The two books I mentioned ordering arrived this morning, and since it was yet another warm sunny day, I lugged them both to my favourite pub garden, ordered a beer and a hot snack, and wondered which one to start reading first. I first leafed through Mao, by Jung Chang. But I was then captured by Smoking Kills: The Revolutionary Life of Richard Doll, by Conrad Keating.
I didn’t start at the beginning.. Or rather I leafed through the chapters on his childhood, and started reading about when he’d teamed up with Bradford Hill. And that was where I soon came across a complete bombshell:
Hill was described in one of his obituary notices as the greatest medical statistician of the twentieth century despite the fact that he held no academic qualification in either medicine or statistics. (p. 63)
What?? Bradford Hill held no academic qualification in either medicine or statistics??
Hill had wanted to study medicine, but after he was invalided out of the British Army in 1917 with tuberculosis, and expected to die, he was given a lifetime army pension. His disability prevented him from studying medicine. So instead…
his interests focused on preventive medicine, for which no medical qualification was necessary. (p. 65)
and he had…
little affection or aptitude for mathematics. (p. 65)
Hill studied economics, and attended part of a statistics course at University College, London, where
The mathematical lectures found him out of his depth. (p. 65)
In 1933 Hill obtained the readership in epidemiology and vital statistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. (p. 65)
and in 1948 he took on Richard Doll as his assistant in the London Hospitals study, because…
For Hill it was essential that his collaborator in the investigation should be medically qualified. As Rosemary Bull, his daughter, recalled: “Dad saw himself as an ‘unqualified practitioner’, and he said he needed a medical doctor otherwise he thought they’d doubt the work and say: ‘Oh, it’s just statistics.'”
Bradford Hill has always been a rather mysterious figure, completely outshone by Richard Doll. But it emerges that he shunned publicity, and left that to his ‘media savvy’ junior partner.
So the only qualification that Doll and Hill shared was Doll’s degree in medicine! And Richard Doll, at that point in time, was still a very junior doctor.
Anyway, in a book that seems to be a bit of a hagiography of Richard Doll, rather a lot of light has been cast on the hitherto elusive Bradford Hill.
If it’s sunny tomorrow, I’ll go back to the garden and carry on reading.