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  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: December 2009

3 - Sewall Wright, path analysis and d-separation


A bit of history

The ideal method of science is the study of the direct influence of one condition on another in experiments in which all other possible causes of variation are eliminated. Unfortunately, causes of variation often seem to be beyond control. In the biological sciences, especially, one often has to deal with a group of characteristics or conditions which are correlated because of a complex of interacting, uncontrollable, and often obscure causes. The degree of correlation between two variables can be calculated with well-known methods, but when it is found it gives merely the resultant of all connecting paths of influence.

The present paper is an attempt to present a method of measuring the direct influence along each separate path in such a system and thus of finding the degree to which variation of a given effect is determined by each particular cause. The method depends on the combination of knowledge of the degrees of correlation among the variables in a system with such knowledge as may be possessed of the causal relations. In cases in which the causal relations are uncertain the method can be used to find the logical consequences of any particular hypothesis in regard to them.

So begins Sewall Wright's 1921 paper in which he describes his ‘method of path coefficients’. In fact, he invented this method while still in graduate school (Provine 1986) and had even used it, without presenting its formal description, in a paper published the previous year (Wright 1920).

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Cause and Correlation in Biology
  • Online ISBN: 9780511605949
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