Creativity in epidemiology research, education and practice (ACE task force)

From ACE newsletter, August 2012

Sandy Sulsky

Over the course of some half dozen meetings, a task force of ACE Members and Fellows (Melinda Aldrich, Robert Hiatt, Nancy Kreiger, Richard Rothenberg, and I, as chair) attempted to identify existing barriers to innovation and creativity in epidemiology practice and training. The group had lively discussions and traded lay and scientific reading materials and web links in an attempt to understand the conditions that promote innovation in science. The result is a series of recommendations for ACE that were recently submitted to the Board of Directors.

The task force members found that considering the scientific and societal megatrends now affecting epidemiology helped them to formulate their specific recommendations. Just two of these megatrends, “Big Data” and “Team Science”, provided helpful themes and sparked ideas about new directions for ourselves and our discipline.

Considering the theme of Big Data allowed for fruitful discussions of innovation in information management and analysis methods. Big Data refers not only to the sizes of data sets, but also the novel types of information now available. Examples potentially relevant to epidemiology include data derived from a) basic biology and genetics, including the “-omics”; b) changing methods of practicing, delivering and documenting medical care, including the use of electronic medical records and their linkages to health systems; and c) wholly novel data sources and information technology, including social media.

Team Science recognizes the value of interacting with colleagues whose training was in different scientific disciplines. Articulating this theme led to an examination of the ways in which epidemiology is currently practiced (by groups of epidemiologists) and the limitations imposed by traditionally organized work places and schools with separate departments and specialties, often housed in different locations.

The task force identified actions available to ACE that will expand and support innovative thinking and research among its members. The recommendations note the importance of education, collaborative research, and policy changes that will both foster and reward risk-taking in research, and thus maintain epidemiology at the forefront of science.


For an initial and non-comprehensive list of resources, we suggest:


  • Ignorance: How it Drives Science, byStuart Firestein (2012, Oxford University Press)


  • Two articles appeared in the NY Times on February 26, 2012: Gray Matter: When Truisms Are True by: Suntae Kim, Evan Polman and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks and True Innovation by Jon Gertner.




About Peter J. Taylor

Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (
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1 Response to Creativity in epidemiology research, education and practice (ACE task force)

  1. Asif Patel says:

    Great Video Dr.Ness… Framebreak!!

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