2.5. Terminology and Further Reading#

Terminology in this chapter

  • observational study

  • treatment

  • outcome

  • association

  • causal association

  • causality

  • comparison

  • treatment group

  • control group

  • epidemiology

  • confounding

  • randomization

  • randomized controlled experiment

  • randomized controlled trial (RCT)

  • blind

  • placebo

Fun facts

  1. John Snow is sometimes called the father of epidemiology, but he was an anesthesiologist by profession. One of his patients was Queen Victoria, who was an early recipient of anesthetics during childbirth.

  2. Florence Nightingale, the originator of modern nursing practices and famous for her work in the Crimean War, was a die-hard miasmatist. She had no time for theories about contagion and germs, and was not one for mincing her words. “There is no end to the absurdities connected with this doctrine,” she said. “Suffice it to say that in the ordinary sense of the word, there is no proof such as would be admitted in any scientific enquiry that there is any such thing as contagion.”

  3. A later RCT established that the conditions on which PROGRESA insisted—children going to school, preventive health care—were not necessary to achieve increased enrollment. Just the financial boost of the welfare payments was sufficient.

Good reads

The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera by Sandra Hempel, published by our own University of California Press, reads like a whodunit. It was one of the main sources for this section’s account of John Snow and his work. A word of warning: some of the contents of the book are stomach-churning.

Poor Economics, the best seller by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of MIT, is an accessible and lively account of ways to fight global poverty. It includes numerous examples of RCTs, including the PROGRESA example in this chapter. In 2019, Banerjee, Duflo, and Michael Kremer received the Nobel Prize in Economics, in part for showing that “questions are often best answered via carefully designed experiments.”