Causal Inference, Moral Intuition, and Modeling in a Pandemic
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, people have been eager to learn what factors, and especially what public health policies, cause infection rates to wax and wane. But figuring out conclusively what causes what is difficult in complex systems with nonlinear dynamics, such as pandemics. We review some of the challenges that scientists have faced in answering quantitative causal questions during the Covid-19 pandemic, and suggest that these challenges are a reason to augment the moral dimension of conversations about causal inference. We take a lesson from Martha Nussbaum—who cautions us not to think we have just one question on our hands when we have at least two—and apply it to modeling for causal inference in the context of cost-benefit analysis.
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