By JASON CHUNG, PETER CUMMINGS MSc, MD and UZMA SAMADANI
On Jan. 18, an article by Dr. Lee Goldstein of Boston University and colleagues in Brain, a leading neurological journal, was released and touted as proving the link between subconcussive hits to the head and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) (“Real risk of CTE comes from repeated hits to the head, study shows,” Feb. 4). That same day the CTE advocacy group — the Concussion Legacy Foundation — announced a national campaign called F14G Football to convert all under-14 football into flag football, thereby eliminating tackle football.
The message sent to assembled media and onlookers was that eliminating tackle football for youth is the key to safeguarding the brains and futures of America’s youth.
The truth is not so simple.
The scientific evidence linking youth casual sports play to brain injury, brain injury to CTE, and CTE to dementia is not strong. We believe that further scientific research and data are necessary for accurate risk-benefit analysis among policymakers for two reasons.
First, evidence-based science calls for research to be conducted under generally accepted principles. The case series presented by the Boston University group, primarily due to its ascertainment bias, is weaker than the evidentiary standard sufficient to demonstrate an association or causation and conflicts with pathologic findings in other studies.
CTE pathology in the brain has been shown by British pathologists to be present in approximately 12 percent of normal healthy aged people who died at an average age of 81 years (Ling et al. Acta Neuropathologica). The presence of CTE pathology in the brain on autopsy has not been shown to correlate with neurologic symptoms before death.
To be clear, CTE pathology could be present in a normal person.
Someone has been listening to me. Or rather, to me and a growing number of voices that are questioning the requirements for admission to medical school. I have argued in a past blog that you won’t get more good primary care doctors, who practice a lot of humanities in addition to the science, if the only people you admit to medical school are scientists. Two medical schools and the American Association of Medical Colleges are beginning to agree.
Pauline Chen gives a good overview of what’s happening in this area here. Essentially, Boston University and the medical school at Mt. Sinai have made pretty radical efforts to apply either more than the traditional evaluation points to their admissions process, or different ones altogether. Mt. Sinai, in particular, has an extraordinary an early-acceptance program for college sophomores and juniors in which they can get into medical school without the MCATs, and without a few of the standard pre-med science and math requirements. In return, the accepted students have to continue to major in an humanities-related field and maintain an adequate GPA. They also have to undergo intensive science enrichment courses prior to matriculation. BU hasn’t gone quite that far, but they have included many more “holistic” data points into their admissions decisions, a process that is extremely labor intensive for the schools’ admissions staff.
Both schools have great ideas that are showing some promising results. I see a couple potential problems:
1. Mt. Sinai seems to be sort of cramming in all the old science requirements in off-hours, allowing students to pursue wider studies in college. I would rather see a larger decrease in the science and math requirements. Basic chemistry and biology are probably necessary, but no one has ever explained to me why you need physics. Or calculus. You don’t need most of this stuff in medical school. All you need in medical school is the ability to put your head down and push through the memorization. You don’t need math, you just need patience. The thing is, the only way to get rid of the math and science is to get rid of the MCAT, because believe you me you can’t get through that behemoth with an english major. Then, even if you do that, you eventually run into Step 1, the first of the three-part exam you take in medical school to pass medical school. The Mt Sinai kids might need more “enrichment” courses to get through that. If those hoops are eliminated, you might find some great doctors underneath those mountainous requirements.