Pregnancy science communication

Public Health science communication has for the past years been my field of interest. I have studied it, I have taught it, I have networked over it. But have I actually been a user of it – like I was before I started studying it? Well, over the past nine months I actually have. At least one particular field within public health communication has had my special attention. Not for the sake of how it is communicated, but the actually public health knowledge. The field relates to pregnancy, which coincidentally for the past nine months (and still is as I write these words) have been a part of my life.

A circus of information

When you become pregnant not only do a lot of questions pop up in your head, but a lot of information relating to the health and wellbeing of yourself and the baby is communicated to you, whether you like it or not. Doctors, midwives, health authorities, friends, relatives – all have information to share with you. It can be quite a circus of information and you quickly discover that the science of pregnancy is full of science AND of urban legends, gossip, personal narratives and experiences, and culturally imbedded practices. The later become especially obvious when you as I choose to have a child with someone from a different country than your own and go through your pregnancy in neither’s of yours home countries.

To do or not to do?

As a public health professional I have of course been interested in doing what is best for the baby, and with an academic background I lean towards following advice which is based on scientific research rather than word of mouth or traditional practices in the country I happen to be. I quickly realised however that the two often get mixed up. Even in official guidance and pamphlets are you sometimes left to wonder what the advice is based on. In the wine country Spain for example you can drink alcohol (in moderation that is) while in Denmark your are advised not to. As my iron level dropped my German doctor advised me to start taking iron tablets and continue throughout the entire pregnancy. My midwife has, for reasons I have yet to understand, advised me to stop some weeks before my due date. The argumentation for all these different recommendations is very often: “It’s better for the baby”. But says who? Based on what? What is the evidence? All theses questions arise all the time and it seems like way to big a task to investigate the scientific background behind all of them. I was therefore happy to learn that I didn’t have to! Thus, my cousin told me about this book she had read a review of, which basically did what I felt like doing with every piece of advice and recommendation I was presented with: Learn about the basis or science behind the recommendation and based on that make my own decision on what to do and how to act.

Expecting better

Expecting-Better-Why-the-ConEmily Oster, an associate professor of economics, decided, upon becoming pregnant, to test the facts of medical advice she was given by using the methodologies she knew best: an economist’s tools. The outcome of her struggles not only resulted in her making informed decisions right for her and her husband but also in the book “Expecting Better – why the conventional pregnancy wisdom is wrong and what you really need to know”. I have with joy been reading this book. Both for the content, but as I was reading it I realised also for its public health science communication value. Emily Oster manages to explain medical research without oversimplifying it and in a manner that most people without a health (or economist) background can understand. For a public health savvy person it is perhaps sometimes a bit too pedagogical and one can quickly become tired of having explained what a cross control study and a randomised trial is, but as public health professionals are not necessarily the target audience of this book this it not necessarily a bad thing. In addition, if one uses the book as a tool for looking up specific topics rather than reading it from A to Z the repetition is of course fine.

Facts and personal decision-making

One of the reasons I find the book to be an interesting example of public health science communication is that it manages to find a good balance between communicating scientific studies, findings and facts and at the same show how these can be used for decision-making – or in some cases are super difficult to drawn conclusions from and thus challenging to make decision upon. By sharing her own reflections and ultimate decisions with the reader, Emily Oster exemplifies that scientific findings and statistics take on a new meaning when they are to be applied to an individual person. Indirectly, it also illustrates how difficult it can be to make general recommendations when science doesn’t give clearcut answers (which is very often the case in public health research). Granted, at times you do become a bit tired of hearing about Penelope (Emily Oster’s daughter), but at the same time the book really wouldn’t have the same communicative value without it. Putting a human face and a name on science just makes it more relevant to read – at least when you are targeting a wider audience. And as mentioned it illustrates what happens to science when it moves from the laboratory, the statistical programme, the conference presentation etc. and meets real people.

Other reviews

“Expecting Better” was reviewed by Zoe Williams im the Guardian. I find her review of the book to be spot on, so instead of making more comments on the book, I’ll let you read her reflections, praise and critic.


Public health science communication is back

Yes, Public health science communication is back again – and in more than one way. First of all, after a way too long time of silence on this blog – Public Health Science Communication 2.0 – I intend to be a bit more active in the time to come. There are lots of good articles, blog posts and experiences from the past couple of months to follow-up on, and now a bit more time to do so.

Public health science comm pageThe other public health science communication which is back soon (takes off from early February) is the short Masters course ‘Public Health Science Communication’ at the Institute of Public Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen. In the fall of 2012 I was given the opportunity to develop and teach the course (read more about it here) to students of public health sciences. However, being located in Bonn and busy with many other things in the spring to come the course will now – in a new and great version II – be orchestrated by my colleague from Medical Museion, Associate professor Louise Whiteley. Louise has a Masters in Science Communication from Imperial College London and is one of the coolest people I know in Science Communication. She was a great help in developing the first version of the Masters course Public Health Science Communication, so version II will surely be great.

I would have loved to take on the course myself, but am happy that I get to teach one session on Public health risk communication. It’s a topic I have always found super interesting so it fits me well. My younger sister Caroline has enrolled in the course, which means that I will get to teach my own sister. A bit surreal, but hopefully someone who can give me some unfiltered feedback.

Anyhow, it is great to be back on the blog and I look forward to blog away, with my posts also featuring on Medical Museion’s great website.


2013, Science Communication, Public Health, Bonn

Some new years bring with them just a change of numbers – other new years bring bigger changes. 2013 seems to be of the later categories. At least if you consider moving to a different country a change. Starting from later this January, I will exchange my Copenhagen address for an address in Bonn, Germany. I guess you could claim that I’ll start a new life as a Bonn-girl.

To those who are unfamiliar with German geography

To those who are unfamiliar with German geography

I have on previous occasions moved abroad to take on new jobs (in China, Switzerland and Japan) but this time no fixed job awaits me. Rather, I have the opportunity to explore different options, try out my freelance skills and at the same time live with the person dearest to my heart.

I must admit that I know very little about Bonn. Both in general but also when it comes to the activities in science communication and in public health. Actually, I know very little about the status of science communication in Germany in general. However, since I plan to stay in the field of Public Health Science Communication, which I find to be both super interesting and a an important topic for public health, I truly can say that look forward to exploring it.

Apart from finding out what goes on in Science Communication in Germany, I still plan to have my feet planted into Danish Public Health Science Communication – as well as into global Public Health Science Communication. One of the wonders of social media (and the internet in general) is that it really doesn’t matter where you are – you are free to  work and stay connected with the entire world.

So far I haven’t got a clear-cut plan for my Bonn life, but lots of ideas, already a few assignments and a long list of opportunities. Bonn is a UN-city with a bunch of UN agencies present, so it is likely that I can engage with them. Especially due to the fact that I have experiences working with them already. The United Nations University is located in Bonn and several German Universities are close by (Bonn University, University of Cologne to mention a few) as well as a number of international NGOs and other organisations are based in Bonn. If they are not already working on science communication and social media then there is certainly a lot of new ground to made there!

Should any reader of this blog know of relevant people to in Germany to engage with,  Institutions working on science communication and social media, University courses related to science communication etc. please don’t hold back. I’d love to hear about it.

I promise to keep you all on posted on my doings in Public Health Science Communication in Bonn and in the rest of the world. So far assignments with the Department of Public Health, Medical Museion, and the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at University Copenhagen will take up my time as will communication assignments with the European Regional Office of the World Health Organisation (WHO). I would also love to explore opportunities for continuing teaching Public Health Science Communication. Perhaps the course Public Health Science Communication which I taught last year at University of Copenhagen can be adapted to other universities….

Anyhow, with this first blog post of 2013 I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year where ever you are based. Bonn adventures awaits and I look forward to you being a part of them. If not in any other ways, then by following my scribbles here on this blog.

2013-free-wallpaper-06


Successful exam in Public Health Science Communication

All students passed!

Not only are the students who took the graduate class in Public Health Science Communication this fall semester probably relieved – so is the teacher! The exam was perhaps a test of the students knowledge but just as much was it test of how well they were taught.

examIt has been fun going through the exam papers. The assignment given to the students was to write a short introductory chapter on science communication for an imagined new textbook on Public Health Sciences targeted public health and medical students.

13 students handed in an exam paper and having never corrected exams before it felt all ceremonial seating myself at the desk equipped with a hot coffee, some cookies, a red pen (okay it wasn’t red, but blue actually) and with my critical glasses on. I must admit that it felt strange all of a sudden to be the one to pass judgement on other people’s work.

Luckily, I didn’t have to swing the sword very hard on any student, and as said all students passed. Some papers were of course better than others. On the Danish 7 points grade scale three students were given the top grade of 12. All three papers were so good that they could almost go straight into this imagined textbook. Despite being assigned the same grade they differed a lot, and it has been fun to see that there, as I told the students several times, is not one right way to complete the assignment.

Something that characterized the best exam papers was that they had taken the assignment of writing an introductory book chapter seriously. They had a good understanding of the targeted audience and many of them had used figures and tables to illustrate their points. Secondly, they had managed to have public health as a recurrent theme throughout the paper. Not all papers were equally good at this. For some the public health perspective felt like an added appendix and not as an integrated part of the chapter.

It was also great to see that even in the less good papers the students overall demonstrated a good understanding of the different models of science communication. I guess this is where the new teacher-side of me becomes particularly happy.

Having been a student myself and constantly heard repeated the importance of making sure that your exam papers are free from spelling mistakes, that they grammatically are correct and that you follow the formalities of the exam I can now confirm that this is important. The overall impression of a paper is just heavily influenced by the annoyance of typos, spelling mistakes etc.

All in all, I am very content with the outcome of the exam and with the assignment given in the exam. It was fun to do an exam that sort of had a foot in reality and could potentially be published in a book one day rather than having them write a paper which had me and the co-examinator as target audience.

Despite it being an exam (exams are rarely fun) I hope the students enjoyed writing this introductory chapter just a little bit. I at least enjoyed reading them!


Exam in Public Health Science Communication

Wow, I can’t believe time has passed so quickly. Next to me is a pile of exam papers completed by the students of the graduate course in Public Health Science Communication at the University of Copenhagen. I feel like I just had the first introduction module, but yet I am almost done reading all these papers.

Until the students have received their results I will of course not comment on the actually exam, but what I would like to do is to share the assignment which the students were given with you. The exam was done through a course paper, where the students were presented with the task already on the first day of the course. They have therefore had the opportunity to let it simmer in the back of their minds through out the course.

Course paper in Public Health Science Communication

Assignment: Write a short introductory chapter on science communication for an imagined new textbook on Public Health Sciences. The imagined textbook is directed both to public health students and medical students. The chapter should provide a broad overview of principles of science communication and explain the relevance of looking specifically at public health science communication.

Requirement: Reference needs to be made to at least 60% of texts in the syllabus. Other literature (book chapters, blogs, articles etc.) may also be included, with clear references.

Language: The course paper can be completed either in Danish or in English.

Maximum length: 1 student: 10 normal pages, 2 students: 16 normal pages, 3 students: 20 normal pages

Evaluation: The paper will be evaluated on a 7-points scale

Additional guidance

In addition, the students were given the following guidance:

  • The course paper should illustrate that you have obtained a broad understanding of the principles of public health science communication (not public health communication) and its many dimensions. This means that you know of different medias, different target groups and different objectives/motivations for communicating science.
  • Since a requirement for the exam is that you have to refer to at least 60% of texts in the syllabus, your job is to put the texts into play with each other and demonstrate how their content are relevant for public health science communication – please also feel free to include other references (articles, blog posts, illustrations, radio programmes) if you find that relevant and as long as the references are clearly indicated in the reference list.
  • Apart from living up to the reference requirements and from demonstrating that you have understood basic principles of science communication, the evaluation of your papers will include how you combine your knowledge of public health sciences with your knowledge about science communication.
  • As the assignment is to write and introductory chapter to science communication, you will of course not be able to go into very specific details, but how you weigh different themes, topics etc. is entirely up to you.
  • As for the form of the paper, there are no requirements, rights or wrongs. You may want to write an introductory chapter as you would like to read it yourself (the target group for the paper is yourself and other students of public health related sciences) or try out a new style.  You can choose to write academically, personally, journalistic, with a dash of humor. It is up to you. Please also feel free to include figure, boxes, pictures and other illustrations if you find it relevant for your text.
  • There is no ideal way to complete this assignment and no rights or wrongs when it comes to format, disposition, language or structure for the paper.
  • You are also free to choose what reference system you like, as long as they are clearly marked and complete.

Why should we do public health science if we can’t communicate it?

The course Public Health Science Communication went live Wednesday last week! And based on the first experiences it survived the encounter with the students, is still in good shape and looking forward to moving on to module two this coming Wednesday.

Since the concept “public health science communication” is still not a household concept and does to my knowledge not (yet) have a Wikipedia entry or a crystal clear definition, I found it useful during the first lesson to ask the students what they, in one sentence, considered public health science communication to be. It gave some interesting responses, of which I here share a few:

In one sentences: What is public health science communication?

  • Simplifying public health science so that it is easier to understand for the public
  • Public health science communication is the science of communication of scientific research to the public
  • Communicating the essence of public health research to the public
  • It’s an interaction among public health workers, public and policy makers to improve health of general public
  • Ways to create greater understanding amongst public, governments and general public about advances in science in particular and relevant formats
  • Communication of scientific health information translated into understandable messages to the public
  • That it is important – why should we do public health science if we can’t communicate it?

Most of the responses are not surprising, and combining them gets us around several aspects of the concept. I do however still find it a little surprising that focus is so heavily on communicating to the public. Where is communication with researchers? Only a few mention e.g. policymakers and public health practitioners. Of course the word public could be understood in its broadest sense – but my feeling is that many are thinking about Mr and Mrs Smith/Jensen/Sanchez when they say “the public”. Some also understood public health science communication to be communicating for behavioral change, which would probably fall more under health communication. Secondly, it seems that science communication is regarded as being about communicating to the public and not with the public. I look forward to expanding the students’ perception of this in the coming weeks.

All the responses are interesting, but my favorite response is this one: “That it is important – why should we do public health science if we can’t communicate it?” In my head it nails it completely.

I also asked the student what they expected to learn. Below some of their responses:

What do you expect to learn?

  • How to be a better communicator of science
  • I expect to learn something about how to communicate public health science to the public, what information is interesting for ”the public” and which strategies are useful in communicating and how I do it
  • Something about the relation between the scientific world and the public – the role of science communication
  • How to better communicate health related information to individuals  (with diverse backgrounds) + communities in an effective and respectful manner
  • A broader way of thinking/analysing/communicate science so it is easier to implement them locally/nationally/internationally
  • How to make research tangible for people outside the field. How to sell the message
  • How to communicate to the public 1) what is public health science, 2) communicate results of public health sciences
  • Challenges of communication with policy makers from public health workers point of view
  • Theories and practical stuff about communication

I’m exited about what the responses. Hopefully, the students will feel that they have been given a few tools, and a better understanding of the role of science communication in public health when the course is over. I also hope that they will have seen that public health science communication includes more than reaching the public and ‘selling messages’, but is just as much about engaging and interacting with the public (understood in its broadest sense) and that communication is not only in aimed at educating the public but may also serve a purpose for their research and for themselves as researchers.

Although the students’ expectations and the objective of the course weren’t all that different I still clarified what the course was not – and what it was intending to be. Perhaps this may be useful to readers on this blog as well.


Social media “likes” healthcare

The report is based on a survey of 1.060 American adults and 124 health care executives.

Social media “likes” healthcare. This is the title of a recently launched report from PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI). The subtitle; From marketing to social business, reveals that the report is focused on the role of social media in health care business. It does however have some interesting findings which are relevant also seen from a science communication perspective.

From PwC’s website the report including the statistical findings can be downloaded, so I won’t refer them here, but just highlight a points which could be useful in public health science communication.

 

The public does seek health information through social media

According to the report it is clear that social media is a tool for the public when they need health information. The figure below illustrates this.

Of course these findings applies to an American population with a very different health care system in comparison to the Danish health system. The information is however valuable because it confirms that health information seeking behavior includes social media. This is of interest to health care providers but also to researchers in health care, who have a unique chance to communicate their findings, reflections etc. to people who are actually searching for them. And why is that relevant? Well, to quote Don Sinko, chief integrity officer of Cleveland Clinic who in the report states:

“One of the greatest risks of social media is ignoring social media. It’s out there, and people are using it whether you like it or not.”

I would argue that this goes for public health science communication too. If the consumers doesn’t find your research while searching social media they will just find something else. Social media is out there and people are using it whether you like it or not.

Listen, Participate, Engage

Although the report focuses on how social media can be used in marketing and in social business strategies, HRI’s suggested social media participation model for businesses does hold some useful tips relevant also for science communication. The Listen, Participate, Engage strategy is illustrated below.

Looking at the strategy with science communication eyes this could be a good starting point for scientists who are newcomers to social media.

Listening is to start knowing. Looking into what other research organisations are communicating, what patient associations are focusing on, what colleagues already on social media are writing about can be a way to get a feel for the media and how it works. And it is pretty risk free – it is about listening and learning.

Second step is to participate. Start sending out tweets or post links to your own articles on Facebook. Retweet others links. There is no need to actively engage or go into discussions, but being active can give a feel of what happens when you communicate.

Third step is then to start engaging. From my experience it is not a process that is strictly divided into phases but something that slowly progresses. All of the sudden it makes sense to comment on a blog post, to ask a question on Twitter or respond to a statement on Facebook. It is also a process to find out what kind of social media that works best for the individual. Slowly moving from listening, to participating and then engaging makes it clear that the different platforms offers different functionalities and that which ones are most useful varies between scientific disciplines, organisations, countries etc.

All in all very simple steps and nothing fancy, but it doesn’t always have to be so complicated.

A health care business focus report

Again, the report from HRI is focused on health care business and not on health sciences. It would be interesting to do a similar or extended survey including questions on scientific health information and interviewing research institutions about their use of social media. I do believe however that some of the findings from the consumer survey in this report, which indicates that social media is playing an increasingly significant role in health care, also applies to health sciences and that public health researchers who are not already trying out the media should start to listen, participate and engage.