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April 10, 2002


EMORY UNIVERSITY'S GREAT TEACHER LECTURE SERIES "The Predictive Value of Epidemiological Thinking: Thinking About Thinking"

John Boring, Ph.D., Professor and Chairman, Dept. of Epidemiology Rollins School of Public Health

Thursday, April 18, 7:30 p.m. at Emory's Miller Ward Alumni House, located at 815 Houston Mill Rd. It is free, open to the public. Call 404-727-5686 for further information.

A four time winner of teacher-of-the-year by Emory University School of Medicine students and one of the most popular teachers in the Rollins School of Public Health will give the next Emory University Great Teachers Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18. Held in Emory's Miller Ward Alumni House at 815 Houston Mill Road, the lecture is free and open to the public.

John Boring, Ph.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, will speak on "Thinking About Thinking: The Predictive Value of Epidemiological Thinking."

As a long time professor in Emory's medical and public health schools and one of the "mid-wives" of the Rollins School of Public Health established at Emory in 1990, Dr. Boring has taught generations of medical and public health students the value of the analytic method of thinking adopted by epidemiologists. His Great Teacher Lecture will focus on how that kind of thinking can be applied to problem solving in many fields – and why it is especially valuable when it comes to problem solving in medicine.

He should know. His course in analytic medicine (medical decision making) remains a required course for all medical students at Emory.

Epidemiology, of course, is the study of diseases among populations. It examines risk factors that cause diseases and the impact of interventions for prevention and treatment. Dr. Boring will talk mostly about a way of looking at information called the "Denominator Science" approach to thinking. This approach also can be called evidence-based medicine: the more people in the denominator, the more reliable the conclusion.

Epidemiologists often can figure out what causes a disease – or how to stop it – by simply looking at the numbers. Dr. John Snow, known as the father of epidemiology, studied the geographic distribution of cholera cases in an 1859 London epidemic and concluded the cause was a certain sewage-tainted well. The well was closed and the epidemic ended. Dr. Boring will explain how the epidemiologic method continues to unravel some of the trickiest puzzles in the history of medicine and public health.

"Medical decision making often is fraught with serious difficulties. Medical practitioners are problem solvers who must diagnose and treat problems suffered by patients," Dr. Boring says. "Very often the evidence needed to solve these problems is uncertain at best. Practitioners, in fact, often are in a sea of uncertainty — the practice of medicine is not deterministic but probabilistic. For example, diagnostic tests often are falsely positive or negative, and thus not correctly predictive. Some patients may be cured by a therapy while others are not.

"Analytic methods have an important contribution here. Probabilities for diagnostic tests and therapies may be developed in population studies and become the guidelines for diagnosis and therapy. Thus predictive value theory and clinical trials are based on ideas of Denominator Science."

Dr. Boring has been an Emory faculty member for 36 years. After working for the Epidemic Intelligence Service and as a senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he joined the Emory School of Medicine faculty in 1966. He was Director of the Division of Epidemiology in the School of Medicine's Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, until the Rollins School of Public Health was established and epidemiology became part of that school and Dr. Boring continued as director, then Chair of the Department. His research interests include infectious disease epidemiology.

Among his many awards, Dr. Boring received the Thomas Jefferson award, Emory University's highest award for lifetime contributions to the University.

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