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Keywords:

  • anthrax vaccine;
  • biomarkers;
  • causal inference;
  • principal stratification;
  • Rubin Causal Model;
  • surrogate outcomes

Abstract.  The use of the concept of ‘direct’ versus ‘indirect’ causal effects is common, not only in statistics but also in many areas of social and economic sciences. The related terms of ‘biomarkers’ and ‘surrogates’ are common in pharmacological and biomedical sciences. Sometimes this concept is represented by graphical displays of various kinds. The view here is that there is a great deal of imprecise discussion surrounding this topic and, moreover, that the most straightforward way to clarify the situation is by using potential outcomes to define causal effects. In particular, I suggest that the use of principal stratification is key to understanding the meaning of direct and indirect causal effects. A current study of anthrax vaccine will be used to illustrate ideas.