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”.


What does Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) think of social media for science communication?

smcMost people working with science communication will probably have heard about Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) and perhaps also about its front woman Fiona Fox. In case you’ve never heard of it or can’t really remember what it is about the scientific journal ‘Nature’ recently published a news feature on SMC and Fiona Fox which gives a good overview of the centre, its concept and the critic it faces.

Science Media Centre (SMC) is an independent press office that works to get scientific voices into media coverage and policy debates. By doing so the aim is to improve the accuracy with which science is presented to the public. The Centre works with:

  • journalists by providing them with information about science and its related disciplines; and putting them in contact with relevant scientists
  • scientists, engineers and other experts by supporting them in engaging with the media and by creating more opportunities for them to get their voices.
  • Press officers by supporting them when they are working on complex science, health and environment stories.

In addition, the SMC provides expert advice and evidence on issues relating to science in the media.

I won’t repeat the background or work of SMC further on this blog but instead refer to the Nature article or their Science Media Centre website. 

Social media and SMC?

Reading the Nature article with the interview with Fiona Fox and looking at SMC’s website it strikes me how reflections on the use of social media for science communication seems completely absent. It is not mentioned once in the article and on the website they link to their own Twitter account and Fiona Fox’s blog, but other than that there is no reference to social media as a tool or as medium for science communication.

Even in their Top tips for media work to help scientists to work with the media social media is not mentioned with a word, despite the fact that social media provides an excellent opportunity for scientists to communicate their research. Neither is it mentioned in their 10 best practice guidelines for reporting science & health stories. Of course these two guidelines are meant to be a tool on how to prepare for meeting the scientist/journalist and interpret correctly what information they are looking for or sit with, but none the less social media is only growing in influence also among scientists, so advice on checking out if the researcher is blogging about his or her field or using other social media could be worth including. As could advice to scientists on using social media to communicate themselves and use this communication channel as a resource to guide journalists too.

In the Nature article, Fiona Fox says that the part of her job in which she takes the most pride, is convincing once-timid scientists to join the SMC database and speak out. “A real triumph for us is getting a scientist who has worked for 30 years on a really controversial issue and has never spoken to the media,” she says. I wonder if she also encourages them to take communication into their own hands and start communicating through social media as well or if she mainly thinks of them talking to journalists who then do the communication or sign up on the SMC scientist roster….. All in all, I guess I’m quite unclear about what SMC and Fiona Fox thinks of social media for science communication.


Social media challenges ‘old’ media in Boston bombings coverage

That social media plays a key role in emergency situations is evident. Lots of events have proven it’s efficiency and it’s multi-purpose qualities. However, this has definitely not been clear to everyone. Then a tragedy occurs in Boston and it becomes clearer and clearer that social media cannot be brushed aside.

Pop HealthThere are already lots of great blog posts, Twitter discussions etc. about the role social media played (and is still playing) in the events related to the Boston bombings, so I won’t try myself to replicate those. A post that gives a good overview and is written by a public health professional is Leah Roman’s blog post on the blog Pop Health. She goes through some of the key themes of social media in the emergency response, ranging from Immediate Public Safety Concerns and Instructions over Investigation, Reconnecting people, to the functioning of social media as a Resource for Journalists, and it’s role in Mental Health & Support Resources.

idisasterAnother good post about the social media in the boston bombing is on the blog iDisaster 2.0 that shares links to other great articles about the role social media played during the horrific aftermath and presents three observation on use of social networks, particularly Twitter, by the Boston Police Department. Also worth a read.

New media challenges old media

In the last couple of days, old media and new media are both reporting of how the later beat the first during the Boston events. Especially CNNs failure to keep up with social networks in being first with the news is being covered and discussed (among other places in this article in the NY Times and in Danish in this article in Politiken). The dynamic between the traditional media and new social media is interesting, and the relationship between the two will certainly continue to evolve. Without knowing the details of the discussion back in time when radio and later on TV came into being I’m sure that there were similar discussions on the then new media challenging the old ones. I look forward to seeing how it develops, and how emergency management manages to make use of what is still categorized as ‘new media’ and its relation with traditional media.


The Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub

In my research on the use of social media in emergency management and communication and my hunt for good case studies, I have come across a knowledge hub, that I thought I’d share with you. I was of course introduced to it by wonderful people on Twitter (thank you Eva Alisic).

KnowledgehubThe website is called The Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub and is still a BETA version of the Knowledge Hub, but a good BETA version. It provides easy access to evidence-based research and other research as wells as news relevant to emergency management, including statistics and information, photos, video and media about past disaster events. You can read more about the rational and the organisations behind the website on their ‘about’ page.

mapThe website has lots of well thought out search tools. You can search for information about specific emergencies through a combined map and timeline. It will provide you with basic data about the event and links to resources related to the event in the research database.

You can also go directly to the research database and search here on the topic you seek information. You can even filter or sort it by the kind of document (case study, website, report, journal article, blog, wiki etc.), date and disaster category.

Although I haven’t yet tried it out, there is also a community forum space where people working with emergency management can register to discuss ideas and issues affecting the emergency sector.

As the name of the knowledge hub implies, the majority of the resources relates to Australia and its closest surrounding countries, but it is no way exclusive. I have mostly been looking at things related to social media and it seems to me that Australia is first-mover country when it comes to integrating social media into emergency management.

The Knowledge Hub also provides access to resources in the Australian Emergency Management Library.

knowledgehub twitter

Users of the hub can contribute to the hub’s continuous development, by recommending additional resources, share upcoming events, photos, videos and join in on the discussions.

The Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub is of course also on Twitter (@AEMKH), which they use very actively.



Public health science communication – an 8th goal for public health training in the 21st century

European journal of public healthIn the latest issue of the European Journal of Public Health, a wish list for what public health training should look like in the 21st century is giving by Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Seven goals for public health training in the 21st century

Having a bachelor and masters degree in public health sciences from University of Copenhagen, I know for a fact that at least in a Danish context public health science communication has not been part of the curriculum for public health students in the later part of the 20th or the first part of the 21st century. None the less, when I saw the headline of Martin McKee’s article, I was hoping that science communication would be an ambition for modern public health training.

Martin McKee article2

Unfortunately, I was to be a bit disappointed. The article starts out well, stating the need to “prepare people to engage actively in a complex and changing world in ways that improve the health of the population”. So how do you prepare people to engage actively in ways that improves their health? Well, in my world that will require that you as a public health professional and public health scholar can actually communicate what you are doing, what your theories are and what findings come out of your hard work. And that you can engage into conversation and discussion with the public and subgroups of the public (e.g. policy makers, researchers in other fields). In short, that you can communicate public health sciences.

Public health science communication is not mentioned directly as one of the 7 goals. In short that goals Martin McKee lists are:

  1. Stimulate curiosity
  2. Encourage social entrepreneurs who are willing to take the initiative
  3. Make epidemiological connections and understand the biological mechanisms behind
  4. Convey the big picture, expanding Koch’s postulates or Bradford Hill’s criteria of causality with mathematical models to provide evidence of links
  5. Make public health students literate about what (and who) they are up against
  6. Engage with key decision makers at all levels and be confident to speak up.
  7. Ground human rights into public health approaches

For all seven goals, science communication plays a key role, but is only partly mentioned under goal 6, articulating the need for public health people to be confident to speak up and share their knowledge. The only other time communication is touched upon is as an encouragement for public health professionals to not just stay updated on public health news but go beyond the scientific literature:

More than ever, the public health professional needs to read the Economist, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.”

No suggestion is however broad forward about also contributing and communicating public health through these channels. Shouldn’t public health people aim to let their voice, knowledge and opinions be heard outside the ‘traditional’ public health media?

Another element missing in Martin McKee’s list is the IT reality of the 21st century and how Web2.0 already have and is still changing public health research and practice. He mentions the need for public health people to acquire a great deal more self-confidence and points out how:

with a fast internet connection, most students could do a much better job of understanding the topics they [politicians and social commentators] addressed”.

But the potential for new ways of communicating and engaging with the public broad forward by social media and other technologies is not mentioned at all.

Make public health science communication the 8th goal

Communication is almost a precondition for all other 7 goals, which is why I would argue that it deserves to be a goal in itself. Public health students should be given competences in communicating what they do, why they do it and taught how communication can benefit not only the people they are trying to help but also their own work (which then again will come to the benefit of the public). Public health is, as Martin McKee opens the article, not just a collection of different disciplines or the goals it seeks to attain. It is much more. Exactly this ‘much more’ however requires communication. Public health science cannot (meaningfully) exist in its own little universe. It only comes to life when it steps out of the public health sphere and meets the rest of the world. This, however, requires that we as public health people are dressed to meet the world and to communicate with it. Let’s make public health science communication skills the 8th goal of public health training in the 21st century.

The article by Martin McKee is unfortunately hidden behind a pay wall, but you can read an extract here: Seven goals for public health training in the 21st century.


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.


New Public Health Blog from PLOS blogs!

I can’t believe that this is my post number 101. Actually, I had planned to do something special with blog post no. 100, but I only realised that it was my anniversary post when it was published. So the celebration will have to wait for post number 500.

However, post number 101 can also be special and actually I think the topic is quite appropriate: A public health science blog hosted by PLOS blogs has arrived! It is simply called ‘Public Health‘ and has five contributors coming from different backgrounds but all with an interest in Public Health.

PLOS Blogs public healthThe blog looks very promising and the posts currently posted are well written and interesting. I look forward to following the blog and hope for many discussions.

Public Health 2.0

Not surprisingly, I am especially happy to see that the topic of social media and public health is discussed on the blog. In the post Public Health 2.0: Electric Boogaloo by Atif Kukaswadia of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada draws attention to strengths and weaknesses of social media in public health. It is clear that Atif comes to this with an epidemiologist’s perspective (being and Ph.d. candidate in Epidemiology), but he raises some important questions about acknowledging that social media exists and that regardless of whether people with scientifically founded knowledge make use of social media or not, people spreading untrue or perhaps even harmful public health information will continue to do so. This is in my opinion an important argument which needs to be made also to the social media skeptics.

The post is full of great links, so newcomers to the topic of public health 2.0 should take a look at the post and join the discussion.

Social media and science conferences

Atif Kukaswadia opens the blog post with discussing what makes a good conference, and how it not necessarily what happens during the presentations and in the conference room, but rather the discussions that continue (or perhaps first starts) in the lunch room and during the coffee breaks. This make me wonder, if Atif Kukaswadia has been to the Science Online conferences, which acknowledges exactly that. These conferences are built up following a so-called ‘non-conference’ format and brings more space for the in-between-sessions-stuff. Based on my experiences the ScienceOnline people are the most advanced users of social media before, during and after conferences. For newcomers to social media in conferences it is actually quite overwhelming and a little extreme – but none the less a great eye-opener for the power of social media in conferences.


Social media: putting the public into public health information dissemination

I can’t think of a more appropriate place than Twitter to come across an article about the use of social media to disseminate public health information.

I regularly do a Twitter search for ‘public health social media’ and very often come across new interesting initiatives, reports, meetings etc.

Today’s finding was the article Putting the Public into Public Health Information Dissemination: Social Media and Health-related Web Pages. The article, written by Professor Robert Steele and Dan Dumbrell, both from the Discipline of Health Informatics at The University of Sydney, takes a closer look at social media as a tool for the dissemination of public health information.

The paper discusses the novel aspects of social media-based public health information dissemination, including a very interesting comparison of its characteristics with search engine-based Web document retrieval. I especially find the below table from the paper interesting:

To me, this table captures in a very precise way many of the advantages and new possibilities of social media. The ‘push’ and ‘pull’ analogy for the mode of disseminating information is very telling. I also find the interaction difference of ‘community and peer-post-based’ vs. ‘individual’ based interesting and particular relevant to the field of public health sciences.

In addition to the comparison of social media and search engine-based web document retrieval, the paper presents the results of preliminary analysis of a sample of public health advice tweets taken from a larger sample of over 4700 tweets sent by Australian health-related organization in February 2012 and discusses the potential of social media to spread messages of public health.

All in all the paper has a lot of very interesting perspectives and makes a call for more research in the area. I’m looking forward to hearing more as they get deeper into the analysis. For example it would be interesting to learn about which hashtags (#) the analysed tweets were assigned, if any.


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.