I am back in the Netherlands this week. I’ve got some meetings planned, catching up with former colleagues, meeting some new people interested in working together on new projects I am starting up in Berlin, and of course I am meeting some friends along the way. But there is one more reason for me to go to the Netherlands this week: I was invited to the Interaction between legal systems conference. This international conference is organized by the Law faculty in Leiden and is focused on how different legal systems interact, but also how legal systems interact with other fields of research and areas of expertise (e.g. psychology, statistics and epidemiology). More information on the conference can be found here.
But what am I doing there? I am going to talk about my interdisciplinary project on how civil law, and especially liability cases, relate to causal inference in epidemiology. This project, together with ILS conference organiser PWdH, is one of my pet projects in which we compare the concepts behind causal inference in both clinical epidemiology as well as legal systems. Both systems rely on the condicio sine qua non principle, where the idea is that the consequence of a cause would not have happened if the cause would not have been present. This idea is of course known as the counter factual theory in epidemiology, and is related to the potential outcomes approach. But this is only the start, as there are several problems and challenges that come up: although epidemiology has recognized the idea of multi causality for some time (think component causes), legal systems have only been working with this only for a couple of years and with some hesitance. A way to use this in liability claims is to use proportional liability, where the claim should be proportional to the number of factors the defendant is responsible for. Sounds cool, but how to get to a fair division? How to interpret evidence? And can we use population measures like the population attributable fraction to substantiate a ruling on individual level?
I am invited to talk about this project, bust mostly and to tell the story of interdisciplinary research. It goes without saying that working on something so far from your own comfort zone brings along a lot of challenges and problems. For example since you can only oversee the quality and relevance of part of the project, you have might have the feeling that what you are working on is kind of useless (really, is this interesting?). But on the other hand, the questions that came up during this project also provided me with some insight into the concepts of epidemiology. Explaining why the things in your field are as they are will confront you will inconsistencies in your field and in your own thinking. I noticed that this project learned me a lot about the things I thought I understood, and that is for me the true added value of interdisciplinary research.
– update march 17:I visited Leiden again, now on the invitation of the dept of criminal law to talk about the concept of multi causality. We decided that we might need to braoden this into a dutch publication, with e viewpoint from both tort law and criminal law. Interesting!