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Selling Science: Marketing Public Health Messages

Think about the most recent message you heard on TV. If you’re like me and watch a lot of sports it probably had something to do with going “All in for Week 1.” Alternatively, maybe you’re thinking about Importing from Detroit. Or maybe you want to see a day in the life of LeBron’s Samsung Note II. But how often do we see effective marketing of public health messages?

When it comes to public health, how much time do we spend promoting our message? Perhaps the only “public health” messages people see relate to two things: 1) phamarceuticals (although this varies by region) and 2) seasonal vaccination programs. The way advertisers think about messaging is markedly different to the way public health professionals think and thus how we convey information. Rather than talk about how to “communicate a health risk” maybe we should think about how to “market a message.” It’s a simple, but seismic shift.

Continue reading on PLOS Blogs Public Health Perspectives!

The Problem with “Fighting” Cancer

B0007784 Lung cancer cells
Lung Cancer Cell by wellcome images | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Last time I spoke to you about wording and public health, and the unintentional impact that can have on people. I want to continue on that theme today, and talk about what is perhaps one of the most pervasive, and more controversial language choices that we as as a society have made: the military language we use around cancer. Often, the media (and by extension, society) describe someone with cancer as a “warrior” who “battles” cancer. This language isn’t rare, and has been around since the mid-70s when Susan Sontag wrote her book “Illness as a Metaphor.” Research by Seale (2001) states:

News stories commonly feature sports celebrities with cancer, as well as sporting activities by ordinary people with cancer, designed to generate a sense of (usually successful) personal struggle.

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#overlyhonestmethods – Reaching out with humour

For a week and a half, I was a minor internet celebrity!

Science has an awkward relationship with the public. There’s a perception that we exist in an ivory tower, and the common media perception (as is evident by shows like The Big Bang Theory) is that we’re somewhat socially inept, with a lack of people skills and an inability to talk about our work in a way that others can understand.

So I was thrilled when #overlyhonestmethods became a thing. There have been many little science in-jokes floating around the twittersphere; one of my favourite was the hashtag #middleearthpublichealth which came out right before The Hobbit released in theatres. Tweets like “Craving the ‘Precious’: Gollum, a case study of the public health impact of severe ring addiction, Lancet 2010” abounded, and they illustrated public health rather nicely (for more, check out Brett Keller’s blogpost). However, they only catered to a niche audience: public health professionals, and public health professionals who got the Lord of the Rings references.

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Science and Storytelling

A short post today, as I know everyone is busy, and the time you spend reading could be better spent listening to me in the YouTube video above 🙂

I was fortunate enough to speak at TEDxQueensu last semester. For those of you familiar with the TED format, it’s a short (< 18 minute) talk about an idea or concept. Some famous ones are by Sir Ken Robinson (Schools Kill Creativity), Candy Chang (Before I die, I want to) and this talk by Simon Sinek (How great leaders inspire action). The latter is the one that inspired me to do this talk.

In a nutshell, I think science is awesome. But I also think that science is suffering a public relations crisis at the moment, with people having a hard time understanding what it is we do, and more important why scientific research matters. That idea is what fuelled my TEDx talk above.

For those wondering, TEDxQueens was a great experience. There were a range of people there, including fellow PhD candidate Heidi Penning, who spoke about her experiences raising a child with autism in her talk entitled “Discovering what lies beyond the bend.” I’d definitely recommend attending next year if this is the kind of thing you enjoy – and definitely audition if you have an idea worth spreading!

Thanks again to the TEDxQueensu team for such a great opportunity and for putting on such an awesome event.

This piece was simulblogged on Gradifying

New Post on PLOS Blogs Sci-Ed: The Power of Words

Words
Words are powerful. Photo courtesy ManchesterMonkey

In public health we’re faced with a dilemma. We want to help people – that’s our goal, that’s why we do what we do. But at the same time, we also need to be careful how we approach public health concerns – the last thing we want to do is further stigmatize the very people we’re trying to help. One of the most subtle, but most powerful ways we can either empower or belittle others is in the language we use.

One area at the forefront of this is the field of mental health research. The “traditional” language would be a “X person,” where X refers to any mental health issue. But this isn’t the best language to use. For one, it defines the person by their illness – not by who they are. They have X, first and foremost. Not their interests, their personalities, their hobbies. They’re labelled and defined.

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New Post on PLOS Public Health: Public Health 2.0: Electric Boogaloo

Session: Public E-Health

I love conferences and seminars. Having someone who is passionate about an issue get up and present is one of the best ways to learn about something new, and can really bring something to life. But what’s perhaps most interesting is not how effectively someone can communicate an issue, but it’s in the break immediately afterwards. Do people leave to discuss the topic that was just presented? Do they leave thinking about what you said? In my mind, that’s one mark of a good presenter: they make you think about the issue so deeply that it dominates the conference lunch immediately afterwards.

I had this experience last week. As part of an introductory epidemiology course, the students were allocated to a side and had to “debate” an issue. One of the topics was “Vaccination campaigns can be helped by social media,” with the two teams arguing accordingly. That got me to thinking: How is social media used by public health professionals? And can it be used effectively?

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Movember ends, but the message lives on

https://i0.wp.com/ca.movember.com/uploads/images/Home/About%20Movember/ABOUT_3.jpg

I’m going to get up onto my soapbox and rant a little.

Friends. Movember is drawing to a close, and I thank you all for your support, financial and otherwise. And for those of you mocking me for growing such a glorious Mo, well, you’re just jealous.

But there’s more to Movember than just growing a Mo.

There’s the issue of Men’s Health, which sometimes gets lost in the messaging. While women are very proactive and supportive of women’s health issues, men have a level of indifference that is concerning and don’t seek out help (see references below). One of the major reasons Bros don’t seek out help is due to embarrassment. Why? Because we’re afraid of being made fun of? Because we figure if we ignore it it’ll “just go away”? Because we don’t want to appear “weak”? The consequences of not seeking help could include cancer, depression or worse. What’s weak about tackling those issues? Those are incredibly tough things to deal with – if anything they require more strength. If you’re a Mo Bro, get your annual physical. Get checked out. Go see the doctor if you need it – don’t wait. Talk to a healthcare professional if you need it, and make an informed decision on your future. Many health issues are curable and treatable if caught early – the longer you wait the worse they can get. For all the Mo Sistas and Mo Bros out there, support your Bros. Mo Bros are likely to put off seeing the doctor and ignore health concerns, but with support this attitude can shift.

We’ve all had a good laugh over this month, and it’s a fun month for sure. But let’s not forget the serious health consequences that this month highlights.

For more information, check the Movember page on Men’s Health Issues.

Thanks to Michelle D for the idea for this post and Vanessa V for feedback.

References:
Tudiver F, Talbot Y. Why don’t men seek help? Family physicians’ perspectives on help-seeking behavior in men. J Fam Pract. 1999 Jan;48(1):47-52.
Winerman, L. Helping men to help themselves. Available online.
Vogel, DL, Heimerdinger-Edwards, SR, Hammer, JH, Hubbard, A. “Boys don’t cry”: Examination of the links between endorsement of masculine norms, self-stigma, and help-seeking attitudes for men from diverse backgrounds. Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol 58(3), Jul 2011, 368-382

Mr Epidemiology is moving to PLoS Blogs!

Super exciting news! As of this week, I’ll be a PLoS Blogger! A PLoGGer! Or a PLoGster! Yay!

This is very exciting, and I’m looking forward to moving onto the PLoS network. For some perspective, I’m going from my blog (3-5k visits/month) to PLoS Blogs (>200k visits/month). I’ll be writing for their brand new Public Health blog and their Science Education blog, together with some incredible writers, including the very talented Viet Le and Beth Skwarecki on Public Health, as well Jean Flanagan and Cristina Russo on Science-Ed, as well as others (including frequent Mr Epidemiology guest, Lindsay Kobayashi!).

The blogs go live tonight (so if the links don’t work, check back later), and will be available at:

http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/ and

http://blogs.plos.org/scied/

I’m going to continue to use Mr Epidemiology to aggregate my work on these sites and Gradifying, and will continue to update Mr Epid with other posts and thoughts that don’t fit those three blogs.

As always, I welcome your comments, and hope you’ll join me over at PLoS! And above all, thank you all for your support!

Hey Mr Epid! What should I bring to a conference?

It’s conference time! Which means three things: 1) you’re frantically applying to every travel award, scholarship and bursary available to help fund your trip, 2) you’re trying to put together your poster and/or powerpoint at the last minute and 3) if this is your first academic conference, you’re wondering what to bring with you. This post is dedicated to the last point (inspired by Ars and other sites).

I like to pack light at conferences. You spend most of your time shuttling between rooms and the more you have with you, the more you have to worry about. That being said, I like to have the following 7 things with me at every conference:

Here’s my conference loadout. Macbook, iPhone, satchel, USB key, business cards and water bottle 🙂 (item #7 not shown)

Continue reading “Hey Mr Epid! What should I bring to a conference?”

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