Celebrating Women in Science

By US Environmental Protection Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a reminder that there is still a gender gap in science. Despite the obstacles that women need to overcome, their contributions to field of science have benefited not only their fellow researchers but also their fellow humans. From treatments for diseases to new discoveries that opened up entire fields, women have advanced knowledge across the spectrum of science. Below is a sampling of the achievements of just a few women. What other living female scientist or inventor might you add?

Hate malaria? You can thank Tu Youyou for discovering artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, compounds that are used to treat the tropical disease and save numerous lives. Her discovery was so significant, she received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Continue reading

How to Evaluate Consumer Health Reporting

NASA image

In April I had the privilege of attending Science Writing in the Age of Denial, a conference held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that featured science writers, journalists and scientists from around the world discussing some of the perils, pitfalls, challenges and amazing opportunities of covering science, medical and health stories in today’s media landscape. I reveled in the two days of intense discussion.

My notebook from the conference is filled with notes, sketches, web addresses to visit and names of books that I simply must read. One of the talks that hit home hard was given by Gary Schwitzer, a consumer healthcare journalist who is publisher of the web site HealthNewsReview.org

Schwitzer’s talk, “Cheerleading, Shibboleths and Uncertainty” addressed the status of consumer healthcare reporting which, in his opinion, often tends to be little more than “cheerleading” for the latest greatest drug, technology or screening test. His talk addressed some of the cult-like following for screening tests (the shibboleths) and the tendency to convey with certainty the “upside” of screening without discussing adequately the risks or downsides (uncertainty).

His focus on the screening issue was particularly poignant to me, because I have experienced my own transformation of thought regarding health screening. Continue reading

Sailing: Relaxing Pastime or Dangerous Sport?

SailboatSailing has always struck me as a civilized, relaxing way to spend a beautiful summer day. I imagine sitting on the boat’s deck in a sundress with a big floppy hat to keep the sun off of my face, a cold beverage in hand and perhaps a picnic basket of sandwiches at my feet. What could be more tranquil than gently gliding along the water’s rippling surface, with just enough of a breeze to keep you cool on a hot sunny day?

That’s how I envision sailing, and it will be obvious to many of you from this description that I do not sail. However, my husband and many of my friends do, and they tell a very different account, especially during a race: Sailors quickly moving around the deck, tackling and subduing unruly spinnakers, dodging booms and other hazards, and in general just trying not to fall overboard, especially on those days when it is blowing 20 (translation for us nonsailors: days with 20-mile-per-hour winds). Thus, a recent paper in the December issue of the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine caught my attention (1). In it, the authors report the frequency and types of injuries sustained by sailors while sailing. Those of you who sail will not be surprised by the findings, but I was. Sailing is more dangerous than I imagined. Continue reading

Science Is a Human Endeavor

Toward the end of my graduate studies, when I was itching to wrap up experiments and start writing, I did something radical. I signed up for a lay chaplaincy program, sort of a mini-clinical pastoral education (CPE) program, offered at that time through the university hospital.

I was reminded of this experience recently when I read an incredible blog, “Fountain Pens”, which, with its 260 well chosen words, threw me back to thinking hard about the relationship between science and humanity.

At the time I began the CPE program, I was really struggling, not sure whether I wanted to stick out the Ph.D. program to the bloody end (and it felt pretty bloody at that point).

Yes, I had devoted several years of my life to nematode husbandry. Yes, I had acquired a significant intellectual repository of information about worm sperm that would be largely useless outside of academia. Yes, I had suffered through and survived written and oral comprehensive exams. And yes, I was seriously considering leaving this huge investment of time and life behind me.

I had lost sight of what I had invested in. Continue reading