Research must be communicated - even when it is unpopular
Eva Greibe from Aarhus University won the PhD Cup Live event that was broadcast live on Monday evening on the Danish TV channel DR2. She won the event with her dazzling communication on her study of vitamin deficiency in breast milk. A research result that certainly stirred up some strong feelings.
On Monday evening, molecular biologist Eva Greibe from AU won the prize for being the best live research communicator. The award ceremony took place in the DR Koncerthuset, where Eva Greibe took on seven other winners in this year's PhD Cup, which is a collaboration between the Danish newspaper Information, the Lundbeck Foundation, the Danish broadcaster DR and Universities Denmark.
PhD and postdoc Eva Greibe’s research has shown that breast milk apparently cannot meet the requirements that babies have for the vital B12-vitamin throughout the entire breastfeeding period. But if the child receives a supplementary diet in addition to the breast milk from the age of four months then its nutritional requirements will be met.
Heated debate on the web
While Eva Greibe has been enthusing panels of judges with her communication, her research results have led to a heated debate. In particular after an article on the subject of breast milk and vitamin deficiency in the Danish newspaper Information on 10 May triggered 32 comments on the paper’s website information.dk. A scroll through the comments shows that emotions run high when it comes to breastfeeding and the quality of the breast milk. Eva Greibe’s research was accused of being unscientific and being paid for by the makers of breast milk substitute. The newspaper article was also shared by the Facebook group Ammenet (breast feeding net). The 46 comments written so far contained everything from indifference, to scepticism about the results, and accusatory questions about the financing of the research.
"I have hit an emotional topic. Some of the comments suggest that people feel their ability to be parents is under attack. Others are clearly convinced that I’m in the pocket of special interest groups," says Eva Greibe about her research, which challenges the recommendations of the WHO and the Danish Health and Medicines Authority, both of whom recommend that babies should be solely breastfed until they are six months old.
Ready for a professional debate
Eva Greibe places the comments in two categories. The emotional and the professional. The latter she primarily receives by email in the form of specific questions about the research, its methods and her results. There is also scepticism and criticism, but in general the tone is constructive, as opposed to the tone in the comments on social media and debate websites. Eva Greibe responds to all emails that maintain a professional tone.
"I think that it is very important to respond to people's interest and it is very important that I give people a proper answer or enter into a debate with them, so long as we keep it professional. I believe that is part of my job as a researcher," says Eva Greibe.
She has chosen not to participate in the web-based debate, even though parts of the debate are based on obvious factual misunderstandings and rumours that she could repudiate.
"I will not make myself available for the unprofessional debate. Here I feel misunderstood no matter how clearly I explain myself. My experience is that people will go after me personally," says Eva Greibe, who receives strong support from her research group at the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Aarhus University Hospital.
The strong reactions are not going to get Eva Greibe to reduce her activities when it comes to communicating her research. On the contrary, she believes that the task of communicating her research is more urgent than ever.
"It is one of the most important tasks for a researcher to tell the world about what you achieve with your work. That is still true even when the results are unwelcome. Then it is even more important that you make a great effort to be specific and precise when you communicate," says Eva Greibe.
Eva Greibe was employed at the Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Aarhus University Hospital, under the Department of Clinical Medicine, while she carried out her PhD degree programme in collaboration with researchers at the Department of Medical Endocrinology and Internal Medicine at Aarhus University Hospital. Today she is a post-doc in the same department.
The PhD Cup is a collaboration between the Danish newspaper Information, Universities Denmark and the Lundbeck Foundation.