Epidemiologic Causation: Jerome Cornfield’s Argument for a Causal Connection between Smoking and Lung Cancer
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Humana.Mente 9:59-66 (2009)
A central issue confronting both philosophers and practitioners in formulating an analysis of causation is the question of what constitutes evidence for a causal association. From the 1950s onward, the biostatistician Jerome Cornfield put himself at the center of a controversial debate over whether cigarette smoking was a causative factor in the incidence of lung cancer. Despite criticisms from distinguished statisticians such as Fisher, Berkson and Neyman, Cornfield argued that a review of the scientific evidence supported the conclusion of a causal association. Cornfield's odds ratio in case‐control studies — as a good estimate of relative risk — together with his argument of ''explanatory common cause'' became important tools to use in confronting the skeptics. In this paper, I revisit this important historical episode as recorded in the Journal of National Cancer Institute and the Journal of the American Statistical Association. More specifically, I examine Cornfield's necessary condition on the minimum magnitudes of relative risk in light of confounders. This episode yields important insight into the nature of causal inference by showing the sorts of evidence appealed to by practitioners in supporting claims of causal association. I discuss this event in light of the manipulationist account of causation.
|Keywords||Causation Intervention Evidence Statistical inference Case study|
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