Synthese 196 (8):3251-3262 (2019)

Michael Wilde
University of Kent
A particular tradition in medicine claims that a variety of evidence is helpful in determining whether an observed correlation is causal. In line with this tradition, it has been claimed that establishing a causal claim in medicine requires both probabilistic and mechanistic evidence. This claim has been put forward by Federica Russo and Jon Williamson. As a result, it is sometimes called the Russo–Williamson thesis. In support of this thesis, Russo and Williamson appeal to the practice of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. However, this practice presents some problematic cases for the Russo–Williamson thesis. One response to such cases is to argue in favour of reforming these practices. In this paper, we propose an alternative response according to which such cases are in fact consistent with the Russo–Williamson thesis. This response requires maintaining that there is a role for mechanism-based extrapolation in the practice of the IARC. However, the response works only if this mechanism-based extrapolation is reliable, and some have argued against the reliability of mechanism-based extrapolation. Against this, we provide some reasons for believing that reliable mechanism-based extrapolation is going on in the practice of the IARC. The reasons are provided by appealing to the role of robustness analysis.
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-017-1573-y
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