The Spirit of Perpetual Scientific Inquiry 

Jacques Ohayon photo

By Ethan Liu 

How do we as a society reduce violence? That has been the essential question on Jacques Ohayon’s mind for decades. The 9/11 attacks further motivated him to find an answer. Using behavioral analysis and neuroanatomy to understand human psychological processes led him to a significant discovery: Left and right pupil size and irregular pupil shape may help to identify potential criminals and mass killers before they act. With extensive research on past mass killings, he found that some patients who are receiving Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) develop increasingly irregular pupils and violent personalities. This is supported by hundreds of case studies finding perpetrators having a history of intaking SSRIs. “SSRIs are tied in with all of these crimes, believe it or not,” Ohayon explained. 

Furthermore, Ohayon discovered through a series of pilot suicides that the perpetrators’ behaviors correlated with prescribed SSRIs. The best example is Andre Lubitz, the co-pilot who crashed a Germanwings airliner into the Alps in 2015. With these findings, Ohayon and his team at the company Visual Intelligence used artificial intelligence and optical diagnosis to develop the app Opto-Screen for medical professionals to better assess patient conditions after using anti-depressant prescriptions and to determine the effects of treatment. “I’m creating a new standard for the treatment of depression,” stated Ohayon. With the app’s acceptance, patients could eventually take pictures of their eyes and send information to their doctors. Then, with the data, physicians can make a more accurate diagnosis of whether to seek intensive medical treatment or continue with medication.  

Ohayon (ΦBK, SUNY at Stoney Brook) holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology, and he ultimately earned a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health. Initially, he worked in telecommunications and computer design, developing equipment in the field of bio-telemetry, but after running his own company, he switched to work in finance. Throughout his career as a broker at David Lerner and Wells Fargo, he still sought to understand the origin of diseases and ways to mitigate their effects. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Ohayon was asked to investigate the ensuing anthrax attacks that had caused panic and fear in the public. In the following decades, Ohayon was invited by multiple organizations to investigate outbreaks of diseases such as E.coli food poisoning in Germany, corneal fungus infection that causes blindness, and foodborne illness and outbreaks. These accumulated experiences make him a distinguished researcher, forensic disease analyst, and prevention expert. With the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Ohayon discovered the connection between the virus and the gut biome. “I explained the pathophysiology of the virus,” he said, “helped calm the public in my prediction that the vaccine would work, and helped calculate the sample size for the vaccine trial.” He explains regarding Covid-19, “When you have an illness that the body can recover from by itself, then you are more likely to have a successful vaccine.” With his extensive study to pinpoint the causes of deadly diseases, Ohayon has undoubtedly contributed to the understanding and mitigation of human illnesses.  

Since his induction into Phi Beta Kappa in 1975, Ohayon has grown to recognize the positive influence and values that the Society has brought to generations of students and to academia itself. Beginning in 2004, he made an effort to connect with the Phi Beta Kappa Association of New York, attending numerous networking events and meetings, and eventually becoming president. Under his leadership, the association has seen an 11-fold increase in funding, as well as significantly higher levels of member engagement. The New York association has modernized and transformed into a proactive, interconnected network of the country’s most gifted and talented intellectuals since his term. “People I recruited took over the association… now it has its own momentum,” remarked Ohayon. Acting as a bridge between senior and junior members of Phi Beta Kappa, he has helped breathe new life into one of the largest and oldest of the society’s alumni groups. Coupled with popular events such as Key Connections, interest and engagement in Phi Beta Kappa have grown. In March 2020 at the virtual Williams College induction ceremony, Ohayon was designated the honor to be president emeritus of the New York association. He also currently serves as the vice president of the middle Atlantic division of the
society. In assessing Phi Beta Kappa’s influence and promising future, Ohayon describes new waves of students as the people needed to propel society forward: “Every year, we get a new crop of super students inducted, and we have to keep them interested… and demonstrate a devotion to public service in helping society move forward.”   

In addition to his fascinating career and research, he has served as a volunteer consultant to the legal profession since 1997. In 2010, during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he helped “identify the bulkhead that needed to be sealed,” he explained. He then advised the U.S. Coast Guard to bring experts from Transocean and Haliburton to seal the bulkhead with an undersea pneumatic robot. More recently, in 2014, he was invited to help investigate the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370. Based on available information, he deduced that the co-pilot may have had pupil distortion and SSRI intake signs that possibly caused the disaster, although the truth remains unknown. His voluntary involvement in such significant events illustrates his passion for exploring the truth.  

Ohayon embodies the spirit of perpetual curiosity by solving mysteries in a scientific way and in seemingly unrelated areas, but with the same goal: for the betterment of society. Similarly, Phi Beta Kappa upholds these values. “ΦBK has had a major impact since it concentrates its efforts on the college campus, which is one of the major building blocks of society,” said Ohayon. “[It] is synonymous with democracy and freedom provided to us under the Constitution. Also excellence, discretion, and friendship are its major principles.” When asked about the importance of liberal arts he states, “The liberal arts is what academia is all about—they go hand in hand.  Otherwise, your community becomes segmentalized. Each with a specific specialty is too boring and lacks diversity.”  

Ethan Liu is a junior at University of California, Santa Barbara majoring in global studies. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa there in June 2022. The University of California, Santa Barbara is home to the Lambda of California chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.