A Dilemma for the Russo–Williamson Thesis

The Russo–Williamson thesis states that

“in order to establish a causal claim in medicine, one normally needs to establish both that the putative cause and putative effect are appropriately correlated and that there is some underlying mechanism that can account for this correlation.”

Wilde (2022) explores counterexamples to this where a causal claim was accepted before a mechanism was confirmed, e.g.,

  • Deep brain stimulation as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Soot as a cause of scrotal cancer before the mechanisms involving benzo[a]pyrene had been established.

Lots to ponder therein, e.g., whether it works to weaken the causal condition to require a plausible mechanism that need not necessarily be established. There are worries that this manoeuvre leads to a thesis that is too weak since, particularly in social science, it is often easy to come up with some kind of plausible mechanism for just about any phenomena. Read the paper for a proposed solution!


Wilde, M. (2022). A Dilemma for the Russo–Williamson ThesisErkenntnis, in press