Friday, April 19, 2013

War and research

Though it's too early to tell whether the geopolitical lessons are going to take, we did learn some things from the war in Iraq.

From the New Republic:
Neither Boston Medical Center nor Boston Emergency Medical Services have responded to queries about how tourniquets were used after the marathon bombings, so we can't yet confirm their effectiveness. It wouldn't be the first time, though, that killing abroad has saved lives at home: Wartime medical advances have long translated into civilian life (trauma centers full of specialists sprouted up in cities, for examples, after they’d worked to great effect in Vietnam). America's latest conflicts have also improved techniques to repair tissues and nerves that have prevented amputations in operating rooms around the country.

That kind of research funding tends to dry up when the soldiers come home. But hundreds of thousands of people die from traumatic injuries every year, and Jenkins says that huge gaps still remain in our knowledge of how to treat them. The National Trauma Institute has been campaigning for more money to research trauma, which doesn't loom as large in the public consciousness as many diseases do.
This goes beyond tourniquets. As NPR reported a few years ago, techniques from the war have revolutionized emergency medicine:
The medevac choppers land and then taxi over to the gate just outside the emergency room, where gurneys are waiting. Nightfall has brought a bone-chilling wind, and a gang of nurses and orderlies rushes four patients into the warmth of the ER.

It's more than warm inside. In fact it's 100 degrees. It's the first clue that this hospital — the Joint Theater Hospital at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Field — is a little different. Through years of war, combat surgeons have learned that hypothermia is a big risk in patients with significant blood loss. Nine years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought some grim benefits: a new wealth of knowledge about treating war wounds.

"At the beginning of this conflict, we were taking the best trauma medicine from the civilian sector, and we brought it to Iraq and Afghanistan," says U.S. Air Force Col. Chris Benjamin, the hospital commander. He says now his doctors tell him it's the other way around.

"Here we are seven, eight years later, taking what we've learned in these conflicts to teach them the advances that we've made with this data collection here in theater," he says.
It seems strange to discuss war in terms of research and data collection, but despite what you constantly hear, most big problems are solved by throwing large sums of money at them and one of the most effective ways of convincing a government to start throwing money is to get it into a war. I'm not saying that the means justify the ends or that we couldn't find a way to get better results without the horrific costs.

What I am saying is that, in the world we've got, for researchers, like Keynesians, the steps we think society should take (like spending significant amounts of money on trauma research) often only came as a byproduct of war.

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