Sunday, December 09, 2007

Atul Gawande and the Medical Writing Staff at The New Yorker

I've recently noticed that The New Yorker has excellent and engaging science and medicine articles. Of note are three recent pieces about Asperger's syndrome/autism, retroviruses, and preventing nosocomial infections.

In Parallel Play, the author discusses his lifelong struggle with Asperger's Syndrome. Of course, as a child, he did not know he had such a diagnosis, and so he went through life merely with a sense that he was different. It is interesting to see the prism through which he constructed his world in his own words. Often, as students and doctors, we only see a patient's symptoms, but rarely are we able to experience and understand the world exactly as they do.

In Darwin's Surprise, the author explores the role that retroviruses have played in human evolution. In fact, some scientists have been able to go back through the human genome and not find fragments of old viruses, but also recreate them! (Think Jurassic Park, but on a micro scale). These paleovirologists argue that the inclusion of these viruses into our DNA can provide protective benefits against such disease like AIDS. One thing I didn't know prior to reading this is that apparently some scientists argue that humans developed placentas and live birth (vs eggs) as a response to these retroviruses. Something to ponder...

In an article entitled The Checklist (which eventually forms the basis for the book titled The Checklist), Atul Gawande argues for the use of a simple checklist in order to save lives. He describes how the complexity of modern medicine has gone beyond even the most organized specialists and experts. However, by using something as simple as a checklist, medical care improved greatly in several hospitals and the number of line infections decreased dramatically. Written in Gawande's usual style, the article highlights the need for physicians to pay more attention to how exactly medicine is delivered, even if it takes away from the so-called 'art' of medicine.

While all the articles are somewhat lengthy, I think they're all good reads. Check out The New Yorker if you have a few minutes to spare.

Updated 2015-12-07


  1. Gratuitous Gawande reference!

  2. The New Yorker also has Jerome Groopman and Sherwin Nuland as writers, both physicians who know how to tell a story.



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