Historical Events

MRFIT’s follow-up findings delivered more bad news: at the sixteen-year follow-up to the study in 1997, the treatment group was found to have higher rates of lung cancer even though 21 percent of them had quit smoking, compared to only 6 percent of the controls.

MRFIT triggered widespread comment and criticism in the research community, but after much hand-wringing, its failure did not generate a change of course or even a serious reevaluation of the direction of heart disease research. And that was true even after MRFIT’s follow-up findings delivered more bad news: at the sixteen-year follow-up to the study in 1997, the treatment group was found to have higher rates of lung cancer even though 21 percent of them had quit smoking, compared to only 6 percent of the controls.

When I asked Stamler about this apparent paradox, he took it straight on. “I don’t know! That could be a chance finding. . . . It’s just one of those findings. Troublesome. Unexpected. Not explained. Not rationalized!” (Stamler meets even the most timid challenge to his ideas with enthusiasm, delivered through an earthy Chicago accent. One colleague described him in his nineties as “frail but on fire.”)

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