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Inferring causation in epidemiology: mechanisms, black boxes, and contrasts

In Phyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo & Jon Williamson (eds.), Causality in the Sciences. Oxford University Press. pp. 45--69 (2011)

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  1. Evaluating Evidential Pluralism in Epidemiology: Mechanistic Evidence in Exposome Research.Stefano Canali - 2019 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 41 (1):4.
    In current philosophical discussions on evidence in the medical sciences, epidemiology has been used to exemplify a specific version of evidential pluralism. According to this view, known as the Russo–Williamson Thesis, evidence of both difference-making and mechanisms is produced to make causal claims in the health sciences. In this paper, I present an analysis of data and evidence in epidemiological practice, with a special focus on research on the exposome, and I cast doubt on the extent to which evidential pluralism (...)
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  • Establishing the Teratogenicity of Zika and Evaluating Causal Criteria.Jon Williamson - forthcoming - Synthese:1-14.
    The teratogenicity of the Zika virus was considered established in 2016, and is an interesting case because three different sets of causal criteria were used to assess teratogenicity. This paper appeals to the thesis of Russo and Williamson to devise an epistemological framework that can be used to compare and evaluate sets of causal criteria. The framework can also be used to decide when enough criteria are satisfied to establish causality. Arguably, the three sets of causal criteria considered here offer (...)
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  • EnviroGenomarkers: The Interplay Between Mechanisms and Difference Making in Establishing Causal Claims.Federica Russo & Jon Williamson - 2012 - Medicine Studies 3 (4):249-262.
    According to Russo and Williamson :157–170, 2007, Hist Philos Life Sci 33:389–396, 2011a, Philos Sci 1:47–69, 2011b), in order to establish a causal claim of the form, ‘C is a cause of E’, one typically needs evidence that there is an underlying mechanism between C and E as well as evidence that C makes a difference to E. This thesis has been used to argue that hierarchies of evidence, as championed by evidence-based movements, tend to give primacy to evidence of (...)
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  • Mechanisms and the Evidence Hierarchy.Brendan Clarke, Donald Gillies, Phyllis Illari, Federica Russo & Jon Williamson - 2014 - Topoi 33 (2):339-360.
    Evidence-based medicine (EBM) makes use of explicit procedures for grading evidence for causal claims. Normally, these procedures categorise evidence of correlation produced by statistical trials as better evidence for a causal claim than evidence of mechanisms produced by other methods. We argue, in contrast, that evidence of mechanisms needs to be viewed as complementary to, rather than inferior to, evidence of correlation. In this paper we first set out the case for treating evidence of mechanisms alongside evidence of correlation in (...)
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  • Mechanistic Evidence: Disambiguating the Russo–Williamson Thesis.Phyllis McKay Illari - 2011 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 25 (2):139 - 157.
    Russo and Williamson claim that establishing causal claims requires mechanistic and difference-making evidence. In this article, I will argue that Russo and Williamson's formulation of their thesis is multiply ambiguous. I will make three distinctions: mechanistic evidence as type vs object of evidence; what mechanism or mechanisms we want evidence of; and how much evidence of a mechanism we require. I will feed these more precise meanings back into the Russo?Williamson thesis and argue that it is both true and false: (...)
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  • What is a Mechanism? Thinking About Mechanisms Across the Sciences.Phyllis Illari & Jon Williamson - 2012 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (1):119-135.
    After a decade of intense debate about mechanisms, there is still no consensus characterization. In this paper we argue for a characterization that applies widely to mechanisms across the sciences. We examine and defend our disagreements with the major current contenders for characterizations of mechanisms. Ultimately, we indicate that the major contenders can all sign up to our characterization.
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  • The Concept of Causation in Biology.Michael Joffe - 2013 - Erkenntnis 78 (2):179-197.
    This paper sets out to analyze how causation works by focusing on biology, as represented by epidemiology and by scientific information on how the body works (“physiology”). It starts by exploring the specificity of evolved physiological systems, in which evolutionary, developmental and proximal causes all fit together, and the concept of function is meaningful; in contrast, this structure does not apply in epidemiology (or outside biology). Using these two contrasting branches of biology, I examine the role both of mechanism and (...)
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  • Hunting Side Effects and Explaining Them: Should We Reverse Evidence Hierarchies Upside Down? [REVIEW]Barbara Osimani - 2013 - Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice (2):1-18.
    The problem of collecting, analyzing and evaluating evidence on adverse drug reactions (ADRs) is an example of the more general class of epistemological problems related to scientific inference and prediction, as well as a central problem of the health-care practice. Philosophical discussions have critically analysed the methodological pitfalls and epistemological implications of evidence assessment in medicine, however they have mainly focused on evidence of treatment efficacy. Most of this work is devoted to statistical methods of causal inference with a special (...)
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  • Cancer and the Goals of Integration.Anya Plutynski - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C (4):466-476.
    Cancer is not one, but many diseases, and each is a product of a variety of causes acting (and interacting) at distinct temporal and spatial scales, or “levels” in the biological hierarchy. In part because of this diversity of cancer types and causes, there has been a diversity of models, hypotheses, and explanations of carcinogenesis. However, there is one model of carcinogenesis that seems to have survived the diversification of cancer types: the multi-stage model of carcinogenesis. This paper examines the (...)
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  • Cancer and the Goals of Integration.Anya Plutynski - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):466-476.
    Cancer is not one, but many diseases, and each is a product of a variety of causes acting at distinct temporal and spatial scales, or ‘‘levels’’ in the biological hierarchy. In part because of this diversity of cancer types and causes, there has been a diversity of models, hypotheses, and explanations of carcinogenesis. However, there is one model of carcinogenesis that seems to have survived the diversification of cancer types: the multi-stage model of carcinogenesis. This paper examines the history of (...)
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  • Why Theories of Causality Need Production : An Information Transmission Account.Phyllis Illari - 2011 - Philosophy and Technology 24 (2):95-114.
    In this paper, I examine the comparatively neglected intuition of production regarding causality. I begin by examining the weaknesses of current production accounts of causality. I then distinguish between giving a good production account of causality and a good account of production. I argue that an account of production is needed to make sense of vital practices in causal inference. Finally, I offer an information transmission account of production based on John Collier’s work that solves the primary weaknesses of current (...)
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  • Evidence, Illness, and Causation: An Epidemiological Perspective on the Russo–Williamson Thesis.Alexander R. Fiorentino & Olaf Dammann - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 54:1-9.
    According to the Russo-Williamson Thesis, causal claims in the health sciences need to be supported by both difference-making and mechanistic evidence. In this article, we attempt to determine whether Evidence-based Medicine can be improved through the consideration of mechanistic evidence. We discuss the practical composition and function of each RWT evidence type and propose that exposure-outcome evidence provides associations that can be explained through a hypothesis of causation, while mechanistic evidence provides finer-grained associations and knowledge of entities that ultimately explains (...)
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  • Hunting Side Effects and Explaining Them: Should We Reverse Evidence Hierarchies Upside Down?Barbara Osimani - 2014 - Topoi 33 (2):295-312.
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