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Book Review: Active-Epi

ActivEpi Web, by David Kleinbaum, is the text used in two courses (Epidemiology Statistics and Designing Valid Studies), but it is really a rich multimedia web-based presentation of epidemiological statistics, serving the role of a unique textbook format for an introductory course in the subject. It is historically noteworthy – it dates back to 2002, the same year was founded, and well before online courses and courseware were common.

The term epidemiology refers to diseases and their spread, and epidemiologic statistics covers the statistical methods for the design of studies, and analysis of data, in service of epidemiology. In most cases, this involves dealing with observational data, as opposed to the experimental data that you might develop in a randomized controlled trial. ActiveEpi Web is, therefore, an excellent way to learn about study designs and data analysis associated with observational data, whether a disease is involved or not.

ActivEpi Web has 15 chapters (called Lessons in ActivEpi Web), each divided into several pages that cover the material in a given Lesson/chapter. A specific lesson page provides a collection of animated narrated activities, quizzes, and asterisks (footnotes that provide expanded detailed information on a specific topic). Epidemiologic and statistical concepts and methods are presented using text, graphics and animations, all synchronized with narrated audio. Videos are used throughout many narrated activities to introduce real-world examples of statistics concepts. Many narrated activities contain study questions that allow you to interact with the material being presented in the activity. ActivEpi Web also has a Glossary that contains definitions of terms described throughout the course. It also references lesson pages where the term is used, serving as an index for each term in the glossary.

Kleinbaum identifies a number of diverse groups who might use ActivEpi to learn epidemiology:

  • Public health graduate students (primary use to date)

  • Medical students and faculty

  • Undergraduate science majors

  • High school students

  • Working professionals in the health sciences (medical practice, government, pharmaceutical industry)

  • Interested learners about advances in health and medical treatment and disease prevention

  • Learners in developing countries and/or economically disadvantaged living situations

  • Learners of almost any age beyond middle school who are interested in learning about the scientific method

ActivEpi Web has a fascinating history, one reflecting Kleinbaum’s personal crusade to expand epidemiology to the world. It’s origins lie in the 1982 publication of Epidemiologic Research: Principles and Quantitative Methods by Kleinbaum, Kupper, and Morgenstern. Teaching epidemiology at UNC, Kleinbaum gradually built up a library of multimedia materials for his classes. In 2002, he brought this out as a the ActivEpi CD package, published by Springer the following year. Kleinbaum later converted the product to a web format and made it freely available without cost.Kleinbaum’scurrent interest lies in extending the teaching of epidemiology to the high school level as well as to undergraduate education. The website’s unique multimedia format, particularly the use of entertaining narrated animated presentations as the primary instructional format throughout the website, make ActivEpi Web very suitable for high school and undergraduate students.

ActivEpi Web can be accessed at . The author’s website at provides further details about ActivEpi and also includes Power Point instructional materials, free access to the Spanish translation ActivEpi Español, and datasets (SAS, Stata, Excel) that can be accessed to work homework exercises.