Commentary on ‘How causal are microbiomes?’

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  1. 1.

    Lynch et al. also discuss Koch’s principles for causality in microbiology, following Ross and Woodward (2016) in associating these with interventionist dimensions. As Koch’s principles play a secondary role in the paper’s argument, I set them aside here.

  2. 2.

    This is not to say that Woodward’s original interventionist account (2003) cannot be used to explicate the meaning of these and many other causal claims. On the contrary, “original flavor” interventionism is very well-suited to that task. My concern is with Lynch et al.’s treatment of the additional “dimensions” appended to interventionism to capture features of causal relations of scientific interest.

  3. 3.

    “…the key intervention of wiping out H. pylori with antibiotics is taken by many scientists, clinicians and physicians as the ultimate justification for causal claims about ulcers” (MS4; see also remarks on MS6, MS10).

  4. 4.

    A case could be made, I think, for one or the other sense of proportionality being a general desideratum for causal explanation. As the interventionist dimensions are treated en bloc in the paper, however, I will not pursue that idea here.

  5. 5.

    For more on this approach, see Schickore and Arabatzis (2012).

  6. 6.

    I discuss features of this approach in more detail in Fagan (2017, 2019).

  7. 7.

    “Pluripotency” refers to the ability to differentiate into all the main cell types of the organismal body, which is limited, in unmanipulated mammals, to early embryonic stages. Different kinds of stem cell have different degrees of potency, as well as different time-frames of self-renewal, organismal sources, and distinguishing characters (see Fagan 2019, on stem cell classification).

  8. 8.

    Such experiments could also be coupled with simulations, to virtually test the effects of different combinations of microbial taxa.


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Correspondence to Melinda Bonnie Fagan.

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Fagan, M.B. Commentary on ‘How causal are microbiomes?’. Biol Philos 34, 58 (2019) doi:10.1007/s10539-019-9711-1

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