Dr. Christakis’ Reply
Posted by Miriam Gordon on January 22, 2009
It has taken me several weeks to post this reply, which Dr. Christakis sent almost immediately after I sent him my email (see previous entry entitled “An Email to Dr. Nicholas Christakis”). During this time I’ve had the opportunity to learn and think more about Dr. Christakis’ work, and was not shocked to discover that my knee jerk response to his NEJM article on the spread of obesity through social networks was premature. However, I was far from alone in this reaction.
He asked that I post his response verbatim:
Dear Ms. Gordon:
What I learned from my correspondence with Dr. Christakis and a review of some of his vast trove of publications was that what had originally motivated him to study how feelings/perceptions spread through social networks was his work with terminally ill patients, which served as his initiation into clinical medicine. Through his interactions with these patients and their families, he understandably became concerned with the feelings of the family members and how it affected them and their social networks in turn.
I was surprised that as a Sociologist, Dr. Christakis would have been taken aback at the overwhelming attention received by his obesity study. Surely he must have been aware of the hair trigger emotions surrounding obesity in our society. It then occurred to me that perhaps, due to his initiation by fire into what must be one of the most difficult fields a physician can choose (end-of-life care), his attempt to approach the spreading of emotions through social networks through mathematics and statistics took him a step back from what must have been a very potent emotional experience. I felt that there was a certain detachment in the quantitative work involved in these analyses.
When I posited this to him, he explained:
Dr. Christakis is not primarily studying the “obesity epidemic” but rather how social networks work.
This entry was posted on January 22, 2009 at 9:21 pm and is filed under biology, obesity, science, Sociology. Tagged: obesity, social networks. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.