Research Article

Thomas McKeown and Archibald Cochrane: a journey through the diffusion of their ideas.

BMJ 1993; 306 doi: (Published 08 May 1993) Cite this as: BMJ 1993;306:1252
  1. C Alvarez-Dardet,
  2. M T Ruiz
  1. Department of Public Health, University of Alicante, Spain.


    In the 1970s Thomas McKeown and Archibald L Cochrane were two of the most influential voices in criticizing the dominance of medical thinking. A bibliometric study of the citations to McKeown's The Role of Medicine: Dream, Mirage or Nemesis and Cochrane's Effectiveness and Efficiency: Random Reflections on Health Services was performed from the publication of each book until 1988 to study how their ideas have been disseminated. During the study period 430 papers in the Science Citation Index or the Social Sciences Citation Index cited Cochrane's book, 133 cited McKeown's, and 166 cited both. The citations came mainly from original papers published in journals of internal medicine or public health and epidemiology (35%) and written by authors from the United States or the United Kingdom. Cochrane's book was cited most frequently in medical journals, suggesting a higher degree of penetration of his ideas among medical scientists. Although the dominance of original papers among the citations suggests that these books have been important in stimulating new knowledge, the main problems that McKeown and Cochrane identified--namely, the relatively small impact of clinical medicine on health outcomes and the poor use of scientific methods in clinical practice--are still with us.