The International Journal of Public Health blog

More and more public health related journals are expanding their online universes with blogs. Eg. BMJ and PLoS have blogs associated to their journals. Now one of the smaller journals of Public Health has also started a blog. The International Journal of Public Health’s blog is made as a joint venture with the Swiss School of Public Health +.

The blog aims to promote debate around current public health issues and articles published in IJPH and to bring together public health research and clinical practice. The idea behind it has been double:

  1. to provide a discussion platform for quick and direct exchange; and
  2. to put this discussion in an open space so that interested public health people from various fields can follow it and make contributions.

The blog seems to be populated with new posts quite regularly. Mostly the posts work as advertisement of newly published articles in International Journal of Public Health or events at the Swiss School of Public Health +. Almost all the posts end with a question, inviting the readers to comment, share ideas, thoughts and critic, such as:

“What do you think about this study? What could such results mean for Public Health policies?” or “We hope you find these articles useful! What other methodological articles would you like to see in IJPH?”

So far the comments section has not been used much. Whether this is due to lack of interest in commenting or inawareness of the blog is difficult to say as the blog is still quite new, and only was launched early in 2011.

Creating a open commenting culture is perhaps also just something that takes time…


The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice

Public health history is a part of public health sciences. And the history of public health holds many great stories relevant for blogging. I just came across this blog about “the horrors of pre-anaesthetic surgery”. The blog is called The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice and is written by Lindsey Fitzharris, a medical historian at Queen Mary, University of London.

I have read some of the posts and really like them. For example this post about Grave Matters: The Body-Snatchers Unearthed. Lots of good stuff about the theft of bodies, people mistakenly being buried alive and the training of doctors in the 1700s. Apparently I’m not the only one to like the blog. At least it was awarded with the Cliopatria Award for ‘Best Individual Blog’ in 2011.

The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice is an example of how the reasons to start blogging can be many. For Lindsey Fitzharris it was: “a way of reaching out to friends and family who did not understand what it was I did as a historian of medicine. Since its inception in September 2010, however, the website has taken on a life of its own, far exceeding all my expectations.”


Ruling out Justin Bieber fever … and how we get feedback from the population

“… and how we get feedback from the population”. This sentence is the last remark in a short video on how Twitter might just change how we do Public Health. I love the sentence. It refers to how Twitter is a new tool in Public Health research, but also a tool for us to get feedback on our research from the population. It strikes upon one of the key values of social media in public health – its ability to interact with the population whose health and well-being is what we are working to ensure.

In 1 minute and 40 seconds, Computer Science Professor Michael J. Paul and Doctoral Candidate Mark Dredz, both at Johns Hopkins University, gives an appetizer to how we can use public health information hidden in tweets to improve the health of our population. The secret is, as it is in most public health research, not to look at one patient, one doctor, one sick story or one single Tweet, but to look at thousands or in this case even billions. This video show how two billion Tweets can unlock insights to our public health.

By analyzing two billion Tweets for relevance to health information and then comparing the results to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Michael J. Paul and Mark Dredz demonstrate how Twitter can accurately track the spread of influenza, the peak of allergies and predict how diseases spread and change over time.

This really could change the way we do public health in this country – and how we get feedback from the population.”

Michael J. Paul, Professor, Johns Hopkins University

The secret is to turn tweets into data. That requires however a computer which  have been taught that ‘Justin Bieber fever’ is (so far) not a public health problem. Luckily they solved that problem:

The analysis by Michael J. Paul and Mark Dredz can be read in a traditional scientific article format here.


When humanities take a closer look at health and communication…

A ‘Humanities Perspective on Health’. I must admit that my prejudice about humanities flourished in my head when I last week decided to attend the ‘Institute day’ of the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication (MCC) at the Faculty of Humanities at University of Copenhagen. The headline for the event was “Humanities perspective on Health”.

My reason for bringing up the MCC institute day here on this blog is that a few of the presentations focused on the communication of health (see complete programme here – NB in Danish). Two presentations took their starting point in health as it is portrayed in television. Associate professor Christa Lykke Christensen took a closer look at health in Danish TV from the past to the present and Anne Jerslev, professor of Film- og Media Science, talked about “The biggest Loser”, a reality programme with obese people, as an example of a health related television programme from the US. Finally associate professor Tone Saugstad talked of didactics in health campaigns.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend all sessions, but from the ones I attended I put together this small Storify of my tweets (also in Danish). As far as I am aware, I was the only one tweeting at the event, so the tweets naturally only reflect my impressions. Would have been great if there had been others, but that was perhaps too much to expect at a department of media and communication.

Below are a few of my thoughts from the afternoon presentation.

The scientists new opponents: The Know-how experts

Crista Lykke Christensen illustrated in her presentation how television programmes in the 1970’s until the 00’s portrayed health as equal to the absence of disease. Most programmes used the format of documentary, reportage etc. looking at things like pollution and structural things in society that caused disease and illness. The responsible parties was to a large extend society, the industry etc. From the 00s and onwards the perspective changed. According to Christa Lykke, health as it is portrayed in Danish television today is no longer equal to the absence of disease, but is to a large extend now equal to the absence of obesity. The programmes use formats such as docu-soap, reality show etc. A consequence of this is, according to Christa Lykke, that in todays media coverage of heath, the true “health experts” have been replaced by “know-how experts” (coaches, diet experts, fitness instructors etc.) The ‘true experts’ have been pushed to the side.

Thinking it terms of public health science communication, I guess this means that the traditional health scientists are ‘up against’ a new league of people, not just the public or the politicians but also these new know-how experts. This fact is not revolutionary, but it just made me think about how science communication needs to find its strengths in comparison with the communication from know-how experts. Although Christa Lykke didn’t touch upon it in her presentation, it is obvious that know-how-health-experts are not just a TV phenomenon. Also online are there thousands of them. They have discovered the power of the blogs and social media – at least in comparison with Danish Public Health and Health scientists who almost shine by the absence. The know-how experts have made themselves available to the public and through online platforms they give on all sorts of health issues in a language their audience can understand. Perhaps scientists should let themselves inspire a little and dare to take a risk and communicate their research through other platforms that the peer-reviewed journal and conference presentations. Not by copying the know-how experts, but by finding their own format, suited for their research in the interactive platforms.

Communication people communicating through power point slides

I have never attended a meeting at the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication (MCC) but I did (perhaps naively) expect that communication methods would be kind of cool and in sync with the newest developments. I was however to be disappointed – both when it came to presentation technic and the media covered in their presented research. Not once during the afternoon (at least in the part that I attended) was social media for example mentioned, even though this is a quite significant player on the health scene. Only a short mention of the fact that the programme “the biggest loser” also had an online world where viewers commented on the programme and shared their own obesity stories. The presentation on communication used in health campaigns by associate professor Tone Saugstad, was limited only to mass media, and when I asked her about the role of social media in national health campaigns she looked like one big question mark!

Also it was surprising how few photos, video etc. was on their presentations. Only at the end of the Anne Jerslevs “Biggest Loser” presentation did we get to see some photos from the show. No YouTube video clips, no sound clips, no illustrative examples from Christa Lykke, no examples of health campaigns – just ppt slides with bullet points. Quite surprising at a Department of Media, Cognition and Communication I must say!

All past, no future

Finally, I got the impression that the research presented was all very backwards looking. It was all about what had passed and no mention of what media coverage of health in the future could look like. Nor much opinion on whether the current coverage was good or bad or what consequences it has for public health (eg. does it influence the populations perception of what health is, how we utilise the health system, whether we eat differently etc). That it was all about the past and not so much the current consequences or of future communication was clearly illustrated when Christa Lykke replied that she had no comment on what she thought about the current coverage of health in TV, or any suggestions as to what the future would, could or should look like. She said that was not her role as a researcher. My thinking is that if researcher do not dare to, based on their knowledge and expertise, comment on the development, well then science is sure to lose the battle to the know-how experts….


Also deans of Schools of Public Health can blog – and master the discipline very well!

I love when I come across people, who in a public health perspective are high ranking and hold influential positions in public health – and who blogs! It proves that blogging is for all, whether you’re a public health student or the dean of a School of Public Health. This week I came across a great example of the later.

Antoine Flahault is dean of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique (EHESP, School of Public Health, which belongs to Sorbonne Paris Cité, a confederal French university), and a regular blogger on his own University blog, which is simply called Antoine Flahault’s blog, and was started already in November 2007 (it is available in both English and French).

The content of the blog seems very much to be a reflection of the different aspects of public health which Antonie encounters both as a Dean of a School of Public Health and as a public health professional himself. He shares his thoughts and opinion on for example (and these are just a few!):

What I like about the blog, is that Antonie Flahault is not afraid to share his opinion. He argues for his points of view and thus indirectly gives a window into where he sees that a school of public health should be heading. He poses questions and invites comments (although this doesn’t seem much used), which hopefully stimulates discussion and reflection among his readers. And then something I appreciate very much: he writes as him. Not only as the dean, but as Antonie Flahault. This gives the blog a personal touch, which makes it engaging to read. There are no pictures, but lots of background links and the blog is very much alive with very regular postings of new blogs. I truely feel I have learnt something new or reflected on a topic after having read his blog posts.

I have come across other blogs run by deans of schools of public health – but not many, and this one is definitely the absolute best I have encountered so far. I just started following Antoine on Twitter and look forward to reading more of his thoughts on public health, which are very inspirering.

Other examples of blogs (not newsletters) by Deans of Schools of Public Health:

Just a little bit of background info on Antoine Flahault:

Antoine Flahault was formerly a public health intern, doctor of medicine, doctor of biomathematics, professor of public health at Université Paris Descartes – public health practitioner at Hôtel Dieu de Paris ; he was former head of the public health department at Tenon hospital, Paris. He headed the Sentinelles research team at Inserm-UPMC (UMR-S 707) and the WHO Collaborating Centre for electronic disease surveillance. He co-ordinated a research programme bringing together disease surveillance, preventive epidemiology and mathematical modelling. In collaboration with WHO, he developed the international ‘flu monitoring system (FluNet). In 2006 he was responsible for setting up an interdisciplinary unit for research into Chikungunya and since 28 November 2007 he has been responsible for a research and monitoring unit into emerging diseases in the Guyana and Caribbean region. He was appointed director of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique (EHESP, School of Public Health, which belongs to Sorbonne Paris Cité, a confederal French university) from 1 January 2008. He has been elected as president of the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER) in 2010-2011. He has been elected as Correspondant Member at the French Academy of Medicine in December 2009.


Ryan Goslingfying biostatistics communication

Biostatistics is perhaps not the most approachable thing to people outside the biostatistics sphere, and as a discipline of Public Health Sciences it is sometimes frowned a little bit upon. Maybe because it is, even to many public health professionals, quite boring. It’s all about numbers, computer programmes, likelihoods, tests and probabilities and communicating it is difficult to do in a sexy or funny manner. Or is it…

A wonderful friend and fellow public-health’er who for better or worse have biostatistics as an integrated part of her work sent me this link to a Biostatistics Tumblerblog. She wrote:

“This is perhaps also a way of communicating public health sciences :)”

ww.biostatisticsryangoslingreturns.tumblr.com

The website is the product of one PhD student’s free time and is meant purely as entertainment. It is hardly ‘Science Communication to the Public’, but perhaps one could argue that it is a way of communicating science to the insiders of biostatistics.

It uses the (unsexy) language of biostatistics and combines it with the (sexy) Ryan Gosling – thus it puts together two opposites. It is this combination that appeals to at least my friend and probably also to many of the other followers of the blog.

Go to the blog and check out this simple way of communicating biostatistics. Below a few appetizers picked out by a fan of the blog:

“Hey girl, since I met you I’ve violated my independence assumption”

Hey girl, before I meet you I wasn’t complete and sufficient”

Hey girl, if I was a non-adherent participant, would you still include me in your analytic sample?”

Hey girl, sometimes I feel like a nul-hypothesis. I will never be accepted”

If anybody knows of similar blogs, combining public health disciplines with short texts and photos do not hold back – share it!