Medicine Studies

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 249–262 | Cite as

EnviroGenomarkers: The Interplay Between Mechanisms and Difference Making in Establishing Causal Claims

  • Federica RussoEmail author
  • Jon Williamson


According to Russo and Williamson (Int Stud Philos Sci 21(2):157–170, 2007, Hist Philos Life Sci 33:389–396, 2011a, Philos Sci 1(1):47–69, 2011b), in order to establish a causal claim of the form, ‘C is a cause of E’, one typically needs evidence that there is an underlying mechanism between C and E as well as evidence that C makes a difference to E. This thesis has been used to argue that hierarchies of evidence, as championed by evidence-based movements, tend to give primacy to evidence of difference making over evidence of mechanisms and are flawed because the two sorts of evidence are required and they should be treated on a par. An alternative approach gives primacy to evidence of mechanism over evidence of difference making. In this paper, we argue that this alternative approach is equally flawed, again because both sorts of evidence need to be treated on a par. As an illustration of this parity, we explain how scientists working in the ‘EnviroGenomarkers’ project constantly make use of the two evidential components in a dynamic and intertwined way. We argue that such an interplay is needed not only for causal assessment but also for policy purposes.


Causality Disease causation Public health policy Mechanisms Russo–Williamson thesis Biomarkers 



We thank the scientists that have been involved in the EnviroGenomarkers project, and especially Paolo Vineis and Marc Chadeau-Hyam, for spending time with us discussing the philosophical underpinnings of their project. We also thank Phyllis Illari and Lorenzo Casini for their comments, suggestions, and insights. Financial support from the British Academy and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council is gratefully acknowledged. F. Russo is currently ‘Pegasus Marie Curie Fellow’ of the Research Foundation— Flanders.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center Leo ApostelVrije UniversiteitBrusselBelgium
  2. 2.Centre for ReasoningUniversity of KentKent,UK
  3. 3.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of KentKent,UK

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