A UCLA cardiologist accused of sexually assaulting three female colleagues was stripped of his medical license this week — at least temporarily — after state regulators deemed him a “sexual predator.”
The medical board for the state of California began investigating Dr. Guillermo Andres Cortes after the Los Angeles Times reported on allegations in February from a former resident at L.A. County-USC Medical Center, who said Cortes sexually assaulted her in a private meeting room at the hospital in late 2015. Cortes was initially placed on leave, but allowed to return before the investigation was complete. The resident, Dr. Meena Zareh, said that administrators at the University of Southern California (USC) and the county did not properly investigate her case and pressured her not to speak out. While the university denies these claims, they represent a familiar refrain regarding the culture of sexual misconduct and assault reported to exist in many academic circles.
Indeed, after it was revealed in April that former Columbia neuroscience professor Thomas Jessell, who helped found the university’s Mind Brain Behavior Institute, had been carrying out a relationship in violation of the school’s policies for years, some members of his department reported having knowledge of the relationship as early as 2012.
As a growing number of students and faculty members around the country — and around the world — are starting to speak out like those in entertainment, journalism, and politics, academia seems to be experiencing its own #MeToo moment.
While many people avoid coming forward publicly for fear of retaliation or damage to their careers, a spreadsheet posted online by a former professor last December details more than 2,400 accounts of sexual harassment, many of which were reportedly met with little or no institutional response.
In another black mark for USC, police announced this week that more than 50 patients of gynecologist George Tyndall, who worked at the school for nearly three decades, submitted complaints of sexual misconduct. While colleagues reported Tyndall’s behavior back in the 1990s, he was not suspended by the university until 2016.
Also in the news:
• Analyzing data from millions of search engine users, researchers at Duke University and Microsoft set out to determine if a disease like Parkinson’s can be detected in its earliest stages as you conduct searches on your computer. Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, director of the Neurocognitive Disorders Program at Duke, worked with the company to search for subtle clues from its Bing search engine that could reveal if a person may have or be at risk of developing Parkinson’s. The researchers found links between the disease and certain movement-related signs like hand tremors while using a mouse or a user’s scrolling speed, and cognitive behaviors, such as searching Bing for the same information repeatedly. As a next step, the team plans to check the data metrics they created with their study by comparing them to the computer-use behaviors of people already diagnosed with the disease. (Wall Street Journal)
• After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last September, the official death toll was put at just 64. Given the destruction wrought by the Category 4 storm — villages flattened, hospitals shut down, power and water lost for weeks or months —the figure struck many experts as absurdly low. Now a study in The New England Journal of Medicine offers a much higher estimate: 4,600. The figure would make Maria the second-deadliest disaster of any kind in U.S. history, behind only the 1900 Galveston hurricane (6,000 to 10,000 fatalities) and more than twice as lethal as 2005’s Hurricane Katrina (1,833). The researchers, from the Harvard School of Public Health, assigned graduate students to survey more than 3,000 randomly chosen homes across the island and ask whether anyone in the household had died in the three months after the storm. The death rate in the sample was 62 percent greater than would have been expected under normal circumstances; the researchers extrapolated that to the island’s 3.3 million population to arrive at a total death toll. They acknowledged that because of the sample size, the actual number might be anywhere from 800 to 8,000 — still 12 to 125 times the official figure. One more telling statistic: The study, published on Tuesday, received half an hour of total coverage on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC; the uproar over Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet about an Obama adviser got 10 hours. (New York Times, Media Matters)
• The stunning cancellation of Barr’s “Roseanne” television franchise this week drew some unusual commentary from both doctors and the maker of the popular prescription sedative Ambien. That’s because the comedian’s subsequent defense of the tweet (which was quickly deleted), included the claim that it was made under the influence of Ambien, the brand name for the sedative-hypnotic insomnia treatment zolpidem tartrate. The pharmaceutical company behind Ambien, Sanofi, was quick to respond, announcing in a return tweet that “racism is not a known side effect of any medication.” That in turn prompted many news outlets to re-visit some of the side-effects that Ambien is known for — some of which do include a pronounced disinhibition. “Unrestrained behavior from an individual that lacks impulse control —things like sleep tweeting, sleep texting,” sleep expert Dr. Michel Cramer Bornemann was quoted as saying, “are all possible side effects.” (The New Republic)
• The number of “drugged drivers” who die in vehicle crashes has risen dramatically in recent years, according to a new study by the non-profit Governors Highway Safety Association, which estimates 44 percent of fatally-injured drivers tested positive for drugs in 2016, representing a 28 percent increase in a 10-year period. In fact, the results indicate that driving drugged is surpassing driving drunk as a risk factor — alcohol related driver deaths were tallied at 38 percent of the total. Marijuana was the drug that turned up most often in the tests, reflecting its greater cultural acceptance and legalization in a number of states. But opioids — including oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl — were also cited in a number of deaths, as well as a combination of marijuana and prescription narcotics. The study also noted that tests found that a number of the drivers tested positive for a combination of alcohol and drugs. The report expressed concern over an apparent perception among marijuana users stopped for drugged driving that being high improved their driving performance, despite studies that show that it can, depending on user and exposure level, impair coordination and reaction time. The report’s lead author, Jim Hedlund, formerly with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the statistics reflect the fact that drunk driving has become increasingly socially unacceptable. The same reaction has not occurred yet with drugged driving, he said, partly because the real impact of it is just beginning to be assessed. But he hopes that will change: “The slogan years ago was: ‘Let’s have one for road.’ Now it’s: ‘Who’s the designated driver?’ I’d like to see the same thing for drugs.” (Chicago Tribune)
• In the fight for passage of a federal Right to Try law, which would allow terminally ill patients and their doctors to work with drug-makers to access medications that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, supporters have held that the goal is to provide hope, not to weaken the power of any government agency. But in a letter to FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Thursday, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ron Johnson, wrote bluntly that the “law intends to diminish the FDA’s power over people’s lives, not increase it.” As the FDA works out how best to implement the new legislation, Johnson stated in his letter that the bill — signed into law by President Trump on Wednesday — “is designed to work within existing FDA regulations, definitions and approval processes. It is not meant to grant FDA more power or enable the FDA to write new guidance, rules, or regulations that would limit the ability of an individual facing a life-threatening disease from accessing treatments.”(STAT)
• And finally: Even expert dermatologists could use a little help from AI, according to a study published this week in the journal Annals of Oncology. Researchers trained a deep learning convolutional neural network, or CNN, to identify skin cancer by showing it more than 100,000 images of both malignant melanomas and benign moles, indicating the diagnosis for each image along the way. Over time, the system’s ability to differentiate between the two types of lesions improved — “like the brain of a child,” said Holger Haenssle, an author of the study and a senior managing physician in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Heidelberg. The AI then went head-to-head with 58 dermatologists from around the world. “The CNN missed fewer melanomas,” according to Haenssle, “meaning it had a higher sensitivity than the dermatologists, and it misdiagnosed fewer benign moles as malignant melanoma.” While the system has some limitations — it has difficulty, for instance, imaging lesions on fingers and toes — and the authors stress the importance of clinical examination, they believe the AI will eventually become an important tool for physicians, one that “will change the diagnostic paradigm in dermatology.” (CBS News, ScienceDaily)