For and Against Methodologies: Some Perspectives on Recent Causal and Statistical Inference Debates
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I present an overview of two methods controversies that are central to analysis and inference: That surrounding causal modeling as reflected in the “causal inference” movement, and that surrounding null bias in statistical methods as applied to causal questions. Human factors have expanded what might otherwise have been narrow technical discussions into broad philosophical debates. There seem to be misconceptions about the requirements and capabilities of formal methods, especially in notions that certain assumptions or models (such as potential-outcome models) are necessary or sufficient for valid inference. I argue that, once these misconceptions are removed, most elements of the opposing views can be reconciled. The chief problem of causal inference then becomes one of how to teach sound use of formal methods (such as causal modeling, statistical inference, and sensitivity analysis), and how to apply them without generating the overconfidence and misinterpretations that have ruined so many statistical practices.