This anthology of articles on causal inference and scientific paradigms in epidemiology covers several important topics including the search for causal explanations, the strengths and limitations of causal criteria, quantitative approaches for assessing causal relationships that are relevant to epidemiology and emerging paradigms in epidemiologic research. In order to provide historical context, an overview of philosophical and historical developments relevant to causal inference in epidemiology and public health is also provided. Several theoretical and applied aspects of causal inference are dealt with.
The aim of the book is not only to summarize important developments in causal inference in epidemiology but also to identify possible ways to enhance the search for causal explanations for diseases and injuries. Examples are provided from such fields as chronic disease epidemiology, Veterans health, and environmental epidemiology. A particular goal of the book is to provide ideas for strengthening causal inference in epidemiology in the context of refined research paradigms.
These topics are important because the results of epidemiologic studies contribute to generalizable knowledge by clarifying the causes of diseases, by combining epidemiologic data with information from other disciplines (for example, psychology and industrial hygiene), by evaluating the consistency of epidemiologic data with etiological hypotheses about causation, and by providing the basis for evaluating procedures for health promotion and prevention and public health practices. As Douglas Weed and other writers have noted, deliberations about whether or not associations with suspected etiologic factors are causal, and how much evidence is sufficient to warrant public health agencies to intervene to protect public health, raise important ethical and professional issues.
This book would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of many friends and colleagues who share my enthusiasm for etiologic research, epidemiology, and causal thinking. I am also indebted to anonymous reviewers who were generous with their time and constructive critical comments. I would especially like to thank colleagues in the Office of Public Health and Hazards at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and faculty and students at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.
List of Contributors
Steven S. Coughlin
Department of Veterans Affairs