Cancelled Public Health in the Media

Course content

Public health research is often in the news – and never more so than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Long-running debates about vaccine safety and how much women should drink during pregnancy were joined by new arguments about the impact of facemasks and social distancing on both infection rates and mental health. Communicating with the public is also an integral part of public health research and practice, from gathering potential user perspectives to media campaigns that try to persuade people to change health behaviours and follow shifting guidelines.

It is difficult to communicate in a way that satisfies everyone. Researchers often complain that their work is misrepresented, journalists respond that they are just doing their job, practitioners feel frustrated that patients don't follow the advice of health promotion campaigns, and members of the public often feel unrepresented or unmotivated. Yet public communication also has huge potential for strengthening the conditions for health and wellbeing.

The contemporary communication landscape stretches far beyond traditional news media and 'top-down' health campaigns - there is also a diversity of 'bottom up' communication through online, social, and live media. Two-way dialogue between science and society has been shown to increase trust and engagement, but it also presents challenges with how to manage misinformation and inequities of power. The course will connect the specific topic of public health communication to wider debates about trust, scientific expertise, and knowledge in an era of 'fake news' and 'infodemics'.

Our intuitions about how to do good communication are often proved wrong. Research is needed - both to inform practical communication activities, and to help us understand more broadly how communication works. This research-based course will be structured around case studies of public health communication spanning a range of media; e.g., news articles, online video talks, public health campaigns, and museum exhibitions. Each example will be paired with relevant empirical or theoretical articles to guide our analysis. This is not a practical skills training course. Instead, the course helps students to use interdisciplinary literature to develop a reflective understanding of public communication that can then inform their future media work and interactions with other professionals in interdisciplinary public health contexts.

Education

MSc in Public Health Science - elective course

MSc in Global Health - elective course

MSc in Health Informatics - elective course

MSc in Health Science - elective course

MSc in Human Biology - elective course

 

The course will also be open to PhD students. PhD student should apply as external students in order to obtain a slot in the course:

https:/​/​healthsciences.ku.dk/​education/​student-mobility/​guest-students/​

Learning outcome

After the course, students should be able to:

Knowledge:

  • Describe some of the diverse goals, effects, and challenges of communicating about public health research with public audiences, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of different media
  • Describe some central research questions and methods of science communication and public health communication studies, and consider how this applies to practical public health contexts
  • Describe some key theoretical concepts from the science communication and public health communication literature

 

Skills:

  • Analyse real-world examples of public health research communication, in terms of their goals, methods, and possible effects, using theoretical and empirical literature to guide analysis.
  • Critically analyse how health, bodies, and research are represented in media communication
  • Critically discuss how trust and truth are determined in online communication.
  • Reflect on how and when public health practitioners, researchers, and institutions should communicate with public audiences

 

Competences:

  • Apply the reflective skills gained during the course in future interactions with the media, whether giving interviews, writing popular articles, or working on health promotion campaigns
  • Apply the critical analytical tools developed with respect to examples of public health communication to other media and cultural products

Class work will include student presentations, group work and plenum discussion of the case studies, with short lectures by the course leader to draw out key points. Students will be asked to look at the case studies provided before each class, so that we can make the best use of the class time.

Literature will be uploaded to Absalon, along with reading guides. 

Key texts include:

  • Bultitude, K. (2011), The Why and How of Science Communication. In: Rosulek, P., ed. Science Communication. Pilsen: European Commission.
  • Bernhardt, J. M. (2004). Communication at the Core of Effective Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 94(12), 2051–2053. 
  • Logan, R. A. (2008). Health campaign research. In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.). Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology. Oxford: Routledge. 
  • Davies, S., & Horst, M. (2016). Science Communication: Culture, Identity, and Citizenship. Springer.
  • Wakefield, M.A., Loken, B., & Hornik, R.C. (2010). Use of mass media campaigns to change health behavior. Lancet, 376, 1261-71.
  • Heldman, A.B., Schindelar, J., & Weaver, J.B. (2013). Social Media Engagement
and Public Health Communication: Implications for Public Health Organizations Being Truly “Social”. Public Health Review, 35(1), 1-18.

This course is open for student enrolled in the MSc in Health Informatics, Global Health, Human Biology, and Health Science without pre-approval.

Written
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Discussion and class activities will provide ongoing feedback about students understanding of the literature and analysis skills.

ECTS
5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 7 days
The course has a 7-day exam with a portfolio element. Reflection diaries will be written during the course, and then edited during the 7-day exam period. The exam will also include essay questions and a longer case study analysis. Students may work in groups but must hand in individual exams.
Aid
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
More internal examiners
Criteria for exam assessment

The evaluation will assess whether the learning goals listed above have been achieved. Students should use the exam to demonstrate that they can critically analyse public health communication, combining their knowledge of public health issues and personal reflections on the media with theoretical and empirical literature. An awareness of the methodological difficulties in planning and evaluating public communication should inform their analysis. 

Excellent exams will do the following: 

Knowledge:

  • Describe some of the diverse goals, effects, and challenges of communicating about public health research with public audiences, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of different media
  • Describe some central research questions and methods of science communication and public health communication studies, and consider how this applies to practical public health contexts
  • Describe some key theoretical concepts from the science communication and public health communication literature

 

Skills:

  • Analyse real-world examples of public health research communication, in terms of their goals, methods, and possible effects, using theoretical and empirical literature to guide analysis.
  • Critically analyse how health, bodies, and research are represented in media communication
  • Reflect on how and when public health practitioners, researchers, and institutions should communicate with public audiences
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 20
  • Preparation
  • 78
  • Exam
  • 40
  • English
  • 138