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Social Media May Be Killing Scientific Method
Where do you get your information on science? On medical issues? An overwhelming number of us get that “knowledge” from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Scientists are facing some hard truths. An outrageous claim on Facebook or a digitally altered image shared on Pinterest can have further reaching implications than any scientific paper published on a subject, at least as far as the general public is concerned.
Untested, unsubstantiated, and often untrue medical "facts" can be posted and seen by millions of people in a number of hours, compared with genuine, thoroughly researched facts, which take months or years to amass.
A case in point: A paper entitled "On pins and needles: how vaccines are portrayed on Pinterest" was recently published in the journal Vaccine. Researcher Jeanine P.D. Guidry and her team at Virginia Commonwealth University collected 800 vaccine-related pins to assess the state of popular opinion across the platform.
A full 75 percent of vaccine-related pins were negative toward vaccines. Those ranged from relatively mild questions regarding their safety to more radical claims that vaccines are specifically designed to kill people. Of the negative pins, 20 percent mentioned conspiracy theories; these included collusion with pharmaceutical companies and governmental plans to control population levels through vaccine deaths.
The team hopes their findings will motivate scientists to keep in step with the sweeping changes in modern communication. Guidry concluded, "These are real fears that people have -- from a public health perspective, we need to talk to people about their fears. But first we need to know what's happening. Up to this point, we didn't even know these conversations were taking place on Pinterest."