Richard Brown interviews me for The Psychologist

I was recently interviewed by one of my brilliant PhD students, Richard Brown. Richard enjoys writing and making videos about his research. He recently became a contributor at Psychology Today, and even won a prize in the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory Futures Student Essay Competition.

Here, you can read Richard’s interview with me for The Psychologist. We chat about the research I’ve been doing for the past decade or so – research which Richard is now moving forward as part of his PhD.

Mapping the Global Burden of Disease project’s Summary Exposure Values by state for 2019

As part of a current project with Calvin Isch and Richard Brown, I’ve been looking at the Global Burden of Disease project’s Summary Exposure Values (SEVs). The SEV is a really useful measure for us, because we’re interested in the extent to which people’s perceptions of risk are associated with objective measures of exposure to health risks. Luckily, the Global Burden of Disease project have done some incredibly detailed work to try to quantify exposures to certain risks.

The GBD describe the SEV as follows:

“A measure of a population’s exposure to a risk factor that takes into account the extent of exposure by risk level and the severity of that risk’s contribution to disease burden. SEV takes the value zero when no excess risk for a population exists and the value one when the population is at the highest level of risk; we report SEV on a scale from 0% to 100% to emphasize that it is risk-weighted prevalence.”

I would recommend this excellent Lancet paper for more details on the construction of this measure.

Since I’m particularly interested in perceptions about uncontrollable mortality risks (risk exposures which are not impacted by individual behaviour), I’ve been using the SEV values for environmental and occupational risks, which is a combined index of those risks not classified by the GBD project as being related to behaviour (see for more on the data).

This all seemed like an excellent excuse to make a new map, this time using Leaflet, an excellent R package, which allows you to create and customise interactive web maps without knowing any JavaScript. Here’s the resulting map. To see the interactive version, please click on the image link and view the map in RPubs, as WordPress won’t allow me to embed it using an iframe.

A map of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Project’s summary exposure values (SEV) by state for the USA in 2019.

Measuring perceived uncontrollable mortality risk: poster, papers & video

I’m beginning to build a bank of resources to support people to use the measures of perceived control over mortality risk that Daniel Nettle and I developed some years ago (Pepper & Nettle, 2014). So far, these measures seem to be a good predictor of health behaviour and, in our data, they outperform the Multidemsional Health Locus of Control (MHLC), which is a commonly used measure examining a similar construct.

To get things started, I’ve created my first ever #BetterPoster (see here for more on the “Better Poster” concept) that gives a brief overview of the theory and evidence regarding the relationship between perceived uncontrollable mortality risk and health behaviour. I’m presenting this poster at EHBEA2021, and Richard Brown will be giving a talk on some of the evidence summarised in panel 4 of the poster below. The 2-minute audio recording that accompanies the poster can be downloaded here.

I’ve also created a 1-page guide to using the measure, which gives the question text and an at-a-glance summary of what the responses represent, with references for further details. You can download the guide here.

My #BetterPoster for EHBEA 2021 – a summary of the evidence so far on perceived uncontrollable mortality risk & health behaviour.

The poster above is embedded as an image, so the links don’t work. Here are the links to the key references:

Nettle (2010),

Pepper & Nettle (2014a),

Pepper & Nettle (2014b),

Brown, Coventry & Pepper (2021)

UPDATE! New video

Since I originally posted this, my fantastic PhD student, Richard Brown has created a video, explaining the findings of our paper in the Journal of Public Health. Richard’s creation won him the best talk prize at the Northumbria University Early Career Researchers’ conference, 2021.

ISEMPH 2021 – online meeting

I’m on the programme for the excellent International Society for Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health‘s annual meeting again this year. As usual, I expect the conference will be superb. However, things will be a little different this year, as the whole event will be virtual:

Although I understand that many people are suffering from “Zoom fatigue”, an online conference offers a number of fresh advantages. It becomes easier for people from all over the world to participate without time, cost, or carbon footprint concerns becoming barriers. We can be innovative about our scheduling too. Having some pre-recorded talks and posters available in advance of the conference will mean more time to interact with each other on the day. More interaction can mean more ideas, more fun, and more potential for collaboration. Another advantage of having some pre-recorded talks: you can pause, rewind, and watch again! No more wondering if you’re asking a silly question because you didn’t quite hear something that was said earlier on in the talk. Equally, if the topic of the talk isn’t quite as you expected, you can stop watching without fear of disrupting others in the audience. This year’s meeting will enjoy all these advantages, plus some of the buzz of a live event with some live talks and Q&A sessions.

To really boost the interactivity of the conference, we’ll also be running our first ever Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health Grand Challenges! Conference delegates can sign up to work in virtual teams to address the big questions and challenges facing medicine and public health today, with topics ranging from ageing to tuberculosis. The aim of these events is to encourage new connections and collaborations, and to spark innovation in the EMPH community. Check out the ISEMPH-2021 website for further details:

Delegates at the Inaugural ISEMPH meeting in 2015, in Tempe, Arizona.
Delegates at the Inaugural ISEMPH meeting in 2015, in Tempe, Arizona

Highlights from the first meeting of the International Society for Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health

I recently enjoyed the privilege of speaking at the inaugural meeting of the International Society of Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health. The event included a spread of fascinating talks on topics from trade-offs in cancer susceptibility to the evolution of sleep. I have highlighted a few of the talks here, but there were lots more excellent talks and some of the videos can be found on Vimeo (others should be available soon).

I highly recommend joining the society: more information at

“What is a Disease?” by Ruslav Medzhitov, Yale University


“Shining evolutionary light on human sleep and sleep disorders” by Charles Nunn, Duke University


“The perils of plasticity” by Randolph Nesse, Arizona State University

Learning about Public Health in the Local Government context

As part of a scheme run by the Newcastle University Faculty of Medical Sciences Graduate School, I am currently enjoying the privilege of being a visiting postdoc with the Newcastle City Council Public Health Team.

I have2012-11-17 16.39.04 learned a vast amount in my first few weeks. I have witnessed a small team with a large portfolio, doing some heroic work. They deal with everything from the classic issues such as obesity, sexual health, smoking, and alcohol and drug use, to wider determinants of health including active transport, pollution and parks. They juggle the local politics of councillors, which can require a short-medium term outlook, with the priorities of Public Health, which are necessarily long term ones. All of this is done in the context of budget cuts and increased pressure from seasonal issues such as flu, and novel concerns such as Ebola. No easy task.

I intend to use this experience to learn how to make my future research more useful to policy makers and public health practitioners. As part of the experience, I will document my learning in my blogs and in my tweets.


Videos: Why should medics care about evolution?

A friend of mine, the wonderful Thomas Carpenter, is currently studying medicine at Edinburgh University. He is part of a group of medical students with an interest in evloution, who are calling themselves the Evolutionary Medics.

The Evolutionary Medics recently ran an event, which was entitled “Bringing Darwin back to Edinburgh: wine, cheese and evolutionary medicine.” The excellent presentations are now available to view on YouTube and I wanted to promote them here:

Dr Sam Brown – Can we make evolution proof drugs?

Prof Gillian Bentley – The Clinical Significance of Evolutionary Medicine


Video: Being there (talk at the ESRC Festival)

Being there: a brief visit to a neighbourhood induces the social attitudes of that neighbourhood

Here is a video of one my recent talks as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science event, “Using social sciences to tackle the toxicity of urban life”. The video just gives footage of me talking, so you will need to download the slides as a PDF here: beingtherepresentationslides.pdf.

The publication associated with this presentation can be found at:

A delayed post about Prosocial Place

I recently gave a talk about my work as part of an Economic and Social Research council festival of Social Science event in Liverpool. The event was titled, “Using social sciences to tackle the toxicity of urban life” and the speakers came from a range of disciplines, from Evolutionary Anthropology to Sociology. The common goal? To understand the impacts of urban environments on physical and mental health.

Several of the speakers were part of the Prosocial Place initiative, which brings together researchers who have an interest in improving urban life. Prosocial Place is still young, but given the obvious implications of their work for city dwellers around the world, it might be one to watch.

You can follow the Prosocial Place blog here: