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Workshop: The Neglected Assumptions In Causal Inference

DoWhy: Addressing Challenges in Expressing and Validating Causal Assumptions

Amit Sharma · Vasilis Syrgkanis · cheng zhang · Emre Kiciman


Estimation of causal effects involves crucial assumptions about the data-generating process, such as directionality of effect, presence of instrumental variables or mediators, and whether all relevant confounders are observed. Violation of any of these assumptions leads to significant error in the effect estimate. However, unlike cross-validation for predictive models, there is no global validator method for a causal estimate. As a result, expressing different causal assumptions formally and validating them (to the extent possible) becomes critical for any analysis. We present DoWhy, a framework that allows explicit declaration of assumptions through a causal graph and provides multiple validation tests to check a subset of these assumptions. Our experience with DoWhy highlights a number of open questions for future research: developing new ways beyond causal graphs to express assumptions, the role of causal discovery in learning relevant parts of the graph, and developing validation tests that can better detect errors, both for average and conditional treatment effects. DoWhy is available at