How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Aaron Carroll, Researcher Thought Leader

(Average reading time: 105 seconds.)

Let’s say you’re a researcher who wants more impact than publishing research alone gives you.

Or you’re an communicator or marketer who works with those researchers.

Then you should be reading Aaron Carroll’s regular column in The New York Times’s The Upshot and his blog on health economics, The Incidental Economist.

Carroll (and his colleague Austin Frakt at The Incidental Economist) are your models for how to build authority out of expertise.

Yes, they’re on Twitter. But it’s their years of regular blogging that helped them land the Times column and made them leading authorities on health economics.

Carroll has also become the arbiter on what’s sound and unsound in the public discourse about health issues…and, increasingly, in science itself.

He’s done this by writing at volume about issues people care about with persuasive, evidence-backed arguments and strong POV.

He convinces.

Exhibit A: that highly readable Aaron Carroll analysis I linked to yesterday on the Lancet alcohol study.

In it, Carroll explains quickly and effectively:

  • Where the study had gone wrong,
  • The limitations of meta-analyses in general,
  • How real people trying to live their lives should interpret the study’s conclusions, and
  • How scientists will need to take a different research approach going forward to get an answer to the question of whether and how low levels of alcohol consumption might be harmful.

Here’s one passage that hits it out of the park, about The Lancet study’s methodology:

“Consider that 15 desserts a day would be bad for you. I am sure that I could create a chart showing increasing risk for many diseases from 0 to 15 desserts. This could lead to assertions that ‘there’s no safe amount of dessert.’ But it doesn’t mean you should never, ever eat dessert.”

You could imagine saying that at a party to your friends and dropping the mic. That’s amazingly good communication — not just amazingly good research communication.

Carroll steps back from individual research to give us the bigger picture in his columns and blogging — on standing deskssalt intakemarijuana’s risksthe state of world healthprobioticstax policy on charitable giving…all in just the last six months.

It’s an incredibly impressive body of work. Indiana University, where Carroll is a professor of pediatrics, must be loving it — and fundraising off of it.

So why don’t research-driven organizations and institutions do more researcher thought leadership?

And how can your organization do more of it?

Let’s talk about that next week.