Great piece from @JonathanJFuller ‘What’s Missing in Pandemic Models: Philosophy is needed to put the science of COVID-19 in perspective.’ In @NautilusMag #epitwitter

Jonathan Fuller writes: “In the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous models are being used to predict the future. But as helpful as they are, they cannot make sense of themselves. They rely on epidemiologists and other modelers to interpret them. Trouble is, making predictions in a pandemic is also a philosophical exercise. We need to think about hypothetical worlds, causation, evidence, and the relationship between models and reality.”

Read more…

Boston Review: ‘COVID-19 has revealed a contest between two competing philosophies of scientific knowledge. To manage the crisis, we must draw on both’ says @JonathanJFuller #epitwitter

‘How do the coronavirus models generating these hypothetical curves square with the evidence? What roles do models and evidence play in a pandemic? Answering these questions requires reconciling two competing philosophies in the science of COVID-19.’ Great piece which will still be interesting a week, month, year and decade from now, unusually at present.

Thinking rationally about Coronavirus

I have written an op ed which can be found here:

There is also a very good (in my opinion) peace in the Lancet which emphasizes the importance of rate of spread and anticipates public health measures as an inevitability, better embraced sooner than later. S0140-6736(20)30567-5

Events like this really make me feel that epidemiology must be much more widely understood in the contemporary world. Debates about red meat do the same, but less dramatically. This is such a stark case. Epidemiological expertise must guide us and basic comprehension of epidemiology – even as basic as just knowing that there is such a thing and that there are Experts in it, and that they are not necessarily doctors – would help so much. Politicians aren’t better educated than the rest of the educated public. I’m not critiquing any particular decision – so far, things have mostly been sensible, I think – but the sense of not knowing could be greatly alleviated. How about just a short module on epidemiology as part of high school biology?…

M, PhD and PostDoc opportunities at UJ

The University of Johannesburg has released a special call offering masters, doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships, for start asap, deadline 8th Feb 2020.

These are in any area, but I would like to specifically invite anyone wishing to work with myself (or colleagues at UJ) on any of the areas listed below. From May 2020, I will be Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge at UJ (a new institute – no website yet – but watch this space!), and being part of this enterprise will, I think, be very exciting for potential students/post-docs. I would be delighted to receive inquiries in any of the following areas:

  • Philosophy of medicine
  • Philosophy of epidemiology
  • Causation
  • Counterfactuals
  • Causal inference
  • Prediction
  • Explanation (not just causal)
  • Machine learning (in relation to any of the above)
  • Cognitive science
  • Other things potentially relevant to the Institute, my interests, your interests… please suggest!

If you’re interested please get in touch:

The call is here, along with instructions for applicants:

2020 Call for URC Scholarships for Master’s_Doctoral_Postdoctoral Fellowships_Senior Postdoctoral fellowships

Call for Papers: Philosophy of Epidemiology, a Special Issue of Synthese


Guest Editors: Sean A. Valles (Michigan State University, USA) and Jonathan Kaplan (Oregon State University, USA)

Special Issue Description: Philosophy of epidemiology is a burgeoning subfield within the philosophy of science and medicine. This special issue will provide philosophy of epidemiology with a forum to develop this area and expand its boundaries. The guest editors seek both to help develop philosophy of epidemiology’s existing lines of research (e.g., models of causal analysis) and expand philosophy of epidemiology to include a broader community of contributors (e.g., philosophers of race) and a wider array of lines of research (e.g., concepts of epidemiological risk and human-ecosystem dynamics).

Appropriate topics for submission include, but are not limited to: the role(s) of values in epidemiology; the role(s) of formal models in epidemiology; concepts of risk in epidemiology; the relationship between philosophy of epidemiology and philosophy of ecology (and other branches of philosophy); the metaphysical and causal repercussions of epidemiological data on the environmental and social determinants of health.

For further information, please contact the guest editors:


Deadline for submissions is: October 9, 2017

African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (ACEPS): launch announced

The African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science (ACEPS) is housed in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Johannesburg. ACEPS fosters intra-African and global conversation in the areas of Epistemology and Philosophy of Science by bringing African insights, questions and values into meaningful conversation with other philosophical traditions. ACEPS was founded in 2016 by co-directors Professor Alex Broadbent and Professor Veli Mitova, and Dr Mongane Wally Serote, Dr Ben Smart, Chad Harris and Zinhle Mncube. ACEPS’s groundbreaking philosophical work is organised around three umbrella projects:

• Indigenous Knowledge Systems;
• Health and Medicine in Africa; and
• Rationality and Power.

Kindly diarise the following date for the Centre’s launch:
• Date: Friday, 19 May 2017
• Time: 15:00-17:30
• Venue: Humanities Common Room, C-Ring 319, Auckland Park Campus, University of Johannesburg

The launch will take the format of a public forum where panelists will exchange their opinion and ideas on the following topic: “Why an African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science?” A formal invitation will be sent out soon with all the details.

Anyone interested in attending from further afield is welcome to contact me. There will be a larger conference event organised in due course, with more lead time.


Workshop, Helsinki: What do diseases and financial crises have in common?

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


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

Session jointly organised by TINT ( the Finnish Epidemiological Society (


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:

Rothman KJ, Greenland S, Lash TL. Modern Epidemiology 3rd edition.

Lippincott, Philadelphia 2008

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

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:

Antonios Garas et al., Worldwide spreading of economic crisis:

Christopher D. Carroll, The epidemiology of macroeconomic expectations: