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Multilevel models and scientific progress in social epidemiology
  1. Jeffrey B Bingenheimer
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J B Bingenheimer
 Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan School of Public Health, 1420 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029 USA;

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Formidable institutional barriers stand in the way of rigorous theory development in social epidemiology.

Innovation in the technical means of empirical inquiry is a necessary and perhaps inevitable component of scientific progress. New tools not only allow investigators to study phenomena that had previously been inaccessible to them, but also permit them to look at existing phenomena in novel ways, and occasionally provide metaphors that serve as building blocks of original theory.1,2 Yet technical innovation also poses dangers. Among these is the possibility that people lacking the requisite training effectively will be excluded from meaningful participation in scientific discourse. As the methods of empirical research grow more specialised, those who have mastered their use may become increasingly insulated from the criticism of their peers. And science without criticism is bound to go badly. The question, then, is not whether technical innovation is good or bad, but rather how scientific disciplines can capitalise on such advances while simultaneously mitigating the attendant dangers.

Questions of this sort now face our field as social epidemiologists collectively seek to incorporate …

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