Thoughts on the Real John Snow


Google “John Snow,” and you’ll find dozens of images of a handsome character from the popular Game of Thrones TV series. This Jon Snow (spelled without the “h”) is certainly noteworthy for his role in current pop culture. Although we have many Game of Thrones fans at JSI, our staff still identify more with a different John Snow: the father of modern epidemiology, after whom our company is named.

Staff used this April Fool’s Day as an excuse to poke fun at the name confusion between Jon Snow the character, and Joh4.1.2014bannern Snow the 19th century epidemiologist. But since the idea was pitched to me, I’ve been thinking about it and find it’s also an opportunity to remind people about Dr. John Snow’s historic contribution to society.

I won’t recount his full biography here, but in 1854, Dr. John Snow saved London from a cholera epidemic by tracing the disease through the water supply back to a central well. He pioneered the study of epidemiology and disease mapping, paving the way for modern advances in public health. Today, 200 years later, these techniques remain the foundation for our work in the U.S. and developing countries.

At JSI, I love that staff are constantly thinking of creative ways to honor Dr. John Snow’s memory, as they did last year for his 200th birthday, when they led a global push to get a Google Doodle to mark the occasion, or helping him travel the world in a Facebook campaign. Today his full size image is housed in a London phone booth and pulled out for special occasions.

full size snow

Much more importantly, however, every day we strive to emulate his approach to solving complex public health problems all over the world. Dr. Snow demonstrated that public health issues are rarely solved with miracle cures. The answers most often come from noticing the smaller details that have been previously overlooked—like a well on Broad Street.

JSI staff are always tracking patterns and using data to draw conclusions and inform solutions. We’re not afraid to test new ideas because history tells us there’s a chance they just might work.  We confront every issue recognizing—as John Snow did—that people’s health depends on it.

So today, while you’re having fun on our website or getting ready to watch the next GoT episode, we hope you’ll take a moment to appreciate the lesser-known John Snow. You won’t find Dr. John Snow in your DVR queue. As much as Google might suggest otherwise, he’s not Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch or the bastard son of a king. But here at JSI, he’s our own celebrity. Because we think saving countless lives from cholera and inspiring a scientific field that has since saved millions more really takes the throne. And that’s no work of fiction.

5 responses to “Thoughts on the Real John Snow”

  1. I had the pleasure of working for John Snow in Papua New Guinea in the 90’s. We achieved many exciting outcomes in the Child Survival Project. I particularly remember promoting the Tippy-Tap for handwashing -a plastic bottle mounted next to the village toilet in the sunshine so as to sterilize the river water – 50 handwashes per bottle of water – prevention better than cure!

  2. I must say, it’s this spirit of fun mixed with a passion for making the world a better place that I miss most! Rock on Joel and John Snow!

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