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April 16, 2024

SciTech Talk: Fish thoughts, oil spills and health care

By MICHAEL YAMAKAWA | February 7, 2013

Do fish think?: The vacuous stare that a goldfish gives as it swims around in a tank may belie a false impression that fish don’t have thoughts. However, a tool recently invented by researchers in Japan has paved the way for scientists to observe brain activities in real time and correlate them with complex behaviors of fish. The researchers have also devised a method to genetically incorporate the probe in order to monitor neuronal activity. Soon, fish feasting behaviors, decision-making and movements may be explained by examining their neural signals. For example, Akira Muto, the lead author of the study in Current Biology, studied the behavior and brain activity of zebrafish when they find something good to eat. So next time you assume that your goldfish is thoughtless, think again!


BP Oil Spill: If you’ve been wondering how BP was penalized for the 2010 oil spill, which was responsible for the deaths of 11 workers and the miles of contaminated water in the Gulf of Mexico, you may be relieved to learn that a federal judge approved a four billion dollar settlement between the company and the Justice Department. BP pleaded guilty on fourteen criminal charges and publicly apologized to those affected. However, some family members and workers impacted by the disaster have made requests for stronger punishment. In fact, BP may have suffered larger financial burdens if the judge had not accepted the plea agreement and ended the expensive trial. Nevertheless, BP stock prices significantly dropped after the spill and the company was forced to sell billions of dollars in assets. Currently, BP is a smaller oil company, continuing operations in the Gulf of Mexico.


State Health Policy: With the Jan. 1, 2014 deadline for the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) just around the corner, state-level policies must be carefully and quickly executed. In a Social Policy Seminar at Hopkins last Thursday, Alan Weil, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, discussed the ways in which states as purchasers, regulators and providers of health care should accomplish these policy changes.

Weil advocated for states to improve the quality and efficiency of health care by refining subsidized insurance exchange, monitoring the commercial insurance market, clarifying care eligibility and enhancing health system capacity under the PPACA.

Many students who attended were curious about the implications of states’ political agendas in the implementation of PPACA. Weil explained that states that objected to the act had been depending on either the Supreme Court to overrule it or a Republican victory in the election. Thus, some implementation measures, including Medicaid expansion, which is under state purview, were delayed until these issues were resolved. “There was plenty of genuine uncertainty and there was plenty of trumped up uncertainty and both of those were playing out,” Weil said. “Clearly the states that held back are now way, way, way behind.”

The general attitude of attendees at the event and Weil himself was pessimistic. “The ACA will not be implemented perfectly on Jan. 1, 2014 — that’s the understatement of the year.”

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