Are public health experts, researchers, enthusiast to be found online? This is a question that I have tried to answer over the last couple of months.

Having a master degree in Public Health Sciences myself, I must admit that until a few months ago I did not pay much attention to what the world of social media could add to my professional life or what I through the web could share with others. But as I described in my previous post about Twitter and LinkedIn, things are changing and communicating research and searching for information through social media tools more and more seems like a very natural thing to do.

Also blogs have opened my eyes to a new world of communicating public health. In my search for good examples of Public Health research related blogs I have very often come across a blog that is not even alive and kicking any longer. The blog is called “Effect Measure” and was started already in 2004 and had its last post in May 2010 – but still very much worth a read and proof that public health science is an excellent topic for a blog.

A model for subsequent blogs?

Effect Measure is edited by senior public health scientists and practitioners and calls itself “a forum for progressive Public Health discussion and argument as well as a source of public health information from around the web that interests the editor(s)”. It covers a wide range of public healths topics and often takes it’s starting point in (at the time) newly published articles or news stories related to public health (primarily in an US context). The blog both explains in simple language the topic/problem and comments on it. An example og a topic covered through several blog posts is swine flu (H1N1). When it was at its highest blog posts on the topic were published which all provided  good background information about the virus and made it possible, on a scientific basis to get an impression of what kind of disease we were talking about and what the challenges were. (see example here).

The blog post varies of course dependant on topic, both in length, tone, complexity and structure. A common structure for blog post is as follows.

1) Outline of the problem/topic and general background information
2) a long citation or links to other sources with either the conclusions from a study, an expressed opinion etc.
3) a comment on the citation and a conclusion or question for thought

This flows provides a good basis for the readers to have enough information to enter into a dialogue, e.g. through raising questions etc. In essence it gives a clear, in-depth scientific explanations of public health topics combined with strong opinions about how things should be handled with the view to improve public health.

Effect Measure started out as a private initiative in 2004 but was in June 2006 invited to come under the umbrella of ScienceBlogs, one of the premier venue for science-oriented blogs. This must be said to be evidence of its scientific soundness.

One things that may however challenge the soundness a little bit in my view is that the editors of Effect Measure chose to stay anonymous. The argument was as follows:

The Editors of Effect Measure are senior public health scientists and practitioners. Their names would be immediately recognizable to many in the public health community. They prefer to keep their online and public lives separate to allow maximum freedom of expression. Paul Revere was a member of the first local Board of Health in the United States (Boston, 1799). The Editors sign their posts “Revere” to recognize the public service of a professional forerunner better known for other things.

It can be debated whether this strategy is appropriate. It will in my opinion have challenged the blogs credibility in the beginning, and to me there is an element of playing chicken when you are not ready to stand up and take on you own views and opinions. They write that they themselves are senior scientists and practitioners in public health and would be immediately recognizable. Well, does this mean that the views expressed in their blog is what they apply in their work or are they here just letting out opinions on all the things they are not ‘allowed’ to say in their official positions? Usually I would find it okay to write under a synonym, but when the fact that these people are actually senior and most likely influential public health experts is taken into account I do find it a little problematic and it challenges the soundness of the blog content.

However, when criticism is passed on by the readers (eg. through a comment) the editors are very good at responding to any critic and questions. This give ground for very interesting scientifically based dialogue in almost all blog posts. And exactly the high quality dialogue is one of the reasons why I find this blog to be an interesting example of public health science communication. Also the frequency of postings is high and in combination with the posts being of high quality content, the blog is just a wonderful ocean of information, discussions and opinions. Finally, the fact that even a year after the last post, many of the blog posts are still very much forth a read proves that there is something to Effect Measure, which others could learn from.

A successor

Even though Effect Measure has closed down it is still a model for other blogs. One of its successor (so named after the editors at Effect Measures themselves) is the blog “The Pump Handle“. The Pump Handle describes itself as a place for people interested in public health and the environment to discuss issues of interest. The blog is named after the worlds first formal epidemiological study by John Snow in London who in 1854  through examining maps of cholera cases  traced the disease to water from a local pump. The two blogs are very similar in structure and focus (although there in The Pump Handle is much empathise on environmental and occupational health). The main difference is however that the editors are named. Both are researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health, and label their name to every blog post (also all guest bloggers also seem to be writing under their own names). As with Measure Effect it started out as a private WordPress-based blog but was later included under ScienceBlogs. What I like about the Pump Handle is that we as readers know who is blogging. At least to me it is nice to know to whom the views apply, not so that I can bang them in their head for their opinions should I disagree, but because gives the opinions more weight and sincerity.

My exploring the web for more blogs of public health sciences continues. Have already come across several, but had to share with you Effect Measure, as it seems to be a good example of how a blog on public health science can be structured.