Edited by Petra Buettner and Reinhold Muller . Published by Oxford University Press Sydney 2011 , paperback 600 pp , ISBN: 9780195573893

Reviewed by Mary-Ann Davey

La Trobe University

This simply titled text provides a comprehensive overview of the field of epidemiology.

The book is attractively presented, with plenty of white space and liberal use of text boxes and tables. There are times, though, that the text boxes interrupt and confuse the flow of the chapters.

It begins with a definition and brief history of epidemiology, and an outline of disease concepts, screening and measurement. On the whole this section is engaging, even if some concepts are described in a confusing way. For example, the section on standardised rates was not particularly lucid, nor was the section on causation. In contrast, the discussion of receiver operating curves was clearly presented despite being a sometimes challenging concept.

The book follows a logical sequence through the research process from some good practical advice on choosing a research question, a clear brief overview of the hierarchy of evidence (although the traditional levels are not used) to analysis of the results.

The chapters that outline the various methods used in epidemiology include some confusing terminology e.g. there is a section on using historical controls, and another on using before-and-after controls (in which participants act as their own controls), but the potential ambiguity in the term ‘before-and-after’ is not addressed. The descriptions of case-control studies, confounding and intermediate variables are comprehensible, and a graphic illustrating directionality in observational studies is helpful. Disappointingly, the importance of the intention-to-treat principle in the analysis of randomised controlled trials is not strongly promoted.

The chapters on ethical considerations, and critically reading and writing scientific papers are welcome features, providing an essential base for those new to the field.

Statistical analysis is covered in a fairly superficial manner, and the further reading listed is limited – for example, Medical Statistics by Kirkwood and Sterne1 is a highly accessible and comprehensive text and is not mentioned.

Most of the concepts covered are clearly explained, but there are examples of imprecise language e.g. hypertension and elevated cholesterol are described as ‘symptoms’ rather than signs.

Each section includes exercises to check understanding and reinforce concepts. The authors’ work in Australia, and the use of local examples throughout is welcome. Guidance from the supervisor/lecturer regarding its areas of strength and limitation will make this book a valuable addition to the existing resources available to students of epidemiology.


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  • 1
    Kirkwood B, Sterne J. Medical Statistics. 2nd ed. Oxford ( UK ) : Blackwell Science; 2003.