Message from the Dean: The Big Picture

One of the singular facts about the public health profession is that it is not singular—it is vast, interconnected, systemic, behavioral, quantitative, qualitative, pragmatic, and, of course, idealistic.

This issue of Harvard Public Health illustrates the capaciousness of our work. As you will read, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health faculty, fellows, students, and alumni are at the forefront of research on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, the clinical benefits of health information technology, the prevention of colon cancer remission, and innovative approaches to bolstering impoverished health systems.

And as our cover story demonstrates, perhaps no area of research is more far-reaching today than that which links climate change and human health. In fact, this is one of my research priorities as dean. Health is the human face of climate change—and rigorous science that uncovers the myriad human consequences of global warming and other climate trends has never been more urgent. “Change in the Air” is the first in what will be a series of occasional articles in the magazine called “Airs, Waters, and Places”—a title borrowed from the physician who was possibly history’s very first environmental epidemiologist: Hippocrates.

A book that came out earlier this year has further informed my commitment to this research. Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations, by the late Anthony J. McMichael, describes how climate change affects human health via many paths, both directly (such as in heat waves and floods) and more often indirectly (such as through diminished food crop yields, wider distribution of vector-borne disease, and the movement of displaced and impoverished peoples). As McMichael writes, “Climate change is, ultimately, no respecter of wealth, status, or national borders; its health impacts will affect populations everywhere, albeit with different intensity and consequence.”

Which brings us back to our shared public health mission. Idealistic pragmatists, rigorous antireductionists, evidence-based connectors of dots, we will continue to fill in the big picture to bring health and well-being to all people.

Dean Michelle A. Williams
Michelle A. Williams, ScD ’91
Dean of the Faculty
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health