OpenFiction [Blog]


Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 24, 2008

Installment 4 of poems from a life lived backwards. This was written on (obviously) Passover of last year, looking back at the previous.


The scar across your belly lies red
and raw, skin still newly knit
after five months. Its healing
is a prayer. With this mark,
on our darkest night, we pray
that death will pass us over.

A week before, we watched
in the infusion room as the drugs
ran in your veins one last time.
We held each other and wept
beside your sleeping body,
prayed this final poison would find
any last secret deadly cells.

A final time, we carried
you, sleeping, to the car, wound
our way down and out
of the claustrophobic parking garage.
We drove out into the relentless traffic
that circled with a thousand desperate fears
around the tight hive of hospitals.

Now we have moved beyond medicine
to where there is only faith.
Faith that the drugs have worked,
that your body is strong, that
there are days ahead
when you’ll again be a little boy
running in bright sunlight
free from dark shadows passing over.

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Winter Solstice

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 18, 2008

Installment 3 of poems from a life lived backwards. This was written on the solstice last year, about the one previous.

Winter Solstice

This longest night is dark,
moonless and cold. I hold
my breath against the unforgiving air.
Five in the evening, and already
only streetlamps light my way,
impersonal and antiseptic.

Tonight as I walk from the train
toward home, each measured step
becomes a prayer: pass… pass… pass…
Each step carries me deeper into night.

Houses stand along the street,
lit against the consuming dark,
the figures inside cook, or seek warmth
from the blue light of TV screens.
Quiet, still, they too wait
for the darkness to pass.
We are–all of us–suspended,

I round the corner to my own home,
casting anemic light from curtained windows–
there is nothing to do but go in. I hang
my coat, kiss my wife, place my hand
on the head of my pale, sleeping son,
and pray again for the quiet passing
of this dark night.

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Health Sciences Online goes live

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 17, 2008

Health Sciences Online, project I’ve been on the advisory board for, has gone live this morning.  It’s a really impressive and searchable index of open health information, but the press release describes it better:

For Immediate Release
Erica Frank, MD, MPH
Founder and Executive Director of Health Sciences Online
Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia      TEL: 310-210-4252


This week marks the launch of Health Sciences Online ( the only site where anyone can search for and find more than 50,000 courses, references, guidelines, and other expert-reviewed, high-quality, current, cost-free, and ad-free health sciences resources.

Free and accessible to anyone, the up-to-date, authoritative information is aimed primarily at health care practitioners and public health providers, enabling their training, continuing education, and delivery of effective treatments to patients.  The information is delivered by powerful search technology from Vivisimo, Inc., which allows users to easily see comprehensive search results and quickly find the answers they need with an intuitively navigated graphic interface.  Through integration with Google Translator, users can search and read materials in 22 languages.

Former CDC Director Dr. Jeff Koplan calls Health Sciences Online (HSO) “a visionary undertaking” and the World Bank heralds it as “globally democratizing health science knowledge.”  HSO is expected by the World Health Organization (WHO) “to make a considerable contribution to the advancement of e-learning worldwide.”

HSO is a portal that includes more than 50,000 world-class health-sciences resources, selected by our knowledgeable staff from already-existing, reliable, professional sources and resource collections.  These include medical specialty societies, accredited continuing education organizations, governments, and universities such as Cambridge, Columbia, Harvard, Hopkins, McGill, MIT, Penn, Stanford, and Yale.  Founding collaborators for this site include CDC, World Bank, the American College of Preventive Medicine, and the University of British Columbia, and financial support has come from WHO, the NATO Science for Peace Program, the Canadian government, the Annenberg Physician Training Program, and many volunteers.

Background:  Health sciences information and training are vital for health and socioeconomic development, but excellent, free learning resources are difficult to find.  In recent years, information and communication technologies, particularly the Internet, have been central to remedying this situation.  But there are still significant hurdles to accessing online content.  WHO notes that there is an enormous need to identify selective, current, accessible online educational and training resources to promote appropriate care and policies.

Project details:  A portal to a virtual learning center with browse and search functions, providing free, online linkages to a comprehensive collection of top-quality courses and references in medicine, public health, pharmacy, dentistry, nursing, basic sciences, and other health sciences disciplines.  These materials are donated, and typically hosted and maintained by our distinguished content partners, so materials are constantly updated.

Advisory Committee: Our Advisory Committee includes both distinguished visionaries in health sciences, and experienced practitioners in online health sciences education:

•    Chris Candler, MD; Co-Director/Editor, MedEdPORTAL; Association of American Medical Colleges
•    Stephen Carson, MFA; External Relations Director, MIT OpenCourseWare
•    Jim Curran, MD, MPH; Dean, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University
•    Joan Dzenowagis, PhD; Project Manager, Health InterNetwork, WHO
•    Erica Frank, MD, MPH; HSO Founder/Executive Director, Advisory Committee Chair
•    Sukon Kanchanaraksa, PhD; Director, Teaching and Learning with Technology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
•    Steven Kanter, MD; Vice Dean, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
•    Jerome P. Kassirer, MD; Distinguished Professor, Tufts Univ. SoM, Former Editor-in-Chief, New England Journal of Medicine
•    Jeff Koplan, MD, MPH; Former Director, CDC, EVP for Health Affairs, Emory University
•    Edward Maibach, MPH, PhD; Professor, Social Marketing, George Mason University
•    Anne Margulies, BS; Executive Director, Open Course Ware, MIT
•    J.B. McGee, MD; Assistant Dean for Medical Education Technology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
•    Pat Moholt, EdD; Executive Director, Global Health Care Learning, International and Corporate Health, NewYork-Presbyterian
•    Hugh Tilson, MD, DrPH Clinical Professor of Epidemiology/Health Policy, Senior Advisor to the Dean, UNC SPH

“HSO is an incredible resource for health professionals all over the world.  Open access to health information should literally save millions of lives and lead to important new discoveries,” said Anne Margulies, Advisory Committee member and Executive Director of Open Course Ware at MIT.

HSO has succeeded where other initiatives have not, because our vision of a democratization of health sciences knowledge has tremendous appeal to a wide variety of supporters.  This ranges from an endocrinologist who donated $50,000 because “HSO will change the world”, to an Armenian specialist in preventive medicine who volunteered >1,000 hours because “HSO will finally make top-quality information available to all the world’s doctors”, to Senator Sam Nunn’s Global Health and Security Initiative stating that “HSO has abundant high quality resources, so it’s not like putting in keywords in a normal search engine – this will create revolutions in health education, disease surveillance, and telemedicine.”

HSO’s next phase will be developing programs using the gathered materials to help train and educate public and clinical health providers around the world.
For more information, access the Health Sciences Online site at, and dive right in and try a search!

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Goes to show you never can tell

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 9, 2008

Judging by the MIT OCW news coverage, you’d think that 8.01 Physics or 18.06 Linear Algebra would be the most heavily trafficed courses on OCW, and most weeks you’d be right.  These video-rich courses have gotten the lion’s share of the media coverage and are intro courses that appeal to broad audiences.

But this week they are garnering far less interest than an Ancient Philosophy course, which to me highlights the unpredictability inherent in sharing educational resources openly.  Last Sunday, someone flagged the lecture notes of 24.200 on StumbleUpon, and it’s currently number 3 on the Philosophy page.  The notice generated more than 30,000 visits to the lecture notes page alone on November 30th, and continues to drive thousands of visits a week and a day later (5,000 yesterday).

Here’s a course that has been sitting on our site for three years, has really great lecture notes but no rich media and is not a topic one would immediately think of as an attention-getter, and yet with the right exposure to the right audience, generates tremendous interest.  This is another exaple of why my tendancies lean toward publishing simply and widely, ’cause you never can tell what material will be useful or interesting to whom.

The traffic spike also illustrates the value of social reccommender sites like StumbleUpon and Digg.  Don’t be shocked to see expanded recommendation support on the OCW site soon.

Possible Complications

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 5, 2008

Installment 2 of poems from a life lived backwards:

Possible Complications

A radical nephrectomy is the name
of the procedure. “We’ll make sure
the tumor is intact, and the rest
is plumbing.” This was meant
to reassure. The surgeon read the list

of possible complications. With any
operation, there is always risk.
A small chance of a severe reaction
to transfusions or anesthesia.  “We’ll
remove the kidney, but we won’t know
what else is going on until
we get in. We may need to take
a length of bowel, some liver, anything
that looks suspicious.” They’ll run a line
into your heart, for later, for the drugs.
This too has its risk.

I am near fainting at what we must do
to try to save you. I lay down
on the stiff sheets of a hallway gurney
as the surgeon’s kind voice continues.
There is no way to stop this, no
other way to keep you safe. You lay
fevered and sleeping with your mother
across the room. She cannot hear
this conversation. She could not
stop this either.

The surgeon finishes the list,
holds out the clipboard and the pen.
He is waiting for consent.

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Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on December 3, 2008

My WordPress iPhone app is suddenly working. Cool.