Alvan Feinstein

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Alvan Feinstein
Alvan Richard Feinstein

(1925-12-04)December 4, 1925
Died(2001-10-25)October 25, 2001 (aged 75)
Alma materUniversity of Chicago

Alvan R. Feinstein (December 4, 1925 – October 25, 2001) was an American clinician, researcher and an epidemiologist who made significant impact on clinical investigation, especially on the field of clinical epidemiology that he helped define.[1] He is regarded as one of the fathers of modern clinical epidemiology. He died at the age of 75 in Toronto on 25 October 2001 and is survived by his wife and two children.[2]

Born in Philadelphia, Feinstein received his bachelor's degree (BSc 1947) and master's degree (MSc, 1948) at the University of Chicago. Feinstein received his medical degree (MD, 1952) at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. He completed his residency training in Internal Medicine at Rockefeller Institute. He was Board Certified in Internal Medicine in 1955 and became the medical director of Irvington House Institute (which later became part of New York University Langone Medical Center).[3] While there, he studied patients with rheumatic fever and challenged the belief that proper treatment after an early diagnosis kept those patients from developing severe heart disease later in life. He demonstrated that the disease had different forms including one which causes joint pain and seldom progresses to heart disease. The other, which does result in heart disease, has no symptoms to evoke early detection. Thus, diagnosis of the disease at an early stage leads to a favorable outcome not because of early treatment but because those patients tend to have a less-virulent form.[2]

In 1962, Feinstein joined the Yale University School of Medicine faculty and became the founding director of its Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program in 1974. Under his direction, the program became recognized as one of the leading centers for training in clinical research methods.[4] He was widely known for his incredible gifts for mentoring bringing a passion to academic medicine and the art of becoming an academic.[5]

He published his first paper as a medical student in 1951 and more than 400 throughout his career. He wrote six major textbooks, two of which, Clinical Judgment (1967) and Clinical Epidemiology: The Architecture of Clinical Research (1985) are among the most widely referenced books in clinical epidemiology. He completed the last one, Principles of Medical Statistics (2002), just before his death. At the time of his death he was the Sterling Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, the Yale School of Medicine's most prestigious academic position.[6][7] His editorial work included founding the Journal of Chronic Diseases (1982–1988) which he edited and which he along with co-editor Walter O. Spitzer re-entitled as Journal of Clinical Epidemiology which he continued to co-edit with Walter O. Spitzer until his death.[8]

Awards and honors[edit]

During his career, Feinstein garnered numerous recognitions and awards; including the Francis Gilman Blake Award as outstanding teacher to Yale medical students (1969), Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American College of Physicians (1982), Robert J. Glaser Annual Award from the Society for General Internal Medicine (1987), J. Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine (1987), Gairdner Foundation International Award (1993), and an honorary Doctor of Science degree from McGill University (1997). In 1991, Feinstein was named the Sterling Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, Yale University's most prestigious academic honor.[4]

In 2002 the American College of Physicians established the Alvan R. Feinstein Memorial Award, which is awarded every other year. The award is "given to an American physician who has made a major contribution to the science of patient care in activities that Dr. Feinstein has broadly defined as clinical epidemiology or clinimetrics, involving the direct study of patients' clinical conditions."[9]

Relationship with the tobacco industry[edit]

In his later years, controversy marred his career with claims that he may have helped the tobacco industry by publishing articles minimizing the deleterious effects of smoking.[10] He was funded by the Council for Tobacco Research, established by the tobacco industry with the aim to attack scientific studies that put tobacco in a bad light, as early as 1964.

A review of Feinstein's publications in 2002 concluded that "perhaps in hindsight Feinstein could be criticized for not having clearly indicated the sponsorship of the tobacco industry behind these publications, of which he was fully aware. However, this does not suffice to infer that he was the tobacco industry's man. Feinstein's attitude in matters of publication appears balanced".[11] However, this review, an invited article written soon after Feinstein's death and published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, may not be unbiased. For the fourteen years preceding his death, Feinstein was Editor in Chief and of this journal. Still during those years from 1988 through 2001, he authored only one publication in that journal that concerned the topic of smoking or tobacco and only then tangentially.[12] Yacht and Bialous claim a commentary Feinstein published in 1992 in Toxicologic Pathology defended the tobacco industry but failed to mentioned he received grant funding from the tobacco industry.[10] The commentary was in fact a companion published to accompany an original study report in that journal authored by three researchers who listed their institution as "R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Research & Development, Bowman Gray Technical Center."[13] and appeared in the 2-1/2 pages immediately following the report. While the brief defense of the authors' right to publish never mentioned Feinstein's own tobacco industry sponsorship, he made his position clear in the brief piece which ended with "The 'bad guys,' of course, are not always right, but if they are denied a fair and proper scientific hearing, neither society nor science will benefit. Society is entitled to make political decisions based on advocacy. The scientific basis for those decisions, however, should depend not on political advocacy, but on scholarship-no matter how it is produced or by whom."[14]


  1. ^ Goldman, Lee (2002). "Alvan Feinstein". The American Journal of Medicine. 112 (6): 502–503. doi:10.1016/S0002-9343(02)01039-2. PMID 11959066.
  2. ^ a b O'Connor A. Dr. Alvan Feinstein, 75, Innovator in Diagnoses, Dies. October 29, 2001 New York Times.
  3. ^ Anderson, Harold C (1951). "Convalescent Care in Rheumatic Fever: Irvington House". The Journal of Educational Sociology. 24 (8): 468–476. doi:10.2307/2263627. JSTOR 2263627.
  4. ^ a b "YaleNews | in Memoriam: Yale Expert in Clinical Research Methods, Alv…". Archived from the original on 15 December 2012.
  5. ^ Leventhal, John M (2008). "The Making and the Being of an Academic (Ambulatory) Pediatrician". Ambulatory Pediatrics. 8 (6): 345–348. doi:10.1016/j.ambp.2008.07.008. PMID 19084781.
  6. ^[full citation needed][permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Spitzer, W O (2002). "The teacher's teacher: A personal tribute to Alvan R Feinstein". Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 56 (5): 328–329. doi:10.1136/jech.56.5.328. PMC 1732144. PMID 11964421.
  8. ^ Knottnerus, J A (2002). "Alvan R Feinstein". Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 56 (5): 322. doi:10.1136/jech.56.5.322. PMC 1732148.
  9. ^ "Alvan R. Feinstein Memorial Award". American College of Physicians. 7 June 2021.
  10. ^ a b Yach, Derek; Bialous, Stella Aguinaga (2001). "Junking Science to Promote Tobacco". American Journal of Public Health. 91 (11): 1745–1748. doi:10.2105/AJPH.91.11.1745. PMC 1446867. PMID 11684592.
  11. ^ Morabia, Alfredo (2002). "The controversial controversy of a passionate controversialist". Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 55 (12): 1207–1213. doi:10.1016/S0895-4356(02)00526-7. PMID 12547451.
  12. ^ Feinstein AR, Wells CK, Walter SD. A comparison of multivariable mathematical methods for predicting survival--I. Introduction, rationale, and general strategy. J Clin Epidemiol. 1990;43(4):339-47. doi:10.1016/0895-4356(90)90120-e
  13. ^ Smith CJ, Sears SB, Walker JC, Deluca PO. Environmental Tobacco Smoke: Current Assessment and Future Directions. Toxicologic Pathology. 1992;20(2):289-305. doi:10.1177/019262339202000217
  14. ^ Feinstein, AR. Justice, Science, and the “Bad Guys.” in Smith CJ, Sears SB, Walker JC, Deluca PO. Environmental Tobacco Smoke: Current Assessment and Future Directions. Toxicologic Pathology. 1992;20(2):289-305. doi:10.1177/019262339202000217