Causal discovery in disease data

It is sometimes thought to be impossible to discover causes of events without any background knowledge or the ability to do experiments. However, the field of inferring causes and effects with purely observational data is developing. Correlation does not directly imply causation, but some patterns of association make particular causal relationships more likely than others.

This work is focused on developing fast methods to find strong causes and effects related to a target variable from a large set of covariates. This is useful (1) for gaining insight into a domain, and (2) for prediction of the effects of interventions. We are particularly interested in applying this to data collected in Uganda concerning prevalence of disease and the outbreak of epidemics such as cholera and ebola. This analysis could confirm or disconfirm our ideas about climatic, demographic and environmental factors which are thought to influence such events. An indication of the relative strengths of different causes can also help in predicting the efficacy of different eradication policies.
Entry to NIPS 2008 causal discovery competition received honourable mention for “significant advance on the REGED dataset”.