ScienceOnline Conference

I am hanging out at the ScienceOnline conference today and tomorrow. Lots of discussion about how to communicate science (and medicine/health) information as effectively as possible. I may post a few thoughts throughout the day and will just update this post.

  • Mireya Mayor (@mireyamayor) gave the keynote. She is an anthropologist and explorer. My biggest question from her talk is based on her effective use of video and pictures of lemurs to promote conservation. What is the health policy corollary of a cute lemur? I cannot think of one.
  • Session on medical/health policy reporting and blogging. Most participants were medical/health reporters. They talked a great deal about pressure to be quick and there was a deep discussion of “false equivalency” and issues of bias. Much discussion was asking for blogs like TIE that can bring a longer term context provided by knowing the peer review literature. Two interesting issues: (1) lots of cynicism/distrust of peer review literature in this group with lots of beliefs that peer review provide is not as useful as many think; implicit assumption in some sub-discussions that research funding conflicts limits usefulness of findings.
  • Session on Open Notebook science. Approach is to have a public daily notebook, that is updated each day. Move away from a philosophy of trust to one of proof. Share observations and values at the end of each day. The examples presented were on chemistry and experiments related to melting points of chemicals. Could this be done with patient data? Not with identifiers, but could you de-identify and put up daily or weekly results? Should you?

Bottom line goal: if you find something on google you should be able to click through to the raw data. Further discussion about failed experiments. Consensus that failed experiments are listed and described, but data is not included (example given was determining boiling point of chemicals).

Discussion: differentiate Open Science v. Open Notebook. Open Science would include sharing all data. One worry is the amount of noise that is provided if you ‘dump’ everything. Others objected to use of term ‘nose’ and said failures are as important as successes (see Aaron’s post today).

More discussion: use of blogs as the open notebook. Detailed discussion of wiki v. blog. Interesting that discussion noted “researchers who are bloggers” are likely candidates for Open Notebook science (blogging as a gateway drug!). Here is example of an open notebook. More discussion of risk of being ‘scooped’ and risk of graduate students/post-docs/junior professors doing Open Science/Notebook, which is a new thing and worries about being looked down upon.

I asked whether anyone was doing open source/notebook with human subjects data, like a clinical trial. No one was, and it seems hard to convince an IRB. Someone mentioned a website Patients Like Me that is a voluntary open source database designed to illuminate side effects. Of course there is a selection bias inherent with such a voluntary database, but of course there is a selection bias associated with collecting human subjects data from a single medical center, etc. This was a fascinating session and discussion!

Day 1 recap (off to teach class): very interesting discussion, especially the discussion about Open Science. Most puzzling part of the day for me was a recurring debate among journalists over whether they were “investigative reporters” or “medical/science journalists.” In fairness, I am sure there are convos that are typical in faculty meetings that would seem completely bizarre from outside…..


About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy at Duke University (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute). I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, and currently serve as Chair of Duke's University Priorities Committee (UPC). My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

5 Responses to ScienceOnline Conference

  1. Austin Frakt says:

    There are loads of cute children and attractive people with inspiring health stories that illuminate what works and doesn’t in our system. This should not be hard, if one is motivated.

    Of course, we’ve seen the damage a Jenny McCarthy can do.

  2. Don Taylor says:

    I guess I meant a picture/video that somehow conveys “lets expand coverage, improve quality and slow the rate of cost growth.” Although on second thought, the lemur vids imply simply that preservation of the species is inherently good and no notion of costs….could simply sit with same notion with kids as you say.

    • Austin Frakt says:

      I don’t know. How about a picture of Uncle Sam in post-Apocalyptic-type smoldering ruin, with tubes sucking the money out of him every which way while he looks no better for the “care” received.

  3. Don Taylor says:


  4. Robert S Woodward says:

    “My biggest question from her talk is based on her effective use of video and pictures of lemurs to promote conservation. What is the health policy corollary of a cute lemur? I cannot think of one.”

    This is a really important question to someone who’s “flipping” or “inverting” an undergraduate Health Economics course this spring.

    Uwe Reinhardt has a stock of health policy cartoons, but they are unobtainable.

    In two weeks, I’ll lead with a set of 4 NHE graphs (NHE by year, log(NHE) by year, NHE/GDP by year, log(NHE) by log(GDP).

    Other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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