Twitter celebrated its sixth birthday last week, and this week it is the turn of The Conversation to be marking its first anniversary.

According to the site’s co-founder, Andrew Jaspan, The Conversation has had more than 2.5 million unique visitors in its first year, almost 4 million total visits, and 8 million page views. Over 300 websites and newspapers have republished its content, which is free under a creative commons licence.

Jaspan says around 40 per cent of the academics and researchers who write for The Conversation report receiving follow up requests from other media outlets.

From Croakey’s perspective, The Conversation has quickly become a useful source of health and medical news and debate.

By contrast, another new online publication, The Global Mail, does not appear to rate health as a priority – its listing of story categories includes arts & culture, business and economics, environment, people, politics, religion, science and technology, and sport.

Of course health stories could slot into any of these categories but the fact health does not rate a category in its own right (given that it is one of the country’s major policy/reform challenges, a large industry, and is an ever-expanding soak of public and private funding) is noteworthy. Health is such a huge and complex area that it requires a systematic approach to investigation and analysis. (It should be acknowledged though that TGM has done some worthwhile and innovative work in the health space).

It would be nice to see some wider innovation in health journalism (The Health Reporter, as recently covered on Croakey, didn’t last long, and has been taken offline.  One of the founders told Croakey today that they hope to resurrect it down the track if financial backing can be found).

As I tweeted this morning, I am quite jealous of US health journalists for the range of philanthropic support for public interest health journalism there, as per these fellowships.  They seem more likely to make a constructive contribution than the proliferation of health journalism prizes that we have, funded by single interest groups (eg this one from the pathologists).

Meanwhile, in the article below, Fron Jackson-Webb, Health and Medicine Editor of The Conversation, tells us about some of the highlights of her year.


Health + Medicine: reflections on our first year

By Fron Jackson-Webb, Health and Medicine Editor, The Conversation

In The Conversation’s first editorial meeting editor Andrew Jaspan explained what he wanted to achieve with the site: a more informed level of debate, based on evidence, research and expert opinion.

It was frustrating, he said, that scientists and other experts were often pitted against non-experts in news stories. And because they were given the same amount of space and were quoted alongside each other, readers might consider the two voices equally informed on a topic.

And so, The Conversation was born. From March 2011, experts had another platform from which to share evidence-based research, information and opinion with a general but curious audience. Perhaps most importantly, readers could join the discussion, share their insights and even interrogate the evidence.


Soil arsenic from mining waste poses long term health threats

By Dora Pearce, Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Population Health at University of Melbourne

Exposure to arsenic in soil and gold mining waste may have contributed to a slight increase in past cancer risk in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas in the Goldfields region of Victoria, according to new research.

The study, which I co-authored with Associate Professor Kim Dowling (University of Ballarat) and Professor Malcolm Sim (Monash University), is published in today’s Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. It has important implications for other mining sites across the country.


Why the taser-related death toll is rising

By Jude McCulloch, Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Monash University

The death of 21-year-old Brazilian national, Roberto Laudisio Cruti, on a Sydney street after being tasered by police has ignited questions about the safety and police use of these weapons.

Tasers, the brand name for the electro-shock device used by police, deliver currents of 50,000 volts and are designed to incapacitate. They can be used in “drive stun” mode (hand held) or fired on a wire with barbs at a range of around 6.4 meters.

These devices, like capsicum spray, are part of a category of weapons generically known as less-than-lethal weapons, which were incrementally introduced into Australian policing from the mid-1990s.


Australia should defend neighbours in Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations

By Deborah Gleeson, Research Fellow in School of Public Health and Human Biosciences at La Trobe University

Australia is taking a strong stance to protect its health and medicines policies during negotiations for the new regional trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). This negotiating position will nevertheless undermine health in developing countries unless we take an equally strong position to support and protect our neighbours.

Countries party to the TPP currently include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Japan, Mexico and Canada are also engaged in discussions with a view to joining. Talks for the 11th round of negotiations concluded in Melbourne on 9 March, and there’s pressure to conclude the agreement as soon as possible.


Craig Thomson saga shows doctors’ certificates are a sick joke

By Max Kamien, Emeritus Professor of General Practice and Corlis Fellow of the RACGP at University of Western Australia

Labor MP Craig Thomson is the latest Australian worker to be stung by the outdated culture of medical certificates. Thomson fell ill last week with abdominal pain and was issued a medical certificate that would keep him from parliament this week.

The federal opposition has questioned the nature of Thomson’s illness and demanded a certificate from the hospital he attended. For most people, the implications of not having a medical certificate are much less significant than what Thomson is facing. But this case highlights the futility of how we deal with absenteeism due to illness.


All for one and one for all: no fault compensation for vaccine reactions

By David Isaacs, Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Sydney

Reports on people suffering an adverse reaction to immunisation focus on the suffering of one over the safety of many. But immunisation benefits the whole community so we should all bear responsibility for those few who experience an adverse reaction to it.

Immunisation works and to the extent that we no longer see people suffering from diseases we immunise against, it is a victim of its own success. Until polio was effectively eradicated through the use of a vaccine, it was not uncommon to see its residual effect among the population. Such sights often motivated parents to immunise their children.


Mind over matter? The ethics of using the placebo effect

By Marcello Costa, Professor of Neurophysiology, Department of Physiology at Flinders University

There’s good evidence showing expectations to get better have significant effects on how patients suffering a variety of ailments feel. This is called the placebo effect from the original meaning in Latin, I will please.

The placebo effect is a perceived or actual improvement of a medical condition that occurs even when the people are given inert treatments – the proverbial “sugar pill”. It reflects the ability of the brain to control many states of the body, even those not under voluntary control.


Why Australia’s medicine cabinet is almost bare

By Simon Quilty, Medical Physician at University of Sydney

The risk we’ll fall short of essential medicines has increased dramatically over the past decade, largely due to policy shifts in patent regulation and a boom in pharmaceutical innovation that began in the 1980s.

Rates of drug shortages in Australia haven’t been recorded but the trends are likely to be similar to the United States. In 2001 there were 120 individual medicine shortages in the US, dropping to 58 in 2004 and steadily rising to at least 220 last year.

The medicines most vulnerable to short supply are the minimally profitable “generic” drugs – particularly injectable medicines that are expensive and challenging to make.


Here is more on The Conversation from the UTS, with UTS Media Manager Robert Button saying that it is “an excellent new platform for early career researchers and senior academics to work with trained journalists in a controlled way and to hone communication skills that are vital for dealing effectively with traditional media”.


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