Street Lights People

A blog by Antonis Kousoulis. Under constructive construction…

Street Lights People - A blog by Antonis Kousoulis. Under constructive construction…

The Plague of Thebes… 2,505 years on

SophoclesAround 5 years ago, I started researching the science behind Oedipus Rex, Sophocles’ monumental play and arguably one of the most well known literary stories globally. In his tragedy, Sophocles masterfully deals with themes like fate, free will, blindness, and incest. The renowned Greek tragedian in fact includes in his verses the first clear description and interpretation of what was later to be called ‘Oedipal Complex’. Many readers forget though, that this rich in themes and metaphors play is nested in the context of an epidemic disease.

In the early 2010s, at the height of my medico-sociohistorical interest, when I first looked at the play from a medical perspective, little did I know that no other researcher in the past had systematically analysed it in this context nor that there is indeed a classical mass grave along the shores of river Kifissos of Boeotia perhaps waiting for paleopathologists to explore and research further. I was, however, fortunate enough to be joined in my research by some brilliant colleagues (top billed of course by my friend Konstantinos Economopoulos). Together we published our analysis as a scientific paper. We adopted a critical approach to the tragedy, analysing the literary description of the disease, unraveling its clinical features and even defining a possible underlying microbiological cause: brucellosis transmitted from crops through cattle to humans. Our study revealed that we had every scientific backing to argue that this epidemic (for which we used the name “The Plague of Thebes”) was indeed a historical event. Looking back at this research 5 years on, I am now attempting to trace its impact. Continue reading

A questionable future

TunnelLight

Now that we are starting to slowly establish that Greece is going to become the poorest nation within one generation, it is also time to look to the future. Greece has recently focused entirely on the financial shortcomings of the economic crisis and the wider, internationally influenced, political agenda impacting on public spending. The case for health, however, is increasingly becoming the product in a can of worms that no one wants to open.

The escalating financial crisis in Greece is not only economic, but also about health and social care. Public healthcare provision is overstretched: there have been about 50% cuts in hospital budgets, secondary and tertiary care centres are understaffed, shortages of medical supplies have been reported, and the day-to-day running of healthcare services remains non-transparent and bureaucratic. In this environment, public health and prevention are taking the highest toll; public health spending has shrunk to 4% of GDP, whilst health promotion activities are by large left to underfunded non-governmental organisations.

Take vaccination for example. Continue reading

The journey that matters…

earth_lightsI would like to speak a bit about the world.
This year, primarily on business but occasionally for pleasure too, I travelled to the East Coast of the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Turkey, Germany. If you add to the above, a significant number of visits to various places in the UK and my summer in Greece, they make up for 10 countries in the course of the year.

I have always considered travelling something like a personal investment. Continue reading

Searching for DNA’s Dark Lady

franklinEver since the 1960s every discussion on James Watson and Rosalind Franklin seems to start from Watson’s 1968 book The Double Helix. As the first account – and first impression – of the story of DNA discovery, it has become a lasting reference point in such a way that it has “polluted” all later histories when trying to assess characterisations of Franklin and how much credit would she deserve. In Watson’s much influential book, Rosalind Franklin isintroduced as Rosy. Continue reading

Is our scientific language sexist? Exploring 2,000 years of biological literature

sperms_egg

At a fundamental level, all major scientific textbooks depict male and female reproductive organs as systems for the production of valuable substances; eggs and sperm. These issues have frequently been a subject of scholarly analysis in the modern literature on science and gender. Interestingly, whereas extensive critical studies on ancient society have appeared since the 18th century, it took the social and political developments of the past 30 years, and especially the new self-consciousness of the women’s movement, to focus attention explicitly on the neglect of many aspects of the study of the position of women in the ancient world.

In what follows, I am exploring to what extent the language in our scientific textbooks is sexist, in regards to concepts like fertilisation, ovulation and menstruation, and look into the lasting impact of Aristotle’s work and his – separated by 2,000 years – “clash” with influential anthropologist Emily Martin.

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A viral year

2013Just before the end of the year, any self-respecting blog is supposed to look back and do a recap. Not necessarily believing in that but falling victim of this tradition, I’d like to share the medical headlines that caught my attention in 2013. Still working on pandemics and major epidemic outbreaks, my primary interests revolve around these and 2013 was a year that saw viruses and epidemics taking a central stage in the medical scene. But even more important than the strictly medical news is perhaps the social aspect that each one of them had. Another good reminder ahead of next year that there are determinants of health and disease that should not be neglected.

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