March talks in UK and Norway

I’m giving several talks over the next two weeks in the UK, and one in Bergen, Norway. I’m also having a book launch and giving a career advice session. Schedule as follows and abstracts below.

2 March, 1-2.30pm. Cambridge Philosophy of Science Forum: ‘Prediction and Medicine’ (abstract below).

4 March, 1.30-3pm. Masterclass/Reading Group for MSc/PhD students, UCL, on two recent papers: ‘Causation and Prediction in Epidemiology: A Guide to the Methodological Revolution’ (Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 2015) and ‘Causality and causal inference in epidemiology: the need for a pluralistic approach’ (with Jan Vandenbroucke and Neil Pearce, International Journal of Epidemiology 2016)

4 March, 3-5pm. UCL STS Seminar: ‘Prediction and Medicine.’

4 March, 5.30-8pm. Book launch of “Philosophy for Graduate Students: Metaphysics and Epistemology’ (Routledge 2016) and career advice session (abstract below).

7 March, 12.30-2pm. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine seminar, with Jan Vandenbroucke and Neil Pearce. ‘Causal Inference in Epidemiology: What Was It, What Is It, and What Will It Become?’ (Abstract below.)

8 March, 3-5pm. Bergen philosophy seminar: ‘Prediction and Medicine.’ (Abstract below.)

9 March, 4-5.30pm. Oxford philosophy of medicine seminar: ‘Prediction and Medicine.’ (Abstract below.)
Abstract: Prediction and Medicine

Historian of medicine Roy Porter maintains that the position of medicine in society has had, and still has, little to do with its ability to make people better. There is a line of thinking in both history and philosophy of medicine that we might call medical nihilism (following Jacob Stegenga). This view holds that medicine is not what it is cracked up to be. But this view assumes (unlike Porter) that the purpose of medicine is indeed to cure people. In this paper I argue that the core medical competence is not to cure, nor to prevent, but to predict disease. The predictions expected of doctors are both actual and counterfactual: both “When will I get better?” and “What would have happened if I had not taken my medicine?”. This “predictive thesis” does a better job than the “curative thesis” at explaining why not all medicine is concerned with curative efforts, and it enjoys considerable historical support from the ancient entanglement of prophesy and medicine and from the fact that medicine thrived for centuries with almost no effective cures, and continues to thrive today in various non-Western and complimentary forms that are mostly without curative efficacy. I also argue that it relieves medicine of the pretences of potency that generate the anger implicit in the arguments for medical nihilism. This view also affects expectations of epidemiology, which is sometimes criticised for cataloguing predictive risk factors whose causal relation to the outcome is unclear, instead of identifying decisive interventions. Finally I ask whether this descriptive thesis about the nature of medicine offers any normative lessons for the development of medicine.


Abstract: Career Advice Session at UCL on 4 March

Gloom and doom dominate current discussions about the state of higher education, and humanities in particular. In this climate, why would anyone wanting to be able to feed themselves and their family embark on an academic career, and in particular a career in philosophy, which is especially arduous and especially abstract? More practically, if you find yourself in this track, are there things you can do to improve your chances of success? The answer to the latter is a definite “yes”, but because the shape of the academic profession is changing, some of the philosophical standard career advice that would have worked even a few years ago is no longer applicable. Alex Broadbent is a young philosopher of science and also Dean of Humanities at the University of Johannesburg. He is committed to the view that philosophy can be useful without compromising rigour, and also to the view that academics – especially young ones – need to be more proactive about running their universities. He is author of “Philosophy of Graduate Students: Metaphysics and Epistemology” recently published by Routledge. In this session he offers some ideas about managing an early career in the contemporary academic world.
Abstract: Causal Inference in Epidemiology: What Was It, What Is It, and What Will It Become?

Epidemiology is centrally concerned with identifying causes of health and disease, so as to inform the search for effective interventions, either in public health policy or in the clinic. The epidemiology of the second half of the twentieth century saw the connection between a cause of disease and an effective intervention as a very loose one, with the intervention to be uncovered later after further biomedical research. By contrast, the first part of this century has witnessed a strong push to connect the notions of cause and intervention. This movement, often going under the misleadingly broad label “causal inference”, sees a very tight connection between interventions and causes, such that a causal question is not even well defined for the purposes of epidemiological research unless there is a well-specified intervention on that cause, against which the causal effect is measured. This movement is inspired in part by a pragmatic concern with achieving effective interventions and in part by the appeal of the powerful mathematical tools that can be used if causal questions are restricted in this way. It is the development and deployment of these tools that various recent workshops books on “causality” (Pearl 2009) and “causal inference” (Hernán and Robins 2015) focus upon. This technical focus hides the revolutionary nature of this new way of thinking about causality and causal inference. This workshop seeks to understand the conceptual framework of this movement, to place it in context against traditional epidemiological thinking, and to establish both the advantages and the risks of accompanying this “methodological revolution”.

This event has been organised as part of the Design and Analysis theme of the Centre for Evaluation. The event is intended for staff and students interested in evaluation, casual inference, and epidemiology.

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