10 ways Bates Commencement speaker Dr. Nirav Shah used Twitter humor to build support for Maine’s COVID-19 fight

Among this season’s Commencement speakers, Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control who will deliver the Bates Commencement address on Sunday, May 29, owns one of the most active and entertaining feeds.

How to Watch Commencement

Commencement will be livestreamed on the Bates website and also on the college’s Facebook page. The livestream starts around 9:30 a.m. with the arrival of the academic procession.

Throughout the pandemic, Shah has peppered his serious and straightforward public-health guidance — and there’s lot of it — with social and scientific insights often delivered with wit and humor, serving his 30,000-plus followers a steady diet of puns and dad jokes, plus parody, satire, and outright sarcasm.

The net effect: galvanizing popular support for COVID policies while dismantling specious arguments against them.

Here are 10 of our favorite Nirav Shah tweets.

1. Pointing out the danger of confirmation bias

At Bates, students are encouraged to interrogate their biases, an important tool for sorting out fact from fiction. In this tweet, Shah reminds us all how easy it is for our brains to assign truth to the findings that we’re already inclined to agree with.

2. Getting giddy with the Diet Coke account

It became fun to follow the good doctor’s unabashed love of the soda Diet Coke (a “somance?”), including this exchange with the beverage’s Twitter account, ending with serious reminder that it’s the little things that matter — and a punny reference to finding the “light.”

3. No such thing as bad press (or photos)

Shah shares a self-deprecating photo to celebrate vaccine success.

4. He can tease without being mean

Another deft touch, this time responding to a story about vaccination rates by astrological sign.

5. Drawing on a deep trove of pop culture: “conscious uncoupling”

Back in 2014, in a shocking display of Hollywood PR-speak, actor Gwyneth Paltrow infamously referred to her separation from husband Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, as “consciously uncoupling.” In April, Shah mined that pop-culture nugget to educate Mainers on how COVID-19 infections were rising, yet hospitalizations weren’t.

6. Engaging with Stephen King on his microwaved salmon recipe

“You come at the king, you best not miss” — it’s not from Macbeth but The Wire‘s Omar Little. Shah certainly did not miss in his witty rejoinder to a tweet by the legendary Maine author Stephen King, who had earlier shared his unusual approach to cooking salmon: microwaving it. Let us repeat that: Microwaving…salmon.

7. Being honest and philosophical about uncertainty

To underscore the near impossibility of accurately identifying and confirming trends while in the midst of a pandemic, Shah ends this tweet sequence with a quote attributed to the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

8. Setting boundaries when the pandemic fire hose is on you

Even the director of the Maine CDC needs a break from thinking about a pandemic outbreak. Like so many others, with this tweet Shah shows that everyone needs to protect their mental health during this all-encompassing public health challenge.

9. Being human…like letting us see who his best friend might be

Nothing fancy, but always worth saying.

10. Using a big winter storm to satirize those who resist science-driven COVID precautions and guidance

The Onion has nothing on Shah when it comes to using satire and irony to make a point.

In an epic 16-tweet thread last winter as a snowstorm approached, he adopted the persona of a typical anti-science/anti-vaxxer/anti-masker to deliver a withering rebuttal those who oppose science-based guidance.

This first tweet set up the premise:

Then mock-Shah starts hitting his stride. He tweets that he shouldn’t have to salt the walkway he shared with neighbors: “Can’t people who are vulnerable to slips and falls just stay inside?”

Then he references a parking ban to take on folks who oppose shutdowns: “My town implemented a ‘parking ban’ too. They say it’s to help them keep roads cleared. But it really amounts to the government telling me, a taxpayer, what I can and can’t do with my own private property. Didn’t we fight a war against England to prevent this?”

And mentions interstate speed-limit slowdowns to tease folks who generally oppose COVID mandates: “[The state] will reduce the speed limit on the interstate during this supposed ‘storm.’ That is unbelievable! How dare they limit my ability to drive whatever speed I want when conditions aren’t safe?”

Finally, you don’t need gloves!