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Practical psychiatric epidemiology
  1. A Munro

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    Martin Prince, Robert Stewart, Tamsin Ford, Matthew Hotopf, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp 401, £35.00. ISBN 0-19-851551-0

    It is a pleasure for a reviewer to recommend a book wholeheartedly and this I am happy to do with the present volume. It lives up to its title of taking a practical view of the topic of psychiatric epidemiology and the editors have ensured a graded approach from basic principles and their application, into the more esoteric areas of interpretation of results and the consideration of more specialised and newly developing aspects of the subject.

    This is not to say that it is a particularly easy book to read and the dilettante reader might well find it discouraging in its degree of detail. On the other hand, for the aspiring psychiatric epidemiologist or, just as importantly, for any researcher in psychiatry who wishes to make valid use of epidemiological methods, this book is required reading. As only one example of the latter, anyone planning to undertake a trial of a new psychotropic drug should carefully read the descriptions of potential bias in sample selection and category assignment.

    I doubt if the average psychiatrist will want to buy a book on this rather specialised and research orientated subject but it should certainly be in every psychiatric library (and not just in the UK). It would be extraordinarily useful as a class text for a formal course in psychiatric epidemiology with a knowledgeable teacher acting as guide.

    The editors have ensured a high quality of presentation throughout and, despite multiple authorship, there is relatively little repetition.

    If I have a cavil it is not about the book but about the topic. In their introductory chapter the editors bemoan the lack of demonstrable validity of many modern research results obtained by using contemporary diagnostic and epidemiological methodologies (p 7). They also express a yearning for the discovery of genetic markers applicable to psychiatric illnesses (p 8). One can only say “Amen” to these comments because so often at present we find ourselves chasing shadows. However, I think there is increasing cause for optimism as neuropsychiatric research becomes increasingly finer grained.

    As this book demonstrates, when the objective criteria emerge, there are tried and reliable methods standing ready to be applied.