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Earth Materials and Health: Research Priorities for Earth Science and Public Health
with adequate geographic detail more widely available for research. Theapplication of modern complex spatial analytical techniques has thepotential to provide a rigorous base for integrated earth science andpublic health research by facilitating the analysis of spatial relationships between public health effects and natural earth materials andprocesses.
The committee, therefore, suggests pursuing research that (1) leads to spatially and temporally accurate models for predicting disease distribution based on integrated layers of geological, geographic, and socioeconomic data; (2) develops better technologies for high-resolution data generation and display; and (3) establishes user-friendly Geographic Information Systems (GISs) for the earth science and public health communities and includes GIS and spatial analysis in the training of public health professionals.
Before it will be possible to take advantage of the considerable power of modern spatial analysis techniques, a number of issues associated with data access will need to be addressed. Improved coordination between agencies that collect health data will be required, and health data from the different entities will need to be merged and made available in formats that are compatible with GIScience analysis. Existing restrictions on obtaining geographically specific health data, while important for maintaining privacy, severely inhibit effective predictive and causal analysis. To address this, it will be necessary for all data collected by federal, state, and county agencies to be geocoded and geographically referenced to the finest scale possible, and artificial barriers to spatial analysis resulting from privacy concerns need to be modified to ensure that the enormous power of modern spatial analysis techniques can be applied to public health issues without compromising privacy. The potential of the research community to perform sophisticated multilayered spatial analysis for both predictive and causal modeling requires that epidemiological data be presented in a useful (i.e., detailed geographic) format so that public health problems can be correlated with earth science parameters.
Interagency Support for Interdisciplinary Earth andPublic Health Sciences Research
The value of interdisciplinary research has been convincingly and repeatedly described (e.g., NRC, 2004d). However, while important gains have been made within individual funding agencies toward interdisciplinary research, a dearth of collaboration and funding between agencies has restricted significant scientific discovery at the interface of public health and earth science. The importance of the links between these disciplines and the considerable potential for collaborative earth science and public