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Etiology in a Taxonomy of Illnesses


Steurer, Johann; Bachmann, Lucas M; Miettinen, Olli S (2006). Etiology in a Taxonomy of Illnesses. European Journal of Epidemiology, 21(2):85-89.

Abstract

According to what Robert Koch termed the etiological standpoint, illnesses are best understood and controlled by focusing on their causes, including in their definitions and, thus, in the construction of their taxonomies. In some ways flawed, this standpoint has been misunderstood and misapplied. A taxonomy based solely on etiology was an unrealistic dream in the context of ‘the bacteriological revolution', and it also is unrealistic in the present context of ‘the genetic revolution.' We argue that the illnesses in a taxonomy of them are in some cases best defined directly in terms of their respective somatic anomalies, in some others indirectly by the unique and universal etiology of that anomaly (left unspecified) in a ‘deeper' somatic anomaly, and in yet others as a combination of these; and when the somatic anomaly for direct definition remains unknown, it is to be defined indirectly by the clinical syndrome that is its patient-relevant manifestation, possibly in conjunction with a somatic cause. We note, also, that these taxonomic issues have no material bearing on epidemiologists' etiologic research for the knowledge base of community-level preventive medicine

Abstract

According to what Robert Koch termed the etiological standpoint, illnesses are best understood and controlled by focusing on their causes, including in their definitions and, thus, in the construction of their taxonomies. In some ways flawed, this standpoint has been misunderstood and misapplied. A taxonomy based solely on etiology was an unrealistic dream in the context of ‘the bacteriological revolution', and it also is unrealistic in the present context of ‘the genetic revolution.' We argue that the illnesses in a taxonomy of them are in some cases best defined directly in terms of their respective somatic anomalies, in some others indirectly by the unique and universal etiology of that anomaly (left unspecified) in a ‘deeper' somatic anomaly, and in yet others as a combination of these; and when the somatic anomaly for direct definition remains unknown, it is to be defined indirectly by the clinical syndrome that is its patient-relevant manifestation, possibly in conjunction with a somatic cause. We note, also, that these taxonomic issues have no material bearing on epidemiologists' etiologic research for the knowledge base of community-level preventive medicine

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:National licences > 142-005
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Epidemiology
Language:English
Date:1 February 2006
Deposited On:04 Jul 2019 11:18
Last Modified:31 Jul 2020 02:50
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:0393-2990
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-005-5925-4
Related URLs:https://www.swissbib.ch/Search/Results?lookfor=nationallicencespringer101007s1065400559254 (Library Catalogue)
PubMed ID:16518676

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