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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Medical bloggers flunk ethics review

A new paper, "Examining the Medical Blogosphere: An Online Survey of Medical Bloggers," published last month in the Journal of Medical Internet Research by a pair of Croatian researchers, reveals the following unsettling news about medical bloggers:

59% "often... spend extra time verifying facts"

7% "often... try to obtain permission for copyrighted material

29% "often... post corrections"
Despite those dismal numbers, the authors of the paper somehow managed to write, "Responding medical bloggers demonstrated a captivating level of adherence to best practices generally associated with journalism."

Baffling. (And it's not the incorrect usage of "captivating" that's baffling, although that's also strange.)

Those figures about journalistic ethics are downright embarrassing, and the authors interpret them as encouraging. I suppose that when you're comparing that data to data for general-interest bloggers, the medical bloggers' ethics seem admirable -- but that's like saying that because Harry Truman and Richard Nixon were disliked so universally, then George W Bush, because of his slightly higher approval ratings, must a popular president. That's a variation on the logical fallacy of a false dilemma, presenting medical bloggers and general-interest bloggers as the only relevant comparators in terms of journalistic ethics, when that's certainly not the case.

Or perhaps the authors have fallen into the trap of the ad novitatem fallacy in their excitement about the promise of medical blogging, flawed though it may be.

What reasonable excuse could there be for looking at those numbers and concluding that the bloggers are following journalistic ethics's best practices?

NB: Canadian Medicine is the editors' blog of Parkhurst Exchange magazine, written by professional journalists. We verify our facts, respect copyright law and post corrections when they are warranted.


  1. speaking of "fallacies" ( e.g. accent fallacy)

    Which is the emphasis in their introductory statement?

    ....whether or not they follow practices "associated" with journalism.( a legal disclaimer approach)


    .....whether or not they follow" practices" associated with journalism.( a promise of proofs? )


    ..... whether or not they" follow" practices associated with journalism.( a promise to outline procedures?)

    Which do you think it was?

    With the emphasis on "quantitative" data vs. " qualitative " info it makes you wonder what useful role it plays......... or does it? :)

    As for me... I am a fan of reversing " antithetical statements" as a way of discovering fallacy...... and this does not qualify.

  2. You are completely putting things out of context. If you are going to show some data, then show everything. These were multiple choice questions, and you showed only percentages of those choosing often. Why not show everything. Also, why not show all practices, why leave out the one with the highest percentage. Also why not say that the participants in the survey all provided direct contact information, and that only 25% used a pseudonym. Are you falling under a One-Sidedness fallacy (

    These statements are made in comparison with general bloggers not with scientific papers. And yes they are astonishing, because you would never expect these from bloggers.

  3. Canadian Medicine is the editors' blog of Parkhurst Exchange magazine, written by professional journalists.

    Yes? Who are these journalist? I see that SAM SOLOMON wrote this article. Who is he? Where is his contact information and where is his biography?

  4. ....this is reflective of recognised expertise(taught at graduate level)

    P.S. looking forward to broader "qualitative" research on this matter
    ( beyond subjectively reactive )

  5. Which blogs did this study choose? Different blogs have very different missions even though they all fall under some general umbrella of a "medical" blog. A lot of these are just people venting about their job and perhaps sharing a funny anecdote. Given that, it seems unlikely they'll see the need to post a retraction if its just some minor fact.