European Public Health Association and the missing communication category

Yesterday, I got an email congratulating me, that I am now a member of EUPHA – The European Public Health Association. With a public health background this is naturally an association I feel it only right that I be a member of and I assumed that I would be able to find myself as a natural member fitting right in. So, I rushed to my profile page (as the email encouraged me to) and completed my profile data. My feeling of identification with EUPHA was however challenged from the very first moment.

The profile page is pretty straight forward – name, address, nationality etc. That is easy and as soon as the letters were typed in, I could easily identify with the person on the page. But when I came to ticking off the boxes under “EUPHA sections“, “Field of expertise” and “Topic areas” it was almost impossible to find myself. No where was there referral to anything that has to do with public health communication! I must admit I was really very surprised about this. Under Sections the closest thing to fit me was the “Public Health Practice and Policy-section”. Under Field of expertise there was again no communication related option (see below), so in order just to tick something, I saw “health information” as the best option although this could also refer to be health data (which I luckily also have some expertise in): And finally, under Topic Areas there was neither any reference made to communication, unless you could assess it to fall within “Health Promotion” or “Health Behaviour”.

All in all, I must admit that didn’t really feel represented in EUPHA categories. And I can’t help wonder why communication is not a least a topic area for EUPHA. Is public health communication not a priority? Is it just something that is assumed to fall as a sub-component of other public health topics and expertise? Or is this not something a public health person need worry about because we’ll have the communication staff to take care of about this?

On the EUPHA website, communication is not entirely missing. Thus, the association refers to EACH The European Association for Communication in Healthcare – which is an interdisciplinary non-profit organisation which brings together researchers and trainers in the field of communication in healthcare.

I am however still disappointed in the severely misrepresentation of communication in EUPHA. Public Health is about the health of the public and communicating health messages, research findings etc. to the appropriate people (whether they be the public, policy makers, other researchers etc.) is in essence the back bone of successful public health research and maintaining a healthy population. It should in my opinion at least qualify for a Topic Area in EUPHA’s profile page options.


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


Science Online pluses and minuses

How long can a conference continue after it has ended? I don’t know the answer, but I know that Science Online 2012 is definitely not over yet, despite the fact that the last plenary session ended more than two weeks ago. On the Wikipage of the conference the list of blog coverage after the conference just seems to keep growing, and on Twitter #scio12 tweets keeps rolling in. People I didn’t meet at the conference, I am now meeting two weeks later, meaning that I can still add names to the list of “people I met at Science Online”. Quite amazing.

It is great to read other people’s reflections on the conference, their follow-up sharing and their excitement over Science Online 2013, although it is almost one year away (a wikipage for planning Scio13 is already going strong).

As many of the Science Online related blog posts already portray, it is easy to become a fan of this little big unconference. Even though this was my first experience with the original Science Online conference (I attended Science Online London 2011), I felt so very welcome and almost automatically as member of a group or family I didn’t know I was a part of until I joined them there live, in Raleigh, NC.

The hundreds of interesting topics which came up during Scio12 could fill hundreds of blog posts, but here I’d just like to share two things that I really like about the conference, and articulate two of the weaknesses which I encountered.

Science Online 2012 pluses (two reasons why Science Online is great!)

  • It is full with passionate people. People who have a passion for communicating science, whether they are scientists, journalists, editors, communication officers etc. Beginners, longtime experts – they are all there with a passion which they are willing to share!
  • Titles are not important. On the name tag what is important is communicated (a great example of science communication to the point!). And this it not what your title is, which institution you represent, or where in the world you are from. Your first name is central (because this is by which you should approach other people). Second comes your last name, so that you actually have a fair chance of finding people  later on; and third of course their Twitter name, so that you can contact them! Especially the non-existence of titles and affiliations makes you feel equal with your fellow conference participants. No worries in approaching someone who then might turn out to be your favorite blogger or head of communication in the coolest organization.

Science Online minuses (A little bit of critique)

  • The conference brings together enthusiasts of science and communication. Most of them are either already good communicators or are thriving to become so. This provides a basis for valuable sharing of experiences and ideas, but not in all cases does it create a forum for fruitful for discussions. The eternal ‘battle’ of the ‘mean journalist’ and the non-communicating scientist often ended up dominating the discussions. And without the presence of either the bad journalist or the narrow-minded scientist, the discussion could at times end up a bit cliché and useless (or ‘in a rabbit hole’ as one of the people I follow on Twitter wrote). This was a shame for some of the discussions. I (perhaps naively) expected that at a Science Online conference focus would be more forward-looking and centered around how the social web might improve this journalist/scientist relationship. If the other discussion is wanted it might be better to bring in some bad journalists and some scientists who prefer staying hidden away in their lab or behind their desk and have them participate in the discussion.
  • What is science? To my knowledge there is no rule to how broadly science at Science Online should be defined. And that is how it should be. However, despite having met participants at the conference who do research in language, risk and other less ‘fact-based’ science, many of the discussions I participated in tended to centre around science which can be done in a lab, can be boiled down to numbers or relates to  theoretical science like physics and math. These are often difficult topics to communicate, so they deserve all the attention on the communication side that they can get. However, it would sometimes have been nice to have a more articulated discussion about how to communicate the much less fact-based science. I come from the area of public health. An area where there a lots of facts, but even more theories and unknowns. Ethical concerns, moral values, personal opinion, theoretical stand points all matters and makes communication of research in for example the wellbeing of asylum children, the best approaches to prevent stress from causing disease, behavior change’s role in preventing obesity etc. extremely difficult. It would be great if the challenges of communicating less ‘fact-based’ research could be discussed also at Science Online. Or at least that it is made clear that science is a broad thing and that the discussions may become blurry when they are all put under the one hat of “science”.

I guess my two ‘minuses’ could actually be converted into a suggestion for future sessions at Science Online 2013. For example the “Health/Medicine track” is still empty. Maybe this was a occation to make sure that the less medicine-oriented side of public health is also represented at Science Online. Will let the thought boil a little bit in my head..


The risky business of communicating science

Science Online 2012 is over, and I must admit that I’m still full of all the inputs, impressions and ideas that almost overloaded my head during those three days in North Carolina. Knowing were to start and were to end when giving highlights of the (un)conference is difficult. A blog post on my general reflections of the conference is coming up, but first I thought I’d just touch upon one of the themes I encountered at #scio12.

Risk. How do we communicate it? What is it really? What happens when a calculated, objective risk on paper is processed by a human mind? This is big challenge when communicating science – and perhaps especially in communication health research. Two of the sessions I attended at Science Online focused on risk. The first one, “Science Communication, Risk Communication and the role of social networks”, moderated by David Ropeik was a great session. David Ropeik pointed out that risk may very well be something that can be calculated to a percentage but to people it is a feeling. And feelings operate differently – and are not rational. I myself experienced that today. Being nearsighted I had a preexamination today for later lasic surgery. I had in advanced received a small folder explaining the procedure and of course – the risks. Even though the risks are relatively small, and despite the fact that I know several people who have had it done and are very happy with the result, when I read the small information brochure, I did all of a sudden have a feeling of “yikes – is this risk too big?” “How much is 1% really?” “If there were a hundred of me out there would one have worse eyesight after the procedure? Or would it look different if it was a hundred different people and not a hundred me? It is true, risk is a feeling. I felt like asking the doctor if he would do it if it was him. I wanted his feeling on this too.

Risk really is a challenge to communicate. And perhaps particularly in health, because disease and sickness is something that is very real to us and easy to imagine. In this regard, social media can be a challenge. Things have the potential to spread like viruses when they go online. Rumours of risk a radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant made friends and family in Denmark fear for my wellbeing when I was in Kobe, Japan although I was more than 600 km away from the Fukushima plant. People in Denmark even feared that with wind coming in over Denmark from Japan they would too be at risk, if the situation got worse. And fears like that may be reinforced with unimaginable speed once they go viral.

So how do you balance communicating the facts when you at the same time risk steering fear? Are there ethical obligations to communicate all available research or the  opposite – should researchers be obligated to hold back certain kinds of information in the interest of public health, and the interest of the individual? Communication in public health is central, and reflecting on how to deal with risks should be a requirement for any public health researcher or professional (and for journalists too!). The web’s role in this is tricky. It is important to get the facts out there – and try to illustrate the proportion of risk, but the web also provides a fora where you can find confirmation of the risk of almost anything you like.

The discussions at Science Online didn’t give answers to how with deal with risk, and there most certainly is no magical solution. But the discussion triggered reflection, which should be required by all public health professionals when they communicate, whether to the public, to a journalist, at decision maker etc.

And as an end note: I did decide to go ahead with the lasic surgery – after carefully evaluating the risks and interpreting the doctors attitude and behavior. So in April, when I am without glasses, I will hopefully be able to say that it was worth the risk 🙂


Blogger – a hero or villain?

In Raleigh, NC! And ScienceOnline2012 starts in just a few hours. Yeah. During my trip here from Copenhagen, yesterday I was in many ways confronted with one of the topics which will most definitely be mentioned in today’s talks – blogs.

As if the airline knew that at least two people on their flight were heading to #Scio12, the inflight magazine opened up with the article “How to make a food blog”. Glorifying the blog as something every food lover should have. Interviews with food bloggers from across the world, who have made a name for themselves – though blogging. In the article the blogger is definitely in the hero category. (Couldn’t help thinking a similar thing should be done just focusing on blogging scientists and researchers from different fields – and it should figure in exactly an inflight magazine too!)

On the second flight, the inflight entertainment system offered the movie “Contagion”. A film about a flu pandemic causing deaths all over the world at extreme speed, followed by general panic and chaos amongst the population. One of the drivers of the panic and anger is a blogger (played by Jude Law) who doubts the intentions of the government and the pharmaceutical industry in stopping the disease from spreading. In addition, he claims to have found the cure for the virus by some homeopathic treatment, which people end up committing crimes for in their attempt to get it. All through the film, the blogger is the villain and a problem for the authorities and who in the end gets his (well deserved?) punishment.

It was interesting to see these two perspectives on blogging. I look forward to spending the day with lots and lots of bloggers, tweeters etc. (heros as well as villains and all those in between). I have a feeling it will be a blast (as a participant of previous ScienceOnline conferences told me at the bus stop yesterday). The Tweeting have definitely already begun and I fear a little how to make it through 450 people tweeting at the same time…..


Comics for public health science communication?

Could Public Health research findings, public health messages or social aspects of health care be communicated through comics? Would it only be relevant if you want to target children?

If you lived, in Japan you would be very likely to answer no to that question. Manga, a Japanese form of comic, is an integrated part of the Japanese population’s every day life. In any convenience store, news papers will be side by side of Mangas and they are not ‘just’ comics. There is actually a Manga newspaper (direct link to Manga No Shimbun) and manga is used for many educational purposes too.

That not only Japan makes use of comics to communicate professional issues, including medicine came to my attention yesterday, when I on Twitter came across an upcoming conference on Comics and Medicine in Toronto in July 2012.

This interdisplicinary conference on Comics and Medicine is the third of its kind and aims to explore the intersection of sequential visual arts and medicine. The upcoming conference will look at perspectives which are often under-represented in graphic narratives, such as barriers to healthcare, the stigma of mental illness and disability, and the silent burden of caretaking. They are currently accepting proposals for scholarly papers and discussions: Comics & Medicine Call for Papers.

Very often science communication is considered as something that takes place only in peer-reviewed journals, international conferences and internal seminars, but the example of Comics and Medicine just illustrates the range of channels and formats for science communication is diverse! This I find exiting!

Al though I do not myself have experience with comics for science communication, I feel like highlighting a Japanese Manga that I myself have become quite hooked on. Oishinbo is a Japanese manga about Japanese food, traditions on how to prepare it, the philosophy behind it etc. It is extremely educational, interesting and fun. Have you got just the slightest interest in the Japanese cuisine, I can only recommend that you dig into the universe of Oishinbo!


Still communicating about how to communicate science communication

Even though I have been blogging for almost half a year, I can still be amazed by the experience of other people reading my posts, reblogging them, commenting and retweeting them and contacting me directly to express their thoughts. I must admit that it gives me a kick every time. It is not a snow avalanche, but it is enough to increase my motivation and very often it is interesting comments that gives rise to further reflections that again feeds new posts.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the challenge of communicating science communication. This particular post has resulted in a few comments on Twitter that I thought I’d just share with you:

And questions:

I have had a great discussion by Gmail-chat with a friend from university about the challenges of communicating research and turning research into practice. And about the lack of acknowledgement of communication activities, if it has to do with anything other than  the publishing of articles in peer-reviewed journals. Parallel to the Gmail-chat I had live in-person discussion with another friend also from university, who had a present challenge of how to communicate the results from an infectious disease epidemiological study to staff at health clinics. Very inspiring discussion – for both of us!

All in all really inspirering. I look forward to more of this and hope that everyone who has inputs, views, reflections etc, that I should integrate into a course on Public Health Science Communication will not hold back.

All the best wishes for the new year to everyone and see you in 2012!


The challenge of communicating science communication

How do you communicate the relevance of science communication to a fellow public health person? Can I make a convincing argument for why things such as Twitter can be a useful tool in the communication of research?

In the days leading up to Christmas, I was challenged by these exact questions, when I after dinner had an interesting discussion with a good friend and skillful researcher in public health sciences. I am not sure that I gave the best arguments for science communication or for why Twitter could be useful for his research, but it made me reflect on where the scepticism, which many researcher have towards communication of research, comes from.

Based on my own experience, both as a public health expert and in talking with friends and public health colleagues, it is my feeling that most of us, through our university studies have indirectly been taught that communication is something that comes at the end of a research project. It is to a large extend perceived as a separate element that is added as the final phase of a very often long process. It sort of becomes a sometimes troublesome appendix which can be prioritized  – if time and money permits and if the communication department will take much of the responsibility on their shoulders (although they are worried that the communication department will simplify every thing too much and they’d therefore almost rather that they didn’t communicate it at all).

Another source to the scepticism against the communication element of research, is that communication is often considered in its more narrow form, meaning that it only covers communication to the general public. It is very much one-way based and it is about making simple messages which, seen from the researcher’s perspective are oversimplifications.

My basis for the above is purely my own experiences and conversations with different researchers in various fields. However, it is my impression that I’m not alone in suggesting that the issues above mentioned are two important barriers for researchers enthusiasm for science communication.

I have the last couple of days been working on a description for a short course on Public Health Science Communication, which most likely will be offered to students of Public Health Science at University of Copenhagen in the fall semester of 2012. My pre-Christmas conversations have been useful for this work. What was it that didn’t work in my argument? Did we talk past each other? Could awareness of the role of science communication earlier on in our public health training have made a difference? All these questions and more are buzzing around in my head.

Some of the things I feel will be important to communicate in a course on public health science communication are:

  1. Communication should be considered as an integrated element in the research process
  2. Communication can be beneficial to the research process.
  3. Communication is broader than explaining your research to a general public, but also involves communicating with fellow researchers, researches in the periphery of our area of our research and from completely different fields (actually public health has an advantage here, because we are by definition interdisciplinary and used to working with people with very different educational backgrounds)
  4. Communication is not equal to dissemination. Communication is two-way based – a with contributions and response from both sender and receiver.
  5. The person best equipped to know what is of relevance to communicate and to whom is the researcher him/herself.

I’m sure I’ll think of lots of other messages and luckily there is still plenty of time to prepare. All inputs of things to cover in a course on public health science communication are more than welcome, suggestions on good background reading material etc. likewise.


Sharing a small Twitter moment

A login on Twitter is one of my morning routines – you never know if a tweet may influence the agenda of your day and today I thought I’d share a small Twitter moment with you. This morning I came across a tweet that triggered my Health Information System past and former WHO/Health Metrics Network employer status. The tweet was the below:

In his tweet, Matthew Greenall, an advisor on AIDS & sexual health programmes in low-income countries, links to an article published in the Rwanda paper The New Times. The article, authored by Dr Agnes Binagwaho, Rwandan Minister of Health directs a well argued critic against the up-to-dateness of WHO country specific health data.

Finding the article very interesting I emailed it to a group of former WHO/HMN colleagues (none of them are on Twitter so I couldn’t tweet it to them). In sending it, I did not really reflect on the possibility that those of my colleagues still within WHO could do anything about it. I just felt like sharing it with them. One of my former colleagues, who is actually involved in health statistics from WHO, read it and responded back quickly thanking me for pointing it out, and said that she had forwarded it up the system to the people who actually are responsible for the World Health statistics and Global Health Observatory. She hoped that a dialogue could be started. I assume she primarily refered to a dialogue with Rwanda, but most definitely also a dialogue within WHO on the measures the organisation has to make sure their data evidence is up to date (which seems to be complicated by WHO itself).

I hope, however, that the dialogue could also be on WHO communication strategies and presence on social media, for example to role of Twitter in communicating and keeping up to date on current trends and affairs – not just through one official WHO account, but  also through personal or much more issue specific WHO areas.

The article by the Rwandan Minister of Health was published in what I assume to be a rather low-impact media channel (how many of you knew of Rwandan The New Times?). All though the story could be picked up by other media and passed on, I am not sure how quickly the story would reach WHO. Of course the WHO country office in Rwanda could pick up on the article and pass it on, but I would be surprised if they have not already been contacted by the Rwandan Minister of Health in relation to the outdated WHO data. It seems however in this particular case that the story travelled the fastest through Twitter, and through Twitter came to the knowledge of the right people and not just WHO communication officers (I wonder if it did?).

Although I find the critic of WHO’s data interesting it is not so much the specific story that interests me. Whether or not this particular critic will result in changes, dialogue or changed communication priorities, it was for me once again an interesting and educational Twitter experience. It was great to see how something I picked up on Twitter was passed on and landed in hands of the people who needs to know the content of the article. There really is something to that Twitter invention….


Does openness create needs for closedness? The example of DoctorsOnly.dk

Netdoctor.co.uk, Netdoktor.dk, Netdoktor.de. The “online doctor” websites come in several different languages and are open to all. A social network called DoctorsOnly.dk is a different version of a forum for discussing medical issues and seeking expert help. As reads it is however only open to doctors.

At netdoktor.dk people can read static pages on lots of different medical conditions. They can test themselves (calculate their Body Mass Index, find out if they are depressed etc.), join discussions and share problems and experiences with other users in a debate forum. Entering into an online and publicly open dialogue with doctors is however not an option. There is a “question-answer” function (advice column style), where the doctor answers letters from the users, but this is as far as I can see the only interaction between doctor and user. Also, you never see interaction between doctors.

The fact that doctors do not debate openly on a site like netdoktor.dk is probably a good thing. Displaying their disagreement and sometime the lack of knowledge we still have of many medical conditions, would only cause worries with the patients. But doctors do have disagreements and a need to consult with each other. Apparently just not in the open.

Doctors only

DoctorsOnly.dk is a new Danish initiative that fulfills the need for a closed forum for doctors to discuss. It is a social network exclusively open for authorised doctors in Scandinavia. The objective is to create a place where doctors can “meet and together develop their discipline”. The network offers news, debates etc. according to the individual doctor’s interest. Or as phrased on their password protected website:

“Share your knowledge within your area of expertise or take part in the debate with equals about medical, professional or political topics – it is up to you.”

In addition, DoctorsOnly offers tools for staying in contact with former colleagues and finding experts as needed. It is possible to create smaller circles within the network – eg. a small research group, an ‘alumni’ for an old classmates or colleagues. These networks can be open to all members on DoctorsOnly or exclusive to selected people.

According to the founder, Anders Søgaard, the fact that the network is exclusive is essential:

“We want to create a community where physicians can ask questions and discuss relevant issues. If you want a trusting, professional dialogue, then it is very important that there is a guarantee that only doctors are present.” [read full quote in Danish here]

Netdoktor and DoctorsOnly

A reason to mention netdoktor.dk in relation DoctorsOnly is that they have established a collaboration, where users of DoctorsOnly can help the readers of Netdoktor get answers to the medically founded questions, which can sometimes be difficult to assign to a diagnosis. But given a closed space the doctors can discuss freely with each other before passing on their conclusion to the patient, says community manager at DoctorsOnly, Morten Svenning Nielsen.

“All doctors have a Sherlock Holmes in them, and it is this inner detective which is unfolded when you help each other determine the diagnosis for a patient who has not been able to get help.”

More openness creates needs for more closed circles

At a time where social media plays a stronger and stronger role and lots of discussions takes place online, I find it interesting that this trend also provokes needs for closed forums and smaller circles were you can discuss. In many ways it is a very natural reaction, but yet interesting to see how more openness creates needs for more closedness at the same time. I guess Google+ and its structure of circles is symptom of a similar trend. We don’t need to share everything with everyone.

Almost everything on DoctorsOnly.dk is login and password protected. It is however possible to get a peak into what goes on in the closed network, via DoctorsOnly’s open Facebook and LinkedIn pages and on Twitter, where debate questions and medical challenges for doctors are presented. It is however only a teaser since you need login and password to DoctorsOnly.dk to read the actually discussion.

A British concept

The inspiration for DoctorsOnly.dk comes from the British doctors.net.uk which is the largest professional network for doctors in the UK, established 12 year ago. It is available to registered doctors in primary and secondary care and is a secure service offering a professional e-mail facility, clinical and non-clinical forums, the very latest medical news and free accredited education.