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What's on tap for spring semester? "Science of Science Communication" seminar!

First session, on HPV vaccine, is tomorrow.

I"ve posted exerpts from this "general information" document before, but having consulted the rulebook on blogs, I found there is no provision that bars repeating oneself (over & over & over, in fact).

I don't think I'll post summaries for every session this yr. Thanks to Tamar Wilner (e.g., here), that worked incredibly well the last time I taught this seminar.  But precisely b/c it did, the utility of a "virtual" companion for this yr's run strikes me as low.

Of course, if anyone wants to argue that I'm wrong, I could change my mind. Especially if they agree to be this yr's Tamar Wilner (Tamar Wilner is prohibited from doing so, in fact!)

 From the course "general information" document:

          1. Overview. The most effective way to communicate the nature of this course is to identify its motivation.  We live in a place and at a time in which we have ready access to information—scientific information—of unprecedented value to our individual and collective welfare. But the proportion of this information that is effectively used—by individuals and by society—is shockingly small. The evidence for this conclusion is reflected in the manifestly awful decisions people make, and outcomes they suffer as a result, in their personal health and financial planning. It is reflected too not only in the failure of governmental institutions to utilize the best available scientific evidence that bears on the safety, security, and prosperity of its members, but in the inability of citizens and their representatives even to agree on what that evidence is or what it signifies for the policy tradeoffs acting on it necessarily entails. 

            This course is about remedying this state of affairs. Its premise is that the effective transmission of consequential scientific knowledge to deliberating individuals and groups is itself a matter that admits of, and indeed demands, scientific study.  The use of empirical methods is necessary to generate an understanding of the social and psychological dynamics that govern how people (members of the public, but experts too) come to know what is known to science. Such methods are also necessary to comprehend the social and political dynamics that determine whether the best evidence we have on how to communicate science becomes integrated into how we do science and how we make decisions, individual and collective, that are or should be informed by science. 

            Likely you get this already: but this course is not simply about how scientists can avoid speaking in jargony language when addressing the public or how journalists can communicate technical matters in comprehensible ways without mangling the facts.  Those are only two of many science communication” problems, and as important as they are, they are likely not the ones in most urgent need of study (I myself think science journalists have their craft well in hand, but we’ll get to this in time).  Indeed, in addition to dispelling (assaulting) the fallacy that science communication is not a matter that requires its own science, this course will self-consciously attack the notion that the sort of scientific insight necessary to guide science communication is unitary, or uniform across contexts—as if the same techniques that might help a modestly numerate individual understand the probabilistic elements of a decision to undergo a risky medical procedure were exactly the same ones needed to dispel polarization over climate science! We will try to individuate the separate domains in which a science of science communication is needed, and take stock of what is known, and what isn’t but needs to be, in each. 

            The primary aim of the course comprises these matters; a secondary aim is to acquire a facility with the empirical methods on which the science of science communication depends.  You will not have to do empirical analyses of any particular sort in this class. But you will have to make sense of many kinds.  No matter what your primary area of study is—even if it is one that doesn’t involve empirical methods—you can do this.  If you don’t yet understand that, then perhaps that is the most important thing you will learn in the course. Accordingly, while we will not approach study of empirical methods in a methodical way, we will always engage critically the sorts of methods that are being used in the studies we examine, and I from time to time will supplement readings with more general ones relating to methods.  Mainly, though, I will try to enable you to see (by seeing yourself and others doing it) that apprehending the significance of empirical work depends on recognizing when and how inferences can be drawn from observation: if you know that, you can learn whatever more is necessary to appreciate how particular empirical methods contribute to insight; if you don’t know that, nothing you understand about methods will furnish you with reliable guidance (just watch how much foolishness empirical methods separated from reflective, grounded inference can involve).


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Reader Comments (1)

There is power in recapitulation, in that those that do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Even bigly-er.

I think, however, that it is time to look at the present day status of the HPV vaccine, and vaccine development and national vaccination policies more generally.

As I've pointed out on this blog before, implementation of HPV is different than HBV, in that it does not immunize against all forms of the HPV virus, and in that there are effective methods for early treatment of cervical cancer caused by the human papilloma virus if found soon enough by Pap smears. When first introduced, I believe that there were issues that Merck was trying to avoid by going to state legislatures, rather than through the normal federal administrative process. These had not only to do with a desire to front-run a competitor's product, (Galaxo), but also questions then raised by many gynecologists and women's clinics regarding the cost effectiveness of this approach to combating future incidences of cervical cancer, as opposed to putting money into outreach to women in danger of cervical cancer in the current decade. (Cervical cancer has a very long lag time between incidence of infection by the virus and the start of cancer).

Such women's clinics were also very dependent on the insurance funded yearly required Pap smears to generate office visits by patients. Visits at which other health issues, such as birth control or transmission of other sexually transmitted disease could also be discussed.

Currently the HPV vaccine has been demonstrated to be very effective in eliminating the forms of the virus that are in the vaccines and known to cause the majority of cancers in the past. The vaccine also prevents these cancers in other infection sites, for which there are no current pap smear like tests or cervical scraping type treatments. Simultaneously, pap smear testing has increased in accuracy to the point in which yearly testing is no longer required for most female patients. Health insurance coverage has increased. But political pressures have reduced funding to Planned Parenthood in many cases, and access to women's health clinics has decreased.

The questions that ought to be raised ought to be centered on overall public health. From a point of influencing science based and effective policies regarding the battles against human papilloma virus caused cancers, IMHO, it is a mistake to continue to focus so much attention on rehashing the battles of a decade ago, over and over. And we need to see that HPV is only one component of overall sexual activity health.

What should science communicators interested in public health regarding sexually transmitted diseases be focusing their efforts on now? In my opinion, more efforts ought to be placed on:

Educational outreach to inform sexually active people regarding the risks of cancers in locations other than the cervix.

Follow-up to see what is happening to the overall HPV ecosystem. What forms of the virus are now prevalent? Are non vaccine covered forms becoming more of a risk?

Incentives on pharmaceutical companies to come up with a more comprehensive HP vaccine.

Investigations of the possibility of testing older adults for immunity to the vaccine covered viruses and expanding immunization to those adults where useful.

Public health outreach to adults to ensure that the formerly yearly cycle of Pap smears is kept up to the extent necessary to prevent cervical cancers and does not fall victim to complacency.

Has diminishing both the urgency and the need for the connection that brought women into clinics for yearly Pap smears, and thus to a place where health exams and sexual activity education could take place, led to lower healthcare outcomes overall?

Ensuring that older women get appropriate medical care and treatment so that full blown cervical cancers do not occur.

January 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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