NULab faculty affiliate Aleszu Bajak, from Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, co-authored a New York Times op-ed with Jeff Howe, also from the School of Journalism, titled “A Study Said Covid Wasn’t That Deadly. The Right Seized It” (May 14, 2020). Bajak, a science and data journalist and the innovation lead for the Co-Laboratory for Data Impact, analyzed networks of tweets to compare the dissemination of “pre-prints” about COVID-19. Pre-prints are studies shared publicly by scientists before peer review to stimulate discussion about a subject of great importance.
Some pre-prints were construed by right-wing commentators as validating their criticism of lockdowns. Bajak’s network analysis of related tweets found that studies with milder projections about COVID-19 spread rapidly on Twitter because of “a few voices sharing to many followers.” But pre-prints with many different conclusions on the virus—not just those that confirm a political view—are shared and debated among scientists on Twitter “within many groups and between fewer followers.” With fewer followers at play, this dialogue is less viral, which for Bajak and Howe is indicative of “a tale of two Internets.”
The op-ed can be found here.