|Columbia University Public Health School: Spent 2009-2011 working for `Contagion' filmmakers|
One reason the Center for Infection and Immunity of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health may have neglected to spend enough of its time between 2009 and 2011 focused on preparing New York City’s public health system to respond more effectively to the spread of expected 21st-century viruses like COVID-19 is that the Center for Infection and Immunity’s director, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology W. Ian Lipkin (whose lab was then on the 18th floor of the Rosenfield Building at 722 West 168th Street), apparently also worked during those years as a scientific consultant for the producers of the Hollywood movie Contagion-- which cost $60 million to make, but eventually grossed $135.5 million after the film was released in September 2011.
According to an Aug. 27, 2011 Columbia Mailman School of Public Health website article, Hollywood movie director Steven Soderbergh and Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns “sought out” Columbia Professor Lipkin “to tap his scientific expertise” for use in their commercially-oriented Hollywood movie project; and “after early conversations about the movie concept, Lipkin signed on as technical adviser to Contagion in March, 2009 and played an active role throughout production,” suggesting “the movie’s plot might be triggered by an outbreak of a virus similar to Nipah, a deadly virus that has, on occasion, migrated from animals to people.”
The same Aug. 27, 2011 article also noted:
“Dr. Lipkin also coached Contagion actors on the practices and process of scientific research. Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle visited the Center for Infection and Immunity to learn the mechanics of being a bench scientist, working with the lab’s equipment to do technical procedures. And Elliott Gould, who plays a research scientist named `Ian,’ talked to Dr. Lipkin about the intellectual process of making a scientific breakthrough. Suggesting to the actor how to look through a microscope and reflect on what it reveals, `I told Elliott it’s important that you get this right, because you are playing me,’ Dr. Lipkin recalls.
“The laboratory at the Center for Infection and Immunity, where Dr. Lipkin and his team of 65 conduct their research, also has an invisible role in the movie….Contagion’s production crew traveled to the lab to record centrifuges whirring, liquid nitrogen hissing, and even the squeaky noise of opening animal cage doors for the film’s soundtrack.”
In a Sept. 10, 2011 interview with Wired magazine, Columbia Professor of Epidemiology Lipkin also described his School of Public Health department’s role in helping to make the Hollywood movie in the following way:
“Actors met with people whose work they represented in laboratories and the field. Where feasible we used bona fide equipment in lab scenes. My colleagues and I were on set for critical scenes to address questions from Soderbergh, actors and other artists, or to help with dialogue or makeup on the fly….”
Then, on the eve of Contagion’s film premiere in late September 2011, Columbia School of Public Health Professor of Epidemiology Lipkin announced that a tax-exempt $500,000 endowment--named after the Hollywood director and screenwriter with whom he and his Center for Infection and Immunity had collaborated with in making the commercially-oriented Contagion movie--the “Scott Z. Burns and Steven Soderbergh Fellowship in Emerging Infectious Diseases,” was being set-up; to purportedly “support postdoctoral research in global infectious diseases at the center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health.”
But neither the research work nor the work for the Hollywood’s Contagion filmmakers that the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia’s School of Public Health did between 2009 and 2011 apparently did much to prevent the deaths of the over 21,000 New York City residents, many with underlying health conditions or local elderly nursing home residents, who are estimated to have lost their lives since COVID-19 reached the Big Apple in 2020—although Columbia’s Center for Infection and Immunity claims to be “establishing and implementing programs for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of acute outbreaks of infectious disease.” (end of part 2)