Social media in elections – influencial on the use of social media in science communication?

The battle for the Danish voters has begun. On 15th September elections for the Danish Parliament takes place. Politicians, political experts, aggressive journalists etc. are therefore all over the place.

Yesterday, I watched a little bit of the debate between the political party leaders on the nationwide TV station TV2. In addition to the politicians’ usual speeches and debates, the TV audience could participate via Facebook. I am not sure how well it worked, but it was clear that TV2 felt very progressive and on the beat.

Prior to the announcement of the election day and now in the count down to 15 September there is a lot of hyping of social media. Experts figure on TV expressing their opinions on the role of social media in the election and references to Obama’s successful use of social media is not uncommon. Maybe it is because I am already election overloaded and therefore try to avoid too much exposure to it, that I still haven’t experienced myself how the politicians (or perhaps more rightly their media advisors) use social media. To me it still seems to be mostly a hyped thing.

Today, I did however come across a website Valg-2011.dk that summarises the social web communication from the political parties. The website is useful to get a feel of how politicians make use of the social web media. All tweets from the nine political parties are available. Links to Facebook pages and YouTube videos and RSS feeds from the respective websites (no reference to Google+).

Since I am absolutely no expert on social web media and politics I shall not judge if Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will play a deciding role in this election. It is clear that there is a lemming effect which means that all political parties have to have a social media presence, since all the others have one too. But obvious is it that all journalists covering this election as part of their research and orientation strategy make use of Facebook statuses and tweets from the politicians and communicate that through the more traditional media platforms. In that way more people than those who actually follow the politicians on Twitter becomes exposed to their social media activity.

I wonder if science communication could learn something from all of this. Using social media is still far from the prioritized communication channel for Danish researchers and from my experience there is a lot of scepticism towards it. The scepticism will probably not become smaller with the current and massive exposure which the election gives to it, but it will, is my guess, contribute to making social web media a more integrated component of our communication lives. Not only in our private socializing but also in communication of what we do and believe – whether we are politicians, public health experts, medical researchers etc…


One-dimensional newsletters… or perhaps a blog?

As part of the Institute of Public Health at University of Copenhagen I received today in my inbox an electronic copy of the institute’s monthly newsletter. The 16 pages long newsletter is sent as a pdf file and gives an overview of what has happened at the institute since the last newsletter.

There are one-page articles about recent events, announcement, descriptions of various research studies and a calendar for the coming month. It is nice to be informed of what others at the institute are doing and this time I even contributed with a small article myself, describing my research project and promoting this blog to my fellow colleagues.

Both when writing my small contribution and reading the newsletter it did however seem very ‘one-dimensional’ to me. Reading about what has happened is nice, but honestly I would just as well like to know what is happening here and now. It would be wonderful if I could comment on what the others write, and see if others have something to contribute with. And it would be nice if I could easily follow-up on my small article, if I had developments to share, without waiting for the next monthly newsletter. It is not that I dislike the newsletter format. It is good to know what is happening and what people are working on and I do appreciate reading it. Most workplaces should and do have a newsletter targeted the staff, but would it be so terrible if others could tag along?

Maybe it is because I am biased by spending my days reading blogs, exploring how social media works, but I do believe that creating something a little bit more two- or even three-dimensional would be a great advantage. And although it is aimed at the people employed at the institute, perhaps there are people in the world who would be interested in reading along – also people we didn’t know would be interested. Transforming the traditional newsletter into a blog format would provide for many of the requests I raise here. It would make it possible to interact and enter into dialogue with colleagues. Posts could be linked to each other and the outside world could tag along on the sideline (and even make their voice heard if we choose to allow them to do so). And for those who are fans of newsletters it would be the easiest thing in the world  once a month to make an “aggregate” of the blog and send it out as a newsletter. In that way you would get the benefit of both the newsletter and the blog.

On the internet lots of people have argued for the value of blogs over newsletters. The blog post “How blogs are more useful than email newsletters” on Socialmediatoday.com highlights in a good way som of the advantages.

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For those of you with Danish skills you can read my contribution to the newsletter below:

Public Health Research Communication 2.0

Har du en Twitter konto? Er du medlem af FSV-relaterede grupper på Facebook eller LinkedIn? Kan man blogge om sit forskningsområde? Hos Medicinsk Museion er jeg begyndt  at blogge om mit forskningsprojekt: sociale webmedier og formidling af FSV-forskning.

Normalt sværger vi til tidsskrifter, konferencer og seminarer, når forskning skal deles med omverdenen, eller hvis vi skal lære noget om, hvad andre går og forsker i. Det fineste et forskningsprojekt kan opnå er at blive publiceret i peer-reviewed tidsskrifter som The Lancet, British Medical Journal eller andre high-impact journals. Bliver artiklen ikke accepteret her, kravler man ofte langsomt ned ad impact-stigen og forsøger sig med de mindre tidsskrifter. Det er også fint, hvis et forskningsprojekt kommer med på en konference. Måske som poster men helst som en mundtlig præsentation.

Indtil videre er det inden for folkesundhedsvidenskab ikke så fint, at dele sin forskning via de sociale webmedier. I hvert fald ikke hvis man ser på dansk forskning. Men fremtiden kan muligvis være en anden.

Med en kandidatgrad i folkesundhedsvidenskab og en fagjournalistuddannelse i ryggen har jeg på Medicinsk Museion kastet mig ud i et projekt om sociale webmedier og formidling af forskning inden for folkesundhedsvidenskab. Jeg har valgt at arbejde med de sociale webmedier fordi kommunikationsverden er vokset. Med web 2.0 er internettet ikke længere  envejskommunikation men baseret på dialog og på, at brugerne selv er med til at definere indholdet. Der er der opstået nye kommunikationskanaler som Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, Mandeley, Academia, Google+ og mange flere. Det vrimler med muligheder og nye dimensioner i forskningskommunikation.

Tre måneder med blogs, Twitter og Facebook har vist mig en hel verden af nye muligheder. Faktisk er jeg selv blevet så grebet, at jeg har oprettet min egen blog, ’Public Health Science Communication 2.0’.

Her skriver jeg, om det jeg laver i projektet. Blandt andet at der er meget at hente i at formidle via et medie, som er bygget til at kommunikere med læseren. At jeg kan få kontakt til folk, som har interesse for det samme område, men som jeg sandsynligvis ellers aldrig var kommet i kontakt med. Og bedst af alt: at jeg kan skrive om det jeg laver undervejs i projektet og ikke først, når det færdige produkt viser sig. Bloggen fungerer som både et vindue og en formgiver for mit projekt, og den giver jer og andre mulighed for at følge og bidrage til projektet mens det udvikler sig og tager form.

Som projektet skrider frem vil bloggen forhåbentlig blive fyldt med gode eksempler og ’best practices’ på hvordan sociale medier internationalt bliver brugt til at formidle folkesundhedsvidenskab, på hvordan sociale medier er gode kilder til informationssøgning og til at udvide sit faglige netværk – og meget mere.

Projektet løber et år og har kun lige taget sin begyndelse. Jeg ser frem til at diskutere med jer på bloggen og få jeres inputs til projektet løbende.

Nina Bjerglund Anderse, Forskningsassistent, Cand.scient.san.publ. og Fagjournalist, Medicinsk Museion, Blog: Public Health Science Communication 2.0, Twitter: @bjerglund, Google+: ninabjerglund


From a baker’s shop to Twitter: a new Public Health Journal Club emerges

The world is now a public health journal club richer! And this is a club not restricted to people in a specific university, from a particular workplace or with a special diploma. Everyone is free to actively join or follow it from the sidelines. Inspired by the first Twitter Journal Club, which focuses on research in clinical medicine, a Public Health Twitter Journal Club has now been set up.

The concept is just as for a regular journal club. It is a group of individuals who meet regularly to critically evaluate recent articles in scientific literature. Journal clubs are usually organized around a defined subject, in this case Public Health. The clubs are commonly used by students. They can help students become more familiar with the advanced literature in their new field of study and improve the their skills of understanding and debating current topics of active interest in their field. But also for non-students is a good way to keep up with the literature and developments within one’s academic field.

Sir James PagetDiscovering this new journal club made me wonder when the first journal clubs saw daylight. According to Wikipedia a British surgeon, Sir James Paget was the first to describe a group at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London in the mid-19th century as “a kind of club … a small room over a baker’s shop near the Hospital-gate where we could sit and read the journals.”

Sir William OslerThe first formalized journal club was supposedly established by a Sir William Osler at McGill University in Montreal i 1875, with the original purpose as follows  “for the purchase and distribution of periodicals to which he could ill afford to subscribe.”

I wonder what Sir James and Sir William would say about this new journal club on Twitter. At least William Osler should be happy about the chance to discuss scientific article with colleagues around the world without having to use money for travel. And he would probably applaud that The Public Health Twitter Journal Club gives priority to articles published in open-access journals.

If you are not familiar with the concept of a Twitter journal club a “how it works” can be read at the original Twitter Journal Club. A quick recap is also given here. With a Twitter account everyone is free to follow the Twitter journal club chat. To follow and contribute to the discussion use the #PHTwitJC hashtag in your tweets. By searching for this in Twitter you can follow the discussion and contribute your self by adding the hashtag to you comments. The discussion takes place for about an hour at an agreed time. The people behind the journal club suggests discussions points to guide the talk. Soon after the discussion a transcript of the discussion and a summary can be found at the journal club website.

Launched 18 July 2011, so far only one article have been discussed. A BMJ article Impact of calorie labelling on fast food purchases. The article to be discussed next time is up for a vote. Everyone can make their voice heard and vote for one of the suggested articles or come up with other recommendations.

Having just gone on-air the Public Health Twitter Journal Club t is still new and knowledge of its existence limited (to date 132 are following it on Twitter). But as more and more public health people hopefully become acquainted with it and actively takes part in it, it can provide the basis for interesting public health discussions. A chance to conduct post-peer-review and perhaps expand ones network. And who knows perhaps the author will take part in the discussion or at least read it afterwards. The later being one of the added values of a Twitter journal club compared to the closed journal clubs that takes place inside buildings, classrooms or perhaps above a baker’s shop.

That the concept of a Twitter-based journal club seem to be catching on is seen from the succesful original Twitter Journal Club (focused on research in clinical medicine), but also by other journal clubs that a popping up. An Astronomy Journal Club on Twitter have for example so far attract lots of followers that are eager to discuss articles and academic papers on astronomy and astrophysics.

I myself have not yet participated in a Twitter Journal Club, but I look forward to expericing discussions where each comment, statement, view point is limited to 140 characters. It really forces the participant to be precis.


Disseminate, inform, share, ask, discuss, communicate research

What is it we do when we blog about research or make use other kinds of social web media in communicating research? Do we disseminate information? Are we sharing information? Are we expressing viewpoints? Do we ask questions and enter into dialogue? Are we discussing? Are we communicating?

Yesterday, as reading a project description for a research study from Aarhus University on the use of Web 2.0 in disseminating research to other researchers, partners and the public I came to think of the above. To me it is obvious that using social media to tell the world about our work is a form of communication. Given, communication covers several sub elements. For communication to take place someone (the blogger) have to ‘send out a message’ or disseminate information (a through a blog post). Questions can be raised to the reader and through the comments function the reader has the possibility to react and comment. Communication between sender and reader is a possibility. Links may be made to other sources which is also a kind of communication with other senders of information. It is all sort of built into each other, and talking about one without the other can in some cases be difficult.

What struck me in the before mentioned project description was that a clear distinction is made between disseminating research and communicating research (translated from Danish):

The project aims to investigate the dissemination potential in new forms of research dissemination tools made ​​possible by new digital media. Focus of the project is the use of digital media for research dissemination and communication between scientists themselves, from researchers to partners in firms and institutions and the public. The goal is to connect research dissemination to communication, exchange and cooperation. The key is to create visibility for research through using new digital media.

I am puzzled a little by the project description. The project aims to investigate the dissemination potential in new digital media, but I assume what they are interested in is the communication potential. After all this is the advantage new digital media has over traditional platforms for research communication such as journals and reports. Maybe I am obsessing over words here but it just seems like a funny choice of words.

Speaking to one of the lead researchers behind the study I asked if this distinction was intentional and if so how each concept should be understood. He explained that dissemination was regarded as one-way communication, where the researcher passes on his knowledge, views, findings but without entering into dialogue with the receiver. Communication on the other hand is characterised by a dialogue, communication (or the possibility of it) between the sender and the receiver. Web 2.0 provides an excellent frame for turning dissemination through the web into something more than just dissemination.

Dissemination of research is of course nothing new. It has happened for as long as science has (and longer). Scientific journals, lecturers, reports, interviews in news papers and magazines, websites, databases etc. are ways to disseminate research. The new digital media such as podcasts, blogs, etc. are in relation to this just additional platforms for telling the world about you research. What is unique about web 2.0 and the social media is that it is actually able to provide a base for communicating, equal to the communication that can happen at research seminar, at debates or in discussion groups. They are in their core social.

What I do find interesting about the project from Aarhus University is the last part about connecting dissemination to communication, exchange and cooperation. Researchers may not all be brilliant at it, but most of them are aware (and interested in) that it is necessary to disseminate their findings and to that end social media is just another platform. What many of them perhaps know less about and may need training and sensibilitation to is how to communicate, exchange and cooperate with other than their usual suspects. Changing perspective a little and learning how communication is  linked to disseminating, but that the communcation aspect may  influence how and what to disseminate.

So far very few Danish researchers uses blogs, Twitter, Google+ etc. for disseminating or communicating their research. And within health the practice is almost non-existent (with a few exceptions). So there is definitely a lot to do in making Danish public health researchers familiar with the web as a platform not just for disseminating but also for communicating!


What motivates a scholarly blogger?

Why do researchers blog? Although it is definitely an expanding discipline, it is not yet common for researchers to share their thoughts, products and experiences through a blog – at least not in a Danish context. After some months of wondering around the world of science communication via social media it seems quite obvious to me that there are several benefits in sharing and communicating research through blogs.

Several characteristics of the blog can be highlighted as beneficial for the researcher who is willing to share both results of his research and the reflections on the process. Below I would just like to highlight three characteristics of the blog that I find valuable.

  1. Via a blog you communicate here and now. As a result, reactions, comments, critic, approval of what you write may come almost instantly. The blog posts doesn’t disappear, so later comments etc. are always possible. But not having to await e.g. long review processes in scientific magazines can in some cases be very valuable. And the ‘here and now’ structure gives space for a forum to put thoughts and ideas into words (which can actually sometimes be a challenge), which can be beneficial in later more formal communication of your research.
  2. Through it’s often more informal structure you can share your research, your thoughts, concerns etc. along the way, which makes it possible for the readers to comment and contribute to the process as well as the product. Informality also means that one can write more freely and not get stuck in specific word counts or formal language that even other researchers might find troublesome.
  3. A blog can help establish connections to fellow researchers or people with common interest – even people whom you would never have known otherwise. I know this from my own few months and weeks on blogs and twitter. Truly an eye-opener.

There are of course lots of benefits to blogging just as there are disadvantages to the media. Some of the things I here promote as advantages may, seen from a different perspective be perceived as problematic. (I promise to do a separate post on this one day)

As interesting as my perspective on scientific blogging may be, I have through my research come across an interesting ph.d. study which focuses exactly on why science bloggers blog. The study by Sarah Kjellberg from Lund University focuses among other things on Motivations for blogging in scholarly context.

Based on interviews with a group of researchers from different disciplines she examines why these researchers blog – what are the driving factors?. I shall not refer the complete study here, but just point out some of the main motivation points she finds to be general for the blogging researchers (the highlighted words are my responsibility):

  • The possibility to share knowledge and opinions
  • A creative catalyst for their work
  • Provides a feeling of being connected in their work as researchers and to enter into dialogue
  • Ability to reach multiple audiences and expand professional network
  • Enables the combination of formal and informal scholarly communication

It would be interesting to know if this is also the experience of other scholarly bloggers. Are there other motivating factors? And what can challenge them, so motivations is risked lost? What about shared blogs? Is motivation different if you have your own ‘solo’ blog or is part of a group blog with several contributors?

And where does the motivation come from. Can it only come from oneself or are the ways to ‘help it along? If for example a School of Public Health made an executive decision to have their researcher blog, would the lack of self-induced motivation affect the quality of the blog? Could a general blog format to all bloggers/staff at university fit all or would it affect motivation? There is truly still a lot to explore…..


Personal health data 2.0

Having had to consult my doctor, yesterday, due to an infection, I recalled a small discovery I made a few weeks ago of how the internet have given me very easy access to my personal health record with just a few clicks with the mouse. From the data I can confirm that I was alive when I was born, that I have been quite good at going to see my dentist on a regular basis and I have gotten get a sense of what I cost the Danish Health System every time I contact my general practitioner via email.

As a Danish citizen I can through a simple login at sundhed.dk (health.dk) and borger.dk (citizen.dk) get access to all kinds of health related data, which the system have registered through the years – or actually my entire life. The first registered event is “one live-born child”. Although obvious, there is something very comforting in being registered as live-born. Hereafter follows the (actually very few) hospitalizations I have had through the years and for the last nine years also all my consultations with my general practitioner, dentist, prescriptive medicine etc. The data is quite detailed with an indicative diagnosis for each consultation and the cost. As citizen in a country where health care is free (covered by my high taxes though) it is interesting to see what it actually costs to go see my doctor (17,5 Euro) – or even to give him a call (3.5 Euros).

The website also gives me nice overview of my medical history and highlights which years were ‘sicker’ than others.

And on an interactive timeline I can adjust the time and focus e.g. on my health from for example the age of 6 to 10 (although this age is not particular interesting since I apparently was a very healthy child).

Quite fascinating and good entertainment to look at. Al though I can’t interact with the data, my doctor or with the Danish health authorities and therefore not really can justify labelling this as Personal Health Data 2.0, then I do believe that this could play a significant role for public health. For example I can keep track of when I last went to the dentist for an annual check-up (still on the to-do-list for 2011). I can print my medical history and take it with me if I for example go abroad and need to refer to it or I can look back and find out when I had my last tetanus shoot, to find out if it should be renewed.

As can be seen from the annual overview above it seems like I didn’t have any interaction with the Danish health system in 2006 and 2007. The explanation is that I during these years lived in Switzerland and that my health record can therefore be tracked in a different system (which in this case I assume would be my health insurance company). Living in a globalised world it would however be great if I could import my data into one file. Imagine having complete access to my full medical history. Perhaps there could even be a user function were I could register all the things that doesn’t take me past my doctor. I could register when I have a cold, the flue, back pains…. it could even be through an app on my iPhone…. Am not sure what it would be useful for, but in the longer term I know from my public health background that data collected consistently over years provides basis for very interesting research indeed.

Perhaps these applications already exists and surely all the problems associated with self reported data will also challenge any later analysis done on such data, but in a longer perspective it could be interesting. At least I have found it useful and fun to, through my newly discovered health data access, go exploring in my own health and try to make sense of it retrospectively.


Blog post recommendation: 10 Ways Researchers Can Use Twitter

As follow-up to my post on entering the world of possibilities which Twitter and LinkedIn presents (read post here), I just wanted to share a blog post on 10 Ways Researchers Can Use Twitter.

The 10 advantages of Twitter for researchers is assembled by Salma Patel, a doctoral researcher at the University of Warwick with a primary research interest in digital engagement and participation in healthcare. She has her own blog with lots of examples from Twitter that illustrates the 10 advantages of Twitter.

Still new to Twitter, especially seen from a professional perspective, I must admit that it didn’t take me long to experience exactly the 10 things highlighted by Salma Patel.

New-comers or sceptical Twitters can start here.