Effect Measure

John Snow

Yesterday I gave a nod to an important epidemiologist, the late Alice Stewart. I’m old enough to have known her, but not old enough to know the most famous epidemiologist of all — indeed sometimes called the “Father of Epidemiology” — Dr. John Snow. Snow is also claimed as the “Father of Anesthesiology” because he administered chloroform to Queen Victoria during the births of her second and third children, thus popularizing the practice in the mid 19th century. Neither epidemiologists nor anesthesiologists seem to be aware that their dad had two families, but that’s another issue. The significance of Snow’s pioneering studies on cholera weren’t generally recognized until the 1930s, but since, his studies have become icons for epidemiology’s preventive role in public health. In fact our sister public health blog, The Pump Handle, is named after the claim that a cholera epidemic traced by Snow to water from a pump in Golden Square, London, was stopped by the simple expedient of taking the handle off the pump. Evidence is that the epidemic was already on the way out by the time the handle was taken off the pump, but ever since, “taking the handle off the pump” has been a public health metaphor for disease prevention.

A recent book, The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, sets out the story in engrossing detail. Here’s a short talk by Johnson that tells a small bit of it at a TED talk in 2006:

Comments

  1. #1 Snowy Owl
    April 8, 2010

    Wow, thank you Revere, when you have the time please post more of this, it Granths the Historical Perspective, the Scientific Curiousness and Works and Hopes.

  2. #2 Snowy Owl
    April 8, 2010

    Salutations again Revere,

    As you know, in Orient Knowledge was mainly transmitted via Religions and there is this one legend I share with you.

    Once in Nother India on the Highway towards North West, there was what was probably a kind of cholera problem, anyway,
    therewas this guy who, the legend stated that after embracing a Spiritual Mission, he took all his assets and build on the Hignway (500 years ago) tenth of thousands of Latrines.

    This wise men became a Religious Leader.

    Snowy

  3. #3 daedalus2u
    April 8, 2010

    I was just thinking that there are several suggestions as to who is the “Father of Anesthesiology”. The men who wrote the US Constitution are considered the “founding fathers”.

    Isn’t a family with multiple fathers a natural consequence of allowing gay men to marry, adopt and raise children? Isn’t the implicit assumption by referring to the “founding fathers”, that a family with multiple fathers is ok?

  4. #4 Sam Dawes
    April 8, 2010

    And a modern equivalent of the cholera map is the citizens’ map of childhood leukemia cases in Woburn, Massachusetts. Here, the parents and their allies identified a cluster of cases near two contaminated wells, and later studies showed a statistical link between access to well water contaminated with TCE and PCE during pregnancy and subsequent diagnosis of leukemia in offspring. The citizens were in some sense playing the role of John Snow, and this may be one of the emblematic stories in the modern chemical age.

  5. #5 revere
    April 8, 2010

    Sam: Thanks for noting it. A solid book on this is Phil Brown’s No Safe Place.

  6. #6 MoM
    April 10, 2010

    Not to take anything away from Snow for making them possible, but one might argue that cities of 2 or 10 Million are not sustainable, and really were (are) a bad idea. While it might be good for the biosphere, I don’t want to be part of the 10% of population reduction every few years. Just going to show how hypocritical I am.