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A Not So Modest Proposal to Fix the World

athena1's picture

Public Health and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Should be Prerequisites for Economics.

Public health people tend to get on my nerves. Their science tends to reflect the bigotries of the era, they are often control-freaks, and they often have massive egos. They should get along great with the economists!

All (kind of) joking aside, they do have fundamentally human values. It's a technocratic system, but at least with a human heart beating beneath the surface. The World Health Organization (and CDC) is biased, but not because they're intentional wingnut welfarians. Pharma just funds the snot out of people who are biased towards their most lucrative interventions, making said researchers the opinion leaders and advisory panel "experts."

But hey, such is life on earth. Also, decision makers (MD bean counters) in countries with socialized medicine act as a natural, skeptical counterweight.
In addition, smart folks in developing countries have been on to the full-on grifts for a while now:

(Jacob is a friend of mine, so I had to plug. But seriously, he's right pretty much always, and he's not alone.) Also, aren't economics and public health inherently intertwined? Or, shouldn't they be?


Now, onto infectious disease epidemiology. Why should this be required?

1) the scientific consensus is usually (but definitely not always) fairly quick to follow the actual evidence, reducing student confusion.

2) the most interesting research is the most honest, with the longest "discussion" section at the end, where you can see the authors speculating about every possible stone they might not have turned over, and precisely what that might mean in terms of the implications. Riveting stuff, seriously. Which has sub-effects:

a) The engaged reader gets to see radical intellectual honesty in action

b) It's written in clear language even a relative n00b can understand with acuity, which is a good role model for clear thinking, even on complex topics which "should" require a lot of expertise to "get"

3) Rule one of infectious disease epidemiology research is that the evidence and its adherents will always kick your ass if you try to ignore it. The rapid responses in the BMJ, for example, are often like lulzsec wars with pristine language and references.

4) Cross discipline research is the norm in collaborations and citations. Everyone from the lowly GP/FP MD, to the national public health agency, to microbiologists, need to collaborate to put out a stunning expose on Why Y'all Are All Wrong and really prove it. And these guys are incredibly confrontational and passionate. This is lateral, meta-thinking going on here.

In conclusion:

Make the economists learn how to do (or at least comprehend, as best as is probably humanely possible) a relatively tried and true nuanced, soft science before we hand over the reigns of the universe to them?

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stuartbramhall's picture
Submitted by stuartbramhall on

I agree with your modest but excellent proposal. An important step in bringing this about will be to campaign to make all medical research open source. PLoS has made an excellent start in this direction. Much of the recent (peer reviewed) research linking Crohn's Disease with mycobacterium avian tuberculosis (MAP) infection in on PLoS ( The fact remains that most medical research can only be accessed by people who can afford to pay $30 to download a paper or several hundred dollars a year for a subscription (or who have links to universities and hospitals that can afford a subscription). Subscribing to medical journals has become so expensive, in fact, that many hospitals and universities can no longer afford it.

athena1's picture
Submitted by athena1 on

Especially in the case of research financed by the NIH, etc.

In the mean time, Google Scholar rocks. A LOT of stuff is publicly available. And within Scholar, you can see everything that cited whatever research, to see if it was debunked or cited or whatever later. Amazing search tool.