Publication date: Sep 22, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique opportunity to study science communication and, in particular, the transmission of consensus. In this study, we show how “science communicators,” writ large to include both mainstream science journalists and practiced conspiracy theorists, transform scientific evidence into two dueling consensuses using the effectiveness of masks as a case study. We do this by compiling one of the largest, hand-coded citation datasets of cross-medium science communication, derived from 5 million Twitter posts of people discussing masks. We find that science communicators selectively uplift certain published works while denigrating others to create bodies of evidence that support and oppose masks, respectively. Anti-mask communicators in particular often use selective and deceptive quotation of scientific work and criticize opposing science more than pro-mask communicators. Our findings have implications for scientists, science communicators, and scientific publishers, whose systems of sharing (and correcting) knowledge are highly vulnerable to what we term adversarial science communication.
Open Access PDF