of the control plan but would still anticipate less financial return than an initial enthusiast would anticipate after the original study. In conclusion, it is possible to estimate how clinicians' prior beliefs influence their interpretation of research evidence. Further research on the extent to which different interpretations of evidence result in changes to clinical practice would be worthwhile.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-217
Number of pages9
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Issue number2-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Wellcome Trust—Martin Green is a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow. We would like to acknowledge the Milk Development Council for funding the initial research and National Milk Records for providing data.


  • Bayesian analysis
  • Clinical decision making
  • Mastitis
  • Prior distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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