AID Forum: “Epidemiology: an approach with multidisciplinary applicability”
(Unfamiliar with AID forum? For the very idea and the programme of Agora for Interdisciplinary Debate, see www.helsinki.fi/tint/aid.htm)
Mervi Toivanen (economics, Bank of Finland)
Jaakko Kaprio (genetic epidemiology, U of Helsinki)
Alex Broadbent (philosophy of science, U of Johannesburg)
Moderated by Academy professor Uskali Mäki
TIME AND PLACE:
Monday 9 February, 16:15-18
University Main Building, 3rd Floor, Room 5
TOPIC: What do diseases and financial crises have in common?
Epidemiology has traditionally been used to model the spreading of diseases in populations at risk. By applying parameters related to agents’ responses to infection and network of contacts it helps to study how diseases occur, why they spread and how one could prevent epidemic outbreaks. For decades, epidemiology has studied also non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, addictions and accidents. Descriptive epidemiology focuses on providing accurate information on the occurrence (incidence, prevalence and survival) of the condition. Etiological epidemiology seeks to identify the determinants be they infectious agents, environmental or social exposures, or genetic variants. A central goal is to identify determinants amenable to intervention, and hence prevention of disease.
There is thus a need to consider both reverse causation and confounding as possible alternative explanations to a causal one. Novel designs are providing new tools to address these issues. But epidemiology also provides an approach that has broad applicability to a number of domains covered by multiple disciplines. For example, it is widely and successfully used to explain the propagation of computer viruses, macroeconomic expectations and rumours in a population over time.
As a consequence, epidemiological concepts such as “super-spreader” have found their way also to economic literature that deals with financial stability issues. There is an obvious analogy between the prevention of diseases and the design of economic policies against the threat of financial crises. The purpose of this session is to discuss the applicability of epidemiology across various domains and the possibilities to mutually benefit from common concepts and methods.
1. Why is epidemiology so broadly applicable?
2. What similarities and differences prevail between these various disciplinary applications?
3. What can they learn from one another, and could the cooperation within disciplines be enhanced?
4. How could the endorsement of concepts and ideas across disciplines be improved?
5. Can epidemiology help to resolve causality?
Alex Broadent, Philosophy of Epidemiology (Palgrave Macmillan 2013)
Alex Broadbent’s blog on the philosophy of epidemiology:
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D’Onofrio BM, Lahey BB, Turkheimer E, Lichtenstein P. Critical need for family-based, quasi-experimental designs in integrating genetic and social science research. Am J Public Health. 2013 Oct;103 Suppl 1:S46-55. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301252.
Taylor, AE, Davies, NM, Ware, JJ, Vanderweele, T, Smith, GD & Munafò, MR 2014, ‘Mendelian randomization in health research: Using appropriate genetic variants and avoiding biased estimates’. Economics and Human Biology, vol 13., pp. 99-106
Engholm G, Ferlay J, Christensen N, Kejs AMT, Johannesen TB, Khan S, Milter MC, Ólafsdóttir E, Petersen T, Pukkala E, Stenz F, Storm HH. NORDCAN: Cancer Incidence, Mortality, Prevalence and Survival in the Nordic Countries, Version 7.0 (17.12.2014). Association of the Nordic Cancer Registries. Danish Cancer Society. Available from http://www.ancr.nu.
Andrew G. Haldane, Rethinking of financial networks; Speech by Mr Haldane, Executive Director, Financial Stability, Bank of England, at the Financial Student Association, Amsterdam, 28 April 2009: http://www.bis.org/review/r090505e.pdf
Antonios Garas et al., Worldwide spreading of economic crisis: http://iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630/12/11/113043/pdf/1367-2630_12_11_113043.pdf
Christopher D. Carroll, The epidemiology of macroeconomic expectations: http://www.econ2.jhu.edu/people/ccarroll/epidemiologySFI.pdf