An anthropologist, an epidemiologist and a statistician are riding a train to Edinburgh.
As the train goes into Scotland they see a flock of sheep out the window. One sheep is not white, at which point the anthropologist says: “Look! they have black sheep in Scotland”.
The epidemiologist corrects him: “all you can say for certain is that they have one black sheep.”
The statistician rebuffs the epidemiologist: “all you can say for certain is that there is one sheep in Scotland that is at least half black”.
This little story clearly demonstrates that our views of the world depend on our backgrounds and may vary on a scale from common wisdom (anthropologist) to strict mathematical accuracy (statistician). While common wisdom could be wrong – this black sheep is possibly the only one in Scotland, mathematical accuracy may lead to statements that are precise but not very useful for our understanding of the world around us. Luckily, the epidemiologist who is closest to what public health is all about combines common wisdom and accuracy is his view…
As scientists, the three travellers could write a series of manuscripts for scientific journals to clarify their background and to make their points. The statistician could author a paper on “Sheep spotting on the train: inadmissible assumptions about sheepskin colors” to which the anthropologist could reply with an article on “The practicalities of human judgements about the color of sheep”. They could, of course, also choose to discuss their points of view during their journey on the train. With such a direct exchange they might quickly learn from each other about different perspectives and lines of thought. But this would then be a private enterprise and the results of their discussion could not be shared with other people also interested in, say, inferences about sheepskin colors from observational data.
The new Blog of the International Journal of Public Health and the Swiss School of Public Health + has been opened to serve two purposes simultaneously: to provide a discussion platform for quick and direct exchange and to put this discussion in an open space so that interested public health people from various fields can follow it and make contributions. Our understanding of many current issues in public health can certainly benefit from direct discussion and debate. Coming back to the little story about how professional perspectives impact on how we see the world, we hope that the new Blog will also help to learn more about different backgrounds and perspectives of people working in our multi-disciplinary field.
We invite all those interested to join in and to contribute their thoughts and comments to a lively discussion in our blog on all kinds of Public Health issues and beyond!
Thomas Kohlmann and Thomas Abel (Editors in Chief)