Since I started this blog in April, I can’t count the number of times I’ve come across statements on other blogs like, “Epidemiology is just statistical manipulation of data.” This usually comes from an anti-vaccinationist commenter who clearly has never even opened an introductory epidemiology textbook.
So I was happy to see the article in the Washington Post on September 19th, entitled “For a Global Generation, Public Health Is a Hot Field.” The article begins with:
“Courses in epidemiology, public health and global health — three subjects that were not offered by most colleges a generation ago — are hot classes on campuses these days. They are drawing undergraduates to lecture halls in record numbers, prompting a scramble by colleges to hire faculty and import ready-made courses. Schools that have taught the subjects for years have expanded their offerings in response to surging demand.”
And later in the article: “The concepts introduced in basic epidemiology courses include causation and correlation, absolute risk and relative risk, biological plausibility and statistical uncertainty. Nearly all health stories in the news — from the possible hazards of bisphenol A in plastics and the theory that vaccines cause autism, to racial disparities in health care and missteps in the investigation of tainted peppers — are better understood with grounding in that discipline.”
The impetus for teaching epidemiology at the undergraduate college level has come from many places. In 1987, Dr. David Fraser, former president, Swarthmore College, and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania, wrote an influential article in the New England Journal of Medicine, entitled “Epidemiology as a Liberal Art.” This link includes the entire paper — I highly recommend it.
But perhaps the major force behind the increase in epidemiology courses in colleges has been the Educated Citizen and Public Health Initiative, led by Dr. Richard Riegelman of George Washington University . (Dr. Riegelman is also the author of an excellent introductory text, entitled Studying a Study and Testing a Test: How to Read the Medical Evidence, which I’ve used in teaching both medical studients and undersgraduates.)
For more information on the Educated Citizen and Public Health Initiative, see: