Before World War II, epidemiology was a small discipline, practiced by a handful of people working mostly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Today it is practiced by tens of thousands of people on all continents. Between 1945 and 1965, during what is known as its “classical” phase, epidemiology became recognized as a major academic discipline in medicine and public health. On the basis of a review of the historical evidence, this article examines to which extent classical epidemiology has been a golden age of an action-driven, problem-solving science, in which epidemiologists were less concerned with the sophistication of their methods than with the societal consequences of their work. It also discusses whether the paucity of methods stymied or boosted classical epidemiology's ability to convince political and financial agencies about the need to intervene in order to improve the health of the people.


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