J N Morris


Int J Epidemiol. 2007;36(6):1165-1172. 

In This Article


Epidemiology is today the Cinderella of the medical sciences. The proposition might, however, be advanced that public health needs more epidemiology, and so does medicine as a whole, and, it may be said, society at large. Public health needs more epidemiology—this is the most obvious intellectual basis for its further advance. Epidemiology, moreover, as a tried instrument of research—with its modern developments in sampling and surveys, small-number statistics, the follow-up of cohorts, international comparisons, field experiment and family study; and with its extensions to problems of genetics as well as environment, to physiological norms as well as disease, the psychological as well as the physical, morbidity as well as mortality—epidemiology now offers the possibility of a new era of collaboration between public health workers and clinical medicine. Such a collaboration could be on equal terms, each making their particular contribution to the joint solving of problems. There is abundant evidence today that clinicians would very much welcome such a development.

Medicine as a whole needs more epidemiology, for without it cardinal areas have to be excluded from the consideration of human health and sickness. Epidemiology, moreover, is rich with suggestions for clinical and laboratory study, and it offers many possibilities for testing hypotheses emerging from these. One of the most urgent social needs of the day is to identify rules of health living that might do for us what Snow and others did for the Victorians, and help to reduce the burden of illness in middle and old age which is so characteristic a feature of our society. There is no indication whatever that the experimental sciences alone will be able to produce the necessary guidance. Collaboration between clinician, laboratory scientist and epidemiologist might be more successful. The possibilities are at present unlimited, if often neglected.


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