Ecology for biomedical scientists and bankers: A recap of the World Science Festival (WSF) salon on “Predicting the Collapse of Complex Systems”

by Leah Guthrie

wsf Simon A. Levin, a Professor of Biology at Princeton University, opened up the World Science Fair (WSF) salon on Predicting the Collapse of Complex Systems by relating a story of how ecologists predicted the 2008 financial collapse. He starts at a meeting hosted by the New York Federal Reserve on systemic or undiversifiable risk that involves the collapse of an entire market, as opposed to a specific industry (1). Levin was one of three ecologists in attendance, and they all were all struck by the evident parallels between ecological and financial systems. Their collective thoughts were published in February of 2008 in a Nature paper entitled Ecology for Bankers (Nature 451, 893-895).

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Is Fat Shaming the Wrong Battle in the War Against Obesity?

by Kirsten Hartil


Cindy Baker, Personal Appearance, 2008-2012. Part of the image used in the flyer promoting Fat Studies: Bodies, Culture, Health. It depicts Cindy Baker in a custom-built professional mascot costume. Her Personal Appearance engages the notion of ‘fat geography addressing the lived reality of taboo bodies in spaces make for the ‘socio-normative’ body.

Phrases such as: “the obesity epidemic” and “the war on obesity” have become part of the daily lexicon of biomedical and public health researchers engaged in obesity research. The consequences of framing the discussion this way was the topic of Fat Studies: Bodies, Culture, Health, a panel discussion held at the New School on Monday June 16, 2014.

The four-member panel consisting of professors of clinical psychology, public health, art history, and history was moderated by Dr. Fabio Parasecoli, associate professor and coordinator of the Food Studies Program, the New School for Public Engagement.

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Help to Find the Health in Healthcare: A Discussion of Cost, Competing Factors, and Consequences

by Ramon A. Robertson

In Population Health: Transforming Health Care to Improve Our Health, Dr. Sederer’s central thesis, is that we must expand our collective consciousness (as medical doctors, public health specialist, and private individuals) of the tenants (or determinants) which are ultimately driving our health status outside of provisional healthcare services. Further, we must realize the modicum of worth (10%) that “healthcare” provides to our human experience, and instead, consider more closely, the truly impressive determinants that modulate the crux of our health as a population. 1

He points out that what is actually making us sick, are our poorly self-regulated behaviors and practices — “excessive and poor eating, more than moderate drinking, smoking, [lack of] physical activity, high salt and processed food intake” — that are most responsible for the steady decline in health and growth in illness. 1 Though many fall back on the genetics controlling their fate argument, Sederer points out the reality that though genetic effects are indeed hardwired, they can be modulated by environmental exposures to either remain quiescent or manifest destructively. 1 Sederer also reminds us that this discussion is not merely an academic one, as the gravity of a structurally unsound healthcare system is reflected in our country’s financial statement — in that we spend on average almost a fifth (18%) of our nation’s GDP ($2.7 trillion annually) on healthcare costs — far above any other comparably developed nation in the world. 1

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Can racism explain the increased rates of maternal and infant mortality among African Americans?

by Kirsten Hartil

This post is a modified version of a paper submitted for the Multiculture and Diversity Issues course of Einstein’s MPH Program. 

Rates of perinatal and maternal mortality are higher in the U.S. than 16 other high-income countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Sweden and Denmark.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the U.S. every year 25,000 infants die before their first birthday. These rates are lower than most low- and middle-income countries. Sierra Leone, for example had an infant mortality rate of 117 deaths per 1,000 in 2012. Still, according to Save the Children’s 14th annual State of the World’s Mothers report, 50 percent more newborns die within their first 24 hours in the U.S. compared to all other industrialized countries combined.

Congenital malformations, pre-term birth or low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and maternal complications and injuries (e.g., suffocation) are the major causes of infant mortality in the U.S., accounting for 57% of all infant deaths in the United States in 2010.

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The Affordable Care Act & Emergency Medical Services: A Glimpse of Where We Are Now, a Vision for Change, and an Evolving Plan to Move Forward

by Ramon A. Robertson

source: an estimate of 240 million calls per year, 9-1-1 operators are shockingly busy — collectively, that’s a numbing 8 incoming calls per second in perpetuity across the nation. 2 While Emergency Medical Services (EMS) have expanded to meet the public demand, they have shriveled (by force) in their agency and potency to deliver patient-centered care to the community.  Unfortunately, it is the money trail that leads us toward the single greatest accounting contributor of their diminished efficacy: their compensation is strictly linked to a fee-for-service model, that directly rewards transportation and often overlooks (or sidelines) infield medical care. 1  To be clear: EMS is only paid if they ultimately transport patients to the hospital; the lights-and-sirens response, the onsite acute medical care, and any other instructive/supporting measures, do not alone command reimbursement. 1 From a business perspective, this sets up an unhealthy nidus for the management of patients with sub-transportative needs, and encourages over-aggressive and/or needless advanced care maneuvers and/or routing. 1  Not only does this payment model uncannily usurp the medical role of EMS workers (by relegating them to mere transportation functions), but it also adds to the already intolerable weight of non-emergent cases currently cluttering hospital emergency departments.

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Updates from the Biotech Scene in New York City: New facilities and initiatives encourage and support start-ups

by Pablo Rougerie

There is a paradox in New York City. While the city is home to world-class research institutions in biological research, places like Columbia, Mount Sinai or Rockefeller, the presence of a vibrant bioscience and technology industry is comparatively lacking. Compared with regional hubs like San Diego, Boston/Cambridge or the San Francisco Bay area, biotech employment figures of the past decade are meager in NY.  How can an area like New York, with unparalleled access to cutting-edge biological research and a surplus of well-educated scientists, be relegated to such a low profile in the biotech world?  Much of the answer is defined by two main obstacles: lack of space and lack of money. Fortunately, the end of 2013 saw important announcements and developments that have the potential to change the situation.

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The Role of the Medical Profession in Swaying Public Policy: Exploring Physician Responsibility and Advocacy

by Mark Mikhly

A version of this post was originally submitted to the AMA’s Conley Ethics Essay competition – check out last year’s winners!

An AMA sponsored essay-contest prompt asked medical students to consider the case of a physician who chose to advocate against state sponsored abstinence-only sexual education to her state AMA chapter. The question, in brief, was whether physicians’ education, training, and standing in society entitle or obligate them to speak out on issues that, while they affect the health of the public, are not directly related to physician training or the care of patients? This question applies not only to individual physicians but also to the profession as a whole.

To consider whether physicians should take positions on sex education, we will explore the nature of the relationship between the medical profession and society, the role of physicians in public health, and the concept of Social Medicine. After such discussion, as well as an examination of abstinence-only sex education, it should become evident that physicians have an imperative, rather than an option, to be actively involved on this important topic.

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Does BPA cause obesity? The importance of remembering that association is not causation

by Kirsten Hartil

ImageThe increasing prevalence of obesity has major health and economic implications. Childhood obesity is of particular concern because obese children are more likely to become obese adults and they have increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Identifying obesogens, environmental contaminants that contribute to obesity, and elucidating their mechanism are areas of clinical, basic and public health research.

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Pharmaceutical Company Profiteering: Behind the High Cost of Drugs in America

by Hannah Keppler

The recent passage, judicial review and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has intensified the nationwide debate regarding the role that large health care companies play in delivering health services to people.  Most people understand that private health care providers are businesses that seek to profit from the services they provide, but at a certain point, a conflict of interest is generated between a company’s desire to maximize their profits and their mandate to pay for their customers’ medical care.  How much money can a health care company garner for their services before it becomes “profiteering”?  Continue reading

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On the importance of literature to the field of medicine

by Jiyoung Kim

Throughout most of my early education, I believed that science and literature were two mutually exclusive fields.  If a student was gifted in one field, it was usually at the expensive of the other.  In high school, I found that as I stepped through the door marked “science,” the door to the humanities and any literary field slammed shut.  By then I had accepted this strict dichotomy as truth; the moment one specializes in a certain field of study, all the other fields back out of reach.  However, my college experience challenged that perspective through its core curriculum that required courses in both humanities and sciences.  Some of my peers complained, suggesting science majors be exempt from taking humanities courses, but I fully embraced all of those requirements, and more.  Words are how people communicate, and so to exclude literature from any field is impossible.  With medicine, this is so much more the case.  Doctors must use words to explain the course of treatment to their patients and to communicate with their colleagues through case presentations and write ups.  They must be able to express their deepest sympathies, to share in a patient’s private confessions, and to comfort those who are sick and their grieving families.  And they must use language to teach future generations.  Thus, over the past few years, I happily unlearned this idea that engineers cannot write, and that writers cannot understand science.  Not only had I seen so much evidence to the contrary, but also the idea that literature is not mutually exclusive with science and is useful to the scientific profession, justified my gravitation towards writing with purpose.  Writing would actually be useful to my career, and isn’t just a frivolous pastime that would never amount to much.

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