The Russo-Williamson Theses in the Social Sciences: Causal Inference Drawing on Two Types of Evidence
Claveau, François (2012), The Russo-Williamson Theses in the Social Sciences: Causal Inference Drawing on Two Types of Evidence, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (4): 806-813.
This article examines two theses formulated by Russo and Williamson (2007) in their study of causal inference in the health sciences. The two theses are assessed against evidence from a specific case in the social sciences, i.e., research on the institutional determinants of the aggregate unemployment rate. The first Russo–Williamson Thesis is that a causal claim can only be established when it is jointly supported by difference-making and mechanistic evidence. This thesis is shown not to hold. While researchers in my case study draw extensively on both types of evidence, one causal claim out of the three analyzed is established even though it is exclusively supported by mechanistic evidence. The second Russo–Williamson Thesis is that standard accounts of causality fail to handle the dualist epistemology highlighted in the first Thesis. I argue that a counterfactual-manipulationist account of causality—which is endorsed by many philosophers as well as many social scientists—can perfectly make sense of the typicalstrategy in my case study to draw on both difference-making and mechanistic evidence; it is just an instance of the common strategy of increasing evidential variety.
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