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Two years in blogging

Ami Banerjee
Last edited 7th January 2011

All great thoughts start in the pub. That is my conclusion nearly two years after I started blogging about evidence-based medicine and broader issues relating to healthcare with Carl Heneghan. Not satisfied with generally putting the world to rights over a pint, Carl and I decided that there was probably a space for our thoughts about EBM in the current blogsphere. After a process much like choosing the name for a newborn, we named our blog “Trusttheevidence.net” and enrolled help with the website side of things from our friend and IT expert, Al Pirrie. From the outset, we set out to give examples of good and bad research in the media relating to healthcare, with a particular emphasis on unpacking the numbers. The key was “giving it a go” and being prepared to learn and evolve.

A strength of our blog is that we are two different people with different outlooks and different ways of writing. Carl is a GP and Director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, whereas I am a hospital-based cardiology registrar with a big interest in global health. Therefore, we are often drawn to different areas of the medical literature and news media. It is fair to say that we did not know where the blog would take us, but we wanted to take advantage of blogging as a means of disseminating stories about clinical evidence, and set out to try to write one story per week, which we have often exceeded when stories are too interesting to miss! From the dirth of research evidence for use of Tamiflu in swine flu to Barack Obama’s interest in EBM, from research ethics to cardiac rehabilitation, the stories have kept coming.

The first learning point for me has been the considerable connectivity that comes from having a blog. A blog is a totally blank canvas left to the individual’s discretion. We have used ours to give opinions, write educational pieces about EBM, dissect the statistics in scientific articles, exchange ideas with other interested parties and much more. The speed and breadth of response to the blog has often impressed us. A blog on swine flu which I wrote in August 2009 had over 1000 online hits within a couple hours. Timing seems to be important not only in the publication of research and news, but also blogs.

We are able to accurately map who is reading our blog and when, so that we can find out if we can “do it better”. Trusttheevidence.net has synergistically made us improve our methods of horizon scanning the news media, other blogs and scientific literature in the most efficient way possible. The speed of communication is phenomenal and we can now make use of all channels of research dissemination. The model of a journal publishing an article and waiting a few months for correspondence to be published in response is a dated, but largely universal concept, and blogging has opened my eyes to the possibilities of quicker peer review, greater openness of data and more discussion between researchers. The recent Evidence 2010 conference in November illustrated how greatly in need of change the existing culture of medical evidence really is, with representatives from all stakeholders in healthcare and from all over the world in agreement.

The surprise has been that keeping up-to-date does not have to be time-consuming although it does require organisation and having the right tools in the form of a smart phone, Twitter applications etc. This has allowed me to blog while at conferences, abroad or even during my clinical job as a cardiology trainee. It did however mean that laptops and smart phones were banned on my honeymoon this summer!

Our blog is transmitted via our blog website, Facebook and Twitter. We have been tweeting since June last year. The power of Twitter as a quick exchange of information and flagging up interesting new evidence or stories was totally unexpected, and it has probably surpassed blogging as a means of rapid scientific communication. Carl now manages the “cebmblog” Twitter account which now has over 1000 followers, and I recently decided to enter the brave new world of Twitter myself as “amibanerjee1”. I am totally sold on the tremendous scope of Twitter for good in EBM.

Carl is an experienced writer and blogging has given me the opportunity to firstly learn from him, but also to develop and practice my own style. I have particularly enjoyed the balances between opinion and evidence and between power of story and statistics. The chance to experiment which a blog affords is unparalleled, whether in the teaching of EBM or in posting immediate replies to controversial new research, such as vitamin B in Alzheimer’s disease or the predictive value of brain scanning in autism. We look forward to plenty more blogging in 2011!

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