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The Mystery of the Blue Death

A Case Study in Epidemiology and the History of Science



Author:

Susan Bandoni Muench
Biology Department
SUNY Geneseo
bandoni@geneseo.edu

Abstract:

This historical case study describes the story of John Snow’s discovery of water-borne transmission of cholera in 19th-century London. Designed for use in a Global Health class, the case explores cholera outbreaks and their causes as well as models of disease. In addition, the case provides a framework for discussing the nature of science, particularly non-experimental tests of hypotheses, the cultural context of science, and populational thinking. The case could be used in a variety of other contexts, including courses in microbiology and introductory biology for either majors or non-majors. Because it addresses the nature of science, it is also appropriate for courses in the history, philosophy, or sociology of science.

Objectives:
  • Apply terminology and concepts from epidemiology and public health to a case study.
  • Explore aspects of the nature of science, including the role of models in hypothesis testing, non-experimental tests of hypotheses, and populational thinking.
  • Explore the relationship between science and the surrounding culture, and cultural and class influences on the practice of science.
Keywords: Cholera; Vibrio cholera; diarrheal disease; infectious disease; water-borne disease; models of disease; epidemiological methods; experimental design; hypothesis testing; populational thinking; health inequities; John Snow; London
Topical Area: History of science, Scientific method, Social issues, Social justice issues
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program)
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Epidemiology   Public Health   Microbiology   Medicine (General)  
Date Posted: 01/06/09
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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