University of Minnesota

Keys and Brozek: The Interdisciplinary Discipline of Physiological Hygiene

Not only were statistics and epidemiology foreign to most of the early workers in CVD epidemiology but collaborative research, across institutions and disciplines, was also rare at mid-twentieth century. Fruitful development of CVD epidemiology and prevention research required both.

An essay by and Keys, published in Science in 1944, described the need and requirements for, and common obstacles to such collaboration, first elaborating how both observational and experimental studies “close to real life situations” require the interaction of several disciplines and often several institutions. When “emphasis is placed upon analysis and manipulation of a sector of reality, . . . this reality is always multifarious” (Brozek and Keys 1944. 507).

“The investigation of the problems of human work and nutrition… and of many other topics belonging to the field of a broadly conceived human biology, yield more significant results if two or more research workers, representing different fields of specialization bearing on the particular problem work together in a close coordination. . . in which specialists will devote their lives to cooperative attempts to solve the intricate problems” (ibid.).

They go on to outline the issues that affect all such collaborative research: mutual acquaintance with the methods of the participating sciences; mutual respect for those methods and their standards; skills in sympathetic listening and cooperative planning; and personal maturation beyond the competitive spirit, work habits, and “hyper-individualistic philosophy” fostered by university research traditions. (We treat elsewhere the further academic challenge, for younger and older investigators alike, of team work with shared credit and multiple-authorship, and the flourishing of tenure, which fosters individual ambition over immersion and collaboration in a common scientific endeavor.)

Significant work in human biology and in epidemiology comes best from “cross-fertilization of minds. . . a very different process from presenting incoherent, parallel, unintegrated reports at a meeting of specialists” (ibid. 509). Brozek and Keys conclude that “cooperative work is a social art and has to be practiced with patience.” It is fully integrated only after “extensive experience of working and thinking together” (ibid 512). Pioneers in CVD epidemiology concur. (Henry Blackburn)


Brozek, J, and Keys, K. 1944. General aspects of interdisciplinary research in experimental human biology. Science 100: 507-512.