Media Week #1: FASD and Science Communication

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Chelsea Pike

Chelsea Pike is a Master’s in Science Communication student at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Previously, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program with a minor in biology and her Bachelor of Education at Queen’s University. Her research is focused on describing attitudes of Canadians towards FASD as identified in the online Facebook discourse. Her study combines her passions for health promotion and education by allowing her to investigate an underrepresented public health issue that affects a wide range of social issues within a Canadian context. In March, Chelsea won the Laurentian University 3 Minute Thesis competition and will be competing in the Ontario 3 Minute Thesis competition at McMaster University.


Science communication (scicomm), to me, is about bringing together scientific research and the art of storytelling to make information more accessible, relevant, or more interesting for different audiences. It’s an opportunity to find creative solutions to real world problems.

A friend and colleague in the Science Communication program put this far more eloquently than I could in our Science Communication Blog.

Science communication plays an important role in policy making, academia, education, industry, entertainment, and more.

It’s an actively researching field with exceptionally broad applications. For example, my classmates are studying what makes an effective science Youtube video; whether a visit to the zoo may help with education on biodiversity; and why cost-effective and environmentally friendly biomining practices aren’t more widespread in Canada.

Science communication research helps us to answer questions about the best practices for communication, such as how to debunk myths, how people learn, and what types of messaging will optimize retention of information? What types of messaging are most likely to mobilize action?

Principle #1 in scicomm is to know your audience and to tailor all messaging to that specific audience. My research enriches our understanding of target audiences for FASD public health communication.

The topic of FASD for my research came together because it touches on my interest in public health and preventative medicine, as well as the significant role it can play in an educational setting.

The overall goal of my research is to be able to improve public health communication around FASD. To do this, it’s really important to not only have data on current levels of FASD awareness, but also to have an understanding of attitudes the target audience may have toward the issue. This knowledge helps to identify communication challenges.

A lot of the current research on attitudes uses print news media as a proxy for public opinion, but I couldn’t find much in the literature about what people are talking about online. Being social creatures, a lot of our opinions and attitudes towards various topics are shaped based on what we see online, particularly what our friends are sharing on social media.

This is why my research seeks to find answers within Facebook – 84% of Canadians use it, and use is consistently high across level of income, education, and race, much like FASD. This is a much more representative sample of Canadians as a whole compared to print news subscribers.

My research is looking at the types of content in Facebook posts – are they supportive stories from caregivers for an individual with FASD? Or are they about crime associated with the disorder? Shame or stigma?

I’m also using software to quantify reactions (Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry) to the different types of posts.

This combination of data allows us to see what types of content people are exposed to, what is being shared and talked about, and how people are reacting to it. Public health organizations can then use this information to inform future communications.

As readers of this blog, we know why FASD matters to us. Maybe you’re an FASD researcher. Maybe you or a family member have FASD. It’s the work of science communicators to make FASD matter to everyone else. We can highlight the importance of investing in services for individuals with FASD to our policy makers. For this audience, we might highlight the fiscal advantages: small investment in services now, big savings down the road in the legal system, health care, and unemployment services.

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In March, Chelsea won the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition at Laurentian University. You can hear her talk about her research with CBC Morning North here and can watch the livestream of the provincial competition on Wednesday, April 17 from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm EST.

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