Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, Scrutinizer of Aging, Dies at 84


“She was a seminal thinker in epidemiology,” Dr. Laughlin said. Trained as an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Barrett-Connor won several major awards in epidemiology, although she never studied the subject.

She was also an entertaining speaker who could pack a room with scientists, Dr. Laughlin said, and a committed mentor.

One former student, Kay-Tee Khaw, a professor at the University of Cambridge, wrote in a recent tribute to Dr. Barrett-Connor, “So much of what she pioneered is now so well established in mainstream epidemiologic research that it may be difficult to realize how groundbreaking her approach was at the time.”

In conducting long-running studies using multiple individuals, Dr. Barrett-Connor was one of the first researchers to recognize the importance of accounting for lifestyle factors, like diet and physical activity, and social factors, like education. She also sought to include blood samples that would reveal sex hormones, thyroid function and metabolism, Dr. Khaw wrote.

Dr. Barrett-Connor was a believer in the scientific method. “The only reason to have a hypothesis was to try to disprove it,” she used to say, according to Dr. Laughlin. “If you couldn’t disprove it, you might be right — not guaranteed to be right, but you might be right.”

Elizabeth Louise Barrett was born on April 8, 1935, in Evanston, Ill., the only child of Willard and Florence (Hershey) Barrett. Her father was a chemist who worked for ammunition companies during World War II, requiring the family to move around the country for most of her childhood. They settled in Lee, Mass., when Elizabeth was a young teenager, her daughter said.

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