Paper: Causality and Causal Inference in Epidemiology: the Need for a Pluralistic Approach

Delighted to announce the online publication of this paper in International Journal of Epidemiology, with Jan Vandenbroucke and Neil Pearce: ‘Causality and Causal Inference in Epidemiology: the Need for a Pluralistic Approach

This paper has already generated some controversy and I’m really looking forward to talking about it with my co-authors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on 7 March. (I’ll also be giving some solo talks while in the UK, at Cambridge, UCL, and Oxford, as well as one in Bergen, Norway.)

The paper is on the same topic as a single-authored paper of mine published late 2015, ‘Causation and Prediction in Epidemiology: a Guide to the Methodological Revolution.‘ But it is much shorter, and nonetheless manages to add a lot that was not present in my sole-authored paper – notably a methodological dimension that, as a philosopher by training, I was ignorant. The co-authoring process was thus really rich and interesting for me.

It also makes me think that philosophy papers should be shorter… Do we really need the first 2500 words summarising the current debate etc? I wonder if a more compressed style might actually stimulate more thinking, even if the resulting papers are less argumentatively airtight. One might wonder how often the airtight ideal is achieved even with traditional length paper… Who was it who said that in philosophy, it’s all over by the end of the first page?

Paper – Tobacco in Korea

Alex Broadbent and Seung-sik Hwang, 2016. ‘Tobacco and epidemiology in Korea: old tricks, new answers?’ Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2015-206567.

Now available online first, open access.

For those at the recent CauseHealth workshop N=1, this relates to the same key topic (viz. the application of population evidence to an individual), but in the legal rather than clinical context.


Book: B Smart, “Concepts and Causes in the Philosophy of Disease”

Recently published with Palgrave Macmillan: Concepts and Causes in the Philosophy of Disease, by Benjamin Smart. A very interesting short book that aims to summarise and progress some of the central recent work in the philosophy of medicine, concerning the nature of health and disease, causality in medicine, the classification of diseases and the relation between medicine and public health.

On Amazon:

On the Palgrave site:

Coffee and causality

This interesting study looks ripe for a detailed examination of the causal claim and reasoning. Would be lovely if true. But can studies of this kind ever amount to convincing evidence? If so, how? If not, can claims of this kind ever be established?
Various questions present themselves:

  • Is there a clearly defined intervention, as the Potential Outcomes people would insist?
  • Is there a clearly specified mechanism, as some philosophers of science would ask for?
  • Is there a better explanation than causality, as Hill would ask?
  • Would any of these help us be more sure that the association was not due to confounding (lusty, vigorous, or rich people drinking more coffee, for instance)?
  • Could triangulation, crossword-type reasoning, and similarly hard-to-quantify approaches help?
  • Does it even make sense to think of coffee as having a uniform effect on health, if you take caffeine out of the equation, given the variety of drinks going by that name?

I am going to have a cup of coffee and think about these questions.

Glut of PhilosEpi papers!

There’s a glut of philosophy of epidemiology papers in the current issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (Dec 2015, vol 54: There is a special section, Prediction in Epidemiology and Medicine, arising from a workshop at KCL organised by Jonathan Fuller and Luis Flores last year. There are also two papers on related themes, not included in that section, but fortuitously published at the same time. All listed below.