subject matter networks

We live in a networked world. Is it even possible for one person to have sufficient expertise to understand a complex situation such as this pandemic? So do we rely on one subject matter expert or rather a subject matter network?

I have noted many discrepancies between advice from our Chief Medical Officer of Health as opposed to a network of experts who I follow on Twitter. Our CMOH has been responsible for producing some of the most complicated public health guidelines and even our local CBC radio station staff could not come to an understanding of the concept of a ‘steady ten’ — Do these circles overlap? How long can they last? What about children going to school in contact with others? Talking with other people I have noticed that everyone interprets it differently. This is a failure to communicate.

But we often collectively defer to people in positions of authority. Yesterday I noted on Twitter that I understand that our chief public health officer is not on Twitter but some of what she says conflicts with what I read from a range of pandemic experts. From these sources I learned to wear a mask before it was mandated by our province. I learned that the virus was airborne before it was officially noted here, and I learned that rapid testing significantly differs and has different benefits from the more specific PCR testing currently being done — according to the CBC, “New Brunswick has used only 4.15 per cent of its 284,064 [rapid] tests”.

high frequency testing

High-Frequency Testing with Low Analytic Sensitivity versus Low-Frequency Testing with High Analytic Sensitivity. Source: New England Journal of Medicine

When I shared these thoughts on Twitter I received a comment that is likely typical for a large percentage of society. Namely that social media do not provide authoritative information and that a lay person like myself should defer to the authoritative figure.

subject matter networks tweet

I will let the readers be the judge and determine if these ‘Twitter doctors‘ are worth listening to. They have been ahead of every decision made in this province so far.

One expert is merely a node in a network.

5 Responses to “subject matter networks”

  1. Valdis Krebs

    Unfortunately the choice is not as simple as expert vs. network. All experts are part of one or more sub-networks in larger networks… and these sub-networks may/do not always agree with each other.

    I once did a network analysis around Lyme disease. You would think that is very focused area of medicine would have generally accepted shared knowledge. But… this tiny sub-field of medicine had about half a dozen tight sub-networks, each claiming to have the right solution to fighting this disease. Some clusters/sub-networks were in very active disagreement with some others. So you can’t just choose between a Lyme disease expert and the Lyme disease network… you have to make further choices. Most medical fields are like this.

    We also see various flavors of diverse approaches (religions? ) in our tiny, but growing, field of network science.

    • Harold Jarche

      This makes sense, Valdis. It’s what I have tried to do with my pandemic short list, representing not just epidemiologists or public health experts as well as people from different countries. With a short list it’s hard to get both diversity and depth of knowledge though.

  2. Valdis Krebs

    Yes, so you look at many clusters and add to your list so you have a overview of what the clusters contain… several viewpoints, but not necessarily all (some may be mis/disinformation).

  3. Harold Jarche

    Yes, try to get diverse opinions but maintain a good signal-noise ratio. This requires constant pruning and refreshing and I can see why it is much easier to just opt for the opinion of one expert. Sensemaking is hard work.


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