Four classic papers in reproductive epidemiology

Anne Marie Jukic and Allen Wilcox

What makes a paper a classic? It should be well done, of course, but it also has to break new ground, providing us with a deeper understanding. And of course, the paper should stand the test of time. We’ve selected four papers that have earned this distinction.

These papers vary widely in their methods. One is a surgical series of 210 women. One is a summary of more than 25,000 person-years of daily diary data. One is a case-control study of just 8 cases and 32 controls. All were published between 1941 and 1971, but don’t let their vintage deter you – these are fascinating stories. Three stand as landmarks in our evolving understanding of fetal vulnerability. Hertig and colleagues assembled data on human embryonic loss that would be impossible to repeat today. Gregg’s careful observation of the link between maternal rubella and infant cataracts generated a storm of controversy because of the longstanding dogma that fetuses are impervious to mothers’ exposures. Herbst and his colleagues took this vulnerability a step further with the startling discovery that a drug prescribed during pregnancy can cause cancer in the adult offspring. The fourth paper, by Alan Treloar, describes menstrual cycle variation in the longest-running prospective study ever conducted.

All four papers remain relevant today.

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