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Epidemiology, History of

Student: What is epidemiology, father?

Teacher: It is all things to all men, my son … The plethora of definitions is the very heart of the problem … a structure sturdy enough to … shelterphysicians, dentists, veterinarians, and nurses; very small (micro) biologists and fat chemists; mammalogists, bugmen, birdmen, and spacemen; traffic directors and city planners; engineers mechanical, sanitary, electrical, stationary, and human; sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists, cultural and otherwise … everything!

—Anonymous (1963)

The preceding satirical barb from 1963, titled ‘Epidemi(olog)2y ∗,’ goes on to define epidemiology (‘or epidemiologology’) in circular fashion as ‘simply the study of epidemiology,’ and hints at why a comprehensive history of the subject has neither been written nor, apparently, even attempted. From the vantage point of 2007, looking back over the past ...

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