The Dissemination of Information during a Public Health Crisis

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context–a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment is a city plan.”

–Eliel Saarinen– a Finnish/American Architect

According to Joseph DeBruin, Head of Product Management at ResearchGate, the COVID crisis is propelling the process of science information publishing  in a way that is unprecedented,  At the same time, a misinformation “infodemic” is causing social media platforms to be saturated with invalid information about COVID.  (See The Scholarly Kitchen)

Normally, the process of peer review is slow, yet, according to DeBruin, the COVID challenge presents an opportunity for science to ask the question of how new technologies and insights can allow for the adherence to the well-established process of the evaluation of information or peer review. DeBruin highlights the fact that the COVID crises has essentially catapulted us into a controversial future- a future that is unfolding because “communication within science is a series of complex steps outward” and the information the public receives is not necessarily what was intended. In the case of the circulation of preprints (a preprint is a version of a scholarly or scientific article paper that precedes formal peer review and publication), citizen scientists have had access to information that is intended to be interpreted by experts. The net effect is that information that is intended to be helpful can become potentially dangerous. The scientific process has stood the test of time, and the idea of pushing it along to provide information to the public has led to the circulation and promotion of misinformation.   

I think in years to come, distance from the current crisis will allow us to better understand the forces at play in the current information climate brought on by the COVID crisis.  DeBruin suggests that by exposing information to the right audiences, for example, and tracking journal articles as revisions are made, might improve the process of the dissemination of accurate information. Science is truth-seeking and it is a process that takes time. Let this current crisis provide insight.

The speed at which we receive information and the accuracy of that information is critical in a time of crisis. Careful analysis of the dissemination of information during the COVID crisis reveals both the inherent vulnerability in the flow of information, as well as the breakdown in the scientific process. Most importantly, it provides insight into solutions that may be viable going forward. 

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