Sir Austin Bradford Hill: Echoing the Precautionary Principle

Lessons Learned: Looking Back to Go Forward

A series of articles exploring historical events that provide an important lesson for ensuring a more sustainable and healthy environment. Originally published as a bulletin feature for the newsletter of CHE-WA (Collaborative on Health and the Environment, Washington State chapter); produced by Steven G. Gilbert.


Sir Austin Bradford HillSir Austin Bradford Hill (July 8, 1897 - April 18, 1991) was an English epidemiologist and statistician who pioneered the randomized clinical trial and, together with Richard Doll, was the first to demonstrate the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer in a 1950 paper. Hill went on to define the Hill criteria to determine causation in 1965.

There is a quote by Hill that echoes the precautionary principle: "All scientific work is incomplete - whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time."

In many cases we have the knowledge to make policy decisions that protect human and environmental health.