Causal modeling and the origins of path analysis

Daniel J. Denis, Joanna Legerski

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Biometrician Sewall Wright introduced to genetics a procedure that would revolutionize data analysis. With the advent of Wright's method of path coefficients in early twentieth century, the statistical landscape widened significantly. However, the adoption of Wright's methods provoked great controversy. Essential to this controversy were claims, originally advanced by Wright, that the method could be applied to problems in which causality among variables could be assumed. In the present piece, we seek to provide an historical understanding of how path analysis became associated with causation. We begin by interpreting Wright's early work on path coefficients, then trace key studies that utilized path analysis following Wright's innovative contribution. By mid-century, path analysis had established itself as a causal modeling methodology and was gaining popularity in the social sciences. We conclude that today's procedure be somewhat divorced from issues of causation, both semantically and hermeneutically.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTheory and Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2006


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