Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

How Contagion Shows Us The Importance Of Science In Today’s World

Contagion is a thriller about a virus that rapidly spreads to become a global epidemic. There aren’t enough coffins. Gangs roam neighborhoods like ours because police have abandoned their posts, fearful of exposure. Garbage fills the streets because sanitation workers are dying. As scientists work feverishly to understand the virus and develop a vaccine, public panic unravels the fabric of civil society, fueled by terror and rattled by false claims of a homeopathic cure promoted by a charismatic charlatan.
The movie has grossed $76 million worldwide since it opened on September 9th.  It has all the elements a successful movie needs: a just-believable dystopian vision of the future, flawed good guys, an evil schemer, suspense, heroic action…the works.

And while it’s an action-thriller first and foremost, you don’t have to concentrate hard to notice that it also shows:

  1. Why the Federal government is necessary: its authority to communicate, negotiate and work with other nations to solve a global problem; its ability to exert authority across state lines and to marshal resources immediately to protect its citizens from peril with no expectation of profit.
  2. How scientific research is iterative and complicated, not bumbling or malicious. Research is conducted by scientists—normal people with normal lives—who are curious, disciplined and committed in pursuit of their aim: to understand the fictional MEV-1 virus and develop a vaccine.  (Complaints from experts about the substance of the science notwithstanding, the research process is not portrayed as a magical one.)
  3. The difference between science-based knowledge and junk science and the difficulty of distinguishing one from the other, illustrating the unfortunate fact that just because you really really believe something doesn’t mean it’s true.

And finally, it takes your breath away—just briefly during the final montage—when you see the scientist deposit the MEV-1 virus in the Biosafety Level Four freezer, along with the SARS, Smallpox, and EBOLA viruses.  Right then, you can imagine the incalculable number of lives saved through the hard work of scientists, the collaboration among industries, health professions and governments, and the commitment of government workers.

Our country is politically polarized.  The economy is teetering.  Distrust of government and its employees is at an all-time high.  Scientists are criticized as biased money-grubbers. And Websites promise us cures for balding, fat thighs and loneliness for $19.99 or less.

Contagion is primarily a popular movie intended to entertain and distract us. It does this successfully. Its added value is that it portrays for a mass audience hopeful glimpses of what government can accomplish when we recognize that we live in a real—not imaginary—world best understood by the methods of science and free of false prophets who claim miraculous powers that will liberate us from the hard work before us.

    *This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*


    You may also like these posts

    Read comments »


    Comments are closed.

    Return to article »

    Latest Interviews

    IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

    It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

    Read more »

    How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

    I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

    Read more »

    See all interviews »

    Latest Cartoon

    See all cartoons »

    Latest Book Reviews

    Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

    I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

    Read more »

    The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

    When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

    Read more »

    Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

    I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

    Read more »

    See all book reviews »