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Introduction to Causal Inference

Peter Spirtes; 11(54):1643−1662, 2010.


The goal of many sciences is to understand the mechanisms by which variables came to take on the values they have (that is, to find a generative model), and to predict what the values of those variables would be if the naturally occurring mechanisms were subject to outside manipulations. The past 30 years has seen a number of conceptual developments that are partial solutions to the problem of causal inference from observational sample data or a mixture of observational sample and experimental data, particularly in the area of graphical causal modeling. However, in many domains, problems such as the large numbers of variables, small samples sizes, and possible presence of unmeasured causes, remain serious impediments to practical applications of these developments. The articles in the Special Topic on Causality address these and other problems in applying graphical causal modeling algorithms. This introduction to the Special Topic on Causality provides a brief introduction to graphical causal modeling, places the articles in a broader context, and describes the differences between causal inference and ordinary machine learning classification and prediction problems.

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