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Posts Tagged ‘global health’

The Threat of Pandemics (MLA13 Boston: Plenary 4: Laurie Garrett)

A woman dressed in black standing at a podium in front of a white lighted circle stating One Health.

Laurie Garrett giving her presentation.

The final plenary, and indeed, the final non-CE class or tour event of MLA13 Boston, was on my list of events to blog for the official conference blog.  I summed up the entire presentation.  As stated previously, I can’t reproduce those posts here on my personal blog, so please go over and take a look at that summary before reading my responses to and thoughts on the presentation.

Got it? Good!

Ok, so, what was my reaction to this lecture?  Well, first, honestly I had a bit of a panic.  I felt frightened, unsafe, and like the world is doomed.  At first I thought that was just my anxious-prone self over-reacting to the presentation, but after discussing it with friends and colleagues who were also there, I realized that Garrett seems to have actually sought to pull out this fear in people.

Why?

In a presentation that ends with pleas for us to fight fear and panic, why did she spend so much time investing in frightening us and very little (if any) spent in reassuring us?  Why focus so much on pandemics just a single mistake away, germ warfare close at hand (although, not really since 3D printing of germs isn’t happening yet).  I don’t know.  I don’t know what would make Garrett think making people feel this way is a good thing.  Maybe she’s fallen prey to the idea that the only way to get people to pay attention to your cause is to frighten them.  I know people in various movements who use that tactic.  It’s not one I’m a fan of.  Maybe she didn’t intend to gloom and doom the people present.  But I think she did.  Given that her own speech pointed out the dangers of panic and unwarranted fear, I find it odd that this was her intent.  And yet there you have it.  A room full of frightened librarians.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Check out just a few of the tweets from during her presentation:

Screen shot of a tweet "Nothing like wrapping up a conference with a presentation that will haunt attendee dreams..."One Health? Garrett's doom-scenario suggests we're on course for One Ill-HealthLaurie Garrett is scaring us all to death about pandemics and biosynthesis and germs etc...@Laurie_Garrett is one of the best speakers I've seen in a long time.  Also one of the scariest.YES! RT @mandosally I'm feeling creeped out. Anyone else?I think I'm going to use a 3D printer to make a bubble house and never leave it...Everyone has their own style, and I certainly learned a lot from the presentation and wasn’t bored.  But.  I’m not a fan of nonfiction presentations (aka not horror plays or movies) inciting fear and panic in the audience.  I think it’s counter-productive when talking to a room full of intelligent, educated individuals.  Librarians aren’t 5 year olds who need to be told about icky germs in order to get us to wash our hands.  I’m sure there could have been a way to give this presentation with truths and realities that could be frightening without actually inciting this level of anxiety.  Even just a little positivity and more hope for the future would have been nice.  You don’t want a populace that is exerting all their energy preparing for Armageddon.

I should also mention that I stood up to ask a question of Garrett at the end.  With all the talk of synthetic biology, I wanted to know what her opinion was on GMOs.  I admit, this is not an issue I am yet clear-cut on myself.  I generally prefer organic, but I also understand the value of say rice that has been modified to have more vitamins in it for an at-risk population.  But on the other hand I get the concern of manipulating something at a genetic level and what that might do to our own bodies when we ingest it.  It’s something that just doesn’t have enough long-term studies yet to really show if it’s truly safe or not, and it concerns me that it’s mostly the poor, at-risk populations who are being used as guinea pigs eating it.

In any case, I asked Garrett at the public microphone about her stance on GMO foods and the movement to label them.  Given all of her doom and gloom talk about synthetic viruses, I was shocked at her answer.  She believes that GMO foods are necessary because as more of the world becomes middle class, more of the world is eating meat, and meat eating just cannot be sustained on the land we currently have available, so we must turn to eating synthetic foods.

Um, EXCUSE ME?!?!

So the lady who just spent over an hour and a half talking about how dangerous synthetic biology could turn out to be turns right around and says that meat eating isn’t sustainable to feed the entire globe (which it isn’t, see this article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) turns right around and says that well we have to eat GMOs to feed everyone because people won’t just give up meat.  Right, ok, if someone is so concerned about the possible bad consequences of synthetic biology don’t you think she might possibly take this opportunity to espouse a vegetarian, vegan, or even just more plant-based diet to combat the global food crisis instead of relying exclusively on GMOs?  Apparently not.  Apparently it’s really great to fear-monger about pandemics and international relations but when it comes to what we eat, the basis of much of our health, that’s too controversial.

Well, at least it was an interesting final couple of hours of MLA13, although I can’t say I really feel that it was very useful to librarians or working to promote true global health.

The Power of Communication to Influence Health (MLA13 Boston: Plenary 2: McGovern Award Lecture by Dr. Richard Besser)

A tanned, white man standing in front of a blue background with a white moon-shape that says "One Health" on it behind him.

Dr. Richard Besser speaking at MLA13 One Health

After the first plenary and a short break came the second plenary, the McGovern Lecture.  I was surprised to see on twitter (the hashtag for the conference was #mlanet13 if anyone is interested) that many librarians didn’t see the value of having a plenary lecture by a non-librarian talking about non-library things.  I responded to this criticism in one of my official MLA13 blog posts The Value of the Non-Librarian Perspective: Thoughts on Plenary 2.  Please do take a moment to check that out.

And now back to the plenary.  Dr. Richard Besser is the medical correspondent for ABC, but more interestingly to me, he also was the acting director of the CDC during the H1N1 epidemic.  Epidemics ultimately were a theme of the conference, which makes sense since the overarching theme was One Health.  One health meaning the global health of all living creatures and how we are all interconnected.  Below are my notes from Dr. Besser’s lecture.

Introduction

  • Describes himself as an accidental journalist
  • If you change your life, then the terrorists win.
  • The reason Israelis are so well-prepared is because they face it every day.

Starting at the CDC and Advice on Being the New Person

  • Recommends the leadership book Good to Great
  • 1st ask your new boss what they think of their organization and ask them if they think it needs: big change, small change, or stabilization

How to Respond to a Pandemic

  • If you can spread out a pandemic so hospitals aren’t flooded, you’ll save lives.
  • You use different words to get different responses.
  • With a new emerging infection, you only get one shot to get ahead of it.
  • Be transparent with the public.
  • Base actions on fact.
  • Apply rapid learning –> guide will change based on new knowledge
  • If you lose the trust of the public, you’ve failed.
  • Three key aspects of communication:
    • Be first
    • Be right
    • Be credible
  • Homeland Security is in charge during a declared national emergency
  • Dr. Besser was featured on The Daily Show during the H1N1 epidemic
  • When he met with the cabinet, Obama said, “I want our responses based on science.”  An excellent support of evidence-based medicine.
  • Don’t use jargon with a non-science expert.  (For that matter, don’t use your specialty’s jargon with someone who is not also a specialist).  Just because someone is intelligent doesn’t mean they know the jargon.
  • Translate science into clear, spoken English.
  • Flu can spread for 12 days after infection.
  • How do you tell a good study from a bad one?  Which are reportable?

Q and A

  • Once someone is obese, it’s very very hard to lose that weight. Prevention is much easier.
  • So many diseases emerge from eating meat.
  • up-to-date is “an aggregator site” be sure to check primary sources
  • “A lot of people practice based on what they learned in residency.”
  • Check out his weekly twitter chat which he has complete control over at handle @abcdrbchat on Tuesdays at 1pm EST.

Check out Dr. Besser’s biography at ABC news, his twitter, and his book Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: Easy-to-Understand Answers to Your Most Confusing and Critical Health Questions.

Up next will be the third plenary, the Janet Doe lecture by Joanne Gard Marshall.