Forge Friday Roundup - August 30, 2019

August 30, 2019

In today’s Roundup: crisis informatics; seeking Hamlet through data science; probing the effects of cannabis use; senior citizens deserve slick design, too; testing computational oncology; NIH updates definitions for sexual and gender minorities; the right to access your health data; “woefully ignorant” academics in the era of open science; sawing down lampposts in the name of privacy; imagining accessible cities; justice and the opioid crisis; breast cancer risk with HRT may be higher than thought; much more:

AI, Statistics & Data Science
Statue of Hamlet holding Yorick's skull. Image credit: Chrisreadingfoto via Pixabay
  • In a post for the Social Science Research Council’s Items blog, University of Colorado doctoral student Melissa Bica introduces readers to the field of “crisis informatics” and describes how the raw material of social media, combined with a “human-centered data science” approach, can shed light on how people evaluate risk, manage uncertainty, and make decisions during natural crises, such as those caused by extreme weather events.
  • In a First Opinion for STAT, Mayo Clinic’s Michael J. Joyner proposes a “Turing test” – developed by Alan Turing in the ’50s to determine if a machine is capable of performing functions with the same level of complexity as a human being – for medical AI using obesity treatment as a measured outcome.
  • “I understand that there’s no chance of my being cured. But it is controlled. And that’s good enough for me.” STAT News’ Sharon Begley reports on how Dr. Robert Gatenby, a Florida-based oncologist based at Florida’s Moffitt Cancer Center, has broken with conventional oncological practice by pioneering adaptive approaches to chemotherapy that are designed to foil the emergence of resistance. The central aspect of Gatenby’s approach, which is still undergoing preliminary testing, is the relatively little-known field of mathematical oncology, which models the likely evolutionary response of cancer cells to treatment regimens.
  • A new study by Nouri and colleagues published in JMIR Mhealth Uhealth shows that persons with limited health literacy, English proficiency, and digital literacy face considerable barriers when interfacing with health apps, including those designed to help patients manage their conditions (H/T @CourtneyRLyles). 
  • Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t: Students in Duke’s Data+ summer research program unleash data science on the world of literature to find a myriad variations on Hamlet (H/T @DukeResearch)
  • “When patients have easy access to their data, they will have the chance to use that data for their own benefit and the benefit of others. This could be a transformational shift giving patients more power to shop for their care, to understand their care and to become true partners in research.” In an opinion written for NPR’s Shots blog, Yale cardiologist and open data advocate Harlan Krumholz emphasizes how health systems across the United States impede access to people’s own medical data – often in explicit contravention of their rights.
  • Duke Forge Health Policy Lead Aaron McKethan is quoted in a WRAL news story exploring the uses & limits of drug prescription data (including the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s ARCOS dataset) in responding to North Carolina’s opioid crisis.
  • MIT Tech Review’s Patrick Howell O’Neill reports on recent revelations from Google that a large, long-running malware attack, first reported in February of this year, has been quietly infiltrating iPhones for years – and the size and sophistication of the attack suggest the culprit may be state-backed.

Basic Science, Clinical Research & Public Health
  • Miniaturized (and vastly simplified) versions of the human brain called organoids, grown in a lab by a team of scientists and researchers at the University of California, San Diego, are exhibiting neurological activity sufficiently robust to allow the organoids to be used for the study of neurological diseases. Scientific American’s Bret Stetka reports the fascinating story.
  • “This has all the makings of a public health crisis…ICE has demonstrated itself incapable of ensuring the health and safety of people inside these facilities.” The Associated Press reports on an alarming surge of mumps cases at immigrant detention facilities this year – news that comes on the heels of reports that the federal government will cease offering flu vaccinations at border detention centers.
  • A recent Viewpoint article published in JAMA by Davidson and McGinn addresses controversies and best practices in screening patient for social determinants of health.
  • Provocative early findings published in the journal Epigenetics by Duke University researchers suggest cannabis use can result in the hypomethylation of sites on the DLGAP2 gene in human and rat sperm. The gene plays an important role in neuron signaling in the human brain and its expression is associated with risks of autism spectrum disorder. Also this week, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a warning about the use of marijuana by adolescents and pregnant women, citing the potential for harm and habituation given the increased potency of modern strains of cannabis, as well as powerful extracts containing concentrated THC. And at Undark, Alice Callahan explains how old, flawed, and outdated research on marijuana use in pregnancy has become a go-to resource for proponents of cannabis despite the substantial uncertainties that still surround the health implications of cannabis use during pregnancy.
  • “Ever since it was founded more than a century ago by “spiritist” Daniel David Palmer, who claimed to have received its wisdom from the ghost of a deceased doctor, the chiropractic profession has been rife with evidence-scarce and even made-up claims.” In an article for Undark, Kavin Senapathy examines infant chiropractic – a highly controversial alternative medicine practice described as “horrifying” by the president of an Australian professional medical society.
  • In a research article for Nature, Gage Hills and colleagues propose a set of combined processing and design techniques for developing workable, high-performance computer processors based entirely on carbon nanotubules.
  • "’This is really a public health emergency that has never been treated with the urgency it deserves,’ says Naples-Mitchell. ‘I'm hopeful that, given the attention to Kabwe right now from the World Bank project and this report, that we'll see real change.’" National Public Radio’s Susan Brink revisits a 2016 story about the poisoning of communities near a lead smelter in Zambia and finds that after more than two years and a 65.5M World Bank loan, little has improved for the people harmed by nearly a century of catastrophic levels of lead poisoning.
  • There has been a reduction in the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics to children and adolescents for conditions that do not warrant antibiotic use, shows a new study of claims data by Agiro and colleagues published in Pharmacology Research and Perspectives finds that while inappropriate use of antibiotics in emergency department and outpatient settings has declined over the period from 2000-2016, the declines have been uneven, pointing to a need for additional effort in antibiotic stewardship, especially in outpatient clinics.
  • The National Institutes of Health has overhauled and updated definitions of sexual and gender minorities for NIH-sponsored research, a move that may help highlight groups who suffer from health disparities but presently lack visibility in the world of clinical and population health research (H/T @MedResJourno).
  • A study recently published in JAMA by Shah and colleagues reveals a slowdown in progress against reducing deaths from cardiovascular and metabolic conditions such as heart attacks, stroke and diabetes, as racial disparities continue to confound efforts to improve outcomes.
  • “While a better-safe-than-sorry approach that accelerates child removals may sound like a responsible way to protect children, it ignores the harm and trauma children can experience when they are separated from their families and placed into foster care. New York City must grapple with how and why it has permitted a system to hurt children by believing some parents but not others.” In an opinion for the New York Times, supervising attorney Jessica Horan-Block, who works for the public defender nonprofit The Bronx Defenders, details how parents’ zip codes and skin color dictate how the city of New York deals with their children’s head traumas.  
  • A study by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer published in Lancet reports findings from a large meta-analysis of data collected in prospective studies, suggesting that the increased degree of risk of developing breast cancer in women who take hormone replacement therapy may be approximately twice that previously thought.

Communications & Digital Society
  • “Academics as a group remain woefully ignorant about open access, scholarly communication and the way the landscape of knowledge production is changing in the digital era.” At Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty shares the story of a sociology postdoc whose paper was peremptorily rejected by an unnamed journal editor in chief due to the manuscript’s final version having been made publicly available from the preprint repository SocArXiv – a practice endorsed by the journal’s own policies.
  • Now for something really important: Mother Jones’ Daniel King muses over Washington Post’s decision a decade ago to change its headlines from title case to sentence case, and offers the reader a chance to weigh in on this gripping topic via an online poll. Which will you choose?  
  • “No one wants to stick a golf-ball-size hearing aid the color of chewed gum in their ear, any more than they want to wear a T-shirt that reads “SENIOR CITIZEN”.” MIT Technology Review’s Andy Wright narrates a day in the lives of San Francisco’s “Longevity Explorers” led by Australian native Richard Caro, who is conducting a social experiment to improve the way technologies, including assistive devices and interfaces, are designed for use by older adults.
  • “The Chinese government is notorious for its sophisticated surveillance apparatus, and evading them requires equally sophisticated tactics. Protesters have been hiding their faces with surgical masks and umbrellas, using burner cellphones, and paying for transit in cash. And, for the past month, they’ve also been cutting down lampposts with electric saws.” At The Atlantic, Sidney Fussell examines concerns about mass surveillance currently playing out in dramatic fashion in Hong Kong, as protesters draw attention to what they assert are infrastructural elements of a system for ubiquitous public surveillance.
  • “…pictures of people’s license plates, and their location on a geo-tagged map, don’t just disappear once justice has been served.” Citylab’s Sarah Holder reviews a new app called Safe Lanes that allows San Francisco residents to report irresponsible drivers who block bike lanes to the city’s non-emergency 311 service that can later take necessary action to vacate the bike lane. The potential downside: further erosion of privacy and the creation of a culture of constant informing.

  • In a feature for Undark, journalist Amos Zeeberg reports on the Japanese health ministry’s granting of accelerated approval for a new and largely unproven stem cell treatment, making it available to the Japanese public with most of its cost covered by the country’s universal National Health Insurance. The move has sparked international concern over lack of evidence and testing for the therapy as well as debate over international regulations governing (or not) stem cell therapies.
  • “Hospital estimates are often inaccurate and there is no legal obligation that they be correct, or even be issued in good faith.” As part of Kaiser Health News’ “Bill of the Month” series, Rachel Bluth describes the experience of a patient who meticulously researched and budgeted for an upcoming elective surgery, only to get socked with charges far in excess of what had been estimated.
  • "A booming industry emerged during a 10-year period without regulation, intentionally targeting children, harming youth health, and making claims minimizing harms and purporting benefits unsupported by scientific evidence." In a blog post for Health Affairs, a group of pediatricians and tobacco control researchers urge the FDA to continue regulating e-cigarettes and their manufacturers, taking necessary enforcement measures to protect American youth against their multiple adverse consequences. Meanwhile, BMJ’s Abi Rimmer and Gareth Lacobucci report on the CDC’s ongoing investigation into a death and almost 200 cases of severe lung illness associated with e-cigarette use.
  • “The role of marketing in the pharmaceutical industry is at an inflection point. A reckoning could lead to serious reform. But a settlement deal currently on the table stands to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to achieve little meaningful progress.” Atlantic’s James Hamblin reports on new developments in the Department of Justice’s case against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, which is offering $10-$12 billion in opioid claims settlements (and has floated the possibility of converting from a for-profit corporation to a public trust).
  • “The public realm is the most critical space to design for equity and access simply because it is the largest scale we can work at and it affects the largest amount of people on a daily basis,” Vaughn says. “If we focus on how to design for different bodies in the public realm, we can really move toward creating holistically accessible cities.” In an article for Curbed, Diana Budds describes new landscape architecture guidelines aimed at creating safer and truly accessible cities.