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Epidemiology for the uninitiated, 5th ed
  1. Julia Critchley

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    D Coggon, G Rose, D J P Barker. London: BMJ Books, 2003, pp 73, £12.95. ISBN 0-727-91604-1

    This is the fifth edition of a short textbook, primarily aimed at UK students and practitioners, although of value elsewhere. First published in 1975, the book is concise (73 pages), easy to read, and follows a clear structure. It is accessible to a wide readership, and provides a reasonable overview of many basic methods. There are 12 chapters, and topics covered include quantifying disease and case definitions, rates and risks, survey design, measurement error and bias, ecological and analytical studies, experimental designs, screening, outbreaks, and reading epidemiological studies. It uses clear and varied examples, mostly from the UK, to illustrate epidemiological principles, and practice.

    Comparatively little has been updated from previous editions and the book has a slightly “historical” feel (compared with the 3rd, the only substantive addition is one paragraph covering data protection, although there are some more substantial changes compared with earlier editions). As such it does not describe many of the modern developments in epidemiology. Although beyond the scope to cover the details of multivariate methods, their range of potential applications could be highlighted. Furthermore, developments in systematic reviews and meta-analyses or the role of epidemiology in health impact assessment and policy making are not mentioned. Although deliberately concise, a few additional pages to cover examples of calculating basic epidemiological measures such as odds ratios and relative risks may be beneficial. In a few instances, I feel that important key concepts have not been explained or discussed (for example, the importance of allocation concealment in randomised controlled trials). Some limitations may be inevitable in a book of this length. It is perhaps too concise to study topics in depth, but ideal as an introduction to major epidemiological concepts for the naive reader.

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