ORIGINAL PURPOSE OF THE ORGANIZATION
When the constitution of the London
Epidemiological Society was created, the founders had three major purposes all
related to epidemics as a broad notion, not specific to a cholera epidemic, the
threat of which had stimulated the earlier letters of Pater.
to institute rigid examination into the causes
and conditions which influence the origin, propagation, mitigation, and
prevention of epidemic diseases;
to institute...original and comprehensive
researches into the nature and laws of disease; and
to communicate with government and legislature
on matters connected with the prevention of epidemic diseases.
The founders also recognized that having ideas
without public or professional communication is a self-centered
undertaking. To avoid this end they advocated:
to publish original papers;
to issue queries;
to publish reports;
to form statistical tables;
to prepare illustrative maps; and
to collect works relative to epidemic
These purposes and undertakings remain
ACTIVITIES OF THE ORGANIZATION
Papers were regularly presented at the monthly
meeting of the London Epidemiological Society such as one in 1851 on the use of
statistics and statistical methodology in the study of epidemic diseases.
Between 1851 and 1853, most meetings had considerable discussion about whether
or not a specific disease was caused by a contagion, . with cholera and yellow
fever being common example cited by both opponents and proponents of the germ
theory (i.e., disease is caused by a microorganism or germ). In 1853, John
Snow (shown at right) presented a paper on "The
Comparative Mortality of Large Towns and Rural Districts, and the Causes by
Which it is Influenced" which featured the application of statistics to
In 1852, Dr. Benjamin W. Richardson (shown
below), a close friend of Snow's, joined the London Epidemiological Society. Being
an intellectual comrade, Dr. Richardson supported Snow in his theory of water
propagation of cholera, an idea that was quickly accepted by the medical
community. Later after the death of his friend in 1858, Richardson would
write the lengthy account of Snow's life that enriches our current understanding
of the life and times of the man. Richardson founded the Journal of
Public Health in 1855, where the transactions of the London Epidemiological
Society were first published. Four years later, however, the journal was
discontinued for financial reasons. Thereafter the Society published its
own proceedings as the Transactions of the Epidemiological Society of London,
which remained until 1907.
In 1861, three years after the death of John
Snow, Gavin Milroy presented "The Influence of Contagion on the Rise and
Spread of Epidemic Diseases." In this important work he joined John
Snow in dismissing the miasmatic theory of disease causation (i.e., the idea
that poisonous atmosphere rises from swamps and putrid matter and cause disease)
because of its inconsistency with the spread of epidemics.
DEMISE AND REBIRTH
At end of the century as infectious diseases
continued their inevitable decline, the London Epidemiological Society came to a
temporary end. Its successor was the Section on Epidemiology and State
Medicine of the Royal
Society of Medicine. Later still this became the Section on
Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, also of the Royal Society of
Medicine. In more modern times, emphasis was placed on prevention of such
non-infectious conditions as accidents involving motor vehicles, heart disease,
cancer and even mental illness. In addition, this new section of the Royal
Society of Medicine stressed the use of quantitative epidemiological methods and
principles, and held discussions on topics such as ethical questions relating to
public health. Likely if John Snow had lived another 142 years, he would have
approved, and enthusiastically participated in the continuing drama of
Babington, BG. The Lancet 2, 639-642, 1850.
Hunting, P. The History of the Royal Society of
D. Bulletin Hist Med 52(4), 503-28, 1978.
Paul JR. Yale J Biology Med 46(1), 29-31, 1973.
Pater. The Lancet 1, 242, 1848.
Pater. The Lancet 2, 301-302, 1849.
Tucker, JH. The Lancet 2, 592, 1849.
Simon, J. English Sanitary Institutions, Cassell, London, 1890.
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