After clearing off plates piled high with fettuccine at Monte’s
restaurant in Greenwich Village, one evening a dozen NYUCD students
were ready to answer some tough questions from their dinner host,
Dr. Ralph Katz, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology
& Health Promotion.
“How do you rate the food?” Dr. Katz asked.
“10,” came the unanimous reply.
But the students were less enthusiastic about a
scientific study that they had gathered to discuss over dinner.
They awarded the research a seven.
The occasion was the monthly dinner of the Spaghetti
and Science Society, a group Dr. Katz founded in 2003 to provide
extra helpings of science for students who hunger for more discussion
than is possible in the classroom.
The dinners, which have become a forum to debate controversial
research and public health issues, are open on a first-come, first-served
basis to six second- and third-year DDS students from Dr. Katz’s
health promotion classes, and six students from the Master’s and
certificate programs in clinical research.
Dinner conversation quickly shifted from Parmesan
cheese to protocols and p values when Dr. Katz asked the students
their views on the methodology of a 1997 study published in the
journal Epidemiology, which found that ethylene glycol ethers,
a group of organic solvents widely used in the manufacturing of
computer chips and other electronic components, may cause female
subfertility and increase the waiting time to become pregnant. The
retrospective study of 173 female workers in a Taiwanese wafer manufacturing
facility relied on safety records, personnel records, and job histories
“I think the study was limited because the researchers
didn’t clearly establish if exposure to the toxic chemicals occurred
before pregnancy,” said second-year student Beth Schoeler.
But another class of ’06 student, Bhavini Paraflaveni,
disagreed: “I don’t think there’s any question the pregnancies occurred
after exposure; if you look at the “Methods” section of the article,
you’ll see the researchers included only women who conceived at
least three months after their employment began.”
The conversation stopped briefly as a waiter doled
out simmering meatballs.
Then, Dr. Katz added his insight:
“This study is valuable to anyone studying occupational
safety and toxic chemicals because the researchers rated a lot of
variables and presented issues that could lead to larger, more definitive
studies. The fact is, you usually have to start building the case
for a large and expensive study by doing a small, relatively inexpensive
one like this first.”
While differing on the research, the students all
agreed that the dinner stimulated their appetite for debate.
Said second-year student Sumeet Saxena: “While something
about lecture halls makes me sleepy, I have no problem staying awake
in an Italian restaurant.”
“This discussion has taught me how to critically
read a research article,” Ms. Paraflaveni added.
Concluded Ms. Schoeler: “If you don’t use it, you
lose it; these dinners encourage us to practice what we learned