Better Care Act Targets Immigrants

If you need yet another reason to conclude that the Senate Republicans’ proposed health care bill – the so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA)– is designed more to appease different parts of the Republican base than improve the health care financing system, look no further than page 2 of the draft. There hiding in plain sight are provisions barring certain classes of documented immigrants from participating in health insurance exchanges. To understand why the bill includes these provisions, and why they make no sense from a health policy perspective, a bit of history is helpful.

As Patricia Illingworth and I document in our recent book, The Health of Newcomers: Immigration, Health Policy, and the Case for Global Solidarity, anti-immigrant sentiment has long distorted health policy. That was the case during the summer of 2009, when opponents of what became the ACA rallied in town hall meetings charging that President Obama wanted to provide coverage to undocumented immigrants. When Obama pledged to a joint session of Congress that undocumented immigrants would not be covered by his plan, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted out “You lie.” Continue reading

Webinar, 6/28: Procedural Aspects of Compulsory Licensing under TRIPS

I am very happy to host yet another webinar with J. Wested at the University of Copenhagen. This time we will debate procedural issues in compulsory licensing with H. Grosse Ruse-Kahn (University of Cambridge) & M. Desai (Eli Lilly). Further information on our webinar series is available at here, here, and below:

Procedural Aspects of Compulsory Licensing under Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)

Wednesday 28. June 2017
4-6 p.m (CEST)
Sign-up & questions: Jakob.blak.wested@jur.ku.dk

This webinar on “TRIPS and the life sciences” will approach the question of compulsory licensing by looking at the technical and procedural requirements applied by courts when evaluating a petition for a compulsory license.  

The balancing of the instrumental application of patent rights as a stimulator of innovation and the public interest in having access to these innovations form a controversial trajectory of discourse, which is as old as patent law. Compulsory licenses are one of the means that have been applied throughout the history of patent law, to condition this complex intersection of interests. The TRIPS agreement is no exception and art 31 contains the provision for member states to grant CL. In 2013, the Indian authorities granted a compulsory license to NATCO Pharmaceuticals for Bayers patented pharmaceutical product Carboxy Substituted Diphenyl Ureas, useful for the treatment of liver and kidney cancer. This decision raised several issues regarding the procedures and requirements to be met in order to grant a compulsory license. Furthermore, in January 2017 an amendment to TRIPS agreement entered into force allowing compulsory licensors to export their generic pharmaceuticals to least developed countries, further recalibrating the intersection of the monopoly power of the patent and public interest. Continue reading

WHO: Global Patient Safety Leadership

By John Tingle

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just produced a very informative and helpful report on the need to view patient safety as a global concern and to highlight resources that they have made available to deal with the problem and those in development. Patient safety is a fundamental principle of health care and this is fully acknowledged in the report. The report begins by quoting several facts and figures which emphasize the fact that medical errors should be regarded as a matter of acute global concern:

“According to a new study, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. In the United Kingdom, recent estimations show that on average, one incident of patient harm is reported every 35 seconds. Similarly, in low- and middle income countries, a combination of numerous unfavourable factors such as understaffing, inadequate structures and overcrowding, lack of health care commodities and shortage of basic equipment, and poor hygiene and sanitation, contribute to unsafe patient care (p1).”

Approximately two-thirds of all adverse health events happen in low-and middle-income countries. Fifteen per cent of hospital expenditure in Europe can be attributed to treating patient safety accidents. Continue reading

The Global Virome Project: Understanding Our Viral Enemies to Create a Safer World

We are pleased to present this symposium featuring commentary from participants in the “Between Complacency and Panic: Legal, Ethical and Policy Responses to Emerging Infectious Diseases” conference held on April 14, 2017, at Northeastern University School of Law. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Health Policy and Law and the American Society for Law, Medicine, and Ethics (ASLME), with support from The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. 

By Ana S. Ayala

There is no doubt that viruses, emerging and re-emerging, have become an imminent global health threat. Starting in 2014, we saw the decimation of West African countries as a result of the Ebola epidemic. Soon after came the Zika outbreak that continues to pose a threat to countries in the Americas and around the world. Since December 2016, Brazil has been experiencing a rise in yellow fever cases , and deaths, among humans and monkeys alike. Colombia and Peru have already reported probable cases. As a response to rising human cases of the H7N9 bird flu, China just ordered the closure of all poultry markets in the eastern province of Zhejiang to stop the trade of live poultry.

Experts warn that the question is not whether but when a pandemic will hit. Unknown or little-known viruses currently looming in animal populations undetected pose a especially dangerous risk–we have little to no experience with them, we do not know whether or when they will spill over to humans, and we do not know where they will emerge next. Continue reading

Newtown: A Public Health Law Perspective

This post stems for the “Healing in the Wake of Community Violence: Lessons from Newtown and Beyond – Film Screening and Panel Discussion,” held at Harvard Law School on April 24, 2017. 

By Wendy E. Parmet

No man is an island
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main

                John Donne, 1624

Like John Donne’s famous Meditation XVII, Newtown, Kim Snyder’s documentary about the aftermath of the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, forces us to reflect on the inter-connectedness of human life.  As Newtown shows with power and poignancy, the victims of that awful massacre were not islands. They were a part of a continent comprised of their families, friends, community, and indeed, all who recall the awful day they were killed.

This inescapable reality, that our lives and deaths can affect and even traumatize others, is perhaps sufficient to proclaim that gun violence is a “public health problem. None of the over 30,000 Americans who die each year from gun violence (most by suicide), are islands. Nor are any of the over 78,000 Americans who are injured by firearms. All are part of the continent. Gun violence affects us all. Continue reading

Emergency Preparedness: Is Quarantine All We Have to Offer?

We are pleased to present this symposium featuring commentary from participants in the “Between Complacency and Panic: Legal, Ethical and Policy Responses to Emerging Infectious Diseases” conference held on April 14, 2017, at Northeastern University School of Law. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Health Policy and Law and the American Society for Law, Medicine, and Ethics (ASLME), with support from The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Stay tuned for more posts!

By Wendy K. Mariner

On August 1, 2014, while Ebola raged in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, Donald Trump tweeted: “The U.S. cannot allow Ebola infected people back! People that go to faraway places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences.”  Most experts agree that epidemics are best avoided where the population is educated, well-nourished, and resilient, with access to effective medical and public health resources. Yet, too often, the first response to the threat of an epidemic is to keep people out of the country or quarantine them. It is worth considering why this is so, and how we can do better.

A New Foreign and Interstate Quarantine Rule

On January 19, 2017, the day before Trump’s inauguration as President, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued final regulations for detaining individuals suspected of harboring a “quarantinable” communicable disease (QCD). Why would the Obama Administration issue new rules? The explanation in the Federal Register offers 2 reasons: (1) responding to the Ebola epidemic and outbreaks like MERS and measles; and (2) clarifying and codifying “current practice” “to make the public aware of their use.” Continue reading

Harvard Grad Students: Apply Now! Petrie-Flom Center Student Fellowship, 2017 – 2018

PFC_Logo_300x300The Center and Student Fellowship

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is an interdisciplinary research program at Harvard Law School dedicated to the scholarly research of important issues at the intersection of law and health policy, including issues of health care financing and market regulation, biotechnology and intellectual property, biomedical research, and bioethics. The Student Fellowship Program is designed to support closely-mentored student research in these areas. For more information on our recent fellows and their work, see our website and check out profiles of some of our past Fellows in the PFC Spotlight.

Eligibility

The student fellowship program is open to all Harvard graduate students who will be enrolled at the University during the fellowship year and who are committed to undertaking a significant research project and fulfilling other program requirements. Although the fellowship is open to all graduate students, including those in one-year programs, we encourage those who are in multi-year programs to wait until after their first year to apply. Continue reading

When a Nurse Needs an Attorney: US Quarantine Policy

We are pleased to present this symposium featuring commentary from participants in the “Between Complacency and Panic: Legal, Ethical and Policy Responses to Emerging Infectious Diseases” conference held on April 14, 2017, at Northeastern University School of Law. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Health Policy and Law and the American Society for Law, Medicine, and Ethics (ASLME), with support from The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Stay tuned for more posts!

By Kaci Hickox, MPH, MSN, RN

As new cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are announced, I am reminded of the importance of applying lessons learned from U.S. quarantine policies during the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak. I watched the suffering of entire families and communities facing the largest Ebola outbreak in history. During my Ebola training in Brussels, I will never forget hearing an Ebola expert explain, “Remember to have compassion because this disease turns peoples’ loved ones into a biological hazard.” I remember the moment I understood Ebola with my heart, not merely my head, when a young woman admitted to the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Ebola Treatment Unit in Bo, Sierra Leone, explained, “Nineteen of my family members have died of Ebola.”

Yet, in the midst of extreme fear and suffering, I also witnessed the profound courage of the staff responding to stop the outbreak. On my last day in the unit we had celebrated the discharge of 39 Ebola survivors. Offering isolation, testing, and treatment for persons who developed symptoms of Ebola was necessary to stop disease transmission and finally, after two years of response, the outbreak was declared over in December 2015! In this globalized world, we must be prepared to react not only to Ebola, but to any infectious disease threat with courage instead of fear, science instead of politics.

How do we ensure courageous responses to infectious disease threats? Continue reading

New Blog Symposium: Between Complacency and Panic – Legal, Ethical and Policy Responses to Emerging Infectious Diseases

We are pleased to present this symposium featuring commentary from participants in the “Between Complacency and Panic: Legal, Ethical and Policy Responses to Emerging Infectious Diseases” conference held on April 14, 2017, at Northeastern University School of Law. The conference was sponsored by the Center for Health Policy and Law and the American Society for Law, Medicine, and Ethics (ASLME), with support from The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Stay tuned for more posts!

By Wendy E. Parmet and Jennifer L. Huer

Public health is often invisible. In contrast to health services, public health interventions usually operate behind the scenes, reducing risks to broad populations. No one can say who was saved, what deaths were prevented.

For public health, this invisibility presents political and budgetary challenges. Without clear beneficiaries, public health has lacked the political support and dollars allocated to health services. This challenge may be even more formidable today as the Trump Administration seeks enormous cuts to public health programs, while questioning settled public health science.

In the face of such challenges, it may be tempting for public health advocates to emphasize the dangers of emerging infectious diseases. Over the last forty years, a multitude of new or previously tamed infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and Zika have emerged, wrecking morbidity and mortality, and causing panic around the globe. During these outbreaks, public health’s importance becomes, at least briefly, all-too-apparent. Continue reading

The First Human Body Transplant – Ethical and Legal Considerations

By Ana S. Iltis, PhD

brain_glowingprofileTo what lengths should we go to preserve human life? This is a question many are asking after hearing that three men plan to make medical history by conducting the first human head transplant. Or, rather, whole body transplant. Italian neurosurgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren plan to provide a Russian volunteer, Valery Spiridonov, a new body. During the procedure, Spiridonov’s body and head would be detached and, with the help of a crane, surgeons would move the head and attach it to the donor body.  But is this ethical? What role might law and regulation play in monitoring them or in assessing their conduct after the fact?

Critics call the plan crazy, unethical, and sure to fail. The likelihood of success is very low and the risk of Spiridinov dying is high. Spiridonov says that as soon as animal studies confirm the possibility of survival, the risks will be worth taking. He has Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease, a genetic disorder that destroys muscle and nerve cells. He is confined to a wheelchair and has lived longer than expected. Body transplantation offers him the best chance at a life worth living. Continue reading

Factory farming, human health, and the new WHO Director General

By Nir Eyal

Last week, over 200 experts called on the next Director General of the World Health Organization to prioritize factory farming in an open letter. Announced in articles in the New York Times and The Lancet, the letter argues that factory farming is a major barrier to better global health. The letter does not make this argument on animal rights grounds – although this argument is certainly strong – but instead focuses on factory farming’s contribution to antibiotic resistance, climate change, and the rise of chronic diseases. These three issues formed the core of the last Director General’s agenda, although limited attention was paid to factory farming, which the authors argue, “connects the dots among them.”

One of the authors is Scott Weathers, a Global Health and Population MSc student at the Harvard T.H. Chan SPH. The other is Sophie Hermans, a doctoral student from Cambridge U. Their letter received overwhelming response. On twitter, their announcement of the letter was the #1 trending tweet on all relevant hashtags for the recent World Health Assembly.

Congratulations, Scott and Sophie!

(I am among the letter signatories.)

Contracting to counter gene patents – a 21st Century solution to access and innovation

By Sarah Ali-Khan and E. Richard Gold

As Precision Medicine becomes a reality, molecular tests are an increasingly critical part of patient care. While patients and their physicians would like to maximize access, they have confronted a roadblock in the form of patents covering genes and methods of diagnosis. Many hoped that the landmark 2013 Supreme Court of the United States decision in Myriad v AMP spelled the end of these patents, but the number of gene patents has actually increased since that decision. This is because, while limiting the availability of patents over genomic DNA, the court decision was narrow, leaving substantial grey zones such as over cDNA or where the patent covers a sequence of DNA used in a particular way. Patent agents have been assiduous in exploiting these grey zones to file for and obtain patents over molecular tests. This development points to continued adverse consequences of gene patents not only in the US, but around the world. Our recently published GiM article Gene patents still alive and kicking: their impact on provision of genetic testing for Long QT syndrome in the Canadian public health-care system’, not only examines the impact of gene patents in one country, Canada, but shows how 21st Century contracting can provide a nuanced and pragmatic means to enabling both access and innovation around patented genetic tests.

In Nov 2014, in the first Canadian instance of a public interest ‘test case’ in intellectual property and public health, The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) challenged five patents held by Transgenomic Inc. over a genetic test for Long QT Syndrome (LQTS), a potentially fatal cardiac disorder most commonly striking in children and youth. Widely reported, settled in March 2016, and named as one of the year’s cases having the most impact on intellectual property, the case produced the CHEO Public Health Access Agreement. The Agreement does not itself alter law– gene patents remain valid in Canada. Rather, it constitutes a contractual agreement between parties to the litigation, allowing for efficient, no-cost test implementation. The Agreement explicitly states that Transgenomic will freely grant a license to test the LQTS-associated genes to any entity providing services within Canada’s public healthcare system. That is, except for a marginal private market, all LQTS in Canada can now be provided free. Continue reading

Genomes on-line and the Health of Privacy

By Effy Vayena and Alessandro Blasimme

Technology Concept

In January 1999, Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle Corporation), announced that we should no longer be concerned with privacy, since consumers ‘have zero privacy anyway’ and should just ‘get over it.’ His argument, that in the era of information technology we have become unable to protect precisely what such technology relies on and delivers (information) has met the full spectrum of imaginable reactions – from outrage to enthusiastic endorsement. Many different cures have been proposed to treat at least the symptoms of the disease caused by the loss of privacy. Yet there is little disagreement concerning the diagnosis itself: privacy does not enjoy an enviable state of health. Recent emphasis on big data and their inescapable presence have only made the prognosis dimmer for the once cherished ‘right to be let alone’ – as Samuel D. Warren and justice Louis D. Brandeis famously defined privacy back in 1890.

Such a deteriorating outlook should sound especially alarming in the fields of healthcare and medical research. In such domains, professional norms of medical confidentiality have long ensured sufficient levels of privacy protection, accountability, and trust. Yet we are told that this may no longer be the case: sensitive, personal, health-related information – just like any other type of information – now comes in electronic formats, which makes it much more reachable than before, and increasingly difficult to protect. Imagine the consequences this may have in the case of genomic data – arguably one of the most sensitive forms of personal information. Should such information fall into the wrong hands, we may face harsh consequences ranging from discrimination to stigmatization, loss of insurance, and worse. To enjoy the right to genomic privacy, one has to be able to exercise some meaningful amount of control over who gets access to her genetic data, be adequately shielded from harms of the sort just mentioned, and yet retain the possibility of deciphering what’s written in her DNA for a variety of purposes – including, but not limited to, health-related ones. All this is undoubtedly demanding. All the more so now that we know how even apparently innocent and socially desirable uses, like genomic research employing anonymized DNA, are not immune from the threat of malicious re-identification.

In light of such considerations, one might be led to think that health privacy protection is a lost cause. In fact, one may go even further and argue that, all things considered, we shouldn’t worry too much about the decline of privacy. Having our sensitive data in a state of highly restricted accessibility, so the argument goes, prevents us from extracting medically valuable insight from those data and hinders medical discovery from which we may all benefit. Continue reading

Fetal Consequentialism and Maternal Mortality

By Nadia N. Sawicki

It is well known that maternal mortality rates in the United States are higher than in other countries in the developed world, and that many of these deaths are preventable. But a report published by NPR last week, just a few days before Mother’s Day, drew a direct link between these poor maternal outcomes and health care providers’ focus on fetal health. The report quotes Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy and advocacy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who said, “We worry a lot about vulnerable little babies, [but] we don’t pay enough attention to those things that can be catastrophic for women.” According to the authors of the NPR report, “newborns in the slightest danger are whisked off to neonatal intensive care units … staffed by highly trained specialists prepared for the worst,” while new mothers are instead monitored by nurses and physicians “who expect things to be fine and are often unprepared when they aren’t.”

These patterns are consistent with what Prof. Jamie Abrams calls “fetal consequentialism” – the premise that the birth of a healthy child outweighs any harm to the birthing mother. The increase in U.S. maternal mortality rates highlighted in the NPR report is certainly a product of such fetal consequentialism. So is the practice of obstetric violence, described in my previous posts, where health care providers dismiss birthing mothers’ informed requests for minimal intervention during labor and delivery in an effort to reduce the risk of fetal harm, even when that risk is minimal. Fetal consequentialism is likely driven not only by providers’ judgments of the relative liability risks for harms to fetuses versus harms to mothers, but also by conservative societal trends (evidenced by increasing anti-abortion legislation) that preference fetal interests over maternal interests. Continue reading

Quantified Self as Personal (Citizen) Science

This post is part of Bill of Health’s symposium on Critical Studies Citizen Science in Biomedical Research. Here, drawing upon interviews with self-trackers, Nils Heyen analyzes the different types of activities that self-trackers engage in and reflects on what kind of knowledge they produce. Background on the symposium is here. You can call up all of the symposium contributions published by clicking here.

By Nils B. Heyen

Quantified Self (QS) is the name of a growing international movement of people united by mainly one thing: an interest in collecting data about their own bodies and lives in order to obtain insights into their everyday health or performance. “Self knowledge through numbers” is the movement’s slogan, and indeed QS can be seen as an emerging field of knowledge production. Less obvious is, however, what type of knowledge is actually being produced here, how this knowledge production is to be characterized and how it relates to both science and citizen science. Based on interviews with self-trackers and participant observations of QS meetups and conferences in the context of an explorative empirical study, my post briefly deals with these questions (see this book chapter for more extensive considerations). Accordingly, my intention here is not to give a comprehensive classification or interpretation of the QS movement as a cultural phenomenon, but simply to shed some light on the aspect of knowledge production and on the relationship of self-tracking and citizen science. Continue reading

Petrie-Flom Center Welcomes New Executive Director!

PFC Logo-New-Horizontal_slide

shachar_peopleWe are thrilled to announce that Carmel Shachar, JD, MPH (HLS ’10, HSPH ’10) will join the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School as our next Executive Director. In this role, Carmel will be responsible for oversight of the Center’s sponsored research portfolio, event programming, fellowships, student engagement, development, and a range of other projects and collaborations.

“We are delighted that Carmel will be joining the Center,” said I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center. “Throughout her career, Carmel has focused on designing, developing, and executing large health law and policy projects. This expertise and leadership will be a strong resource for the Center as it implements the vision for its second decade.”  Continue reading

Citizen Science and Precision Medicine: a Route to Democracy in Health?

This post is part of Bill of Health’s symposium on Critical Studies Citizen Science in Biomedical Research. Here, Ilaria Galasso and Giuseppe Testa share their comparative case studies of the Precision Medicine Initiative and the 100K Genomes Project, examining the kinds of citizen science pursued in precision medicine projects. Background on the symposium is here. You can call up all of the symposium contributions already published by clicking here.

By Ilaria Galasso and Giuseppe Testa

Our post investigates the participatory dimensions in health and healthcare by analysing the cutting-edge approach of precision medicine, its societal impact, its discursive framings and its (potential) contribution to further public health and civic engagement.

Precision Medicine is defined by the NIH as “a groundbreaking approach to disease prevention and treatment based on people’s individual differences in environment, genes and lifestyle”(nih.gov), aimed at “delivering the right treatments, at the right time, to the right person”(whitehouse.gov).To pursue this aim, precision medicine efforts typically work on large cohorts of people to dissect individual differences in health and disease. Thence, massive large-scale involvement of “lay” participants is a key resource of precision medicine initiatives. Continue reading

Citizen Science: Non-scientists enable sampling conditions in ocean sciences

This post is part of Bill of Health’s symposium on Critical Studies Citizen Science in Biomedical Research. In light of calls for stronger ‘crowdsourcing’ oceanic data production, Gregor Halfmann focuses in on the practices of non-professional seafarers who create scientific knowledge of the oceans as a means of shedding light on citizen science practices in medicine and science more broadly. Background on the symposium is here. You can call up all of the symposium contributions already published by clicking here.

By Gregor Halfmann

Outside of the medical sciences, the relationship between science and non-professionals has often developed in a more harmonious and less fraught manner. A consideration of ocean sciences, as an example of practices in the environmental sciences, may call attention to different conditions of and approaches to citizen science, and introduce new and potentially fruitful perspectives.

The size and adverse nature of the oceans, the variety of temporal and spatial scales relating to physical, biological, and chemical oceanic processes, and the high economic demands of operating research vessels impede the continuous production of important oceanographic data. As in other environmental sciences, oceanography has a long history of practices involving professional as well as non-professional seafarers, who create knowledge of the oceans. Yet, in light of today’s digital network technologies and the methodological simplicity of many fundamental oceanographic observations, ocean scientists have recently called for stronger “crowdsourcing” of oceanographic data production, in particular with citizen science projects (Lauro et al., 2014). A common way to characterize the involvement and contribution of people without scientific credentials in research processes is a view of participants being deployed as “collectors” of data or samples; volunteering citizens, who follow tight instructions provided by scientists, resulting in a contribution of materials and data (e.g. samples of water and organisms, reports of species sightings, water temperature data) for the scientists to interpret. Continue reading

Health in the Factory: The Historical Roots of Italian Citizen Science

This post is part of Bill of Health’s symposium on Critical Studies Citizen Science in Biomedical Research. In this post, Giulia Frezza and Mauro Capocci offer a historical look at how workers and scientists shaped a new approach to occupational and environmental health in Italy, asking if current practices of citizen science share the lineages of such radical movements. Background on the symposium is here. You can call up all of the symposium contributions already published by clicking here.

By Giulia Frezza and Mauro Capocci

The radical movement  critique of science in the turbulent decades of 1960s-70s in Italy, is a significant episode that can be useful for a critical reappraisal of contemporary definitions of the scope and the aims of Citizen Science (CS).

In those years, the deep social transformation of Italian society also involved a new perception of science and technology which emphasized that science was not neutral. Far from being a tool for workers’ empowerment, it became apparent that science and technology were ideologically determined. Trespassing the orthodox boundaries of Marxism, a group of scientists advocated a new relationship between science and society, while at the same time workers understood that they needed a new alliance with scientists in order to foster real social progress. An early result of this movement was the involvement of researchers and health professionals in the struggle for better working conditions within the factory. Through their personal experience and developing hegemonic power, workers criticized the traditional notions of risk management and health protection by actively collecting data and pointing to flaws in the existing industrial systems and the science behind them. Eventually, this activism resulted in a widespread science-based “Health in the Factory” movement. At the same time, a large number of sympathetic physicians and epidemiologists engaged in social efforts to create groups and associations that lent scientific support to activists. This proved to be of paramount importance when tragic accidents happened, such as the Seveso and Manfredonia chemical explosions that occurred within the span of a few months in 1976. Such tragedies proved instrumental for breaking “the illusory boundary” separating the factory and the outside world; the impact of what took place inside the production sites was far-reaching. Industrial accidents eventually connected local ecology, the city environment, families, citizens, scientists studying harmful substances in the lab, and society as a whole. These events were a turning point for spreading social awareness, allowing local struggles to turn into national developments, and resulting in the evolution of the public health system and regulations of risk prevention (exposure thresholds, health assessment of working conditions, prevention and management of industrial accidents). Continue reading

Citizen Science where there are no citizens: participation and exclusion in Antarctic science

This post is part of Bill of Health’s symposium on Critical Studies Citizen Science in Biomedical Research. Challenging the lay-professional divide in portrayals of citizen science, Vanessa Heggie examines a case study of an expedition to the Antarctic in the 1950s, where participants were at once researchers, research subjects, experts, and technicians. Background on the symposium is here. You can call up all of the symposium contributions already published by clicking here.

By Vanessa Heggie

The Antarctic environment poses plenty of challenges for scientists, but for those who need human participants there’s the additional problem of finding and recruiting ‘citizen scientists’.  With no indigenous residents, the residents of the Antarctic are a carefully selected population, most of whom are already doing some form of scientific work and juggling multiple identities and roles.  Radio operators take readings for meteorologists, geologists volunteer as guinea pigs for physiologists, and botanists collect rocks. There isn’t a clear divide between ‘scientist’ and ‘lay participant’; often human subjects, whether they’re collecting data or acting as human guinea-pigs, understand the principles of experimental design, and are able to give feedback about the experiment itself, not just the data generated.  At what point do citizen scientists become experimental collaborators? And who gets left out of these relationships? Continue reading