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  • Pauline Hoffmann

Time is of the essence...

What's next in our "how do we know it's legit" puzzle? Date of publication. What does UC Berkeley's Library resource have to say about date of publication (taken directly from its website)?

  • When was the source first published?

  • What version or edition of the source are you consulting?

  • Are there differences in editions, such as new introductions or footnotes?

  • If the publication is online, when was it last updated?

  • What has changed in your field of study since the publication date?

  • Are there any published reviews, responses or rebuttals?

Why does this matter? Oh, it matters a great deal. Let's talk.

One of the things I often say to students is that it is difficult to find a textbook that works for a class about social media anything (I have managed to find some good ones, though). Why is that? The length of time it takes to write a textbook, get a publisher, get it published, develop the associated materials for the book, and distribute it/sell it could be a couple of years or more. Social media changes every ten minutes (I exaggerate but not by much). How do you keep a book like this up-to-date? With e-books, it is a bit easier. Updates may be made more easily and quickly.

One may argue that the strategies behind the use of social media don't change. You still need to know what the purpose of your plan is and where social media fits in. Learning about specific social media tools is something you just need to figure out. Yes, sounds like you are talking a bit about an evolution of sorts.

You've already read my newsletter issue about the Scientific Method and how it works (if not, get thee to issue four: The Scientific Method - Let Me Explain). Remember that science is an evolution. It is a process that is constantly in motion. It is one person or team of people working to increase our understanding of the world. Sometimes things change.

Let's look at an example from health care history. Coca-Cola once contained actual cocaine. In the late 1800's - early 1900's, cocaine was legal and was considered safe in small quantities like that present in Coke. Originally, Coca-Cola was sold as a "brain tonic and intellectual beverage." I bet there were plenty of stimulating conversations had by intellectuals who consumed it. What changed? Science and time. Whoops, turns out cocaine is dangerous even in small quantities.

Another example - Before physicians knew much about women, any unexplained medical problem was dubbed "hysteria." That is, any problem a woman presented to her doctor that didn't fit the usual symptoms was just dumped into the hysteria bucket. The cure? Genital stimulation with a vibrator. Yes, you read that correctly. The late 1800's - early 1900's may have been a good time to be alive!

Where am I going with this? Time is important. If I were to read an article in a medical journal from 1859, say, I might think the cause of my ailment (I am a woman) is hysteria and I might try the suggested cure. While I may enjoy that, it likely won't cure what ails me. If I look at more recent medical studies, I may find what my problem actually is and may take steps to alleviate said issue. Time of publication matters.

The two examples I gave are certainly simplistic. Let's take a deep dive into a different example. This one may seem familiar. And you may stop reading but stay with me. It will be worth it.


Do you remember late 2019/early 2020? I think we all do. What did we know? We knew that it was a virus originating in Wuhan, China that spread rapidly. We didn't completely know how it was transmitted. If you recall the early days we were told to wear masks to safeguard ourselves and others. This is certainly wise advice to prevent any sort of spread of an airborne disease. I also recall that people would have groceries delivered but would keep them outside for a period of time or would wipe everything off, including the mail. We weren't quite sure if the virus could live on solid surfaces and for how long. We also didn't know how it might impact certain groups of people. We did learn that those who were older and/or those with comorbidities didn't fare as well and may have been more susceptible to dying.

Then there is long Covid. We are still understanding the impact of that.

Wear masks. Practice social distancing by staying six feet away from others. Don't convene in large crowds. Stay indoors. Cancel everything.

Some of the confusion may have lied in not knowing what we were dealing with at first but also in thinking we were dealing with something we'd seen before. Covid is a respiratory infection that presented as pneumonia-like. It was treated as such but it was found that treatments for pneumonia didn't work against Covid. The rush to a vaccine was on! Enter mRNA vaccines. Then recall the conversation about the rush to vaccine creation. (I will tell that story in a different issue.)

The timeline was rapid. The world shut down. Then the finger-pointing. I recall hearing people say "you told us we had to wipe everything down and now we don't have to." That's right. Precautions because we didn't have all the information. We were asked to do things based on past experience with similar viruses before we knew we weren't really dealing with a similar virus - or not similar enough.

This led to widespread disinformation that spread as quickly as Covid itself! Think about the rumors and outright untruths associated with the virus. A plot by China to stop the world's economy. A plot by democrats in the U.S. to prevent the reelection of President Trump. An overreaction to the flu. I could go on.

If we go back to early 2020 and read some of the news reports or journal articles about Covid, we would have a very different picture of the disease than reading an article from 2022. Time matters. Think about that when you encounter a story or seek information. When was the report you are reading first published? Has it been updated? Have reputable others commented on it and made adjustments? Have there been additional studies that add to that research or that debunk it?

Are there seminal studies we still look to that are old? Sure. I often reference Diffusion of Innovations in my classes and other work. It it a theory posited in 1962. That's old by research standards. It still holds up. Have others done research in this area? Absolutely they have but, to my knowledge, no one has changed the theory. We still talk about innovators, early adopters, etc. We still reference opinion leaders. We still reference Everett Rogers.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid is another seminal study explaining motivations. We still reference it pretty much as it was created. To be fair, I used to use the five-tier model; there are now seven tiers. Evidently, we needed to focus on knowledge and beauty also since 1943.

Speaking of needs....I feel a bout of hysteria coming on. (Was that TMI?)

Time is of the essence.

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