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Science Communication Is The Bridge We Need

Nowadays it’s typical and obvious that conversations create and maintain their existence within “bubbles” or “echo chambers”. The examples are plenty and diverse, across all topics and around the whole world. This is partly a result of the expanding space that allows for more conversations to happen, namely the interconnected world of online web. Never before has it been easier to have a conversation between individuals that reside in different continents, and have the conversation be as fluent and dynamic, in real-time, as if the individuals are all sitting around the same table. And not only is it a matter of technology that facilitates these conversations, it is also the ability to have a large, common, and easily accessible wealth of information to fuel the talks. These factors combine to create a type of communication ecosystem so rich and diverse, that it has inevitably been utilized to support wide-ranging types of microenvironments and subject matters.

New ways facilitate the ability to communicate between individuals interested in ideas, regardless of the actual quality, reason or purpose of these ideas and conversations. It is however not my goal here to debate or argue against some of the prevailing conversations that exist now on the internet. That feels like an issue that requires a different format and a different type of communication than a blogpost in a health and science geared online platform! Instead, my goal today is to spotlight and encourage more of the type of rich communication possible, especially by directing my message towards… and you probably guessed this, scientists (and physicians and all other types of academics. Scientists get the headline in this blogpost because… well I’m a scientist myself!).

I believe that in this rich ecosystem of communication possibilities, there needs to be an increased effort by scientists to engage in open discussions with as many individuals as possible. This is counter to what has been the case for the past century, where scientists placed the highest priority into communicating their knowledge, investigative findings and even their questions (with no present answers) to other scientists, in platforms that are extremely inaccessible to the vast majority of the general public. Scientists (and academics in general) almost intentionally sidelined themselves from active participation in what the world was preoccupied with and talking about at any point in time.

To that extent, it is highly encouraging and exciting, to see that in the past few years, attention and valuable effort has been put into the wide-ranging field of Science Communication (#SciComm), by a growing number of young and established scientists, that answered the call of science beyond the walls of the lab, or the research group, university or hospital that houses them.  #SciComm can have many forms, and all of them are totally appropriate, depending on how it is performed, and by whom, and for what purpose. #SciComm can be an addition to the portfolio of an active scientist (student, early-career or even a fully tenured senior investigator). #SciComm can also be an entry-level job by a recent science graduate that has an interest in media and public outreach. #SciComm can also be a lengthy career all on its own, spanning decades (you know who’s basically a #SciCommer: Bill Nye! Also, David Suzuki, and Sir David Attenborough!).

Science communication to the public takes a completely different form, of course, compared to science communication between peers. Academic and medical publications read by their intended communities are perfect examples of “conversation bubbles” and echo chambers. There is no doubt a benefit in having conversations between subject-matter experts. The increased potential of collaboration and the advancement of ideas and innovations has greatly benefited from the ability to communicate within these well-structured communication bubbles. So I would not want this type of discussion to end or be discouraged at all. However, it is increasingly evident that scientists also need to utilize, and take advantage of, the widening communication avenues. Otherwise, the role scientists play in the expanding world will inevitably shrink and become marginalized.

(Collage assembled from pixabay.com images)

New avenues for scientists (and everyone else) exist in all relevant communication styles: If writing is preferred, many blogs/online magazines and newsletters are accessible (or easily created), which can be utilized to “translate” knowledge that exists in academic and medical publications, and allow far easier accessibility for the public. A word of caution here is warranted though: it is important to learn about the content provider (publisher), and vet the content on that platform, to know for sure the value and accuracy that is present there. As scientists, we must value our own output, and make sure it gets sorted into a worthwhile content provider/publisher, and never in a “predatory” or compromised communication form. We should not lend credibility to something that fosters false or biased or unproductive content.

Moving on, when audio style communication is desirable, then podcasts are the modern-day addition to the “radio” format of science communication. And finally, if video is the go-to communication medium, then YouTube is there for everyone. And just like with my words of caution regarding writing and content disseminating new avenues, one must be careful about Podcast and YouTube channels that one is thinking of contributing to; great options exist and are highly recommended, but there also exists a large number of channels and content distributors that would do more harm than benefit to the overall science and general public. Today I’m not going to tackle the world of Social Media here (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc), but know that these also count towards #SciComm (and probably could be the most dominant force of communication moving forward). That’s a future topic to write about!

So, as a scientist, an early career professional, and an enthusiastic communicator of knowledge, to as a wide an audience as I can reach, I’ll continue to encourage, support and amplify the desire for more science communication, and utilization of the expanding avenues available for everyone. Because when science is available for all, the world can tackle more challenges, and everyone can benefit.

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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Civility in Scientific Debate

Disagreement, dissent, challenges to commonly held positions? Cool. Ad-hominum attacks, sexist language and images, name-calling? Not cool.

Critique and dissent can be eloquently expressed, and often they are. I have read thoughtful letters to the editor and received constructive, if painful, reviews of my work (side note: learn how to write constructive reviews!). There are well-established professional norms in these contexts. On social media, however, discourse is less measured and formal. A benefit of this democratization of publication means that ideas challenging power structures and status quo can propagate more easily, cross-pollination among disciplines flows naturally, and historically underrepresented voices can gain a wide audience. But a downside to this lack of gate-keeping is sometimes the deterioration of debate.

Scientists and clinicians use Twitter for education and conversation (for great examples, see #FOAMed— free open-access medical education). Many of us use the platform to communicate ideas and research findings to a wide audience, both other scientists and the public. Social media offers a channel to interact with people whose work you admire, too. It’s a great way to share your hard work, comment on debates, ask questions, and yes, disagree.

But Twitter isn’t without its downsides, one of which is immediacy: the second you hit publish, your words are out there, associated with your name. It’s too easy for something you dashed off in a fit of pique to come to represent your professional self. It’s also easy to forget that there are people behind the hashtags and handles: if you wouldn’t say something to a human in front of you, it’s likely not wise to tweet it, either— but the sense of anonymity encouraged by social media platforms can embolden some people. In combination, these factors can create conditions where bullying and other bad behavior, rather than reasoned debate, take over.

Take a recent online kerfuffle involving cardiology trainee Danielle Belardo, MD, and Jeff Nelson, who owns the website VegSource.com. Dr. Belardo recommends olive oil to her patients as part of a plant-based diet, and she shares this information on her social media channels. She bases her advice on scientific evidence and the recommendations of professional bodies such as the American College of Cardiology. There is plenty of conflicting evidence on dietary approaches to reduce risk of heart disease, and many disagree on the conclusions, including Nelson. Dietary patterns stir up lots of dissent, and that’s good. But rather than engage in conversation about the differing viewpoints on the science, Nelson posted an inflammatory meme including blatantly sexist imagery, in an apparent attempt to ridicule discredit Dr. Belardo. This behavior is, unfortunately, not unusual. People, especially women, who voice controversial ideas online are frequently subject to this kind of bullying and often to sustained harassment also. Outside of social media, a physician who promotes an evidence-based but controversial idea will likely have fans and detractors, but on twitter, she has trolls and bullies. Suddenly, rather than an intellectual back-and-forth focused on difference of opinion and evaluation of evidence, we have the digital equivalent of name-calling, schoolyard insults, and stalking.

This behavior isn’t only bad for the targets, it’s also bad for science. Unfortunately, incivility online can have a chilling effect of innovation and conversation. Afraid of triggering flame wars, some may hesitate to ask excellent probing questions. Afraid of trolls, some may hesitate to speak controversial truths. And fearing aggressive bullying, some (especially women, who are the targets of much egregious behavior) may resist speaking altogether. Diversity of methods, opinions, identities, and backgrounds should always be welcome in science, and it’s hugely detrimental to progress when brilliant people are silenced.

How can we promote civility and dissent, which are good for science? I don’t know that there’s an easy answer, but I will leave you with these words from social scientist Amy Cuddy, who has weathered her share of online incivility: “The only way to elevate the civility and quality of scientific debate is to radically depart from personal attacks and public shamings. We have to replace fear and indignation with excitement and curiosity. If there’s a genuine interest in understanding any complicated scientific phenomenon, there is a way forward. It requires openness, listening, trust, and collaboration.” (source: https://amycuddyblog.com/2017/11/29/civility-in-science-is-not-a-luxury-its-a-necessity/)

How can you contribute to openness, listening, trust, and collaboration?

#scicomm #supportwomen

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

 

 

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3 Tips for Live Tweeting a Conference

What is Live Tweeting?

Live tweeting is when you tweet about an event while you’re there.

You can harness conference hashtags, like #EpiLifestyle19 for the upcoming Epi | Lifestyle Scientific Sessions in Houston, or this past year’s #AHA18 Scientific Sessions in Chicago, to group your tweets with others and help people follow along.

Live tweeting doesn’t mean typing out every word a speaker is saying.

Tweet the name of the presentation and the speaker, the energy of the room, or your big takeaway.

What’s the “so what?” behind the presentation? What did you find most interesting?

You also don’t have to tweet in the moment.

Write down some of your thoughts, and after the session, write up your summary tweet.

 

Why Live Tweet?

Tweeting short comments at a conference presentation or seminar let’s your followers tune in, like they’re sitting there with you.

In an article for PLOS Blogs, Atif Kukaswadia (@DrEpid) shares an impressive example from the 2011 2nd National Obesity Summit in Montreal.

The conference had 800 attendees, and only a handful of people tweeted.

But those handful of people produced 500 tweets with the conference hashtag, and those 500 tweets reached 80,000 people.

80,000 people.

Can you imagine how many people we’d reach at a bigger AHA conference with meeting reporters live tweeting from nearly every session?

Not only does live tweeting make followers feel like they’re there, but it stimulates discussion as people comment, asking questions, offering their own thoughts, and connecting to other science resources.

In his article “The Challenges of Conference Blogging”, Daniel MacArthur reminded us of the purpose of presenting science at conferences.

Why do we do it?

To promote discussion about our science.

To expand our own influence for future job opportunities and collaborations.

Live tweeting at conferences achieves these things – with the added benefit of concise science communication that expands both the reach of the science but also the understanding.

 

Tips for Live Tweeting

  1. Live tweeting doesn’t have to be a play-by-play of the talk. Don’t worry about tweeting every single word. Instead, think about what theme or finding resonates the most with you. Tweet about that!
  2. Visuals make any tweet that much more engaging. Use high quality, free stock photos from unsplash.com or www.rawpixel.com along with your post, or search online for a corresponding paper or faculty webpage to link in. Many people snap a pic of the slides or the speaker on stage – just be sure to check with conference policies before posting photos.
  3. Search for the speaker on Twitter so you can tag them with their handle (preceded by @). One of the best ways to do this is to use a search engine with their full name, and “Twitter”. If nothing comes up, try tagging their institution. Many schools of medicine, hospital departments, and universities have Twitter accounts. If you know you’ll be reporting on a session in advance, you can look up these handles beforehand.

 

For examples of live tweets, search previous conference hashtags on Twitter, like #AHA18, #EpiLifestyle18, #QCOR18, or your council’s Scientific Sessions hashtag.

To learn more about using social media for science communication, with more tips for tweeting and blogging, be sure to come to the Epi Early Career session on Friday March 8th, 7 – 8:30 am in the Galleria Ballroom, Westin Galleria, Houston, TX at Epi | Lifestyles Scientific Sessions 2019.

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The Powerful Role of Social Media in the Field of Cardiology

The growth and use of social media have grown exponentially over the last decade with an eight fold increase since 20051. Social media is generally defined as an Internet-based platform that allows individuals and/or communities to gather virtually to communicate ideas, collaborate, share information, share pictures and videos, either as a direct message or general post in real time1. There are several social media platforms that healthcare professionals may use, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Doximity, and Facebook. Twitter has been a very popular platform in the field of Cardiology with many Cardiologists, Cardiovascular research scientists, Cardiology providers, professional journals and Cardiology-based professional societies using this platform to expand their reach to their colleagues, professional society members, and the public in an effort to educate, advocate and raise awareness. There are several powerful roles that social media serves in the Cardiology field. These include networking, sharing meaningful opinions, fostering educational discussions centered around a cardiology topic or paper of interest, promoting or raising awareness of the latest research or guideline publication, promoting a professional meeting or event, promotion of healthy initiatives, collaboration among colleagues and support of colleagues.

 

Beneficial Uses of Social Media

a) Networking

Social media platforms allow many professionals in the cardiology field to connect with other colleagues and follow prominent cardiologists and research scientists. This connection transcends geographic borders, and therefore allows users to extend their networking reach internationally. This ability to network provides a sense of community and serves as one’s professional village where colleagues are able to share their professional ideas and share opinions on various topics.

b) Sharing important opinions and educational discussions on topics or publications relevant to Cardiology

Twitter also allows users to discuss topics and publications relevant to cardiology. Many times these are threads of a conversation joined by several colleagues. However, several professional organizations such as the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) have virtual tutorials, called “tweetorials,” which allows users to present and discuss a topic of interest in real time. These discussions can be very educational and serve as great learning tool. These discussions may also include reference to relevant publications and allows users to stay up to date with the scientific literature, as well.

c) Promotion of professional meetings and events

Many professional societies, such as the American Heart Association (AHA), American College of Cardiology (ACC), American Society of Echocardiography (ASE), American Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC), Society of Nuclear Cardiology (SCCT), and the Society of of Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (SCMR), use social media platforms to promote their annual scientific meetings and events at these meetings. In fact, many of these meetings have social media (SoMe) ambassadors to help in promoting their meeting and to share important educational slides and messages from the meeting with other social media users, which is an excellent educational tool in getting important points out to the the rest of the cardiology community and the public.  Additionally, these professional meetings allow for cardiology colleagues who have connected virtually on Social Media to meet in person, as well. A hashtag (#) is a metadata tag that is used on social media platforms that allows posted content associated with a specific theme or content to be easily found2. Useful and popular hashtags used in the field of cardiology on Twitter are #CardioTwitter and #Cardiology. In fact many of the annual scientific meetings for several professional organizations will use hashtags for their meeting to allow social media users to readily identify posted social media content related to the meeting. This usually generates a significant degree of social media traffic and commentary related to the meeting and this further promotes the meeting and the professional organization globally. In fact at the 2018 annual American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, (#AHA18) there were over 300 million impressions generated globally2 on Twitter using the #AHA18 hashtag.

d) Discussion and promotion of latest research papers and guidelines

Many professional medical journals post important publications such as research papers and guidelines on social media to assist in promotion of important educational documents. In addition social media users also post their latest research papers and invited talks to help in promoting their scientific work and in the sharing of important educational information. With regards to posted research papers, it has been suggested that citations of research papers on Twitter can increase the citation rate of the paper and can also increase the impact factor of the the publication journal2. A prior analysis3 has shown that social media activity related to a publication paper increases the citation rate of the paper and therefore helps to promote published academic work. In fact the latest 2018 AHA/ACC Cholesterol management guidelines4, as well as the latest Physical Activity guidelines5, were released at the recently concluded American Heart Association meeting (#AHA18) and there was a significant amount of social media activity and discussion related to these two manuscripts. This therefore assisted to raise awareness of these guidelines within the cardiovascular community.

e) Starting healthy initiatives and sharing health promoting information with peers and the public

Promotion of healthy initiatives, such as heart healthy eating and increasing physical activity, have also been done on social media. Many cardiologists have used social media to share health educational material with the public and their colleagues.

f) Collaboration with and Providing Support for colleagues

Social media, especially Twitter, can help to create your professional community with colleagues who have similar professional interests. It provides a platform for collaboration with peers for various initiatives and opens the door for opportunities to collaborate with colleagues on research projects. This social media village creates a network that can be supportive with regards to helping to promote your professional interests and your academic publications through retweets and commentary.

 

Responsible use of social media

Responsible use of social media is very important, Always ensure that there is adherence to patient privacy regulation and ensure that social media posts are free of any patient identifying information. It is also vital that you maintain a high level of professionalism and avoid posting any social media information or pictures that can be professionally and ethically compromising for both yourself and others. It is very important not to tarnish your professional brand.6

 

Conclusion

The benefits of social media platforms such as Twitter are numerous and proves to be an increasingly relevant  learning tool that assists in keeping one abreast of the medical literature. Twitter is also very useful for one’s career  growth and provides a great opportunity for networking with peers globally. Social media helps in building your professional brand.

 

References:

  1. Ventola CL. Social Media and Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks, and Best Practices. P T. 2014 Jul; 39(7): 491-499, 520.
  2. American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2018 meeting metrics provided by the AHA
  3. Eysenbach G. (2011) Can Tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on Twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. J Med Internet Res 13:e123.
  4. Grundy SM, Stone NJ, Bailey AL, Beam LT, Birtcher KK, et al. 2018AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA Guideline on the Management of Blood Cholesterol. JACC Nov 2018, 25709; DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2018.11.003
  5. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: THe HHS Roadmap for an Active Healthy Nation. Second Edition. ADM Brett P. Giroir, MD
  6. Bullock-Palmer RP. You Are Now a Board-Certified Cardiologist and Cardiac Imager…Now What? The Importance of Lifelong Learning and Career Growth
    May 2018 https://www.acc.org/membership/sections-and-councils/imaging-section/section-updates/2018/05/17/09/44/you-are-now-a-boardcertified-cardiologist-and-cardiac-imager

 

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The Potential Of Social Media For Cardiologists

Social media through its inherent quality of personal engagement has changed the way we follow current events, learn about new advances in cardiovascular advancements, and communicate within our personal and professional lives. Cardiologists are enthusiastic to embrace new advancements in medical devices, therapies and technologies, but as a whole they tend to be late adopters when it comes to progressive communication tools such as social media. While many cardiologists consider social media a distraction, others think it is a liability threat.

Every day, the social media networks put thousands of posts related to healthcare. In recent years, cardiologists started using social media to learn what is new in cardiology, educate others, discuss challenging cases, promote practice, and even interact with patients to answer questions. Leaders in the field of cardiology think of social media as extension of the doctor-patient relationship.

Why Cardiologist Should Be on Social Media?

Social media is the perfect vehicle for educators, clinicians, and researchers to communicate and stay connected with each other. Instead of waiting to discuss new research in-person with a handful of colleagues at a conference, social media permit virtual discussion with many professionals across the globe giving feedback instantly. When you look at the data, it shows that as a cardiologist, you can have a much broader impact on social media than you normally would by word of mouth. Several areas have been defined where online engagement proved to be a viable platform which includes;

  • Better interaction with colleagues
  • Better access to information, particularly specialized info
  • Wider access to medical and health information
  • Increased support for patients and from peers
  • Improved surveillance for public health issues
  • Increased possibility of influencing healthcare policies

It worth noticing that when social media is used correctly, there are many important ways that it can improve the medical field. Not only can you spread information faster and engage in a wider discussion with other cardiologist, but you may also be able to influence public opinion and help shape policies that affect the entire medical field. We have to always keep in mind that, elected officials are online just as much as anyone, meaning that they can be exposed to new studies and information that they would otherwise ignore.

Limitations of Social Media

Despite the advantage of being dynamic and accessible to public, social media has certain limitations in the medical field. In certain instances, it is hard to control the discussions with potential to deviate from the main objective of the post that was published. Different from peer-review process, users do not have to declare relevant conflicts of interest that could give wrong impression to public who are not expert in the field. Last and for most, the presence of researchers and clinicians on social media is low in comparison with other segments of the population. Thus, there is urgent need for experts available to review social media posts and give their expert unbiased opinion to help the general public make the right choice and get the right impression.

Whether we realize it or not, social media is going to change the way we learn new science, ask questions, advocate for practice or patients, discuss science and share medical onion. Social media is as powerful a tool as we make it. Using social media, we can engage in various interactions in a much easier way than ever before. This can not only help keep us up to date, but also has the potential to save lives.

Chadi Alraies Headshot
M Chadi Alraies, MD is an interventional fellow and vice chair of Council on Clinical Cardiology Fellow-In-Training & Early Career Committee of American Heart Association.