"b.8 July 1897 d.18 Apr 1991
Kt(1961)CBE(1951) PhD Econ Lond(1926)DSc(1929)FRS(1954) Hon FRCP(1963)"
Austin Bradford Hill was born into a family in which he took justifiable pride, for each of the four preceding generations of Hills had had at least one member commemorated m The Dictionary of National Biography. Two were fellows of the Royal Society; his great-great uncle Sir Rowland Hill, who invented the rotary press and reformed the postal service - introducing the penny post in 1840 - and his father, Sir Leonard Hill, professor of physiology in the University of London, who contributed to the understanding of the cerebral circulation and the hazards associated with the rapid decompression of divers.
From childhood, Austin - or Tony, as he came to be universally called - had wanted to be a doctor but the outbreak of the first world war intervened and in 1916 he volunteered for training as a pilot in the RNVR. He was soon posted to the Greek islands in support of the attack on the Dardanelles but by November 1917 he had developed pulmonary tuberculosis and was sent home to die. The progress of the disease changed after an artificial pneumothorax and by 1919 he was sufficiently recovered to think again about his future. Medicine was out of the question and he opted to study economics as an external student of London University, something that he could do with the aid of a correspondence college while convalescing in bed. Three years later he obtained a BSc (Econ) with second class honours - having attended the university only twice to take examinations.
Tony had no desire to make a career in economics and with the support of Major Greenwood, a long-term friend of the family [Munk's Roll. Vol.IV, p.592], he obtained a grant from the MRC to investigate the reason for the high mortality of young adults in country districts which enabled him, inter alia, to extend his knowledge of statistics by attending part of the course for the BSc in Statistics at UCL. The success of his research enabled him to obtain further appointments with the MRC’s industrial health research board. He remained a member of the board’s scientific staff until 1933 when he was appointed reader in epidemiology and vital statistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where Major Greenwood held the chair of medical statistics. In 1945 he succeeded Greenwood in the chair and in the directorship of the MRC’s statistical research unit. In this dual capacity, he rapidly came to be accepted as the doyen of medical statisticians in the English speaking world - a remarkable achievement for a man who held no degree in either medicine or statistics.
That Bradford Hill occupied this position was not because of the importance of any particular piece of his research but because of the effect his teaching had on the way medical research developed in the two decades after the second world war. Three contributions stand out: his articles on medical statistics which appeared serially in The Lancet in 1937 and were reprinted in book form as his Principles of medical statistics, London, The Lancet Ltd, 1966; his development of epidemiological methods for investigating the causes of non-infectious diseases, and his introduction of randomization for the conduct of clinical trials. He never thought of himself as a statistician but rather as an arithmetician. The impact of his teaching was so great because he was, as Sir John Simon said of William Farr a hundred years before, ‘. . . a master of the methods by which arithmetic is made argumentative.’ His exposition of statistics emphasized the need to compare like with like, to avoid potential sources of bias and to allow for the play of chance, but it eschewed the use of algebraic formulae and set out the procedures that needed to be adopted in plain English. By so doing he secured the attention of what had been a largely innumerate profession and persuaded the members of the need to present their research results both logically and quantitatively.
The same critical but unen"
(Volume IX, page 234)
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