The Public Perception of Epidemiology

Professor Kenneth J. Rothman, Distinguished Fellow, Research Triangle Institute and RTI Health Solutions, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA, and Professor of Epidemiology, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

Epidemiologic research tends to receive disproportionate public attention, perhaps because the public has shown an increasing preoccupation with health and longevity. On the positive side, this attention has boosted funding opportunities for epidemiologists and provided added incentive for researchers. On the negative side, it has turned some epidemiologists into media hounds and aired debates about the validity of epidemiologic findings that have fueled public cynicism. Some scientists have pointedly criticized epidemiology as a field for its alleged tendency to produce erroneous results. In this talk, I will touch on some highlights of this public perception over the past several decades, and discuss methodologic approaches to the interpretation of epidemiologic results issues that could help to resolve debates and reduce cynicism.