Of all the Great Society programs, Head Start is perhaps the most popular. It provides center-based services to millions of very cute 3- and 4-year-olds, mostly children from disadvantaged families. If members of the public, educators, and policy makers know a single conclusion from educational research, it is that early-childhood programs have long-term positive impacts.
The way we can find out what works is to compare schools or classrooms assigned to use any given program with those that continue current practices. Ideally, schools and classrooms are assigned at random to experimental or control groups. That's how we find out what works in medicine, agriculture, technology, and other areas.
When the beverage industry, for instance, helpfully points out that no long-term, randomized trial has specifically implicated their sugary concoction in epidemic childhood obesity, we might consider that no such trial has ever implicated any given snowflake in an avalanche fatality, either. Perhaps avalanches are actually innocuous.
It's no big surprise that someone untrained in research methods would tell us all what the research really means and why the scientists on this committee -- all trained to do research and interpret it -- are just a bunch of hacks. But that the New York Times would allocate its imprimatur and rarefied real estate to an infomercial masquerading as an Op-Ed is a lamentably disappointing surprise.
The new Congress is working on alternative versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Republican proposals have a strong emphasis on getting the federal government out of what they believe should be local decisions. Unfortunately, the Republican bill in the House of Representatives takes out a critical support for local control: Investing in Innovation (i3).
President Obama's recently released budget may or may not make its way into law, but it has already made its way into the hearts of those who believe that government programs must be held to account for producing the outcomes they are intended to produce. Red or blue, everyone should want government dollars to make a difference.
The trouble with holistic medicine, or integrative medicine, is less the holes that can be poked in it by self-proclaimed sentinels of evidence, and more our prevailing tendency to gravitate to diametric poles. The best way forward is the road less traveled, which lies, as it often does, in the middle.
In last week's New York Times, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel suggested that this year's resolution might be to abandon the ritual of your annual physical. The title of his column, perhaps chosen by an editor to maximize glibness and thus provocation was: "Skip your annual physical." But permit me to suggest you don't commit to that just yet. The annual physical exam warrants some more examination, a defense to follow its prosecution.
Now that Ebola is here, it has captured the attention it arguably deserved from us long ago. The latest news is that the patient first diagnosed in the U.S. is in critical condition, and receiving experimental therapy. Lapses in our public health system have been acknowledged, and a scramble to contain the damage, and prevent spread, are playing out as we look on, and worry.