Science Online and the Role of Scepticism #SCIO13 #MedSkep

Last week, Chris Bullin did a lovely post on the tweets at the Science Online 2013 Conference (#SCIO13). I hope it intrigued some of you enough for you to go look at more of the tweets.

Science Online 2013:

As I was tracking the Twitter stream for the conference, I noticed several hashtags being used for specific sessions. They were all wonderful, but I thought #medskep was perhaps the most important one for information professionals, those curating & sharing science information, science journalists, science communication experts, and those trying to persuade and engage science professionals in social media.

Science Online 2013: Session 5E: How to make sure you’re being appropriately skeptical when covering scientific and medical studies (#MedSkep):

Faculty often are engaged in trying to teach critical appraisal within their domain, to encourage students to select and cite more authoritative research in their academic products (ie. homework and research). Librarians share in this effort, teaching strategies for accessing resources of high quality, tips for how to identify high quality, and general skills for critical appraisal and critical thinking. This is a frequent topic of conversations among the profession at large, as well as at our own departmental meetings. We talk about how involved should the librarian be in teaching these skills, how to partner with faculty, how to improve our effectiveness, how to improve both our own skills and our credibility in this area among the students and faculty, and much more. Research is done and articles are written, all about how to help students and journalists and the public better understand the strengths and limitations of science research. Librarians are developing tools and resources to help teach and understand these skills, often in partnership with scientists, and at SCIO13 several scientists and faculty were sharing these, and then other scientists and librarians resharing them!

Sometimes, there is no substitute for taking the words from the most source. This is why the #MedSkep conversation was so powerful. Real scientists connecting with experts in science and critical appraisal (Ivan Oransky and Tara C. Smith) talking freely and honestly in plain language about why scepticism is essential in science literacy, and tips for communicating with special audiences (hint, hint, journalists?) about science.

So here, I want to share some of my favorite tweets from the conversation. I’ve organized them into three sections: Thoughts, Tools & Resources, and Debates. FYI, the debates were almost entirely about medicine and healthcare research, problems with peer review, there were some pointed comments about systematic reviews, and overall, they were … intense.



This is so important, I’m going to BRIEFLY distill the key points, but do please go read the original, in full.

#1 Identify costs, both economic & social or personal.
#2 Identify benefits.
#3 Identify the harms.
#4 How good is the evidence?
#5 Avoid “disease-mongering.”
#6 Use independent sources, and identify conflicts of interest.
#7 Compare the new way to what is existing best (or standard) practice.
#8 Is this new way actually available to the public? How available?
#9 Is this actually novel? As in unique & innovative.
#10 Don’t just crib from a press release.


1) Is Medical Research Really Science?

2) Problems with Peer Review


Here is a blogpost on the session from one of the organizers.

Aetiology: Skeptical science and medical reporting (#Scio13 wrap-up)

And a lovely Storify collecting many more of the tweets. Well worth reading through in its entirely.

#medskep session at #Scio13


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