Richard Doll

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Richard Doll

Richard Doll in 2002
William Richard Shaboe Doll

(1912-10-28)28 October 1912
Hampton, Middlesex, England
Died24 July 2005(2005-07-24) (aged 92)
Oxford, England
Alma materKing's College London
Known forEpidemiology of smoking Armitage–Doll model
AwardsGairdner Foundation International Award (1970)
Buchanan Medal (1972)
Charles S. Mott Prize (1979)
Royal Medal (1986)
Prince Mahidol Award (1992)
Shaw Prize (2004)
Gold Medal for Radiation Protection (2004)
King Faisal International Prize (2005)
Scientific career

Sir William Richard Shaboe Doll CH OBE FRS (28 October 1912 – 24 July 2005)[1] was a British physician who became an epidemiologist in the mid-20th century and made important contributions to that discipline. He was a pioneer in research linking smoking to health problems. With Ernst Wynder, Bradford Hill and Evarts Graham, he was credited with being the first to prove that smoking increased the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. (German studies had suggested a link as early as the 1920s but were forgotten or ignored until the 1990s.)[2][3]

He also carried out pioneering work on the relationship between radiation and leukaemia as well as that between asbestos and lung cancer, and alcohol and breast cancer. He however, initially for many years, stood in opposition to research done by Alice Stewart which connected radiation exposure of pregnant mothers to development of leukaemia in their children due to her 'questionable' analysis.[4][5] On 28 June 2012, he was the subject of an episode of The New Elizabethans, a series broadcast on BBC Radio Four to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, dealing with 60 public figures from her reign.[6]


Doll was born at Hampton, Middlesex (now part of south-west London) into an affluent family, though his father's work as a doctor was cut short by multiple sclerosis. Educated first at Westminster School, Doll originally intended (against the wishes of his parents that he become a doctor like his father) to study mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. Doll claimed to have failed the mathematics scholarship from the effects of drinking 3 pints of the College's 8% alcohol own-brewed beer the night before.[7]

He subsequently chose to study medicine at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, King's College London from where he graduated in 1937.[8] Doll was a socialist, and one of the significant figures in the Socialist Medical Association whose campaign helped lead to the creation of Britain's postwar National Health Service. He joined the Royal College of Physicians after the outbreak of World War II and served for much of the war as a part of the Royal Army Medical Corps on a hospital ship as a medical specialist.[citation needed]

After the war, Doll returned to St Thomas's to research asthma. In 1948 he joined a research team under Dr Francis Avery-Jones at the Central Middlesex Hospital, run under the auspices of the statistical research unit of the Medical Research Council. Over a 21-year career in the unit, Doll rose to become its director. His research there initially focused on the role of occupational factors in causing peptic ulcers.[9]

In 1950, he undertook, with Austin Bradford Hill, a study of lung cancer patients in twenty London hospitals, at first under the belief that it was due to the new material tarmac, or motor car fumes, but rapidly discovering that tobacco smoking was the only factor they had in common.[10] Doll himself stopped smoking as a result of his findings, published in the British Medical Journal in 1950, which concluded:

The risk of developing the disease increases in proportion to the amount smoked. It may be 50 times as great among those who smoke 25 or more cigarettes a day as among non-smokers.

Four years later, in 1954, the British doctors study, a study of some 40,000 doctors over 20 years, confirmed the suggestion,[11] based on which the government issued advice that smoking and lung cancer rates were related. In 1955, Doll reported a case-controlled study that firmly established the relationship between asbestos and lung cancer.[12]

In 1966, Doll was elected to the Royal Society. The citation stated:[13]

Doll is distinguished for his researches in epidemiology, and particularly the epidemiology of cancer where in the last 10 years he has played a prominent part in (a) elucidating the causes of lung cancer in industry (asbestos, nickel & coal tar workers) & more generally, in relation to cigarette smoking, and (b) in the investigation of leukaemia particularly in relation to radiation, where using the mortality of patients treated with radiotherapy he has reached a quantitative estimate of the leukaemogenic effects of such radiation. In clinical medicine he has made carefully controlled trials of treatments for gastric ulcer. He has been awarded the United Nations prize for outstanding research into the causes & control of cancer & the Bisset Hawkins medal of the Royal College of Physicians for his contributions to preventative medicine.

In 1969, Doll moved to Oxford University, to sit as the Regius Professor of Medicine, succeeding the clinical researcher Sir George Pickering. Initially, epidemiology was held in low regard, but in his time at Oxford he helped reverse this. He was the primary agent behind the creation of Green College, which was founded in 1979. Doll was appointed the first Warden of Green College, whence he retired in 1983. Green College merged with Templeton College in 2008 to become Green Templeton College, which is located on the site that was previously Green College.[citation needed]

Doll also helped found the National Blood Service, and was key in avoiding a system of paying donors for their blood, as had been adopted in the United States. His continued work into carcinogens at the Imperial Cancer Research Centre at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, working as part of the Clinical Trial Service Unit, notably including a study undertaken with Richard Peto, in which it was estimated that tobacco, along with infections and diet, caused three-quarters of all cancers, which was the basis of any of the World Health Organization's conclusions on environmental pollution and cancer.[citation needed]

Doll was made a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1966, knighted in 1971, and awarded the Edward Jenner Medal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1981. Also in 1981, Doll became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.[14] He was a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters from 1976.[15]

In 1996, he was made a Companion of Honour (CH) for "services of national importance". International honours included the Presidential Award of the New York Academy of Sciences as well as a United Nations Award for his research into cancer. In April 2005, he was awarded the Saudi Arabian King Faisal International Prize for medicine jointly with Peto for their work on diseases related to smoking. In 2004, he was awarded the inaugural Shaw Prize for Life Sciences and Medicine for his contribution to modern cancer epidemiology. He was also awarded honorary degrees by thirteen different universities.[citation needed]

He was a supporter of the Liberal Democrats at the 2005 general election.[16]


He died on 24 July 2005, at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford after a short illness.[17]

On 7 June 2015, a blue plaque was unveiled at his home at 12 Rawlinson Road.[18][19]

He was an atheist.[20]


The Richard Doll Building, Oxford

The Richard Doll Building in Headington, east Oxford, designed by Nicholas Hare Architects in 2006, was named in his honour and opened shortly before his death. It houses the Clinical Trial Service Unit, Cancer Epidemiology Unit and National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit. The building received an RIBA Award in 2007. A plaque inside the building contains the following quotation from Doll:[21]

Death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not. In previous centuries 70 years used to be regarded as humanity's allotted span of life, and only about one in five lived to such an age. Nowadays, however, for non-smokers in Western countries, the situation is reversed: only about one in five will die before 70, and the non-smoker death rates are still decreasing, offering the promise, at least in developed countries, of a world where death before 70 is uncommon. For this promise to be properly realised, ways must be found to limit the vast damage that is now being done by tobacco and to bring home, not only to the many millions of people in developed countries but also the far larger populations elsewhere, the extent to which those who continue to smoke are shortening their expectation of life by so doing.

One of the buildings of the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, London is also named after Sir Richard Doll.[22]

Research funding[edit]

After Richard Doll's death, some controversy arose over aspects of his research funding when his papers, held at the Wellcome Library, indicated that for many years he had received consultancy payments from chemical companies whose products he was to defend in court.

These include US$1,500 per day consultancy fee from the Monsanto Company for a relationship which began in 1976 and continued until 2002. During this period Doll wrote to a Royal Commission in Australia investigating whether the Monsanto-produced herbicide Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War, was carcinogenic, claiming that there was no evidence that it caused cancer.[23]

He also received £15,000 from the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Dow Chemicals, and ICI for a review published in 1988 that concluded that workplace exposure to vinyl chloride did not increase the chance of contracting cancer, with the exception of angiosarcoma of the liver, contradicting two previous reviews by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer.[23][24][25]

Some donations, including a £50,000 gift from asbestos company Turner and Newall, were given in a public ceremony to Green College, Oxford, but most fees and payments remained undisclosed to the public, Oxford University and colleagues until his death. His defenders point out that his connections to industry were widely known by those in the field, that he did his work before formal disclosure of commercial interests became commonplace and that on occasion, he came to conclusions that were unpalatable to the companies who consulted him.[citation needed] His own view, as reported by Richard Peto – who criticised the allegations, claiming they originated with people aiming to damage Doll's reputation – was that it was necessary to co-operate with companies for access to data which could prove their products to be dangerous. Peto said also that Doll gave all his fees from such work to Green College, Oxford, which he had founded.

Some controversy arose over the fact that he did not publish a paper on 'A tentative estimate of the leukaemogenic effects of test thermonuclear explosions' in the Journal of Radiation Protection in 1955 which stated that 'there is no threshold [radiation] dose below which no effect is produced' in humans. He withdrew it on advice from Sir Harold Himsworth, Secretary of the MRC (Medical Research Council), who in turn was advised by the Atomic Energy Authority not to publish because it would be contrary to their interests. It was only published in 1996 when this kind of view was more acceptable view to the nuclear industry.[26][27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peto, R.; Beral, V. (2010). "Sir Richard Doll CH OBE. 28 october 1912 -- 24 July 2005". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 56: 63–83. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2010.0019. S2CID 59083063.
  2. ^ Proctor, Robert (1999). The Nazi War on Cancer. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691070513.
  3. ^ Proctor, Robert N (2001). "Commentary: Schairer and Schöniger's forgotten tobacco epidemiology and the Nazi quest for racial purity". International Journal of Epidemiology. 30 (1): 31–34. doi:10.1093/ije/30.1.31. PMID 11171846.
  4. ^ Stewart, Alice; Kneale, George (1978). "Low-dose radiation". The Lancet. 312 (8083): 262–263. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(78)91772-5. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 79054. S2CID 35987772. [our] approach requires either much larger doses than were encountered in the Hanford study or a much larger data base
  5. ^ Martin, John (November 1980). "On cancer and radiation". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Chicago, IL. 36 (9): 59. The 90 percent confidence interval is bounded by the range from 380 to 448 cancer deaths. Thus 442 deaths is not a statistically significant deviation from the average expectation.…Kneale and Stewart do not claim their results to be statistically significant
  6. ^ "The New Elizabethans, Richard Doll". BBC. 28 June 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  7. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs". BBC Radio 4. 18 February 2001. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  8. ^ Darby, Sarah (May 2003). "A Conversation with Sir Richard Doll". Epidemiology. 14 (3): 375–379. doi:10.1097/01.EDE.0000066305.10469.06. ISSN 1044-3983. PMID 12859041.
  9. ^ Kinlen, Leo (31 October 2005). "Sir Richard Doll, epidemiologist – a personal reminiscence with a selected bibliography". British Journal of Cancer. 93 (9): 963–966. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6602812. PMC 2361686. PMID 16249790.
  10. ^ Doll, R.; Hill, A. B. (1950). "Smoking and Carcinoma of the Lung". BMJ. 2 (4682): 739–748. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.4682.739. PMC 2038856. PMID 14772469.
  11. ^ Doll, R.; Hill, A. B. (1954). "The mortality of doctors in relation to their smoking habits; a preliminary report". British Medical Journal. 1 (4877): 1451–1455. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.4877.1451. PMC 2085438. PMID 13160495.
  12. ^ Doll, R. (1955). "Mortality from lung cancer in asbestos workers". British Journal of Industrial Medicine. 12 (2): 81–86. doi:10.1136/oem.12.2.81. PMC 1037613. PMID 14363586.
  13. ^ Agha, Riaz; Agha, Maliha (2011). "A history of Guy's, King's and St. Thomas' hospitals from 1649 to 2009: 360 Years of innovation in science and surgery". International Journal of Surgery. 9 (5): 414–427. doi:10.1016/j.ijsu.2011.04.002. PMID 21530696.
  14. ^ "About Us". World Cultural Council. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  15. ^ "Utenlandske medlemmer" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Archived from the original on 15 July 2007. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  16. ^ Matthews, Jenny (21 April 2005). "Who's backing whom at the election?". BBC News. UK: BBC. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  17. ^ "Lung cancer scientist dies at 92". BBC News. 24 July 2005. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  18. ^ "Plaque honours eminent cancer pioneer". The Oxford Times. 11 June 2015. p. 22.
  19. ^ "Sir Richard Doll (1912–2005): Epidemiologist – 12 Rawlinson Road, Oxford". UK: Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Scheme. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  20. ^ "Sir Richard Doll: Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Scheme". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  21. ^ Goldman, Lawrence (2013). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2005–2008. OUP Oxford. p. 318. ISBN 9780199671540.
  22. ^ "The Institute of Cancer Research". University of London. Archived from the original on 13 July 2015. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  23. ^ a b Boseley, Sarah (8 December 2006). "Renowned cancer scientist was paid by chemical firm for 20 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  24. ^ Sass, Jennifer Beth; Castleman, Barry; Wallinga, David (24 March 2005). "Vinyl Chloride: A Case Study of Data Suppression and Misrepresentation". Environmental Health Perspectives. 113 (7): 809–812. doi:10.1289/ehp.7716. PMC 1257639. PMID 16002366.
  25. ^ Hardell, Lennart; Walker, Martin J.; Walhjalt, Bo; Friedman, Lee S.; Richter, Elihu D. (3 November 2006). "Secret ties to industry and conflicting interests in cancer research". American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 50 (3): 227–233. doi:10.1002/ajim.20357. PMID 17086516.
  26. ^ Boseley, Sarah (8 December 2006). "Industry 'paid top cancer expert". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  27. ^ Boseley, Sarah (8 December 2006). "Expert revered for painstaking work that proved link between smoking and cancer". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  28. ^ Greene, Gayle (2011). "Richard Doll and Alice Stewart: reputation and the shaping of scientific truth". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 54 (4): 504–31. doi:10.1353/pbm.2011.0042. PMID 22019537. S2CID 6418187.

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