All papers at PLoS Medicine now reflect the public Twitter debate

Last week, I wrote how several scientific journals and publishers are opening their eyes to Twitter. The confirmation of the relevance on Twitter also in relation to peer-reviewed journals comes in many different forms. This weekend, I came across a tweet giving another example :

If you click on the link in the tweet (or here), you’ll come onto the webpage of PLoS Medicine and an article by McKee M, Stuckler D, Basu S (2012) entitled: Where There Is No Health Research: What Can Be Done to Fill the Global Gaps in Health Research?

In the righthand side column (under: “share this article” – which is BTW primarily through social media) you’ll see a box from Twitter, called “What the community is saying”. In this box a roll of all the tweets linking to the article are shown in chronological order with the newest first. The reasons for why people chose to include links to a particular article in their tweets may of course be many. It could be a simple wish to spread word of the article, but could also be comments and reactions to the article and additional links to for example blog posts discussing the article.

For the authors of the article this easy access to the Twitter activity concerning their article provides and opportunity to see what the segment, who are on Twitter, are saying about the article – and not least who they are. And for the readers it is a chance to check out who else have found this article relevant. Who knows, they might be people in your area of research you were not yet acquainted with.

The Twitter box is of course not unique to the article by Martin McKee & co. but applies to all PLoS Medicine articles.


A small treasure box of essays on social media and health from NEJM

Once again, Twitter uncovered for me a small treasure box on the web. By following a link in a tweet I found a box full of stories of how social media and medicine and public health can benefit from each other. The treasure box is part of the NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) 200 years anniversary site and is shaped as an essay contest, which celebrates medical accomplishments over the past two centuries, but with a special focus on the profound changes which has taken place in how information is communicated. To quote from NEJMs own introduction:

“The internet and social networking have enabled everything from romance to revolution. In the healing arts, this change has transformed how the public accesses and uses health-related information. What used to rest solely in the hands of medical professionals now is easily accessible to the public. This paradigm shift brings with it benefits and challenges.

As future members of the medical profession and current users of these communications tools, students and residents are uniquely poised to apply and evaluate the impact of these evolving methods of information exchange on the art and science of medicine.

Essay Question: How can we harness this technology to improve health?”

This question has been answered by a wide range of people. The Gold and Platinum Winning Essays are online for everyone to read.

From Framingham to Facebook

My entry point into this little treasure box was an essay by Michelle Longmire, from Stanford University Medical Center, called From Framingham to Facebook. The name Framingham should ring a bell with almost any public health’er and refers to the Framingham Heart Study, a cohort study which began in 1948 in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. Michelle Longmire compares the magnitude of social media networks with the Framingham cohort and the possibilities which lays in the tremendous amounts of data that social media offers. And the possibilities for sharing information, keeping people informed etc. The commercial sector has already discovered this. When will medicine and public health?

A Move towards Evidence-Based Conversations on Social Networks

Another nice essay is by Daniel Imler from Boston Medical Center, who writes about the potential of social media to pull from two very different worlds, the emotion of social sharing around health issues and the scientific rigor of medical literature. And how social networks enables evidend-based conversation rather than rumour and emotionally based discussion.

#Healthtrends

I also very much enjoyed reading the essay #Healthtrends by Ryan Kahn from Johns Hopkins University. Ryan writes about the world of hashtags (#) and how they can be used in Public Health to do surveys and get people involved. He even comes up with a concept for and project with a hashtag called #healthtrends which he claims could be used to improve the public health of many. Maybe taking the mouth a bit full, but the conceptual idea is there.

And many more…

There are several other small essays which are worth a read – do take a look at them.



Why social media is particularly relevant for public health science communication

Social media is a gift to science communication. I am quite convinced about that. But is it particularly relevant for Public Health Science Communication?

As many of the blog posts on this blog illustrates there is huge value and potential in using social media for public health science communication. And not only to disseminate research, but to communicate with the public and fellow researchers and use it as an inspirational tool in an academic public health life – even as a tool to conduct public health research is social media useful.

If one looks across examples of use of social media in public health, it is possible to identify some similarities between public health sciences and social media. As I see it, there are a least three shared characteristics. These are: the concentration on the community and general public, the interdisciplinary profile, and the reliance on data aggregation to do research. The shared characteristics means that combining the two worlds into what one could call Public Health Science Communication 2.0 is perfectly relevant.

Community-oriented

Public health is about people. Public health sciences is about observing people, collecting data about them, asking them, telling them, comparing them, testing them, exchanging information etc. The masses are of essence. In medicine you often deal with the individual patient, but in public health it is the larger communities and population groups that are at the core. It is through the contribution of each individual that general trends and patterns in larger communities are developed and discovered.

Social media is about people. It’s about the exchange of information. It’s not about the one person or the group of two to three, but about communities, about large population groups, about subgroups, about trends, patterns and the interactiveness of the whole thing. Social media is owned and generated by the public, both when it comes to content and form. This democratic structure means that social media is an arena for all corners of the public. But also that it is through the combined input and contribution from each individual that general trends and patterns in larger communities are developed. Even the smallest niche of people can become a group or community of its own through social media.

Finally, people are not static creatures and thus neither is public health sciences or social media. Both adapts to itself and surroundings. Changes in people’s behavior results in changes in public health. This means that continuously observation and interaction with the sources of research and among researchers is essential, if research is to take place. Social media can be a place to do this and to share the information. With the public, with counterparts or fellow researchers.

Interdisciplinary

Public health is an interdisciplinary science. It draws upon research from fields as different as biostatistics, epidemiology, sociology, psychology, economics, medicine, pharmacology and several others disciplines. In addition, much research in public health happens in close collaboration with public health practitioners, and with the population as a whole.

Similarly, social media goes beyond disciplines, beyond communities, countries and sectors. The flexibility of the media means that it can be adjusted to the individuals preferences and needs and reach across disciplines in ways that traditional media can not. In addition, the more informal manner of the media makes it a good place to explore across sectors and disciplines. It gives an easy approach to other people’s main areas of work, of interests and their style. All things that are useful when you need to communicate with people outside your own field.

Public Health sciences’ interdisciplinary profile and the interaction with non-research oriented communities necessitates effective communication both from researcher to practitioner, researcher to researcher and the other way around. Social media provides this cross cutting communication platform.

Reliance on data

Public health research is a data-oriented discipline. Both qualitative and quantitative data frames most research in public health. Based on data, trends and patterns can be tested, theories can be discussed, data reviewed.

Social media is in its essence also all about data. Through interaction, communication and sharing of information it is one big collection of data. It is through the broadness and amount of data that trends and patterns are identified and information is spread. It can sometimes even go viral (a good old health related word) and information and data is spread.

The common central role of data in public health research and social media makes combining the two intuitively compatible. Data collection or spreading data/information through blogs, Twitter and Facebook are tools that public health researchers should explore. It might even end up in communication!

More similarities and arguments?

The above similarities may of course also apply to other research areas. After having been on social media for almost a year now these three just stood out to me. But I might have missed some, and perhaps I am elegantly overseeing reasons why social media and public health science are not so compatible. If that is so, I’d love to get you inputs on this! It could be helpful in an endeavor to get more researchers in public health sciences to regard social media as a natural and necessary tool for science communication.


When someone else writes convincingly why scholars should be on Twitter

Sometimes it just seems silly to duplicate other people’s words when they have used just the right phrases and words to say something.

The blog post “How to use Twitter” by PhD student in Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Aberdeen, Heather Doran gave me a little bit of that feeling. By sharing her own experiences, Heather writes about her efforts to get every other ph.d. student she meets to join Twitter! The blog post contains lots of good tips and arguments for why every PhD student and other researchers should get that Twitter account and start using it as part of their academic career. There are also tips to some Tweeters to follow.

So to save words: check out Heather Doran’s blog post “How to use Twitter” (and other posts on her blog Happy Science) and follow her on Twitter @hapsci.


Scientific journal publisher encourages the use of social media to reach your audience

So, your article has been accepted and is now published in a peer-reviewed journal. Great! Now the world gets to know of all your findings and hard work. Or will it? What if no one reads it? You can of course let your colleagues know that your article is out, have the communication department do a press release and things like that. But why not go wider than that? Why not share it with online social networks?

That sharing articles on social media can boost the number of downloads, Melissa Terras, whom I blogged about earlier, is a good example of. But also the publishers are becoming aware that social media can help boost the number of downloads, citations etc.

SAGE, the world’s 5th largest journals publisher, actually offers guidance on how to increase usage and citation of your article by using social media. This includes getting on Twitter (they even have guidelines for how to use Twitter), contributing to Wikipedia, joining academic networks and making use of Facebook and LinkedIn.

The offer of guidance to the world of social media comes out of an acknowledgement that as readers’ expectations change, it is important that articles are visible where the users start their search. Promotion of your articles through new channels will, as SAGE puts it “offer a direct way to reach your readership.”

And I guess that is the hope of every researcher whom has something published: that it will reach the relevant readers.


Crowdsourcing examples of how social media can benefit downloads and citations of peer-reviewed articles

How do you persuade good old fashion researchers that social media has something to offer them too? You know, the kind who prefers having their papers published in the Lancet, British Medical Journal and Nature. The ones who like giving key-note speeches at prestigious conferences or at least an oral presentation of an abstract. And who frowns or looks completely lost when you suggest that the get a Twitter profile.

This is a challenge. But a blog post by Melissa Terras from the Department of Information Studies, University College London made me think, that using a medium these traditional oriented researchers respect, as a tool, could be a way forward. Melissa Terras’ blog post describes how starting to do small blog posts of the stories behind the research published in 26 published articles, and tweet them afterwards, increased the number of downloads of the articles substantially. In the blog posts she wrote about all the stuff that doesn’t make it into the published paper, but then of course linking and referring to the papers too and there by drawing attention to them.

It’s really interesting to read her story of how some blogging and tweeting made her articles much more downloaded than her colleagues (which said nothing of the quality of her colleagues work but more of their efforts to spread the word of their research). The blogging/tweeting strategy really seemed to work!

The reason why the experience of Melissa Terras could be a good case story to use in convincing other researchers that social media is not totally irrelevant is:

  1. It doesn’t criticise traditional research communication platforms such as peer-reviewed journals
  2. It shows that traditional media and social media can work together and benefit each other (by being a marketing place but also a place to say all things you couldn’t include in the published paper)
  3. It focuses on how you can spread your research to more people, which must be the aim of any scientist: to have others read, learn from and use your findings!
  4. It uses numbers and graphs – researchers like that!
  5. It uses comparisons and control groups (her colleagues and time)
  6. Its written by a researcher herself

A call for for more examples

One ‘downside’ to the case of Melissa Terras could be that her research field is electronic communication and digital humanities. One can almost assume that many of the people in her field are first-movers when it comes to using social media, and therefore blogging and tweeting is effective because her audience is there waiting at the other end of the line. It would be great to find more examples like the one of Melissa Terras, but from non-communication oriented research. Do you know of some? I would love to make a list which could be used in different academic fields to persuade colleagues that there is something in social media for them too. If nothing else its a way to boost the visibility of their published articles, but hopefully it could also help open their eyes to all the other upsides of social media in science communication.

Please do share your examples!

I’d just like to end off with Melissa Terras’ own conclusion, where she again speaks to the scientist using the scientists own language of: If (x) then (y + z = w) :

“So that would be my conclusion, really. If you want people to find and read your research, build up a digital presence in your discipline, and use it to promote your work when you have something interesting to share. It’s pretty darn obvious, really:

If (social media interaction is often) then (Open access + social media = increased downloads).”


Inflation in teachings on social media in Danish Health care

Judging from the number of courses, guidelines etc. on the use of social media in health care, Denmark is now also becoming aware that there is something to it. The Danish Medical Association just published an advisory guide to their members on how to deal with social media, and “Dagens Medicin“, a Danish newspaper for health professionals, is offering a one-day course on social media in the health sector. An almost identical half-day course is offered by the Medicademy (an international educational program by The Danish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry) which focuses on how the pharmaceutical industry can use social media in their communication. Both courses come at a quite heavy fee of 2700 DKK per person (475 USD).

A communication expert and case stories

The two courses are very similar in their structure and speakers – and price. Both courses have a broader social media expert as their first speaker. It is not a person from the health sector, but communication specialist Elisabeth Tissot Ludvig, who is director of a private communication and PR company specialising in Health Care Communication. Elisabeth Tissot is also an occasional blogger [in Danish] at The Danish Medical Bulletin, where she blogs about Danish medical doctors’ communication habits.

The two courses offer various speakers from the health sector who according to the programme will share experiences in using social media in relation to their profession. This includes a blogging doctor; a researcher in patient blogs; a nurse who have used social media in recruitment of personal; and a pharmaceutical company’s use of apps in communicating with patients. Through these examples it is the objective of both courses to spread knowledge of social media and its potential role in the Danish health care and pharmaceutical sector.

Focus on legal issues, not much about science communication

At both courses and in the folder from the Danish Medical Association, legal aspects of the use of social media play a mayor role. A lawyer will present legal restrictions in using social media in a health context. The guide from the Danish Medical Association is almost entirely focused on legal issues and advice on what not to do or avoid doing when online. The advice is sound enough, because of course there are issues to be aware of when communication, regardless of what media is used. I miss, however, some words on what social media could be useful for. Examples of benefits of being online as a medical doctor or other health care personnel. The folder seems to be mostly fear driven and not very balanced on potential advantages for doctors to go online.

Twitter, which I myself find to a kind of glue that connects the different kinds of social media and attach it to traditional media, is only briefly mentioned in the course offered by Dagens Medicin. Here Twitter will be presented by a popular comedian. Of course there can be an intention to add a more light and less formal speaker to the programme, but seen from my perspective it is a shame that a health related tweeter couldn’t be invited.

Another thing I miss in the programme is how social media can be used in research and in research communication. Research is an integrated part of the Danish health system and it would have been interesting to have added social media’s role in science communication to the programme. But perhaps that is an entire course in itself…

Regardless, the guide from the Danish Medical Association and the two courses, indicate that social media in relation to health care is an emerging issue also an Denmark. If not among the older generation then surely among the younger generation of doctors, nurses, researchers, public health specialist etc. who have grown up with social media as a natural part of their lives.