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Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 1: Background

Over the next week, I have the pleasure of welcoming Jonathan Smith, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, and a current lecturer in Global Health, to the Blog. Jonathan has been working on a documentary about his research entitled “They Go To Die“, and over the next week, I’ll have the opportunity to talk to Jonathan about his experiences making this movie.

The interview is split into three parts: Part 1 will be a broad background to the area, Part 2 covers the filming experience, and finally Part 3 will talk about the role of storytelling in research. If you have any questions for Jonathan, please do not hesitate to let me know. I’m really excited to be doing this – I believe that academia needs to branch out into other avenues to help convey our message, and this is just one route we can take.

Jonathan has mounted a campaign on Kickstarter to help fund the editing and final steps in making this movie a reality, and if you would like to support him, please click here to donate.

Hi Jonathan! Thanks for joining us (well, me) at Mr Epidemiology. Why don’t we start by introducing you to the audience …

My name is Jonathan Smith and I research TB and HIV in the context of migrant populations, specifically goldmine workers in South Africa, at Yale University’s School of Public Health (YSPH). I am currently a lecturer in the departments of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases and Global Health at Yale, and an affiliate of Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute.

As a graduate student at YSPH, the more I researched mining and TB, the more I realized that another traditional research project would do little to actually solve anything. We can get to the specifics as to why in a moment, but in short I posed the question, “What is the point of public health research if there is no public health benefit?” That’s when I decided to take on the role as filmmaker and create the documentary, They Go to Die. And that’s also when my whole perception of global health changed…

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Contagion and Social Media

A movie poster for Contagion

Last week I ran a story about the movie Contagion, and my thoughts about it. I kept it pretty simple, and avoided a lot of the plot. But in this article, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve watched the movie, or that spoilers don’t bother you too much.

I really enjoyed the movie. I know some people found the movie a little dry, and some found it shallow, but I thought it struck a good balance between believable enough without being outlandish – a fact bolstered by how the producers had CDC staff on hand to act as creative consultants. After all, if movies like GI Joe can have military personnel to help them and make sure the military guys are appropriate, why wouldn’t you have an Epidemiologist on hand for a movie about a virus outbreak? I thought the faceless, unrelenting virus was a great “villain” and drove the action forward with a sense of urgency and dread.

When the movie ended, I was happy, but I was left with questions about the movie’s realism. What would the CDC do if there was such an outbreak? How do they plan to tackle it? Would they use traditional means like the news, or do they plan to use social media as well? They’ve updated their website about it and written a blog post too. But those are rather dry – I’d love to be able to sit down with real EIS Agents and ask them questions.

So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the CDC would be holding a live Q and A on Twitter with four EIS agents.

Continue reading “Contagion and Social Media”

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