Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.
A Stanford team that's studying the public's knowledge of, and response to, H1N1 flu, has a survey and they're looking for willing participants to fill it out. Here's team member Marcel Salathé:
There is a possibility that the situation might develop into a pandemic if the virus continues to spread around the globe. The news media report excessively about this threat, and while health officials urge people to stay calm, there is an increased level of anxiety in the population.
Models have predicted that when a disease breaks out, changes in behavior in response to an outbreak, and in particular in response to information about an outbreak, can alter the progression of an epidemic. While this makes intuitive sense, there is no good data to test such a hypothesis. One of the major problems is that emotional reactions and behavioral response to an epidemic is generally assessed quite some time after the epidemic has fizzled out."
Short version: They're trying to figure out whether the info dump about H1N1 flu that you're getting from the media and the Web might really be enough to educate us all right out of a pandemic. I know that theory has come up in the comments threads on my previous flu postings. Let's help find out it if it works!
EDIT: Marcel Salathé answers a couple of reader questions from the comments thread here. First, about when the results will come out and how you can see them:
There are a number of options. We will collect data while the epidemic runs its course – how long that's going to take is unpredictable, so I cannot really say more about the timeline – we just don't know yet. But we're constantly monitoring the data, and once we start finding interesting patterns we will certainly publish those quickly and make them open access. Feel free to publish my Stanford email address, and people who want to the results can send me an email."
Second, are Boing Boing readers completely screwing up the data by virtue of their savvyness? Salathé says it's a concern, but he doesn't think it will mess things up too badly, and he needs the volume of response more:
I am relatively confident that once we have a large enough sample we will get a good feeling for the average level of concern in the population. Yes, it might be that the ones responding to the survey are not the ones most panicky. On the other hand, one could also make the argument that people who are absolutely unruffled and calm might not be bothered to take the survey either. There can always be bias in any direction. In principle, any online survey has the potential for bias (by the fact alone that the survey is online) – but with a large enough sample one can avoid most of the problems regarding bias."
Boing Boing also isn't the only large-volume return place Salathé has published the survey link, so he's confident his results won't be all-BB, all the time. He does say that if you've got suggestions on more places to publish the survey link that are likely to be BB's polar opposite, you should contact him.