Views & Reviews Medical Classics

Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8640 (Published 07 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:e8640
  1. Alfredo Morabia, professor of epidemiology, Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, Queens College, City University of New York, Flushing, New York 11367, United States
  1. am52{at}columbia.edu

John Graunt’s Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality inaugurated a new approach to health issues: the reliance on evidence versus belief.1

In 1603, James I had mandated the Company of Parish Clerks to publish, on a permanent weekly basis, their annual accounts of births and deaths, called the bills of mortality. “Searchers,” mostly old women, were employed to inspect the corpses of the recently dead to establish cause of death. City clerks compiled the information recorded by parishes, and sold the bills to Londoners eager to know when and where plague was active and, for those who could afford it, whether a retreat from the city was imperative. …

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