12. It’s all about the instruments: with Sonja Swanson

What are instrumental variables? Should I be using them in my research? And if so, how do I do that? In this episode of SERious Epidemiology, we talk with Dr. Sonja Swanson about what instrumental variables are and what’s so great (and not so great) about them.

After listening to this podcast, if you’re interested in learning more about some of the topics we discussed, here are links for you to check out:

  1. Greenland S. An introduction to instrumental variables for epidemiologists. Int J Epidemiol. 2018;47(1):358.
  2. Swanson SA, Labrecque J, Hernán MA. Causal null hypotheses of sustained treatment strategies: What can be tested with an instrumental variable? Eur J Epidemiol. 2018;33(8):723-728.
  3. Brookhart MA, Wang PS, Solomon DH, Schneeweiss S. Instrumental variable analysis of secondary pharmacoepidemiologic data. Epidemiology. 2006;17(4):373-4.
  4. Hernán MA, Robins JM. Instruments for causal inference: an epidemiologist’s dream? Epidemiology. 2006;17(4):360-72.
  5. Swanson SA, Hernán MA. Commentary: how to report instrumental variable analyses (suggestions welcome). Epidemiology. 2013;24(3):370-4.

13. Epidemiology podcast crossover

In honor of the Society for Epidemiologic Research 2020 Meeting, the hosts of four epidemiology podcasts came together to record the first ever “crossover event” to talk about their experiences recording our shows and what podcasting can bring to the table for the field of epidemiology. Join the hosts of Epidemiology Counts (Bryan James), SERiousEPi (Matt Fox, Hailey Banack), Casual Inference (Lucy D’Agostino McGowan), and Shiny Epi People (Lisa Bodnar) as they engage in a fun and informative (we hope!) conversation of the burgeoning field of epidemiology podcasting, emceed by Geetika Kalloo. The audio podcast will be released on some of our pod feeds, and the video recording will be available to watch on the SER website.

11. The need for theory in epidemiology – with Dr. Nancy Krieger

Episode Title: The need for theory in epidemiology with Dr. Nancy Krieger

This episode features an interview with Dr. Nancy Krieger, Professor of Social Epidemiology at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health and author of Epidemiology and the People’s Health: Theory and Context. Dr. Krieger discusses the importance of using conceptual frameworks to improve people’s health and the role of population-level determinants of health (including social determinants) in population health research.  We discuss a range of topics, including the differences between biomedical and analytics driven approaches to population health research and theory driven research, as well as the importance of descriptive epidemiology.

10. Quasi-experimental Studies – A Love Story: With Tarik Benmarhnia

What puts the quasi in quasi-experimental designs? What makes a quasi-experimental study different than a “real” experiment? Ever wondered about the difference between regression discontinuity, difference-in-differences, and synthetic control methods? Dr. Tarik Benmarnhia joins us on this episode of SERious Epidemiology to talk us through a range of quasi-experimental designs. He makes a strong case for why we should integrate these designs in a variety of settings in epidemiology ranging from public health policy to clinical epidemiology

After listening to this podcast, if you are interested in learning more about quasi-experimental designs, you can check out some of the resources below:

Abadie A, Diamond A, Hainmueller J. (2010) Synthetic Control Methods for Comparative Case Studies: Estimating the Effect of California’s Tobacco Control Program, Journal of the American Statistical Association, 105:490, 493-505, DOI: 10.1198/jasa.2009.ap08746

Chen H, Li Q, Kaufman JS, Wang J, Copes R, Su Y, Benmarhnia T. Effect of air quality alerts on human health: a regression discontinuity analysis in Toronto, Canada. Lancet Planet Health. 2018 Jan;2(1):e19-e26. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(17)30185-7. Epub 2018 Jan 9. PMID: 29615204.

Auger N, Kuehne E, Goneau M, Daniel M. Preterm birth during an extreme weather event in Québec, Canada: a “natural experiment”. Matern Child Health J. 2011 Oct;15(7):1088-96. doi: 10.1007/s10995-010-0645-0. PMID: 20640493.

Hernán MA, Robins JM. Instruments for causal inference: an epidemiologist’s dream? Epidemiology. 2006 Jul;17(4):360-72. doi: 10.1097/01.ede.0000222409.00878.37. Erratum in: Epidemiology. 2014 Jan;25(1):164. PMID: 16755261.

Courtemanche, C., Marton, J., Ukert, B., Yelowitz, A. and Zapata, D. (2017), Early Impacts of the Affordable Care Act on Health Insurance Coverage in Medicaid Expansion and Non‐Expansion States. J. Pol. Anal. Manage., 36: 178-210. https://doi.org/10.1002/pam.21961

Bor J, Fox MP, Rosen S, Venkataramani A, Tanser F, Pillay D, Bärnighausen T. Treatment eligibility and retention in clinical HIV care: A regression discontinuity study in South Africa. PLoS Med. 2017 Nov 28;14(11):e1002463. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002463. PMID: 29182641; PMCID: PMC5705070.

Bor J, Moscoe E, Mutevedzi P, Newell ML, Bärnighausen T. Regression discontinuity designs in epidemiology: causal inference without randomized trials. Epidemiology. 2014 Sep;25(5):729-37. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000138. PMID: 25061922; PMCID: PMC4162343.

Elder TE. The importance of relative standards in ADHD diagnoses: evidence based on exact birth dates. J Health Econ. 2010;29(5):641-656. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2010.06.003

Smith LM, Kaufman JS, Strumpf EC, Lévesque LE. Effect of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination on clinical indicators of sexual behaviour among adolescent girls: the Ontario Grade 8 HPV Vaccine Cohort Study. CMAJ. 2015;187(2):E74-E81. doi:10.1503/cmaj.140900

9. When Epidemiologists and Variables Collide: with Elizabeth Rose Mayeda

In most introductory epidemiology courses, students are taught about three categories of bias: confounding, information bias, and selection bias. On this episode of the podcast, we talk to Dr. Elizabeth Rose Mayeda about where collider stratification bias fits in to the framework of biases in epidemiology. Is collider stratification bias the same as selection bias? Why is collider bias so hard to understand, conceptually and empirically? Does collider stratification bias even matter? Listen in for some great conversation explaining these topics and others.

After listening to this podcast, if you are interested in learning more about selection bias and collider stratification bias some resources are included below:

Hernán MA, Hernández-Díaz S, Robins JM. A structural approach to selection bias. Epidemiology. 2004;15:615-625.

Howe CJ, Cole SR, Lau B, Napravnik S, Eron JJJ. Selection Bias Due to Loss to Follow Up in Cohort Studies. Epidemiology. 2016;27:91-97.

Hernán MA. Invited Commentary: Selection Bias Without Colliders. American journal of epidemiology. 2017;185:1048-1050.

Greenland S. Response and follow-up bias in cohort studies. Am J Epidemiol. 1977 Sep;106(3):184-7. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a112451.

Kleinbaum D, Morgenstern H, Kupper L. Selection bias in epidemiologic studies. Am J Epidemiol. 1981;113:452-463.

Greenland S, Pearl J, Robins JM. Causal Diagrams for Epidemiologic Research. Epidemiology. 1999;10:37-48.

Mayeda ER, Banack HR, Bibbins-Domingo K, Zeki Al Hazzouri A, Marden JR, Whitmer RA, et al. Can Survival Bias Explain the Age Attenuation of Racial Inequalities in Stroke Incidence?: A Simulation Study. Epidemiology. 2018;29:525-532.

8. The Discipline Olympics: Epidemiology vs. Public Health with Dr. Laura Rosella

Given the COVID-19 pandemic there is an urgent need for us to better understand how scientific evidence generated in epidemiologic research gets translated into information that can be used to create public health policy. In this episode of SERious Epidemiology, we talk with Dr. Laura Rosella about data driven public health, the role of epidemiology in public health, and more broadly, the importance of knowledge translation for epidemiologists.

After listening to this podcast, if you are interested in learning more about the intersection of epidemiology and public health some resources are included below:

  1. How’s my flattening: A centralized data analytics and visualization hub monitoring Ontario’s response to COVID-19
    Link: howsmyflattening.ca
  1. Definitions of epidemiology, including references to the definition Dr. Rosella mentioned from McMahon and Pugh’s epidemiology textbook (1970):
    Frérot M, Lefebvre A, Aho S, Callier P, Astruc K, Aho Glélé LS. What is epidemiology? Changing definitions of epidemiology 1978-2017. PLoS One. 2018;13(12):e0208442.

    Terris, M. Approaches to an Epidemiology of Health. Am J Public Health. 1975; 65(10)

  1. The use of scientific evidence for public health decision making:
    Rosella LC, Wilson K, Crowcroft NS, Chu A, Upshur R, Willison D, Deeks SL, Schwartz B, Tustin J, Sider D, Goel V. Pandemic H1N1 in Canada and the use of evidence in developing public health policies–a policy analysis. Soc Sci Med. 2013 Apr;83:1-9.
    doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.02.009.
  1. Agent-based modeling
    Tracy M, Cerdá M, Keyes KM. Agent-Based Modeling in Public Health: Current Applications and Future Directions. Annu Rev Public Health. 2018 Apr 1;39:77-94.
    doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040617-014317.

Additional info on agent-based modeling:


7. The Bread and Butter of Bayes with Ghassan Hamra

In this episode we interview Dr. Ghassan Hamra and talk about all things Bayesian. If you’re like us, you have likely been trained in traditional, frequentist approaches to statistics and have always wondered what the big deal is about Bayesian approaches. Well, have no fear, Dr. Hamra is here to explain it all. In this episode we cover a range of topics introducing Bayesian analyses, including how Bayesian and frequentist statistics differ, the concept of integrating a prior into your analyses, and whether Bayesian statistics are really a “subjective” approach (**spoiler alert: they’re not).

After listening to this podcast, if you’re interested in learning more about Bayesian analyses some links are included below:

  1. MacLehose, R.F., Hamra, G.B. Applications of Bayesian Methods to Epidemiologic Research. Curr Epidemiol Rep 1, 103–109 (2014).


  1. Hamra GB, MacLehose RF, Cole SR. Sensitivity analyses for sparse-data problems-using weakly informative bayesian priors. Epidemiology. 2013;24(2):233-239.


  1. Website with links to Dr. Hamra’s publications and presentations/tutorials:



  1. Series of articles by Sander Greenland on Bayesian methods for epidemiology:

Sander Greenland, Bayesian perspectives for epidemiological research: I. Foundations and basic methods, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 35, Issue 3, June 2006, Pages 765–775, https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyi312

Sander Greenland, Bayesian perspectives for epidemiological research. II. Regression analysis, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 36, Issue 1, February 2007, Pages 195–202, https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyl289

Sander Greenland, Bayesian perspectives for epidemiologic research: III. Bias analysis via missing-data methods, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 38, Issue 6, December 2009, Pages 1662–1673, https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyp278

  1. MacLehose RF, Gustafson P. Is probabilistic bias analysis approximately Bayesian?. Epidemiology. 2012;23(1):151-158. doi:10.1097/EDE.0b013e31823b539c

6. Questioning the Questions with Maria Glymour

Why is it so important to ask good study questions? Why is it so hard to develop good study questions? Do all study questions need to be directly relevant for public health policy?  In this episode of SERious Epidemiology, we talk with Dr. Maria Glymour about what it means to ask a good study question and how we can get better at asking questions that will make a meaningful contribution to public health.

After listening to this podcast, if you’re interested in learning more about some of the topics we discussed, here are links for you to check out:

  1. David U. Himmelstein, Robert M. Lawless, Deborah Thorne, Pamela Foohey, and Steffie Woolhandler, 2019. Medical Bankruptcy: Still Common Despite the Affordable Care Act American Journal of Public Health 109, 431_433.


  1. Hernán MA, Alonso A, Logan R, et al. Observational studies analyzed like randomized experiments: an application to postmenopausal hormone therapy and coronary heart disease. Epidemiology. 2008;19(6):766-779.


  1. Maria Glymour and Rita Hamad, 2018. Causal Thinking as a Critical Tool for Eliminating Social Inequalities in Health. American Journal of Public Health 108, 623_623.


  1. Harper S, Strumpf EC. Social epidemiology: questionable answers and answerable questions. Epidemiology. 2012 Nov;23(6):795-8.

doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e31826d078d.

  1. Sandro Galea, An Argument for a Consequentialist Epidemiology, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 178, Issue 8, 15 October 2013, Pages 1185–1191,


5. Putting the Social Back in Social Epidemiology with Dr. Whitney Robinson

Is all epidemiology social epidemiology? If I am someone who studies cancer, or obesity, or infectious disease, or any other branch of epidemiology, should I be considering topics related to social epidemiology in my own work? In this episode of SERious Epidemiology, Dr. Whitney Robinson joins us to explain key concepts in social epidemiology.

After listening to this podcast, if you are interested in learning more about social epidemiology or some of the resources mentioned are included below:

  1. Kaufman, J.S. & Oakes, M. Methods in Social Epidemiology, 2nd edition.


  1. Link, Bruce G., and Jo Phelan. “Social Conditions As Fundamental Causes of Disease.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 1995, pp. 80–94. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2626958.
  2. Chandra Ford’s work on critical race praxis:

Ford, Chandra L, and Collins O Airhihenbuwa. “Critical Race Theory, race equity, and public health: toward antiracism praxis.” American journal of public health vol. 100 Suppl 1,Suppl 1 (2010): S30-5. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.171058

Ford CL, Airhihenbuwa CO. The public health critical race methodology: Praxis for antiracism research. Social Science & Medicine. 2010;71:1390-1398.

  1. VanderWeele TJ, Robinson WR. On the causal interpretation of race in regressions adjusting for confounding and mediating variables. Epidemiology. 2014;25(4):473-484. doi:10.1097/EDE.0000000000000105
  2. VanderWeele TJ, Robinson WR. Rejoinder: how to reduce racial disparities?: Upon what to intervene?. Epidemiology. 2014;25(4):491-493. doi:10.1097/EDE.0000000000000124
  3. Whitney R Robinson, Zinzi D Bailey, Invited Commentary: What Social Epidemiology Brings to the Table—Reconciling Social Epidemiology and Causal Inference, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 189, Issue 3, March 2020, Pages 171–174, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwz197

4. Statisticalize your intervention soup: A journal club episode discussing Hernan and Taubman’s “Does obesity shorten life?”

In this journal club episode, we discuss one of our top 10 favourite epidemiology papers: “Does obesity shorten life? The importance of well-defined interventions to answer causal questions” by Miguel Hernán and Sarah Taubman. We talk about the consistency assumption in causal inference, why we think measurement error needs to be added to the list of assumptions for causal inference, and invent a new word (“statisticalize”) to dismiss the notion that fancy methods can always solve our problems.



Hernán MA, Taubman SL. Does obesity shorten life? The importance of well-defined interventions to answer causal questions. Int J Obes. 2008;32:s8-s14.

Cole S, Frangakis C. The consistency statement in causal inference: a definition or an assumption? Epidemiology. 2009; 20:3-5.