RWJF Pioneering Ideas Podcast: Episode 5 | Conspiracy Theories, Microbiomes & More

Jul 30, 2014, 12:00 PM, Posted by

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Welcome to the fifth episode of RWJF’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, where we explore cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can help build a Culture of Health. Your host is Lori Melichar, director at the foundation.

Ideas Explored in This Episode

Conspiracy Theories (1:44) – What in the world can belief in conspiracy theories tell us about health and health care? A lot, as you’ll hear in this fascinating conversation between RWJF’s Brian Quinn and University of Chicago political scientist and RWJF grantee Eric Oliver. For more on this story, don’t miss The Onion’s send-up of Eric’s research.

How Can We Measure a Culture of Health? (18:45) – Alonzo Plough, our Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Research, Evaluation and Learning riffs on the challenges and opportunities when it comes to measuring culture change.

Microbiomes and Design (26:25) – We sit down with microbiome scientist Jessica Green to hear the results of her latest research at the intersection of biology and environmental design. Explore early ideas about the huge ways tiny microbes might one day help create a healthier world. To learn more visit, a rich website of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Microbiology of the Built Environment program led by Jonathan Eisen.

Exploring Sleep Health (32:25) – Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan, author of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, talks about the importance of getting more people to recognize the ripple effect of sleep on our mental and physical wellbeing.

Connect About This Episode

Visit Lori Melichar's Culture of Health blog post to read more about understanding the root causes of sleep health and to weigh in on the issue. Tell us: If you are a sleep champion, what are your secrets? Why do you think we aren't getting enough sleep?


...On measuring a Culture of Health:

“We're trying to come up with measures that address things that really have to change, maybe measures that indicate as a nation that we're going to have to have some disruptive models to move the status quo if we're going to get to a Culture of Health.” – Alonzo Plough, VP, Research, Evaluation and Learning and Chief Science Officer, RWJF

...On respecting indigenous belief systems:

“How we approach people and try to improve cultures of health has to be, in some ways, sensitive to an indigenous belief system that’s already there. And that's not going to be uniform across the country by any stretch of the imagination.” – Eric Oliver, University of Chicago political scientist and RWJF grantee

...On designing environments that promote health:

“Is it possible to use our personal effects like our cell phones to understand when and where we're picking up microbes that are good for human health and well being? And is it possible to design or engineer the built environment in such a way that it can foster wellness?” – Jessica Green

...On the instant gratification of sleep:

“If I eat a donut, I get benefits today, but the costs are small and years from now--maybe months from now if I put on some weight and I don't look good. But sleep, the benefits are now... the costs are literally in twelve hours.” – Sendhil Mullainathan, Harvard economist and author

Your Turn

Now that you’ve listened – talk about it!

Did anything you heard today get you thinking in new ways about how you can help build a Culture of Health? Do you have a cutting-edge idea you’d like to discuss? Comment below or tweet at me at @Lorimelichar, or consider submitting a proposal.

And be sure to keep the conversation and explorations going at #rwjfpodcast”

Conversations from the Archives

Listen to past episodes of the Pioneering Ideas podcast, where we explore topics like the science of choosing, hacking hospital supply closets to improve patient care and the power of the placebo effect. 



This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.