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The Role of Causal Criteria in Causal Inferences: Bradford Hill's "Aspects of Association"


The Role of Causal Criteria in Causal Inferences: Bradford Hill's "Aspects of Association"

Andrew C Ward. Epidemiol Perspect Innov.


As noted by Wesley Salmon and many others, causal concepts are ubiquitous in every branch of theoretical science, in the practical disciplines and in everyday life. In the theoretical and practical sciences especially, people often base claims about causal relations on applications of statistical methods to data. However, the source and type of data place important constraints on the choice of statistical methods as well as on the warrant attributed to the causal claims based on the use of such methods. For example, much of the data used by people interested in making causal claims come from non-experimental, observational studies in which random allocations to treatment and control groups are not present. Thus, one of the most important problems in the social and health sciences concerns making justified causal inferences using non-experimental, observational data. In this paper, I examine one method of justifying such inferences that is especially widespread in epidemiology and the health sciences generally - the use of causal criteria. I argue that while the use of causal criteria is not appropriate for either deductive or inductive inferences, they do have an important role to play in inferences to the best explanation. As such, causal criteria, exemplified by what Bradford Hill referred to as "aspects of [statistical] associations", have an indispensible part to play in the goal of making justified causal claims.

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