I’ve used Twitter since 2008, but never has it been more vital to my work and news diet than throughout 2020, and continuing into this year. The discussions by physicians, infectious disease experts and epidemiologists about SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 and the pandemic, in general, has been invaluable for a journalist covering these topics. It’s hard to pick one favorite thing about the evolution of Twitter discourse since the pandemic has begun, but definitely high on the list is the trend of peer review threads on the site.
Peer review is the process by which journal papers are reviewed for quality, clarity, usefulness and robustness by other researchers in the field before publication. Preprints are papers that have not yet gone through peer review. But anyone who covers medical research knows that simply having been peer-reviewed is no guarantee that a paper really is high-quality or deserved to be published. (Spend some time at Retraction Watch for all the evidence you need.)
Enter Twitter peer review: An individual scientist can take a paper and deconstruct the data, the limitations, the strengths, the findings and the conclusions, often (albeit not always) in lay terms. I’ve found these peer review threads invaluable in helping me make sense of the daily tsunami of research each day about the pandemic, COVID-19 and the coronavirus itself.
Self-described “Health Nerd” Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz is one of the most prolific Twitter peer reviewers and, I’ll admit, my favorite. That’s in part because I followed the Australian epidemiologist for years before the pandemic, and he’s often helped me in my work. See below just a smattering of his peer review threads:
- A study about vitamin C and COVID-19
- A vitamin D study related to COVID-19
- A May 2020 from John Ioannidis on COVID-19’s infection fatality rate
- Another Ioannidis paper in October 2020
- The same Ioannidis paper (sort of) on COVID-19 infection fatality rate
- A September 2020 RCT on a therapy for COVID-19
- An August 2020 meta-analysis on honey for coughs
- An August 2020 study on caffeine during pregnancy
- A March 2021 study on whether staying at home prevents COVID-19 deaths
- A January 2021 paper on lockdowns
Meyerowitz-Katz did not invent the peer review thread (I have no idea who did), and he’s certainly not the only one who does it. See below for another sampling of this trend. If you want to know who to follow to see these peer reviews in real-time, the folks below are a good start:
- Not a peer review exactly, but an excellent thread on predatory publishers from scientist Elisabeth Bik, who has done other peer review threads, including this participatory one.
- A thread by demographer Ilya Kashnitsky on a truly awful JAMA Network Open paper on loss of life years from missing school during the pandemic
- A thread by epidemiologist Nicola Low about a study on viral load of SARS-CoV-2 in children
- A thread by epidemiologist and biostatistician Zöe Hyde about guidance on school opening from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto
- A thread by scientist Antonella Succurro about a paper from Nature Communications on academic mentorship
- Again not quite about peer review exactly, but a (somewhat ironic) thread about science-by-Twitter from science philosopher and evolutionary biologist Yogi Jaeger