sEJAL pATEL, Ph.D.
Why certain research practices are embraced over others in a given historical moment is the central question that guides Dr. Sejal Patel’s research. She has approached this overarching question with the base assumption that all research practices, at their most fundamental level, are social practices and that their adoption by groups is as much a function of their practical utility as their more normative virtues.
Dr. Patel is currently preparing The Fat and Happy Town for publication -- a book about the Roseto study, frequently cited in subsequent years for reporting on community-level influences on cardiovascular health. Drawing on a range of sources including private and institutional archival collections and interviews with investigators and study subjects, this project details the circumstances that made an alternative mode of understanding and studying disease causation possible and provides a needed entry into this decisive period in the history of population-based or epidemiological research.
Patel’s current project on the political economy of American medical research develops a broader framework for understanding the directions taken in postwar health research. Rather than academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, this project takes as a starting point the administrative and managerial infrastructure of the National Institutes of Health. In particular, she considers its unprecedented growth and expansion, its bureaucratic complexity, and its culture of public administration and public accountability, among other features, in driving forward a research style characterized by quantification and precision measurement, rule-bounded procedures, the use of statistics and probability theory, and an orientation toward experimentation.
As the Senior Research Historian at the Office of NIH History, Patel continues her research on methods used in health research and facilitates and organizes programming for the professional and intellectual development of the Stetten Fellows.
Patel received her Ph.D in the History of Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 and was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin, Madison from 2007 to 2009.
“Methods and Management: NIH Administrators, Federal Oversight, and the Framingham Heart Study,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 2012, 86(1): 94-121