twitter enables open knowledge networks

Twitter has kept me informed through this pandemic. I have been informed by subject matter networks of experts who share their knowledge with the public on Twitter. I was even taken to task by a troll (now off Twitter) for not blindly following local public health advice — “Twitter doctors are apparently more trusted than our medical officer of health.” But given the performance record of our CMOH, the advice from my pandemic list has kept me safer over the past two years.

Imagine if public health had taken the informed advice of Barry Hunt, an engineer specializing in airborne infection prevention. On 31 March 2020, Barry described the droplet theory of the spread of SARS-C0V-2 as — “90 year-old stale dated fake news” — yet the droplet theory was promoted by the WHO until May 2021.

Twitter has transformed science communication during this pandemic reports the journal Science.

Twitter is where the scientific conversations are happening in public.

“One result is that the platform [Twitter] has carried posts about a majority of the total COVID-19 literature—about 51% of journal articles on pandemic research had been mentioned in at least one tweet through May 2021, according to a report by the Research on Research Institute (RoRI). That exceeds the number cited in scholarly articles or mentioned in several other communications venues, including news stories, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, blogs, and policy documents.” —Science 2022-03-24

Twitter enables quick publishing as well as quick refutal of misinformation.

Meyerowitz-Katz [Epidemiologist & Writer] says data from his Twitter account indicate his March thread was available immediately to tens of thousands of readers, vastly more than later accessed his journal letter. “There’s an immediacy to Twitter I don’t see in traditional academic formats,” he says.

Other COVID-19 papers that might have influenced public policy also drew critical peer review on Twitter before they were retracted. One wrongly claimed that the antiparasitic drug ivermectin could treat the disease; another drew the conclusion, contested by many scientists, that cotton face masks did not prevent transmission of the pre-Omicron variants of the virus. —Science 2022-03-04

During less chaotic times than pandemics, scientists can share findings within their own formal communities of practice. They can also derive much information and share knowledge through established knowledge hubs like professional peer-reviewed journals. But complex challenges like this mutating virus require more agile forms of knowledge-sharing and sense-making. These may have more noise to filter but the speed of dissemination can make up for this.

Learning in the complex domain requires different ways of organizing and conversing. Twitter will never be the journal of reference, but it may be the best first point of contact during a crisis.

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