Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Experiments in Collaboration: Interdisciplinary Graduate Education in Science and Justice

This grant caught my eye at least partly because I am now reading a rather dense biography on Robert Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer was the director of the  Manhattan Project, the program that developed the first nuclear weapon during World War II. However, he later became the chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission,which later opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb. And he went on to support international control of atomic energy.

The Manhattan project, and the larger government-scientific community failed to look at the long term consequences of developing atomic weapons.

So it is refreshing to see, hopefully not too late !, that our government is willing to see the long term consequences of science and technology through grants as this.

From the article at PLos One

Over the past two decades, policy changes at the national level have created an increased focus on science-society relations. An example in the United States has been a subtle but significant shift in the foundational principles of the National Science Foundation (NSF): rather than assume societal benefits directly flow from support of science and engineering, the NSF now explicitly seeks to create knowledge that benefits society [1][4]. To achieve this goal, the agency moved in 1997 to adopt the Broader Impacts Criterion (BIC) to review grant proposals [5],[6]. Similarly, the 2007 America COMPETES Act increased ethics education requirements for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows without specifying content[7][10]. While these policy changes require scientists and engineers to practice science and engineering in new ways that engage “the public” and benefit “society,” few institutions provide physical spaces for cross-disciplinary contact and intellectual space for figuring out how practically to achieve these ends [10][13].

SJTP is a graduate-level research and education program that trains science and engineering students alongside students of social science, arts, and humanities to respond to the ethical and social justice questions that arise in their research. Rather than treating justice as a concern to be tacked onto an already formed research project, SJTP graduate fellows are provided with fellowship funding and faculty mentorship that supports them to explore questions of ethics and justice as they arise in their research.

The space, funding, and institutional recognition of the program give fellows the opportunity to reorient their research questions, methodologies, and goals around questions of science and justice.


Some related bioethics resources


August 7, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Number Of Deaths In The US Can Be Linked To Social Factors

From the 16 June 2011 Medical News Today site

Published in the American Journal of Public Health, a new study *** calculates the number of deaths attributable to social factors in the United States, finding a broader way to conceptualize the causes of mortality.

Researchers estimated the number of deaths in the United States attributable to social factors, using a systematic review of the available literature combined with vital statistics data. They conducted a MEDLINE search for all English-language articles published between 1980 and 2007 with estimates of the relation between social factors and adult all-cause mortality. After calculating for the relative risk estimates of mortality, researchers obtained estimates for each social factor. Individual social factors included education, poverty, health insurance status, employment status and jobstress, social support, racism or discrimination, housing conditions and early childhood stressors. Area-level social factors included area-level poverty, income inequality, deteriorating built environment, racial segregation, crime and violence, social capital and availability of open or green spaces.

They found that approximately 245,000 deaths in the United States in 2000 were attributable to low education, 176,000 to racial segregation, 162,000 to low social support, 133,000 to individual-level poverty, 119,000 to income inequality and 39,000 to area-level poverty. …

***For suggestions on how to get this article for free or at low cost, click here

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , | Leave a comment

Parents’ social problems affect their children — even in birds

Parents’ social problems affect their children — even in birds

From the December 27, 2010 Eureka news alert

It may come as a surprise to many that quails are able to distinguish one another, let alone that they form close relationships with other quails. Nevertheless, it has long been known that disruption of the birds’ social environment causes them stress. A group within the UMR 6552 at the CNRS-Université de Rennes 1 in France has been studying the influence of adults on the behavioural development of their offspring. Together with scientists in Austria, they have now shown that changing the composition of groups of quails housed together causes the birds to behave more aggressively towards one another. In parallel, the level of steroid hormones (corticosterone) in their blood increases when their group composition is disrupted.

Intriguingly, the eggs they lay were found to have significantly higher levels of testosterone when the mothers were subjected to social stress of this kind. The results are consistent with previous findings from other groups, which showed that House sparrows, American coots and Common starlings lay eggs with more testosterone when they breed in dense colonies than when they nest in isolation. But the new work from the French-Austrian collaboration goes considerably further, showing that the eggs of females under social stress hatch later and the chicks grow more slowly after hatching, at least for the first three weeks. There are also indications that the chicks’ behave differently: they are more cautious and seem more susceptible to disturbance. Furthermore, they tend to move about more, which can be interpreted as increased attempts to escape from threats or to seek more social contact.

The results show how much the growth and behaviour of chicks is influenced by the concentrations of steroid hormones in the eggs from which they hatched. As Möstl says, “We know that stress on female mammals influences the development of their young, which takes place in the womb, but it was a big surprise that social stress causes such changes in the level of hormones in the yolks of birds’ eggs.” The social environment of mother quails thus has a direct effect on the growth and the behaviour of their offspring. It seems, then, that pre-natal nurture is extremely important in birds as well as in mammals and this finding is sure to add fresh fuel to the century-old nature versus nurture debate.


The paper Social Instability in Laying Quail: Consequences on Yolk Steroids and Offspring’s Phenotype by Floriane Guibert, Marie-Annick Richard-Yris, Sophie Lumineau, Kurt Kotrschal, Daniel Guémené, Aline Bertin, Erich Möstl and Cécilia Houdelier was published in November by PLoS ONE (10.1371/journal.pone.0014069).

December 28, 2010 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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