AI Health

Friday Roundup

The AI Health Friday Roundup highlights the week’s news and publications related to artificial intelligence, data science, public health, and clinical research.

April 1, 2022

In today’s Duke AI Health Friday Roundup: estimating the health risks of longer-term space missions; report takes pulse of AI in 2022; no COVID benefit for early ivermectin in Brazilian RCT; dashboard condenses firehose of AI research into manageable views; light pollution’s impact on human health; postpartum Medicaid extension goes into effect in NC; lack of mental health resources to counter effects of racism on campuses; trove of 1950 Census data released; much more:

Deep Breaths

Photograph of multiple old maps in a disorderly pile on a flat surface. Image credit: Andrew Neel/Unsplash
Image credit: Andrew Neel/Unsplash
  • “Scientists in Ms. de Silva’s lab at University College London, along with colleagues in Britain and France, have now arrived at an explanation: People who grow up in predictable, gridlike cities like Chicago or New York seem to struggle to navigate as easily as those who come from more rural areas or more intricate cities.” In the New York Times, Benjamin Mueller reports on research, recently published in Nature by Coutrot and colleagues, that suggests the kind of environment you grow up in may affect your sense of direction – or lack thereof.
  • Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, is an airless, cratered sphere that gets scorching hot during the daytime – and a day on Mercury lasts a long, long time. But while it’s nobody’s idea of a vacation spot, recent astronomical research suggests it may have some tempting real estate after all, given that its crust may be littered with diamonds: “Billions of years of meteorite impacts may have flash-baked much of Mercury’s surface into the glittery gemstones, planetary scientist Kevin Cannon reported March 10 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. His computer simulations predict that such impacts may have transformed about one-third of the little planet’s crust into a diamond stockpile many times that of Earth’s.” Science News’ Nikk Ogasa has the story.


Photograph of domino tiles with colored dots for indicating numerical value. Image credit: Mick Haupt/Unsplash
Image credit: Mick Haupt/Unsplash
  • “…rounding 4.9 to the nearest whole number will always yield five and rounding 302 to the nearest hundred will always yield 300. But this type of rounding can pose problems for calculations in machine learning, quantum computing and other technical applications, says Mantas Mikaitis, a computer scientist at the University of Manchester in England. ‘Always rounding to nearest could introduce bias in computations,’ Mikaitis says.” An article by Rachel Crowell in Science News makes the case that our accustomed mundane approach to number sense and rounding may not serve us well in the domain of machine learning and AI.
  • Stanford University’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI) institute has recently released its annual AI Index Report. Key takeaways are provided as an executive summary; highlights of the 2022 report include rapid growth in investment in AI, ongoing problems with bias in language models, the emergence of AI ethics research into the mainstream, and the increasing interest in legislation aimed at AI applications worldwide. In addition, IEEE Spectrum has provided a quick graphical summary of the salient points from the report.
  • “One problem is the lack of a unifying perspective over the colossal-sized landscape of global AI research. Continual quantification of research characteristics can enable identification and monitoring of shortcomings in this heterogeneous landscape. However, the sheer quantity of published research…makes this a substantial challenge.…In response to these requirements, we produced an end-to-end Natural Language Processing (NLP) pipeline that performs real-time identification, classification, and characterisation of AI research abstracts extracted from MEDLINE, outputting results to an interactive dashboard, creating a live view of global AI development.” An article in Lancet Digital Health by Zhang and colleagues describes the creation of an interactive dashboard that utilizes natural language processing to distill the current corpus of research in health AI applications.


Astronaut in space suit flying free in space using a jetpack, with part of earth visible below. Image credit: NASA
Image credit: NASA
  • “The human system is like any other vehicle system. It requires maintenance and repair just as any other system in the vehicle. Historically, on shorter missions, NASA has relied on strong astronaut selection standards to mitigate medical risk. This analysis demonstrates that the ability of astronaut selection to mitigate medical risk diminishes as missions become longer, and a robust CHP [Crew Health and Performance] System and effective Human System Integration becomes a necessity as longer-duration missions are planned.” An analysis by Antonsen and colleagues published in NPJ Microgravity presents results from a model used to assess the risks of spaceflight, including for more extended missions, on human health.
  • “Why does symmetry reign supreme? Biologists aren’t sure — there’s no reason based in natural selection for symmetry’s prevalence in such varied forms of life and their building blocks. Now it seems like a good answer could come from the field of computer science.” The New York Times’ Kate Golembiewski explores recent research that sheds new light on why nature seems to have such a strong preference for symmetry, including at the microscopic level.
  • “We did not find a significantly or clinically meaningful lower risk of medical admission to a hospital or prolonged emergency department observation (primary composite outcome) with ivermectin administered for 3 days at a dose of 400 μg per kilogram per day than with placebo. We found no important effects of treatment with ivermectin on the secondary outcomes.” A research article published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Reis and colleagues presents results from the Brazilian TOGETHER randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial that add to the growing evidence for a lack of benefit for the antiparasitic drug ivermectin when used as a therapy for COVID.


Photograph of an illuminated streetlight against twilight sky. Image credit: Min An/Pexels
Image credit: Min An/Pexels
  • “…Zee and her team believe that this small amount of light was enough to activate the sympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system — what’s responsible for the body’s fight or flight response. This is supposed to cool down during sleep as the body moves into a parasympathetic state, when the body’s heart rate and respiration decrease.” NPR’s Will Stone reports on recent research that bolsters a growing body of data suggesting that exposure to light pollution during sleep time can have a number of health and metabolic consequences.
  • “Sweden was well equipped to prevent the pandemic of COVID-19 from becoming serious. Over 280 years of collaboration between political bodies, authorities, and the scientific community had yielded many successes in preventive medicine…. During 2020, however, Sweden had ten times higher COVID-19 death rates compared with neighbouring Norway. In this report, we try to understand why, using a narrative approach to evaluate the Swedish COVID-19 policy and the role of scientific evidence and integrity.” A paper published in Nature Humanities and Social Sciences Communications by Brusselaers and colleagues examines the scientific advice that was influencing policy decisions in Sweden during the initial response to the COVID pandemic.
  • “As a group of clinicians, we voice our concerns about recent changes to publication fees. Having coauthored an original article together, we were faced with the dilemma of having to pay £2000 in publication fees. This contrasts with a situation only 2 years ago when publication in most journals was free of charge or only incurred a small administration fee. The situation was further compounded by the fact that these costs are similar across the major journals in our specialty…” In published correspondence to Lancet, Floyd, Stauss, and Woywodt enumerate concerns about issues of equity surrounding open-access publishing, which often requires the payment of fees – sometimes quite substantial – by the author as a condition of publication.


Photograph of smiling mother cradling yawning baby. Image credit: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash
Image credit: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash
  • “Starting April 1, pregnant people on Medicaid for Pregnant Women will have coverage for full Medicaid benefits, meaning they will also have coverage for services such as dental, doctor’s visits, vision and behavioral health care.” North Carolina Health News’ Elizabeth Thompson reports that postpartum Medicaid benefits will be extended from 60 days to 1 year after birth in North Carolina.
  • “…millions of census forms, painstakingly filled out by hand in ink, were posted online by the National Archives and Records Administration, which by law has kept them private until now. The records, searchable by name and address, offer an intimate look at a nation on the cusp of the modern era — for the merely curious, a glimpse of the life parents or grandparents led, but for historians and genealogists, a once-in-a-decade bonanza of secrets unveiled.” The New York Times’ Michael Wines reports on the US National Archives’ release of unredacted raw data from the 1950 US Census.
  • “For a variety of reasons, students of color are not getting the kind and amount of help they need. A recent University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study of first-year college students found that Black students had the highest increase in rates of depression. However, a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that treatment use is lower among students of color relative to white students, even when controlling for other variables.” A report by Kaiser Health News’ Melba Newsome places a spotlight on shortfalls in campus mental health support for Black students who encounter racism at college.