Causality in medicine with particular reference to the viral causation of cancers

Dissertation, University College London (2011)
Abstract
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 that the RWT is historically workable, given a small number of modifications. I then expand Russo and Williamson’s account. I first develop their suggestion that causal relationships in medicine require some kind of evidence of mechanism. I begin with a number of accounts of mechanisms and produce a range of consensus features of them. I then develop this consensus position by reference to the two historical case studies with an eye to their operational competence. In particular, I suggest that it is mechanistic models and their representations which we are concerned with in medicine, rather than the mechanism as it exists in the world. I then employ these mechanistic models to give an account of the sorts of evidence used in formulating and evaluating causal claims. Again, I use the two human viral oncogenesis cases to give this account. I characterise and distinguish evidence of mechanism from evidence of difference-making, and relate this to mechanistic models. I then suggest the relationship between types of evidence presents us with a means of tackling the reference-class problem. This sets the scene for the final chapter. Here, I suggest the manner in which these two different classes of evidence become integrated is also reflected in the way that developing research programmes change as their associated causal claims develop.
Keywords causation  mechanism  Russo-Williamson thesis  philosophy of medicine
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