Commentary on ‘How causal are microbiomes?’
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I appreciate the opportunity to respond to Lynch, Parke and O’Malley’s rich and interesting paper. In my view the paper accomplishes its main aim, showing that current experimental methods and evidence do not adequately support claims of ‘microbiome causality’ for human hosts. The authors make a convincing case for this conclusion by scrutinizing the experimental methods and key concepts of microbiome research, focusing on alleged links with obesity and mental health conditions. This careful study of scientific practice reveals important limitations of experimental studies of microbiomes, supporting the conclusion that many causal claims about these complex entities are at best premature.
Muddying the argumentative waters, however, is the authors’ endorsement of “interventionist dimensions”—specificity, stability and proportionality. These dimensions allegedly “match intuitive scientific ideas about ‘good’ or ‘strong’ scientific explanations” (MS7), which suggests they are universal...
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