Back!… to a battlefield for researchers?

A year (almost to the date) has passed since my last blog post. How did time pass so quickly?* And how in the world do I get started on this blog again? Following developments in public health science communication and social media for science communication mostly from the sideline, how will I know what’s the latest development? Am I up to speed to write about this topic?

The battlefield of Facebook

FullSizeRender (1)

And then this weekend as I was flipping through the latest issue of the magazine of my Danish work association DJOEF, I came across this headline: “Forskerfejde på Facebook” (trans. Researcher fight on Facebook). A short article about Facebook as a place where researchers who dare to put themselves and their research out there are bullied and criticized and how social media is a big challenge for people working in academia. Although I agree that Facebook and other social media in some ways represent a challenge for the academic world, I was sad to see that we in Denmark apparently still are at level were social media is regarded only as a challenge and not as an opportunity for science and science communication.

FullSizeRenderThe article is in Danish but the illustration of the article is universal and very much covers the focus of the article: Social media is a fora for heavy criticism, for fights, bullying, hitting each other in the head and the researcher who enters the world of Facebook need to have tough skin and be prepared to be hammered by both their peers and the public. The rules of the game of are different. Social media have altered the premises for how scientific results can be discussed, is a key message in the article.

Focusing on the negative sides

Although short, the article is supported by a few cases of scientists fighting over Facebook. There are even a couple of researchers calling out for keeping discussions to the already existing academic circles and journals. But is this really a telling picture of how social media is used and the consequences they have in the Danish academic world today. I know the answer is no. So why, do I ask myself, why did the journalist not bother to find a positive case story as well or why didn’t he broaden out the focus from just Denmark to also look at international experiences and trends in using social media? At least just make a small mention of it. Yes, conflicts and dramas make good stories, but I think it is misleading only to portray the battles and disagreement and argue that only researchers with tough skin can successfully use social media.

Compulsory science communication education

The article confirms me in the fact that we still have a long way to go in taking in social media in science communication in Denmark. Much progress has been made over the last year for sure, but still I feel a dominating skepticism towards using these open interactive media in science. As is rightly pointed out by a specialist in social media from University of Roskilde and quoted in the article, we can only expect social media to play a larger and larger role in the scientific debate. Being in agreement with this, I really hope that science communication education and training, including using social media in the research process, could be made compulsory for all university students. Social media have so much potential for science communication that it would be a shame if all researchers who do not feel their skin is ‘tough enough’ would refrain from using it.

I’m back

So with this sad reassurance that there is still a lot to do on science communication and social media and lots of experiences to harvest from the world, I am happy to take up this blog again and explore, comment, recommend, learn and share with all of you what I find.

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*answer: a lovely little girl came in the way


Teaching Social Media and Science Communication again

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to give a talk not on general science communication but with a zoom on social media and science communication. A field I truly feel at home in, am confident talking about and find super interesting.

The talk was in Danish and given to young researchers attending a Media course for researchers organized by the Danish newspaper Information (Informations Medieskole).

With only 45 minutes at hand I prepared a presentation of about 25 minutes, which seemed so little when there is so much to say and so many examples to share. It was a fine balance to find out whether to give a general introduction (including: what is social media?) or to give a more practical “this is how you get started” presentation. I chose to go for the first solution with a strict programme:

  1. What is social media? (5 min)
  2. How and for what can it be used? (5 min)
  3. Examples (10 min)
  4. Advantages, strengths, risks, limitations (10 min)
  5. Questions/discussion

As expected questions related to “how do I get started” popped up and so to say interrupted the flow a bit, but I guess that this, especially in new fields, is a common challenge and can really only be solved by allowing for more time or perhaps even a whole separate course on how to dive into social media as a researcher. If I was to do the later, I think I would have tried to build it around myself, and show how I got on board and started out from absolutely scratch. I could perhaps even have included a slide on my way to social media into my slides on this occasion. Perhaps I’ll do that next time.

Focusing on blogs, Facebook and Twitter

All in all the presentation went well. I decided to focus on three kinds of social media for science communication: the blog, Facebook and Twitter. Had I had more time I’d definitely included some examples of wikis too (I briefly mentioned it), but time constraints means cutting of and focusing.

blogs

As blog example I chose Rosie Redfield’s blog Rrresearch, which may be considered the executive example of a science blog and the impact it can have. It is a good case to discuss some of the advantages of science blogging including its speed compared to traditional journals, post-publication peer-review, transparency in research, getting feedback during the research process, responding to criticism as it occurs, allow for reflection and focus of thoughts and increased visibility and self-promotion. But it of course also raises questions such as validity, personal bias, time demanding, rushed and unreflected comments, violation of research ethics or institutional policies, risk of scooping etc.

twitter caseFacebook

For Facebook I took the I Fucking love Science page as an example of popularizing science and research in general, and The Center for Healthy Aging at University of Copenhagen’s Facebook page as a way of drawing attention to own research, attempting to initiate discussion and living up to donor wishes. And for Twitter I chose the Microbiology Twitter Journal Club (#microtwjc) and the tweeting done by conservator at Medical Museion in Copenhagen, Nanna Gerdes (@NaGerdes) on her work processes.

Discussion, points I tried to make and those that I thought of later

pictureAs I was ‘warned’ the students were a bunch of people with questions so the presentation of was interrupted by questions, which is great but of course also means that some questions would have been easier to answer later and makes keeping time a slippery task. Coming home after teaching I scribbled down some thoughts. Some especially targeted those students who are by definition skeptical and already think that they spend way too many hours in front of a computer screen. In bullet point format I thought I’d share some of these reflections with you.

  • A point I fear I didn’t make clear enough during my presentation: Social media are an excellent tool for communication with other researcher. Researchers on the other side of the planet, researchers in boarding fields. This has nothing to do with your communication department or with popularizing your research. This has something to do with your life as a researcher, your academic network, and your research process. It’d be a shame to miss out on an opportunity.
  • So far (at least), being on social media for research purposes is not a duty for researchers. It’s an offer, a possibility. If you actively chose to invest time in using them you have a chance of taking advantage of some their functions, which may benefit both yourself and your research. However, it does not come by itself. Social media is a give-and-take media, where you have to contribute/be active in order to benefit. It’s a matter of prioritization. (The same evening after teaching I went to visit my 92 very active grandmother who, if she wanted to, would have no problem using a computer or a mobile phone, however she has chosen not to. The same goes for using social media – it’s a choice.
  • There are pitfalls to using social media and you must use common sense as you do in any other kind of research related communication, discussions, methods, procedures etc!
  • You have to learn how to write a scientific article in order to be published in peer-reviewed journals. You have to learn how to use a smart phone to enjoy its benefits. The same applies to social media. It requires investment of time to get familiar and confident with it. That’s just how it is. But the more you use it the better you get at it. And don’t hesitate to ask people around you for advice. Just like you may ask for recommendations on what app to download to your phone when you go on vacation, ask your colleagues who they follow on Twitter, which blog they follow etc. People are willing to help.
  • On social media the person in charge is YOU. You set your own rules for how you use it, for how often you want to blog, check you twitter feed, respond to comments etc. If you don’t like the way communication people (at your university, in the press etc.) communicate your research do it yourself and supplement their work in a way you’d like to.

I enjoyed very much getting to talk about social media for research purposes, and just realized how much there is to say (making 25 minutes + 20 minutes discussion way too short time). It triggered me to revisit my own Twitter feed (which I have been neglecting lately) and to get blogging again. All in all great side effects.

Literature distributed in advance

In advance the students had been given three texts to read:


A perfect place to pick-up arguments for why scientists should be on social media

An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists‘. I have wanted to mention this article published in PLOS Biology ever since it came out in April 2013, but somehow never got around to it. But as I reread it earlier this week, I was reminded how this article must be mentioned on a blog like mine.

An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists is written by Holly M. Bik and Miriam C. Goldstein from University of California Davis and University of California San Diego and is an excellent place to start for researchers considering trying out social media or for enthusiasts of social media for science communication who are in search of good arguments they can use to persuade others of why they must set up a Twitter account, start blogging or establish some other form of online presence.

Research Benefits and flowcharts

Supported by lots of examples (with links provided to many of them!) the authors list a number of ways in which social media can benefit both the scientist and the scientific work. In short form these are:

  • How online tools can help improve research efficiency;
  • How being visible on social media helps track and improve scientific metrics;
  • How social media enhances professional networking; and
  • How online interactions have the potential to enhance ‘‘broader impacts’’ by improving communication between scientists and the general public.

flowchart

They go on to address different kinds of social media and how they can be used, and provide advice to new users on how to get started. A useful (and fun) feature of the article is a flowchart that can help newcomers find out which media might be most relevant for them to try out and solution to common online communication fears.

Acknowledging the stigma

Throughout the article the authors mention the stigma which is often attached to online activities. They acknowledge how many researchers are skeptical towards the media and regards it as a waste of time and a distraction from true scientific work. In a response to this the authors have set out to address some of the many misconceptions and misinterpretations of what social media can contribute with. And in my opinion it works. One could argue that they don’t spend much energy on the risks or disadvantages of social media for science communication (of which there are of course several), but they are plenty to be found elsewhere.

Need for formal training

Social media among scientists is quickly growing and will eventually become more and more natural for scientists to use (if not sooner than as the younger generation whom have grown up with social media enter the research arena). But until then there is a need to train on researchers and scholars on the potential of social media in academic work. Both to address the many misconception and skepticism but also to avoid researchers use it inefficiently or inappropriately. I could therefore not agree more with the authors:

“Social media and internet-based resources are increasingly ubiquitous. Thus, there is a pressing need for scientific institutions to offer formalized training opportunities for graduate students and tenured faculty alike to learn how to effectively use this new technology”.


More disaster management & social media

Sometimes opportunities presents themselves out of the blue. When I was asked to give a lecture on social media in emergency settings at the Master of Disaster Management at University of Copenhagen, I didn’t quite feel like an expert on the topic (as I wrote about in an earlier post). But it did not take much research to realised that the combination of social media and disaster/emergency management is super interesting and an example of how social media can play a role in saving lives. It doesn’t get much more public health relevant than that.

Both preparing for the lecture and teaching was a good experience, and I feel I managed in the 3×45 minutes available to get around the topic in a comprehensive way – although with that time frame it can only be an introduction. In addition, I got great feedback from the students who, coming from all over the world, had different experiences with dealing with disasters, which they could contribute with in the discussions.

programme

Since I couldn’t assume students to be familiar with social media for other than private purposes, I chose to allocate some time to introduce social media before going into examples of its use in disaster and emergency situations. For those interested, I thought I’d just share the programme with you:

More than communicating a message

Social Media & Crisis Comm: A Whole New Game

Social Media & Crisis Comm: A Whole New Game

In my experience the first (and sometimes only) thing that comes people’s mind when they think of what social media can be used for in emergency settings is dissemination of information and messages to the public. Social media are simply categorized as yet another communication channel equal to radio, tv etc. But as it is well illustrated in the YouTube video on the right (click the picture) it is much more than that.

With this experience it was important for me in my lecture to highlight some of the other key functions of social media in disasters. Below are 4 broad categories for the potential use of social media in emergency situations. There are surely other ways social media can be used and as said the four below are quite broad and thus covers lots of sub-functions.

  1. Disseminate disaster information to the public by governments, emergency management organisations, and disaster responders
  2. Share disaster information with the aim of having journalists and others pick it up so that it can be further disseminated to the affected members of the public
  3. Communicate and enter into dialogue with the public, other institutions etc.
  4. Gather information about the emergency by monitoring the situation, identifying areas of need and picking up rumours and misunderstandings.

Safe & Well

One advantage of teaching (and of blogging) is that you get so much feedback and suggestions for new things to read, websites to visit etc. I thought I’d share two of these tips with you. The first is a website that a student in the class recommended. It is called Safe & Well and is provided by the American Red Cross. The idea is that after a disaster, people in the affected area can through this website let their family and friends know that they are safe and well. By clicking the button “List Myself as Safe and Well” you register on the site. Relatives can then search the list of those who have registered themselves as “safe and well” by clicking on the “Search Registrants” button. The results of a successful search will display a loved one’s first name, last name and a brief message.

Facebook and extreme weather events

The posts on this blog are double-posted on the Medical Museion’s website and there my previous post on social media and disaster management was commented by a researcher from Aarhus University, Andreas Birkbak, who had authored an interesting article about the use of Facebook for informal emergency collaboration during a snow blizzard on the Island of Bornholm in Denmark. A very interesting article that I might use next time I teach. Read the article your self: Crystallizations in the Blizzard: Contrasting Informal Emergency Collaboration In Facebook Group. Thanks for sharing it on the blog, Andreas!

Take home messages

As said, I have quickly come to find social media and disaster management is a very interesting topic and I have a feeling I’ll continue digging deeper into it. This will probably result in more posts on the topic here on this blog, so I think I’ll stop for now. As I ended my lecture I will also end this blog post – with four take home messages:

  • Social media is there in the world and will be used in disaster situations whether you like it or not – you can’t afford to disregard it!
  • Social media can (and should) be used for much more than dissemination – take advantage of its possibilities to monitor and get into dialogue!
  • Social media is not just a tool for you – it is also a tool for the people affected by the disaster – victims as well as relatives
  • When working with disaster management don’t hold back from social media because you’re afraid of making mistakes, because you will make mistakes – just make sure you learn from them!

Social media and disaster management

Social media and public health is a diverse field, and there is always some new corner to explore! These days I am increasing my knowledge on the use of social media for disaster management and coordination. The reason for this is that I next week will be giving a lecture on the topic to students at the Master of Disaster Management at University of Copenhagen.

It has been exiting to dig into a new field and to experience how social media really presents great new opportunities, but of course also new challenges. Since I haven’t previously worked specifically with disaster management, I choose a few weeks ago to ask my Twitter followers for help on finding good literature and resource people in the field. And once again, Twitter didn’t let me down.Tweet

Blogs, website and hashtags

I got a lot of great inputs to blogs, websites, Twitter chats, hashtags and people to follow and hook up with on Twitter (a big thank you to all of you who responded!).

The blogs are a good starting point, especially since most of them offer great links to other resources. The most helpful so far have been the website/blog Social Media 4 Emergency Management. From here there is access to wikis, archives of Twitter chats (#smemchat), videos, blogs etc. on social media and emergency management. The only ‘problem’ with the website is that there is almost too much information.

Another super helpful resource is the blog idisaster2.0 (primarily run by @kim26stephens). It have lots of informative blog posts as well as a good bibliography of selected academic and government resources on social media and emergency management.

Own experiences with disasters and social media?

When I was asked to give the lecture, I hesitated for a moment, because what did I know about emergencies and disasters? Apart from my solid knowledge of social media in public health, including some superficial insight into its role in disasters, I had never had anything to do with disasters or least of all experienced it… However, the later is not true, I quickly realised. I have actually to some extend been in an emergency setting and I have in fact experienced the role of social media in a disaster situation.

Earthquake in Japan in 2011

japan earthquake

I was in Japan, when the big earthquake, subsequent tsunami and finally the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis occurred in March 2011. Being relatively far from the epicenter of the disaster (I was based in Kobe in the Kansai region), I wasn’t directly surrounded by flooded buildings, elevated radiation risks or other immediate danger. But I was surrounded by potential danger, by worried friends and family in Denmark and by Japanese friends and colleagues with close relatives in the affected areas.

helpjapannowLooking back on my Facebook timeline, I can now see how social media actually played an important role for me during the emergency. I used Facebook to assure others that I was okay and kept them updated on my situation. I started following the Danish Embassy in Japan’s Facebook page through which they several times daily shared information about risks, advice on how to act and the organisation of potential evacuation. I encourage the mobilization of emotionally and financial support to Japan by sharing links and QR-codes. And I experienced how a Japanese colleague of mine after days of no contact with her sister living in Sendai where the tsunami hit, finally through Facebook got in contact and found out that her and her were safe…

So yes, I have actually experienced a disaster, and experienced how social media can be used in this kind of situation. I plan to share my experiences as a case with the students next week and hope that this real life experience can contribute to the understanding and some discussions.

Your help

Although I already got great tips from people on Twitter, I am still the happy receiver of inputs on social media and emergencies/disaster management. Suggestions on discussion topics, assignments or any other ideas on how to involve the students are more than welcome as are links to guidelines, scientific articles etc.


Can you measure how social media friendly Schools of Public Health are?

How social media friendly are Danish Schools of Public Health? Nordic Schools of Public Health? European Schools of Public Health? And which are the most friendly? Can it at all be measured? And what does it mean to score high on social media friendliness?

The answers to these questions are not straight forward. But if we turn our heads to the other side of the Atlantic, an attempt to answer the question of how social media friendly American Schools of Public Health are, and who are the most friendly has been made by the people of MPHprogramsList.com (*read more about them below). They have compared the 57 different Schools of Public Health and come up with a list of the 25 Most Social Media Friendly Schools of Public Health for 2012.

The scores are calculated based on the number of followers and the amount of activity on the three most popular sites: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as the number of followers on LinkedIn. In addition, activity on Google Plus, Pinterest, and Flickr was also taken into account.  (read more about the scoring system here).

The ‘winner’ is Harvard School of Public Health, closely followed by University of Memphis School of Public Health, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Branding and attracting students

So why is this interesting? Well, the motivation for making this list, as presented by MPHprogramsList.com, was that social media play a key role for American universities in attracting prospective students. A survey presented in an article thus showed that about two-thirds of high school students uses social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to check out colleges. This obviously makes social media an important tool in branding the School, but are there other benefits to being social media friendly?

Effects on communicating science and public engagement in science?

It would be interesting to study what other motives there are for the universities in having a strong social media presence, and studying how this affects the way social media is used. Apart from attracting students has it contributed to bringing attention to and communicate research performed by the university? Has it had an impact on the application and implementation of their research? Or even and impact on Public Health? Of course part of the method to attract students is to explain what research the university undertakes, but has the social media presence also lead to discussions of research and dialogue with both current and future students as well as the general public? It would be interesting to learn more about this. Especially if one is to argue for why European Schools of Public Health should prioritize social media, since the attraction of students, although still relevant, plays a less prominent role for the schools. I am not myself aware of any such research studies, but if they exist it would be great to learn about them.

*MPH Programs List.com was created as a free resource for students interested in graduate public health, public administration, public policy and health administration programs. Their goal in creating this site is to attract students to these under-served yet highly rewarding fields. The goal is to highlight MPH programs around the globe including Online MPH programsCEPH Accredited ProgramsMPH Careers, the MPH Experience and more.


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.