Nova Interview

Prevention Science Can’t Wait: An Interview with Dr. Diana H. Fishbein

Looking out at our vast sea of interconnected challenges, including high rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), one wonders why prevention science is kept to the sidelines — particularly given the potential benefits and massive cost savings to society. 

Part of the answer lies in the way the problems we hope to prevent are deeply immersed in layers of social and environmental complexity and affected by temporal factors that differ across the developmental lifespan. Put simply, the scientific study of preventive interventions, attempting to determine whether an intervention works as anticipated, is complex. To establish effective policies to reduce NCDs and improve behavioral health at larger scales, we need evidence-based answers to many questions, such as: which populations might benefit from an intervention, in what environments, and what are the cost-benefits to implementation? Do the interventions last, and how soon are the benefits noted? 

Thankfully, dedicated prevention science researchers have not shied away from these challenges, and their decades of research have paid off dividends. Prevention science interventions have helped reduce tobacco and addictive substance use, teen pregnancies, violence, and mental health problems. At the same time, prevention science promotes the positive—improved academic outcomes, healthy childhood development, supportive parenting measures, mental well-being, and stronger community cohesion. 

As the saying goes, the solutions to complex problems require systems, or nonlinear, thinking, and the field of prevention epitomizes the word “interdisciplinary” and the term “breaking down silos.” With this in mind, I am delighted to introduce our fifth Nova Interview, “Prevention Science Can’t Wait,” in which Nova Fellow Alan C. Logan sits down with University of North Carolina (UNC), psychobiologist and criminologist, Dr. Diana H. Fishbein. The exchange between these two individuals, both of whom are clearly non-linear thinkers, is extraordinary. 

Dr. Fishbein’s life of work, from community organizer, through researching in correctional systems, and onward to testifying as an expert in Congressional hearings on prevention science, has been fascinating! As Dr. Fishbein states in the interview, “If you were to look at my CV, you’d think I didn’t know what path I was on. But it was all intentional, designed to gain a broad range of experience from basic research to the more applied and then, finally, to the policy work that’s necessary to actually make a difference.” 

Ultimately, the interview is a celebration of the ways in which the long road of research, with all of its associated sweat and toil, can make a meaningful difference, turning off the faucet of disease and behavioral problems before they head downstream into the aforementioned sea. The exchange shows us that despite all of the complexity, solutions are within reach. 

That said, prevention science remains drastically underfunded. Dr. Fishbein explains why that is, and provides a solutions-based orientation to move us forward. As Jonas Salk famously said, the answers preexist, we just have to ask the right questions. I am grateful that people like Dr. Diana Fishbein have dedicated their careers to attempting to ask the right questions. 

Read the full Nova Interview here — be sure to return here to discuss it!


  1. Terrific interview – and wow, Dr Fishbein’s response to the question “what kind of world do you want to live in” blew me away:

    “I want to live in a world where our economic systems ensure that all members of society have an opportunity to thrive and succeed. Where billionaires do not hoard their fortune but rather invest it in our children and families. Where politics is not polarized, self-serving, and counterproductive, but rather is responsive to the needs of constituent groups across our nation, without fear, favor, or prejudice. Where all members of society understand the impacts of adversity on child development and work in concert to eradicate it at all levels. Where all human services are structured to serve rather than further traumatize. Where our schools are equitably resourced and welcoming of ongoing innovations to provide the highest quality education imaginable. Where there is no racism or discrimination. Where everyone treats the earth with the same care and respect as we would a treasured friend, recognizing that humanity and nature are part of the same living system. Where no child suffers. Only then will my heart stop aching, and I will eventually pass gracefully without regrets.”
    I want to live in that world!

    1. Thanks @Dawn — Denni Fishbein is an amazing person, reflected well in the answer that you highlighted!
      I think the answer(s) to the fundamental question of ‘What kind of world do you want to live in?’ can tell us a lot about a person’s values and worldviews.

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