Warranting the use of causal claims: A non-trivial case for interdisciplinarity

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Theoria (Spain), ISSN: 0495-4548, Vol: 27, Issue: 2, Page: 189-202

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Menno Rol, Nancy Cartwright
Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea / Universidad del PaĆ­s Vasco
Arts and Humanities
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To what use can causal claims established in good policy studies be put? We isolate two reasons inferences from study to target fail. First, policy variables do not produce results on their own; they need helping factors. The distribution of helping factors is likely to be unique or local for each study, so one cannot expect external validity to be all that common. Second, researchers often give too concrete a description of the cause in the study for it to carry over to the target. Abstraction is necessary to get causes that travel. There is no sure-fire way to guard against these problems. But the unavailability of one perfect tool does not imply there are no second best contrivances. Two general pointers for Good Practice in policy advice follow from our diagnosis: focus on the concrete details in the target and use cross discipline heuristics that diversify background knowledge.

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