Body of Songs

Another great project linking music and health. Body of Songs, also funded Wellcome Collection’s parent organisation, sent musicians into the lab and the clinic, to observe scientists working with various organs of the body, sometimes in gory, surgical detail. When they’d recovered their cool, each musician wrote a song. You can find a taste of them here:

(Originally published by Elizabeth Pisani on April 13, 2016)

If Smiling Made a Noise…

If Smiling Made a Noise

Data visualisation seems so old hat these days. Even Wired magazine is begining to ask “What does it sound like?” rather than “What does it look like?” This week, they’re talking about the sound of smiling. ( But what are we going to call this sounding of stats? “Data audiolisation” sounds uglier than the sound of frowning…

(Originally published by Elizabeth Pisani on April 10, 2016)

World Health Day is D-Day for lobbyists

Greenpeace world health day

Today is World Health Day. Judging from what’s in the Song of Contagion Twitter stream (@songfocontagion), this is above all an opportunity for a lot of lobbyists and marketing specialists to promote their specific cause. Greenpeace has been quite active, because of course you can always make a health issue out of the environment. There’s quite a bit from the Indian government, a lot of it focusing on diabetes (the prevalence of which, we will learn from The Lancet tonight, has more than doubled in India since 1980). But there are also Indian companies trying to convince us that ghee, or clarified butter, is good for us after all.
We’ve got single-disease NGOs all clamoring for our attention to “their” disease, often with recourse to statistics. This from the Mental Health Foundation for example:

Finally, you’ve got marketers of fads and gizmos, all capitalising on World Health Day.

All of this is part of the clamour that leads to really important decisions about what research gets done and which interventions get funded. (Oddly, I’ve seen little today from Big Pharma, who I thought would be all over Twitter — maybe they are promoting their wares through the NGOs and foundations they fund?) If you want to help us make sense of how much influence initiatives such as World Health Day really have, then turn the results into music, please join us at Details of out April 23rd launch workshop — which will discuss how priorities are set in global health, are here:

(Originally published by Elizabeth Pisani on April 7, 2016)

The Museum of the Mind

Raving Madness at Bedlam Museum
Raving Madness at Bedlam Museum

Yesterday, during a visit to the thought-provoking, I was reminded both how far we have come in the treatment of mental illness since the ‘Bedlam madhouse’ was first opened, and how far there is still to go.
At the entrance to the new museum stand the two statues which used to sit over the gates to the old hospital: “raving madness” and “melancholy”.

At the time, these just about covered the range of diagnoses for mental illness. Many centuries later, we have a far better understanding of all the ways in which the mind can be ‘broken’, as well as the different manifestations of mental illness. Today, for example, is ‪#‎WorldAutismAwarenessDay‬; although first coined by a Swiss psychiatrist in 1911, the word autism wasn’t used in its current sense until the 1940s, long after the building that houses the latest iteration of the Bethlem Hospital was built.

It made me wonder: how has the divvying up of mental illness into infinitesimally narrow diagnoses affected those who live with it? Have some types of mental illness or their manifestations become more ‘acceptable’ than others? How much has that been affected by Pharma’s desire to sell drugs that people have to take for all eternity?

(Originally published on April 3, 2016)

‘Unfolding’ molecular clouds in space

Molecular clouds in space – Ryoichi Kurokawa’s ‘unfold’ at FACT
We’re not the only ones trying to use science to make great art. Check out this work by Japanese artist Ryoichi Kurokawa, who’s working with astrophysicists at the Research Institute into the Fundamental Laws of the Universe (CEA Irfu, Paris-Saclay) to unfold the birth and evolution of stars.