Vizi e virtù dell'epidemiologia e degli epidemiologi.

Translated title of the contribution: [Epidemiology's and epidemiologists' vices and virtues].

Valerio Gennaro, Paolo Ricci, Angelo Gino Levis, Paolo Crosignani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Epidemiology is a public health oriented discipline and is aimed to detect the spatial, temporal, social and causal distribution of diseases in the human population, in order to promote timely and effective preventive solutions. This paper highlights some gold standard of the epidemiological method and suggests some considerations for a critical comprehension of epidemiological studies, in particular those that deny or minimize the existence of public health risks. This paper will focus on some crucial elements such as definition, attribution, misclassification and underestimation of the harmful exposures caused by a multitude of factors, undervaluation of the possible interactions among harmful agents (even when law limits are respected), selection of exposed populations, insufficient number of studied diseases, importance of the right comparisons between similar groups when the reference population is used, disproportion between shortness of follow-up in respect with long latency period of the studied diseases, including cancer. This paper also observes that many epidemiologists carry out confirmative studies rather than exploratory ones, and they end to both underestimate and underevaluate the multiplicity of the causal associations in favour of a reductive and a critical approach to the statistics which, in final analysis, wants to replace epidemiology. It points out, moreover, that neglecting primary prevention as well as precautionary principles in the interpretation of public health studies, arises the suspicion of professional limitation or strong conflict of interests (business bias). Epidemiology is naturally oriented to both primary prevention and public health defense, and today, more than ever before, for many reasons, among which the overwhelming market power that is first and foremost the cause of the general increase of populations affected by avoidable pathologies, a systematic, correct and timely application of this precious discipline seems to be urgent to us. In conclusion, we would suggest that some technical-scientific and institutional initiatives should overcome the intrinsic limits of the current aetiological researches. The rigorous adhesion of epidemiology to its scientific method appears to be absolutely necessary in order to enforce the Italian constitutional principle which states that health defence is a fundamental right of each individual and a concern for the whole community.

Translated title of the contribution[Epidemiology's and epidemiologists' vices and virtues].
Original languageItalian
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalEpidemiologia e prevenzione
Issue number4-5 Suppl 2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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