Monday, November 23, 2020

Evaluating Information During Covid-19: Preprints, Retractions, Rumors, and more ...

Evaluating Information During Covid-19: Preprints, Retractions, Rumors, and more ...

Presented by Erica Brody and Hillary Miller, Librarians at Virginia Commonwealth University.  This program was sponsored by he NNLM.   Learn more and register to get MLA credit.  

Description: In the midst of a global pandemic, every person has to balance the “need for speed” with the risks of moving too fast. Healthcare providers seek reliable information about treatments while making immediate life-or-death decisions. Researchers investigate biological mechanisms and interventions to combat COVID-19 and share their findings as quickly and responsibly as possible. And each of us wades through the flood of headlines and rumors for answers that will keep us safe. Looking at the case of hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19, we will explore the risks and rewards of different forms of information, from published articles to tweets.

Learning Objectives:

    • Navigate the quickly shifting landscape of information in a pandemic.
    • Describe ways to approach the quality of information that is being produced and disseminated at a faster pace than ever seen before
    • Identify the limitations and cautions of relying on a single source of information for decisions

This was one of the BEST 1-hour webinars I've seen in a long time.  Erica Brody and Hillary Miller addressed many of the questions I've been wrestling with this year as a health science librarian during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.  

Using the example of Hydroxychloroquine, Brody & Miller trace the timeline of when it first emerged as a possible treatment for Covid-19 in Jan - Feb 2020, to the point where people started demanding it from their health care providers, despite any real or conclusive evidence that it worked.   

This whole evolving story of Hydroxychloroquine had me baffled as it was happening --  The research I had done clearly discounted it as a treatment for Covid, yet friends on Facebook and social media insisted that it worked, that "scientists were hiding the truth."  

Brody and Miller put Preprints and Preprint servers in their rightful place in the hierarchy of evidence.

Further, they offer Tools & Tips for Navigating an Infodemic:


  1. Retraction Watch and the Zotero Plugin can comb through your "library" flagging any citations that were retracted.
  2. Publons - Post publication Peer Review
  3. to id articles that support / refute findings.   It works as a browser extension in Chrome, tracking 700+ million articles, many with big name publishers.


  • Do NOT rely on a single study.
  • Obtain evidence from multiple sources.
  • Verify IF and HOW peer review was done.
  • Researcher's expertise should be specific to the study. Beware of celebrity doctors.
  • What do the authors say about the limitations of their study?
    • What are their conclusions?
    • Was this misrepresented in the media?

Finally, the speakers recommended the following article:

Stick around for the questions after the session.  The audience asked some really interesting and difficult questions that will make you think. 

See more excellent FREE programming from The Network of The National Library of Medicine.

See related: 

Correction of Health Misinformation on Social Media, from September 29, 2020

  • The recording is a little wonky in that the slides didn't kick in until half-way through, but the information is good if you treat it more like a podcast and just listen.  It gives me some hope that not all is lost on this this front.  
  • See info on the 3-part series, including links to course materials and recordings.  

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