Causal Inference in Law: An Epidemiological Perspective


Finally, it is here. The article I wrote together with WdH, MZ and RM was published in the European Journal of Risk and Regulation last week. And boy, did it take time! This whole project, an interdisciplinary project where epidemiological thinking was applied to questions of causal inference in tort law, took > 3 years – with only a couple of months writing… the rest was waiting and waiting and waiting and some peer review. but more on this later.

First some content. in the article we discuss the idea of proportional liability that adheres to the epidemiological concept of multi-causality. But the article is more: as this is a journal for non epidemiologist, we also provide a short and condensed overview of study design, bias and other epidemiological concepts such as counterfactual thinking. You might have recognised the theme from my visits to the Leiden Law school for some workshops. The EJRR editorial describes it asas: “(…) discuss the problem of causal inference in law, by providing an epidemiological viewpoint. More specifically, by scrutinizing the concept of the so-called “proportional liability”, which embraces the epidemiological notion of multi-causality, they demonstrate how the former can be made more proportional to a defendant’s relative contribution in the known causal mechanism underlying a particular damage.”

Getting this thing published was tough: the quality of the peer review was low (dare I say zero?),communication was difficult, submission system flawed etc. But most of all the editorial office was slow – first submission was June 2013! This could be a non-medical journal thing, i do not know, but still almost three years. And this all for an invited article that was planned to be part of a special edition on the link between epi and law, which never came. Due several delays (surprise!) of the other articles for this edition, it was decided that our article is not waiting for this special edition anymore. Therefore, our cool little insight into epidemiology now seems to be lost between all those legal and risk regulation articles. A shame if you ask me, but I am glad that we are not waiting any longer!

Although i do love interdisciplinary projects, and I think the result is a nice one, I do not want to go through this process again. No more EJRR for me.

Ow, one more thing… the article is behind a pay wall and i do not have access through my university, nor did the editorial office provide me with a link to a pdf of the final version. So, to be honest, I don’t have the final article myself! Feels weird. I hope EJRR will provide me with a pdf quite soon. In the meantime, anybody with access to this article, please feel free to send me a copy!

Where Have All the Rodents Gone? The Effects of Attrition in Experimental Research on Cancer and Stroke



We published a new article just in PLOS Biology today, with the title:

“Where Have All the Rodents Gone? The Effects of Attrition in Experimental Research on Cancer and Stroke”

This is a wonderful collaboration between three fields: stats, epi and lab researchers. Combined we took a look at what is called attrition in the preclinical labs, that is the loss of data in animal experiments. This could be because the animal died before the needed data could be obtained, or just because a measurement failed. This loss of data can be translated to the concept of loss to follow-up in epidemiological cohort studies, and from this field we know that this could lead to substantial loss of statistical power and perhaps even bias.

But it was unknown to what extent this also was a problem in preclinical research, so we did two things. We looked at how often papers indicated there was attrition (with an alarming number of papers that did not provide the data for us to establish whether there was attrition), and we did some simulation what happens if there is attrition in various scenarios. The results paint a clear picture: the loss of power but also the bias is substantial. The degree of these is of course dependent on the scenario of attrition, but the message of the paper is clear: we should be aware of the problems that come with attrition and that reporting on attrition is the first step in minimising this problem.

A nice thing about this paper is that coincides with the start of a new research section in the PLOS galaxy, being “meta-research”, a collection of papers that all focus on how science works, behaves, and can or even should be improved. I can only welcome this, as more projects on this topic are in our pipeline!

The article can be found on pubmed and my mendeley profile.

Update 6.1.16: WOW what a media attention for this one. Interviews with outlets from UK, US, Germany, Switzerland, Argentina, France, Australia etc, German Radio, the dutch Volkskrant, and a video on More via the corresponding altmetrics page . Also interesting is the post by UD, the lead in this project and chief of the CSB,  on his own blog “To infinity, and beyond!”


New article published – Ankle-Brachial Index and Recurrent Stroke Risk: Meta-Analysis

Another publication, this time on the role of the ABI as a predictor for stroke recurrence. This is a meta analysis, which combines data from 11 studies allowing us to see that ABI was moderately associated with recurrent stroke (RR1.7) and vascular events (RR 2.2). Not that much, but it might be just enough to increase some of the risk prediction models available for stroke patients when ABI is incorperated.

This work, the product of the great work of some of the bright students that work at the CSB (JBH and COL), is a good start in our search for a good stroke recurrence risk prediction model. Thiswill be a major topic in our future research in the PROSCIS study which is led by TGL. I am looking forward to the results of that study, as better prediction models are needed in the clinic especially true as more precise data and diagnosis might lead to better subgroup specific risk prediction and treatment.

The article can be found on pubmed and my mendeley profile and should be cited as

Hong J Bin, Leonards CO, Endres M, Siegerink B, Liman TG. Ankle-Brachial Index and Recurrent Stroke Risk. Stroke 2015; : STROKEAHA.115.011321.

New articles published: hypercoagulability and the risk of ischaemic stroke and myocardial infarction

Ischaemic stroke + myocardial infarction = arterial thrombosis. Are these two diseases just two sides of the side coin? Well, most if the research I did in the last couple of years tell a different story: most times,hypercoagulability has a stronger impact on the risk of ischaemic stroke at least when compared to myocardial infarction. And when in some cases this was not the case, at least it as clear that the impact was differential. But these papers I published were all single data dots, so we needed to provide an overview of all these data points to get the whole picture. And we did so by publishing two papers, one in the JTH and one in PLOS ONE.

The first paper is a general discussion of the results from the RATIO study, basically an adaptation from my discussion chapter of my thesis (yes it took some time to get to the point of publication, but that’s a whole different story), with a more in-depth discussion to what extent we can draw conclusions from these data. We tried to fill in the caveats (limited number of markers, only young women, only case-control, basically single study) of the first study with our second publication. Here we did the same trick, but in a systematic review.This way, our results have more external validity, while we ensured the internal validity by only including studies that studied both diseases and thus ruling out large biases due to differences in study design. I love these two publications!

You can find these publications through their PMID 26178535 and 26178535, or via my mendeley account.

PS the JTH paper has PAFs in them. Cool!


New article published: the relationship between ADAMTS13 and MI

2015-06-16 14_26_12-Plasma ADAMTS13 levels and the risk of myocardial infarction_ an individual pati

this article is a collaboration with a lot of guys. initiated from the Milan group, we ended up with a quite diverse group of researchers to answers this question because of the methods that we used: the individual patient data meta-analysis. The best thing about this approach: you can pool the data from different studies, even while you can adjusted for potential sources of confounding in a similar manner (given that the data are available, that is). On themselves, these studies showed some mixed results. But in the end, we were able to use the combined data to show that there was an increase MI risk but only for those with very low levels of ADAMTS13. So, here you see the power of IPD meta-analysis!

The credits for this work go primarily to AM who did a great job of getting all PI’s on board, analysing the data and writing a god manuscript. The final version is not online, but you find the pre-publication on pubmed



New article published – Conducting your own research: a revised recipe for a clinical research training project

2015-06-07 15_38_24-Mendeley Desktop

A quick update on a new article that was published on friday in the NTVG. This article with the title

“Conducting your own research: a revised recipe for a clinical research training project”

– gives a couple of suggestions for young clinicians/researchers on how they should organise their epidemiological research projects. This paper was written to commemorate the retirement of prof JvdB, who wrote the original article back in 1989. I am quite grew quite fond of this article, as it combines insights from 25 years back as well as quite recent insights (e.g. STROBE and cie Schuyt and resulted in a article that will help young research to rethink how they plan and execute their own research project.

There are 5 key suggestions that form the backbone of this article i.e. limit the research question, conduct a pilot study, write the article before you collect the data, streamline the research process and be accountable. As the article is in Dutch only at this moment, I will work on an English version. First drafts of this ms, each discussing each of the 5 recommendations might appear on this website. And how about a German version?

Anyway, it has to be mentioned that if it not was for JvdB, this article would have never come to light. Not only because he wrote the original, but mostly because he is one of the most inspiring teachers of epidemiology.

New publication: LTTE in the American Journal of Epidemiology

12.coverAt the department of Clinical Epidemiology of the LUMC we have a continuous course/journal in which we read epi-literature and books in a nice little group. The group, called Capita Selecta, has a nice website which can be found here. sometime ago we’ve read an article that proposed to include dormant Mendelian Randomisation studies in RCT, to figure out the causal pathways of a treatment for chronic diseases. This could be most helpful when there is a discrepancy between the expected effect and the observed effect. During the discussion of this article we did not agree with the authors for several reasons. We, AGCB/IP/myself, decided to write a LTTE with these points. The journal was nice enough to publish our concerns, together with a response by the authors of the original article. The PDF can be found via the links below which will take you to the website of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The PDF of our LTTE can also be found at my mendeley profile.

original article
letter to the editor
response by the author