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Bridging Worlds—The European Congress of Epidemiology
  1. Henrique Barros,
  2. Miquel Porta

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    This supplement publishes the abstracts accepted by the Scientific Committee of the European Congress of Epidemiology, which will be presented in Porto, Portugal, 8–11 September 2004.

    Publishing these abstracts in an international journal of large circulation represents a commitment of the organisers of the European congress towards all colleagues that decided to present their original work at our meeting. It aims at promoting our discipline and to further stimulate the quality of the scientific work of European epidemiologists.

    There is a growing recognition that public health and epidemiologic research, along with other social and population based approaches to health research, are not valued and funded as they deserve. As Rodolfo Saracci recently emphasised with respect to the European Union Sixth Framework Program and the Public Health Programme (placed under the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission), the situation is far from reassuring and “represents a net regression in respect to the preceding five framework programmes, each of which provided specific room for research in epidemiology and public health”.1 Epidemiology has come of age and has proven its importance in understanding health and disease related events or its contribution to improve human health. A meeting of European epidemiologists can be a major opportunity to affirm the societal and scientific contributions of the discipline, to confront ideas and local ways of approaching the problems, or to look for opportunities for cooperative work. The congress is also a new opportunity to bridge “worlds” and “levels” of knowledge in the often fragmented world of science—as epidemiology can complement and help to integrate so many disciplines related to human health.2 We hope the meeting will also be a fruitful and pleasant occasion for Europeans from different nationalities to get closer among ourselves, and with colleagues from other areas of the world.

    Traditionally, regional European meetings sponsored by the International Epidemiological Association (IEA) were organised jointly with national societies and together with their local epidemiology congresses. The Board of the IEA European Epidemiology Federation (IEA-EEF) thought that this option, which resulted in so many fruitful reunions, could be improved and, in a step forward, we aimed to contribute to build a true European Congress of Epidemiology, adapting the model of other scientific societies. It would be wonderful if this Porto meeting could be the first of a new series of regular European congresses of epidemiology that would complement in an international perspective the activity of national societies, as expressed in their usual local gatherings.

    The call for papers to be presented at the European Congress of Epidemiology, this year that International Epidemiological Association celebrates its 50th anniversary, resulted in the submission of 608 abstracts. All submissions were considered and first scored by a panel of international, volunteer reviewers. After the initial evaluation, the Scientific Committee of the congress accepted 492 (80.9%) abstracts for oral or poster presentation. We next report on the evaluation process, to inform of the way we shaped the scientific programme, and to propose an idea for a European gathering of epidemiologists interested in discussing scientific and professional issues, viewed as a regular activity of the IEA-EEF.

    PRESENTATION OF THE CONGRESS AND SUBMISSION OF ABSTRACTS

    The meeting was publicised through national societies, taking advantage of their newsletters and of the IEA-EEF Newsletter. It was also announced by direct mail to epidemiologists working in the field and to health or education institutions with public health and epidemiology departments. The main effort in dissemination of the information was based on the internet route, avoiding the costs and disadvantages of the traditional journal advertisements and leaflets, even at the cost of preparing mailing lists and bothering people with repetitive information.

    As done for the previous meeting in Toledo,3 we ran the whole system of abstract submission, referee proposals, and abstract evaluation exclusively online, posting presentation rules and evaluation criteria on an ad hoc website, http://www.euroepi2004.org. A large amount of tasks were facilitated by the excellent work of our colleagues from the Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE) during the preparation of the Toledo meeting. In particular, the electronic procedures followed this year were just borrowed from them under the auspices of the Secretariat of the IEA-EEF; such technologies may be considered a fundamental basis for preparing future meetings. The Secretariat of the IEA-EEF in Barcelona can provide further details to interested epidemiologists.4

    With the abstract submission forms the authors were asked to propose one to three keywords allowing the identification of major thematic areas, and additional information was also obtained regarding preferred mode of presentation, affiliation, and other demographic features.

    REVIEWERS AND ABSTRACT EVALUATION

    Following the guidelines approved by the Board of the IEA-EEF, on our website there was a call for external reviewers. As in the previous year, the proposal was received with enthusiasm and a large number of epidemiologists from 18 countries (12 in Europe) volunteered to evaluate abstracts in their areas of self reported expertise. In table 1 we present the country distribution of the 70 external evaluators.

    Table 1

     Distribution of external reviewers by country

    Each abstract was assigned to two evaluators, and an effort was made to send each paper to reviewers from different countries and, whenever possible, even to someone working in a country different from the one where the paper came from. Also, each paper was preferentially sent to what we classified as a senior and a junior evaluator according to the age, institutional position, and Medline record of publications of the reviewer.

    Each reviewer received the assigned abstracts blind to the authors names and affiliations, and was asked to score the abstract according to six criteria (abstract structure and quality of writing; clarity of the specification of the objectives; adequacy of design and methods to the objectives and quality of its description; presentation of results; importance of the topic; and originality); the final evaluation could range from 0–10, in a manner similar to that implemented in the 2003 meeting in Toledo.3

    We had previously defined that the final score for each paper would be the mean value of two evaluations, unless a discrepancy was present. A discrepancy in the evaluation of an abstract was considered when the difference between the two reviewers’ scores was greater than 3 points. In that case the abstract would be sent to a third evaluator and the median classification taken as the final score. A total of 63 discrepancies were observed, a few (n = 6) extreme, corresponding to a difference higher than 7 points.

    The Scientific Committee met on 30 April and 1 May. In that meeting a final decision was reached regarding abstract acceptance and the clustering of papers according to themes was organised. Also, five papers were selected to be presented and discussed in-depth at the plenary opening session of the congress.

    The 608 submitted abstracts had an average score of 6.3 and the average difference between reviewers was 1.7. A minimum score of 4.5 was established for acceptance. We rejected 116 abstracts, with a score ranging 0.5–4.4, the average score being 3.5. Rejections were based on the quantitative evaluation of the proposed abstracts; a qualitative assessment of the papers rated less favourably showed that the major limitations were lack of originality, confuse designs, insufficient information to allow a reasonable idea of what the scientific purpose was, and an approach clearly non-epidemiological. The Scientific Committee also favoured papers featuring original epidemiological approaches to population health instead of studies dealing with other public health scientific disciplines.

    The 283 papers accepted for poster presentation had an average score of 6.2, between 4.5 and 10. Although highly rated, some papers will be presented as posters to respect the preferences of the authors. The average score of the 209 posters assigned to an oral presentation was 7.9, ranging 6.8–10.

    In table 2 we present the distribution of the accepted papers according to country of origin. Most accepted papers came from Europe (312) but there were 5 papers from Oceania (Australia), 14 from Asia, 1 from Africa, and 160 from America, mostly from Brazil (152), the country with the larger number of submissions and of accepted abstracts.

    Table 2

     Accepted abstracts by country

    In table 3, accepted abstracts are distributed according to the main research topic, as classified by the authors using the long list of proposed areas in the submission form. Some 33 originally proposed areas could not fit into the time and space available for the scientific programme, and the corresponding papers were assembled according to somewhat different category designations, in order to offer coherent groups of presentations able to stimulate a more advantageous discussion.

    Table 3

     Accepted abstracts by research area

    THEMATIC SESSIONS AND SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS

    When planning scientific meetings there is a need to be aware of expectations and interests felt by the community of potential participants, and the common format is to mix original presentations with some form of up-dating or digest learning as part of continuing education. However, workshops, lectures, or seminars sometimes tend to fit better with the interest, curiosity, or leadership role of organisers than the actual needs, curiosity, or commitment of the people in the field. That was why we and the Board of the IEA-EEF encouraged epidemiologists to built thematic sessions, submit a coherent core of ideas for discussion, and provide the (uncomfortable) effort of funding the obvious costs of such a task. The rewarding aspect is the possibility of influencing the agenda, sharing concerns, and discussing hot issues.

    Six thematic sessions were proposed, considering such different topics as the heat wave in Europe, scores in cardiovascular evaluation, food safety and infections, the problems of heath transition in European Union new member countries, and the epidemiologic challenges of rare diseases.

    Also, we favoured the European Congress of Epidemiology as a privileged forum for discussion and reunion of European epidemiologists with special areas of interest, be it research, teaching or professional organisation. Thus, the European Perinatal Epidemiology Network (an informal group of researchers and clinicians interested in the evaluation of the outcome of perinatal care and research about social and clinical factors associated with health in pregnancy and its outcome) will hold two themed sessions: “Outcome of and care for multiple pregnancy in Europe” and “Perinatal health and care of migrant women”.

    FINAL COMMENTS

    Keynote speakers will cover four major topics: a historical perspective, a methodological visit to data handling, a comprehension of the links between policies, politics, and epidemiologic changes, and finally a look at AIDS—the major health threat of the past decades and the present times. There will also be space to present books, to discuss the organisation of epidemiology in Europe, to share teaching experiences, and hopefully to launch new projects.

    The large amount of good quality abstracts—the backbone of the congress—the diversity of themes and the variety of countries presented in Porto make us believe that this European Congress of Epidemiology will be an important and beneficial journey. We feel that there obviously is space for a regular meeting of European epidemiologists, able to attract an increasing amount of researchers communicating in a common language.

    The organisation of such a meeting needs time, negotiation skills, fund raising, a special attention to less favoured groups unable to cover the expenses of travelling and registration, and mainly talent to propose different and stimulating approaches. Thus, congress location, dates, and organisers should be known in sufficient advance to meet every expectation. So let us prepare forThe Netherlands in 2006 and choose soon our venue for 2007.

    The organising and the scientific meeting of this European Congress of Epidemiology look forward to greet you, and hope that the scientific and the social atmosphere of Porto will help us accomplish our motto, bridging worlds, in science and affection.

    Acknowledgments

    This publication was made possible due to a generous grant from Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

    This supplement publishes the abstracts accepted by the Scientific Committee of the European Congress of Epidemiology, which will be presented in Porto, Portugal, 8–11 September 2004.

    REFERENCES

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