An Argument for a Consequentialist Epidemiology
- ↵*Correspondence to Dr. Sandro Galea, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, 722 W. 168th Street, Room 1508, New York, NY 10032-3727 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Received March 10, 2013.
- Accepted April 17, 2013.
Epidemiology is the study of the causes and distributions of diseases in human populations so that we may identify ways to prevent and control disease. Although this definition broadly serves us well, I suggest that in recent decades, our discipline's robust interest in identifying causes has come at the expense of a more rigorous engagement with the second part of our vision for ourselves—the intent for us to intervene—and that this approach threatens to diminish our field's relevance. I argue here for a consequentialist epidemiology, a formalization and recalibration of the philosophical foundations of our discipline. I discuss how epidemiology is, at its core, more comfortably a consequentialist, as opposed to a deontological, discipline. A more consequentialist approach to epidemiology has several implications. It clarifies our research priorities, offers a perspective on the place of novel epidemiologic approaches and a metric to evaluate the utility of new methods, elevates the importance of global health and considerations about equity to the discipline, brings into sharp focus our engagement in implementation and translational science, and has implications for how we teach our students. I intend this article to be a provocation that can help clarify our disciplinary intentions.
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