Science Goes To The Movies Continues Focusing On The Psychological

The sixth episode of CUNY TV’s Science Goes to the Movies is now available online.  It covers two of Clint Eastwood’s films, American Sniper and Gran Torino.  Both films feature characters with war-related post-traumatic stress.  The show had on Iraq war veteran Derek Coy and Gerard Ilaria of the Headstrong project at Weill Cornell Medical Center to discuss how the portrayal of veterans in both films does and does not correspond to most veterans’ experiences and feelings.

The seventh episode will premiere on CUNY TV on August 21, and it continues the programs recent trend of covering films from a psychological perspective.  The new episode will deal with obsessive relationships, covering Fifty Shades of Gray, Last Tango in Paris and Fatal Attraction.  For those without access to CUNY TV, the episode should be available online by early next month.

Precision Medicine Initiative Seeks Input On Privacy and Trust Principles

I completely missed this one when it was announced in early July, but the interagency working group on the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) is working on privacy and trust principles to guide the project.  It is seeking public comment on a proposed set of principles, but the deadline is Friday, August 7.

The principles are intended to guide the PMI in the large-scale data collection and analysis that is critical to the project.  The PMI is trying to gather data voluntarily from a large cohort (at least one million individuals) and allow responsible access to that information by a large number of researchers and institutions (and the members of the cohort itself).  Solid privacy and trust principles, with an implementation and enforcement regime behind it, can engender sufficient confidence in the public for the project to reach its million-member cohort.

In parallel with this process, the principles indicate there will be work on a data security program for the PMI.  I have not yet found any working documents on that program, but I will link to them from this blog once I do.

Next Bioethics Commission Meeting Will Continue Deliberations On Deliberation

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will next meet September 2 in Washington, D.C.  As is the current practice, there will be a live webcast and the Commission staff will liveblog the meeting.

Per the Federal Register notice (a formal agenda is not yet available), the meeting will continue the work it started at its May meeting in Philadelphia.  Topics will include:

  • The role of deliberation and deliberative methods to engage the public in bioethics, and how to integrate pubic dialogue into the bioethics conversation;
  • Bioethics education as a forum for fostering deliberative skills, and preparing students to participate in public dialogue in bioethics;
  • Goals and methods of bioethics education; and
  • Integrating bioethics education across a range of professional disciplines and educational levels.

There may or may not be a formal report coming from these discussions.  Given the nature of these topics, I think the Commission could simply augment its ongoing efforts in bioethics education with some public experiments in new techniques involving deliberation and deliberative methods.  This is a particular theme in Chair Amy Gutmann’s research, so I am not surprised to see the level of commitment to this effort.

(While a very politically charged matter due to recent events, it is possible that the Commission could be tasked with, or asked by the public about, current practices in fetal tissue collection and use.)

NIH Looking For Input On Strategic Plan

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has to submit a new strategic plan to Congress by December of 2015.  This is an agency-wide strategic plan, and is focused on general goals and cross-cutting plans for the NIH.  Specific disease and/or research strategies will be covered in the strategic plan(s) for the relevant institute, office or center at NIH that is focused on that matter.

The NIH is seeking comment on the framework for its strategic plan, and released the Request for Information on July 22nd.  Comments are due by August 16th, and must run 300 words or fewer.  The questions for which the NIH seeks information are:

  • Potential benefits, drawbacks/challenges, and areas of consideration for the current framework
  • Compatibility of the framework with the broad scope of the NIH mission
  • Additional concepts in [individual institute, center or office] strategic plans that are cross-cutting and should be included in this trans-NIH strategic plan
  • Comprehensive trans-NIH research themes that have not been captured in the Areas of Opportunity that Apply Across Biomedicine
  • Components of the Areas of Opportunity that Apply Across Biomedicine that are not applicable to an NIH-wide Strategic Plan
  • Future opportunities or emerging research needs

The Areas of Opportunity that Apply Across Biomedicine listed in the framework are:

  • Promote Fundamental Science
    • Basic Science is the foundation for progress
    • Consequences of basic science discoveries are often unpredictable
    • Advances in clinical research methodologies stimulate scientific progress
    • Leaps in Technology often catalyze major scientific advances
    • Data science increases the impact and efficiency of research
  • Improve Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
    • Importance of studying healthy individuals
    • Advances in early diagnosis/detection
    • Evidence-Based interventions to eliminate health disparities
  • Advance Treatments and Cures
    • Unprecedented opportunities on the basis of molecular knowledge
    • Breakdown of traditional disease boundaries
    • Breakthroughs need partnerships and often come from unexpected directions

Again, comments are due by August 16th.  Submissions should be sent via email at the appropriate address listed in the Request for Information.

Attention Public Radio Listeners – The Surgeon General Knows His Soaps

Earlier tonight I was at the taping of this week’s edition of the NPR news quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” The program was taped at Wolf Trap this evening for broadcast this weekend.  It should be available online by Sunday morning.

One segment of the program – “Not My Job” – has notable guests answer questions about things quite unrelated to their jobs.  On occasion those guests have held science and/or technology jobs in the U.S. government.  This week the guest was (will be) Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Vivek Murthy (and no, there was no discussion of why he’s a Surgeon General if he holds the rank of a Vice Admiral).  After describing his work, and his background, General Murthy was asked questions about the long-running television program General Hospital.

Murthy joins other science and technology officials that have participated in the program, usually in person.  The list now includes two Secretaries of Energy, one Director of the Centers for Disease Control, and the Director of the National Institutes of Health.

If you listen to the rest of the program (once it’s available), you will note panelist Paula Poundstone raising concerns about the studies referred to in the show.  Personally, I look at this as reasonable skepticism to the frequent conversion of study information into short soundbites that rarely communicate the full extent of the research.  Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Science Goes To The Movies In Your Head

The City University of New York continues its series Science Goes to the Movies with two episodes focused on movies with psychological themes.

The fifth episode is available online, and covers the movies Force Majeure and RosewaterForce Majeure is a Swedish film that deals with the aftermath of a decision a father makes out of fear.  Rosewater is based on the memoir of an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was detained and interrogated by Iranian authorities following the 2009 elections in that country.  Ira Flatow joins co-hosts Faith Salie and Dr. Heather Berlin to discuss the effects of fear in Rosewater and how fear can affect people’s judgment.

The sixth episode premieres on CUNY television July 17th, and should be available online by the end of the month.  It will focus on post-traumatic stress through two recent films directed by Clint Eastwood: American Sniper and Gran Torino.  The first film focuses on an solider in Iraq and at home, and the other film chronicles the life of a Korean war veteran decades after his service.  Salie and Berlin will be joined by guests from the Marine Corps and The Headstrong Project, a program at Weill Cornell Medical College aimed at healing veterans.

Just Because The Outbreaks Aren’t In The News…

Recent developments should reinforce the notion that media coverage is not a correlation to the incidence of disease.

While the measles outbreak in California hadn’t been in the news since April, when state officials declared it over, measles wasn’t eliminated from the country.  As of June 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted 178 cases of measles reported in 2015.  Just 117 of them were connected to the California outbreak (which started in late 2014).  And today Washington state health officials reported a death from measles, the first reported death from the disease in the United States since 2003.  As the disease was once eliminated from the U.S., its reemergence reflects its persistence – and the continued resistance to vaccination.

Unfortunately, the 2014 Ebola outbreak has yet to produce a viable vaccine, and while it has dimmed from American attention, it continues to affect western Africa.  Cases continue in Sierra Leone and Guinea, and re-emerged in Liberia – more than three months after the last reported case.  Meanwhile the person appointed by the Obama Administration to coordinate the nation’s response to Ebola left that position four months ago.

So, just remember that because we’ve stopped paying attention doesn’t mean a problem has been solved.  It just no longer bothers us enough to do something.