The epidemiologists

Have they got scares for you!

By John Brignell

(ISBN 0-9539108-2-2,  published July 1st 2004)

The starting point is a list of just a few examples of the many contradictory headlines that have announced or refuted recent health scares. The rest of the book comprises an investigation of how this bizarre situation came about. The early chapters of this book are concerned with the historical origins of the subject, starting with the terrible toll disease has inflicted on mankind through the ages. Then comes a great breakthrough with the tale of the Broad Street Pump, which brought into focus centuries of slow convergence on an understanding of the nature of disease. There follows an abbreviated account of the work of one of the great pioneers of statistics and the dramatic irony of his legacy. Then comes the Social Theory, which turned scientific medicine on its head and changed the world. A brief discussion of the fraught subject of cause and effect completes the preparatory half of the book.

The second half of the book represents the results of a struggle to cope with the overwhelming amount of available material. Two chapters deal with the basics of how the present situation came about, tools of the trade and fallacies. There follows an exercise in critical reading in epidemiology, which takes one random example from the media coverage and picks over its bones. The following three chapters are devoted to a small selection of examples divided arbitrarily into trials of life, body parts and substance abuse. Then, because of the unique way in which its history is tied in with modern epidemiology, tobacco receives a chapter of its own, as does cancer, the ultimate scare. There follows a chapter on the history of a holocaust in which millions of animals were needlessly slaughtered. Next is a survey of some of the delights and disasters associated with electromagnetic fields. The penultimate chapter lists some of the big players in the scare game and the final chapter ties up a few loose ends.

There is a modest bibliography and a comprehensive index, but because of the instability of URLs, the webography has been transferred to these pages.

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