Re-Release: Fighting Cholera with Data, 1854

This episode was first released in November 2014.

In the 1850s, there were a lot of things we didn’t know yet: how to create an airplane, how to split an atom, or how to control the spread of a common but deadly disease: cholera.

When a cholera outbreak in London killed scores of people, a doctor named John Snow used it as a chance to study whether the cause might be very small organisms that were spreading through the water supply (the prevailing theory at the time was miasma, or “bad air”). By tracing the geography of all the deaths from the outbreak, Snow was practicing elementary data science--and stumbled upon one of history’s most famous outliers.

In this episode, we’ll tell you more about this single data point, a case of cholera that cracked the case wide open for Snow and provided critical validation for the germ theory of disease.

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