In Memoriam: Dr. Colin White

Dr. Colin White, a prominent biostatistician and a former chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale, died on Feb. 1 at the age of 97.

White, a professor emeritus and senior research scientist, published widely over his six-decade career on varied public health topics, including food consumption and diet in Australian households, the use of twins in epidemiological research, blood groups and cancer of the stomach, and errors involved in the counting of blood cells. His research focused on the development and application of biostatistical methods in epidemiology. This included contributions to an understanding of the validity of the case-control approach to study design. Extensions of his ideas in this basic design also involved work to illuminate approaches for control of potential confounders of estimated associations between exposure and disease risk using matching. He was well known for his research on inheritance in fraternal twins, as well as early studies of whether there was an association between oral contraceptives and cancer risk in women.

Born in Queensland, Australia, in 1913, White earned an M.S. degree from the University of Sydney in 1937 and his M.D. from the same school in 1940. After serving as a medical officer for several years for the Commonwealth Department of Health in Canberra, he became a lecturer in physiology at the University of Birmingham in England in the late 1940s. He and his wife, Jean, immigrated to the United States in 1948. In 1953, White joined the Yale faculty as an assistant professor; he became a full professor of public health in 1962. He chaired the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health 1981-1982. He continued his research as an emeritus professor and senior research scientist from 1984 to 2007.

From 1972 to 1974, White chaired the Committee for Assessment of Biometric Aspects of Controlled Trials of Hypoglycemic Agents, which was established by the Biometric Society to address the controversy surrounding a clinical trial conducted by the University Group Diabetes Program. One of the first large multicenter clinical trials, it unexpectedly found that a widely used oral agent increased the risk of cardiovascular death, generating a heated controversy in the medical community. At this initial stage in the evaluation of trials, the committee’s report offered a perspective on ways to understand and interpret these essential experiments in health science.

As a teacher and mentor, White played a key role in launching the careers of numerous students and junior faculty.

In addition to his wife, White is survived by his son, Allan G. White, of Hamden. He was predeceased by another son, Kenneth J. White.

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