Social media is an obstacle for accurate #science communication – @ConversationUS

How social media can distort and misinform when communicating science

Jacob Groshek, Boston University and Serena Bronda, Boston University

When news breaks – whether the story of a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster – people increasingly turn to the internet and social media. Individuals use Twitter and Facebook as primary sources for news and information. Social media platforms – including Reddit, Wikipedia and other emerging outlets such as Snapchat – are distinct from traditional broadcast and print media. But they’ve become powerful tools for communicating rapidly and without intermediary gatekeepers, like editors.

The problem is that social media is also a great way to spread misinformation, too. Millions of Americans shape their ideas on complex and controversial scientific questions – things like personal genetic testing, genetically modified foods and their use of antibiotics – based on what they see on social media. Even many traditional news organizations and media outlets report incomplete aspects of scientific studies, or misinterpret the findings and highlight unusual claims. Once these items enter into the social media echo chamber, they’re amplified. The facts become lost in the shuffle of competing information, limited attention or both.

A recent workshop about Social Media Effects on Scientific Controversies that we convened through the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Boston University fielded a panel of interdisciplinary experts to discuss their own experiences and research in communicating science online. These public scholars examined the extent to which social media has disrupted scientific understanding. Most indicated it’s more possible than ever for researchers to participate meaningfully in public debates and contribute to the creation and diffusion of scientific knowledge – but social media presents many pitfalls along the way.

Post a lot, know a lot?

Our team from the Emerging Media Studies division at Boston University presented new findings that indicate social media can perpetuate misinformation about antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and may contribute indirectly to the misuse of antibiotics.


Media, microbes and misinformation: Survey evidence of information channels and fatalism in augmenting a global health threat

In a nationwide survey, we found that the more frequently respondents reported posting and sharing any information online to social media, they were increasingly likely to be highly misinformed about AMR. This suggests that those individuals most active in contributing to social media were actually propagating inaccurate information. Our finding follows previous studies of online rumors: people are more likely to believe political rumors and share them with others when they’re received via email from friends or family.

We also found traditional media use – watching television, listening to talk radio, reading newspapers – was also related to higher levels of AMR misinformation. When taken together, our findings suggest there may be a misinformation cycle taking shape. Traditional media exposure, it seems, can be a source of AMR misinformation. Increased posting of content to social media reinforces misinformation, and in our study those higher levels of AMR misinformation are shown to increase the likelihood that individuals will misuse antibiotics. Eventually, such misuse increases antimicrobial resistance, which makes it harder for us to treat illnesses and may give rise to superbugs.

“Scienceploitation” on social media

Another panelist was University of Alberta law and public health professor Tim Caulfield, who actively works to diminish the phenomenon he calls “scienceploitation.” He defines the term as when media reporting takes a legitimate area of science and inaccurately simplifies it for the general public.

Scienceploitation is embodied in especially egregious “click-bait” headlines. Think the Huffington Post erroneously equating a glass of red wine to an hour at the gym, or the viral hoax study that linked eating chocolate with losing weight.

Caulfield himself studies how stem cell clinics market unproven therapies for serious diseases and the way widespread acceptance of these treatments often goes virtually unchallenged on social media. For example, he analyzed Twitter users’ reactions to the (now deceased) former professional hockey player Gordie Howe receiving stem cell treatments in Mexico after a stroke.

 

A vast majority (78.8 percent) of tweets on the topic mentioned improvements to Howe’s health. By contrast, only a single tweet explicitly mentioned that Howe’s stem cell treatment was unproven. Just three tweets out of 2,783 warned that direct-to-consumer stem cell treatments lack the robust body of scientific evidence required for FDA approval.

Caulfield’s work has illustrated how social media can be a vehicle for hype that creates insular bubbles of information and online echo chambers. In these spaces, ideas and misinformation can readily be reinforced because of the lack of diverse viewpoints and critiquing of ideas.

A tone issue

Beyond misinformation, hype, and other forms of scienceploitation on social media, there is at least one other serious threat to the effective communication of science online: the lack of civility in online and social media forums.

Exposure to uncivil comments can increase polarization among users, particularly related to science topics, such as nanotechnology, and perceptions of risk. In another study, we found that civility and politeness decrease when users post comments to social media from mobile devices – a growing issue as more and more people access social media this way.

Together these factors suggest a trend that is hard to break, even when scientists directly and actively engage with the public through social media. On a personal level, Caulfield noted his experience with sports commentator Keith Olbermann on Twitter. Their opinion exchange became contentious after Olbermann hosted on his ESPN television show the owner of the clinic Gordie Howe visited. According to Caulfield:

It was outraging – a 15-minute advertisement for this clinic in Mexico. There was no critical reflection at all…. I tried to engage Keith Olbermann and start talking [on Twitter], and what does he do? He blocks me.

Kevin Folta from the University of Florida, one of the more visible and prominent scientists in the field of genetically modified food, has had similar and even more extreme experiences. At our workshop, he reported receiving bomb threats at his home. He’s often the subject of hostile personal memes, as are many users who actively participate in the debate of scientific facts on social media.

Getting to the root cause of why the discourse devolves so quickly online is difficult. Psychologist John Suler described ingredients that contribute to what he identifies as the online disinhibition effect. Posting to strangers, anonymously, semi-anonymously, or with pseudo accounts factors in. Commenters aren’t face to face with each other and are able to dissociate from the fact they’re dealing with other human beings. Altogether this forms a rationale for why users tend to become uncivil and aggressively defend content that may not even be accurate.

Further, the perceived nasty climate of public opinion in social media spaces may also lead the less outgoing to remain silent rather than enter into a debate where their views may not be treated with respect.

What does work for online communication

Kevin Folta places part of the blame for this communication breakdown on the scientists themselves. He stated that among researchers:

There is a disconnected arrogance that turns off the public and does not get them excited about learning more. Social media and the internet are a conduit of bad information. On social media it’s easy to find information that scares you and scientists are not participating in trying to make it right.

Piper Below, an epidemiologist from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, is a proponent of scientists productively engaging online. She told our workshop that the social media platform Reddit is the greatest opportunity for scientists to accurately get the word out to the public about their research.

On the Reddit site, members share links and posts about a myriad of interests, making it essentially an online bulletin board system. Through Ask Me Anything (AMA) posts – basically a crowd-sourced interview – users submit questions directly to scientists who moderate the discussions and provide detailed answers. Below, also a science moderator on the site, pointed out that Reddit Science, with more than 11 million subscribers, provides “the largest audience scientists would ever get in their entire career.”

Yet even Reddit can leave scientific findings opaque if information is presented in a dense way not easily accessible for a broad public audience.

Some scientists and agencies are pursuing new modes of communication, such as brief scientific animations to summarize and share research. The goal remains increasing understanding and minimizing potential distortion or oversimplification of scientific findings. But these short videos, such as the one we developed for our AMR study, as well as interactive online modules, offer ways to reshape information campaigns.

Social media has been transformative in how it has democratized communication. But it’s a double-edged sword: social media allows scientists to correct misinformation by communicating their findings with public audiences to promote an understanding of complex issues. Equally dangerously, though, social-media activism has the potential not only to distort public understanding of these critical issues but also to disrupt governmental support and policy regulations.

The Conversation

Jacob Groshek, Assistant Professor of Emerging Media, Boston University and Serena Bronda, Master’s Student in Emerging Media Studies, Boston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

@NASA tests SLS rocket booster – video

A booster for the most powerful rocket in the world, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), successfully fired up Tuesday for its second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.

Stomach pump- new FDA approved weight loss device. #isthisforreal

No, this is NOT an onion article… the FDA has just approved a weight loss device called Aspire Assist which is essentially a stomach pump that can directly remove food from your stomach after it has been consumed. Glad we’re doing something to battle the obesity problem in this country, however, what happened to good old fashioned diet and exercise?

The Food and Drug Administration approved a weight loss device on Tuesday that pumps food out of a person’s stomach after they eat a meal.

While some have criticized the device as “assisted bulimia,” the FDA stressed in a statement, that the AspireAssist device is not meant for anyone with an eating disorder, and should only be used by adults 22-and-older who are obese and have failed to lose weight through non-surgical methods.

To place the device, a surgeon makes a tiny incision and endoscopically puts a tube in the patient’s stomach, which is attached to a “disk-shaped port that lies outside the body,” according to the statement.  To drain the contents of the stomach, a person should wait twenty or thirty minutes after they eat, and then attach an external connector to the port and open the valve.

According to the statement, 30 percent of the calories consumed during a meal can be removed by the device, which takes five-to-ten minutes to drain the food from the stomach into the toilet. Continue reading

A hangover that’s out of this world- literally! #TimPeake

What’s it like to return to earth after several months in space? According to Tim Peake, it’s the “world’s worst hangover”. Read on, from the Guardian:

British astronaut Tim Peake is experiencing the “world’s worst hangover” after spending six months in space.

Now back on Earth at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, he faces three weeks of rehabilitation during which he will undergo a barrage of medical tests and maintain a strict exercise regime.

Doctors will draw blood, conduct Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, and question Peake to improve their understanding of the physical and psychological effects of space travel.

The astronaut will also be examined on a tilt table that can rotate his body from a horizontal to a vertical position to monitor how his heart and blood circulation are responding to gravity.

It will take Peake a few days to learn to walk again. Soon after landing in Kazakhstan on Saturday he could be seen making his first attempts at walking in Earth’s gravity supported by two helpers.

Sense of balance is also greatly affected by the transition away from an environment where there is no “up” or “down” as defined by gravity.

On Earth, the vestibular system in the inner ear that keeps us on our feet can be over-stimulated. Dizziness and nausea are common problems experienced by astronauts returning from orbit, as are feelings of faintness caused by a drop in blood pressure.

After arriving in Cologne, Peake said he was experiencing dizziness and vertigo every time he moved his head. Such effects normally disappear very quickly; others could take much longer to recover from and some may cause permanent changes.

Tim Peake is carried to a medical tent after the landing in Kazakhstan.
Tim Peake is carried to a medical tent after the landing in Kazakhstan. Photograph: Bill Ingalls/Rex/Shutterstock

Months in space will have weakened Peake’s muscles and bones and temporarily shrunk the size of his heart. Astronauts lose up to 1.5% of their bone mass for each month spent in space. The loss is greatest in the upper thighs and pelvis, and can increase the risk of injuries such as hip fractures.

Over time, the influence of gravity helps the bone regrow, but full recovery can take as long as three years depending on the individual. Muscles get stronger quickly, but the weakness can be deceptive to begin with and astronauts have reported straining their necks by turning their heads too quickly.

While in space, unprotected by the Earth’s magnetic field, Peake will have been exposed to a radiation dose equivalent to about 1,200 chest x-rays. That is enough to increase his risk of cancer, but not by more than about 3%.

Peake and his crewmates – American Nasa astronaut Colonel Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko – made the trip back to Earth on Saturday in a tiny Soyuz descent module measuring just over 6ft (1.8 metres) across.

Two other elements of their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft – the orbital module providing extra living accommodation while in orbit, and the service module housing propulsion and control systems – were allowed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

As they plunged through the atmosphere, friction on the craft’s forward-facing heat shield slowed its speed from 17,398mph (28,000kph) to 514mph (827kph) and raised the temperature to 1,600C.

The capsule parachuted down to a remote spot on the vast scrubland of the Kazakhstan steppe. A second before touch down, a burst of fire from six retro rockets reduced the impact speed to 3mph.

Peake was the second crew member to be lifted out of the capsule, which was rolled on to its side after landing by a gust of wind. He described the journey as “incredible – the best ride I’ve been on ever” and said he was tempted to celebrate his arrival home with pizza and a cold beer.

On Sunday, Peake flew in to Cologne where he was greeted with a hug from his mother, Angela. His father, Nigel, was also there to meet him. He said: “It’s a job well done, I’m so proud of him and what he’s achieved.”

On Tuesday, Peake will give his first press conference since arriving back on Earth at the European Astronaut Centre, the European Space Agency’s astronaut base.

 

First Zika vaccine to be tested in humans #progress

Reported by CNN:

(CNN)The first human trial of a Zika vaccine will begin soon, Inovio Pharmaceuticals said Monday.

Inovio, which is based in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, and GeneOne Life Science, which is based in Seoul, South Korea, worked together on the vaccine. They previously collaborated to create vaccines for Ebolaand MERS, both of which are being tested.

The Zika vaccine, with the clinical-sounding name GLS-5700, will first be tested in 40 healthy volunteers. The first tests in humans should start in the next few weeks, Inovio said in a news release.
In the animal testing stage, the vaccine caused a strong antibody response, the company said. It is still very early in the vaccine’s development. Phase I of a vaccine trial ensures that it can be tolerated well in human subjects. If successful in this first round of human testing, it will need additional approval for further testing.
At the next stage, the vaccine would be tested on people who have Zika. Then there would be a stage to see how well it works on a larger group of people. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health, is leading a team that is trying a few approaches to a vaccine, including an approach using DNA like Inovio’s does. He believes that trial could start by the end of August. In the coming months, he said, we will probably be hearing about a number of vaccine candidates going into Phase I trials. “This is all good news,” Fauci said.