Winnie Hu’s recent NY Times article, “Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging” (July 20, 2011) laments the fact that fewer than in one in three American students are proficient in geography–to the point where they can’t even identify the American Southwest on a map, according to report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The article is rich in irony, quoting Penn State’s Roger Downs, that “geography’s role in the curriculum is limited, and, at best, static.”
That is ironic given the convincing case that can be made for the importance of geographic literacy,” Mr. Downs said. “But it is doubly ironic given a world in which adults and now children have smartphones and tablets that can download maps on the fly, provide directions to places, and give your location to your friends.
The article also cites the concerns of David P. Drsicoll, the National Assessment Governing Board chair:
“Geography is not just about maps,” said Driscoll…who expressed concern that students were not doing better in geography. “It is a rich and varied discipline that, now more than ever, is vital to understanding the connections between our global economy, environment and diverse cultures.”
Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging – NYTimes.com.
Professor Emeritus Richard Morrill and Professor Michael Brown
The Seattle Times has profiled the Geography Department’s new anthology, Seattle Geographies, edited by professor Michael Brown and Emeritus Professor Dick Morrill. The book, which is being unveiled this week at the AAG Conference in Seattle, emphasizes Geography’s unique spatial perspective on the Seattle region’s many “paradoxes”, including:
• Seattle may have a reputation as liberal and tolerant, “but it can also be quite controlling,” Brown says. For example, it has adopted stringent rules about social behavior that give police the authority to exclude people from parks if they violate rules or laws.
• The area has a long-standing fear of big government, but voters seem willing to tax themselves significantly, Morrill says.
• Though Seattle has a reputation as a high-tech mecca, one-third of the local economy is still fueled by manufacturing, notes Professor Emeritus William Beyers.
The book includes article by faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, and addresses such diverse cultural, social and ecnomic isues as voting patterns in presidential elections across the region, to relatively small, such as the politics of locating and building a skateboard park, and what that issue says about social and generational tensions.
The Seattle Times article also talks about the UW Geography Department, pointing to a “renaissance” in the discipline, and emphasizing our accountability to place, field-based research, and community engagement.
The current issue of the American Journal of Public Health has many articles that speak directly to issues of direct relevance to areas of current concern in geography and in population health. “Global Health and the Global Economic Crisis” by Benatar, Gill, and Bakker (pp. 646-653) pursues several arguments, and among them are that 1)global inequities in health reflect inequities in power; 2) the profit driven global economic system is a driver of inequities in health, and of collective poor health; and 3) a new paradigm is needed, versed in ethics, and culturally sensitive, creative, and innovative long term policy.
“The Social Determinants of Tuberculosis” by Hargreaves and colleagues (pp. 654-662) is very close to what I do in Ghana, and brings the understanding of tuberculosis into the realm of social epidemiology, social science, and the movement that has been termed “the social determinants of health” for the past 30 years or so. It is a label that I do not like since it is too—deterministic. I would much rather see “social influences on health.” It does not help to have a biologic determinism and a social determinism competing with one another–the whole problem is that health is not the result of determinism and the underlying causes of either ill-health or good health are not deterministic in nature. Be that as it may….this interesting article reviews the social factors that underlie contemporary TB epidemiology, including mobility and urbanization. In the US, for example, the main driver of TB is the influx of foreign-born individuals, for the simple reason that some are originating from areas that have high rates of TB; thus, percent foreign born, in any area in the US gives that area a high relative risk of having a TB prevalence rate well above the median. One of my recent doctoral graduates in the Department of Epidemiology, Eyal Oren, PhD, discovered a great deal of spatial clustering of incident TB cases in this state, and, based upon chart reviews and medical records, in King County.
The final article that I will mention is a spatial analysis of major trauma and injury in the North America. The article, titled “Trauma in the Neighborhood: A Geospatial Analysis and Assessment of Social Determinants of Major Injury in North America” (pp. 669-677) examines the spatial patterns and clustering of major trauma using GIS and a commonly used clustering algorithm, SatSCan. It is another example of examining health phenomena using the “social determinants” approach. In this case, I would call it the “social correlations” approach. Even if the relationships were deterministic, and they were not, there was no causation established here.
This issue of AJPH is unusually full of interesting articles that will interest geographers in many specialties.
An article that is forthcoming in The Lancet concludes that there will have been a prevalence of nearly 800,000 cases of cholera in Haiti by the end of November, 2011–nearly double the number projected by WHO. WHO’s estimates have themselves been increasing dynamically and are not based on any knowledge of transmission dynamics–in short, they are educated guesses. The reference paper, posted online on March 16, 2011 (www.thelancet.com) is based upon a detailed knowledge of transmission dynamics and interventions, and is a recursive mathematical model by two well known disease modelers (Andrews JR and Basu S. Transmission dynamics and control of cholera in Haiti: an epidemic model. Lancet DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60273-0) Geographers and spatial epidemiologists will recognize that the model is a multiregional form of disease model that is based on the number of susceptible people, infected individuals, and recovered individuals (“SIR” models) that have been the basis for growth models for decades. Moreover, and perhaps *most importantly*, anticipated early declines in cholera incidence in the coming months are predicted to be part of the natural course of the epidemic, and not the result of any specific public health interventions.
Cholera is a waterborne bacterial disease, transmitted via the fecal-oral route, that can progress from asymptomatic stages to death within a period of less than 18-24 hours. The only effective treatment is oral or intravenous rehydration using physiologically balanced water/electrolyte solutions–with the electrolytes in clean water only. When available, this can be combined with oral or IV doxycycline, ciprofloxacin, or other appropriate antibiotics. Oral rehydration in this form–a fundamentally simple and low-tech treatment–was devised by Dr. Richard Cash of the Harvard School of Public Health, credited with saving millions of lives.