Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Puvirajah , Anton


Scientific misinformation spread on social media is a concern for science communicators, health communicators, and science educators alike. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement that modern technology has created an infodemic, undermining the COVID-19 response effort. Misinformation spread online threatens public health and can endanger lives. So how do we combat it? The leading solution is education, in particular, equipping individuals with scientific literacy. Scientific literacy, or the ability to critically evaluate, understand, and make decisions regarding scientific information, is the goal of science curriculums globally. There has been much research over the past couple of decades regarding the usage of scientific literacy in formal learning environments. In contrast, the relationship between scientific literacy and online informal learning environments such as social media is not well understood. Our case study sought to help fill this gap in the research by exploring how Canadians employ scientific literacy on Twitter—a popular social media site—when discussing the COVID-19 pandemic. We conducted an exploratory qualitative case study exploring 2 600 tweets originating from accounts with user locations in Canada and shared on Twitter during the first ten months of the pandemic (March 2020 to December 2020) to see whether and how they displayed scientific literacy. In addition,­­ we examined the trends and factors that affect the usage of scientific literacy online. Using qualitative content analysis techniques and supplemental statistical analysis, we found that 10% of tweets sampled displayed scientific literacy, while 2% did not exhibit scientific literacy. There were no interprovincial differences in how Canadians displayed scientific literacy, with all provinces sampled exhibiting scientific literacy in approximately 10% of tweets. Furthermore, scientific literacy was not affected by how often the user tweeted, how many followers they had, or the month the tweet was shared. We discovered a strong relationship between the tweet's topic and if it displayed scientific literacy or a lack of scientific literacy. Our study provides more insight into how scientific literacy is displayed online. Future researchers can use this as a starting point to conduct studies exploring how scientific literacy is employed in online spaces in different locations and contexts globally.

Summary for Lay Audience

In recent years, the amount of scientific misinformation on social media has been concerning to researchers, educators, and citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the amount of misinformation in online spaces. The question in many individuals’ minds is, how do we combat it? The leading solution is to equip individuals with scientific literacy. Scientific literacy refers to the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate, evaluate, understand, and make decisions regarding scientific information. Researchers have studied scientific literacy in classrooms and other traditional education settings for many decades. Unfortunately, less is known about how scientific literacy is used in online environments such as social media. Our study sought to learn more about scientific literacy usage online. We explored how individuals in Canada navigate, discuss, and share information related to the COVID-19 pandemic on Twitter and the use of scientific literacy within these tweets. We also examined what potential factors affect the usage of scientific literacy, such as location, the date the tweet was shared, and the topic. Our study provides further insight into scientific literacy usage online and can inform future studies examining how to combat scientific misinformation on social media.