Meeting report

Scand J Work Environ Health 1999;25(2):159    pdf

Which way epidemiology

by Partanen T, Johansson M

"Take me wherever you wish. I am needed everywhere", Herbert von Karajan, in his typical modesty, is told to have replied to a taxi driver's question about destination. This is how Hans-Olov Adami opened his keynote address at the First Panum Seminar: The Future of Epidemiology in Copenhagen, on 25 January 1999, arguing that epidemiology, like von Karajan, is needed everywhere. The seminar, chaired by Jorn Olsen, drew some 300 participants. The discussions concerned questions such as whether the future is for macrosocial public health epidemiology, for molecular epidemiology, or for something in between; whether epidemiology needs substantive theories; or whether it is a general toolbox rather than a science, as Stig Wall formulated it in his keynote; and whether methodological or substance-matter limits should be set for epidemiology. It was generally agreed that all levels are important. As Mervyn Susser put it, we need a multilevel conceptual framework of disease causation and prevention. A problem remains, Neil Pearce noted, for resource allocation seems to favor molecular epidemiology, drawing from public health epidemiology. Many of the discoveries on the causes of cancer, for example, have their origins in systematic international comparisons of cancer incidence. On the other hand, soon we will know the human genome, as David Hunter reminded, pointing towards the vast potential for molecular studies. But just as epidemiologists need to look inside the black box, so should biologists look outside it. In this spirit, Walter W Holland called for a broad focus for epidemiology and disease control. Many speakers were also worried about the paucity of preventive intervention studies, including those done in the Third World. The invited speeches will be published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Follow also the Epidemiology Monitor. A continuation is expected as a satellite seminar at the International Epidemiological Association meeting in Kaunas, Lithuania, in August 2000.