Choosing a future for epidemiology: I. Eras and paradigms

Am J Public Health. 1996 May;86(5):668-73. doi: 10.2105/ajph.86.5.668.


To inform choices about the future of epidemiology, the present condition of epidemiology is examined, in terms of its evolution through three eras, each demarcated by its own paradigm: (1) the era of sanitary statistics with its paradigm, miasma; (2) the era of infectious disease epidemiology with its paradigm, the germ theory; and (3) the era of chronic disease epidemiology with its paradigm, the black box. The historical context in which these eras arose is briefly described. In each era, the public health was at the center of the concerns of the founders and early protagonists of the prevailing paradigm. Around this intellectual development we weave a further theme. We argue that in the present era, the public health has become less central a concern. At the same time, in epidemiology today the dominant black box paradigm is of declining utility and is likely soon to be superseded.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Epidemiology / history
  • Epidemiology / trends*
  • Forecasting
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans