My first reaction was: Cool! I don’t want youth to smoke. We all know the health problems it causes. It’s good to know that we can make a difference.
My second reaction, as I thought about it more, was: Duh. Of course we can make a difference. We primary care pediatricians are perfectly positioned to influence the health behaviors of youth. We have relationships with them and their parents. We see them regularly, we have the opportunity to build trust and to get to know and understand them. We talk to them about all aspects of their health and well-being. While they don’t always listen to us, there’s always the chance they will.
And then, as I thought about it even more, my reaction was: Is anyone going to help us do it? …
We humans are sharing creatures. We talk about ourselves, what we think, what we know. If we weren’t like this, cocktail parties would be really boring, and Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t exist.
Nor would health care. At the most basic level, health care relies on give-and-take between patients and doctors—patients sharing their symptoms and concerns with doctors, and doctors sharing their knowledge with patients.
The same holds true for public health. Prevention and control efforts require lots of patients and doctors to share information so that public health agencies know where to target their resources.
But the give-and-take in public health is often slow and cannot always detect conditions or complications at rates that reflect reality. And usually it’s one-way—from the patient or public to surveyors. …
In his essay, “We, the Web Kids,” Polish poet and pundit Piotr Czerski writes: “We don’t use the Internet…we live on the Internet and along it…communicating with one another in a way that comes naturally to us, more intense and more efficient than ever before in the history of mankind.”
As Czerski emphasizes, we want the option of “here and now, without waiting for the file to download.” We (myself included) expect immediacy. So in my role as a public health advocate in the digital age, waiting for an official infectious disease outbreak report to come weeks after the outbreak started—as often happens with traditional reporting methods—is unacceptable. Earlier detection of disease outbreaks means earlier response—and more lives saved. This video produced by NPR illustrates the “web kid” mindset when it comes to public health:
It was after the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake that mobile-friendly social media services like Twitter and Ushahidi came into their own as disaster management and relief tools. With the nation’s already unsteady infrastructure destroyed, these tools helped speed the deployment of people and supplies to where they were needed by giving relief workers on-the-ground intelligence about what was happening, what was needed and where in nearly real time.
What do a project cataloging pictures of galaxies, an RNA folding game, and a call for people with diabetes to contribute data all have in common?
Each is part of a new revolution in science. Called “citizen science,” this revolution takes science out of traditional academic or industrial environments and into the population at large, asking the general public to take part in activities that further particular areas of research.
Citizen science projects tap the aggregate computing power of crowds to help collect or analyze huge data sets, running the gamut from online games (e.g., FoldIt, EteRNA) to screen savers that make use of your computer while it’s asleep (e.g., SETI@home) to projects asking people to count or categorize images from large-scale astronomy projects (e.g., GalaxyZoo, Stardust@home). Some even try to reduce animal-vehicle collisions on the nation’s roadways by cataloging and mapping roadkill. …
In April 2009, the U.S. federal cigarette excise tax was raised from $0.39 to $1.01 per pack as part of Congress’s reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. This well-intentioned “SCHIP tax” was meant to encourage people to quit smoking.
But a different story emerges from an analysis of Google searches. …