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George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services

Course last updated: Spring 2000
Page last updated: October 29, 2008

Research-based Health Activism

Topics Course CRN: 32058

Peter Lurie, M.D., M.P.H
Deputy Director, Health Research Group at Public Citizen

Tuesday, Thursday 3:00 – 4:15 PM

For this course, public health is defined broadly to encompass such areas as access to health care, food safety, tobacco use, illicit drug use, environmental exposures, occupational health, violence, public health aspects of medical illnesses such as AIDS or cancer.   It is our premise that the collection and presentation of relatively simple data in a form understandable to government regulators, Congress and the media can have a significant impact upon health policy in this country.  The course will provide a brief overview of methods relevant to activist research and present examples of research-based health activism that have affected policy.  The primary purpose of the course will be to organize students in teams of two to collaboratively develop a data-based project that can be used to influence health policy.  We encourage students to develop projects that reflect their own interests and abilities, but expect that most of the research will be quantitative in nature.  The main focus of the semester will be to write a detailed protocol for that project, in collaboration with Dr. Lurie and Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, the Ralph Nader-founded health advocacy group for which he works.  It is hoped that the project itself will subsequently be completed as part of the students’ Special Projects.  If of mutual interest, the Health Research Group is willing to work with students to complete the project and aid in dissemination.

The course will emphasize interactive learning. Classes will meet biweekly to maximize the opportunity for input into students’ projects. Many class sessions will be comprised of students reporting on their progress in developing their protocols, followed by problem-solving sessions in which the instructor and the other students suggest methods for overcoming any obstacles identified.

Reading Assignments

Reading assignments are intentionally light so that students can concentrate on preparing and executing their protocols.

For May 25

Lurie P, et al. The Swine Flu vaccination debacle (unpublished book chapter)
Lurie P, et al. Aspirin and Reyes Syndrome -- deaths that could have been prevented (unpublished book chapter)

For May 30

Lurie P, Wolfe SM. Unethical trials of interventions to reduce perinatal transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus in developing countries. New England Journal of Medicine 1997;337:853-6.
Moore S, Wolfe SM, Lindes D, Douglas CE.   Epidemiology of failed tobacco control legislation. Journal of the American Medical Association 1994; 272:1171-5.

For June 1

Lurie P, et al. The regulation of ethylene oxide in the workplace (unpublished book chapter)
Dehlendorf CE, Wolfe SM. Physicians disciplined for sex-related offenses. Journal of the American Medical Association 1998;279:1883-8.

Additional reading materials will be assigned as the class develops and students’ specific areas of interest become clearer.

Course Requirements

1. Regular attendance and active participation are expected and will be factored into your evaluation.
2. The assigned readings must be done before the session in which they will be discussed.
3. Working with a two-person team, you will prepare an approximately five-page protocol describing your research project.
4. You will give an oral presentation of your research project to the class.


Class participation: 20%
Revised protocol: 55%
In-class presentation: 25%

Class participation will be used to assign grades when these fall on the borderline between two grades. 

Research-based Health Activism

Instructor: Peter Lurie, M.D., M.P.H.
Tuesday, Thursday 3:00 – 4:15 PM


Examples of research-based activism
Identifying health problems in the U.S.


Examples of research-based activism


Deadline for assembling teams
Begin to identify projects (small groups)


Guest lecture by Sidney Wolfe
Works in Progress


Project topic due
Works in Progress


Graphic presentation of data


Works in Progress


Works in Progress


Draft protocol due
Works in Progress


Using the media/dissemination


In-class presentations


In-class presentations
Final protocol due

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