SOPhiA 2017

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

The Russo-Williamson Thesis and Its Implications for Psychiatry
(Philosophy of Science, English)

The Russo-Williamson Thesis (RWT) maintains that, for a causal claim to hold water, evidence of both statistical correlation and mechanism is required. For instance, to prove that drug X cures disease Y, researchers must provide both (1) evidence that there is a strong statistical correlation between the use of X and the elimination or amelioration of Y, and (2) evidence of a mechanism by which X eliminates or ameliorates Y. This requirement is intended to eliminate the possibility of confounding, and aims to prevent the acceptance of causal claims which later turn out to be spurious. In this paper, I take the RWT and apply it to one area which has not yet received much treatment: psychiatry. While the RWT's implications have been discussed extensively in connection to medicine and the social sciences, its implications for psychiatry have not received the same level of attention. I argue that, if it is taken seriously, the RWT eliminates many, if not most, of the causal claims made within psychiatry. This is because these causal claims rarely rely on two separate types of evidence, one of statistical correlations and one of mechanisms. Instead, such claims derive mechanistic explanations from statistical correlations, developing likely causal stories which are not independently verified. To illustrate this point, I discuss a few historical examples from psychiatry, including the dopamine hypothesis for schizophrenia and the monoamine hypothesis for depression. Following this historical examination, I discuss the RWT's implications for scientific practice and decision-making in psychiatry, arguing that a too-strong evidentiary standard risks alienating researchers and clinicians and stifling scientific progress.

Chair: Gregor Greslehner
Time: 18:00-18:30, 13 September 2017 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.006

Sydney Katherine Green 
(University of Antwerp, Belgium)

I am currently a doctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. My doctoral project is focused on the amalgamation of evidence for causal claims in medicine and the social sciences. I completed my MA and MPhil in philosophy at KU Leuven in Belgium, and my BA in philosophy at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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