Nancy Cartwright

Nancy Cartwright
Durham University | DU · Department of Philosophy

PhD Philosophy

About

217
Publications
79,724
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Introduction
Nancy Cartwright's research interests include philosophy and history of science (especially physics and economics), causal inference, causal powers, scientific emergence and objectivity and evidence, especially for evidence-based policy [EBP]. Her current work, for the project ‘Knowledge for Use’ [K4U], investigates how to use scientific research results for better policies. https://www.dur.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/?id=10659
Additional affiliations
December 2012 - October 2015
Durham University
Position
  • Professor, Director of the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS)
January 1998 - present
University of California, San Diego
Position
  • UC Distringuished Professor
January 1998 - present
University of California, San Diego
Position
  • UC Distringuished Professor

Publications

Publications (217)
Chapter
Full-text available
Evidence based-policy (EBP) is a popular research paradigm in the applied social sciences and within government agencies. Informally, EBP represents an explicit commitment to applying scientific methods to public affairs, in contrast to ideologically-driven or merely intuitive “common-sense” approaches to public policy. More specifically, the EBP p...
Article
In evaluating science, philosophers tends to focus on general laws and on their truth. I urge a shift in focus to the reliability of the panoply of outputs science produces (‘the tangle of science’) and in tandem, from the general to the particular. Here I give five arguments to support this, including (a) many, many scientific outputs (measures, d...
Article
Philosophers of science have had little to say about 'middle-range theory' although much of what is done in science and of what drives its successes falls under that label. These lectures aim to spark an interest in the topic and to lay groundwork for further research on it. 'Middle' in 'middle range' is with respect to the level both of abstractio...
Article
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Mechanisms are now taken widely in philosophy of science to provide one of modern science’s basic explanatory devices. This has raised lively debate concerning the relationship between mechanisms, laws and explanation. This paper focuses on cases where a mechanism gives rise to a ceteris paribus law, addressing two inter-related questions: (1) What...
Article
This article addresses the gap between what works in research and what works in practice. Currently, research in evidence-based education policy and practice focuses on randomized controlled trials. These can support causal ascriptions (“It worked”) but provide little basis for local effectiveness predictions (“It will work here”), which are what m...
Article
Across the evidence-based policy and practice (EBPP) community, including education, randomised controlled trials (RCTS) rank as the most “rigorous” evidence for causal conclusions. This paper argues that that is misleading. Only narrow conclusions about study populations can be warranted with the kind of “rigour” that RCTs excel at. Educators need...
Preprint
Full-text available
Evidence-based medicine (EBM), with its evidence hierarchies and emphasis on RCTs, meta-analyses and systematic reviews, sets the model for evidence-based policy almost everywhere, policing no exception. But how closely should policing follow this model? We argue that RCTs can tell you little about what you need to know for real-world practice: wil...
Technical Report
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This paper investigates stakeholder engagement with decision-making and research for international aid and social development, to encourage decisions that are both evidence-informed and appropriate to their context. The vision is for policy makers, programme managers and practitioners making decisions to engage with formal research about causal rel...
Article
The Guidelines Challenge Conference on which this special issue builds asked as the first of its “further relevant questions”: “How do we incorporate more types of causally relevant information in guidelines?” This paper first supports the presupposition of this question—that we need further kinds of evidence—by pointing out that the randomized con...
Article
The United States considers educating all students to a threshold of adequate outcomes to be a central goal of educational justice. The No Child Left Behind Act introduced evidence-based policy and accountability protocols to ensure that all students receive an education that enables them to meet adequacy standards. Unfortunately, evidence-based po...
Chapter
Policies to combat climate change should be supported by evidence regarding their effectiveness. But what kind of evidence is that? And what tools should one use to gather such evidence? Many argue that randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are the gold standard when it comes to evaluating the effects of policies. As a result, there has been a push f...
Article
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Wolfgang Spohn’s Frege prize lecture, like the work on which it is based, is a tour de force of rich, elegant, coherent argument about how the projected world that we experience is constructed. But we do not live in this projected world nor reason about it. The things Spohn constructs are there from the start—or so my Stanford School pragmatism tea...
Chapter
Are the laws of nature consistent with contingency about what happens in the world? That depends on what the laws of nature actually are, but it also depends on what they are like. The latter is the concern of this chapter, which looks at three views that are widely endorsed: ‘Humean’ regularity accounts, laws as relations among universals, and dis...
Article
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“Evidence-based” methods, which most prominently include ran- domized controlled trials, have gained increasing purchase as the “gold standard” for assessing the effect of public policies. But the enthusiasm for evidence-based research overlooks questions about the reliability and applicability of experimental findings to diverse real-world setting...
Chapter
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How do we establish singular causal claims? It seems we do this all the time, from courtrooms to cloud chambers. Nevertheless, there is a strong lobby in the evidence-based medicine and policy movements that argues that we cannot make reliable causal judgments about single cases in these areas. So we cannot tell whether a policy or treatment ‘worke...
Article
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Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) are increasingly popular in the social sciences, not only in medicine. We argue that the lay public, and sometimes researchers, put too much trust in RCTs over other methods of investigation. Contrary to frequent claims in the applied literature, randomization does not equalize everything other than the treatment...
Article
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This paper offers some rules of thumb that practicing social workers can use for case studies that aim to construct, albeit not fully and never entirely reliably, models designed to help predict what will happen if they intervene in specific ways to help this particular client, here and now. We call these ’ex ante case-specific causal models’. ’Ex...
Research
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About CEDIL: The Centre of Excellence for Development Impact and Learning (CEDIL) is an academic consortium initiative supported by UKAID through DFID. The objective of the centre is to commission and implement impact evaluations, promote the uptake and use of evidence from impact evaluations, and develop and demonstrate new and innovative methodol...
Article
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Empirical adequacy matters directly - as it does for antirealists - if we aim to get all or most of the observable facts right, or indirectly - as it does for realists - as a symptom that the claims we make about the theoretical facts are right. But why should getting the facts - either theoretical or empirical - right be required of an acceptable...
Book
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If you are working in child protection or child welfare making decisions that affect children, young people and their families, or deciding how to organise the local child welfare system, or what programmes to provide in your area, this book is intended for you. It aims to help you deliberate about what you should do to predict more reliably the ou...
Article
There is danger in stressing commonalities among methods because the differences matter in fixing the meaning of our claims. Different methods can, and often do, test the same claim. But it takes a strong network of theory and empirical results to ensure that. Failing that, we are likely to fall into inference by pun. We use one set of methods to e...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
There is danger in stressing commonalities among methods because the differences matter in fixing the meaning of our claims. Different methods can, and often do, test the same claim. But it takes a strong network of theory and empirical results to ensure that. Failing that, we are likely to fall into inference by pun. We use one set of methods to e...
Presentation
Full-text available
This is a guide to using research evidence when deliberaGng about educaGonal policies. It is intended for teachers, for school heads, for boards of governors – for anyone who has to seMle on policies, programmes or approaches, whether for a singe student, a whole class, a school or an enGre school district. It supposes that research evidence can he...
Chapter
A sharp divide between natural and ethical orders is hard to sustain when it comes to questions of causation and blame. We might model causation as a process in which one event leads to another and that to another. Or we might model the underlying system, or mechanism, that affords some causal processes and precludes others (pressing the lever on a...
Article
Full-text available
When it comes to causal conclusions, rigor matters. To this end we impose high standards for how studies from which we draw causal conclusions are conducted. For instance, we are widely urged to prefer randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or instrumental variable (IV) models to observational studies relying just on correlations, and we have explicit...
Chapter
Full-text available
The plan for this talk is to discuss, first, the question ‘What is science?’ I’m going to explain that the second question, ‘Does economics fit the bill?’, is hard to answer since we have no good answer to the first question. Then I shall turn to the question, ‘Does economics’ standing as a science give it special power?’ Here, I shall point out th...
Article
Full-text available
Policy predictions fail for the very many different kinds of case-by-case local factors described in the Building Research & Information (2015) special issue (vol. 43/4) entitled ‘Closing the Policy Gaps: From Formulation to Outcomes'. Work in philosophy of science shows that beyond the case by case, general systematic problems loom that make the g...
Article
Full-text available
What allows research evidence to contribute to successful social policy and improve practice in public services? The establishment of the What Works Network, a group of evidence ‘clearing houses’, that summarise academic research evidence for practitioners in different policy areas, heralds a resurgence of evidence-based approaches in British polic...
Article
Full-text available
Many profess faith in the universal rule of deterministic law. I urge remaining agnostic, putting into nature only what we need to account for what we know to be the case: order where, and to the extent that, we see it. Powers and mechanisms can do that job. Embracing contingency and deriving order from powers and mechanisms reduces three kinds of...
Article
Full-text available
Most of the regularities that get represented as ‘laws’ in our sciences arise from, and are to be found regularly associated with, the successful operation of a nomological machine. Reference to the nomological machine must be included in the cp-clause of a cp-law if the entire cp-claim is to be true. We agree, for example, ‘ceteris paribus aspirin...
Article
Full-text available
This is a guide to using research evidence when deliberating about educational policies. It is intended for teachers, for school heads, for boards of governors – for anyone who has to settle on policies, programmes or approaches, whether for a singe student, a whole class, a school or a local area. It supposes that research evidence can help make f...
Article
Full-text available
The volume brings together for the first time original essays by leading philosophers working on powers in relation to metaphysics, philosophy of natural and social science, philosophy of mind and action, epistemology, ethics and social and political philosophy. In each area, the concern is to show how a commitment to real causal powers affects dis...
Article
Full-text available
When is a well-established study result that a given policy/programme/treatment produced a given outcome in a particular study setting ('there') evidence that that policy/programme/treatment will produce that outcome in a new setting ('here')? This paper insists that 'there' and 'here' be firmly distinguished and offers in answer that we must have...
Chapter
Full-text available
In this paper I propose a theory of evidence – which I call the Argument Theory – for domains where it is appropriate to demand high standards of rigor, explicitness and transparency, as in evidence for scientific conclusions and especially for evidence-based policy, which is where the need for such a theory first became apparent to me. I then appl...
Article
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There is a takeover movement fast gaining influence in development economics, a movement that demands that predictions about development outcomes be based on randomized controlled trials. The problem it takes up—of using evidence of efficacy from good studies to predict whether a policy will be effective if we implement it—is a general one, and aff...
Book
Over the last twenty or so years, it has become standard to require policy makers to base their recommendations on evidence. That is now uncontroversial to the point of triviality—of course, policy should be based on the facts. But are the methods that policy makers rely on to gather and analyze evidence the right ones? In Evidence-Based Policy, Na...
Chapter
Full-text available
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are widely taken as the gold standard for establishing causal conclusions. Ideally conducted they ensure that the treatment is 'causes' the outcome – in the experiment. But where else? This is the venerable question of external validity. I point out that the question comes in two importantly different forms: Is t...
Article
Full-text available
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...
Article
To what use can causal claims established in good studies be put? We give examples of studies from which inaccurate inferences were made about target policy situations. The usual diagnosis is that the studies in question lack external validity, which means that the same results do not hold in the target as in study. That’s a label that just repeats...
Chapter
Full-text available
This paper has two authors. We begin with Nancy Cartwright’s account of the hodgepodge of nature. Much of this account is shared with John Polkinghorne, which is why we have the honor of contributing to this volume in tribute to him. In the next section Eric Martin explains some of Polkinghorne’s ideas on order in nature and shows how Cartwright’s...
Article
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Chapter
In 1935 Otto Neurath penned these comments in his paper “Unity of science as a task”.
Article
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well as with a respect for careful thought and serious dialogue, which I am afraid I have never been able to emulate sufficiently; and I am deeply grateful to him, as well as for his support and friendship over many years. 1 2Much of Adolf Grunbaum’s work on psychoanalytic theory over the years has been concerned with causal claims. These can be cl...
Article
Full-text available
Causation is in trouble—at least as it is pictured in current theories in philosophy and in economics as well, where causation is also once again in fashion. In both disciplines the accounts of causality on offer are either modelled too closely on one or another favoured method for hunting causes or on assumptions about the uses to which causal kno...
Article
To what extent do the results of randomized controlled trials inform our predictions about the effectiveness of potential policy interventions? This crucial question is often overlooked in discussions about evidence-based policy. The view I defend is that the arguments that lead from the claim that a program works somewhere to a prediction about th...
Article
For evidence-based practice and policy, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are the current gold standard. But exactly why? We know that RCTs do not, without a series of strong assumptions, warrant predictions about what happens in practice. But just what are these assumptions? I maintain that, from a philosophical stance, answers to both questions...
Article
Full-text available
A great deal of attention in evidence-based policy and practice is directed to statistical studies-especially randomized controlled trials-that support causal conclusions, which this chapter dubs 'It-works-somewhere claims'. What's needed for policy and practice, however, are conclusions that the policy will work for us, as when and how we would im...
Article
Full-text available
Evidence-based policy commends randomized controlled trials (RCTs) as gold-standard evidence for predictions about whether policies will "work" (so-called "effectiveness predictions"), and largely because RCTs establish causal conclusions without need for theory. But what makes RCTs evidence for effectiveness at all? A usual label for this problem,...
Chapter
Full-text available
This paper discusses basic issues about the nature of measurement for social science concepts. It considers some advantages and disadvantages of standardization of constructs and operations in social science, including the relationships between measures and theory. For science and policy purposes we are concerned with quantities or categories rathe...
Article
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This paper critically analyzes Sherrilyn Roush’s (2005) definition of evidence and especially her powerful defence that in the ideal, a claim should be probable to be evidence for anything. We suggest that Roush treats not one sense of ‘evidence’ but three: relevance, leveraging and grounds for knowledge; and that different parts of her argument fa...
Article
Hunting Causes and Using Them: Approaches in Philosophy and Economics (HC&UT) is about notions of causality appropriate to the sciences, mostly generic causal claims (causal laws) and especially notions that connect causality with probability. 1 Most of the work for the book is associated with the project ‘Causality: Metaphysics and Methods’. This...
Article
What kinds of evidence reliably support predictions of effectiveness for health and social care interventions? There is increasing reliance, not only for health care policy and practice but also for more general social and economic policy deliberation, on evidence that comes from studies whose basic logic is that of JS Mill's method of difference....
Article
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As Francis Longworth discusses, HC&UT argues that there is no such thing as the causal relation nor a handful of causal relations and not even a truckload. Rather, there is only a seemingly endless array of relations, called ‘thick’ relations in the book, that may be loosely grouped under the label ‘causal’, with a vast variety of different cluster...
Article
Full-text available
Hunting Causes and Using Them: Approaches in Philosophy and Economics (HC&UT) is about notions of causality appropriate to the sciences, mostly generic causal claims (causal laws) and especially notions that connect causality with probability. 1 Most of the work for the book is associated with the project ‘Causality: Metaphysics and Methods’. This...
Article
Full-text available
A good many models used in physics and economics offer descriptions of imaginary situations, using a combination of mathematics and natural language. The descriptions are both thin - not much about the situation is filled in - and unrealistic - what is filled in is not true of many real situations. Yet we want to use the results of these models to...
Article
Full-text available
Reply To Steel And Pearl - Hunting Causes and Using Them: Approaches in Philosophy and Economics, CartwrightNancy. Cambridge University Press, 2008, x + 270 pages. - Volume 26 Issue 1 - Nancy Cartwright
Article
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This article critically analyses the concept of evidence in evidence-based policy, arguing that there is a key problem: there is no existing practicable theory of evidence, one which is philosophically-grounded and yet applicable for evidence-based policy. The article critically considers both philosophical accounts of evidence and practical treatm...
Article
Full-text available
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are widely taken as the gold standard for establishing causal conclusions. Ideally conducted they ensure that the treatment ‘causes’ the outcome—in the experiment. But where else? This is the venerable question of external validity. I point out that the question comes in two importantly different forms: Is the sp...
Article
Full-text available
Chapter
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This paper is about efficacy, effectiveness, the need for theory to join the two, and the tragedies of exporting the Cochrane medical-inspired ideology to social policy. Loosely, efficacy is what is established about causes in RCTs – randomized controlled trials. Effectiveness is what a cause does ‘in the field’. The theory, like that describing fo...
Article
Full-text available
Much of Adolf Grünbaum's work on psychoanalytic theory over the years has been concerned with causal claims. These can be claims e ither about the aetiology of psychic disorders or about the efficacy of various aspects of psychoanalytic treatment; and they can be either singular causal claims intended to de scribe a single individual, such as "Anna...
Article
Full-text available
This article explains the puzzling methodology of an important econometric study of health and status. It notes the widespread use of invariance in both economic and philosophical studies of causality to guarantee that causal knowledge can be used to predict the effects of manipulations. It argues that the kind of invariance seen widely in economic...
Article
Full-text available
How can philosophy of science be of more practical use? One thing we can do is provide practicable advice about how to determine when one empirical claim is relevant to the truth of another; i.e., about evidential relevance. This matters especially for evidence-based policy, where advice is thin—and misleading—about how to tell what counts as evide...
Article
How can philosophy of science be of more practical use? One thing we can do is provide practicable advice about how to determine when one empirical claim is relevant to the truth of another; i.e., about evidential relevance. This matters especially for evidence-based policy, where advice is thin—and misleading—about how to tell what counts as evide...
Article
Full-text available
This paper argues that even when simple analogue models picture parallel worlds, they generally still serve as isolating tools. But there are serious obstacles that often stop them isolating in just the right way. These are obstacles that face any model that functions as a thought-experiment but they are especially pressing for economic models beca...
Chapter
Knowledge of causal laws is expensive and hard to come by. But we work hard to get it because we believe that it will reduce contingency in planning policies and in building new technologies: knowledge of causal laws allows us to predict reliably what the outcomes will be when we manipulate the factors cited as causes in those laws. Or do they? Thi...
Article
In “The Toolbox of Science” (1995) together with Towfic Shomar we advocated a form of instrumentalism about scientific theories. We separately developed this view further in a number of subsequent works. Steven French, James Ladyman, Otavio Bueno and Newton Da Costa (FLBD) have since written at least eight papers and a book criticising our work. He...
Chapter
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Project
Knowledge for Use (K4U) is an innovative, interdisciplinary and multi-institutional ERC funded research project that weaves together six case studies and two research streams. The case studies and the research streams work collaboratively to develop evidence and theory to help fortify policies. K4U is a five-year research project funded by an 'Advanced Grant' of just over two million euros from the European Research Council under Horizon 2020 . 'Research is an investment in our future’ says Horizon 2020. That’s only true if you know what to do with it. When it comes to social policy, we don’t really know how to put our research results to use. K4U aims to remedy this. K4U will construct a radically new picture of how to use social science to build better social policies. The project started in November 2015, and is a collaboration between Durham University (Department of Philosophy and School of Applied Social Sciences), LSE (Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science - CPNSS) and Università Ca'Foscari Venezia. It brings together a group of top senior researchers and experts with both philosophical and practical expertise, and, through six case studies K4U attacks specific societal challenges. Enter a project description