A voice of reason in the tornadic health care debate

Cover of "The Truth About the Drug Compan...

Cover via Amazon

Marcia Angell, M.D. (’60)

Few would argue that medicine is in turmoil today. At best, it is in flux. The passage and concomitant discussion of health care reform, subsequent legal challenges and the anecdotal experiences of millions of Americans have influenced the debate that often has turned rancorous.

In the midst of this health care tornado, one sane voice has often risen above the rest. Marcia Angell, M.D., who graduated from Madison College in 1960, has lifted the discussion above partisan bickering into the realms of fact, ethics and common sense. A frequent contributor to multiple prestigious news outlets, Dr. Angell has been and continues to be a voice of reason.

For this credential alone, we might add her to our website as a member of our Be the Change group. But Dr. Angell’s entire career qualifies her abundantly, thus she is our newest face for Be the Change.

Throughout a lifetime in medicine that began when she entered Boston University School of Medicine, the doctor has challenged the status quo, both as an expert in medical ethics and as a woman.

In 1988, after almost a decade on the editorial staff of the New England Journal of Medicine, she became executive editor. In 1999, she took the helm as editor-in-chief — the first woman to hold the prestigious position. She is a champion of medical ethics and has advocated change on numerous fronts, including challenging pharmaceutical companies as well as governmental agencies. This, in part, led Time magazine to name her one of the nation’s most influential people in 1997.

Of Angell, Time wrote:

It pays to listen to Dr. Marcia Angell. In 1992, as the Food and Drug Administration began banning silicone breast implants, Angell, the executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, argued that it wouldn’t have hurt to withhold judgment a little longer, certainly until comprehensive studies on their danger were completed. Besides, the implants had been on the market more than 30 years and had been placed in more than 1 million women.

The FDA did not wait. It enacted its ban, and as a result, thousands of women panicked, leading to a haggle of personal-injury lawsuits. By 1994, however, a series of scientific studies began showing no long-term side effects. Based on those studies, a ruling by a federal judge last year said that plaintiffs’ attorneys in a class action could not introduce evidence or testimony that said implants cause disease. Angell’s 1996 book about the implant controversy, Science on Trial, became an instant classic on junk science.

Angell is a board-certified pathologist who trained in both internal medicine and anatomic pathology. According to her bio:

Dr. Angell writes frequently in professional journals and the popular media on a wide range of topics, particularly medical ethics, health policy, the nature of medical evidence, the interface of medicine and the law, care at the end of life, and the relations between industry and academic medicine….. Her most recent book is The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It, published in August, 2004, by Random House. In addition, Dr. Angell is co-author, with Dr. Stanley Robbins and, later, Dr. Vinay Kumar, of the first three editions of the textbook, Basic Pathology. She also has written chapters in several books dealing with ethical issues.*

Today, Dr. Angell is a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and in that capacity delivers her brand of ethical and thoughtful medicine to a new generation of physicians and health care providers.

You can read Dr. Angell’s profile on our Be the Change website. Here’s the link: http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/people/angellMarcia.shtml

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,986206-15,00.html#ixzz1ICOn1r63



Walter, Watergate, Wisconsin and the lynchpin of education

Legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite speaks a...

Walter Cronkite (Image via Wikipedia)

Can you imagine how interesting it will be in political science classes all over JMU this week?  I, for one, would love to be sitting in a heated discussion about last night’s news and all of the implications of the Wisconsin legislature’s passage of a bill to weaken collective bargaining.

When I was in college, another national issue was equally riveting: Watergate.  As a political science major, I was fascinated. And as if to top off my four years of studying about politics, constitutional law and governments, Sen. Sam Erwin spoke at my college graduation.

But political/news junkies like me weren’t the only ones following the news. The entire nation followed the unfolding story of the disintegration of an American presidency the same way that Americans  have followed the political escapades of Republicans and Democrats over the past year from first the passage of national health care to the challenge to union strongholds.

But the difference between now and then is staggering.

Back in the 1970s, neither television nor radio had hit its zenith. Newspapers were the primary conduits for news. Radio was where you listened to music. Television news featured Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley and Chet Huntley for 30 minutes following the local news. If you missed the evening news, you missed it. You would have to wait to read the next morning’s paper. At the time, the New York Times was a colossus, and most major cities had not one but two major newspapers. The idea of 24-hour news was absolutely ludicrous — about as ridiculous as not having a land-line telephone. There was no CNN. (There was no cable!) No Headline News. No MSNBC. No Fox News. No HuffPo or Drudge. No cell phones. No laptops.

Today’s students have the benefit of instant information. They also have billions of up-to-date resources available with a keystroke. Information flows in ways that were unimaginable only a few decades back. A book that could be secured only by scouring the trays of a card catalog and then stalking endless rows of stacks is now available instantly — as a download — to their cell phones. Within a single minute, today’s student can reference James Madison or James Carville or James Brown.

This avalanche of information, though, begs the question: Do students have time to think? And how do they deal with the onslaught not only of information but technology? Are they completely on their own?

In a fascinating piece in the New York Times last summer, writer Matt Richtel wrote:

For better or worse, the consumption of media, as varied as e-mail and TV, has exploded. In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960. And they are constantly shifting their attention. Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour, new research shows.

The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”

Today’s students unquestionably live in a circus of activity and rapid-fire information. By contrast, by the time President James Madison was 14, he had read all 400 volumes in his father’s library, according to historians at Montpelier. Well, sure, he didn’t have an Ipod, a laptop, 24-hour news or texting. All this begs another question: Will today’s classroom’s be able to produce another James Madison?

Let’s go back to today’s political science classroom. One thing  that has never changed at JMU is the deliberate and corporate emphasis on teaching — that focused exploration of a subject with the guidance of a dedicated educator. Teaching has always been the lynchpin of education at Madison. One could argue persuasively that JMU’s brand of careful and dedicated guidance is perhaps more important than ever.

Dr. Marcia Angell (’60), editor emerita of the New England Journal of Medicine and a senior lecturer at Harvard, said it well: “My daughters got tired of hearing me say that I got a better liberal arts education at Madison College than many of my friends and my colleagues and my daughters got from schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Oxford … because the faculty at Madison was not too proud to teach.”

Think about that! The willingness of professors to engage and to seek out students in undergraduate research, in classrooms, in discussions and more — all for which JMU is renowned — positions students to benefit optimally from the onslaught of information and technology. To paraphrase Mr. Cronkite: “They are there.*” And they are focused on students first and foremost.

The value of an engaged educator can never be discounted, but I would contend that now, perhaps more than any time in history, that kind of guidance, leadership, connection and dedication of the educator is not only critical but essential.

And to borrow another phrase from Mr. Cronkite: “And that’s the way it is.”

You can read all of Matt Richtel’s fascinating piece, here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

*”You Are There,” was the title of a series of history films made during the 1950s for which Cronkite was a frequent host.
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