Hilda Bastian (PhD) is a writer, scientist, and cartoonist. She was a health consumer advocate in Australia in the ’80s and ’90s. Controversies riddled with ideology and vested interests drove her to science. Epidemiology and effectiveness research have kept her hooked.
Hilda has a habit of being a “founding member” of things. They include the Consumers’ Health Forum of Australia,’s first board and some of its parts, and the Cochrane Collaboration and its Consumers and Communication Review Group. At the Cochrane Collaboration, she developed its “plain language summary” system for informing consumers, and evidence-based patient information websites. In 2004 she joined the group of people who helped build the national Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); that required moving to Germany and learning the language. She led the development of IQWiG’s national bi-lingual health information website, Gesundheitsinformation.de/Informedhealth.org.
A second intercontinental migration ensued in 2011. This time it was to Washington DC to the National Institutes of Health, where she worked on projects at PubMed, including developing an evidence-based information website called PubMed Health (since discontinued). After a regime change there, she returned to Australia in 2018 to finish her PhD at the Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare, on some factors affecting the validity of systematic reviews (awarded in 2020).
Hilda also writes at The Atlantic, and is a Wikipedian. She blogs occasionally at BMJ Blogs, has contributed to WIRED, and is the lead for the independent advisory group on the update of the Cochrane review on exercise therapy and ME/CFS. In 2022, she began the blog Grief Collection, for digging into the evidence on loss in memory of her son Adam.
Absolutely Maybe began on the Scientific American Blog Network in July 2013, moving to PLOS Blogs in December 2014. The artwork on Absolutely Maybe is usually her own. Hilda also enjoys exploring the limitless comedic potential of clinical epidemiology in cartoons at the blog, Statistically Funny. She credits her love of comics to Brenda Starr, Wonder Woman and The Archies.
Hilda has been profiled by the Sydney Morning Herald (“A voice for the people”, in 1994), the BMJ (“Australia’s consumer champion”, in 1999), Australian Doctor (“A passionate woman”, in 2000), and STAT News (“She speaks – and draws – truth to scientific power”, in 2016). She was featured in Vox in 2017 in an article, “Doctors have decades of experiencing fighting ‘fake news’. Here’s how they win”, and her work tracking Covid vaccines was featured there in 2021.
Commenting at this blog:
Hilda moderates blog comments, and will not release comments that would turn the commenting space into an unpleasant corner of the internet or source of disinformation.
HB’s financial disclosures (last updated in November 2023):
Other than freelance writing for commercial media outlets and PLOS, since becoming involved in health and science in the 1980s, my employers have all been not-for-profit community or government agencies, or not-for-profit universities. I have never accepted funding from a manufacturer of a drug, device, or similar health product. More than 20 years ago, I received funding from a not-for-profit health insurer (listed below), and once from a private health insurers’ association for participation in a conference. I have received speaking and travel support from my universities, and government agencies, and travel support from BMJ, PLOS Medicine, and the GIMBE Foundation. My travel as part of committee and board roles for non-profit organizations has also been supported by those organizations. Other than personal homes, bank, and retirement savings accounts, I have never had financial investments or owned stock.
I have received research grants (or benefited directly from grants received by others) from: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC – Australia), Consumers’ Health Forum of Australia (CHF), UK Cochrane Centre, Victorian Department of Health, Medibank Private, National Institute of Clinical Studies (NICS – an Australian government agency that no longer exists), intramural National Institutes of Health (NIH), and waived PhD university fees under the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. I received some honorarium payments between 2020 and 2023 from Cochrane for supporting independent stakeholder engagement in reviews on ME/CFS (2020-2022), and on the HPV vaccine (2021-2023). I receive some committee member sessional payments from the NHMRC (Australia) for my participation in the Dietary Guidance Governance Committee.