LGBTQ in STEM: A Panel Discussion

Out4STEM Tree Image Logo

Tomorrow (April 28, 2016) from 5:30-7:30 PM, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia will be hosting a panel discussion exploring the experiences of LGBTQ individuals in STEM.

Whether you are an LGBTQ-identified individual considering a career in STEM or an an institution, organization, or ally who wants to gain a greater understanding of the issues facing LGBTQ individuals in the STEM workplace, join us for this networking event. We will be hosting eight panelists representing a range of STEM-related fields who will speak to their experiences and respond to audience questions. Light refreshments will follow.

The program is free but registration is required.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Foil “Kidnapping” Plot

A "ransom note" for the Karabots Junior Fellows' lesson on handwriting analysis

In their semester-long quest to learn all there is to know about forensic science, the Karabots Junior Fellows learned about how forensic scientists examine documents. Questioned Document Examination(QDE) is the name given to any document analysis involved in criminal cases, be they ransom letters, counterfeit bills or checks, or historical documents of questionable authenticity. It has a variety of applications in a wide array of cases, including identifying forged, illegally altered, or counterfeited documents to assisting murder and kidnapping cases, to investigating acts of terrorism. The Fellows examined just a few of the techniques and applications (you can learn more about QDE here).

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program examine a questioned document during a lesson on handwriting analysis

As luck would turn out, knowledge of QDE immediately came in handy. During class, they received word that Bucky, the classroom’s skeleton, had been kidnapped by some unknown culprit. The only clue we had as to the kidnapper’s identity was a handwritten ransom note.  Using their newly-acquired skills in handwriting analysis, the Fellows broke into groups and compared the ransom note to handwriting samples from several key suspects. In doing so, they were able to identify the perpetrator of this dastardly plot!

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program examine a questioned document during a lesson on handwriting analysis


Philly Youth Learn the Impact of Gun Violence

Students from the Karabots Junior Fellows and Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship Programs pose with ballistics expert Mark Williford

One small piece of metal can change a person’s life forever. On Saturday, the Teva Interns and Karabots Junior Fellows came together to address issues in forensics, ballistics, and gun violence. Together they met with Mark Williford, a forensic ballistics expert and formerly an officer in the Philadelphia Police Department. Williford shared his experience as a police officer and crime investigator, as well as accounts from growing up in Philadelphia and his firsthand encounters with violence. More than just addressing the science of ballistics, Williford challenged the students to critically examine the impact of gun violence on individuals and communities.

Ballistics expert mark Williford talks to the Teva Interns and Karabots Junior Fellows

New Article from the Wellspring: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Girls in Juvenile Justice Systems

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The following article comes from The Wellspring, our sister site devoted to providing mental health resources related to the LGBTQ+ community:

The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Girls in Juvenile Justice Systems: A Counselor’s Reflection

By Kierson Romero

A recent study has shown that LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented and incarcerated in the juvenile justice system compared to heteronormative counterparts. “ Although they represent approximately 6% of the youth population, it is estimated that this group makes up 13% to 15% of youth in juvenile justice systems, a number that often surprises juvenile justice professionals.”  The majority of the juvenile justice system does not accommodate or provide support to this unique subgroup of juvenile offenders. A study published by Holsinger and Hodge in 2016  examined “the challenges for staff, for facilities, and for the girls, as well as considered staff recommendations for changes in policies or programs that are needed to support girls who identify as LGBT.” [Read More]

CEPI Curiosities: “What Could Be More Disastrous than a Madman in the White House”

CEPI Curiosities: Tales from Medical History's Strange Side

Welcome, medico-historio-afficionados, Kevin here for another installment of CEPI Curiosities. The Presidential election is starting to heat up, and the remaining candidates are stumping their way toward their respective conventions. We’ve tackled Presidents in the past in this segment, from rumors of a plot to murder 12th President Zachary Taylor to John Scott Harrison, father and son of Presidents, having his remains stolen by bodysnatchers. However, you will be happy (or unhappy depending on your point of view) to know that this installment involves no body exhumation whatsoever. Instead we’re setting our sights on some medically-themed Presidential mudslinging and how one paper used psychology to call out a candidate in the 1896 election.

The time period is significant because the 1896 Presidential election between Republican William McKinley and Democrat/Populist William Jennings Bryan took place at a formative period in the history of psychology. While the diagnosis and treatment of mental health dates back to antiquity, psychology as an organized discipline only took shape during the end of the nineteenth century. The first laboratory devoted to the field opened at the University of Leipzig, Germany, in 1879. In 1886, Johns Hopkins University issued the first psychology doctorate to Joseph Jastrow (1863-1944) (best known in popular culture for creating this duck/rabbit image to address perception). Psychologists in the United States came together to form their first professional organization–the American Psychological Association–in 1892.  The period also marked the development of Sigmund Freud’s work on psychoanalysis.

With the emergence of the field, The New York Times, then a Republican-leaning paper, borrowed the developing authority of psychology to launch an attack on Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan.

1896 Photograph of Democratic/Populist Presidential Candidate William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan, while hardly a household name today, would be very familiar to modern audiences following the current election. A young, former one-term Congressman from Nebraska prior to the election, Bryan was for all intents and purposes a political outsider who stood for Populism, a grassroots political movement that, among other things, emphasized the rights of native small farmers and challenged corporate interests and immigration (in some ways of mixture of some liberal and conservative issues). At the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, he delivered an impassioned diatribe against the corruption of Big Business and Wall Street banks (stop me if this sounds familiar) and called for “bimetalism” as a way of curbing runaway inflation (the big political issue of the campaign). His “Cross of Gold” speech rapidly propelled the 36-year-old political unknown into the Democratic nominee for President (in contrast to modern Presidential elections, the nominee was often unknown until the convention).

Bryan, in many respects, was the first modern Presidential candidate. He traveled the country delivering stump speeches in favor of his own campaign, commonplace now but generally frowned upon as vain and unpresidential at the time. Supporters lauded him, with nicknames such as “The Commoner” and the “Plumed Knight,” seeing him as a champion of the small farmer and Middle America against Wall Street and the big business interests in the East. Meanwhile, political opponents marked his haughty calls for Free Silver and attacks on business as naive and shallow and criticized his youth and inexperience. They also criticized his active personal campaign, especially his speeches. Commenting on Bryan’s nickname as “the Boy Orator of the Platte,” Republican Senator Joseph Foraker of Ohio once observed the Platte River in Nebraska was “six inches deep and six miles wide at the mouth.”

Cover of the October 21, 1896, issue of Puck

This cartoon from the October 21, 1896, issue of Puck depicts Bryan’s speeches only bolstering the credentials of his opponent, William McKinley. Source: Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library

The New York Times editorial staff, who unsurprisingly endorsed William McKinley, made it clear they did not simply disagree with Bryan’s politics, they questioned his very sanity. On September 27, 1896, the Times printed an letter to the editor, from an author only referred to as “Alienist” (an early term for psychologists) who sought to psychoanalyze the Democratic candidate. The diagnosis proved a grim assessment of Bryan’s mental state:

I think I can say without any bias that Mr. Bryan presents in speech and action striking and alarming evidence of a mind not entirely sound. I say alarming, for, apart from considerations of humanity, what could be more dangerous than a madman in the White House

–“Alienist,” “Bryan’s Mental Condition,” New York Times, Sept. 27, 1896.

The Alienist described Bryan as suffering from a menagerie of ailments, including egotism, megalomania, logorrhea (characterized by extreme, manic talkativeness on trivial subjects) and logomania (abnormal talkativeness), delusions of grandeur, and even graphomania (an obsessive impulse to write). He concluded Bryan was a “political mattoid” (The Oxford English Dictionary defines a mattoid as “A person displaying erratic, eccentric, or somewhat paranoid behaviour”):

The political mattoid is an average man with a talent, or pseudo talent, that he cannot use wisely or sanely. His judgment is false, his actions foolish, egotistic, and extravagant. What is more serious, if given a chance, he surely ends in some disaster or folly from the dominance of his grandiose idea, or perhaps, from some real insane or delirious act.

An editorial from the same day reinforced the anonymous alienist’s diagnosis of Bryan, arguing he was erratic and unbalanced, prone to falsehood and driven by vanity (I leave it up to your judgment to assess whether that characterization applies to any of our current candidates). Commenting on a speech Bryan delivered in Philadelphia, the writer observed, “Nobody can look through it without feeling that these [statements] are not the sayings of a sane and sober mind” (“Is Bryan Crazy?” New York Times, September 27, 1896).

To further reinforce their assertion of Bryan’s instability, the Times printed second opinions from several other members of the psychological community, who offered their own diagnoses with mixed results.  A Dr. G.H. Hammond agreed with the Alienist’s assessment, adding “His degenerate theories, if he were allowed to put them into execution, would probably prove beyond doubt to the world at large his evident mental deterioration” although he took solace in his conviction that Bryan would never be elected (“[T]here is…little danger of a mattoid President being seated in the White House”). Several others criticized Bryan’s politics but dismissed any evidence of mental illness, attributing the Alienist’s symptoms to the pressures of executing a Presidential campaign (a physician named B. Sachs told the Times reporter, “I think Bryan has, perhaps, undertaken a task too great for himself.”). Another, Dr. Joseph Collins, took umbrage with the Alienist, arguing, “I have no sympathy with the person who is so intolerant of another human being’s honest opinions that he brands him with the horrible stigma of insanity because his views are different” (“Is Mr. Bryan a Mattoid?” New York Times, September 29, 1896.)

1896 Political cartoon against William Jennings Bryan where the spirit of Lincoln halts diminutive Bryan and his followers on their "path to national destruction." Image Source: The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library

In this 1896 political cartoon, the spirit of Lincoln halts diminutive Bryan and his followers on their “path to national destruction.” Image Source: The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library

Was Bryan insane? The Times certainly wanted its readership to think so. However, whether such an assessment would sway voters against him is hard to say. Odds were many of the predominantly Republican readership of the Times had already made up their minds to vote for McKinley regardless of Bryan’s alleged instability. In any case, William McKinley defeated Bryan in the 1896 election by 105 electoral votes. (Aside: The Times’ own state of New York, as well as the College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s home state of Pennsylvania went for McKinley.)

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!




“It Dwells in My Mind So”: The Karabots Fellows Explore Mental Illness and “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Actress Jennifer Sumemrfield portrays a scene from her one-person show of The Yellow Wallpaper, directed by Josh Hitchens (seated right)

This week, the Karabots Junior Fellows met with Josh Hitchens and Jennifer Summerfield, respectively the director and star of a one-person show based on The Yellow Wallpaper, a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) in 1892. The story depicts a woman whose husband, a physician, has locked her alone in a room as a treatment for mental illness known as the “rest cure.” The rest cure was a common 19th century treatment for mental illness, especially for woman, and involved minimal mental stimulation, a diet of bland food, and significant bed rest. The story is told through a series of journal entries surreptitiously written by the woman where she describes her descent into madness.

Photo of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

In writing The Yellow Wallpaper Gilman drew heavily from her own life experience. Suffering from what today would be diagnosed as postpardom depression, Gilman took part in a “rest cure” treatment at the behest of Philadelphia physician Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) in 1887 (Mitchell was a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the namesake of CPP’s Mitchell Hall). After three months of bed rest, minimal mental stimulation, and medically-imposed inactivity, Gilman stopped treatment for fear of a complete psychological breakdown. Gilman channeled her experience into The Yellow Wallpaper, later explaining the story, a scathing indictment of the rest cure, “was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.”

Photo of Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914)

Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914)

Jen and Josh described the process of depicting a person grappling with sensory deprivation and overwhelming psychological strain, and Jen presented the Fellows with excerpts from her performance. Our students asked a lot of questions about the acting process and the impact of mental illness.

Jennifer Summerfield and Josh Hitchens describe their production of the Yellow Wallpaper to the Karabots Junior Fellows

You can view Josh and Jen’s production of The Yellow Wallpaper this weekend at the Ebeneezer Maxwell Mansion. Shows will take place Friday, April 15 at 7:30, Saturday April 16 at 7:30, and Sunday April 17 at 2 and 4 PM.

CEPI Students Learn the Science of Deception Detection


Image of a polygraph

Source: spiralstares [Flickr], used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (, no changes made

A few weeks ago, students in both the Karabots Junior Fellows Program and the Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship Program learned career development skills through a hands-on demonstration in lie detection. A student from each program volunteered to take to a crude lie detector test, administered by Youth Program Coordinator Kevin Impellizeri. Kevin asked  a series of questions, beginning with simple ones (“What is your name?”) and ending with more challenging ones (“Have you ever cheated on a test?”), all the while he monitored their pulse. Kevin assures us he cannot tell whether someone is lying; merely, he was monitoring their physical response to his line of questioning. In fact, despite its depictions in popular culture as an infallible measure of truth or deception, polygraphs (“lie detector machines”) do not measure whether or not a person is telling the truth; rather they monitor the body’s physical response to questioning (what the American Polygraph Association describes as the “Physiological Detection of Deception“). Polygraphs are designed to measure changes in heart rate, respiration, and perspiration, and (in theory) a trained technician can measure this biological feedback to tell whether or not a subject is lying.

However, whether or not polygraphs actually “work” is a subject of considerable debate. In 2003, the National Research Council published a detailed report on polygraphs. The report, titled The Polygraph and Lie Detection, put polygraph usage into question and, among other things, cited a lack of standardized practices for questioning and the existence of countermeasures designed to “beat” a polygraph as reasons to doubt their effectiveness.  In 2004, the American Psychological Association came out against polygraph examination, describing the practice as “more myth than reality.” Polygraph results are inadmissable as evidence in court cases in the United States; however they are still utilized to monitor paroled prison inmates and to screen candidates for jobs in law enforcement. Ironically, the Philadelphia Police Department discontinued polygraph tests for new cadets in 2003, citing lack of reliability, only to reinstate them in 2011 to paradoxically add greater integrity to the police hiring process.

So why subject our students to a lie detector test? Job training! While the chances of being subjected to a polygraph test in one’s lifetime are remote, everyone at some point has to go on a job interview, and it has been well documented that how well one conducts themselves in an interview is essential. After a lesson on polygraphs, members of CEPI borrowed from the “Physiological Detection of Deception” by going over ways to behave during a job interview, including monitoring one’s verbal and nonverbal cues (body language, eye contact, timing of responses, etc.). This was followed with practice interviews to help prepare the students for success.

New Article from the Wellspring: The Hart of it All

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The following article comes from The Wellspring, our sister site devoted to providing mental health resources related to the LGBTQ+ community:

The Hart of it All

By Kierson Romero

The chances are that very few of you know who our next subject is. I had no notion of him until his story was brought to my attention by a peer. And what I learned put what I understood about Transgender history on its ear.

I introduce to you Dr. Alan L. Hart a physician that was assigned female at birth and was also the first recorded instance in this country to undergo gender confirmation surgery. [Read More]

CEPI Now Accepting Applications for the 2016/2017 TEVA Internship Program!


Is violence a problem in your community? Do you want to learn more about the causes, effects and possible solutions?
• Do you want to spend time working with like-minded, motivated students from across the City?
• Are you interested in science, health, and technology fields like forensics, medicine, and physical therapy?

If you answered YES to these questions, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s 2016 TEVA Pharmaceuticals Internship could be for you!

Students in the Teva Program pose with Thierry and Florence Momplaisir

We are recruiting and selecting 16 Philadelphia high school students to be TEVA Interns. These interns will explore the impact of violence on themselves and their communities while building skills and improving their understanding of science and technology.

Our program will focus on the following areas:

• Learning and applying forensic techniques such as crime scene investigation, fingerprinting, and ballistics.
• Understanding the health system’s response to individuals with traumatic gunshot wounds, including emergency room procedures, rehabilitation, and physical therapy
• Understanding the body’s physiological response to stress and stress relief techniques
• Learning to talk, heal, and build community with your peers

Teva interns share their thoughts on racism at the Racism is a Sickness installation

Students will work closely with College staff, the collections of the College’s Mütter Museum, and experts from a variety of fields and institutions.

To apply for the Program, download an application HERE. All applicants must secure a letter of recommendation from an academic, volunteer, or community adviser, permission from their parent/guardian, and complete an essay. Applications must be postmarked by MAY 2, 2016!

To learn more about the program, check out the TEVA Internship Program website. For information about past activities and events related to the TEVA Internship Program check out our Archive.