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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. 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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  • Epistemic Causality and Evidence-Based Medicine.Federica Russo & Jon Williamson - 2011 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 33 (4).
    Causal claims in biomedical contexts are ubiquitous albeit they are not always made explicit. This paper addresses the question of what causal claims mean in the context of disease. It is argued that in medical contexts causality ought to be interpreted according to the epistemic theory. The epistemic theory offers an alternative to traditional accounts that cash out causation either in terms of “difference-making” relations or in terms of mechanisms. According to the epistemic approach, causal claims tell us about which (...)
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  • Philosophers on Drugs.Bennett Holman - 2019 - Synthese 196 (11):4363-4390.
    There are some philosophical questions that can be answered without attention to the social context in which evidence is produced and distributed.ing away from social context is an excellent way to ignore messy details and lay bare the underlying structure of the limits of inference. Idealization is entirely appropriate when one is essentially asking: In the best of all possible worlds, what am I entitled to infer? Yet, philosophers’ concerns often go beyond this domain. As an example I examine the (...)
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  • Etiological Explanations: Illness Causation Theory.Olaf Dammann - 2020 - Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press.
    Theory of illness causation is an important issue in all biomedical sciences, and solid etiological explanations are needed in order to develop therapeutic approaches in medicine and preventive interventions in public health. Until now, the literature about the theoretical underpinnings of illness causation research has been scarce and fragmented, and lacking a convenient summary. This interdisciplinary book provides a convenient and accessible distillation of the current status of research into this developing field, and adds a personal flavor to the discussion (...)
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  • In Defense of Meta-Analysis.Bennett Holman - 2019 - Synthese 196 (8):3189-3211.
    Arguments that medical decision making should rely on a variety of evidence often begin from the claim that meta-analysis has been shown to be problematic. In this paper, I first examine Stegenga’s argument that meta-analysis requires multiple decisions and thus fails to provide an objective ground for medical decision making. Next, I examine three arguments from social epistemologists that contend that meta-analyses are systematically biased in ways not appreciated by standard epistemology. In most cases I show that critiques of meta-analysis (...)
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  • Causality in Medicine with Particular Reference to the Viral Causation of Cancers.Brendan Clarke - 2011 - Dissertation, University College London
    In this thesis, I give a metascientific account of causality in medicine. I begin with two historical cases of causal discovery. These are the discovery of the causation of Burkitt’s lymphoma by the Epstein-Barr virus, and of the various viral causes suggested for cervical cancer. These historical cases then support a philosophical discussion of causality in medicine. This begins with an introduction to the Russo- Williamson thesis (RWT), and discussion of a range of counter-arguments against it. Despite these, I argue (...)
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  • Sculpting the Space of Actions. Explaining Human Action by Integrating Intentions and Mechanisms.Machiel Keestra - 2014 - Dissertation, University of Amsterdam
    How can we explain the intentional nature of an expert’s actions, performed without immediate and conscious control, relying instead on automatic cognitive processes? How can we account for the differences and similarities with a novice’s performance of the same actions? Can a naturalist explanation of intentional expert action be in line with a philosophical concept of intentional action? Answering these and related questions in a positive sense, this dissertation develops a three-step argument. Part I considers different methods of explanations in (...)
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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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  • Psychopathy: Morally Incapacitated Persons.Heidi Maibom - 2017 - In Thomas Schramme & Steven Edwards (eds.), Handbook of the Philosophy of Medicine. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 1109-1129.
    After describing the disorder of psychopathy, I examine the theories and the evidence concerning the psychopaths’ deficient moral capacities. I first examine whether or not psychopaths can pass tests of moral knowledge. Most of the evidence suggests that they can. If there is a lack of moral understanding, then it has to be due to an incapacity that affects not their declarative knowledge of moral norms, but their deeper understanding of them. I then examine two suggestions: it is their deficient (...)
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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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  • 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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  • Abstractions and Implementations.Russ Abbott - manuscript
    Fundamental to Computer Science is the distinction between abstractions and implementations. When that distinction is applied to various philosophical questions it yields the following conclusions. -/- • EMERGENCE. It isn’t as mysterious as it’s made out to be; the possibility of strong emergence is not a threat to science. -/- • INTERACTIONS BETWEEN HIGHER-LEVEL ENTITIES. Physical interaction among higher-level entities is illusory. Abstract interactions are the source of emergence, new domains of knowledge, and complex systems. -/- • PHYSICS and the (...)
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  • Establishing the Teratogenicity of Zika and Evaluating Causal Criteria.Jon Williamson - forthcoming - Synthese 198 (Suppl 10):2505-2518.
    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 :157–170, 2007) 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 (...)
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  • Is Cancer a Matter of Luck?Anya Plutynski - 2021 - Biology and Philosophy 36 (1):1-28.
    In 2015, Tomasetti and Vogelstein published a paper in Science containing the following provocative statement: “… only a third of the variation in cancer risk among tissues is attributable to environmental factors or inherited predispositions. The majority is due to “bad luck,” that is, random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells.” The paper—and perhaps especially this rather coy reference to “bad luck”—became a flash point for a series of letters and reviews, followed by replies and yet (...)
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  • Grading the Quality of Evidence of Mechanisms.Stefan Dragulinescu - unknown - Dissertation, University of Kent
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  • Establishing Causal Claims in Medicine.Jon Williamson - 2019 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 32 (1):33-61.
    Russo and Williamson put forward the following thesis: in order to establish a causal claim in medicine, one normally needs to establish both that the putative cause and putative effect are appropriately correlated and that there is some underlying mechanism that can account for this correlation. I argue that, although the Russo-Williamson thesis conflicts with the tenets of present-day evidence-based medicine, it offers a better causal epistemology than that provided by present-day EBM because it better explains two key aspects of (...)
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  • Mono-Causal and Multi-Causal Theories of Disease: How to Think Virally and Socially About the Aetiology of AIDS.Katherine Furman - 2020 - Journal of Medical Humanities 41 (2):107-121.
    In this paper, I utilise the tools of analytic philosophy to amalgamate mono-causal and multi-causal theories of disease. My aim is to better integrate viral and socio-economic explanations of AIDS in particular, and to consider how the perceived divide between mono-causal and multi-causal theories played a role in the tragedy of AIDS denialism in South Africa in the early 2000s. Currently, there is conceptual ambiguity surrounding the relationship between mono-causal and multi-causal theories in biomedicine and epidemiology. Mono-causal theories focus on (...)
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  • 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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  • 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 (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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  • 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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  • 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.
    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 attention to the privileged role assigned to randomized controlled trials in evidence based medicine. Regardless of whether the RCT’s privilege holds for efficacy assessment, it is nevertheless important to make a distinction between causal inference of intended and unintended effects, (...)
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  • Why Theories of Causality Need Production : An Information Transmission Account.Phyllis McKay 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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  • Scientific Disagreement and Evidential Pluralism: Lessons From the Studies on Hypercholesterolemia.Veli-Pekka Parkkinen, Federica Russo & Christian Wallmann - 2017 - Humana Mente 10 (32):75-116.
    Inconsistencies between scientific theories have been studied, by and large, from the perspective of paraconsistent logic. This approach considered the formal properties of theories and the structure of inferences one can legitimately draw from theories. However, inconsistencies can be also analysed from the perspective of modelling practices, in particular how modelling practices may lead scientists to form opinions and attitudes that are different, but not necessarily inconsistent. In such cases, it is preferable to talk about disagreement, rather than inconsistency. Disagreement (...)
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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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  • Causality, Mosaics, and the Health Sciences.Olaf Dammann - 2016 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 37 (2):161-168.
    Thinking about illness causation has a long and rich history in medicine. After a hiatus in the 1990s, the last one-and-a-half decades have seen a surge of publications on causality in the biomedical sciences. Interestingly, this surge is visible not only in the medical, epidemiological, bioinformatics, and public health literatures, but also among philosophical publications. In this essay, I review and discuss one most recent addition to the literature, "Causality: Philosophical Theory Meets Scientific Practice" written by philosophers Phyllis Illari and (...)
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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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