Last month saw the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The Ig Nobel prizes aim to honour achievements that ﬁrst make people laugh and then make people think. Here is a quote from their website: “The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative—and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.”The award ceremony takes place every September. This year’s ceremony can be viewed on the Improbable Research website. And past ceremonies can be viewed at the Improbable Research YouTube channel.
What do we need to establish about a mechanism?
We all know that correlation is not causation. A correlation can be due to factors other than causation, such as bias, confounding, chance, time-series trends (e.g., the correlation between British bread prices and the sea level in Venice), or semantic, logical, physical or mathematical connections. In order to rule out these alternative explanations of a correlation – and establish causation – we need to seek evidence of a mechanism. One needs to account for the correlation via some mechanism by which the putative cause brings about the putative effect.
What should be reported in medical diagnosis and prediction?
Suppose a patient P is informed by a medical doctor that she has a certain disease and that she is expected to survive for two further years. What consequences for her life should P draw from this information? It seems that without further knowledge, she can draw no precise consequences at all. P has to know how the doctor came to this decision. This is so because of the reference-class problem.
The role of orientation experiments in discovering mechanisms
There’s a new paper with this title in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, which looks very interesting. It’s by Raoul Gervais and Erik Weber at Ghent. Here’s the abstract:
In The Reasoner: Antibiotics
Antibiotics play a crucial role in modern medicine by controlling bacterial infection. For instance, much surgery would be life-threatening without an ability to control infection. However, antibiotics are becoming less effective due to antimicrobial resistance. The overuse of antibiotics gives bacteria that happen to be resistant a greater chance of spreading. In the words of a Public Health England report: ‘Antibiotics are unlike other drugs used in medicine, as the more we use them the less effective they become.’