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Rigour versus the need for evidential diversity

Cartwright, Nancy (2021) 'Rigour versus the need for evidential diversity.', Synthese, 199 (5-6). pp. 13095-13119.


This paper defends the need for evidential diversity and the mix of methods that that can in train require. The focus is on causal claims, especially ‘singular’ claims about the effects of causes in a specific setting—either what will happen or what has happened. I do so by offering a template that categorises kinds of evidence that can support these claims. The catalogue is generated by considering what needs to happen for a causal process to carry through from putative cause at the start to the targeted effect at the end. The usual call for mixed methods focusses on a single overall claim and argues that we increase certainty by the use of different methods with compensating strengths and weaknesses. My proposals instead focus on the evidence that supports the great many subsidiary claims that must hold if the overall one is to be true. As is typical for singular causal claims, the mix of methods that will generally be required to collect the kinds of evidence I urge will usually have little claim to the kind of rigour that is now widely demanded in evidencing causal claims, especially those for policy/treatment effectiveness. So I begin with an exploration of what seems to be intended by ‘rigour’ in such discussions, since it is seldom made clear just what makes the favoured methods especially rigorous. I then argue that the emphasis on rigour can be counterproductive. Rigour is often the enemy of evidential diversity, and evidential diversity—lots of it—can make for big improvements in the reliability of singular causal predictions and post hoc evaluations. I illustrate with the paragon of rigour for causal claims, randomised controlled trials (RCTs), rehearsing at some length what they can and cannot do to make it easier to assess the importance of rigour in warranting singular causal claims.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.
Date accepted:16 August 2021
Date deposited:14 January 2022
Date of first online publication:01 November 2021
Date first made open access:14 January 2022

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