Call for Papers: Philosophy of Epidemiology, a Special Issue of Synthese


Guest Editors: Sean A. Valles (Michigan State University, USA) and Jonathan Kaplan (Oregon State University, USA)

Special Issue Description: Philosophy of epidemiology is a burgeoning subfield within the philosophy of science and medicine. This special issue will provide philosophy of epidemiology with a forum to develop this area and expand its boundaries. The guest editors seek both to help develop philosophy of epidemiology’s existing lines of research (e.g., models of causal analysis) and expand philosophy of epidemiology to include a broader community of contributors (e.g., philosophers of race) and a wider array of lines of research (e.g., concepts of epidemiological risk and human-ecosystem dynamics).

Appropriate topics for submission include, but are not limited to: the role(s) of values in epidemiology; the role(s) of formal models in epidemiology; concepts of risk in epidemiology; the relationship between philosophy of epidemiology and philosophy of ecology (and other branches of philosophy); the metaphysical and causal repercussions of epidemiological data on the environmental and social determinants of health.

For further information, please contact the guest editors:


Deadline for submissions is: October 9, 2017

DEADLINE 5 MAY: UJ Post doctoral fellow in IKS // African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science

You may have seen our recent announcement of the launch of the UJ African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (ACEPS). UJ has some funding for postdoctoral research fellows and we at ACEPS would like to put forward a strong candidate with specialism in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS). The candidate would be attached to ACEPS and would work alongside Professor Mongane Serote to develop our project and networks in IKS.

PLEASE NOTE THE VERY SHORT DEADLINE, and send materials to Prof Veli Mitova by the end of 4 May in order for us to write a letter of support in time for the final 5 May deadline. Note that anyone is allowed to apply directly to UJ for one of these postdoctoral awards, and ACEPS wishes to endorse at least one application with IKS specialism. ACEPS reserves the right not to endorse an application.



African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (ACEPS): launch announced

The African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (ACEPS) is housed in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Johannesburg. ACEPS fosters intra-African and global conversation in the areas of Epistemology and Philosophy of Science by bringing African insights, questions and values into meaningful conversation with other philosophical traditions. ACEPS was founded in 2016 by co-directors Professor Alex Broadbent and Professor Veli Mitova, and Dr Mongane Wally Serote, Dr Ben Smart, Chad Harris and Zinhle Mncube. ACEPS’s groundbreaking philosophical work is organised around three umbrella projects:

• Indigenous Knowledge Systems;
• Health and Medicine in Africa; and
• Rationality and Power.

Kindly diarise the following date for the Centre’s launch:
• Date: Friday, 19 May 2017
• Time: 15:00-17:30
• Venue: Humanities Common Room, C-Ring 319, Auckland Park Campus, University of Johannesburg

The launch will take the format of a public forum where panelists will exchange their opinion and ideas on the following topic: “Why an African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science?” A formal invitation will be sent out soon with all the details.

Anyone interested in attending from further afield is welcome to contact me. There will be a larger conference event organised in due course, with more lead time.


Causal Inference: IJE Special Issue

Papers from the December 2016 special issue of IJE are now all available online. Several are open access, and I attach these.

Philosophers who want to engage with real life science, on topics relating to causation, epidemiology, and medicine, will find these papers a great resource. So will epidemiologists and other scientists who want or need to reflect on causal inference. Most of the papers are not written by philosophers, and most do not start from standard philosophical starting points. Yet the topics are clearly philosophical. This collection would also form a great starting point for a doctoral research projects in various science-studies disciplines.

Papers 1 and 2 were first available in January. Two letters were written in response (being made available online around April) along with a response and I have included these in the list for completeness. The remaining papers were written during the course of 2016 and are now available. Many of the authors met at a Radcliffe Workshop in Harvard in December 2016. An account of that workshop may be forthcoming at some stage, but equally it may not, since not all of the participants felt that it was necessary to prolong the discussion or to share the outcomes of the workshop more widely. At some point I might simply write up my own account, by way of part-philosophical, part-sociological story.

  1. Causality and causal inference in epidemiology: the need for  a pluralistic approach‘ Jan P Vandenbroucke, Alex Broadbent and Neil Pearce. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyv341
  2. ‘The tale wagged by the DAG: broadening the scope of causal inference and explanation for epidemiology.’ Nancy Krieger and George Davey-Smith. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw114
    1. Letter: Tyler J. VanderWeele, Miguel A. Hernán, Eric J. Tchetgen Tchetgen, and James M. Robins. Letter to the Editor. Re: Causality and causal inference in epidemiology: the need for a pluralistic approach.
    2. Letter: Arnaud Chiolero. Letter to the Editor. Counterfactual and interventionist approach to cure risk factor epidemiology.
    3. Letter: Broadbent, A., Pearce, N., and Vandenbroucke, J. Authors’ Reply to: VanderWeele et al., Chiolero, and Schooling et al.
  3. ‘Causal inference in epidemiology: potential outcomes, pluralism and peer review.’ Douglas L Weed. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw229
  4. ‘On Causes, Causal Inference, and Potential Outcomes.’ Tyler VanderWeele. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw230
  5. ‘Counterfactual causation and streetlamps: what is to be done?’ James M Robins and Michael B Weissman. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw231
  6. ‘DAGs and the restricted potential outcomes approach are tools, not theories of causation.’ Tony Blakely, John Lynch and Rebecca Bentley. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw228
  7. ‘The formal approach to quantitative causal inference in epidemiology: misguided or misrepresented?’ Rhian M Daniel, Bianca L De Stavola and Stijn Vansteelandt. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw227
  8. Formalism or pluralism? A reply to commentaries on ‘Causality and causal inference in epidemiology.’ Alex Broadbent, Jan P Vandenbroucke and Neil Pearce. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw298
  9. ‘FACEing reality: productive tensions between our epidemiological questions, methods and mission.’ Nancy Krieger and George Davey-Smith. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw330

Readers for draft chapters of “Philosophy of Medicine”

I’m committed to producing draft chapters of my book “Philosophy of Medicine” (under contract with Oxford) over the coming three months, since it’s being used for to teach a course. I would appreciate any other readers, for part or whole, and if you would like to receive draft chapters as I go along, please let me know. Here’s an outline with dates the drafts will be ready. I’m also attaching the 2 page preface: About This Book.

Chapter 1: What Is Philosophy of Medicine? (3 Jan) sets out the approach of the book. It suggests that many topics in the Philosophy of Medicine can be seen as contributing, more or less directly, towards answering the question “What is medicine?” The chapter also introduces my idea about the answer, which is the Inquiry Thesis: that medicine is an inquiry into health and illness, and the reasons for them. The chapter sets out some methodological ideas, arguing that conceptual analysis alone is inadequate for Philosophy of Medicine, and emphasizing the importance of historical, sociological and anthropological awareness. The Chapter also includes a cursory historical survey of medicine.

Chapter 2: Medical Competence (10 Jan) asks what medical professionals do, that distinguishes them from other professionals. In this Chapter I develop my idea that medicine is an inquiry, and argue that medicine cannot be fully understood merely as the business of delivering cure.

Chapter 3: Evidence Based Medicine (17 Jan) considers the movement known by that name, arising in the 1990s. The Chapter considers both the EBM’s critiques of Mainstream Medical practice, and the various philosophical, scientific, and medical attacks on EBM. The analysis offered is that social factors were among the primary drivers in this debate, and remain prominent in its aftermath.

Chapter 4: Person-Centred Medicine (due 24 Jan) considers the idea that Mainstream Medicine wrongly focuses on the disease at the expense of the patient, or person. There are several drivers for this idea, including resistance to EBM, the hope held out by genetic advances of tailoring treatments to individuals, and good old Hippocratic attitudes. The Chapter seeks to untangle the drivers and make sense of the prescriptions of the movement.

Chapter 5: Medical Nihilism (31 Jan) considers the view that medicine is largely useless. The view was common in the days when medicine really was largely ineffective, but less common now. However it has received continued defense from both historians and philosophers. We will consider contemporary arguments for and against the view.

Chapter 6: Alternatives (7 Feb) addresses the widespread consultation of non-Mainstream traditions within Western contexts. These are often motivated by nihilism about Mainstream Medicine. Alternative therapies are politically contentious, and there are many commentators who dismiss all such therapists as quacks, and their patients as idiots. The chapter seeks a balanced understanding of the continued appeal of alternatives, by obtaining a clearer understanding of the epistemological situation of the patient.

Chapter 7: Decolonising Medicine (14 Feb) discusses medical traditions in non-Western contexts other than Mainstream Medicine. These typically predate Mainstream Medicine, but they also change considerably with time. Attention is given both to learned traditions and those that are not or generally were not written down. Particular attention is given to the sangoma of southern Africa. The fact that Mainstream Medicine enjoys certain notable successes does not remove the fact that it is shaped by a particular culture, and that it implies power relations. The Chapter seeks to understand how to steer between cultural domination, on one hand, and a loose and impractical kind of relativism on the other.

Chapter 8: Epidemiology (28 Feb) discusses the significance of this relative minnow of health sciences. Existing outside the laboratory, and coming to formality only recently, epidemiology nevertheless has played a crucial role in some of the most significant health events since the medical revolution, notably the discovery that smoking causes lung cancer. This Chapter discusses its character and its internal wrangles, especially concerning causal inference outside the laboratory setting.

Chapter 9: Social Determinants of Health (7 Mar) explores one major consequence of contemporary epidemiological research, namely the demonstration that the way society is organised plays a major role in determining health. This discovery is threatening in a number of ways, since it blurs the distinction between medicine and politics, and undermines the significance of clinical medicine for population health. The Chapter considers the arguments for and against the causal claims at stake, and draws out some of their consequences.

Chapter 10: The Nature of Health (14 Mar) considers what health is, something that must be understood if medicine is to be understood. The Chapter surveys the philosophical literature on this topic, including the standard objections to the standard views, and suggests that the way to untangle the debate is to distinguish between evaluative and realist dimensions of debate. A position according to which health is akin to a “secondary property” is also defended.

Chapter 11: Disease and Classification (21 Mar) considers what disease is. The Chapter argues that disease is not the mere absence of health (contrary to the literature treated in Chapter 10), since such a definition would render talk of different diseases nonsensical. The Chapter explores the importance of differentiation between diseases for medicine, and discusses the significance of the continued difficulties in classifying psychological diseases.

Chapter 12: What is Medicine? (28 Mar) returns to the guiding question of this book, and sets out to defend and supplement the Inquiry Thesis.