Non-epistemic factors in epidemiological models. The case of mortality data
- cause of death,
- epidemiological models,
- non-epistemic factors
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it especially visible that mortality data are a key component of epidemiological models, being a single indicator that provides information about various health aspects, such as disease prevalence and effectiveness of interventions, and thus enabling predictions on many fronts. In this paper, we illustrate the interrelation between facts and values in death statistics, by analyzing the rules for death certification issued by the World Health Organization. We show how the notion of the underlying cause of death can change in view of public health goals. This brings us to a general point about how non-epistemic factors, such as values and goals, are reflected in the choice of different measures in epidemiological models. We finally argue that this analysis is not only relevant from a theoretical point of view but also has important practical consequences.