The Origins of Systematic Reviews

Circa AD 150, Ptolemy of Alexandria produced his Geographia, a gazeteer, atlas and treatise on cartography, which complied the geographical knowledge of the Roman Empire. How? By conducting what could be considered a systematic review. Firstly, by searching a database to find all of the material on the topic ­– “the first step in a proceeding of this kind is systematic research, assembling the maximum of knowledge from the reports of people with scientific training who have toured the individual countries…[1] This he did thanks to the consultation of the Pinakes, the first known library catalogue housed at the Library of Alexandria and created by Callimachus c.250 BC.[1] This was followed by doing a synthesis of the data, which was ultimately used to inform policy and practice, for example Christopher Columbus consulted a copy before he set out across the Atlantic Ocean. However, there was systematic bias in the data, leading to a major miscalculation in the distance to the East Indies.

— Prof Martin Underwood, Warwick Medical School


  1. Brotton J. A History of the World in Twelve Maps. London: Penguin Books. 2013.

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