Causal Inference in Law: An Epidemiological Perspective

source:ejrr

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!

ILS conference in Leiden the Netherlands

source leidenuniv.edu

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 jan 26: I uploaded a pdf version of the presentation, which can be found here (pdf)
– 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!

WEON 2014

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The WEON is the annual meeting of the VVE, the Dutch Epidemiological Society. The whole conference is held in English though, given that each more and more non Dutch also attend. These might be working here in the Netherlands, but we also have visitors from abroad. Last year, the WEON was organised in Utrecht with a couple of organisation from Utrecht and surroundings. The conference was a great succes with great preconferecence workshops and great plenary speakers, as I wrote before on the causality blog.

But now onto next year, when the WEON will be held in Leiden! Before you start with anything, you need to start with a motto and logo. Since the focusgroup “causality” is also based in Leiden the motto and the logo are off course linked to causal inference! Currently, we are working hard on the basic program. And specifically, I’m working on a special preconference workshop that is targeted at young epidemiologist. I got some ideas, but if you have any suggestions, please join the conversation via @WEON2014!