Etiology (alternatively aetiology, aitiology) is the study of causation, or origination. The word is derived from the Greek αἰτιολογία, aitiologia, "giving a reason for" (αἰτία, aitia, "cause"; and -λογία, -logia).
The word is most commonly used in medical and philosophical theories, where it is used to refer to the study of why things occur, or even the reasons behind the way that things act, and is used in philosophy, physics, psychology, government, medicine, theology and biology in reference to the causes of various phenomena. An etiological myth is a myth intended to explain a name or create a mythic history for a place or family.
In medicine in particular, the term refers to the causes of diseases or pathologies. Traditional accounts of the causes of disease may point to the "evil eye". The Ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro put forward early ideas about microorganisms in a 1st-century BC book titled On Agriculture.
Medieval thinking on the etiology of disease showed the influence of Galen and of Hippocrates. Medieval European doctors generally held the view that disease was related to the air and adopted a miasmatic approach to disease etiology.
Etiological discovery in medicine has a history in Robert Koch's demonstration that the tubercle bacillus (Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex) causes the disease tuberculosis, Bacillus anthracis causes anthrax, and Vibrio cholerae causes cholera. This line of thinking and evidence is summarized in Koch's postulates. But proof of causation in infectious diseases is limited to individual cases that provide experimental evidence of etiology.
In epidemiology, several lines of evidence together are required to infer causation. Sir Austin Bradford-Hill demonstrated a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer, and summarized the line of reasoning in the epidemiological criteria for causation. Dr. Al Evans, a US epidemiologist, synthesized his predecessors' ideas in proposing the Unified Concept of Causation.
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