Posted by: drgeophysics | January 23, 2011

Progress, written in tombstones.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for their playoff game, I would like to bring your attention to a great series of newspapers articles recently printed in that  town’s local newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The question the reporters decided to try to answer was: “Given the coal fired power plants in the region this region of northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, is there a mortality effect”?  That is they have essentially done a detailed mortality study using GIS and complex statistical analysis.  The authors are distinguished and respected.  This was a serious effort.

Here is the Mapping Mortality web site created by these two reporters.    This is an interesting and important site and I encourage you to carefully review it.  Watch the videos, and jump to the section showing interactive maps this team created.

The bottom line in this study is that there were around 14,000 “excess deaths” in the region.  This is a very complex subject and the authors of this study have created something that cries out for additional study.  They freely admit that there are many other possible factors, but review the maps, listen to the videos and think about it yourself. I am not aware of any similar study in the United States ever completed. This study should win a Pulitzer prize!

Unfortunately,  an astro turf, billionaire funded “think tank” has already begun to dumb down, as rapidly as possible, the discussion about this subject.  Their crazy talk reminds me of the people who argued that cigarette smoking was healthy for the lungs.  Simple nonsense.  Ignorance is our common enemy.

Public health advances, the greatest being the removal of the pump handle in London by a terrified council at the recommendation of Dr. John Snow, are written in tomb stones.  There is no doubt.

If you ever get a chance, find the book by the late Dr. John Snow “Cholera” in your local medical library.  Look carefully at the two maps he created.  They changed the world for the better.  If you are in London, stop by Broad Street, near the John Snow Tavern and meditate, it’s important.  You can find directions at this excellent web site. The pump below is not actually in the correct location, but near it.  Find the granite marker in a nearby sidewalk showing the location of the actual pump and again meditate on why everyone was wrong in understanding how Cholera spread, and why Dr. Snow was correct.   He only was successful because of courage, teamwork, and intelligence.  It did not take a village, but it took a team, to change the world for the better.  Check the book titled “The Ghost Map“, mentioned in an earlier blog to get you begin to learn about this fascinating and important history.

A replication of the famous pump at Broad Street.

A replication of the famous pump at Broad Street.

In public health, tiny variations in factors, and very complex interactions of known and unknown, are interpreted by understanding regions of life within zones of death and regions of death (spatially) within zones of life.    These spatial distributions shown in the Mapping Mortality author’s maps are begging for explanation.  If industry, government and citizens could cooperate, and focus on this, a great advance could be made making us all safer.   Working in a united way, nothing is impossible.


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