This week in The New Yorker, Atul Gawande asks, “Why do some innovations spread so swiftly and others so slowly?”
Gawande begins his multipage article by comparing the success of two mid-nineteenth century innovations in medical care—anesthesia and antiseptics. He goes on to apply the lessons in their stories to the challenges of establishing safe birth practices in poor countries today. Anesthesia, as it turns out, caught on fast; antiseptics, not so.
“So what were the key differences?” Gawande writes. “First, one combatted a visible and immediate problem (pain); the other combatted an invisible problem (germs) whose effects wouldn’t be manifest until well after the operation. Second, although both made life better for patients, only one made life better for doctors…This has been the pattern of many important but stalled ideas. They attack problems that are big but, to most people, invisible; and making them work can be tedious, if not outright painful.”
The New Yorker, July 29, 2013
In our era of electronic communications, we’ve come to expect that important innovations will spread quickly. Plenty do: think of in-vitro fertilization, genomics, and communications technologies themselves. But there’s an equally long list of vital innovations that have failed to catch on. The puzzle is why.
What will happen to the other 367,000 babies born Monday?
Slate, July 24, 2013
Despite the fact that we formally rejected the monarchy 237 years ago, there was a lot of attention paid in the US to the birth of a new British royal on Monday. While it’s all very exciting that this particular baby was born—and I do wish him well—I can’t help but wonder about the estimated 367,000 babies born (roughly 4.3 born a second) around the world on the same day…Of the nonroyal 367,000 babies born Monday, UNICEF estimates that 24,000 will probably not live to see their fifth birthday. Most of the 24,000 children under 5 we lose a day around the world die from preventable causes: diarrhea, malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, preterm delivery, or lack of oxygen at birth.