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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Perspectives in Medical Humanities: Essays and Articles

The University of California Medical Humanities Consortium was founded in January 2010 through a grant from UC’s Office of the President, establishing it as a Multicampus Research Program. Recognizing that the medical humanities was pursued at multiple UC medical schools and health science centers, faculty directors from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and UCSF can now support collaborative student research projects, publications, and resources for courses and public events.

Our aim is to have a substantial record of achievement and innovation in particular themes that we collectively pursue through our allocated research funding at the end of our five year grant period. We then hope to expand our efforts to include faculty and students at the remaining UC health science centers to promote an even more rigorous and representative approach to supporting humanism in medicine and health science education.

Cover page of Population Disease Prevention Under Sovereign and Disciplinary Pandemic Authority

Population Disease Prevention Under Sovereign and Disciplinary Pandemic Authority

(2020)

The history of collective action aimed at disease prevention amongst populations is replete with complexity in the operation of political power which has transformed in its deployment over time. This article draws upon examples from pre-modern and from modern European states to examine variations in the operation of biopower under pandemic authority. It concludes by contextualizing comparable models of political authority responding to the contemporary COVID-19 pandemic including the operation of pandemic biopower in the United States.

Cover page of Unmasking History: Who Was Behind the Anti-Mask League Protests During the 1918 Influenza Epidemic in San Francisco?

Unmasking History: Who Was Behind the Anti-Mask League Protests During the 1918 Influenza Epidemic in San Francisco?

(2020)

On April 17, 2020, San Francisco Mayor London Breed did something that had not been done for 101 years. She issued an order that face masks be worn in public as a measure to help prevent the spread of infectious disease in the midst of a pandemic. This act promptly raised questions about how things were handled a century ago. The media soon picked up on the antics of an “Anti-Mask League” that was formed in San Francisco to protest this inconvenience, noting some historical parallels with public complaint about government overreach. This essay dives deeper into the historical context of the anti-mask league to uncover more information about the identity and possible motivations of those who organized these protests. In particular it shines light on the fascinating presence of the leading woman in the campaign—lawyer, suffragette, and civil rights activist, Mrs. E.C. Harrington.

Cover page of The Art of Evidence and the Morality of Medical Decisions

The Art of Evidence and the Morality of Medical Decisions

(2007)

This essay looks at epistemological challenges to the tenets of evidencebased medicine (EBM) by focusing on some of the ways that statistical data is presented as evidence. Using a framework from the history quantification and digitization in biomedicine, I discuss the uses of the “graphic method” and the status of producing pictures from numbers. The essay draws attention to the complicated relationship between statistical representation within EBM and the way risk factors are communicated in the physicianpatient relationship for decision-making. The essay questions the position of morality underlying the art of evidence.

This essay was originally presented at Social Medicine Grand Rounds, UCSF, May 2, 2007. Revised with updated references for digital publication May 2020.

Cover page of Neurological Humanism: The Divided Brain and the Unification of Two Cultures

Neurological Humanism: The Divided Brain and the Unification of Two Cultures

(2006)

This paper concerns debates that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s about the effect of technological and scientific development on the “dehumanization” of medicine. It draws on perspectives from neuroscience and neurosurgery to reexamine philosophical positions about the relations between the brain and the mind, the seat of the soul, the divide between the arts and sciences in Western culture, and scientific investigation of “human nature.” Framing the discussion with debates in the 1960s about the gap between science and humanism, it explores the ideas of Caltech psychobiologist Roger Sperry to illuminate a reaction against the molecularization of life and challenges to the intellectual nature of medical inquiry. It draws connections between neurological concepts of the divided brain and the idea that the fields of neurology and neurosurgery might unify what C.P. Snow characterized as the “two cultures” by redefining humanity and creating what Sperry called a “science of human values.”