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Ideological rather than technical considerations have dominated the discussion over whether or not scientists in Nazi Germany used up-to-date epidemiological methods to investigate the relation of tobacco to lung cancer. To the question ‘could something good have emanated from this evil regime?’ some historians1 and epidemiologists2 have responded affirmatively, suggesting that because of an obsession with racial purity and health, the Nazis had been ahead of their time in terms of research on the effect of tobacco and health. Strangely, however, little attention has been given to the technical quality of this material, in terms of design and analytic methods, and to how it compared with pre-1945 epidemiological research. A telling fact is that the first of the two papers reporting associations between tobacco and lung cancer published during the Third Reich, by Mueller, which appeared in 1939, remained unavailable as a primary document for people who do not read German until selected portions were translated into English for the first time in 2012.3
As I did for Mueller's 1939 paper,3 I proceed here with a technical evaluation of the second, and more recent, tobacco and lung cancer paper published in Nazi Germany. The paper entitled ‘Lung Cancer and Tobacco Consumption’4 was submitted, in German, to the Zeitung fuer Krebsforschung (Journal of Cancer Research) on 27 August 1943 and published in issue 4 of volume 54 in 1943. It was translated into English in 2001.5 I have used for this purpose all the primary material that, to my knowledge, is currently available.
In brief, in 1942, the authors sent a questionnaire about smoking habits to the relatives of 195 patients who had been diagnosed with lung cancer between 1930 and 1941 in Jena, Thuringia, a Central-Eastern region of Germany. Additionally, the survey was sent …
Contributors I am responsible for the conception and design, acquisition of data or analysis and interpretation of data; drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and final approval of the version published.
Funding National Library of Medicine (Salary support). Grant number: 1G13LM010884-01A1.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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