Social media and evidence-based practice: What good are blogs anyway?

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In preparation for my (and Dean Giustini and Francisco Grajales’s) workshop at the Cochrane Canada Symposium entitled “Using Social Media to Promote Evidence-Based Practice“, we have been pouring over literature, past presentations and other resources to figure out the best way to deliver a current and relevant workshop to the Cochrane community.

We met last night to discuss the various planning ideas that we had gathered so far for the workshop, and ended up having a great discussion on the biomedical blogosphere in general, and what, if any, roles the reflective learning and collaboration that blogs are so good at fostering play in the promotion and improvement of best evidence.

It’s true that in some fields, the amount of bloggers seriously taking a critical look at reviewing and synthesizing research literature may be thin (not every article gets the same treatment as the IBS/placebo study in PLoS One). No blogger can hope or aspire to replace the work that systematic reviews do in assembling, reviewing and appraising the state of the biomedical literature on a given research question. But they can promote discourse, even if it does not always bear directly on the improvement of a clinical treatment for a certain condition.

As we know, no evidence from a single source is complete. Certainly not from a celebrity blogger, but also not even necessarily from a world-renowned journal. One of the purposes that blogs serve is to equalize the publishing field, allow a commentary on certain (or any) topics and foster an overall engagement with evidence and practice that is simply not possible on another medium. Letters to the Editor may be the closest analogue but there are only so many published in any given issue, and, perhaps worse, they often face the same access restrictions that the full-text articles do. (Also, and this is an honest question: without a paper issue to flip through, do people read those anymore?)

I know we touched on more during our meeting, but I thought I would jot down these notes for now, leave them up to marinate for a month or so and see if my own or other reactions have changed at all between now and February. As we continue planning and I work this week on a one-pager about Twitter and EBM, there will likely be more ideas floating around.



4 thoughts on “Social media and evidence-based practice: What good are blogs anyway?

  1. Great post, and topic. It has been brought up in the medical library field as well. Will blogging replace publishing for getting those quick thoughts down. I also often hear Twitter and Facebook are going to replace blogging. I don’t think one will replace the other, but as you state will supplement each other. The question becomes what is the best practice for blogs to supplement published literature.
    To answer this question I would think you would have to look at the current issues with blogs. As you pointed out they are not peer-reviewed, unless you count comments as peer-review. Additionally, many blogs (like mine) have sporadic posts. Is the lack of consistency an issue? Or is it the lack of promoting? Validating the authors credentials? Peer review of blog posts? Several questions come to mind. I would be very interested in your results from this review.
    Great job and awesome project!


  2. Hi Daniel,

    I should have had you write the minutes for our meeting — you captured its essence very well.

    From my perspective as a health librarian, I use my blog very different today than when I was starting out and especially before Twitter arrived for me in 2008.

    The content of my blogging is getting more pithy and pointing to my wiki and Twitter observations as time passes. I also use the blog to promote my workshops, and the learning objects such as ppts and handouts that I create.

    In other words, I use the blog infrequently for personal reflection. When I do, I also try to repurpose content for the wiki which has more permanence than my blog.

    And, of course, I always tweet new posts and wiki entries.



  3. Thanks for the comments. Alicia, it is difficult to establish credibility and consistency as a blog author, but I think that applying peer-review or some similar system defeats the personal insights or perhaps purposefully inflammatory things that bloggers do. You have to take the good with the bad, and it will be up to the community to decide what to do with what is written. The primary appeal and utility of blogging is that it is easy and open to people of all levels of ability. Just like in publishing, the good stuff rises to the top, and the other stuff, well, it serves a purpose, too sometimes (as an example of what NOT to do).


  4. Dean, I have noticed that your blog is becoming more and more of an archive, and I think in some ways that you are reversing a trend in which most people used to blog short snippets of other sites/resources as a way to curate the web. More and more, I see people doing less of that style of blogging in favor of longer, reflective writing because their resource sharing is done through other means (Twitter). But, from a librarian POV that we all share, the curation and high-quality resource sharing is just as important as ever.


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