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The Why of ThingsCausality in Science, Medicine, and Life$
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Peter Rabins

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780231164726

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231164726.001.0001

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(p.136) 8 Empirical
The Why of Things

Peter V. Rabins

Columbia University Press

This chapter discusses the application of the empirical method to the study of causality by focusing on epidemiology. The word “epidemiology” shares a common root with the word “epidemic,” and Hippocrates is credited with distinguishing between the episodic nature of epidemic disease and the persistent nature of endemic disease. In 1854, John Snow, who was working for the Borough of London, began mapping where people lived who had developed cholera. He identified a causal link between the water source and the epidemic. Today, epidemiological studies examine risk factors such as diet, behavior, genetics, workplace exposure, geography, and food preparation practice and seek to identify associations between these risk factors and specific endemic and epidemic health concerns. This chapter considers how medical treatments can be shown to cause benefit or harm and goes on to explore the use of counterfactual reasoning and statistical methods for ordering sequence, along with examination of accidents to aid in the analysis of causality.

Keywords:   empirical method, causality, epidemiology, John Snow, risk factors, epidemic, medical treatment, counterfactual reasoning, statistical methods, accidents

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