Colin L. Soskolne, PhD
, is Professor emeritus from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. He was professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health for 28 years (1985 – 2013). Through 2019, he holds an Adjunct Professor appointment in the Health Research Institute, University of Canberra, Australia. He remains an active Fellow in both the Collegium Ramazzini and American College of Epidemiology.
Since before his retirement, Dr. Soskolne continues to devote substantial volunteer time to the International Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology
) for it to become an effective counter-weight to moneyed influence and the misuse of epidemiology in the formulation of public health policy. In the public interest, the IJPC-SE calls for "Health for all through ethical, independent and transparent science".
Dr. Soskolne obtained his BSc (1970) and BSc Honours (1971) degrees in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. His PhD in Epidemiology (1982) is from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA. For his doctoral dissertation, he was awarded the 1983 Society for Epidemiologic Research annual Student Prize.
Dr. Soskolne’s career has spanned several areas, from occupational and environmental cancer epidemiology through HIV/AIDS, promoting and leading the global need for ethics and integrity in the profession, and, over the past 20+ years, the implications of global ecological integrity for human health/survival. His joint studies on the link between degrading environmental conditions and human health consequences revealed dire conclusions that led, in 1998, to a World Health Organization (WHO EURO) Workshop in Rome, Italy. Following the Workshop, a WHO Discussion Document
was produced placing this topic prominently on the international public health agenda.
Dr. Soskolne has authored, co-authored, edited and co-edited over 400 peer-reviewed published papers, chapters, letters, books, and proceedings. He continues to write. He is Senior Editor of a book entitled Sustaining Life on Earth: Environmental and Human Health through Global Governance
. He developed an interdisciplinary graduate course based on this book entitled Values, Ethics, and Sustainability
Details of his contributions are accessible at www.colinsoskolne.com
[The above Bio-Sketch was updated in April, 2017]
Dr. Soskolne retired from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, to become professor emeritus from July 1, 2013. For 28 years, from July 1985 through June 2013, he was professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University. He was appointed Visiting Fellow in the Faculty of Health at the University of Canberra, ACT, Australia (November 1, 2012 through December 31, 2013). From July 1, 2013, this appointment was upgraded to that of Adjunct Professor. Since April 2013, Dr. Soskolne serves the newly launched Society for the Advancement of Science in Africa (SASA) as Vice-President (North America).
Dr. Soskolne obtained his BSc (1970) and BSc Honours (1971) degrees in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. His PhD in Epidemiology (1982) is from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA. In his PhD thesis, he documented the discovery of long-term occupational exposure to high concentrations of sulfuric acid as being strongly associated with the development of laryngeal cancer. For this work, he was awarded the Society for Epidemiologic Research (SER) Student Prize in 1983.
In 1969 and 1970, Colin obtained his BSc and BSc Honours degrees respectively in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. He obtained his PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1982. His PhD thesis documented, for the first time, the discovery of long-term occupational exposure to high concentrations of sulfuric acid as being strongly associated with the development of laryngeal cancer. For this work, he was awarded the Society for Epidemiologic Research Annual Student Prize in 1983.
Prior to enrolling in a PhD program, Colin had spent 4.5 years working in occupational epidemiology in South Africa. There, in 1975, he was awarded a prize by the South African Council for Automation and Computation for his development of a computerized cardio-respiratory pathology information system (PATHAUT). Updated incarnations of this system, described at the following link, continue to run through the present time.
An Integrated Cardiorespiratory Pathology Information System
Colin's initial exposure to epidemiology, in 1970, was through research into bone and joint diseases among South African Black populations. His capacity was that of biostatistician. This work paralleled his initial post-graduate employment by the Human Sciences Research Council (1970 – 1973). There, he first addressed issues of data privacy in the presence of integrated information systems in the context of education research, described at the following link.
Dr. Soskolne's first post-PhD position, in March 1982, was with the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation (now known as Cancer Care Ontario) as Director of its Epidemiology Research Unit in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics (now known as the Department of Public Health Sciences) at the University of Toronto. Among other occupational and cancer research activities, he spearheaded some major initiatives into AIDS research, and into both professional and public education on AIDS. His innovations in the HIV/AIDS areas continued after Toronto when he moved to Edmonton. One example of his public education work and considered North America's first televised 10-minute condom demonstration can be seen at the following link:
1986/87 condom demo on CTV
In July 1985, Colin assumed a position at the University of Alberta where he established its epidemiology program, and then built the MSc and PhD graduate training programs in the Department of Public Health Sciences. His major research contribution out of Alberta has been a follow-up study to that conducted for his PhD thesis on the occupational acid exposure link to cancer. These two pieces of work became a major focus for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which, in 1992, designated "occupational exposure to strong-inorganic-acid mists containing sulfuric acid" as a human carcinogen (Group 1). Colin was responsible for the identification of one of only 15 internationally-designated definitive human carcinogens at that time. His final contribution to this line of research, suggesting specificity of effect to the larynx, was published in January 2011 at the following link:
In addition to Dr. Soskolne's other responsibilities, he spearheaded efforts to bring the question of professional ethics into focus for epidemiologists worldwide. Thus, besides his contributions in the area of occupational cancer epidemiology, he has been a leader in the field of ethics in epidemiology. In particular, he was a pioneer in the mid-1980s in addressing ethical matters linked to the profession, including issues such as: conflicting interests, involvement of stakeholders in scientific research, and the need for core values for the profession. His two seminal papers can be seen at the following links:
1985 paper in the Journal of Public Health Policy
1989 paper – Epidemiology: Questions of Science, Ethics, Morality, and Law
These topics, among others, have attracted the interest of the scientific community, and they have become topics for scientific conferences, papers and books at the national and international levels. Colin led and participated in the development of ethics guidelines for the profession.
Colin has authored, co-authored, edited and/or co-edited some 300 peer-reviewed published papers, chapters, books, letters, proceedings and served as a senior editor for the International Labour Office's Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety (Fourth Edition, 1998). His full CV is accessible at the following link:
Colin's focus began to expand beyond occupational epidemiology to include broader environmental issues with his participation in a Great Lakes Symposium in 1989 in Buffalo, NY. By 1991, he had joined the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) in which he remains active. He was honoured with a distinguished service award by the ISEE in 1998.
Colin's initial activity with the ISEE involved the establishment and chairing of its Standing Committee on Ethics and Philosophy, which he chaired for 5 years, and on which he remains as an active member. In 1992, he organized a symposium for the ISEE-ISEA joint meeting in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on "Ethics and Law in Environmental Epidemiology". The proceedings were published in the Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology. He hosted, in 1996, the 8th annual conference of the ISEE in Edmonton, a reputedly highly successful meeting. In 2005, he had contributed to the hosting of the ISEE conference in South Africa; the conference theme was to identify a new global research agenda for Environmental Epidemiology. This resulted in a paper by the same title that appeared in EPIDEMIOLOGY in January, 2007, a link to which is at:
Toward a Global Agenda for Research in Environmental Epidemiology
In 1994, jointly with the ISEE and the WHO, Colin co-organized a WHO Workshop on Ethics and Philosophy in Environmental Epidemiology. The proceedings were published in 1996 in The Science of the Total Environment. After the 1994 Workshop, he began working with Prof. Laura Westra, founder of the Global Ecological Integrity Group (GEIG), on the subsequently successful grant application to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. That project resulted in the completion of a Master's thesis by his student, Lee E. Sieswerda, entitled: "Towards measuring the impact of ecological distintegrity on human health" (1999).
Colin served as co-supervisor of H. Morgan Scott, a PhD student through the University of Guelph. Dr. Scott received, in 1998, an Ontario award for his thesis: "Effects of air emissions from sour gas plants on the health and productivity of beef and dairy herds in Alberta, Canada". This thesis involved dispersion modeling and environmental geographic information systems (GIS).
In July 1999, Colin completed a year of sabbatical leave as a Visiting Scientist with the World Health Organization (WHO) European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome Division, Italy. The European Union's Third Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health took place in London, England, in June 1999. It is there that the environment and health agenda for the beginning of the next century was specified for the European Union. In preparation for this occasion, a WHO Working Group on "Early Human Health Effects of Climate Change in Europe" took place in Rome in mid-October, 1998. Colin was a full participant in this Workshop and he contributed to the documentation that resulted in the final report that was adopted by the Ministerial Conference.
Also at the WHO in Rome, Dr. Soskolne's sabbatical base in 1998 – 1999, he organized a WHO Workshop that took place December 3 – 4, 1998, on the theme of Global Ecological Integrity: implications of 'sustainable development' for human health. This was a multidisciplinary meeting to address concerns about reports of collapsing life-supporting ecosystems (and of which climate change is but a part) and the implications for human health. The place, if any, that these concerns should enjoy on the public health agenda emerged as a major item for discussion. Put another way, what role should public health have in the face of reports about collapsing life support systems around the world? The report takes the form of a Discussion Document entitled: Global Ecological Integrity and 'Sustainable Development': Cornerstones of Public Health
at the following link:
From 1999 through 2002, Dr. Soskolne was committed to building environmental epidemiology capacity in southern Africa through a then on-going relationship with the University of Pretoria. He returned for a month each year to teach a course in Environmental Epidemiology.
Colin's present focus is on the relationship between global ecological integrity and public health. In particular, he is concerned with indicators appropriate to informing policy about this connection. He is pioneering the development of an inter- and trans-disciplinary sub-specialty of epidemiology — eco-epidemiology — which examines the dynamics between ecological disintegrity and human health/well-being.
His senior edited contribution around this topic is a book entitled Sustaining Life on Earth: Environmental and Human Health through Global Governance
. This 482-page 2008 book is available directly from the publisher, Lexington Books, at the following link: http://www.LexingtonBooks.com/ISBN/0739117297
The book is an inter-disciplinary collaboration with a broad array of disciplines, from law, to health, ecology, biology, economics, social sciences, theology, and ethics, all concerned with the sustainability of living systems. It is anchored in the Earth Charter as the available set of values and principles to which, if we both individually and collectively subscribed would lead us from a path with catastrophic consequences to one of sustainability. The book is designed to save us from ourselves.
Colin's latest co-edited collections are entitled Globalisation and Ecological Integrity in Science and International Law
, and Human Health and Ecological Integrity: Ethics, Law and Human Rights
Collaboration with the WHO's European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome Division, had Colin formally engaged in environmental epidemiology research capacity building in Azerbaijan. A Training Manual was released under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, Azerbaijan) entitled From Theory to Practice in Environmental Epidemiology: Developing, Conducting and Disseminating Health Research
. This 229-page training manual was released in October 2008. The authors are Colin L. Soskolne of the University of Alberta, James E. Andruchow, and Francesca Racioppi of the World Health Organization (WHO).
A description of the manual and its background are at the following link:
The manual is available, free-of-charge
, at the following link:
In 2002, Colin was elected as a member of the Council of Fellows of the Collegium Ramazzini. The Collegium includes a select group of Fellows, not to exceed 180 through the several regions of the world, each of clear personal distinction and integrity, distinguished by their contributions to occupational and environmental health, both science- and policy-wise.
One recent role that Colin played was as founding Academic Co-ordinator to then the newly-established Office of Sustainability at the University of Alberta (2009 – 2010). He withdrew from this role in 2010 to focus on his responsibilities as Accreditation Co-ordinator, leading the first two-thirds of the self-study process to make the University of Alberta's School of Public Health the first accredited such school in Canada through the Council on Education for Public Health.
In 2007, Dr. Soskolne was elected President of the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics (CSEB) for a two-year term. He was re-elected for a further two-year term in 2009. He remained on the CSEB Board for two more years in the capacity of Immediate Past-President (2011 – 2013). The transition took place at the end of the 3rd North American Congress of Epidemiology, co-hosted by the CSEB in Montreal (June 21 – 24, 2011). At this congress, Colin received the 2011 CSEB Distinguished Service Award. Following on his presidential plenary paper, Tying the Rigorous Application of Methods to Ethics for Healthy Public Policy
, Colin was asked by the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology (JPC-SE) to take the lead in developing its Position Statement on Asbestos.
Colin enjoyed his final year of "special leave" from the University of Alberta (July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013) with the University of Canberra
, ACT, Australia. Through this year of transition to retirement, he aligned his intellectual interests more with the University of Canberra in the role of Visiting Fellow and, since July 2013, as Adjunct Professor. In addition, he will be assuming consulting roles. He may take on more expert witness work with time because, in the few cases that he relatively recently took an interest in and worked on, he was able to bring his epidemiological methods competence together with his ethics knowledge and experience to the table. His role was said to be important not only for the final outcome in achieving justice, but also in how it could influence future public policy.