Goodbye_sun

In January 2012, Mind The Science Gap was launched as a unique approach to helping public health graduate students at the University of Michigan hone their science communication skills.  Since then, we’ve seen nearly 400 posts, over 4000 comments, half a million page views, and some fantastic writing on science and public health.  And most importantly, the course has provided nearly 40 early career public health professionals with a unique set of communication skills.

Unfortunately, all good things have to come to end at some time, and Mind The Science Gap is no exception.  The course started as an experiment in how social media can be used to develop and enhance science communication skills.  In this it was highly successful.  But it was also extremely time consuming, dependent on feedback from readers and other science communicators, and reliant on the participants being able to navigate complex and sometimes controversial topics from the get-go.  And as my time has become increasingly taken up with my academic responsibilities as department chair and director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center, I sadly find myself having less time than necessary to devote to the course and its students.

On top of this, it has become increasingly difficult to encourage readers and other science writers and communicators to provide critical feedback to the course participants.  This undoubtedly reflects the ever-decreasing bandwidth everyone seems to be suffering from these days.  But this feedback and virtual mentoring from others was a vital part of the course, and one that I could not justify continuing without.  Hopefully this lack of interest does not reflect a lack of interest in mentoring the next generation of science communicators, and is just a result of too few people being stretched too thin.

In the meantime, I am immensely proud of the students who have posted here.  For readers of the posts, it is hard to imagine the sweat-equity that has gone into each one.  These students have spent up to 10 – 15 hours per week at times researching new areas, and teasing out the stories that connect the science to a non-technical audience.  Often, the process of researching and writing has increased their understanding of public health and the underlying science.  In some cases it has changed their perspective on the world.  And in all cases it has contributed to a rich source of writing on science and public health.

Science communication is often seen as being about educating, informing and enthralling readers.  But in public health, it is also about empowering people to make informed decisions that improve their health and wellbeing, and that of the people around them.  Because of this, it is vital that public health professionals are expert communicators – without these skills, how can they hope to change the world for the better?  I hope this course played a small part in providing some of the next generation of public health researchers and practitioners with the tools and skills to change the world a little more effectively.

And finally, I need to thank many people:

Thank you to the students, who exposed me to new ideas and research, who entertained me, who humbled me, and who demonstrated what today’s generation can achieve if given the opportunity.

Thank you to the commenters/mentors who regularly provided feedback on the posts .  Your contributions were invaluable, and very much appreciated!

Thank you to the people who passed the posts on to others and in doing so spread the word.

And a special thank you to Bora Zivkovic, who while he was an editor at Scientific American actively supported the students and encouraged a number of them to continue writing blogs and contributing to online science communication.

The Mind The Science Gap posts from the past two years will continue to be available here – please do take the time to read them.

Thank you

Andrew Maynard

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When my boyfriend and I moved in together a few months ago, we joined the ranks of over 7.5 million unmarried couples living together in the United States, up from 500,000 in 1960. [click to continue…]

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Chronic Insomnia

by Neha Arora on November 29, 2013

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Insomnia is a really unpleasant problem in itself. It is a terrible feeling to never be able to relax and to never feel rested and refreshed after a good nights sleep. The lack of sleep can be harmful and detrimental to living a healthy life.

According to the National Center on Sleep Disorder Research vast numbers of Americans, 30-40 percent report suffering from one or more nights of insomnia during any given year. Also, around 10-15 percent of the American population suffers from chronic insomnia.

We’ve all suffered from a poor night’s sleep, but normally for people this is attributed to a particular event or stress. The sleep comes back to us when conditions are taken care of. But when it takes years to cure or in worst cases becomes a lifelong issue, then it is called chronic insomnia, which can have some very detrimental effects on a person’s body.

There has been little research on what happens to our bodies when it goes for extended periods without sleep. While in school or when stressed about work, we all suffer from a little bit of insomnia and though it is not entirely deadly in itself, chronic insomnia can definitely lead to a whole lot of disturbing mental and physical problems. [click to continue…]

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A bacterium with many hats

by Kevin Boehnke on November 28, 2013

Since I tend to be a one trick pony and like to tie my blog topics back to my current interests, I’m going to write again about Helicobacter pylori, the bacterial species that I am studying and have posted on previouslyH. pylori is fascinating to me because it’s a big intellectual puzzle; we haven’t determined specifically how it’s transmitted between humans, whether it’s an important gut microbe to be colonized with, and how it specifically causes gastric cancer. However, one of the reasons that H. pylori particularly interests me as a scientist is that it illustrates the difficulties inherent in developing scientific and policy solutions to complicated health problems.

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Mmmm. Delicious!

H. pylori is a bacterium that lives in the stomach of around 50% of people worldwide. It co-evolved with humans for at least 58,000 years and, when present, is typically the dominant bacteria in the gut. In 1984, after observing this bacterium in stomach samples from patients with gastric inflammation, Barry Marshall (one of the scientists who discovered H. pylori 2 years earlier) drank a Petri dish full of the bacteria. He quickly developed symptoms of  gastric inflammation, demonstrating that H. pylori can cause gastric distress and that he was willing to go to great lengths to prove it. Since then, H. pylori has been heavily studied, and has been categorized as a class one carcinogen. However, in recent years, there has been a growing body of evidence suggesting that H. pylori may have some positive effects as well.

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Writing and Health

by Minakshi Raj on November 27, 2013

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A few weeks ago, I posted on medical humanities and the ways in which narratives can be used to share experiences of illness with other patients and practitioners. As my final entry, I thought I would post about the health benefits of writing—for the writer. Over the years, I have developed an appreciation for the organic nature of writing; that is, the capacity for written words to mean something different than they did yesterday, or ten years ago, or fifty years from now. Research by Rita Charon (2012) suggests that “storytelling is an avenue through which we become ourselves”, in the context of narrative medicine, which is an area in which physicians narrate the stories of their patients to better understand their circumstances and conditions. Writing can help unravel thoughts, ideas, and feelings in a way such that they are permanently available (even if the intent of writing may change); and thus, writing has been found to offer a variety of benefits.

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picstitch-1Tis’ the season to be grateful… and sleep deprived if you are a college student like myself. In light of it being Thanksgiving tomorrow, meaning an extra long weekend for most of us and hopefully more time to sleep, I figured it would be appropriate to mention that being grateful has been found to help people sleep better.

Digon and Koble found this to be the case in 41 undergraduates. Considering sleep problems are common among university and college students the authors wanted to see if being grateful helped quiet students minds and sleep better.

For a week, students were asked to take 15 minutes in the early evening and keep a gratitude journal. They were to write about a positive event that recently happened and how they felt at the time of the event. The week prior to and during the week of keeping the journal they also kept a daily sleep log. The sleep log tracked how long it took them to fall asleep, what time they went to bed, and how often they woke up throughout the night. The students also took two surveys; one called the sleep quality scale, which is a self-report measure of typical sleep quality and another called the pre-sleep arousal scale that measures arousal at bedtime. These surveys were taken a week before starting to journal and then again at the end of the journaling week. [click to continue…]

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Throughout this semester, I have enjoyed delving SONY DSCdeeper into the science behind important health research and blogging about it. Most of the time, research provides insight and implications for improving health in the real world. However, sometimes science findings are just, for lack of a better word, weird. For example, in the past several years, new gene technology has reopened research into the sulfurous odor of urine after eating asparagus, often described as smelling like boiling or rotting cabbage. Research suggests that individuals may differ in their ability to both produce and smell this odor, and that there may be a specific gene responsible for this ability to smell asparagus pee.

The direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, 23andMe, allows consumers to spit into a kit, send it in for analysis, and receive their personal genetic information. Researchers sent out additional surveys to 23andMe consumers about specific traits, such as the ability to smell an odor in their urine after eating asparagus (for the rest of this piece, I will refer to the odor as “asparagus odor”).

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Last week we left off with a brief  introduction of  Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and how males are less likely to receive vaccinations than women. These vaccinations can help reduce chances of getting genital warts and cancers that can be deadly. 

According to the CDC, there are more than 40 strands of HPV that can infect male and female genital areas, mouth, and throat. HPV is a virus that lives on the skin and can cause genital warts and certain cancers. Cancers that it may cause are cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal. More rarely HPV can cause recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), a condition in which warts grow in the throat.

HPV is transmitted sexually and anyone that engages in sexual activity is at risk for contracting HPV.

The CDC claims that “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives” In most instances the virus goes away, and does not lead to any health problems. However, if the virus lingers, HPV can cause normal cells to become abnormal, that’s when warts or cancer can develop. [click to continue…]

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Source: freedigitalphotos.net

The idea that sleep is related to weight gain is well-established. Fewer than 8 hours of sleep (and sometimes too many hours) has been shown to be related to obesity or increased BMI. However, the sleep-weight relationship is probably a bit more complicated. Most can agree that sleep quality depends on more than just the time spent sleeping in a night. BMI is also not the best measure of weight gain, as it fails to distinguish between muscle and fat mass. A recent study by Bailey et al. looks at the relationship between percent body fat and sleep patterns in college-aged women in an attempt to better understand this relationship.

What Did They Do?

Researchers asked 330 women from two universities to wear a device to measure sleep patterns and physical activity for 1 week. The scientists characterized the women’s sleep patterns by how well they slept (the amount of time they spent sleeping per the amount of time they were in bed); the amount of time they slept; what time they went to bed and woke up;  and how these times varied throughout the week. Researchers then used this information to look at the relationship between these qualities of sleep and the women’s percent body fat. [click to continue…]

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Chemicals in Pregnant Women

by Myra Tetteh on November 25, 2013

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I have never been pregnant, but I have heard from friends and family that have been pregnant that pregnancy includes a very long list of rules.  Some of the rules that I have heard include:

  1. Don’t drink alcohol
  2. Don’t smoke
  3. Don’t engage in heavy lifting or strenuous exercise
  4. Don’t stress yourself out
  5. Don’t eat certain kinds of fish
  6. Don’t drink caffeine
  7. Don’t drink certain herbal teas
  8. Don’t eat certain cheeses
  9. Don’t eat deli meat
  10. Don’t lounge in a hot tub
  11. Don’t sleep on your back or stomach, but sleep on your side (preferably left side)

Trust me when I say the list goes on!  It is understandable that the list of prohibitions is long; creating a new life inside of you is not for the faint of heart and it is anything but easy.  There are several things that women can avoid while pregnant, by making certain lifestyle changes to avoid anything that will harm the new growing life and follow the rules.  Nonetheless, there are many things in the environment that pregnant women cannot avoid by just putting down the cup of java, staying away from sushi, or giving up the hot tub lounging. [click to continue…]

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The Locavore’s Dilemma

by jessalper on November 22, 2013

For a bunch of carefree hippies, they sure have a lot of rules,” my friend remarked on the way to the grocery store. [click to continue…]

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Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?

November 22, 2013

Dark chocolate, as of late has become very popular with dieters. It has slowly, but steadily transitioned into an acceptable snack for wannabe healthy eaters. Chocolate’s reputation is on the rise, as a growing number of studies suggest that it can have numerous health benefits. Scientists have clinically proven that consuming polyphenol rich dark chocolate can […]

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Pornography: Attitudes, Behavior, and Complications

November 21, 2013

As far back as the Paleolithic era, humans have been drawing pictures of naked human bodies. As early as 7,000 years ago, humans made pornographic sculptures. In Classical Antiquity, the Greeks and Romans crafted innumerable erotic vases and sculptures depicting sex acts. The Japanese, Peruvians, Chinese, and numerous other cultures made erotic artwork, and the Indians […]

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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Holistic Approach to Health

November 20, 2013

In his 2011 Ted Talk, Dr. Abraham Verghese, a physician and author at Stanford, narrated, “The most important innovation… in medicine, to come in the next 10 years… is the power of the human hand”. He described this powerful technology that has the capacity to touch, comfort, diagnose, and treat. However, he also acknowledged that […]

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Could the future of lie detection evidence lie in using fMRIs?

November 20, 2013

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is based on the measurement of blood flow in the brain and is used for measuring brain activity. fMRIs are usually used in the field of psychology and have lead us to be able to figure out how memories are formed and where language, pain and learning take place in […]

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Unpacking the FDA’s New Trans Fat Ban

November 19, 2013

Trans fat has been a buzz word for the past decade or so. Most people have probably heard that trans fat is bad for their health and some may have heard of efforts by the FDA to curb trans fat consumption. Most recently, on November 7th, the FDA issued a preliminary ruling that it will […]

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HPV Vaccinations Among Males

November 19, 2013

Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection among females and males according to the CDC. Some strands of HPV are known to cause genital warts and others certain cancers. Although HPV affects both females and males research has shown that females are more likely to receive HPV vaccinations than their male counterparts. […]

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The Effects of Drinking or Smoking Marijuana on Condom Use

November 18, 2013

Drinking and smoking marijuana are often perceived as reckless behaviors, and so is having sex without using condoms. It seems natural to assume that altering a person’s mind with alcohol or pot would cause that person to use condoms less often than a sober person would. A new study published in the Journal of Sex […]

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Golden Relationship: Community and Academia Working Together for Change

November 18, 2013

  I was exposed to universities very early on in life.  My mom had me at 17 and she was determined to complete an undergraduate degree.  I still remember at the age of 4 going to classes with my mommy at Wayne State University and being in awe of the big buildings, the smart students, […]

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Mind the Orgasm Gap

November 16, 2013

This week the New York Times reported on the results of two recent studies which suggest that women are less likely than men to orgasm during casual sex. Further research demonstrated that the Pope is Catholic and ice is cold–I’ll pause while you clutch your pearls.

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