Weekend Links

Photo courtesy of The Fader

We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Inside The Race for a Celiac Disease Treatment –  For a majority of those with celiac disease for whom adhering to a gluten-free diet is not enough, there is good news: the scientific community is aware of this issue and help is coming. The question is how soon. (featuring research by Mass General investigator Alessio Fasano)

When Doctors Need New Medical Tools, These Students Are Up To the Challenge – Medical device design courses are more than just good education. Read how Mass General cardiologist Maulik Majmudar challenged MIT’s medical device design class to come up with an alternative solution to an elaborate and expensive cardiology exam.

Stephen Hawking Dies at 76; His Mind Roamed the Cosmos – “Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world,” said Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York.

Earth Angels – Six young scientists explain the work they’re doing to take care of our planet, from studying tigers to chasing storms.

Scientists trick the brain into sensing the movement of a prosthetic – Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have created a new technology to trick the brain into thinking it can sense a prosthetic limb moving, just like it might sense an actual muscle moving.

This Is Where Your Childhood Memories Went – In the last few years, scientists have finally started to unravel precisely what is happening in the brain around the time that we forsake recollection of our earliest years. This new science suggests that as a necessary part of the passage into adulthood, the brain must let go of much of our childhood.


Weekend Links

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We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

A Painful Bruise Wouldn’t Heal. It Took Several Hospital Visits to Discover Why. – A 39 year old woman had been sick for months. She had seen many doctors and had been given a variety of diagnoses, but no one could tell her exactly what was wrong. Mass General physicians Vivek Naranbhai and Leigh Simmons put together a number of clues to find the answer.

Into the Depths – One measure of medicine’s progress is how far inside a living human body the physician can peer. Before X-rays and other imaging technologies, that job fell to ingenious devices and the naked eye. One of the most significant advances happened when a series of 19th-century innovations encountered the services of a professional sword swallower.

New ways scientists can help put science back into popular culture –  How can science integrate with the rest of human culture to intertwine with things like art, music, theater, film and even religion?

Scientists Aim To Pull Peer Review Out Of The 17th Century – The technology that drives science forward is forever accelerating, but the same can’t be said for science communication. The basic process still holds many vestiges from its early days — that is the 17th century. Some scientists are pressing to change that critical part of the scientific enterprise.

The continuing challenges for women in STEMM – Senior levels of science are male dominated, but work is underway to restore the balance

A Single Psychedelic Drug Trip Can Change Your Personality for Years – Researchers have found that individuals who took even a single dose of psychedelic drugs like LSD, “magic” mushrooms and ayahuasca could experience sustained personality changes that lasted several weeks, months or even years — but oftentimes, these changes were for the better.

 -top photo courtesy of Proto Magazine

Weekend Links

bouquet of flowersWe’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

How to wake up in a good mood every day – The Society of American Florists, in conjunction with Nancy Etcoff, an investigator at Mass General, conducted a six-month study into how keeping flowers in the home can affect your mood and found that a simple bouquet can help kick start your day.

Why Activism Is Good For Teens — And The Country – opinion piece written by Gene Beresin, executive director of the MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds

Big dogs on campus – A report from Harvard Med School suggests that having a dog offers health and social benefits, including reducing stress and becoming more active

Look at this: Google AI can predict heart disease by checking eyes

The Struggle to Keep Science Reporting Scientific


Weekend Links – Science Communication Edition

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We’ve hand-picked a variety of science communication-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Cultivating a new STEM audience: An exercise in communicating science

Frontiers for Young Minds: Science Edited For Kids, By Kids

A journal article in graphic novel form

Alan Alda Wants Us To Have Better Conversations

Check out our science communication archive for more articles!

Top photo courtesy of PLoS


Weekend Links


We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Creative Minds: A New Way to Look at Cancer

Better Patient-Provider Communication Needed for Obesity Care

Eugenics 2.0: We’re at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More

6 Speaking Tips for Scientists and Engineers (editor’s note: Melissa Marshall, featured in this article, recently spoke to Mass General clinicians about how to effectively present scientific work. We were so impressed by her talk that we wanted to introduce her to our readers) 

Looking for a great book for the young scientist in your life? The long list of 2018 AAAS/Subaru SB&F (Science Books and Films) Prize winners for Excellence in Science Books has been released. Prizes are awarded each year in the following categories:

  • Children’s Science Picture Books
  • Middle Grade Science Books
  • Young Adult Science Books
  • Hands on Science Books

See the full list here


Top photo: courtesy of Tim Lahan, MIT Technology Review

Health Literacy and Science Communication: Two Sides of the Same Health Communication Coin?

Did you know that October is Health Literacy month?

As part of this month-long focus on clear and understandable health information, the Massachusetts General Hospital Blum Center recently hosted a talk by Stacy Robison, MPH, MPCHES, co-founder of CommunicateHealth—a health education and communication firm—on the issues of health literacy in the digital age and how to create accessible content for adults with limited health literacy skills.

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. (2)

Considering that 72 percent of internet users looked up health information online in the last year, yet half of Americans read at an 8th grade level or below, there’s a clear need for digital health materials that all readers can understand, Robison said.

Robison also emphasized that we can’t write off low health literacy as a health disparity with no feasible solution — individuals in the healthcare field can play a role in addressing the issue by creating comprehensible tools and resources.

She provided the following three strategies for making easier to use materials:

  1. Create content that’s relevant and actionable: Put the most important information first and prioritize behaviors. For example, a webpage titled, “How to prevent asthma at home” is more actionable and appealing to readers than a webpage called “About asthma.”
  2. Display content clearly: Use bullets and short lists (like this one!), and avoid paragraphs with more than three lines of text. Robison’s research has shown that individuals with low literacy levels tend to skip over large chunks of text.
  3. Engage users: Take advantage of the capabilities of digital platforms to create content that’s interactive and shareable, and that uses videos or graphics to illustrate a point when appropriate.

What does this mean for the medical and scientific research community? We here at the Mass General Research Institute are big supporters of good science communication and see many overlaps in the principles of health literacy and the principles of science communication.

Our goal is to provide you with the essentials of a research study in short, easy to digest posts. We try to set the context to help you understand what the research means, and put the big takeaway at the top of the post. We also use different formats such as “five things to know” lists and Q&A to make the information easier on the eyes.

Let us know how we’re doing! What could we do better? What science resources do you look to?

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HUBweek Art of Talking Science Competition Recap


Last Wednesday the Mass General Research Institute hosted The Art of Talking Science: Rise of the Machines at the Russell Museum at Massachusetts General Hospital.

As part HUBweek’s weeklong festival, this science communication competition challenged researchers focused on artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital health to present their science in four minutes or less. Each contestant received feedback from a panel of celebrity judges and, at the end, one presenter was crowned the winner.

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights from the afternoon:

Opening Remarks

Sue Slaugenhaupt, PhD, Scientific Director of the Research Institute, gave an introduction on the importance of communicating science.

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Sue Slaugenhaupt, PhD


Meet the Judges

Dr. Slaugenhaupt also introduced our panel of judges who each spoke for a few minutes about what science communicating means to them.

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Our amazing judges, were (from left): Ike Swetlitz, Reporter for STAT News, Rich Hayes, Creative Director/Deputy Director of Communications for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Carey Goldberg, Editor for the WBUR CommonHealth Blog, and Christine Reich, PhD, Vice President of Exhibit Development and Conservation at the Museum of Science, Boston.

Keynote Presentation

Then judge Christine Reich gave a keynote presentation discussing how the Museum of Science empowers their guests through science communication.

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Christine Reich, PhD

After Dr. Reich’s fascinating presentation, the competition began!

The Competition

Justin Baker, MD, PhD, went first with his presentation, Exploring the Human-Human Interface. Dr. Baker is Scientific Director at the Institute for Technology in Psychiatry and an Assistant Psychiatrist at McLean Hospital.

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Justin Baker, MD, PhD

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Kamal Jethwani, MD, MPH, Senior Director of Connected Health Innovation, Partners Connected Health, then gave a slideless presentation entitled, Want to Lose 5 Lbs Fast? Artificial Intelligence Holds the Key.

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Kamal Jethwani, MD, MPH


Our third presenter was Jacob Dal-Bianco, MD, who spoke about preventing rheumatic heart disease. Dr. Dal-Bianco is a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Jacob Dal-Bianco, MD

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David Gow, PhD, of the Cognitive/Behavioral Neurology Group at Massachusetts General Hospital, then gave his presentation, Using Machine Learning to Help the Brain Understand Itself.

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David Gow, PhD

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Up next was Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM, who discussed a lending library for fitness trackers. Dr. Gualtieri is the founder of Recycle Health, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, and the Director of the Digital Health Communication Certificate Program.

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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

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Closing out the program was Roland Carlstead, PhD, of the Developmental Biology Research Program at McLean Hospital. Dr. Carlstead discussed whether treatment works and if the placebo effect is real.

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Roland Carlstedt, PhD

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After much deliberation, the judges named Justin Baker as the winner.

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Thank you to all our contestants and the judges for their insightful feedback and support of science communication!



Study Finds Less than 20% of Americans are Active Consumers of Science News

Here at the Mass General Research Institute, we live and breathe science news every day.

We’re eager to find out what’s happening in the research labs, centers and institutes at Massachusetts General Hospital (and with biomedical science in general), and share what we’ve learned on our blog and website.

But what about the general public? Do they share the same interest in science?

A recent Pew Research Survey of 4,000 adults aged 18 and over found that only 17 percent of respondents were “active consumers” of science news. Active consumers were defined as those who get science news several times a week, either by chancing across it or by actively seeking it out.

Details of the Study

The study found that general news outlets are the most common sources of science stories, though respondents indicated that they tend to view information from niche sources such as scientific institutions, museums, documentaries and science-specific magazines as more accurate.

More than 80 percent of those who follow science news cited curiosity as their prime motivating factor. Other reasons cited by respondents for following science news was that the information helps them make decisions in their everyday lives, and that they enjoy talking about science with others.

There is also a family connection—many of the respondents who were parents said that they sought out science news due to the activities and interests of their children.

When it comes to the coverage of science itself, some respondents criticized science journalists for too much emphasis on “gee-whiz” writing that doesn’t do enough to explain the relevance of the science for the average person, or assess the quality of the research.

Some 44% of survey respondents said it was a “big problem” that the public doesn’t know enough about science to understand research findings in the news. A similar number of respondents said that with so many studies being published, it can be difficult to distinguish between high and low quality work.

Finding Meaning in the Results

So what does that mean for researchers and the research communications team at Massachusetts General Hospital?

We have an opportunity to be a trusted and accessible voice for science. We can take a hard look at the way we communicate our findings to see if we are using too much jargon, failing to explain key concepts or not taking the time to explain how our work could impact human health down the road—even if the potential benefits are a long way off.

In an era where hot button issues such as climate change and childhood vaccinations have scientists facing an increasing level of scrutiny, it’s important that we continuously work on improving our communication skills.

Communicating Science at Mass General

Through the Office of the Scientific Director, the Mass General Research Institute has launched several programs designed to improve the way our researchers talk about science.

We have organized communicating science competitions at HUBweek and the Cambridge Science Festival, and hosted workshops on science communication in conjunction with the Alan Alda Center For Science Communication.

We also share tips on communicating science on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Science is a complex and ever-changing field. Each new advance, from personalized medicine to CRISPR gene editing, creates a new set of terminology that might make perfect sense to the research community, but is totally unknown to the general public.

By challenging ourselves to be better communicators, we can advocate for the importance of medical research and its potential to improve the lives of patients, both here at Mass General and across the globe.

The Research Institute:
Saving Lives Through Science

The Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute is the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with a community of over 10,000 people working across more than 30 institutes, centers and departments.Our researchers work side-by-side with physicians to pioneer the latest scientific advancements for curing disease and healing patients in Boston, across the United States and around the world.To learn more about the Research Institute, please visit our website.

Science Writing:  Nine Tips to Make Your Journal Articles Shine

Good science communication skills can be just as helpful when you are communicating with colleagues and journal editors as they are when you’re speaking to the public.

Here are nine helpful tips on writing journal articles by Anne Marie Weber-Main, PhD, and Anne Joseph, MD, MPH, from the University of Minnesota. You can find the complete presentation here.

  1. Clearly state the importance of your findings. What gap in knowledge did you address? What challenges did you overcome?
  2. Lead with your results, and then follow with explanatory details
  3. Provide rationale for your study design and methods if relevant to the results
  4. Include definitions of terms when appropriate
  5. Present information in a logical order, not necessarily a chronological one
  6. Use tables and figures for clarity and brevity
  7. Be consistent with terminology (For example, use either “aggression” or “aggressive behavior,” but not switch back and forth between the two)
  8. Similarly, using parallel sentence structure can be helpful when comparing methodology and results between data sets (helps the reader understand the similarities and differences when information is presented in a consistent way)
  9. Make specific suggestions for how future research could expand upon your results

Adapted from:
Foundations of Scholarly Writing (Session 3)
Meeting Readers’ Expectations for IMRaD |Responding to Reviewers
By Anne Marie Weber-Main, PhD, and Anne Joseph, MD, MPH

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Six Selfish Reasons to Communicate Science


The Union of Concerned Scientists blog recently published a post discussing ways in which communicating science can benefit the scientist. Here are a few of our takeaways from this great article:

  1. Engaging in science communication helps to hone your communication skills, so you can nail that job interview or research proposal
  2. It’s a great way to develop expertise in your subject area—a broad familiarity with the field, what others are doing in it,
  3. It can help you draw connections between disparate subjects and help you discover new avenues for your research
  4. It can help you gain exposure – a recent study showed that using social media can increase your scientific impact, and that media coverage of papers can lead to more citations.
  5. It can help you network with other scientists and learn about new opportunities.
  6. The support and enthusiasm you receive by engaging with the scientific community can keep you motivated during challenges and setbacks.

You can read the full article here.

How else can scientists benefit from talking about their science in lay-friendly terms? Share your thoughts in the comments!