Epidemiology circles back to sewage

Epidemiology, the statistical study of population health instead of a single person's health, has taken population-wide sampling to a new level—underground.

Instead of collecting data on individuals representing a subset of the population and then averaging it, the researchers let an existing piece of infrastructure do the averaging for them. This also made sure they were actually getting properly anonymized data from every single resident of the study area—because the area of study was "everybody connected to the sewer", and everybody who has one, uses the toilet.

What they were testing, specifically, was the percentage of people who took their medicine, by having the entire city collectively pee in a cup.

Opening my eyes

I was on a work trip and sitting in the lunchroom at a client site, chatting with the operators there. It was a friendly group, and we got to know each other reasonably well in our lunchtime conversations. I and one of the locals were talking about running and race training, being both runners. Another of the operators mentioned that he occasionally ran a mile at the track, and was asking about training for a 5k race, three times farther than he had run before.

Because he and I both find running more than a mile or so on the track unutterably boring (I think he hadn't run more than a mile on the track partly because he was bored, not because he was too tired to continue) I suggested that he run on the street, through the neighbourhood where he lived, so at least the scenery was a bit different. I frequently use google maps' walking directions tool to plot out a route of the distance I want to run when I'm not in the mood for an out-and-back straight line run, especially in an unfamiliar city.

He laughed and said he couldn't do that. Because he predicted a response to him being out running along the sidewalk: "Honey, call the cops! There's a black man running!" And the rest of the group laughed, because they knew it was true.

It had never in my life occurred to me to even think that somebody might call the police on me while I was out minding my own business on a training run.

White privilege: yeah, I have it.