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J Clin Epidemiol. 2000 Dec;53(12):1189-92.

Archie Cochrane and his legacy. An internal challenge to physicians' autonomy?


Archibald L. (Archie) Cochrane was born in 1909 into a wealthy Scottish family, from which he inherited the advantage of a private income and the disadvantage of porphyria. Though a brilliant student, his medical training was interrupted by a lengthy psychoanalysis in Europe, and by service in a field ambulance unit in the Spanish Civil War. Eventually Cochrane qualified in medicine in 1938 and joined the R.A.M.C. in 1939. He was taken prisoner in Crete in 1941 and served the rest of the war as medical officer in various POW camps. Cochrane's post-war career with the Medical Research Council as a field epidemiologist in South Wales earned him the respect and admiration of a generation of British epidemiologists. However, Cochrane's international reputation is not based on his achievements as an epidemiologist, but on his 1971 monograph "Effectiveness and Efficiency. Random Reflections on Health Services," a biting scientific critique of medical practice. Cochrane died in 1988, but his name lives on in the Cochrane Collaboration, a network of researchers devoted to clinical trials, and the torch which he lit had been carried forward by the groups promoting evidence-based medicine. Some have looked askance at these developments, regarding them as a threat to the autonomy of physicians.

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