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Detecting causal relationships in simulation models using intervention-based counterfactual analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number47
Pages (from-to)1-25
Issue number5
Early online date18 Sep 2019
Accepted/In press1 Mar 2019
E-pub ahead of print18 Sep 2019
PublishedNov 2019


King's Authors


Central to explanatory simulation models is their capability to not just show that but also why particular things happen. Explanation is closely related with the detection of causal relationships and is, in a simulation context, typically done by means of controlled experiments. However, for complex simulation models, conventional “blackbox” experiments may be too coarse-grained to cope with spurious relationships. We present an intervention-based causal analysis methodology that exploits the manipulability of computational models, and detects and circumvents spurious effects. The core of the methodology is a formal model that maps basic causal assumptions to causal observations and allows for the identification of combinations of assumptions that have a negative impact on observability. First, experiments indicate that the methodology can successfully deal with notoriously tricky situations involving asymmetric and symmetric overdetermination and detect fine-grained causal relationships between events in the simulation. As illustrated in the article, the methodology can be easily integrated into an existing simulation environment.

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