From its earliest years the GRO developed a twin-pronged publication strategy to maximize both its political and scientific impact in promoting the environmentalist policies of the Public Health movement. Through its weekly and quarterly bulletins of comparative death-rates the GRO fought a relentless campaign to heighten local awareness of the extent of preventable death. The government's chief medical officer also used this information to investigate negligent local authorities. A parallel series of annual and decennial reports offered a more rigorous and scientific analysis of the incidence of the nation's fatal diseases.

A relative decline in the GRO's leading position in the public health movement after the retirement of William Farr in 1880 has been misinterpreted as the end of its commitment. But this was only a temporary lull, primarily due to developments beyond its control: the rise of germ theory and also the increasing powers and professional organization of the Medical Officers of Health. The GRO had to adapt to a less glamorous supporting role supplying the country's MOHs with the epidemiological information they required. In the Edwardian period, however, the GRO was to be found once more in the centre of the most significant scientific and political conflict, successfully defending an environmentalist and increasingly state-sponsored public health and welfare policy against the attacks of hereditarian eugenicists.

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