EnviroGenomarkers: The Interplay Between Mechanisms and Difference Making in Establishing Causal Claims
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- Russo, F. & Williamson, J. Medicine Studies (2012) 3: 249. doi:10.1007/s12376-012-0079-7
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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.