Upcoming one-week ‘epidemiology 101’ course aimed at journalists


Epidemiology 101 for JournalistsNo matter what beats a journalist covered before 2020, nearly every one of us has had to write at least a bit about epidemiology over the past year. Some reporters were completely re-assigned to a COVID-19 beat without any previous experience in health or science journalism. Others may have already been writing about health and science but not spending much time in the areas of infectious diseases, vaccines and epidemiology. It’s been a steep and continuous learning curve for many — I’ve been covering epi for a decade and still learn something new at least once a week.

If you’ve been playing catch-up all year to understand epidemiological concepts and figure out how to accurately and responsibly report on the science of the pandemic, a new course has been developed just for you. Madhukar Pai, MD, Ph.D., a research chair in epidemiology and global health at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, has developed an Epidemiology 101 course designed specifically for journalists.

Full disclosure: Pai is a fellow Forbes contributor and I am one of the guest lecturers for the course, as are several other AHCJ members. The other guest lecturers include independent journalists Maryn McKenna and Roxanne Khamsi, Globe and Mail reporter André Picard, New York Times reporter Apoorva Mandavilli, and Nieman Fellow Vidya Krishnan. (Guest speakers receive a modest honorarium.)

The course is not free, and it’s not a modest fee at C$1,250 (Canadian dollars). However, the price reflects content developed exclusively by journalists by an epidemiologist who also writes journalism articles. He understands what journalists need to know and the pressures they’re under — on deadline — to get the study right and in accessible language for lay readers.

The course runs from May 3-7 from 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. ET and provides one college credit, though “professional interest students” not seeking college credit can apply here as well. It’s based on a course Pai previously developed for journalists. According to the course description, it will “use topical examples from COVID-19 to cover issues such as types of epidemiologic studies, how to measure disease frequency and risk, importance of bias and confounding, and review various common study designs, including observational studies and randomized trials.” The primary focus of the course is how to read medical literature critically and accurately report on it.

For more information, see the course description here: https://www.mcgill.ca/epi-biostat-occh/epidemiology-101-journalists.

If the course’s timing isn’t on your schedule or it’s out of your price range, make use of AHCJ resources including this tipsheet about sources and resources covering coronaviruses, review many of the terms used in epidemiology on the glossary pages covering medical studies, infectious diseases and COVID-19. Past conferences featured epidemiology experts discussing disease outbreaks, including a Saturday panel during the 2018 conference. AHCJ members can view their presentations through this link.

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Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle is AHCJ’s health beat leader on infectious disease and formerly led the medical studies health beat. She’s the author of “Vaccination Investigation” and “The Informed Parent.”