Picture a scientist. The classic image involves a lone person at a lab bench, toiling away for hours with flasks, petri dishes, and microscopes. Today, this stereotype is becoming obsolete: global health problems cannot be solved solely in the laboratory, but with the collaboration of many fields and with the cooperation of the public.
However, many scientists still communicate in the same ways of the past: they perform discipline specific experiments in the lab, publish in scientific journals, and perhaps speak at scientific conferences. They leave most of the communication to the public up to secondary sources like your doctor or the media (think: CNN or NPR). This puts a great amount of responsibility on medical professionals and newscasters to become public health experts on an overwhelming amount of scientific research. With scientists remaining mostly in the lab, with medical professionals–who for the most part don’t interact with scientists–expected to be experts in numerous disease interventions, and with news sources interpreting research themselves, a huge rift between public health professionals and the public has been created: by the time the information gets to you, it has been far removed from its original source. It’s an intellectual game of ‘Telephone.’ This relay of (mis)information is not only making people feel knowledgeable, but is also shaping public health decisions. For example, there is growing evidence that people are becoming distrustful of public health interventions: cases of children dying from vaccine curable diseases, rejection of genetically modified organisms, huge budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health research funding, refusal to take drugs, or disbelief in global warming.
If we leave research communication and education up to secondary sources (who have their own agendas), how can we expect anyone to understand and accept a public health intervention? With these thoughts in mind, it becomes clear that more public health professionals should communicate with each other to develop better ways to dialogue with and educate the public. And through this communication, we can also better integrate public health disciplines to solve local, national, and global public health problems and to improve public confidence in our work.
Public Health United aims to evaluate and improve public health communication and collaboration by uniting public health professionals from diverse backgrounds (each podcast will have guests from different fields). We will address common misperceptions and factors that contribute to the rift between public health professionals (especially between basic scientists and others) and the public. Lastly, we will directly connect to the public we are trying to help by interacting with people on the streets of Baltimore and by polling their public health knowledge and questions. These questions will be posed to the podcast guest-experts and we will spend time evaluating how well we communicate. By bringing together experts from different public health fields and directly connecting to the public, we hope to improve communication, collaboration, and confidence in our public health research.