Thanking our staff, stimulating transformational research and BIOS to the rescue

Thanking our staffbrent-thanks-039b_edited-5.jpg

Last Friday afternoon, we celebrated Brent Wishart, Facilities/Maintenance Coordinator, who received the 2008 SPH Staff Excellence Award. People spoke admiringly of Brent’s devotion to the SPH and its people, his unflappable dedication to solving problems and removing roadblocks and his kindness. brent-thanks-107b.jpgLinda Kastleman choreographed a hysterical skit in which people were calling Brent to do things from all over the atrium—just the way it happens in real life. He has a wonderful ability to juggle multiple balls with grace and agility. I have grown increasingly impressed by the quality of the staff at the SPH and am grateful that I am getting to know many of the people who work here.

Stimulating transformational research

I just finished reading the new report, Investing in Early-Career Scientists and High-Risk, High-Reward Research from ARISE, Advancing Research in Science and Engineering, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The committee that developed the report is a stellar one that included highly respected academics as well as people from the business sector. They call for significantly more attention to developing the careers of our younger scientists and also to supporting transformative research. They argue that “leadership in science and technology is necessary to compete in the global economy” (p. 1). The report makes several recommendations to nurture early-career faculty. It also calls for encouragement of high-risk, high-reward, potentially-transformative research (p.1). “Science benefits greatly from work that has the potential to disrupt complacency and conventional thinking—innovations in methods, instruments and software and paradigm shifts” (p. 27). I am encouraged that many aspects of our recently funded Gillings Innovation Laboratories (GILs) are just what the report recommended to stimulate transformative research. You can watch several GIL, PI’s on our website as they discuss their projects.

The ARISE report shares some themes in common with Saturday’s (July 19) New York Times column by Bob Herbert entitled Yes We Can. He described reactions to Al Gore’s recent speech in which Gore issued a strategy challenge that the United States set a goal of getting 100 percent of our electricity from renewable resources and carbon-constrained fuels within 10 years. Herbert cautioned that “the naysayers will tell you that once again Al Gore is dreaming…” Then, he went on to say something very important.

“But that’s the thing about visionaries. They don’t imagine what’s easy. They imagine the benefits to be reaped once all the obstacles are overcome.” Herbert worries that the United States has become a “can’t-do” society instead of the “can-do” society we once were.

Al Gore is one of the world’s best, most well-known visionaries. But there are many others, and there should be even more. That ties back to the ARISE report. We must provide the means for our visionary researchers and teachers to turn their visions into new ideas, tools, methods, programs and solutions that change how we see problems and ultimately, benefit people (although not immediately for all discoveries). People in public health have a “can-do” past, and we must not lose sight of that, because there are huge problems waiting to be solved—by us!

Check the July 16th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA. It has some interesting articles on race, including one that tracks the history of African American physicians and organized medicine and an excellent commentary by R. M. Davis on the need for contrition, reconciliation and collaboration with regard to race issues. The same issue also has an article about physical activity from ages 9-15 years, documenting the yearly decline in physical activity after age 9. That’s one of our biggest public health challenges.

BIOS to the rescue

wright_freda.jpgKudos to BIOS Professor Fred Wright and former SPH BIOS Professor Michael Schell for their mentions in the current issue of Newsweek. It is not every day that biostatisticians are interviewed for weekly magazines aimed at the public. Wright said that “most of the literature (linking a gene to a disease) is riddled with false discoveries.” Behind Fred’s claim is transformational research. Way to go Fred Wright and colleagues!

I am off Wednesday to Vancouver to my fourth Association Schools of Public Health Deans’ retreat. I am co-chairing this one. It is always a good chance to find out what other schools are doing and concerned about.

Happy Monday. Barbara

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