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Edited by Thomas D Koepsell, Noel S Weiss. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, £39.95, pp 513. ISBN 0-19-515078-3
Several books introducing epidemiology are available. They usually follow the traditional layout: from initial definitions to the description and control of biases and measurement errors and it becomes challenging to offer something “different”.
Epidemiological Methods, by Koepsell and Weiss succeeds in presenting epidemiology in a different way. They nicely capture the readers’ interest right from the beginning by taking them through a “guided tour” to explore the “epidemic” of retrolental fibroplasia, and its epidemiological investigation that begun in the mid-1940s. The authors present frequency measures, treatments, and results from early studies in descriptive tables and figures, some of which seem contradictory and puzzling. They end up shedding light on the correct interpretation of several years of investigation and controversy. The names of these study designs (cohort, case control, clinical trials, etc) and the reasons why results sometimes seemed contradictory are briefly enumerated and at this point the reader’s appetite for more epidemiology increases! One perceives why epidemiology is such a relevant tool.
The classic epidemiological concepts are further on introduced and explained in a very didactic way with real but simple examples that are “beginner friendly” and pertaining mostly to studies that students, novel to this field, will certainly find interesting (AIDS, detection of drinking problems, smoking, etc). Each chapter uses real study examples and 75 figures and 89 tables to boost understanding of difficult issues. At the end of chapters, students can work on exercises that have correct answers and comments. A key asset of this book is that it originates from the teaching experience and materials of the authors. Furthermore, despite being an introductory text, the authors give the reader a flavor of more advanced issues such as residual confounding or interaction. In summary, a nice example of how epidemiology can help students “derive an almost esthetic pleasure from epidemiology”.