Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Causality in the Sciences$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Phyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo, and Jon Williamson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199574131

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574131.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy).date: 25 June 2019

The Russo–Williamson thesis and the question of whether smoking causes heart disease

The Russo–Williamson thesis and the question of whether smoking causes heart disease

Chapter:
(p.110) 6 The Russo–Williamson thesis and the question of whether smoking causes heart disease
Source:
Causality in the Sciences
Author(s):

Donald Gillies

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574131.003.0006

One of the main problems in establishing causality in medicine is going from a correlation to a causal claim. For example, heavy smoking is strongly correlated with lung cancer, but so is heavy drinking. There is normally held to be a causal link in the former case, but not in the latter. The Russo–Williamson thesis suggests that to establish that A causes B, one needs, in addition to statistical evidence, evidence for the existence of a mechanism connecting A and B. This thesis is examined in the case of the claim that smoking causes heart disease. It is shown that the correlation between smoking and heart disease was established by 1976 before any plausible linking mechanism was known. At that stage, there were doubts about whether a genuine causal connection existed here. Details of the history of research in atherosclerosis from 1979 to the late 1990s are then given, and it is shown that there is now a plausible mechanism connecting smoking and heart disease, and that, correspondingly, most experts now accept that smoking causes heart disease. This historical case study therefore provides support for at least one version of the Russo–Williamson thesis.

Keywords:   causality, correlation, Russo-Williamson, smoking, atherosclerosis, mechanisms

Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us .