Playlist TEDTalks

TED Talks with novel ways of thinking about epidemics

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
Gary Slutkin speaks at TEDMED about his unusual approach to the epidemic of violence.

Gary Slutkin speaks at TEDMED about his unusual approach to the epidemic of violence.

As a physician and epidemiologist, Gary Slutkin didn’t think he had much to contribute to the conversation about gun violence in America. Gary Slutkin: Let's treat violence like a contagious diseaseGary Slutkin: Let's treat violence like a contagious diseaseBut then he began to realize something — that outbreaks of violence follow the same patterns as outbreaks of tuberculosis, cholera and AIDS, all of which he’d worked on reversing during a decade in Somalia, Uganda and other parts of Africa. What predicts violence? Slutkin realized that it is in fact like a contagious disease because the biggest indicator is a preceding incidence of violence.

In today’s talk, Slutkin described how he and his team applied the science and public health strategies of epidemics to violence, with some amazing results in neighborhoods of Chicago. It’s a compelling story, and one that encourages us each to bring our own unique lens to problems outside our usual orbit.

Slutkin’s talk reminds us of several other TED Talks, which shed new light on epidemics. Here, some highlights.

Sonia Shah: 3 reasons we still haven’t gotten rid of malariaSonia Shah: 3 reasons we still haven’t gotten rid of malaria
Sonia Shah: 3 reasons we still haven’t gotten rid of malaria
Malaria doesn’t just occur in the poorest parts of the world; malaria creates poverty. And while people in non-malarious countries load up on preventative medication before traveling to locations where malaria is an issue, those who actually live there encounter it so often that they don’t worry too much about it. “A child in Malawi, for example, she might have 12 episodes of malaria before the age of 2,” says Shah in this talk from TEDGlobal 2013, which is full of observations on why malaria has been so hard to eradicate, even though we’ve had a cure since the 1600s. Bonus: read the TED Blog’s Q+A with Shah about eradicating “the malarious way of life.”
Nicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemicsNicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemics
Nicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemics
Want to predict the next big epidemic? Map real-life social networks, like friendships and workplace relationships. In this talk from TED@Cannes, Nicholas Christakis shows how monitoring the friends of unconnected people can give incredible insight into the spread of disease, and yield early warning of epidemics.
Steven Johnson: How the "ghost map" helped end a killer diseaseSteven Johnson: How the "ghost map" helped end a killer disease
Steven Johnson: How the “ghost map” helped end a killer disease
Steven Johnson shares a historical story in this talk from TEDSalon 2006, taking us back to London in 1854 during the age of cholera. He tells the story of an incredible doctor who wasn’t convinced that the disease was transmitted by air, but had a hunch it was being passed via water. Here’s how he changed the thinking of the time.
Shereen El-Feki: HIV -- how to fight an epidemic of bad lawsShereen El-Feki: HIV -- how to fight an epidemic of bad laws
Shereen El-Feki: HIV — how to fight an epidemic of bad laws
In about 50 counties, having an HIV is considered akin to a crime — people can be incarcerated or deported simply for having the disease. In this talk from the TEDxSummit, she wonders if the HIV epidemic led to an epidemic of bad laws, and shows that banishing the infected is not the answer.
Laurie Garrett: Lessons from the 1918 fluLaurie Garrett: Lessons from the 1918 flu
Laurie Garrett: Lessons from the 1918 flu
In 2007, amid intense fear over the spread of avian flu, people started stockpiling masks and Tamiflu. In this talk, given at TED that year, disease prevention expert Laurie Garrett explains why this is not the best approach and why it’s about having prepared communities, rather than prepared individuals. How does she know this? For that, she looks to the flu epidemic of 1918.
Gregory Petsko: The coming neurological epidemicGregory Petsko: The coming neurological epidemic
Gregory Petsko: The coming neurological epidemic
Some epidemics start rapidly; others take decades. As Gregory Petsko explains at TED2008, this will be the case for Alzheimer’s disease as the population over the age of 80 balloons. This means that it’s time to do more research, now. A bold call for the government to start funding research into connections — like the fact that those with neurological disorders have very low incidence of cancer.

This post originally ran in September of 2013. It was updated on October 10, 2013, with a new and relevant talk.