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Peer Review

Epidemiologic Information on Bioterrorism

by Ralph Frerichs


Overall Numeric Rating:

4 stars
Content Quality: 4.25 stars
Effectiveness: 4.25 stars
Ease of Use: 4 stars
Reviewed: Sep 20, 2008 by Health Sciences

This website, compiled by Ralph R. Frerichs (professor of Epidemiology), contains primary source materials, including news articles, CDC reports, journal articles, and maps, related to a number of epidemiology/public health topics:

  • Bioterrorism, including general coverage of US news from 9/11/01 to 10/1/03 and information about specific diseases and outbreaks such as anthrax and smallpox.
  • HIV controversies
  • John Snow, pioneer in public health, epidemiology, and anesthesia
  • Rapid survey methodology

      The information is in a standard printable format free of advertising and is intended for teachers, scholars, students, health professionals, and the general public. The site should be especially useful for potential employees in the bioterrorism field who might not be aware of issues and events that have greatly transformed American priorities and funding since the devastating World Trade Center air attack of September 11, 2001.

Type of Material: This learning resource is best classified as reference material. It includes case studies of well-known disease outbreaks. The collection of reference materials is mostly primary-source.
Recommended Uses: Excellent starting point for faculty interested in using cases or problem-based learning in epidemiology courses or courses looking at bioterrorism. It would also be useful as a study-aid or as reference materials for research projects for a course.
Technical Requirements: Web browser and Internet connection; some sections (John Snow site) recommend broadband access because of heavy use of images.
Identify Major Learning Goals: The site does not state any specific learning goals; however, each case study provides an opportunity for students to understand the mechanisms of disease spread, learn methods for performing an epidemiological assessment, and apply source materials to real-life cases.
Target Student Population:

Education level: Advanced high school or any level of undergraduate or masters-level university education.

Subject areas: epidemiology, public health, national security, public policy

Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:

Subject area skills: A basic knowledge of the vocabulary of epidemiology would be helpful, but could be taught concurrently with the cases in this web site.

Computer skills: Basic web-browsing skills.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.25 stars
Strengths: Extensive collection of primary source materials surrounding a number of real-life cases in epidemiology. Daily news coverage through October 1, 2003 is included.
Concerns: HIV controversy section is largely the author's own work and might need supplementation from outside sources. Articles are listed in chronological order within each category, but without any way to identify the type of article or the type of publication.

The John Snow site is very different (an interactive tutorial, and perhaps should be listed in MERLOT separately.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.25 stars
Strengths: Excellent source material for an instructor who knows how to teach using cases or problem-based learning and needs more cases.
Concerns: The cases on the site would not be as effective if students (especially students with less background in epidemiology) were simply assigned to read the cases. The greatest benefit would be gained if the cases are actively taught and/or worked through in class or groups.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4 stars
Strengths: Once you find a case that interests you, the table of contents on the left side is clear and easy to understand. The materials themselves are largely text and maps and take no technical expertise to navigate or use.
Concerns: The site is very difficult to navigate:
  • Navigation bar is different on almost every different page; hard to understand the relationship of sections to one another
  • Unclear at first that the colored squares are the only clickable portions of the page - e.g., "Anthrax kills 10 cows in Tripp County (9/13/03)" is not clickable, but the colored bullet at the beginning of the line is.
  • Section titles are not very descriptive
  • Can be very difficult to re-find a section once you click out of that section. Bookmark this site liberally in your "favorites."

  • Creative Commons:
    Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States