Mr Epidemiology

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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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#StopKONY: Or, the importance of critically evaluating data in the information age

EDIT 14/03/12: As pointed out in the comments, the accuracy of the PubMed’s database needs to be considered when analyzing retractions. Thanks L. Wynholds!

Unless you’ve completely been avoiding all social media platforms this week, you’ve likely come across the #StopKony/#Kony2012 campaign. In short, a group called Invisible Children created the video above that was meant to make Joseph Kony infamous, and encourage governments and people to act against him. By raising awareness, you can make a difference, the filmmakers argue.

The video went up, and almost immediately went viral. It was uploaded on March 4th, 2012. By March 5th, it had over 25 million views. As of March 11th i.e. one week, it has over 70 million views.

What I find most interesting though, is that almost immediately after the video went up, people started digging. And suddenly, this campaign was being questioned and criticized. Sites such as Visible Children found  questionable information about the campaign, and it wasn’t long before the media started asking questions; Jezebel, NY Daily News, CTV, The Huffington Post (which featured comments from Ugandans) and The Atlantic all penned articles ranging from slamming Invisible Children (Jezebel) to presenting both sides (CTV). People were critical, they dug up information, and they presented facts to back up their criticisms.

Scientists are familiar with this process: It’s peer review.

Continue reading “#StopKONY: Or, the importance of critically evaluating data in the information age”

Twitter for Scientists Part 3: To boldly go where no lecturer has gone before

How are scholars using Twitter? Click to enlarge.

So far, I’ve talked about how Twitter can be used by scientists to help disseminate information, and acquire new information. I’m going to change gears in my final post and talk about how Twitter can be used in the classroom, and how it can be used by scientists moving forward.

If you missed them, click here for Part 1 and Part 2 in this series.

Continue reading “Twitter for Scientists Part 3: To boldly go where no lecturer has gone before”

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?

Continue reading “Twitter for Scientists Part 2: Networking in 140 characters or less”

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.

Continue reading “Twitter for Scientists Part 1: How a procrastination tool can be useful”

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.

Continue reading “Contagion and Social Media”

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.

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History of Epidemiology: Jonas Salk and The Eradication of Polio

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

Poliomyelitis is an infectious viral disease. It enters through the mouth and is usually spread by contaminated drinking water or food. The virus passes through the stomach and then replicates in the lining of the intestines. Most healthy people infected with virus experience little more than mild fever or diarrhea. However, some people develop paralysis, and some die as a result.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States of America, suffered from Polio

In 1952, approximately 58,000 new cases of Poliomyelitis occurred in the United States. In 1953, approximately 35,000 new cases were reported. This was up from an annual average of 20,000 cases. The 1952 infections left 3,145 people dead and 21,269 with mild to disabling paralysis.

Even before the 1952 and 1953 outbreaks, labs had been worked diligently to find a cure for Polio. Relief finally came when Jonas Salk developed a vaccine.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “History of Epidemiology: Jonas Salk and The Eradication of Polio”

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