It’s the Second World War, a German prison camp, and this man, Archie Cochrane, is a prisoner of war and a doctor, and he has a problem. The problem is that the men under his care are suffering from an excruciating and debilitating condition that Archie doesn’t really understand. The symptoms are this horrible swelling up of fluids under the skin. But he doesn’t know whether it’s an infection, whether it’s to do with malnutrition. He doesn’t know how to cure it. And he’s operating in a hostile environment. And people do terrible things in wars. The German camp guards, they’ve got bored. They’ve taken to just firing into the prison camp at random for fun. On one particular occasion, one of the guards threw a grenade into the prisoners lavatory while it was full of prisoners. He said he heard suspicious laughter. And Archie Cochrane, as the camp doctor, was one of the first men in to clear up the mess. And one more thing: Archie was suffering from this illness himself.
This is the beginning of economist Tim Harford’s TED Talk entitled “Trial, error and the God Complex”. Harford also introduces us to the remarkable Archie Cochrane in his latest book Adapt: why success always starts with failure.
If you would like to learn more about the life of Archibald Leman Cochrane, I’d recommend this brief bio from our Oxford Reference Online collection, which also contains the source of this definition of a Cochrane review.
Cochrane review n A systematic review of research into the effects of a healthcare intervention, designed to inform and guide practical decision making. A Cochrane review adheres to a structured format described in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions published by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization established in 1993. [Named after the Scottish epidemiologist Archie L(eman) Cochrane (1909–88) who promoted the use of systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials]