Ecological studies have been evaluated in epidemiological contexts in terms of the "ecological fallacy." Although the empirical evidence for a lack of comparability between correlations derived from ecological- and individual-level analyses is compelling, the conceptual meaning of the ecological fallacy remains problematic. This paper argues that issues in cross-level inference can be usefully conceptualized as validity problems, problems not peculiar to ecological-level analyses. Such an approach increases the recognition of both potential inference problems in individual-level studies and the unique contributions of ecological variables. This, in turn, expands the terrain for the location of causes for disease and interventions to improve the public's health.
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