It’s the end of the month which means that it’s time for another #ACAHashtagParty at the Association of Canadian Archivists. For today’s theme, #ArchivesActivism, here are three posters from the collection of Dr. Alison Hayford, Professor Emeritus and Adjunct at the University of Regina. Dr. Hayford donated these (and many other!) posters to the University Archives in 2020.
Image Credits: University of Regina Archives 2020-12 (Oversize 6, 4 and 15).
Research and data often feature very specific language, jargon, and specialized knowledge; however, many types of research including health and science research often get media coverage. Somehow, the language used and understood by those in a specific discipline needs translation into plain language so people outside the discipline can comprehend the study. Sounds easy enough, right?
If only! The reality is that research including data and conclusions can be miscommunicated in media publications for a multitude of reasons. For example, in 2023 the diabetes medication Ozempic and it’s weight loss version Wegovy had a media blitz as the cure to obesity. Some examples of headlines include:
That’s a small sample of information focused mainly on the effects of the drug, which barely scratches the surface and does not include social media commentary, podcasts, or think pieces. I didn’t even touch on the debate on gossip sites about which celebrities are using Ozempic, the black market trade of Ozempic, the supplement now being marketed as “nature’s Ozempic,” the role of capitalism in health care, or the discourse on body acceptance.
I didn’t include these topics because I don’t feel like being mentally exhausted and I’m already mentally exhausted by this coverage. Consider how impactful and overwhelming this media discourse could be on someone who is looking at Ozempic as a treatment for their diabetes. It would be stressful. Imagine being a medical professional just trying to get a good summary of the research to explain how the drug to works a patient. It would be a lot of work. How do we navigate all the information?
One solution is plain language summaries, which communicate a summary and the significance of the research with clear, approachable, jargon free language that a wide audience would be able to understand. Plain Language Summaries are becoming more common in research where publications, such as Taylor and Francis, are providing guidance to researchers on how to write a plain language summary. Plain language summaries do include descriptions of data, but they have to be carefully considered. Sage Publications has a detailed blog on writing plain language summaries which outlines that only essential data should be presented as absolute numbers, percentages, or natural frequencies.
Plain language summaries are not a perfect solution however; they can be miscommunicated and misinterpreted. For example, in January 2023, Cochrane Review presented a meta-analysis (a review and statistical analysis of the results from multiple studies on a topic) on the effectiveness of masks in reducing respiratory illnesses and the plain language summary was widely misinterpreted leading to multiple articles, social media posts, and other commentary on how “science proves masks don’t work.” This interpretation was the result of wording in the plain language summary that said “we are uncertain whether wearing masks or N95 respirators works” when it should have said “the results were inconclusive.” One statement brings into doubt the effectiveness of mask wear and the other states that there isn’t enough evidence to make a conclusion. I’m not going to get into all the details of how and why this happened, but will refer you to articles from Scientific American and Vox for a good breakdown and interpretation of what happened.
Another consideration with plain language summaries is they can be written to overhype the research. The Education YouTuber Derek Muller (Veritasium) has an excellent video describing the broader issues of science communication. Again, the summary (in plain language!) is that the most unexpected, novel, or surprising results tend to gather the most media attention; however, the results are usually flawed, incorrect, or false. Adding to the problem is when the research is found to be false, reporting is not as impactful as the initial (false) research release. Bold or misinterpreted claims to create hype for science can decrease trust in science.
Plain language summaries are an excellent resource for sharing research news with a wide audience, but they also require us to consider broader issues with research communication. As always, read the summaries carefully and look at multiple reliable sources to get a balanced interpretation. Remember if something seems overhyped, you might need to keep an eye out for a retraction or correction.
Some images from last Thursday’s Author Recognition reception, where we celebrated members of the University of Regina community who’ve published or produced creative and academic work in the past year. Selected authors were invited to speak about their work, and attendees could browse the 2022-2023 honoured publications.
The Archer Library is hosting the annual U of R Author Recognition Program Reception on Thursday, November 23 from 2:00 – 3:00 pm in the RIC Auditorium.
The program celebrates scholarly and creative works published in the last year by members of the U of R and Federated Colleges community. The reception provides a platform for authors to speak briefly about their work, and also an opportunity for the published works to be displayed.
Check out some of our titles highlighting Black achievement in Canada as we celebrate Canada History Week. Here’s a selection of books from our collection featuring trailblazers and change-makers who’ve made incredible contributions to Canadian culture and heritage.
Did you know that you can sign out Archer Library books from your phone? Just download the Archer Self Checkout app, log-in with your University username and password, and you’re ready to go. Simply scan a book’s barcode with your camera and it’s added to your account. You can also see what other books you have out, and other account info like recall notices and outstanding fees. So convenient!
The United Way book sale is on now and runs until November 27th. This year the sale is in the Alcove space, which is just past the elevators. Each book is available for a suggested donation of $2 per item, and payments can be made in the wall-mounted box in the elevator lobby. (Note that change cannot be made at the Help Desk.)
In observance of the November 11th Remembrance Day holiday, the Archer Library and Archives will be open reduced hours on Friday, November 10th. Those hours are 12:00 pm until 5:00 pm, with the Help Desk shutting down 15 minutes prior to closing.
If you visit the MacKenzie Art Gallery between now and February 18th, Archer Library patrons will encounter something familiar hanging on the wall. Marjorie Yuzicappi’s 1970 “Tapestry (Tah-hah-sheena)” can normally be found on the Archer’s main floor but recently it’s been leant to the Mackenzie for their new exhibition “Prairie Interlace: Weaving, Modernisms, and the Expanded Frame, 1960–2000,” a sprawling survey of innovative textile-based art on the Canadian Prairies from the second half of the twentieth century. The Yuzicappi piece is one of three monumental 70s tapestries which call the Archer Library home, with the other two also made by women artists of The Sioux Handcraft Co-operative from Standing Buffalo First Nation.