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The Introduction to the Scientific Basis of Medicine (ISBM) is a 2nd MB/2nd Vet MB subject taken by medical and veterinary students in their first year.  It is assessed by a 45 minute examination held at the end of Lent Term.  The resit examination will be in September 2017.

The course comprises a set of 10 lectures held in the Babbage Lecture Theatre on Wednesdays at 16.00 in the Michaelmas and Lent terms. The course introduces medics and vets to the principles of epidemiology (5 lectures) and medical statistics (5 lectures).

Epidemiology ( 5 lectures): Co-ordinator: Professor Paul Pharoah   with Dr Mark Holmes


  • To provide an introduction to epidemiology and its application in medicine


  • To provide an understanding of basic concepts in epidemiology and their relevance to clinical practice and disease prevention in patients and in the community
  • To introduce tools for critical assessment and evaluation of the quality of the scientific literature and appropriate application of findings to medical practice

Learning outcomes:

  • Understanding of different measures of rates and risks and their application in practice
  • Understanding of principles of screening, and measures of validity of test including sensitivity, specificity and predictive value and their relevance to practice
  • Understanding how to make comparisons: basic epidemiologic study designs (cross sectional, case control, longitudinal and intervention studies), their strengths and limitations
  • Ability to interpret data appropriately and to make sensible inferences from such data; understanding and definitions of bias and confounding, and concepts of causality and generalisability
  • Ability to evaluate scientific literature critically and sensibly

Medical statistics (5 lectures): Co-ordinator: Dr Mark Holmes


  • To introduce the relevance, concepts and basic applications of statistics in medical science


  • To introduce medical statistics as a subject, and descriptive statistics within it for summarising data numerically and graphically
  • To show how to estimate numerical features of populations from samples of data, using and correctly interpreting confidence intervals to quantify uncertainty
  • To introduce another branch of statistical inference, hypothesis testing as the technique to help decide if sample results are a matter of chance or indicative of a genuine effect
  • To extend hypothesis tests to two samples of data, allowing comparisons of groups (e.g. those exposed to a risk factor or not)
  • To discuss research as published in the biomedical literature, and how to discern if a paper's results provide valid and applicable evidence

Learning Outcomes

  • Appreciate the role of statistics in medicine
  • Develop a 'statistical eye' when viewing data or reading the literature
  • Understand statistical and epidemiological principles of design/analysis
  • Know when and how to apply basic statistical methods
  • Realise the need to consult a statistician at appropriate times


The lectures are as follows:





26 October 2016


P Pharoah

Epidemiology 1: inference and causation

02 November 2016


P Pharoah

Epidemiology 2: Methods

09 November 2016


P Pharoah

Epidemiology 3: Rates and risks

16 November 2016


P Pharoah

Epidemiology 4: Measurement and screening

23 November 2016


P Pharoah

Epidemiology 5:  Translation of research

08 February 2017


MA Holmes

 Biostatistics 1: Evidence based medicine

15 February 2017


MA Holmes

Biostatistics 2: Introduction to biostatistics

22 February 2017


MA Holmes

Biostatistics 3: Testing hypotheses

01 March 2017


MA Holmes

Biostatistics: 4: Comparing groups

08 March 2017


MA Holmes

Biostatistics 5:  Interpreting research

ISBM Sample Exam Questions