Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Saramago’s All the Names and the epidemiological dream
  1. Naomar Almeida-Filho
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr N Almeida-Filho
 Instituto De Saude Coletiva, Universidade Federal Da Bahia, 40.110-170 Salvador-Bahia, Brazil;


Language is crucial for all established scientific disciplines in contemporary society, particularly epidemiology. Portuguese writer Saramago wrote All the Names, a book about the Conservatória, a gigantic registry that stores the whole life of an entire population. A parallel is made with the first social observatories that used entire populations for systematic observation, permitting the development of epidemiological methodology. Such “epidemiological dream” almost became true in virtual form with the introduction of electronic data processing. The central thesis of this paper is that Saramago’s Conservatória allegory might be interpreted as akin to the virtual world construed by epidemiological science. Specifically, it is about abstract realities (or theoretical environments) that by definition are necessary for the process of scientific inquiry, particularly when oriented by knowledge production through observational strategies. Reading Saramago, the epidemiological virtualscape may be envisaged, more imaginary than it is usual to imagine and more real than it is usual to realise.

  • literature
  • post-modern epidemiology
  • Saramago
  • theoretical epidemiology

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • * I owe this important observation to a JECH anonymous reviewer.

  • Again, I owe this important observation to a JECH anonymous reviewer.

  • See Lynch (1997)23 for a historical review, Latour (1999)24 for a critical update, and Biagioli (1999)25 for a broad sampler of this field of research. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, this approach has not been used in our field and many epidemiologists might not be acquainted to the subject.

  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

Linked Articles