20 June 2018

Dr Bankole Falade presented a paper titled: “Leveraging mass media informatics for surveillance and understanding of disease outbreaks” at the 7th STS Italia conference (14 – 16 June 2018) under the theme: “Technoscience from below.” The conference was held at the University of Padua in Italy.

The conference, attended by more than 100 scholars from across the globe, had 26 tracks discussing issues such as governance of techno science, co-shaping of science and technology, environmental governance, engagement or endorsement, biomedical research, the dark side of digital health and building knowledge based on digital data.

Dr Falade’s paper on leveraging mass media informatics brought together three conceptual approaches: mediated knowledge transfer; the social psychological studies of knowledge in context; and epidemiological studies of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events. He illustrated how big data mining techniques can be used to show how the media can be used to track public anxiety about diseases across cultures (Brazil, United Kingdom and United States), as well as the psychosocial factors that may contribute to or inhibit uptake of scientific information. The aim of this research is to enhance disease surveillance mechanisms worldwide.

This presentation made three major points:

  1. Computerised text analysis of longitudinal mass media data can be used to detect the emergence of discourse about disease, patterns of anxiety and public perceptions bringing together epidemiology, media studies and social psychology.
  2. Since no single approach is optimal and extensive monitoring aid detection, media informatics has great potentials as part of a web of disease surveillance mechanisms
  3. Qualitative indicators show the extra motivation over google, web or twitter searches in that they further mirror the perception of the public about the disease and psycho-social factors that may enhance or inhibit uptake of scientific information.

Founded in 1222, Padua is the second oldest university in Italy, after Bologna, which was established in 1088. Padua is also the fifth oldest university in the world and is part a network of historical research universities known as the Coimbra Group. Other institutions that are part of this network include the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg, Salamanca, Jena, Leuven and Leiden.

The venue of the conference was a university building next door to the magnificent Saint Antony of Padua’s Basilica. St Anthony was credited with the miracle of Usurer, the Fish and the Mule among others.