Today marks the end of an era. The International Journal of Epidemiology used to be a typical hotchpotch of isolated papers on worthy subjects. Occasionally, some were interesting, or related to your field. Under Shah Ebrahim and George Davey-Smith it became like nothing else: an epidemiology journal you’d happily subscribe to with your own money, and read in the bath.
Central to this project was the re-publication of old classics, or papers that had been completely missed by history: the 1943 Nazi case control study that linked smoking with lung cancer, a decade before Richard Doll; the 1966 paper on randomised trials of spanking; an unpublished diatribe by Lewontin on genes from four decades ago; and so many more, four times a year. These were always accompanied by multiple contemporary commentaries, and this produced something new, democratising, transgressive, and almost unique: it gave unregulated access to the kind of discursive chat that you normally only hear among the drunken bigwigs, in the academic conference hotel bar, well after midnight.
George and Shah’s victory lap is this day-long conference, which you can watch in its entirety online. Here you’ll find Danny Dorling, on an uptick in mortality that everyone seems to have missed; Richard Smith on why academic journals are crap; Martin McKee in a rush about political epidemiology; Alex Mold on the history of epidemiology; me, on transparency beyond the usual “publication bias” rants (4h26m, if you’re into that); fascinating interjections from a room full of epidemiology stars; Tom Koch and Katherine Keys on the technical meat; and Shah and George, in a maelstrom that veers from vindictively meticulous methodological critiques, to gushing birds-eye views, peering down with galactic perspective on the vitally important project of finding out what does good, and what does harm, in statistics that speak to flesh, blood, pain, suffering, and death. It’s a lovely day, and some of it is all heart. Nothing on telly is worth the candle.