Editor's Choice

Networking for health

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a3153 (Published 30 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a3153
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor, BMJ
  1. fgodlee{at}bmj.com

    Contagion has been the curse of human health for centuries. Medicine has dedicated itself to preventing it. But what if diseases aren’t the only things that can be caught? What if good things can also be transmitted from one person to another—happiness for example? This is the hypothesis explored in this week’s BMJ.

    James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis have been studying the effects of social networks for some time. Now using a unique data set—the Framingham Heart Study cohort—they’ve analysed 20 years of data on nearly 5000 people, including measures of happiness (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338). Within this social network they found non-random clustering of happy and unhappy people. Could this be because happy people choose happy friends? Or is the effect due to confounding, as Ethan Cohen-Cole and Jason Fletcher suggest (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2533)? Or is it, as Fowler and Christakis conclude, a causative relation? I think they make a convincing case, as do (with some caveats) our editorialists (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2781) and commentary writer (doi:10.1136/bmj.a1957). So perhaps success should no longer be judged by how many friends you have in your social network, but how happy they are.

    A different form of networking could spread health, and perhaps happiness, in the developing world. One Laptop per Child aims to give some of the world’s poorest children access to computers and the internet. Wondering what benefits there might be for health communication, Paul Fontelo and colleagues have tested the laptops in simulated developing world conditions (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2459). They were able to access PubMed and BabelMeSH (a multilanguage search portal for PubMed). They downloaded a 10 page pdf file with colour figures and tables. They read email and “chatted” with colleagues in other countries using Gmail. They sent clinical photographs and short movie clips. And they listened to the BMJ podcast (which, by the way, you can now get through iTunes every week: itpc://podcasts.bmj.com/bmj/feed/itunes). There were things they couldn’t do, but the potential benefits for medical education, telemedicine, and public health seem substantial.

    With ever improving wireless access, software, and computer technology, the internet as a means of global communication is clearly better and greener than print. And it’s where we think the results of medical research belong. This may not seem a contentious statement, but there are still authors who like to see their work in print as well as online. The challenge for the BMJ is that we want to publish more of the good research we’re now receiving, and we want to give each study all the space and visibility it needs. Both things are possible online, with high usage, open access, and no word limits for BMJ research articles. Both are difficult in print if we want to find space for the many different types of content that print readers appreciate. So as Trish Groves and I explain (doi:10.1136/bmj.a3123), we’re trying out a new approach to publishing research, with a specially written abstract in the print journal (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2946), and the full text (with lots of extras) online (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2656). Tell us what you think.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:a3153

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