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Anti-science, partisan tweets like do not use masks or vaccines are of no use and could flag a Covid outbreak in a particular region, scientists have found, a discovery that can help policymakers and public health officials.

Suppose they see the anti-science sentiment on Twitter growing in one region of the country. In that case, they can tailor messages to mitigate distrust of science while also preparing for a potential disease outbreak.

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“Now we can use social media data for science, to create spatial and temporal maps of public opinions along ideological lines, pro- and anti-science lines,” said Kristina Lerman, lead author and a professor at the Viterbi School of Engineering at University of Southern California.

“We can also see what topics are important to these segments of society, and we can plan proactively to prevent disease outbreaks from happening.”

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Resistance to science, including the efficacy of masks and vaccines, poses a challenge to conquering the coronavirus crisis.

The goal of achieving herd immunity won’t happen until society achieves consensus about science-based solutions.

The study’s machine-learning assisted analysis of social media communications offers policymakers and public health officials new tools to anticipate shifts in attitudes and proactively respond.

“We discovered this entirely from social media data that gives detailed clues about where COVID-19 is likely to spread so we can take preventive measures,” said Lerman in a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The researchers further parsed the data by demographics and geography and tracked it over the three-month study period.

This approach allowed for near real-time monitoring of partisan and pseudo-science attitudes that could be refined in high detail aided by advanced computing techniques.

The ability to track public discourse around COVID-19 and compare it with epidemiological outcomes emerged.

Perhaps most encouraging, they discovered that, even in a highly polarised population, “the number of pro-science, politically moderate users dwarfs other ideological groups, especially anti-science groups.”

The results suggest most people are ready to accept scientific evidence and trust scientists.

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