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.

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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

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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