Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Worth listening out for

BBC's Radio 4 airs Our Lives in our Hands tomorrow night (Wednesday) in which a mother whose son suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy talks to scientists about progress towards a cure. It's on at 21.00. If you miss the original broadcast, you can 'listen again' through the BBC's website.

Radio 4's comedy, Rigor Mortis, is on Thursdays at 23.00. It's a farce set in a pathology lab with fairly predictable black humour, but makes more-than-tolerable bedtime listening.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Life Interrupted

A new photography exhibition, 'Life Interrupted', has opened featuring photographs by acclaimed photojournalist Don McCullin on the impact of anti-viral drugs on HIV sufferers in Africa. The exhibition runs until 10 January 2005 at County Hall Gallery, London and is free of charge. There is also a very good online exhibition which also includes images from 'Cold Heaven', based on McCullin's 2000 trip to Sub-Saharan Africa. The photographs are given context by the stories associated with them (move your mouse over the pictures to access these in the online exhibition). McCullin's work is highly atmospheric and conscience-pricking. Black-and-white still photography presents a powerful vehicle for combining reportage and aesthetic, of which I think McCullin's photographs are exemplary.

Friday, November 26, 2004


Opened this week at the Battersea Arts Centre is 'Breaststrokes', a one-woman show by Stella Duffy after her experience of breast cancer. It's relatively cheap by London theatre standards and it sounds interesting.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Not worth the paper...

The media is often bashed for misleading reporting on medical studies. However, a look at the NHS's very useful site Hitting the Headlines reveals that newspaper reports of scientific studies are, more often than not, accurate reflections of the study. More problematic is the assessment of reliability of the conclusions of the studies themselves. Researchers tend to speculate beyond the scope of their study, or put insufficient information in the public domain for those hard-working analysts at the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (who provide synopses for the site) to evaluate the findings. A recent article in the BMJ urges us to 'Read only the Methods and Results sections; bypass the Discussion section' to avoid being misled by biased interpretations of the data -- interpretations influenced, they claim, by funding from for-profit companies. All this hardly engenders trust in the peer review process. Surely this kind of chicanery is what peer review is supposed to deter? It is saddening to see that the BMJ itself will no longer be open-access from January. Dare I suggest that they cut costs by omitting those speculative and misleading 'discussions' from their articles?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

New Medical Humanities postgrad courses

You heard it here first (or not, if you heard it elsewhere): UCL's Centre for Medical Humanities is planning a Masters in Medical Humanities from 2006. Expressions of interest should be sent to Heather Mitchell.

Kings College London is also planning an MA, this time in Literature and Medicine. Start date is possibly autumn 2005, pending College approval.

Updates to follow.

'Examination' seminar

'Examination' is a photographer-in-residence programme at the brand new Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Last Friday, a publication resulting from the residency was launched: a booklet featuring the work of photographer Tom Wichelow and his students. Tom worked with a group of student volunteers to document and explore, using disposable cameras, both the medical school as a physical site and what it is like to be a new medical student in a new medical school. It's tricky asking students to put time and effort into a voluntary, unassessed course: it's wonderful (and admirable) that this proved so successful. Tom explained how the students gradually became more reflexive (initially the photos resembled Bacardi Breezer 'wild side' ads, but more metaphorical photos followed when students realised that there's more to being a student than pardee pardee pardee). Tom's own work, drawing parallels between the pipework of the building and the soon-to-be-exposed body's plumbing, was very revealing. There was also a provacative series of large-scale portraits of medical students, challenging our perceptions of what medical students look like and how we characterise them.

Also talking at the seminar was Sian Ede of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Sian gave a fascinating talk on art/science collaborations. She started off her talk by pointing out the value of the 'episodic' (snapshot-type recollections as a means of organising the way we think) alongside a narrative interpretation. It struck me that this way of thinking chimes with those of us in favour of 'experiential learning' -- people retain impressions of what is seen and heard which need not necessarily fit in to an overall narrative to have value or make sense.

Finally, Karen Ingham gave a fascinating insight into her work on anatomy theatres. She has published a book Anatomy Lessons based on her photographic work. Karen's project has been groundbreaking: access to dissection laboratories has been difficult in the past, if not impossible. Not only has Karen been allowed to create works of art based on these sites, she has also been permitted to exhibit her work in situ, with special permission for periods of public access. It was good to see such a strong public-engagement element associated with a topic that is usually surrounded in mystique and taboo.

Photoworks organised the seminar and supported Tom Wichelow's work. Thanks to organiser Helen James for an interesting and thought-provoking event.

Official launch!

Welcome to the Medical Humanities blog. It is with some trepidation that I write this, having only conceived the idea this morning. But such is the wonder of the modern technology: think it, enact it, regret it? I hope not. I had been toying with the idea of compiling an e-mail bulletin to alert those interested in medical humanities to forthcoming events, exhibitions, lectures, books, TV programmes, films and the like relevant to medicine. Although only 30 pages in to Dan Gillmor's excellent book, We the Media, it has persuaded me that blogging is the future face of new media -- potentially far more interesting and provocative than a bulletin or a newsgroup. I invite anyone, anywhere with anything to impart that might be of interest to the social and cultural context of medicine to participate. We have a real opportunity here to collaborate, share resources and pool ideas. I also intend this to be a RUR (really useful resource) so I'll be posting information about events here, and reviews if possible. The more views the better, so don't hold back. Anyone can respond to a message. To be given access to post your own blogs on this site, e-mail me.