AI Health

Friday Roundup

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

November 19, 2021

In today’s Roundup: healthcare professionals buckle under the strain of a second pandemic year; unintended consequences from health apps; GPT-3 livens up software error messages; worrying rise in COVID cases ahead of holidays; reimagining diagnostic excellence; school nurses exhausted; second patient found to have naturally cleared HIV; just how much we owe peer reviewers; Califf tapped to head FDA for second time; much more:

Deep Breaths

Photograph of a clear diamond with dark inclusions of the newly discovered mineral davemaoite in its interior. Image credit: Aaron Celestian/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Image credit: Aaron Celestian/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
  • “Scientists had previously estimated that about 5 percent to 7 percent of the lower mantle must be made up of this mineral, Tschauner says. But it’s fiendishly difficult to directly observe such deep-Earth minerals. That’s because minerals that are stable in the intense pressures of the lower mantle — which extends all the way to 2,700 kilometers below Earth’s surface — begin to rearrange their crystal structures as soon as the pressure lets up.” Science News’ Carolyn Gramling reports on the recent discovery of davemaoite – a hypothesized mineral whose putative haunts – deep in the Earth’s mantle – largely precluded it from direct study until a sample was found encased within the crystalline structure of a diamond.
  • A marvelous YouTube video by the Vaccine Makers Project provides a vivid animated explanation of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects host cells, and how mRNA vaccines work with the body’s immune machinery to protect against that infection (H/T @SamIAm2021MD).


Posed photograph showing a small toy robot standing on the keys of a laptop computer. Image credit: Jem Sahagun/Unsplash
Image credit: Jem Sahagun/Unsplash
  • “You gave the wrong url; your order cannot be completed; we shall instigate a reckoning; we cannot be held responsible; we cometh to judge you…” At her blog AI Weirdness, Janelle Shae turns the GPT-3 natural language processing AI loose on those singularly unilluminating software error messages that crop up from time to time. The results, are if nothing else, dramatic.
  • “Essentially, federated learning works by uploading certain prediction models to these servers where patient data are kept — and bringing the algorithms back to a central location, fine-tuning the models as needed, uploading the new and improved prediction models back to the servers — and repeating the process.” Endpoints News’ Paul Schloesser and John Carroll report on Sanofi’s move to tap the potential of machine learning in improving the clinical development process.
  • “While EVV systems are a workplace management tool in principle, they operate within a service context where the electronic monitoring of workers also indirectly tracks their clients’ activities and movements. The author finds that monitoring through EVV systems not only evokes privacy concerns, but also creates an atmosphere of ambient criminalization that has had a chilling effect on disabled and older people’s daily lives.” A Data & Society report authored by Alexandra Mateescu and published this week examines how a mobile app created by Medicare called Electronic Visit Verification, or EVV, can potentially create problems for some users and subject home health workers to indirect surveillance.
  • “From the point of view of practical applications, there are many opportunities to put state-of-the-art machine learning models to good use, tackling problems in physical sciences whenever large amounts of data are involved, such as in fluid mechanics, high-energy physics or weather forecasting. An active topic is the use of machine learning models to learn the mathematical rules, in the form of partial differential equations, that underlie complex dynamic phenomena such as turbulence.” An editorial in Nature Machine Intelligence plumbs the connections between physics and machine learning.
  • “Amidst warnings from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation about hacking groups and news from the Department of Justice about ransomware-related arrests, an adage has begun to be repeated among cybersecurity professionals: It’s not ‘if’ an attack will happen, but ‘when.’…And 2021 has been a particularly dire year for healthcare data breaches, with incidents taking down networks for weeks at a time and potentially leading to disruptions of care throughout the country.” At Healthcare IT News, Kat Jerich passes in review the biggest healthcare-related data breaches of the year (so far).


Photograph of hand emerging from beneath the water, holding a lighted sparkler. Image credit: Kristopher Roller/Unsplash
Image credit: Kristopher Roller/Unsplash
  • “Since COVID-19 first pummeled the U.S., Americans have been told to flatten the curve lest hospitals be overwhelmed. But hospitals have been overwhelmed. The nation has avoided the most apocalyptic scenarios, such as ventilators running out by the thousands, but it’s still sleepwalked into repeated surges that have overrun the capacity of many hospitals, killed more than 762,000 people, and traumatized countless health-care workers.” The Atlantic’s Ed Yong puts a spotlight on a quiet crisis unfolding in the US healthcare sector: the ominous attrition of healthcare workers across the spectrum of fields and specialties due to the enormous pressures exerted by the COVID pandemic.
  • …and in related news: The New York Times’ Emily Anthes reports on the stresses being felt by many school nurses, many of whom are buckling under the combined strain of responding to a pandemic amid straitened circumstances while also enduring hostility and abuse from parents: “Throughout the pandemic, schools have been flash points, the source of heated debates over the threat the virus poses and the best way to combat it. School nurses are on the front lines. They play a crucial role in keeping schools open and students safe but have found themselves under fire for enforcing public health rules that they did not make and cannot change.”
  • “Patients come with pain, risk, or concern, and their desire, for the most part, is not only explanation but also relief. Few patients who had to choose between knowing what is wrong and relief of their symptoms and distress would choose the former. Significant relief doubtlessly often does come from the resolution of uncertainty; not knowing can be painful. But the physician’s degree of satisfaction in being able to attribute a patient’s symptom to a cause or a known pattern is an incomplete reflection of the patient’s aims.” In a viewpoint article published this week in JAMA, Donald Berwick contrasts physician-centered and patient-centered perspectives on “diagnostic excellence.” (H/T @chrishendel)
  • “It can be a little tricky to study what happened in someone’s body nearly a decade ago. What’s left is the memory of the immune response the Esperanza Patient once mounted. Many of the immune system’s players are transient molecules, and unearthing evidence of them now may prove nearly impossible — like trying to find a fossil of a jellyfish or a flatworm. But Deeks said comparing her DNA or immune cell gene expression to other patients’ might reveal something interesting.” STAT News’ Megan Molteni has the story of a patient – only the second known thus far – who appears to have mounted a natural immune response that has entirely cleared her system of HIV.
  • “Two-thirds of Americans plan to have Thanksgiving gatherings that resemble their pre-pandemic festivities, according to recent Monmouth University polling. But as cases rise, travel and indoor celebrations will put the millions of unvaccinated Americans at risk.” This is not so great: with the Thanksgiving holiday in the offing, US COVID cases are trending upward. Axios’ Caitlin Owens and Kavya Beheraj report.
  • “The increase was driven mainly by fear (including fear of infection), loneliness and, later in the pandemic, concerns about physical health. Relationship issues, economic problems, violence and suicidal ideation, however, were less prevalent than before the pandemic.” A research article published in Nature by Brullhart and colleagues uses international data from helpline telephone calls to create a window into mental health concerns during the COVID pandemic.
  • “The researchers found that US women who are pregnant or were pregnant in the past 42 days (the post-partum period) die by homicide at more than twice the rate that they die of bleeding or placental disorders — the leading causes of what are usually classified as pregnancy-related deaths. Also, becoming pregnant increases the risk of death by homicide: between the ages of 10 and 44 years, women who are pregnant or had their pregnancy end in the past year are killed at a rate 16% higher than are women who are not pregnant.” Nature’s Nidhi Subbaraman covers recent (and disturbing) findings, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology by Wallace and colleagues, that implicate homicide as a top cause of maternal deaths in the US.


Close-up photograph of ruffled stack of hundred-dollar bills. Image credit: Pepi Stojanovski/Unsplash
Image credit: Pepi Stojanovski/Unsplash
  • “We found that the total time reviewers globally worked on peer reviews was over 100 million hours in 2020, equivalent to over 15 thousand years. The estimated monetary value of the time US-based reviewers spent on reviews was over 1.5 billion USD in 2020.” In an article published in the journal Research Integrity and Peer Review, Aczel and colleagues attempt to tot up the hypothetical tab for peer review if researchers were actually charging for their services.
  • A recent survey by the Pew Research Center that examined the habits of adult Twitter users finds that “…a relatively small share of highly active users produce the vast majority of content” and that the most active users are less likely to perceive a problem with the tenor of discourse on the platform.
  • “America is in a crisis of trust and truth. Bad information has become as prevalent, persuasive, and persistent as good information, creating a chain reaction of harm. It makes any health crisis more deadly. It slows down response time on climate change. It undermines democracy.” This week, the Aspen Institute released its “Final Report” from the Commission on Information Disorder, an expert group that Aspen convened to address the growing problem of misinformation and its corrosive effects on civil society. The report includes detailed summaries of its findings and offers a set of recommendations for ameliorating the problem.
  • “After reading one hundred abstracts from the publications in our data, randomly selected from the whole spectrum of disciplines, we arrived at a hypothesis: Male researchers more often engage in research aimed at scientific progress, while female researchers more often engage in research that alongside scientific progress aims at societal progress.” In a blog article posted at the London School of Economics, Lin Zhang and Gunnar Sivertsen dissect the gender imbalance in scholarly citations in search of the underlying causes of the disparity.
  • “As tempting as it is to avoid the conversations, they can be important. 30% of unvaccinated adults change their minds because of family and friends. You probably shape loved ones’ thoughts more than you know.” At Poynter, Al Tompkins discusses some possible approaches to navigating a new addition to the list of dreaded Thanksgiving dinner arguments: acrimonious disputes over COVID vaccination.


Time-lapse photograph of motor traffic on a highway showing streaks of colored lights from car headlamps and taillights. Image credit: Harrison Kugler/Unsplash
Image credit: Harrison Kugler/Unsplash
  • “The introduction of self-driving vehicles, and the digital code on which they depend, could reorder the culture and concrete of our roads, by flattening the multidimensional rules of the road, hardening rules that are currently soft and standardising across diverse contexts. Future rule changes to accommodate self-driving vehicles may enable increases in safety and accessibility, but the trade-offs demand democratic debate.” A paper by Tennant and colleagues appearing in Frontier in Sustainable Cities goes beyond the narrower technical focus on self-driving vehicles to consider the larger societal contexts in which these new technologies will necessarily be embedded.
  • “As the FDA considers many consequential decisions around vaccine approvals and more, it is mission critical that we have a steady, independent hand to guide the FDA. I am confident Dr. Califf will ensure that the FDA continues its science and data driven decision-making.” After months of speculation, President Biden announces that he will be nominating former FDA Commissioner Robert Califf to again head the agency.
  • “The Federal Trade Commission earlier this month created an entirely new role for AI Now co-founder Meredith Whittaker, who will serve as senior adviser on AI for an agency where tech staff has been in flux despite a mission to get tougher on tech. AI Now alumna Rashida Richardson — a law professor who served as director of policy research for the group and has a background studying the impact of AI systems like predictive policing tools — joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in July as senior policy adviser for data and democracy.” At Protocol, Kate Kaye weighs the likely impact on federal policy governing artificial intelligence that AI Now’s Meredith Whittaker and Rashida Richardson will have upon joining the Biden administration.
  • “CMS officials said Friday that Aduhelm was responsible for about half of the rise in Part B premiums, according to the Associated Press. Though the CMS is still determining how it will cover Aduhelm under Part B, the agency said the prospect of paying for Aduhelm at all required ‘additional contingency reserves.’” Ars Technica’s Beth Mole reports that Medicare Part B premiums appear to be headed up by a significant amount in 2022, largely in anticipation of the possibility that Medicare will be providing coverage for a recently approved, expensive, and controversial Alzheimer disease therapy. In other Aduhlem news, Biopharma Dive reports that the European Medicines Agency panel responsible for approving new therapeutics for use in the EU is unlikely to approve Aduhelm, based on preliminary votes of panel members (H/T @GarySchwitzer).