The field of medical research is undergoing rapid transformation. Something like 30,000 health research articles (trials or systematic reviews) are being published in the research literature every year. Connected fields are also experiencing related changes. It seems that every other day some breakthrough therapy or ‘cause and effect’ link appears in the media. Healthcare professionals are increasingly acquiring those critical appraisal skills needed to appraise the latest research for effective treatments, whilst patients are ‘Googling’ their symptoms, bringing more information and questions to Primary Care interactions and challenging the 20th-century model of doctors as unquestioned figures of authority. Many go online first to find information, and tools to improve the quality of information on offer continue to evolved. Indeed, the way health research is accessed, appraised, and incorporated into practice is increasingly shaped by information technology, along with a shift in individuals’ attitudes towards taking more control over their own health questions. One key aspect of this will be developing the capacity of the public to understand and have the capacity to act based on the information they find, and. critically, to improve their ability to sniff out claims in mainstream media that are overblown or sensationalist - or quite often just drastically oversimplified.
This project brought together researchers from across the disciplines to explore how social media could be used to improve health literacy and promote public understanding of health research, and assembled a network of researchers to investigate how the public could become more engaged in this changing landscape, through the channels of social media. Guardian journalist and research fellow Ben Goldacre identified the poor interface between the research community and the public provided by mainstream media as a point of serious concern. The project delved further into this idea by exploring the possible uses of social networks to achieve three goals: to foster and encourage a deeper interest in health research, to develop the skills to recognise good research from bad (raising basic scientific literacy), and to apply pressure on media companies from a new direction to improve their standards of reporting of health research.
‘Certified Bullsh!t: Using Social Media to Help the Public Become Better Bullsh!t Detectors’
Dr Amanda Burls, Thinkwell, Oxford
‘The Information Revolution’
Sir Muir Gray, NHS
‘Spreading Information in the Social Web: Nodes, Ripples and Community Discovery’
Ade Oshineye, Google
‘Is Academic Medicine Ready for an Open Dialogue with the Public?’
Sir Iain Chalmers, James Lind Alliance
Dr David Karlin, University of Oxford
‘Dealing with Scientific “Controversy” in an Interconnected World’
Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker, British Council, University of Coventry
‘Orwellian Adventures in Cyberspace: Poking One’s Head above the Ivory Parapet’
Professor Dorothy Bishop, University of Oxford
‘Can Patients Accelerate Research and Improve Outcomes on the Internet?’
Dr Paul Wicks, PatientsLikeMe
‘How the Media Promote the Public Misunderstanding of Science’
Dr Ben Goldacre, Guardian, Badscience.net
‘Communicating Cancer Research Online: Sorting Signal from Noise in the Information Era’
Dr Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK
The poster for the series is available here.
Dr Martin Burton, Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences and Balliol College, University of Oxford
Dr Eric T. Meyer, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
Dr Tristram Wyatt, Department of Zoology and Kellogg College, University of Oxford
Contact details for enquiries
Please email the lead investigator, Dr Martin Burton, for any inquiries regarding this project.