Thursday, March 15, 2012

Procrastinate and review

If you want to review some topics from the class in a painless and social way then why not get together with some friends to watch and discuss Steven Soderbergh's movie Contagion that came out in Fall 2011? (I just checked and it isn't on Netflix on demand but it is on Amazon instant video for $1.99 for a 48 hour rental).

As a movie I think it is decent, but not great, but what is interesting is that it takes its science very seriously. So much so that at least two science outlets wrote reviews praising the movie for this. Whether it is the origin of the virus, the importance of R0, how vaccines are made (and the difference between live, attenuated and dead vaccines), or the importance of fomites the film gets it right.

Contagion doesn't skimp on science at New Scientist
Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Burns practice what is in effect very successful science communication: they keep the viewer's attention as they explain statistics like the all-important R0 - the average number of people an infected person infects - and truths about the scientific process, such as the fact that before researchers can study a virus, they need to figure out how to grow it in cell cultures in the lab, without the virus destroying all the cells.
Contagion, the Movie: An Expert Medical Review at Medscape
The moviemakers did a very good job of illustrating how Southeast Asia can essentially serve as a "genetic reassortment laboratory" with influenza strains being created as a combination event among strains from pigs and chickens (and in this case, bats) to create a strain that the population has never seen before. They do a very good job of explaining that possibility and in showing how easy the virus can spread from one person to another. In fact, in bringing up the concept of contagiousness as "R0," they compare the R0 of influenza, polio, and smallpox. It's very interesting that they were willing to spend time explaining what contagiousness means.

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