• Journal Article

Causation and causal inference in epidemiology


Rothman, K., & Greenland, S. (2005). Causation and causal inference in epidemiology. American Journal of Public Health, 95(Suppl 1), S144-150.


Concepts of cause and causal inference are largely self-taught from early learning experiences. A model of causation that describes causes in terms of sufficient causes and their component causes illuminates important principles such as multi-causality, the dependence of the strength of component causes on the prevalence of complementary component causes, and interaction between component causes. Philosophers agree that causal propositions cannot be proved, and find flaws or practical limitations in all philosophies of causal inference. Hence, the role of logic, belief, and observation in evaluating causal propositions is not settled. Causal inference in epidemiology is better viewed as an exercise in measurement of an effect rather than as a criterion-guided process for deciding whether an effect is present or not.