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Forget gurus, the cult of the evidence-based blogger has taken over ... 'Biased BLOG Bingo'



I had the pleasure of reading an excellent article by Will Self called ‘The awful cult of the talentless hipster has taken over’ … I didn’t necessarily agree with his diatribe entirely, but I lapped up the trademark dour humour, empathised with his view and thoroughly enjoyed the read. Then in a bizarre moment of thought association, my mind turned to my own area of interest (Health Sciences and evidence based practice … though this undoubtedly pertains to medicine and all other areas of health care) ... I began to ponder ‘the cult of the evidenced based blogger’, which now appears to pervade the zeitgeist of our increasingly confused World

Don’t get me wrong, our World is important (to us … and the people we care for, hopefully) as is the evidence. I like and respect (most) bloggers (cos’ they’re out there), I blog myself … But sometimes I begin to wonder about the whole process, or perhaps question the motives of the bloggers (myself included).

Bloggers these days are ubiquitous; everyone seems to be having a go and some appear to be very authoritative. Yet blogging is a strange and precarious pastime/hobby/profession, which is both time and thought consuming. So, unless they are getting paid for it (some are … Will Self falls into that category), one would have to debate what motivates the ardent blogger. Shouldn’t they have just gone out for a run or cycle ride or something?

What would actually drive someone to spend valuable time writing and airing their thoughts on any topic? What drives them to risk an avalanche of comment/critique if their particular diatribe hits the wrong button, or perhaps, a rising tide of gushing agreement from the ‘Bloggioso’ or the ‘Twitterati’ for their latest fashionable and populist masterpiece?

Some blogs are really helpful (or are they?) because they interpret and decipher some of those peer reviewed papers (which to be fair, may be a bit complex/wordy). So blogs may appear really helpful for those busy clinicians who only get limited time for reading/analysing the latest news on their topic.

One clear attraction of blogging (for bloggers), unlike the restricted writing of peer review for instance, which requires writers to declare conflicts of interest ... is that you can say what you like … and it is clear that some bloggers ‘like what they say’.

But … is what they/we say, prone to confirmation BIAS or subject to ‘conflicts of interest’ as a result? To help my own decision making, I decided to gather a concoction of my own observations on some of the blog sites that may be influencing how we think and view evidence. Some bloggers may see parts themselves or their writing in one or all of the types (I did). That's not really the intention. Rather, it is for readers to see how a topic may, or may not, be spun.

I'll leave you to decide what you think ... Perhaps after a lighthearted game of 'biased BLOG bingo'.

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Forget gurus, the cult of the evidence-based blogger has taken over ... 'Biased BLOG Bingo'

  1. 1. ‘Forget gurus, the cult of the evidence based blogger has taken over …’ Biased Blog Bingo A presentation blog via Tayloralanj
  2. 2. Think about bloggers … … how do they write? What is the risk of bias …?
  3. 3. First … Check out a few ‘blog types’! https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/5379885034/
  4. 4. 1. Altruistic/educational/hobby blogger Blogs about a variety of topics of interest to potential readership. Evidence based (EB), educational conduit, who likes to hear the sound of his/her voice … Keeps up to date and an open mind. Avoids extremism and generally goes out of his/her way to avoid bias. Likes a little devilish humour and for folks to read his/her blog. No commercial interests, no adverts. Altruistic profile builder. Moderate use of social media (SoMe) to promote blogs. Ego driven, altruistic, no nonsense. Checks blog metrics occasionally. Likes to be asked to ‘guest blog’. Secretly hopes for a trip to Hawaii to speak on his/her latest blog topic. Conflict of interest - Nil of note.
  5. 5. 2. Student blogger Students who (led by their University Professor) have entered the World of blogging, without actually knowing what they have let themselves in for. Main qualities are passion for the topic and enthusiasm. Downfall may be inexperience (blogging), naivety and failure to critique, or cover the topic from a wide and unbiased perspective. May find themselves, unwittingly at the sharp end of criticism from outraged readers. Not always prepared for this. Variable use of SoMe use … that is until they realise blog metrics contribute to their overall assessment mark. Comments are enabled and not moderated … until they get thoroughly blasted by someone. Not entirely sure ‘exactly’ where Hawaii is, but would love to go. Conflict of interest - Main thing is to pass the assessment!
  6. 6. 3. The ‘snake oil seller’ So enthusiastic about their particular brand of ‘snake oil’. They forgot, or chose not … to support any of their claims with even a shred of evidence. They tend to rely entirely on anecdote and personal recommendation from users of the product/idea/treatment technique. Comments are moderated to include more anecdotal claims or gushing personal endorsements. Commercial interests are generally utmost on their minds and they will ALWAYS have an advert for their particular type of ‘snake oil’ on their blog. This blogger, will be targeted mercilessly by bloggers number 5 and 7, generally to no effect (as they live in their own World, or maybe Hawaii). Heavy use of SoMe. The course for this is product /idea/service is ‘brilliant’, said … A Delegate. Conflict of interest – Zero (there is no conflict, as the sole interest is sales). A modern day ‘medicine show’. Entirely and unashamedly biased.
  7. 7. 4. Society or organisation ‘news’ blogger Generally low-key interest/news articles for members. Designed to update folks on the latest development in the field of interest/profession. Tend to report and stick to facts, seldom court controversy and may tend to be a little bland. Media spokesperson quotes some ‘evidence’, but may not always be in context or entirely up to date. Low to moderate use of SoMe for promotion of blogs/articles. Comments commonly disabled. No humorous content. Bland content, seldom gives opportunity for bias. Metrics? Hawaii? Shop? ... Pardon me!? Metrics, conflict of interest, Hawaii? Err …. pardon?
  8. 8. 5. EBM proponent/targeted attacker Wily, slick operator, who picks a specific (often universally disliked target) and exposes it/them mercilessly. Provides reams of evidence to back up his/her claims. The best of these will end up on a TV show or deliver a TED talk. Heavy use of SoMe to promote blogs. Commercial interests may include books, newspaper articles, TV appearances, talks etc. Sycophants and wannabees will include them in a Tweet in the hope of a rebound (seldom works). Comments ARE enabled, and this blogger loves to argue the toss with anyone who cares to have a go. May use incisive humour or complex statistics. Naturally biased towards own (often populist views) and magical manipulator of the evidence base. This blogger loves notoriety. Metrics are through the roof (seldom needs to check) Regular trips to Hawaii, via private jet. Conflict of interest? ‘Pah … call my booking agent’. The rest … (Type 5b), may end up looking looking like compulsive EBM blog wannabees, with a particular axe to grind. These yet to be successful 5b’s … are feverishly typing whilst waiting for ‘the phone call’ and busily fending off ad hominem attacks from ‘outraged of Tunbridge Wells’ or assorted trolls.
  9. 9. 6. The evangelical blogger Combines the friendly bonhomie of blogger type 1 with the spin of blogger 3 and has a clear underlying mission of promoting a particular product/method or school of thought. May have a track record in peer review publication, suggestive of authority. Entirely convinced by the sanctity of their chosen path/product. Extreme evangelists will preach sermons which lambast non-believers or other 'churches' as unseeing heretics. Routinely cherry pick evidence, to support their particular bias. Blog comments are ALWAYS moderated and predominantly populated by devout and enthusiastic disciples. Humour is not a common feature of their writing. Strong evidence base, but a stoic adherence to one doctrine/product/method, leads to blogs that are littered with confirmation bias and supported by cute stories. Heavy use of SoMe for promotion. Strongly motivated by metrics and sales. They ... and only they, will lead you to salvation. Conflict of interest - You can join the latest crusade (in Hawaii) next week, which ironically coincides with their latest blog (submit HERE to apply). Merchandise shop? Click here.
  10. 10. 7. Frustrated, change agent blogger This passionate and profuse blogger, is entirely frustrated by the speed at which his/her profession effects change. Routinely blogs about ‘the evidence’, which demands the immediate abolition of out-dated ideas, methods and products, which have been ‘shown to be ineffective’. May occasionally therefore, resemble the ‘internet evidence police’, on particularly rampant days. Fiercely believes that the only valid evidence is the ‘gold-standard’ RCT. Often omits to offer any EB alternatives (to the discarded idea/method/product), thus risks leading his/her followers into an ‘evidence based’ … yet tool-less cul-de-sac. Energetic, authoritative and challenging. Possesses the qualities (or otherwise) of all of the above in varying doses. Generally means well, and big fan of blogger type 5a. Couldn’t make the conference in Hawaii, but hopes to be there next year (recently spoke in Milton Keynes/Basildon). Busy writing another blog in the mean time. Loves Twitter. Metrics matter. Currently working on a few potential Conflicts of interest
  11. 11. NOW …
  12. 12. Disclaimer: This presentation does not pertain to any bloggers called ‘Hamlin’ … or anyone else, it is simply a parody conglomeration of stereotypes 
  13. 13. 10 points = ‘BINGO’ (start at zero) … Remember to shout ‘BINGO’ as loud as you like! The higher the score the MORE biased the blog … GOOD LUCK!
  14. 14. Does this blogger look like a ‘snake oil seller’? (blogger type 3) … Score 6 immediately  Start at zero … Entirely biased
  15. 15. Any evidence…? Does the blog contain ANY credible evidence? … Deduct 1
  16. 16. Anecdotal …? Is the blog full of anecdote, personal experience and endorsements from users of said product/service/doctrine … Score 3
  17. 17. Balance …? Is the blog balanced and offers more than one school of thought? … Deduct 2
  18. 18. Citations …? Does the blog direct you to ALL of its sources? … Deduct 1 Does the blog direct you to just the sources it wants you to read? … Score 2
  19. 19. One way? … One agenda? Does the blog promote ONE specific idea/method, product/service? Score 3 Does the blog report opposing views objectively? … Deduct 2 Does the blog denigrate/mock the ideas of ‘opposing’ researchers? … Score 2
  20. 20. Cherry picker …? Does the blog interpret cherry picked evidence to support an idea/method, product/service? …. Score 2
  21. 21. Blog comments …? Open comments allowed … Deduct 2 Comments moderated … Score 1 Comments disallowed … Score 2 The moderated comments are predominantly congratulations/agreement from ardent ‘followers’? … Score 3
  22. 22. Conflict of interest …? Does the blog or any SoMe associated with the blog … direct you to a specific type of ‘snake oil’/course/product … SHOP? … Score 3
  23. 23. If a blog scored 10+ …‘BINGO!’ Beware … of potential BIAS! Tayloralanj Caution … This presentation blog is entirely biased 
  24. 24. Here is your quick reference ‘biased blog bingo’ guide Let’s play BINGO
  25. 25. See the full blog on blogging …