Friday, September 21, 2007

The epidemiologist

Over on The Daily Duck my virtual friend, Duck, takes a pot shot at epidemiologists. Perhaps all the serious discoveries have been made and today's researchers have only the food and lifestyle fads of the wealthy nations to observe but it wasn't always so. I felt impelled to defend those of my father-in-law's generation who made a great difference to our understanding of the conditions contributing to the spread of disease.

Here is a light-hearted look at pa-in-law in action in what was then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. This watercolour was painted by family friend Vera Maw in 1954. She was used to seeing Albert head off into the bush with a truck containing every possible creature comfort. The MM is the younger child, in trademark 'shirt and socks in disarray' mode, having let his white mice escape; older brother Anthony is immaculate as ever, heading for his life as a successful accountant. Clicking on the picture will show the details which show how well Vera knew the family!


  1. What a great picture.

    When reading Duck's post and the comments, I was thinking that the great strides made in public health in the 20th century probably couldn't be duplicated today.

    There would have to be study upon study of the efficacy of everything and an absolute guarantee that nothing would go wrong and mind bogglingly on and on.

    Looks like your in-laws played an important role in bringing civilization to a part of the world sadly lacking. Too bad, the reformers threw out the baby with the bath water and much of the good done was obliterated when native rule replaced the colonials.

  2. Hear, hear! It is very sad to see what is happening over there.

  3. It sure is getting harder and harder to take pot shots. You never know which of your friends' oxes will be gored.

    My apologies to the MM and his clan! I meant no disrespect. Your father-in-law is a true humanitarian.

    However, I think that erp is right in that the heirs of the 19th century epidemiologists can't expect to reproduce their results. The low hanging fruit, so to speak, has been plucked. We have to be wary of unsubstantiated studies that purport to tell us how we can improve our odds for avoiding disease x or y by taking or abstaining from a or b. I've been told by my doctor, based on such studies, to cut back on my consumption of coffee. But a recent study shows that heavy consumption of coffee correlates with lower risk for developing diabetes.

    I'll continue to drink coffee because I like it.

  4. I think pa-in-law would have been surprised to be called a humanitarian; he did a serious job for a reasonable reward and gave his family a good life at the same time. He would just have wanted to be taken seriously.

    We've had several discussions about what passes for scientific study, particularly in the area of food and lifestyle. I think that the press pick up on single aspects of the studies and report them out of context and way out of proportion. Often, if you look at the facts and not the hyperbole you'll see the scientists weren't making huge claims at all.


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