Jack Wright is a Postdoctoral Research Associate on Qualitative and Quantitative Social Science: Unifying the Logic of Causal Inference? (QUALITY). This ERC-funded project brings together cutting-edge work in epistemology with the expertise of leading social scientists.
Q. Jack, you recently joined the QUALITY team. Could you tell us a little about what the project is interested in?
QUALITY aims to investigate the different forms of causal inference used in the social sciences. In particular, it seeks to compare causal inference techniques associated with qualitative research with those associated with quantitative research and to ask if there are any general principles that run across both. The project is in part motivated by the difficulty in evaluating competing causal claims in public policy. When competing claims cite evidence based on different causal inference techniques how are they to be compared?
Although we are interested in causation, we focus less on what causation is or might be (from a metaphysical perspective) but rather on how causes can be identified more or less reliably whatever they may be. This means our focus is epistemological. The fact that the project is motivated by policy also highlights that we are concerned with political issues and that our epistemic framework is informed by pragmatism. We aim to think about what should be done and how policies and political institutions should be structured given different kinds of causal claims about the social world.
Q. How does this topic relate to your own areas of interest? Have you worked on similar topics previously?
The three of us on the project (me, Rosie, and Chris) each have different perspectives. I think what unites us is an interest in how politics and claims about how the world (or certain aspects of it) works interact. My previous work and my research interests lie in how scientific and social scientific knowledge and expertise should fit into political discussions and in how scientific institutions should be structured to best achieve their epistemic and political goals. The project’s focus on how different kinds of causal claims should be evaluated and integrated to aid policy and political discussions is very much in line with this.
My specific role as part of QUALITY is to investigate the political implications of different quantitative causal inference and measurement techniques. Are there certain forms of measurement or modelling that are more democratic or more conducive to particular political ends than others? In addition to fitting in with my previous philosophical work on topics at the intersection of philosophy of science and political philosophy, this fits with my background in mathematics and economics.
Q. Which aspects of the project and Centre do you find most exciting?
I really like the mix of epistemic and political considerations at the heart of QUALITY. We have a lot of great discussions about the kinds of actions that are justified by different kinds of evidence. I really like the dynamic we have as a team and find that Rosie and Chris regularly offer insightful thoughts on whatever we discuss.
I also really like working in CRASSH. I was previously the organiser of a Research Network in the Centre (on the Politics of Economics) and enjoy the interdisciplinary environment that CRASSH offers.
QUALITY is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (ERC grant agreement no. 715530)