Mass Torts: State of the Art

Koch's Postulates Revised

Whenever epidemiological data is used to support a claim of causation in a toxic tort case a fight over causal inference invariably erupts and for the last twenty years or so that has meant an argument about whether Sir A. B. Hill's so-called causal criteria have been met. Long before Hill tried to prove that smoking causes lung cancer Robert Koch tried to find a defensible argument for the claim that microbes were the cause of anthrax. What he came up with are known as Koch's postulates and they've been around for well over one hundred years. Now, in an attempt to update them for a world in which often only bits of pathogens long gone remain an attempt to update the postulates has been published.

In "Microbe Hunting"  the author summarizes the problem of causal attribution when the responsible bacteria can't be cultured or even found and when their role in disease is the result of an incredibly complex interplay between host, uncounted trillions of microbes and the external environment. He discusses the methods for teasing out pathogens from dense webs of causation and proposes a refined set of causal criteria. It's well worth reading because if you do mass torts you'll be dealing with this issue for years to come.

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