Prof. David Jones (Harvard University): The Lost War on Heart Disease? Historical Lessons from a Resurgent Epidemic

Professor David Jones is visiting the Science Studies Colloquium Series. Trained in psychiatry and history of science, David Jones is the Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine at Harvard University. His research has focused on the causes and meanings of health inequalities (Rationalizing Epidemics: Meanings and Uses of American Indian Mortality since 1600) and the history of decision making in cardiac therapeutics (Broken Hearts: The Tangled History of Cardiac Care, 2013). He is currently at work on three other histories, of the evolution of coronary artery surgery, of heart disease and cardiac therapeutics in India, and of the threat of air pollution to health. His teaching at Harvard College and Harvard Medical School explores the history of medicine, medical ethics, and social medicine.
The seminar is open for everyone!
Coronary artery disease became the leading cause of death worldwide in the twentieth century. In the 1950s, however, CAD mortality began to fall, first in California, and then throughout the United States and in other high income countries from New Zealand to Norway. Mortality rates fell 50 percent in many countries, one of the great accomplishments of modern public health and medicine. In the 1990s, however, disease surveillance programs began to detect signs that the decline of CAD had slowed or plateaued. In some populations the decline has reversed. Life expectancy in the United States has now decreased for the first time in over a century. Health officials similarly fear an impending epidemic of dementia, despite evidence that the incidence of that disease has recently begun to decline. How should these public health fears be assessed? How should health policy priorities be set? I will trace the history of disease decline and resurgence to identify patterns in how public health officials create data and craft them into powerful narratives of progress or pessimism. This perspective can help us to interpret the narratives that circulate today.
Published Aug. 29, 2018 12:20 PM - Last modified Jan. 15, 2019 6:01 PM