CTSA 2013 Annual Face to Face: The Power of Storytelling

Hosted by: University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center (HSC) in cooperation with UNM’s Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC)

This year’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) communications key function committee (CKFC) Annual Face to Face  focused on the critical role of storytelling to lift research of out its silos to a wider audience.

Richard Larson, MD, PhD, UNM HSC Vice Chancellor for Research compared communicators to ambassadors of information – after all, “research ignored is research wasted.”

Purpose/Objectives of the Annual F2F:

  • Increase understanding and support of NCATS and NIH priorities
  • Improve awareness of CTSA value, dissemination of key information, and collaboration among key stakeholders across the consortium
  • Inspire CKFC members through new connections, skill building, clear direction, and storytelling

Here’s a selection of tweets by CTSA communicators during the two-day conference:

Read more of this post

Wanna Play? Computer Gamers Help Push Frontier Of Brain Research

berger-cube_dendrites-1Here is a fascinating NPR news story about using people’s addiction to computer games to advance science.

People can get pretty addicted to computer games. By some estimates, residents of planet Earth spend 3 billion hours per week playing them. Now some scientists are hoping to make use of all that human capital and harness it for a good cause. Read more…

How Social Media Is Changing the Way We Talk About Science

Five Questions With UCSF Neuroscientist Bradley Voytek

Brad Voytek, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, makes use of big data, mapping, and mathematics to discover how brain regions work together and give rise to cognition. In his work as a researcher, science teacher, and outreach advocate, he regularly uses social media such as his blog Oscillatory ThoughtsTwitter, and Quora. In 2006, he split the Time magazine Person of the Year award.

Bradley Voytek

Brad Voytek, PhD

Q: You’re interested in leveraging data to modernize science. Do you see a role for social media in changing research? 

Social media already is changing research. In many ways! First, there’s a direct effect wherein scientists are beginning to use data collected by social media organizations to analyze behavioral patterns, such as a study from 2011 that looked at millions of tweets to analyze fluctuations in mood.

The way we conduct and communicate research is also changing. Since the 1600s, scientists have communicated findings through peer review. But these results are static, and conversations regarding specific study details, methods, etc. were private. Now, scientific publishing organizations like Nature Network or SciVerse and professional sites such as Mendeley and ResearchGate are providing platforms for open communication and ongoing conversations about research projects.

Q: You’re using social media to promote your work. What motivates you to do that, and what do you see as the benefit?

While in a sense the first statement is correct, “promotion” is a loaded term. Science is an opaque process, and scientific publications are jargon-laden, dense documents that are inaccessible to all but the field-specific experts. These publications give an idealized view of the scientific process–from clear hypothesis to statistically significant result. The reality is a world messier and less certain than that, and I use my blog to communicate that.

Having students just jump in and read these artificially-refined and specialized manuscripts and Social media quote_Bradley Voytekexpecting them to learn from it is like trying to teach English by having someone read Shakespeare: it’s technically correct but the end result will be a mess.

I get a sense that many of my blog’s readers are undergraduate and graduate students, and I aim to communicate the real difficulties and uncertainties of science with them. I remember being there feeling confused, and feeling really dumb because I didn’t “get” scientific papers and could never imagine myself coming up with a novel idea, running an experiment to test it, and writing a paper. I remember looking at the CVs of really smart post-docs and professors and seeing page after page of amazing compliments and thinking I was inadequate.

My goal is to demystify the scientific process, to make it more real, to show how hard everything is, but also that it’s doable. I’ve got a whole section of my CV titled “Rejections & Failures” outlining every grant or award I was not given, every paper not published. I believe that listing those failures shows fledgling scientists that the process is hard, but not because it requires super-intelligence, but rather super-diligence.

Q: You recently made an offer on Twitter inviting people to ask you questions about neuroscience. Can you tell us about that?

This exemplifies another reason I blog, use Twitter, etc. When teaching, I took to heart the idea that if you can’t explain something clearly, then you truly have not internalized it and don’t really understand it.

Social media is a way for me to continue sharpening my understanding of difficult concepts. The time investment isn’t important to me–my job is to learn and discover, and this is another aspect of that. And if in the process I make something more clear and accessible to a possible future scientist, all the better. No scientist achieved their breakthroughs because they communicated less.

As for the offer on Twitter, I got quite a number of excellent questions, but a few stood out that really made me think. Specifically, there were three that are directly relevant to my research and that got me digging around the literature some more to figure out the answer. The questions essentially boiled down to two ideas: First, how plastic is a mature brain? And second, how many neurons can you lose before you (or someone else) notices?

Ultimately I wrote a blog post on what I’d found and rolled some of that writing and those ideas into peer-reviewed papers I’m still working on. This kind of challenge, discussion, and ideation exchange is extremely valuable for me, and it’s part of the reason that I make offers such as the one on Twitter or use Q&A sites such as Quora.

Quora is a particularly interesting example. It’s a site populated by very intelligent people, but given the kinds of neuroscience-related questions that appear there, it’s clear that there are still some pervasive misconceptions about how the brain works. On a site such as that, the feedback and discussions seem to flow a bit more easily than they do on my own personal blog, but they’re not limited in scope as on Twitter. It’s a nicer platform for the level of discussion I’m seeking.

It also doesn’t hurt my motivation when I get comments from people such as, “I’m a grown man with a family and a career and [Brad] made me want to become a neuroscientist!” or “I accidentally started liking science stuff thanks to you!”

Q: Lots of scientists are not using social media. When asked why, many say they don’t think people will care about their scientific work. What do you think about that perspective?

People who say such things underestimate the interest level and intelligence of the non-scientist public. When I hear this, in my head it translates to either, “I don’t care about what I’m doing,” or, “I’m not confident enough in what I’m doing to explain it to anyone who may ask really simple questions that undermine what I do.” The former is fine; not everyone needs to “love” their job or work to be excellent at it. The latter is emblematic of unclear thinking.

Q: What tips can you give researchers who are thinking about using social media but don’t know where to start?

Generally the tips I’ve seen from a lot of bloggers are “write consistently” and “be engaging”, but that’s like saying to be a good scientist you need to “work harder and be smarter”: technically true but not very useful. I wish I had some magic formula for how to be successful at using social media for science, but I don’t have such a thing.

Broadly speaking, knowing how to communicate complex ideas effectively is critical, but just as important is knowing how to network, how to spread your ideas, and how to write something other people want to read. You’ve got maybe a few seconds to capture peoples’ attention online, and getting them to read a 1000-2000 word article is hard. Time and attention are premium commodities in people’s lives, and what you’re asking them to do is sacrifice that commodity to you. You have to keep that in mind. When you write, don’t think “this will only be read by a half dozen of my friends who read my blog.” Instead, think, “this might get picked up and read by tens of thousands of people. Is this worth the time of thousands of people?”

I find social media helpful to clarify my thinking, but other people may have other methods of accomplishing the same result. The only remaining advice I have is to seriously consider the reasons for not using social media: are you not blogging/tweeting/whatever because you honestly think it’s a waste of time and can see no return-on-investment for you? Or, are you not doing it because simplifying your ideas is too challenging?

This Q&A is part of “Digital Media & Science: A Perspectives Series from CTSI at UCSF” and was originally published on the UCSF CTSI website. This series explores how digital media and communications can be used to advance science and support academia.

Related posts by Bradley Voytek

Brad is also interested in leveraging data to modernize research. He’s one of the creators of brainSCANr, an online resource that uses existing publication data to show the probability of relationships between neuroscience topics and ultimately support the discovery of novel research ideas. He is also a fan of zombies, and has devoted some of his time to mapping brain damage that would be caused by zombification.


Oh that Facebook…Can social media be used for clinical trial recruitment?

Social Media is all a buzz right now and everyone from industry giants, mom and pop shops, non-profit community organizations, and even the U.S government are trying to figure out how to use it to their advantage. Some organizations find social media platforms wildly successful, while others can’t quite hit their mark. Just days before Facebook opened on NASDAQ, General Motors Co. decided to stop their advertising on Facebook. Were their ads ineffective, or was GM not correctly seeing the potential power of the social network to build brand loyalty? Should we care?

For many organizations that are looking for quick short-term returns on their investment dollars in the pay-per-click advertising might be disappointed with the results. As the article points out, the value of the social media user is that they become an advocate of the brand. Many are wondering if this is a sign of things to come for the advertising in the Facebook social media world; since it remains to be seen whether this virtual user engagement correlates with a return on investment (ROI). Is it possible to accurately define or measure ROI in social media?

One of the great powers of social media is creating a community and buzz through social connectedness—a virtual word of mouth system. Your social reach is indicative of a classic Wayne’s World 2 scene, “You know how these things start… one guy tells another guy something, then he tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and they tell their friends, and so on”.  If you witness a friend “like” a page or event, they are giving their social network a thumbs-up that they interested in a particular company, product, event, etc.—hey, and you might too. Conceivably your “friends” are more likely to share similar interests…or least be curious enough to check it out.

But how can this be applied to academic and clinical research realm—and should it? By creating a community around a specific disease or research area, you can create a group who has common interests and build loyalty within that group—that is if you can foster trust among your group members as a credible, reliable and useful resource. For instance, if you are a group member or follower of a specific group related to diabetes treatments and you see a fellow member of that group “likes” a diabetes clinical trial, then you might be more inclined to also check out that clinical trial.

The use of social media in clinical trial recruitment is a tricky area that still is trying to find guidance. In recent blog post by Rebar Interactive, brings this issue to light and raises  A Social Media Question IRBs Must Ask about how to appropriately use the power of social media to raise awareness of clinical trial opportunities; all the while, being mindful of patient privacy. This can be counterproductive in a virtual environment and age where absolute privacy may be disintegrating, with each allow access button we click.

The FDA still has not released official regulation on what is/isn’t allowed in recruitment via social media mediums. As a result, social media for clinical trial recruitment is such a gray area which is constantly evolving in its application. Although times are changing, IRBs shy away from encouraging the use of social media in patient recruitment because of the uncertainty in how to regulate it. In the meantime, you don’t want to be left outside the social circle, so here is a helpful resource to help navigate the unregulated waters: Patient Recruitment, Regulatory & IRB Considerations for Social Media

“From Twitter To Tenure”: MD Shares How Twitter Can Be A Valuable Tool For Academics

Credit: Jason Archer, http://www.academictechnology.org

There is still considerable resistance to embracing social media tools for academic purposes, but if you are reading this blog post on FutureDocs by Vineet Arora, MD,  you are probably willing to consider their positive effects. And the list of academic tweeters is growing.

Vineet shares the various ways social media has impacted her academic career including finding grant opportunities, disseminating research results, and being found as an expert for media interviews and lectures. Here is her list:

  • Media interviews – I was interviewed by Dr Pauline Chen through the New York Times who located me through – you guessed it Twitter!  She actually approached me for the interview by direct messaging me through Twitter.  She was following me and noticed my interests in handoffs on my Google profile which is linked to my Twitter account.  She was also very encouraging when I started the blog which was exciting!
  • Workshop presentations- I presented a workshop on social media in medical education (#SMIME as we like to call it), at 2 major medical meetings with 3 others (including @MotherInMed who encouraged me to start a blog and also is my copresenter at SGIM).  The idea was borne on Twitter…and the first time I actually met one of the workshop presenters (who I knew on Twitter) was at the workshop.
  • Acquired new skills  – My workshop co-presenter who I only knew through Twitter ended up being Carrie Saarinen, an instructional technologist (a very cool job and every school needs one!).  She is an amazing resource and taught me how to do a wiki.  After my period of ‘lurking’, I started my own ‘course’ wiki  dedicated to helping students do research and scholarly work which we are launching in a week.
  • Lecture invitations – Several of my lecture invitations come through social media.  Most notably, I was invited to speak for an AMSA webinar on handoffs and also speak to the Committee of Interns and Residents on teaching trainees about cost conscious medicine.  Both invitations started with a reference to finding me through Twitter or the blog.
  • Committee invitations – I am now on the SGIM communications task force as a result of my interest in social media.  Our most recent effort was a piece about‘tweeting the meeting’ with @medrants and an older piece focused on the top Twitter Myths and Tips.
  • Grant opportunities – I recently submitted a grant with an organization that I learned of on Twitter – Initially, I had contacted Neel Shah from Costs of Careasking him if they had a curriculum on healthcare costs.  They did not, but were interested in writing a grant to develop a curriculum so they brought my team on board and we submitted together (fingers crossed).
  • Dissemination - One of the defining features of scholarship (the currency of promotion in academic medical centers) is that it has to be shared.   Well, social media is one of the most powerful ways to share information.   In a recent example, we entered a social media contest media video contest on the media sharing site Slideshare.  Using social media, we were able to obtain the most number of ‘shares’ on Facebook on Twitter which led to the most number of views and ultimately won ‘Best Professional Video.’  To date, this video, has received over 13,000 views, which I was able to highlight as a form of ‘dissemination’ in a recent meeting with our Chairman about medical education scholarship.    While digital scholarship is still under investigation with vocal critics and enthusiasticproponents debating the value of digital scholarship in academia, digital scholarship does appear to have a place for spreading nontraditional media that cannot be shared via peer review.

Further reading:

How social proof works

We trust products and ideas that other people trust. Aileen Lee breaks down how social proof works in a guest piece on TechCrunch, breaking down the following categories:

Expert social proof

doctors for medicare

Celebrity social proof

Yao Ming

Individual user feedback social proof

Critical reviews (365:009)

Aggregate popularity social proof

Too many served

Friends’ recommendation social proof

Facebook hopes social proof with motivate users to clean their database

Read more:

Open data projects should start with user needs

Open data projects need to cross a utility/relevance chasm before they gain uptake. Tom Steinberg of MySociety, a prominent UK civic app development team, argues that app contests and hack days aren’t enough—you need to focus on concrete projects, laser-focused on real user needs.

Why is a user focus critical?

“What people never, ever do is wake up thinking, ‘Today I need to do something civic,’ or, ‘Today I will explore some interesting data via an attractive visualisation.’ MySociety has always been unashamed about packaging civic services in a way that appeals directly to real people with real, everyday needs. I gleefully delete the two or three emails a year that land in our inbox suggesting that FixMyStreet should be renamed to FixOurStreet. No, dude, when I’m pissed it’s definitely my street, which is why people have borrowed the name around the world.

“We learned this lesson most vividly from Pledgebank, a sputtering site with occasional amazing successes and lots and lots of “meh.” The reason it never took off was because, unlike the later (and brilliant) Kickstarter, we didn’t make it specific enough. We didn’t say “use this site to raise money for your first album,” or “use this site to organise a march.” We said it was a platform for “getting things done,” and the users walked away in confusion. That’s why our new site is called FixMyTransport, even though it’s actually the first instance of a general civic-problem-fixing platform that could handle nearly any kind of local campaigning.”

That might mean, Tom argues, that it makes sense to bet bigger on fewer horses:

“MySociety got lucky…its second ever grant was for…about a quarter of a million dollars. It was amazing luck for a small organisation with no track record…Those days are gone…but governments everywhere should note that that funding of this scale got us right through our first couple of years, until sites like WriteToThem were mature and had proved their public value (and picked up an award or two).

“In the subsequent few years, we saw the ‘thousand flowers bloom’ mentality really take over the world of public-good digital funding, and we saw it go way beyond what was sensible. Time and again, we’d see two good ideas get funding and eight bad ones at the same time because of the sense that it was necessary to spread the money around. It would be great if someone could make the case to public grant funders that good tech ideas — and the teams that can implement them — are vanishingly rare. There is nothing to be ashamed about dividing the pot up two or three ways if there are only a few ideas or proposals or hacks that justify the money. The larger amounts this would produce wouldn’t mean champagne parties for grantees, it would mean the best ideas surviving long enough to grow meaningful traffic and learn how to make money other ways. After a long road supported by public grant funding, mySociety is now 50% commercially funded and 50% private-grant funded, but we’d never have arrived there without being 100% public-grant funded for the first couple of years.” (source)

Read more:

How to run a hack day

Science Hack Day San Francisco

Science Hack Day San Francisco 2010

We’re considering running a half-day event for campus developers and webmaster to learn about and tinker with UCSF Profiles’ open APIs and OpenSocial development platform. Whether you call it a hack day, a hackathon, a code-a-thon, or a developer day, the idea’s the same—bringing together technologists to learn, experiment, create, and share.

So how do you run a hack day? Here are some essential hackathon to-dos from my friend Sumana Harihareswara, based on work done for the Wikimedia Foundation:

  • A public wiki page stating the date, time, and venue, and specifying that everyone is welcome. Also tell people what to bring (laptop and power cord), ask them for topic ideas, and ask them to put their names down — no obligation.
  • Outreach/publicity drive, starting at least six weeks in advance, to relevant communities. Ideally you’d get the word out to technical interest groups, local user groups, consultants and other businesses in the industry, individuals whom you want to attend, professors and colleges and universities and technical schools and trainers, email lists, and (if relevant to your audience) newspapers.
  • Some experienced developers. I don’t know the exact ratio, but perhaps a fifth of your participants should be people who have had some experience in developing Wikimedia/MediaWiki stuff, loosely defined. You need some seeds.
  • Documentation tools & some people who will take notes with them (more below).
  • Lightweight tracking. At some point, somehow, at the event, get every participant’s name and email address. That way you can follow up and continue encouraging them after the event.

Because this would be our first time sharing our UCSF Profiles APIs with a wide internal audience, we’ll also need to get our own house in order, to make sure we’re ready to share:

  • Document every API that will be presented, and ensure that it’s comprehensible to our target audience
  • Develop sample “hello world” applications, so our audience can get started quickly, and pull apart working examples
  • Finalize policies around API licensing and data reuse, so developers aren’t left in the lurch if they want to build on our work

Read more:

Cigarette warning labels around the world

The FDA’s new cigarette warning labels have been getting a lot of buzz, underscoring the role of design in public health communication. The new designs take up half the cigarette pack, and 20% of the size of ads. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FDA estimates that the design will reduce the number of smokers by over 200,000 in the first year after launch, based on the impact of new warning labels in Canada.

Cigarette Health Warning ImagesCigarette Health Warning ImagesCigarette Health Warning ImagesCigarette Health Warning Images

There are a variety of approaches to tobacco packaging warnings, but bold graphic warnings are clearly the emerging international consensus. Here are some examples from around the world:

Brazil:
Cigarette warning labels

Thailand:
Gruesome

Click to see more…

Pharma and Social Media

Pharmaceutical companies continue to struggle with patient interactions in today’s social media environment.  While a number of pharma and biotech firms have a presence on social platforms, the conversation has traditionally been one-sided.  The companies speak, and the consumer can only listen.  However, that’s now starting to shift.

Pharma brand marketers that disable comments on their Facebook pages are in for a change. As predicted, Facebook will no longer allow pharma brands – which are typically highly risk averse when it comes to discussions about their drugs and products in social media environments – to turn off commenting on their pages.[via]

Part of the challenge is a regulatory one.  Industry continues to wait for guidance from the FDA on how social media should and should not be used.  Although the FDA held a hearing on this topic back in 2009, they continue to delay issuing any guidance (which was most recently supposed to be available in Q1 2011, but that didn’t happen).

For now, it seems that pharma and the social media providers must continue to work this out themselves.

How Can We Make Biomedical Studies More Inclusive?

Even in 2011, persons with disabilities (more than 47 million Americans)
are still “ profoundly underrepresented in mainstream health research”. In their recent article, the researchers Ann Williams and Shirley Moore propose a “Universal Design of Research” (UDR), which allows “routine inclusion of persons with disabilities in studies, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

They offer a few guidelines and ideas to support researchers in designing materials in accessible formats. Some good food for thought as the new UCSF Participant Recruitment Service (PRS) takes shape. Here is what they propose:

… provide multisensory, flexible options for recruitment, research instruments (such as questionnaires), measurements, and responses from participants, with reasonable accommodations that invite and facilitate participation by persons with disabilities; and when you do not know how to include someone with a disability, consult someone who does (the potential research participant, another person with that disability who is knowledgeable about the range of methods people use for living fully with it, or a professional who works with persons who have that disability). 

Practical guidelines for implementing the Universal Design of Research include:

… (i) plan multiple options for people to learn about, respond to, and arrive at opportunities to participate in research; (ii) provide multiple means to communicate the information in research instruments and instructions for participants; and (iii) provide multiple means of responding to research instruments and self-management interventions.

I wonder what our PRS team thinks about these ideas. And, do we know of other successful approaches, web-based technologies or great examples we could share?  Ann Williams and Shirley Moore are looking for ideas to develop comprehensive guidelines.

Addressing health literacy

Clear communication is hard enough as it is, but the stakes are particularly high when it comes to health communication. According to a recent story on health literacy in the Washington Post:

“An elderly woman sent home from the hospital develops a life-threatening infection because she doesn’t understand the warning signs listed in the discharge instructions. A man flummoxed by an intake form in a doctor’s office reflexively writes ‘no’ to every question because he doesn’t understand what is being asked…Studies have linked poor health literacy, which disproportionately affects the elderly, the poor and recent immigrants, to higher rates of hospital readmission, expensive and unnecessary complications, and even death. A 2007 study estimated the problem cost the U.S. economy as much as $238 billion annually…[E]ven highly educated patients are affected, particularly if they’re stressed or sick. She cites the initial reaction of former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who thought he was cancer-free when his doctor told him several years ago that his prostate biopsy was ‘positive.’ Actually, a positive biopsy indicates the presence of cancer. ” (via)

The story references Health Literacy Advisor software, a Microsoft Word plug-in that “operates like a spell-checker and scans a document for its readability and its health literacy. When it finds words, terms, or writing that clogs comprehension or reduces health literacy, it highlights these terms and offers ‘health literate’ alternatives.” While software’s not a silver bullet, it might help get us to a point where verifying the readability/usability of critical health communication might be considered at least as important as checking for typos.

Learn more:

Textual usability in government

Long form web readingEnjoy obfuscated IRS forms? You might soon be disappointed. President Obama signed The Plain Writing Act of 2010 in October, mandating that federal agencies use writing that is “clear, concise, well-organized.” The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs just released their guidance on how federal agencies should comply with the act, mandating that agencies train employees to write plainly and clearly, and designate a senior official to ensure implementation.

PlainLanguage.gov has great examples of how much plain writing can improve textual usability:

A directive from the National Marine Fisheries Service:

Before: “After notification of NMFS, this final rule requires all CA/OR DGN vessel operators to have attended one Skipper Education Workshop after all workshops have been convened by NMFS in September 1997. CA/OR DGN vessel operators are required to attend Skipper Edication Workshops at annual intervals thereafter, unless that requirement is waived by NMFS. NMFS will provide sufficient advance notice to vessel operators by mail prior to convening workshops.”

After: “After notification from NMFS, vessel operators must attend a skipper education workshop before commencing fishing each fishing season.”

A training document from the Veterans Benefits Administration:

Before: “The second change in the law provides an opportunity to resume work without affecting your entitlement to compensation at the total disability rate. However, this alteration in the law does not modify the requirement that you immediately report any employment to this office.”

After: “The law now says you can go back to work without losing your ability to receive total disability compensation. You still have to let us know right away when you do go back to work.”

An NIH factsheet for the general public:

Before: DNA test for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease: Geneticists and cell biologists have exploited a neurologically impaired “pale and trembling” mouse strain, in conjunction with new genomic technologies and information from the known mouse and human chromosomal DNA sequences, to rapidly identify a mutation that causes a subtype of the Charcot-Marie-Tooth neurological disorder that affects one in 2,500 people in the United States.  Knowledge of the specific gene defect will enable development of a DNA test to confirm the diagnosis in patients and predict risk for family members.  The disorder presents with progressive arm and leg pain that that begins in early adulthood and leads to difficulty walking and manipulating objects.  The mutation in the FIG4 gene leads to a deficiency of a signaling phosphatase enzyme that is important in maintaining neurological connections in specific regions of the brain as well as in peripheral sensory and motor nerves.

After: Gene Found for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease: Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder, one of the most common inherited neurological disorders, affects one in 2,500 people in the U.S. Its symptoms start in early adulthood and include progressive arm and leg pain that leads to difficulty walking and manipulating objects. Using a special strain of mice, new genomic technologies, and information from the mouse and human genome sequences, researchers rapidly identified a mutation that causes a subtype of the disease. Knowledge of the specific gene defect will enable development of a DNA test to confirm the diagnosis in patients and predict risk for family members.

Learn more:

Biohackers

Credit: Penguin Books

When we think of Translational Science, we imagine going from bench to bedside to community.  But what if the research itself is happening in the community?  Meet the Biohackers:

These do-it-yourself biology hobbyists want to bring biotechnology out of institutional labs and into our homes. Following in the footsteps of revolutionaries like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer in Jobs’s garage, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who invented Google in a friend’s garage, biohackers are attempting bold feats of genetic engineering, drug development, and biotech research in makeshift home laboratories.

In Biopunk, journalist Marcus Wohlsen surveys the rising tide of the biohacker movement, which has been made possible by a convergence of better and cheaper technologies. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can send some spit to a sequencing company and receive a complete DNA scan, and then use free software to analyze the results. Custom-made DNA can be mail-ordered off websites, and affordable biotech gear is available on Craigslist and eBay.

Is there a place for this movement in the CTSI continuum?

Turning Science Communication into a Dialogue

The Stanford School of Medicine managed to promote science stories broadly without issuing any press releases. At the national CTSA Communications Meeting, John Stafford, New Media Strategist at Stanford, shared some insights how this worked.

Depending on the science story, they posted what’s newsworthy on their blog Scope , Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and – very important – they successfully leveraged the informal relationships with their “blogger friends”. As a result, some of their stories made it into leading science magazines and newspapers.

But the story doesn’t end here: John also demoed a few online monitoring tools to measure media reach and brand leadership. These tools provide dashboards for monitoring how many and what types of media outlets pick up science stories, and even what attitudes readers have towards those stories. Here is a list of tools that might become useful to some of our organizational initiatives:

  • Radian6: Provides a platform to listen, measure and engage with customers across the entire social web.
  • ScoutLabs: A self-serve, web-based tool that includes natural language processing techniques for sentiment and tone scoring. Read article
  • Sysomos Heartbeat: Provides constantly updated snapshots of online conversations.
  • General Sentiment: Media Measurement Dashboard, Reporting Service, and Data API.
  • Jive: Social media monitoring, engagement, and measurement.
  • Klout: Helps you identify people you might want to start a conversation with.
  • Cotweet
  • Tweetreach

For those who still seek more, Stanford will be hosting a social media conference “Medicine 2.0” in September this year.

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