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Extrapolation and the Russo–Williamson thesis

Wilde, Michael Edward, Parkkinen, Veli-Pekka (2019) Extrapolation and the Russo–Williamson thesis. Synthese, 196 (8). pp. 3251-3262. ISSN 0039-7857. (doi:10.1007/s11229-017-1573-y) (KAR id:65075)


A particular tradition in medicine claims that a variety of evidence is helpful in determining whether an observed correlation is causal. In line with this tradition, it has been claimed that establishing a causal claim in medicine requires both probabilistic and mechanistic evidence. This claim has been put forward by Federica Russo and Jon Williamson. As a result, it is sometimes called the Russo–Williamson thesis. In support of this thesis, Russo and Williamson appeal to the practice of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). However, this practice presents some problematic cases for the Russo–Williamson thesis. One response to such cases is to argue in favour of reforming these practices. In this paper, we propose an alternative response according to which such cases are in fact consistent with the Russo–Williamson thesis. This response requires maintaining that there is a role for mechanism-based extrapolation in the practice of the IARC. However, the response works only if this mechanism-based extrapolation is reliable, and some have argued against the reliability of mechanism-based extrapolation. Against this, we provide some reasons for believing that reliable mechanism-based extrapolation is going on in the practice of the IARC. The reasons are provided by appealing to the role of robustness analysis.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1007/s11229-017-1573-y
Uncontrolled keywords: Causality; Extrapolation; IARC; Robustness; Russo–Williamson thesis
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Michael Wilde
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2017 12:50 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 17:53 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Wilde, Michael Edward.

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Parkkinen, Veli-Pekka.

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