Gee Whizz: here comes the science

first_imgSmoking causes cancer. ‘Really?’ I hear you say, ‘Thanks ever so much for that original and enlightening gem of information; from now on I will refrain from such a potentially lethal habit.’ Or perhaps not. We have been saturated with messages like this ever since primary school, to the point that they lose their impact on their bored listeners, and so it is easy to forget that those living in a pre-Richard Doll existence were ignorant to such findings. ‘Who is this miraculous man?’ you wonder breathlessly (although admittedly that’s not in amazement but due to the fact that you’ve just smoked a box of Lambert and Butlers.)Richard Doll was heavily involved in research into the relationship between smoking and cancer, a connection he and his colleagues discovered through a study of lung cancer patients. The original hypothesis of these observations theorised that the individuals in question were perhaps affected by the then-new material of tarmac, or perhaps car fumes, until it was discovered that the only connection between them was their tobacco habit (although the suggestion that Richard noticed this trend when joined by the fifty-or-so participants for a quick ciggie on the fire escape is fabricated by, well, me actually).Doll’s place in history was thus established, and while some say that all roads lead to some dusty old place called Rome, it was perhaps inevitable that Richard would end up in Oxford. And so he did, taking up the post of Regius Professor of Medicine in 1969, beginning a new chapter in his very busy career as he almost single-handedly changed public perceptions of epidemiology and became the first warden of Green College.Doll was actually a bit of a multi-tasker. While his work at Oxford is significant in its own right, his findings elsewhere transformed public perceptions of what was once seen as a harmless habit (the children of the Russian royal family couldn’t get enough of the stuff), and brought home its true implications. The fact that we poor students don’t get a tenner every time we give blood (à la USA) is kind of his fault though, as he was key in avoiding such an idea through his work with the National Blood Service. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.by Gareth Peterslast_img

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