Monday, October 29, 2007

Keep it simple

This is a melancholy week for people in my profession because former Wall Street Journal reporter Jerry Bishop, one of the greatest science writers ever, died last Friday at age 76. Tributes are mounting at, where Jerry's colleague Ron Winslow posted an elegant obituary of his friend and mentor.

Jerry understood the value of simplicity far better than most of us. Ron describes a session more than 20 years ago, where scientists were talking about defibrillators -- implantable devices that shock a quivering heart back into normal rhythm. "Several reporters in the audience asked technical questions about the device and then Jerry raised his hand. 'When the device fires that jolt,' he asked, 'what does it feel like?'"

That is what readers really want to know, and we must remember to ask.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Visiting New Orleans

One month from now, JRMC 8350 students will be walking the streets of New Orleans and encountering the persistent effects of Katrina and Rita firsthand. We'll be visiting hospitals and clinics and interviewing people who are committed to building a new health care system for this great American city, one that functions more equitably and lightens the burden of disease that has weighted down generations.

One way to prepare for what we'll see in New Orleans and vicinity is to view Spike Lee's Peabody-winning HBO documentary, "When the Levees Broke." Vision Video in Athens has mutiple copies at all their locations, and there are also copies in the Main Library at UGA. Another resource is "Health Challenges for the People of New Orleans," a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. There's a link to the Kaiser website on our blog's index page.

Even people who aren't heading for New Orleans might want to see Lee's documentary and read this report.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Drought and disease

If I'd known I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself.

If I'd known we were going to run out of water by Christmas, I would have taken shorter showers and never, ever rinsed dishes under running water.

Today while I was doing what passes for gardening during these dry times -- pruning, removing dead plants, and adding soil amendments that will help if I ever get to plant anything new again -- I couldn't help but think about parallels between preventive care and water conservation.

When we're healthy and the reservoirs are full, we assume it will always be so.

Frightened by a heart attack or the threat of taps run dry, we vow to do better. But when the crisis is over, do we really stop eating fries or get that leaky tap fixed?

It isn't easy to change our ways, either individually or as a nation. You can find out more about how increased used of five simple, preventive health measures would save 100,000 American lives each year by going to That's where you'll find a new report, "Preventive Care: A National Profile on Use, Disparities and Health Benefits."

As for water use, shower with a friend.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Wednesday night TV

I met Adam Rogers when he was a science journalism grad student at Boston University, earning an MA in the program where I later taught. I never had him in class but he was my intern at the Harvard Health Letter for 6 months, and he did some wonderful reporting and writing there.

Now Adam is an editor at Wired Magazine in San Francisco, but more recently he's been working on a TV spinoff called "Wired Science." The season opener is at 8 PM Wednesday on PBS. For more info, see

The teaser indicates a pretty wide range of stories, so check it out if you can.

Local sources

Scout around for yesterday's Athens Banner Herald, sift through the ads for Target and Lowe's and you'll find a slick advertising supplement called "Fall 2007 Health Resource Guide." Hang onto it! The combination of directories and display advertising will help you identify local physicians, dentists, and health services --names you'll need to put a local angle on your stories. Nice revenue for ABH, nice tool for you!