Social Media and Health Research

Project summary

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.



Michaelmas 2012

9 October

‘Certified Bullsh!t: Using Social Media to Help the Public Become Better Bullsh!t Detectors’

Dr Amanda Burls, Thinkwell, Oxford

16 October

‘The Information Revolution’

Sir Muir Gray, NHS

23 October

‘Spreading Information in the Social Web: Nodes, Ripples and Community Discovery

Ade Oshineye, Google

30 October

‘Is Academic Medicine Ready for an Open Dialogue with the Public?’

Sir Iain Chalmers, James Lind Alliance

Dr David Karlin, University of Oxford

6 November

‘Dealing with Scientific “Controversy” in an Interconnected World’

Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker, British Council, University of Coventry

13 November

‘Orwellian Adventures in Cyberspace: Poking One’s Head above the Ivory Parapet’

Professor Dorothy Bishop, University of Oxford

20 November

‘Can Patients Accelerate Research and Improve Outcomes on the Internet?’

Dr Paul Wicks, PatientsLikeMe

27 November

‘How the Media Promote the Public Misunderstanding of Science’

Dr Ben Goldacre, Guardian,

4 December

‘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.

Lead investigator

Dr Martin Burton, Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences and Balliol College, University of Oxford

Research team

Dr Amanda Burls, Director of Postgraduate Programmes in Evidence Based Health Care, and the International Programme in Evidence-Base Health Care, 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.