post by Bill Gardner
Or perhaps I should have titled this, "How the social media are building a distributed, collective, and associative memory."
Yesterday I was thinking about the problems of implementing evidence-based clinical practices in medicine and mental health, stimulated by posts on pilot interventions by Megan McArdle and Harold Pollack. A chain of searches that I cannot now reconstruct lead me to a great post by Andrew Gelman, with a great sentence, "Descriptive statistics are not just for losers." The point I took from his sentence is that although causal inference in social science is paramount, it is not everything. The collection of data that identify an unanticipated correlation also matters, even if we do not yet understand the mechanisms that produce that correlation.
I love to tweet great sentences, so I sent that out with a link to Gelman's post. Harold Pollack liked the sentence -- probably not knowing that I had been thinking about his writing when I tweeted it -- and he retweeted my tweet. Someone else in the twitterverse eventually read the tweet and liked the sentence enough to write to Gelman about it.
Gelman, curiously, had forgotten that he had ever written that post, but searched his blog, and discovered that he too liked the post.
I thanked my correspondent for reminding me of this little article I’d forgotten, and he told me he just learned of it via someone’s tweet.
He then wrote a post about rediscovering his post, and speculating that
Maybe I should have a twitter feed of nothing but old blog entries. I could just go back to 2004 and then go gradually forward, tweeting the items that I judge to remain of interest.
Which is not a bad idea. Google Reader brought me to Andrew's post about rediscovering his earlier post. So we had a chain of communications across a couple of media that originated in my tweet and completed a circuit coming back to me.
This circuit was a rumination in the 'hive mind' about data and its role in clinical or educational practice change. Let's cash out the 'hive mind' metaphor as the vast neural net of associations between concepts implemented most directly through hyperlinks (the image at the top is a representation of del.icio.us). Let's think of the circuit as an activation spreading through the net. Then what we accomplished through this circuit of tweets and posts was strengthened the probability that people writing/searching/thinking about implementation science will come across Gelman's meta-statistical thinking. If that probability has increased, then the global mind got a little smarter.