In “Adventures of a Female Medical Detective,” Dr. Mary Guinan weaves together 12 vivid stories of her life in medicine, describing her experiences in controlling outbreaks, researching new diseases, and caring for patients with untreatable infections. When she first arrived at the CDC in 1974, Guinan was the only female doctor in her class in the EIS (Epidemic Intelligence Service). Ultimately, she went on to become the first woman to serve as the chief scientific advisor to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She will discuss her book at the Decatur Book Festival with co-author Anne Mather on Sept. 3 at 12:30 p.m. at Marriott Conference Center, Room B.
“Adventures” could have been an ordinary memoir or history of epidemiology. How did it become an adventurous detective story?
When I started writing my aim was to tell stories about my experiences in public health so that the public would understand what public health workers do. But as I began each story I thought who would read these stories unless they were both informative and exciting. In the genre of books about medical detectives, journalists wrote many of these books. I thought the genre needed more stories from epidemiologists who worked the epidemics and would give personal details about their participation. And I felt I had a unique view as a woman in an era where there were few women epidemiologists.
How did you discover ways of interacting with men who stood in your way? Your stories show a kindness and compassion towards them that are inspired and lead to unexpected resolutions. You also have a great sense of humor.
I think it was a combination of knowing instinctively that I had to prove myself pretty quickly on the job and an Irish sense of humor inherited from my parents that kept me from despairing when facing gender discrimination. Another thing that kept my spirits up was belonging to various women’s groups, especially the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA). I tried not to miss the annual meetings where we would discuss how to handle various issues of discrimination. And I made lifelong friends there who helped me when I was down. At the CDC, I was one of a group of women who formed a professional women’s support group there that was very helpful in bringing CDC women together to help solve our collective problems. I am a great believer in not complaining in the workplace unless you can offer a reasonable solution to the problem. Finding those solutions was much easier if you had a group of women colleagues to help.
You tell the story of when the CDC sent you to head the team charged with evaluating the condition of Afghan refugees in Pakistani camps after Russia’s invasion. Talk about your discovery that the CIA would be joining healthcare workers on this trip.
Being used as a front for the CIA was not a pleasant experience. I know that CDC was required by the U.S. State Department to provide epidemiologists, but I think I should have been made aware that my mission was not really to evaluate the health status of refugees but to provide access to CIA to collect information at a war zone. War is hell and I tried to understand the needs of the CIA at that time. But one never gets over this experience of being used. I am of the opinion that public health personnel should not be used in war zones for gathering information about the enemy. This practice will jeopardize public health programs all over the world.
Anne Mather is credited as co-author. How did you come to work with her?
When I started writing it became clear to me that I needed an editor. Anne Mather was a writer/editor at the CDC, and covered so many public health issues as managing editor of the CDC weekly newsletter. She and I had both left CDC when I started the book. I tracked her down and she agreed to be editor for my stories. However, it became clear to me quite early that she was much more than an editor and I asked her to be co-author. She has a wonderful understanding of how to communicate public health issues which was invaluable for the book. She also told me to keep writing when I slacked off and pushed me to finish the book when I got distracted with other issues. She is the reason the book is finished.
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The title of Frans de Waal’s new book, “Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?”, comes to us as a question. De Waals, a primatologist who teaches at Emory University, is well known for his research on non-human animal intelligence. He has studied both animals and their human observers and for over thirty years challenged the notion that humans alone are capable of cooperation, empathy and problem solving. His new book is full of stories about how researchers had to look at how they formulated their research before they could begin to understand the animals they are studying. In his book he comments at length about how our views of other species of animals are changing as we as humans become more attuned to how other species process information. A good introduction to de Waals and his work is in a TED Talk he gave on moral behavior in animals
INtown asked de Waals to go a little further and talk about what animals have to teach us. He commented on bonobos, elephants, dolphins, crows, and our beloved pets, cats and dogs. De Waals will read and discuss his book at the Decatur Book Festival on Sept. 3 at 4:15 p.m at the First Baptist Sanctuary.
Bonobos, the primate hippies, the make-love-not-war apes, teach us that violence is not needed to have a successful society. Also that male dominance is not universal, not even among our closest relatives.
It is very hard for us to understand animals so different from ourselves. We can easily relate to apes since our bodies and brains are nearly the same, since we are primates, too. But dolphins live in an entirely different environment, have no hands, but have echolocation and underwater communication. They call each other by name (each individual has a special signature call, and others occasionally use this call to call them), and remember each other for twenty years or more even if separated in the meantime.
One can be quite elegant while being big and heavy. It has been found that elephants not only have a larger brain than humans but also three times more neurons. Until recently, it was thought we had most neurons of all.
Crows teach us that even despised, noisy birds used in scary movies may actually be smarter than we think. They have big brains, use tools, and solve problems that your average dog cannot solve. Think of this before throwing stones (or worse) at them.
Domestic cats and dogs
Since we love our pets, they are the bridge that makes people see how emotional and smart animals are, each with their own personality. Our pets provide a bridge to the rest of the animal kingdom as they open our eyes to general animal intelligence.
Janet Metzger narrates audiobooks and teaches law students how to be persuasive in the courtroom.
Franklin Abbott is a psychotherapist and writer living in Atlanta.