•  4
    Beyond experiments
    with Ed Diener, Michael Zyphur, and Steven West
    It is often claimed that only experiments can support strong causal inferences and therefore they should be privileged in the behavioral sciences. We disagree. Overvaluing experiments results in their overuse both by researchers and decision-makers, and in an underappreciation of their shortcomings. Neglecting other methods often follows. Experiments can suggest whether X causes Y in a specific experimental setting; however, they often fail to elucidate either the mechanisms responsible for an e…Read more
  •  63
    Prediction, history and political science
    In Harold Kincaid & Jeroen Van Bouwel (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Political Science, Oxford University Press. forthcoming.
    To succeed, political science usually requires either prediction or contextual historical work. Both of these methods favor explanations that are narrow-scope, applying to only one or a few cases. Because of the difficulty of prediction, the main focus of political science should often be contextual historical work. These epistemological conclusions follow from the ubiquity of causal fragility, under-determination, and noise. They tell against several practices that are widespread in the discipl…Read more
  •  105
    Back to the big picture
    with Anna Alexandrova and Jack Wright
    Journal of Economic Methodology 28 (1): 54-59. 2021.
    We distinguish between two different strategies in methodology of economics. The big picture strategy, dominant in the twentieth century, ascribed to economics a unified method and evaluated this m...
  •  74
    Big data and prediction: Four case studies
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 81 96-104. 2020.
    Has the rise of data-intensive science, or ‘big data’, revolutionized our ability to predict? Does it imply a new priority for prediction over causal understanding, and a diminished role for theory and human experts? I examine four important cases where prediction is desirable: political elections, the weather, GDP, and the results of interventions suggested by economic experiments. These cases suggest caution. Although big data methods are indeed very useful sometimes, in this paper’s cases the…Read more
  •  104
    Prediction versus accommodation in economics
    Journal of Economic Methodology 26 (1): 59-69. 2019.
    Should we insist on prediction, i.e. on correctly forecasting the future? Or can we rest content with accommodation, i.e. empirical success only with respect to the past? I apply general considerations about this issue to the case of economics. In particular, I examine various ways in which mere accommodation can be sufficient, in order to see whether those ways apply to economics. Two conclusions result. First, an entanglement thesis: the need for prediction is entangled with the methodological…Read more
  •  117
    Pre-emption cases have been taken by almost everyone to imply the unviability of the simple counterfactual theory of causation. Yet there is ample motivation from scientific practice to endorse a simple version of the theory if we can. There is a way in which a simple counterfactual theory, at least if understood contrastively, can be supported even while acknowledging that intuition goes firmly against it in pre-emption cases—or rather, only in some of those cases. For I present several new pre…Read more
  •  60
    Conceived This Way: Innateness Defended
    Philosophers' Imprint 18. 2018.
    We propose a novel account of the distinction between innate and acquired biological traits: biological traits are innate to the degree that they are caused by factors intrinsic to the organism at the time of its origin; they are acquired to the degree that they are caused by factors extrinsic to the organism. This account borrows from recent work on causation in order to make rigorous the notion of quantitative contributions to traits by different factors in development. We avoid the pitfalls o…Read more
  •  135
    Free Will is Not a Testable Hypothesis
    Erkenntnis 84 (3): 617-631. 2019.
    Much recent work in neuroscience aims to shed light on whether we have free will. Can it? Can any science? To answer, we need to disentangle different notions of free will, and clarify what we mean by ‘empirical’ and ‘testable’. That done, my main conclusion is, duly interpreted: that free will is not a testable hypothesis. In particular, it is neither verifiable nor falsifiable by empirical evidence. The arguments for this are not a priori but rather are based on a posteriori consideration of t…Read more
  •  38
    The Efficiency Question in Economics
    Philosophy of Science 85 (5): 1140-1151. 2018.
    Much philosophical attention has been devoted to whether economic models explain, and more generally to how scientific models represent. Yet there is an issue more practically important to economics than either of these, which I label the efficiency question: regardless of how exactly models represent, or of whether their role is explanatory or something else, is current modeling practice an efficient way to achieve these goals – or should research efforts be redirected? In addition to showing h…Read more
  •  25
    Conceived this way: innateness defended
    Philosophers Imprint. forthcoming.
    We propose a novel account of the distinction between innate and acquired biological traits: biological traits are innate to the degree that they are caused by factors intrinsic to the organism at the time of its origin; they are acquired to the degree that they are caused by factors extrinsic to the organism. This account borrows from recent work on causation in order to make rigorous the notion of quantitative contributions to traits by different factors in development. We avoid the pitfalls o…Read more
  •  67
    When are Purely Predictive Models Best?
    Disputatio 9 (47): 631-656. 2017.
    Can purely predictive models be useful in investigating causal systems? I argue ‘yes’. Moreover, in many cases not only are they useful, they are essential. The alternative is to stick to models or mechanisms drawn from well-understood theory. But a necessary condition for explanation is empirical success, and in many cases in social and field sciences such success can only be achieved by purely predictive models, not by ones drawn from theory. Alas, the attempt to use theory to achieve explanat…Read more
  •  87
    Bad luck or the ref's fault?
    In Ted Richards (ed.), Soccer and Philosophy, Open Court. pp. 319-326. 2010.
    In this book chapter written for a popular audience, I discuss classic issues surrounding luck, determinism and probability in the context of the penalty shoot-outs used in football’s World Cup. Can it ever make objective sense to blame an outcome on bad luck? I go on to discuss whether we can legitimately pin the blame on any one factor at all, such as a referee. This takes us into issues surrounding the apportioning of causal responsibility.
  •  325
    Genetic traits and causal explanation
    In Kathryn Plaisance & Thomas Reydon (eds.), Philosophy of Behavioral Biology, Springer. pp. 65-82. 2012.
    I use a contrastive theory of causal explanation to analyze the notion of a genetic trait. The resulting definition is relational, an implication of which is that no trait is genetic always and everywhere. Rather, every trait may be either genetic or non-genetic, depending on explanatory context. I also outline some other advantages of connecting the debate to the wider causation literature, including how that yields us an account of the distinction between genetic traits and genetic disposition…Read more
  •  206
    Opinion Polling and Election Predictions
    Philosophy of Science 82 (5): 1260-1271. 2015.
    Election prediction by means of opinion polling is a rare empirical success story for social science. I examine the details of a prominent case, drawing two lessons of more general interest: Methodology over metaphysics. Traditional metaphysical criteria were not a useful guide to whether successful prediction would be possible; instead, the crucial thing was selecting an effective methodology. Which methodology? Success required sophisticated use of case-specific evidence from opinion polling. …Read more
  •  371
    Causal efficacy and the analysis of variance
    Biology and Philosophy 21 (2): 253-276. 2006.
    The causal impacts of genes and environment on any one biological trait are inextricably entangled, and consequently it is widely accepted that it makes no sense in singleton cases to privilege either factor for particular credit. On the other hand, at a population level it may well be the case that one of the factors is responsible for more variation than the other. Standard methodological practice in biology uses the statistical technique of analysis of variance to measure this latter kind of …Read more
  •  289
    Progress in economics: Lessons from the spectrum auctions
    In Harold Kincaid & Don Ross (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics, Oxford University Press. pp. 306--337. 2009.
    The 1994 US spectrum auction is now a paradigmatic case of the successful use of microeconomic theory for policy-making. We use a detailed analysis of it to review standard accounts in philosophy of science of how idealized models are connected to messy reality. We show that in order to understand what made the design of the spectrum auction successful, a new such account is required, and we present it here. Of especial interest is the light this sheds on the issue of progress in economics. In …Read more
  •  373
    Verisimilitude: a causal approach
    Synthese 190 (9): 1471-1488. 2013.
    I present a new definition of verisimilitude, framed in terms of causes. Roughly speaking, according to it a scientific model is approximately true if it captures accurately the strengths of the causes present in any given situation. Against much of the literature, I argue that any satisfactory account of verisimilitude must inevitably restrict its judgments to context-specific models rather than general theories. We may still endorse—and only need—a relativized notion of scientific progress, un…Read more
  •  49
    Although a huge range of definitions has accumulated in the philosophy, biology and psychology literatures, no consensus has been reached on exactly what innateness amounts to. This has helped fuel an increasing skepticism, one that views the concept as anachronistic and actually harmful to science. Yet it remains central to many life sciences, and to several public policy issues too. So it is correspondingly urgent that its philosophical underpinnings be properly cleaned up. In this paper, I pr…Read more
  •  140
    Causation and contrast classes
    Philosophical Studies 139 (1). 2008.
    I argue that causation is a contrastive relation: c-rather-than-C* causes e-rather-than-E*, where C* and E* are contrast classes associated respectively with actual events c and e. I explain why this is an improvement on the traditional binary view, and develop a detailed definition. It turns out that causation is only well defined in ‘uniform’ cases, where either all or none of the members of C* are related appropriately to members of E*.
  •  663
    This short review piece is from a textbook on Medical Ethics
  •  167
    Partial explanations in social science’
    In Harold Kincaid (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science, Oxford University Press. pp. 130-153. 2012.
    Comparing different causes’ importance, and apportioning responsibility between them, requires making good sense of the notion of partial explanation, that is, of degree of explanation. How much is this subjective, how much objective? If the causes in question are probabilistic, how much is the outcome due to them and how much to simple chance? I formulate the notion of degree of causation, or effect size, relating it to influential recent work in the literature on causation. I examine to what …Read more
  •  162
    Degree of explanation
    Synthese 190 (15): 3087-3105. 2012.
    Partial explanations are everywhere. That is, explanations citing causes that explain some but not all of an effect are ubiquitous across science, and these in turn rely on the notion of degree of explanation. I argue that current accounts are seriously deficient. In particular, they do not incorporate adequately the way in which a cause’s explanatory importance varies with choice of explanandum. Using influential recent contrastive theories, I develop quantitative definitions that remedy this l…Read more
  •  238
    Weighted explanations in history
    Philosophy of the Social Sciences 38 (1): 76-96. 2008.
    , whereby some causes are deemed more important than others, are ubiquitous in historical studies. Drawing from influential recent work on causation, I develop a definition of causal-explanatory strength. This makes clear exactly which aspects of explanatory weighting are subjective and which objective. It also sheds new light on several traditional issues, showing for instance that: underlying causes need not be more important than proximate ones; several different causes can each be responsibl…Read more
  •  408
    A definition of causation as probability-raising is threatened by two kinds of counterexample: first, when a cause lowers the probability of its effect; and second, when the probability of an effect is raised by a non-cause. In this paper, I present an account that deals successfully with problem cases of both these kinds. In doing so, I also explore some novel implications of incorporating into the metaphysical investigation considerations of causal psychology.
  •  1113
    Can ANOVA measure causal strength?
    Quarterly Review of Biology 83 (1): 47-55. 2008.
    The statistical technique of analysis of variance is often used by biologists as a measure of causal factors’ relative strength or importance. I argue that it is a tool ill suited to this purpose, on several grounds. I suggest a superior alternative, and outline some implications. I finish with a diagnosis of the source of error – an unwitting inheritance of bad philosophy that now requires the remedy of better philosophy.
  •  203
    The Irrational Game: why there’s no perfect system
    In Eric Bronson (ed.), Poker and Philosophy, Open Court. pp. 105-115. 2006.
    This is a chapter written for a popular audience, in which I use poker as a convenient illustration of probability, determinism and counterfactuals. More originally, I also discuss the roles of rationality versus psychological hunches, and explain why even in principle game theory cannot provide us the panacea of a perfect winning srategy. (N.B. The document I have uploaded here is slightly longer than the abbreviated version that appears in the book, and also differs in a few other minor detail…Read more
  •  1461
    Prisoner's dilemma doesn't explain much
    with Anna Alexandrova
    In Martin Peterson (ed.), The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Classic philosophical arguments., Cambridge University Press. pp. 64-84. 2015.
    We make the case that the Prisoner’s Dilemma, notwithstanding its fame and the quantity of intellectual resources devoted to it, has largely failed to explain any phenomena of social scientific or biological interest. In the heart of the paper we examine in detail a famous purported example of Prisoner’s Dilemma empirical success, namely Axelrod’s analysis of WWI trench warfare, and argue that this success is greatly overstated. Further, we explain why this negative verdict is likely true genera…Read more
  •  161
    Harm and Causation
    Utilitas 27 (2): 147-164. 2015.
    I propose an analysis of harm in terms of causation: harm is when a subject is caused to be worse off. The pay-off from this lies in the details. In particular, importing influential recent work from the causation literature yields a contrastive-counterfactual account. This enables us to incorporate harm's multiple senses into a unified scheme, and to provide that scheme with theoretical ballast. It also enables us to respond effectively to previous criticisms of counterfactual accounts, as well…Read more
  •  166
    A Dilemma for the Doomsday Argument
    Ratio 29 (3): 268-282. 2016.
    I present a new case in which the Doomsday Argument runs afoul of epistemic intuition much more strongly than before. This leads to a dilemma: in the new case either DA is committed to unacceptable counterintuitiveness and belief in miracles, or else it is irrelevant. I then explore under what conditions DA can escape this dilemma. The discussion turns on several issues that have not been much emphasised in previous work on DA: a concern that I label trumping; the degree of uncertainty about rel…Read more