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).”


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.


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.


Students minding the science gap in public health

I have previously written about the use of blogs by students and researchers at schools of public health (I called them Schools of Public Health 2.0). One example was School of Public Health at the University of British Colombia.

This week, I came across another school of Public Health Sciences that is actively using blogging in communicating with the world, and in giving students communication skills.

For ten weeks between January and April 2012, ten Masters of Public Health students from the University of Michigan (UM), have taken on a blogging challenge. On the website Mind the Science Gap they are posting weekly articles about various public health related news, research studies etc. The aim is for the students to learn how to translate complex science into something a broad audience can understand and appreciate. The objective of this whole blogging exercise is an ambitious one:

“to help ensure that UM School of Public Health graduates are some of the best communicators around when it comes to translating scientific evidence into something that others understand, and can act on.”

As part of the initiative, readers of the blog have been encouraged to write comments, both on the content and the form. So-called mentors from all backgrounds have signed up to comment on a weekly basis (you can still sign up here). With the comments the aim is for the students to improve their communication skills though the ten weeks.

I have read a few of the blog post and also commented and my impression is so far very good. Both because the blog posts are interesting and well written, but also reading the many comments to each of the blogs is great. There are good tips from experienced science bloggers that others than the ten students can learn from. And then I do in general appreciate the ambitious tone of the blog initiative: ensuring that UM School of Public Health graduates are some of the best at translating scientific evidence into something that others understand, and can act on. Imagine if they are succesful in this. Not only will that be an advantage for the work places that will later on recruit these ten students, it could potentially put pressure on other schools of public health to make sure that their students are even better – and are they succesful in that imagine all the benefit that could be achieved to public health! Okay, maybe this is a little naive – but one can always hope…

A blogging school

In addition to Mind the Science Gap, the MU School of Public Health also has a student blog where students blog about life as students of Public Health, and a long list of blogs from several SPH faculty, alums, and student groups. For example: Rackham Graduate School blogs, run by two Ph.D. students, a Risk Science Center blog, a Public Health Library blog, a UM SPH Epidemiology Student Organization blog, the blog 2020 Science about emerging science and technology and many more (see the complete list here).


What’s the point of this “academic twittersphere”?

“I don’t have time to Tweet.” “I’m not interested in what various celebrities are doing.” “I don’t know what I would get from it.”

These are typical responses I encounter when I ask academics if the are on Twitter. And I don’t blame them for their replies. Until you’re into the Twitter world it is difficult to grasp what it is all about and how in the world it can be of any use in professional academic life. For some reason it is just really hard to explain in words. The LSE Twitter Guide called Guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities is a great starting point, but explaining what it is useful for is still difficult.

On the LSE Blog Impact of Social Sciences, Mark Carrigan, a third year PhD student in Sociology at the University of Warwick, gives an attempt at explaining the point of Twitter in an “academic twittersphere”. He outlines what academics can get out of the social media service and tries to illustrate that motives for academics to be on Twitter may be no more different from what motivates academics to give presentations at conferences. The reasons to go onto the podium and give a presentation or a talk may be different from person to person:

Twitter is no different. It’s a spot on the internet that’s staked out as yours. What you do with it is up to you. Some people choose to wander over to their podium every now and again, make an announcement and then wander off. Some people give their presentation at the podium and then leave, only returning when they want to give another. Some do their presentation but thrive on the Q&A afterwards. Some might not like the feel of the podium and eschew a formal presentation to go and chat more directly with their audience. Likewise some people just want to listen and ask questions of other speakers. Others would rather ditch the conference and go straight to relaxing at the pub.

Most academic users of Twitter fall into one or more of these categories. Likewise people move between categories. But the interpersonal dimensions of it are fundamentally no different to a conference

Illustrating reasons to use Twitter for academic purposes by passing on the experience from various academics gives a good feel to what Twitter can be all about and why a lot of people end up finding it incredibly useful.

Academics who are not yet on Twitter, but are considering it may find reading Mark Carrigan’s blog post useful. I at least found some good arguments to use next time I enter into a Twitter discussion with a non-tweeter.


The responsibility of public health people to communicate

Public Health is a broad field, and finding ones place in the palette of colours that public health consists of is tricky. I have been around many corners ranging from international health, health statistics and information systems to planning of care, health policy and governance. And lately public health communication. I don’t know if I have found my shelf, actually I kind of hope not, but I must say that the communication side of public health is crawling under my skin. Perhaps because it seems such a natural part of public health and in many ways a neglected part.

As I blogged about earlier this month, I have been reading “The Panic Virus” by Seth Mnookin. It’s a book that takes you through a historical journey from the invention of vaccines to its successes, failures and not least the role communication played/plays in both. Ranging from the communication done by experts, the media to laypeople and celebrities. The book is well written and based on a great amount of research. I finished reading it yesterday and despite having enjoyed it a lot it also left me with a slightly discouraged feeling. It is a perfect example of how panic can grab a bunch of worried parents, about how ‘Mommy instinct’ becomes superior to scientific research and how the media at times can put aside rationale in order to follow the conflict, the emotional story and forget the premises of scientific research which makes giving absolute ‘yes or no’ answers extremely difficult. My discouragement was very much: Well what do we do about this, how can we take on mommy instincts and heart breaking stories and scientists who do not apply to scientific standards? Risk is difficult to communicate, communicating all the things we don’t know makes risk seem even more scary. So what do we communicate, how much do we communicate and in what way? And where does public health communication specifically fit into all of this?

I then realised that public health communication is perhaps exactly where some of the communication in the whole vaccine story went wrong. The media attention was taken over by people who took their starting point in individuals – in their own nine patients, their own child or grandchild or their own gut feeling. Even though organisations like the CDC, whose focus is population health, of course did and are doing their best to communicate the benefits of vaccines both to individuals and societies and draws attention to what the majority of the research findings is telling, I believe it is to some extend is still the failure of public health communication that may be to blame here. As I was taught from the very first day in my very first class in Public Health, Public health is exactly about the population perspective and we should be obliged to be much better at communicating this. Public health people should be the holders of that expertise – it is not the responsibility of the medical doctors or the statisticians or sociologists. We should be better at communicating risks and what they mean and be better at explaining what it is we don’t know. Most of public health research, whether it is done by numbers or by qualitative methods is about finding trends, causation in large groups etc that we can utilise to ensure or improve the wellbeing of the individual as well as the broader population. And we need to be better at communicating this. Not only to the public but also across scientific disciplines, across levels of society from decision makers to funders of health initiatives etc.

Taking my own public health training as my reference, I must admit, that I was not given much guidance on the communication side of public health. I was told that my expertise is that I have an insight into many disciplines and can bridge these disciplines, but how actually to carry out this bridging function I wasn’t given tools for. I hope I can be able to ‘catch up’ on this skill and that I can share my experiences with others. To a start I recommend people to read “The Panic Virus” and learn what the consequences can be if we don’t pay attention to the communication side of public health sciences.


Viral public health science communication

My new bedtime reading is made of dramatic stuff. It is about children with dangerously high fevers, about parents fearing for the life of their offspring, and about healthy maids milking cows. It is about the enthusiastic joy of getting closer to immortality and the birth of fears so great that people turn their backs on what their parents just a decade earlier glorified to the skies. It’s about vaccines and infectious diseases!

At Science Online 2012, I was so fortunate to win a copy of “The Panic Virus” by Seth Mnookin, and with a long stopover in Chicago on my way back to Copenhagen this was a perfect way to pass time and close Scio12 with a well written story about the role of public health science communication! I have not yet finished the book, but will most likely return with a separate blog post on it when I’m done. There is lots of interesting stuff in that book.

I will however just share a poster or infographic that I came across the other day. Actually, it kind of summarizes a big part of “The Panic Virus” or is at least a response to the panic which, among other things, a false report of a link between vaccines and autism created among parents. A panic that still has a strong take on many people today. The poster is created by Medicalcodingcareerguide.com and uses data on vaccine and disease by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

I like the poster for several reasons. Firstly, I find the layout very appealing. There is something very retro about it. The yellow colour, the choice of font and the style of the images. Secondly, I like that it plays with the format of a poster. It doesn’t use a conventional format, but plays with the proportion. Thus, it is long and thin (a little bit like a syringe) and it tells a continues story. You can jump in anywhere, but you can also let the poster tell you a story from beginning to end. Thirdly, the numbers are to the point. No excess information or complicated graphs. It gets the message across without being overly complicated, but not naively simple either. That goes for the text too. There isn’t a fear of using latin words, but it is still informative. And then again, it is just a poster/infographic so it can’t contain all the complexity. I still like it however.

One element of critic could be that the two crossing syringes in the title could be interpreted as a crossing out of the word vaccination – which is definitely not the intention by the designers I assume.

Voila the poster, an example of public health science communication:

Medical Coding Career Guide
Created by: Medical Coding Career Guide


Dear students: In this class you will have to have your mobiles turned ON

Do term papers have to be written with pen and paper? No, luckily not anymore. Is it necessary to hand in a printed version of your exam paper? No, universities (at least in Denmark) now let you submit online. Would most people use programmes like Word etc for writing their assignments? Probably yes. But how about putting it all online? And making it public. By using a blog format?

The idea seems very relevant in a course on Public Health Science Communication, which will also cover how social media can play a role in communicating science. At least the idea is very inviting to me. And several universities have already tried out the concept. For example the University of British Colombia used student blogging for their course on Social Media in Health and Medicine.

Since I myself have no experience with using blogs in teaching situations, I was happy to learn that Science Online 2012 had several sessions relating to using the blog as a tool in lecturing. Unfortunately, I only managed to make it to one of the four sessions that circled around the topic. Blogging in the Undergraduate Classroom. As with other sessions at #scio12 there was no ‘fixed’ agenda or presentation, but more an informal sharing of experiences, ideas and questions, led by two moderators (Jason Goldman and John Hawks), who both have used blogs in their teaching.

I have tried to but together a small Storify of the tweets from the session. A link to the Storify is here and at the end of this post. I’m not sure that I managed to capture all tweets, so apologies to those who feel their tweets have been overlooked).

In summary some of my main take-home-messages were:

Advantages

  • The goal of having the students blog is to teach them to communicate themselves – it is as simple as that!
  • Blogging can also be a tool for teaching students how to read papers! By asking them to blog about the papers they read it teaches them not just about writing but also about reading papers and commenting on them.
  • Students are much more aware of their audience (their peers and others who had access) and therefore work harder at their writing. (As someone commented: Their mothers might be reading along!)
  • Using blogs, Twitter etc in the classroom makes you the teacher where it’s OK use mobile devices during class – you’re the cool teacher and may create a new classroom culture, which in return can be inspiring/motivating for the students.

Challenges

  • Consider the privacy issue carefully. Should the blogs be public or restricted? Should the students blog under their own name etc.
  • One of the risks of introducing blogs is that you may end up spending all your time training to use platform, become technical support. Take this into consideration and choose your platform carefully
  • In grading it is important to be sensitive to the students technical skills, internet access, time frame for assignment etc.
  • The blog may invite to more informal, loose behavior. Make sure to make deadlines for “handing in” assignments – and stick to them.

Suggestions for how to use the blog

  • Forming student blogging teams can be an advantage. Eg. in teams of three where on student posts a blog, one person edits it and, one person comments on the final product. It can also be a way of involving the more shy students and give them room to express themselves
  • Let the students choose a topic of interest to blog about. They write much better if it is something they have an interest in and care about. Highlight that If they wouldn’t want to read it no one else would!
  • Blogs can be used to assign readings and students may be required to post and comment
  • Start out with a scaffolding the process, eg. Reading & commenting, later on write blogposts
  • Wiki-entries is a good alternative to blogs.

Other experiences

Doing a Google search of using blogs in the classroom, reveals that there are lots of experiences to learn from and also tools made available. (as with any Google search it can be a little chaotic to find out what is useful and what is not). One thing that looks useful that I just came across is something called Edublogs.org, which is an educational blogging services. Will have to explore that some more. There seems to be many ideas and services. And should any of you have experiences, lessons learned etc. you’d like to share they’ll be more than welcome!

Before I end I thought I’d also just share this SketchNote that, one of the participants in the #scio12 bloggin session (Lali DeRosier) did the below SketchNote:

Link to the Storify (Collection of tweets from the Session Blogging in the Classroom)

[View the story “Blogging in the classroom” on Storify]

Update 6. February 2012: Andrea Novicki, from Duke Center for Instructional Technology wrote his conclusions from the session here – very useful overview