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.

January 28, 2022

In today’s AI Health Roundup: tracking years of work in medical AI and machine learning; considering data ethics for mathematicians; neurological consequences of COVID; new antivirals will be needed for COVID in future; OpenAlex debuts research database; digital medicine and targeted ads; practice-base research networks struggle in COVID’s wake; inclusivity and bias in human-machine interactions; AI forays into breakfast cereal, much more:

Deep Breaths

Photograph of a bowl of cereal flakes in milk, with flakes scattered over the top of the table. Image credit: Nyana Stoica/Unsplash. URL:
Image credit: Nyana Stoica/Unsplash
  • Until we got all the way down to “Gudgetz Tallow Rods,” we weren’t 100% sure that these AI-generated breakfast cereal names (thanks to whom else but Janelle Shae at AI Weirdness) were not, in fact, actual products.
  • “Eight silver and gold tubes held in a Russian museum have long been thought to have been either ceremonial staffs or canopy supports. In reality, the long tubes are the oldest surviving drinking straws, researchers say.” An article in Science News by Bruce Bower demonstrates that fancy drinking straws are not exactly a new phenomenon.
  • Some “musical gratitude for healthcare workers,” courtesy of cellist Yo-Yo Ma.


Telescope image taken from the Hubble Space Telescope Ultra Deep Field, a long exposure that reveals an enormous swarm of galaxies in a relatively small patch of sky. Image credit: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope. URL:
Image credit: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope
  • “Isophotes are widely used in astronomy to delineate galaxies as ellipses contained within a boundary of uniform intensity light. In CT imaging, we can observe “isophotes” by narrowing the display window width to zero and varying the window level.” A commentary article in Radiology: Artificial Intelligence by Michael W. Vannier describes how radiologists are adapting a tool that astronomers use to evaluate distant galaxies to provide improved COPD diagnosis.
  • “Despite striking advances, the field of medical AI faces major technical challenges, particularly in terms of building user trust in AI systems and composing training datasets. Questions also remain about the regulation of AI in medicine and the ways in which AI may shift and create responsibilities throughout the healthcare system, affecting researchers, physicians and patients alike.” A review article by Rajpurkar and colleagues in Nature Medicine offers a summary of 2 years of close tracking of developments in medical applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • “In this paper, we generalize the existing work to offer fair treatment guarantees to both sides of the market simultaneously, at a calculated worst case drop to operator profit….our algorithms have theoretical guarantees and have adjustable parameters that can be tuned as desired to balance the trade-off between the utilities of the three sides.” A preprint by Esmaeili and colleagues available at arXiv examines the optimization of matching algorithms – such as those used by crowdsourcing apps and rideshares – for fairness that balances the needs of clients, customers and platform operators.
  • “The mathematical, statistical, and computational sciences are not divorced from society. Our research does not occur in a vacuum, especially when we apply our algorithms and other methods to social systems.” A book chapter by Mason A. Porter posted to arXiv provides a “Non-Expert’s Introduction to Data Ethics for Mathematicians.” (H/T @arXiv_Daily).
  • “IBM said Friday it will sell the core data assets of its Watson Health division to a San Francisco-based private equity firm, marking the staggering collapse of its ambitious artificial intelligence effort that failed to live up to its promises to transform everything from drug discovery to cancer care.” STAT News’ Casey Ross reports [subscription required] on the sale of IBM’s Watson Health, announced earlier this week.
  • “Computer engineers and radiologists at Duke University have developed an artificial intelligence platform to analyze potentially cancerous lesions in mammography scans to determine if a patient should receive an invasive biopsy. But unlike its many predecessors, this algorithm is interpretable, meaning it shows physicians exactly how it came to its conclusions.” In an article for the Duke Pratt School of Engineering news site, Ken Kingery describes an AI that interprets mammography findings while working outside of the “black box” that makes it impossible to understand exactly how some AIs arrive at their conclusions.
  • “The human in HMI implies inclusion regardless of ability, ethnicity, race, or social class, but the current research paradigm shows many examples of exclusion. The processes and procedures that govern HMI do not account for the heterogeneity that exists in human beings included in the data. However, a design science paradigm can inform the creation of the interfaces between humans and machines and their embedding in our natural, virtual, psychological, economic, and social environment.” A perspective article in Science by Tahira Reid and James Gibert plumbs issues of inclusivity and bias in human-machine interactions.


Photograph taken from directly above a toddler dressed in a shirt with pink stripes, sitting at a table, eating cereal from a bowl. Image credit: Providence Doucet/Unsplash
Image credit: Providence Doucet/Unsplash
  • “…using a randomized control trial design, we offer evidence on this correlation vs. causation debate by showing that an intervention designed to reduce poverty appeared to cause changes in children’s brain functioning in ways that have been linked to subsequent higher cognitive skills.” An article by Troller-Renfree and colleagues published in PNAS this week reports on findings from a randomized study that suggest an intervention designed to reduce poverty may be correlated with changes in infant brain activity.
  • “…I ran this argument past several ethicists, clinicians, and public-health practitioners. Many of them sympathized with the exasperation and fear behind the sentiment. But all of them said that it was an awful idea—unethical, impractical, and founded on a shallow understanding of why some people remain unvaccinated.” The Atlantic’s Ed Yong confronts a troubling trend: the suggestion that people who have not been vaccinated for COVID should be deprioritized for medical care – or denied certain kinds of care altogether.
  • “With millions of individuals affected, nervous system complications pose public health challenges for rehabilitation and recovery and for disruptions in the workforce due to loss of functional capacity. There is an urgent need to understand the pathophysiology of these disorders and develop disease-modifying therapies.” A perspective article published in Science by Serena Spudich and Avindra Nath considers the potential neurological effects – both acute and long-term – of COVID infection.
  • “Despite remarkable recent advances in the treatment of heart failure, the high cost of care limits delivery of effective care….This review sponsored by HFSA describes the economic burden of heart failure, providing a summary of evidence for the cost-effectiveness of drugs, devices, diagnostic tests, hospital care, and transitions of care for patients with heart failure.” A review article by Heidenreich and colleagues published in the Journal of Cardiac Failure examines the economic burdens of heart failure.
  • “She didn’t know it then, about seven years ago, but her classroom contained some of the highest levels of toxic chemicals found at Sky Valley. Inspections and environmental testing across campus found an amalgam of harmful environmental conditions, including very high levels of carbon dioxide, poor air ventilation and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a banned, synthetic chemical that the Environmental Protection Agency has linked to some cancers and other illnesses.” A Seattle Times/ProPublica investigation by Lulu Ramadan reports on how a regulatory short-circuit allowed students and staff at a public school to be subjected to known chemical toxicities over the course of many years.
  • “Another major milestone arrived at the end of the year, with the approval of two oral antiviral treatments — molnupiravir and Paxlovid — that promise to reduce the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. But as these pills slowly make their way into pharmacies worldwide, researchers are already looking ahead to the drugs that could supersede them.” At Nature, Max Kozlov reports on the scientists who are already looking around the corner to the need for new antiviral therapies to counter resistant strains of COVID.


Nineteenth Century engraving of an imagined scene in the ancient Library of Alexandria, with scholars sitting and standing while reading scrolls or picking them off of shelves. Public Domain image via Wikipedia.
The Library of Alexandria (via Wikipedia)
  • “The index, called OpenAlex after the ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt, also aims to chart connections between these data points to create a comprehensive, interlinked database of the global research system, say its founders. The database, which launched on 3 January, is a replacement for Microsoft Academic Graph (MAG), a free alternative to subscription-based platforms such as Scopus, Dimensions and Web of Science that was discontinued at the end of 2021.” In a news article for Nature, Dalmeet Singh Chawla describes the debut of OpenAlex, a free index of hundreds of millions of scientific articles and publications.
  • “Several examples demonstrate serious problems with inconsistent privacy practices and reveal how digital medicine dark patterns may elicit unauthorized data from patients and companies serving ads. Further we discuss how these common marketing practices enable surveillance and targeting of medical ads to vulnerable patient populations, which may not be apparent to the companies targeting ads.” A preprint by Eric Perakslis and Andrea Downing, available from arXiv, reports on an analysis of advertising and data-sharing practices of health product or service vendors who engage with patients and patient communities on social media.
  • “Amid ongoing concerns over conflicts of interest that may affect medical practice, a new analysis finds that 81% of authors whose work appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association — two of the most influential medical journals — failed to disclose payments as required.” At STAT News, Ed Silverman reports on an analysis that cross-compared author disclosures noted in articles published in JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine with their disclosures as posted on the Open Payments website [subscription required].
  • “Today, researchers spend 10 to 40 percent of their time putting together complex grant proposals. This time suck pulls scientists away from doing real science while it nudges them toward projects that will appeal to peer-review boards rather than lead to novel breakthroughs. More generally, innovation is in a rut. Economists have concluded that progress is slowing down in the life sciences and that growth of scientific knowledge has been in decline for decades.” The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson reports on a recent Silicon Valley trend – the creation of organizations dedicated to conducting scientific research outside of the academia-federal funding nexus.
  • “In a world where everything from your TV to wristwatch has an internet connection, the fax machine has become largely obsolete. But the health care industry still relies on this outdated technology to transfer patient records, fill prescriptions, and more.” Just the fax: This video explainer from STAT News’ Alex Hogan tackles the question of why we’re still using fax machines in healthcare.


Photograph of a folded paper boat on the surface of a pond or lake as raindrops hit the surface of the water. Image credit: Mltodru Ghosh/Unsplash
Image credit: Mltodru Ghosh/Unsplash
  • “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, PBRNs were struggling for funding to maintain research infrastructure and capacity. When the pandemic hit, it rendered already-diminished PBRNs to even worse functioning, such as turning the water off for a bench laboratory. Many primary care practices were shuttered, especially those without virtual care capabilities.” A paper by Donahue and colleagues published in Health Affairs looks out how the COVID pandemic has impacted the system of practice-based research networks – and at what lessons can be learned from that experience.
  • “Existing health care regulation focuses almost exclusively on regulating individual components of the health care industry. This existing regulation lacks the capacity to address how those components work together as a system — a system in which deficiencies in one component adversely impact the performance of the other components.” A post by Barak D. Richman and Steven L. Schwarcz at Harvard Law’s Bill of Health blog makes a case for systemic regulatory change to counter broad failures of the health system revealed by the COVID pandemic.
  • Forbes’ Lisa Kim reports that billionaire Mark Cuban has made a big splash in the online pharmacy business, as his new venture promises access to more than 100 generic medications at cost plus a fixed percentage of profit margin that will be transparent to customers.