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), 85-9.. Dordrecht: Springer 10.1007/s10654-005-5925-4

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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.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Further Contribution)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Pre-clinic Human Medicine > Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM)

UniBE Contributor:

Bachmann, Lucas










Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:48

Last Modified:

17 Mar 2015 21:48

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URI: (FactScience: 3188)

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