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Message from the MGH

Our aim: to provoke dialogue.

Winter 2006
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Message from the MGH

Davies & Starr/Getty Images

Medical progress is usually as much an art as a science, and debate and disagreement are inherent in the process. So is uncertainty, despite the confidence that scientific experts so often convey when discussing their specific areas of focus. While we all seek assurances on timely, controversial and uncomfortable issues, when answers don’t exist, frank and open discussion can be the best vehicle for moving science forward.

One of our ambitions is for Proto to provide a forum for differing views on subjects we cover. We were therefore heartened by the responses to articles in our first issue—and by the passion many letter writers expressed. Our avian flu story, in particular, struck a nerve. One reader charged that we did a disservice by painting too rosy a scenario and underplaying the likelihood of a pandemic. But another called it refreshing to read an article that was measured and reasonable, countering the growing hysteria. These and other views appear in Second Opinion, our new letters column, in which readers have their say. As a rule, we won’t be running responses to letters. That’s because, in the interest of fairness, we want to avoid having the last word; it doesn’t mean we think we’ve been inaccurate.

In the pages that follow, we hope to again provoke dialogue as we explore the controversial role of parents’ groups in pushing the pace of autism research. We also consider why we are having such difficulty in gaining the upper hand against hospital-borne infections, which kill almost 100,000 patients each year in this country. We look at bold new directions in reconstructive surgery that could offer dramatic options to severely disfigured patients. We biopsy the gains a resurgent Veterans Health Administration system has achieved by going digital and wonder why other medical centers have been so slow to attempt the same great leap forward. And we examine medical technologies that are emerging from war, as scientists mount an all-out attack on battlefield injuries.

These articles speak of advances and innovations, yet they provide few clear-cut answers. Indeed, we expect to raise further questions as we offer a glimpse down pathways that could lead to breakthroughs. Ultimately, it is the complexity of the issues, combined with the passion to find answers, that makes the story of scientific progress so fascinating.

Peter L. Slavin, M.D.
Massachusetts General Hospital
David F. Torchiana, M.D.
CEO and Chairman
Massachusetts General Physicians
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