‘It’s not information overload. It's filter failure.” — Clay Shirky
I am frequently surprised by how many colleagues still feel they don't have time to get involved in the Twittersphere. I tell them that Twitter is an essential tool for staying up-to-date in medical toxicology, but they claim much more efficient ways help them keep up with the tsunami of new medical information and literature released daily.
Their reluctance sets me off on a rant, and it isn't pretty: “Really? When was the last time you looked something up in Index Medicus? Do they even publish Index Medicus anymore? Have you browsed the new periodical shelf at the medical library recently? Libraries don't buy many hard copies these days. Do you subscribe to all the important journals in your field? I didn't think so!”
I concluded that they're not really current in their field if they're not on Twitter. OK, this may be a bit of a stretch; other online tools such as RSS feeds broadcasting the tables of content from major journals can help. But so many active, involved clinicians and scientists communicate through tweets that any interesting or important development in toxicology will be heralded by Twitter chatter, and quite early on. There is even some evidence that tweets can predict which studies will subsequently be cited frequently, and that this will be apparent within the first three days an article is published. (J Med Internet Res 2011;13:e123).
To be sure, Twitter can be overwhelming. It's easy to let the number of users you're following balloon out of control. I follow 619 people and institutions with a wide variety of interests: medical toxicology, emergency medicine, critical care, politics, food, literature, and music. I get thousands of incoming tweets every day and, frankly, it's impossible to pay attention to all of them.
I created a subset of 31 users, however, by using Twitter's “list” function so I can concentrate on medical toxicology and poisoning. It is very easy to keep up with activity on this list. (Click on the “Me” icon at the top of your Twitter homepage, then click on “Lists,” then on “Create List.”)
The other way to avoid information overload and filter incoming tweets is to pick carefully who to follow. These tweeters on my toxicology list can help get you started:
@ToxTalk: This active feed from the University of Massachusetts Division of Toxicology is a great source of news and links of interest to medical toxicologists. This same group produces the always-interesting ToxTalk podcast, which is available as a free subscription through iTunes.
@PharmERToxGuy: Bryan Hayes is a toxicologist and clinical emergency medicine pharmacist at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. He tweets about toxicology, drug interactions, pharmacokinetics, and other issues related to emergency care. Bryan also writes regularly for the blog Academic Life in Emergency Medicine.
@ToxHead: Derrick Lung is a medical toxicologist in the department of emergency medicine at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center. His tweets link to journal articles and news reports relevant to the field.
@kane_guthrie: Kane Guthrie is an emergency nurse in Perth, Australia. A utilizer of all forms of social media as a means of furthering medical education, he is one of the hyperactive geniuses behind the amazing clinical blog Life in the Fast Lane. He tweets about toxicology and critical care.
@DavidJuurlink: A prolific author, David Juurlink is a physician in the divisions of general internal medicine and clinical pharmacy at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. His interests include drug safety, adverse drug events, and poisoning, and his tweets are informed by a vast knowledge base befitting his double doctorate (MD, PhD).
@VAHMRS: The Virginia Association of Hazardous Materials Response Specialists sends out updates about HAZMAT incidents and threats, not only in Virginia but also throughout the nation and the world.
@erowid: The Vaults of Erowid (www.erowid.org) is a treasure trove of scientific information relating to psychoactive plants and chemicals as well as self-reported user experiences of uncertain reliability. The organization's twitter feed is essential for following fast-breaking stories related to street drugs, such as the recent series of deaths at summer musical festivals apparently from exposure to the drug “Molly.”
@DoseNation: DoseNation.com calls itself “the blog of modern drug culture.” Its tweets focus on medical marijuana and the culture of psychedelic plants and chemicals.
@acmt: This is the twitter feed for the American College of Medical Toxicology.
@toxrocks: Joe Rotella is an ED registrar (fellow) and toxicology aficionado from Melbourne. He tweets frequently about critical care, poisonings, and medical education.
@deborahblum: Deborah Blum is a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. She is also an amazingly productive tweeter, sending out dozens of messages each week, many dealing with toxicology and environmental issues.
It is also worthwhile to follow a large selection of poison information centers. Often these will provide links to local tox stories that might otherwise stay under the radar. I'd recommend the centers in British Columbia (@BCDPIC), Chicago (@ILPoisonCenter), Charlottesville, VA (@BlueRidgePoison), California (@PoisonInfo), Dallas (@NTXPoisonCenter), Newark (@NJPoisonCenter), and Hennepin County (@MNpoisoncenter).
I'd strongly recommend giving Twitter a try if you're not already using it as a key component of continuing medical education. It's free, easy, and essential. There is a 24/7, worldwide conversation going on, and you're seriously missing out if you are not part of it.
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* Visit Dr. Gussow's blog at www.thepoisonreview.com.
* Follow Dr. Gussow on @poisonreview.
* Read all of Dr. Gussow's past columns at http://bit.ly/GussowToxRounds.
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