Non-linear phenomena like climate systems and epidemics display rich patterns of behavior across various temporal and spatial scales. These rich patterns often produce, in students of these phenomena, the temptation to attribute to them underlying causes. Professor Winsberg will review examples of this from the fields of climate change and epidemiology, by experts and lay people alike. But causal inference in these contexts is especially epistemically perilous. He will discuss, in particular, a method of causal attribution that has been especially popular during the COVID-19 epidemic: the method of synthetic controls, and he will explain why, despite appearances to the contrary, it is not a magic bullet for overcoming these problems.
Eric Winsberg is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Florida. He works in the philosophy of science, especially in philosophy of climate science and philosophy of physics. He is especially interested in the role of models and simulations in the sciences. He is the author of Science in the Age of Computer Simulation from the University of Chicago Press and Philosophy and Climate Science from Cambridge University Press, as well the forthcoming Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of Science on Models in Science. Over the last several months, he has focused on the use of models and methods of causal inference in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Register in advance for this meeting and for the post-talk discussion that will take place on June 18th.