From science to fiction and back: reflecting on Andromeda strain scenarios

Science fiction has drawn heavily from advances (or anticipated advances), promises and pitfalls of science. Writers keep creating possible future worlds and, in describing their make-up, often cover aspects involving health issues which pervade the core of human society. Science fiction’s imaginary worlds almost always take into account the implications of technological development, which can have a great impact on health. In many ways, science fiction stories have anticipated several possible developments in public health and their implications. Author, as well as director and screenwriter, Michael Crichton has served as one of the most eminent examples of how successful, influential and to-the-point science fiction can be.

 

Crichton was born in Chicago in 1942 and was educated at Harvard College and Medical School, but became a best-selling novelist with his work also spanning to cinema and television. Many of his novels, like his most notable Jurassic Park, heavily reflect his scientific background and meticulous research. Crichton was digging into science-in-the-making topics and was then writing his science fiction. Even personal experience from medical school has been his inspiration. For long periods of time he read only non-fiction and scientific journals. He was looking within the published articles for the what if that he could reincarnate into a book.

Continue reading From science to fiction and back: reflecting on Andromeda strain scenarios

When are we going to ditch the M-word?

(This post was first published on the Mental Health Foundation website).

We’ve come a long way in public mental health in recent years. Part of the ground that we have covered – towards making a difference in how mental health problems are perceived and how people with lived experience can be supported – is because of our concentrated efforts to tackle the stigma of ill-health. The language that we use is fundamental to that. We have managed, as a society, to move away from stigmatising and discriminatory terms like ‘mental’, ‘maniac’ and ‘madman’. But what about ‘murderer’?

Continue reading When are we going to ditch the M-word?

A season on the brink

globeIt’s now been a full year since I joined the Mental Health Foundation. And it certainly was an interesting year.‎‎ Leading the organisation’s public health innovation and development function has in turn led me to an extremely rewarding journey. For me, public health is – simply and above all – my means to make a difference to a world succumbing to an ever expanding rhetoric of intolerance. Continue reading A season on the brink

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 A questionable future

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 The Plague of Thebes… 2,505 years on

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 The journey that matters…

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.

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