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Twitter for Scientists Part 2: Networking in 140 characters or less

This week, I'll be talking about Twitter (Pic via Tweepi)

On Monday I discussed some of the reasons why I think you should sign up for Twitter, and why it is a useful tool.

Encouraging scientists to use social media isn’t a new idea. In response to my last post, friend of the blog @muddybrown (you may remember him from the graduate school roundtable) pointed out a series by Scientific American writer Christie Wilcox (@nerdychristie). It’s a four part series, but definitely worth a read for another perspective on social media and science (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

Today, I’ll be continuing that discussion, but focusing on two other aspects of Twitter: How it can be used to get information that you wouldn’t otherwise, and how it can be used at conferences.

So let’s get started shall we?

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Twitter for Scientists Part 1: How a procrastination tool can be useful

This week, I'll be talking about Twitter

Twitter is a well known microblogging platform. People can post updates in the form of 140 character “tweets” that can be read by followers, who can “retweet,” i.e. repost that tweet to their own followers, or reply to the original post. I started using it about a year ago, and have found it to be equal parts whimsical and hilarious, along with useful and informative.

Several other authors have discussed reasons why scientists should be using Twitter, including this excellent post on Deep Sea News and this post through the American Geophysical Union. As I pointed out in my previous weekly roundup, Dr Jeremy Segrott gave his thoughts after he used Twitter for a three months. Scientists are realizing that social media is an important way to translate knowledge to the public when done well, and Twitter provides another avenue by which this can be accomplished.

What I will do is post 5 reasons why I think, as a scientist, you should be using Twitter, or, at the very least, be signed up for a Twitter account. Reasons 2 and 3 will be up on Wednesday, and reasons 4 and 5 will go up on Friday.

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History of Epidemiology: Patient Zero and Typhoid Mary

ResearchBlogging.orgBetter Know An Epidemiologist/History of Epidemiology is an ongoing feature where Mr Epidemiology pays tribute to people and studies that have set the stage for his generation of epidemiologists. All of the articles are listed here.

Gaetan Dugas, Air Canada flight attendant and one of the first diagnosed cases of HIV

EDIT 10/01/12: I had indicated (incorrectly) that Typhoid Fever was a viral disease. It is in fact due to a bacterium instead. Thanks to Mike the Mad Biologist for pointing that out!

EDIT 10/01/12: As Brett Keller points out in the comments, Gaetan Dugas was not Patient Zero for HIV. While he contributed to the spread of the virus, he wasn’t the first known case of it, and so the label of Patient Zero is unfairly applied to him.

Patient Zero is a common infectious disease epidemiology term. It refers to the first known case of the disease of interest, and is useful when tracking disease outbreaks. Knowing where the disease starts allows us to track not only the spread of the disease, but also how it spreads – through water, air, person-to-person contact etc.

I heard an absolutely phenomenal podcast through WNYC’s RadioLab podcast about Patient Zero, and that formed the inspiration for this post. I highly recommend listening to it when you have a chance – either through iTunes, on their website. They cover several different “Patient Zero’s,” including Typhoid Mary and Gaetan Dugas (pictured above).

Today, I’ll be talking about Typhoid Mary. To listen exclusively to the Typhoid Mary segment of the RadioLab podcast, click here.

Click the image to go to the RadioLab podcast about Patient Zero.

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Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 3: Storytelling and Research

Over the past week, I have the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Smith, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, and a current lecturer there, to the Blog. Jonathan has been working on a documentary about his research entitled “They Go To Die.” The interview is split into three parts: Part 1 was a broad background to the area, Part 2 covered the filming experience, and finally Part 3 will talk about the role of storytelling in research. Jonathan has mounted a campaign on Kickstarter to help fund the editing and final steps in making this movie a reality, and if you would like to support him, please click here.

What do you see as the role of filmmaking and storytelling in Epidemiology and research in general?

It seems like there is a history of pitting personal stories against data and research. You are either a believer in one or the other. I have no idea why, they work so harmoniously together. I think a few activist films have skewed this perception of how they can work together.

But honestly, this surly perception we have in accepting stories as valid isn’t uncalled for. They have much more room for bias. I said once that if I were to tell you the story of Godzilla backwards, it would be about a moonwalking dinosaur that rebuilds Japan. That may be a silly way of explaining it, but stories are often dismissed as academically rigorous because it depends on how and who is telling the story. Data on the other hand is undeniable (that is, if it is actually done correctly, a whole other debate…).

So we become comforted in data and rely on it to sway our positions. We have become oblivious to what this data means. Are policy arguments are now over a gain and loss of numbers. But mortality doesn’t simply mean that someone dies – it means that a person is removed from an ever-changing, organic infrastructure of family and community. A beam is removed from the foundation, and it weakens everything. It devastates people, families, and communities. But more importantly, it changes how those infrastructures operate. That cant be summed up in data. We have to find a way to show that, justly – because just like our data, we can’t present their stories in a biased way.

Continue reading “Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 3: Storytelling and Research”

Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 2: The Filming Process

Over the next week, I have the pleasure of welcoming Jonathan Smith, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, and a current lecturer there, to the Blog. Jonathan has been working on a documentary about his research entitled “They Go To Die” a story describing the plight of miners in South Africa. I’ll have the opportunity to talk to Jonathan about his experiences making this movie both as a film maker and an epidemiologist . The interview is split into three parts: Part 1 was a broad background to the area, Part 2 covers the filming experience, and finally Part 3 will talk about the role of storytelling in research. Jonathan has mounted a campaign on Kickstarter to help fund the editing and final steps in making this movie a reality, and if you would like to support him, please click here.

So how did you start the filming process? Did you have contacts? Did you encounter any resistance making this movie? How did the miners react when you told them?

Well, funny you should ask. My first question was, “how can I find these men?” I mean, think about the logistics of actually finding these men, who ‘disappear’ once they leave the mine, then try to get them to agree to let some white guy live with them… and film it? I literally had to start from scratch. I had no connections. It was a tough time.

At first I tried just walking through the settlements asking around for people. Terrifying. Obviously, I’m an idiot. It wasn’t the correct approach and once was literally chased out of the settlement by men with butcher knives. Amazing how fast you can run when you need to!

Later, when I went to the exact same settlement to stay with Mr. Sagati, I approached it through ‘community leaders’ – informally appointed leader of the settlement. Once my intentions were actually explained and by someone they trusted, they were more than happy about letting me into the community. That experience also gave Mr. Sagati’s family in particular (who lived in the settlement) a pretty good laugh and some ammunition to make fun of me after I told them…

Continue reading “Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 2: The Filming Process”

Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 1: Background

Over the next week, I have the pleasure of welcoming Jonathan Smith, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, and a current lecturer in Global Health, to the Blog. Jonathan has been working on a documentary about his research entitled “They Go To Die“, and over the next week, I’ll have the opportunity to talk to Jonathan about his experiences making this movie.

The interview is split into three parts: Part 1 will be a broad background to the area, Part 2 covers the filming experience, and finally Part 3 will talk about the role of storytelling in research. If you have any questions for Jonathan, please do not hesitate to let me know. I’m really excited to be doing this – I believe that academia needs to branch out into other avenues to help convey our message, and this is just one route we can take.

Jonathan has mounted a campaign on Kickstarter to help fund the editing and final steps in making this movie a reality, and if you would like to support him, please click here to donate.

Hi Jonathan! Thanks for joining us (well, me) at Mr Epidemiology. Why don’t we start by introducing you to the audience …

My name is Jonathan Smith and I research TB and HIV in the context of migrant populations, specifically goldmine workers in South Africa, at Yale University’s School of Public Health (YSPH). I am currently a lecturer in the departments of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases and Global Health at Yale, and an affiliate of Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute.

As a graduate student at YSPH, the more I researched mining and TB, the more I realized that another traditional research project would do little to actually solve anything. We can get to the specifics as to why in a moment, but in short I posed the question, “What is the point of public health research if there is no public health benefit?” That’s when I decided to take on the role as filmmaker and create the documentary, They Go to Die. And that’s also when my whole perception of global health changed…

Continue reading “Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 1: Background”

Attitudes to Publically Funded Obesity Treatment and Prevention

ResearchBlogging.org In countries where healthcare is funded by taxpayers, concerns over whether or not obesity treatment should be included under the umbrella of national healthcare is an ongoing concern. While this is also a concern in countries with private healthcare, in the public healthcare system the cost may be borne by society as a whole.

Perhaps the biggest issue in supporting obesity treatment programs is *not* whether or not there is a need for treatment: it’s obvious these people need help. The underlying issue is whether or not there is *public support* for treatment. Skim through the comments section on any CBC or Globe and Mail piece on obesity, and it is clear that this is a very contentious issue.

Hospital's can provide treatment for obesity. But is there public support for extreme measures such as surgery?

Prejudice and discrimination against the obese is not new, and last year the Canadian Obesity Network, along with partners, hosted the 1st Canadian Summit on Weight Bias and Discrimination (for more information, see the executive summary.) Knowing this prejudice exists, researchers in Denmark set out to investigate public support for obesity treatment, and to identify predictors of this support.

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Contagion and Social Media

A movie poster for Contagion

Last week I ran a story about the movie Contagion, and my thoughts about it. I kept it pretty simple, and avoided a lot of the plot. But in this article, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve watched the movie, or that spoilers don’t bother you too much.

I really enjoyed the movie. I know some people found the movie a little dry, and some found it shallow, but I thought it struck a good balance between believable enough without being outlandish – a fact bolstered by how the producers had CDC staff on hand to act as creative consultants. After all, if movies like GI Joe can have military personnel to help them and make sure the military guys are appropriate, why wouldn’t you have an Epidemiologist on hand for a movie about a virus outbreak? I thought the faceless, unrelenting virus was a great “villain” and drove the action forward with a sense of urgency and dread.

When the movie ended, I was happy, but I was left with questions about the movie’s realism. What would the CDC do if there was such an outbreak? How do they plan to tackle it? Would they use traditional means like the news, or do they plan to use social media as well? They’ve updated their website about it and written a blog post too. But those are rather dry – I’d love to be able to sit down with real EIS Agents and ask them questions.

So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the CDC would be holding a live Q and A on Twitter with four EIS agents.

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Movie Review: Contagion

So recently, I mentioned a new movie was coming out named Contagion. There’s been a lot of interesting buzz surrounding the movie on the internet, and several colleagues and I were excited to see a movie about Epidemiologists. So we ventured down to our local theatre to check it out.

I’ve tried to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, and I’ve tried to keep key details from being revealed. However, as with all movie reviews, if you want to be surprised by the movie, don’t read it.

Review after the jump.

Continue reading “Movie Review: Contagion”

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