In the world of science blogging, there are those who cite the literature, those who don’t, and never the twain shall meet. This is the main finding from a network analysis of blogs about diabetes.
The article, “Investigating biomedical research literature in the blogosphere: a case study of diabetes and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c)” by Anatoliy Gruzd and others, appears in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of the Medical Library Association.
Using a combination of Web mining, content analysis, and social network analysis, the researchers analyzed how bloggers incorporated the medical literature in their blog posts.
They report that just 10% of the 3,005 blogs on diabetes cited the biomedical literature. The most influential blogs, however, were not the ones that cited the literature. As measured by in-links (hyperlinks from other blogs), the most influential blogs were written by diabetes patients who largely ignored the scientific literature and cited other non-authoritative blogs. Even health resources, written in nonspecialist language and designed specifically for patient education, were being largely ignored. Just 6% of diabetes blogs linked to MedlinePlus, a patient-oriented site provided by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.
[O]nly a small portion of published articles is cited in the blogosphere. This finding may reflect the fact that bloggers and blog readers are not using blogs to discuss or look for health information, but for other purposes such as sharing personal stories and emotional support
A content analysis of those blogs that did cite the biomedical literature written, for the most part, by health professionals and librarians. In spite of their best intention to translate the biomedical literature for the public, their work remains largely uncited by diabetes patient bloggers. To Gruzd, this illustrates a communication gap between health professionals and patients.
The social network analysis of diabetes blogs illustrates the sociological principle of homophily, the tendency of individuals with similar socio-economic status, preferences, or behaviors to form tight relational bonds that limit their interaction with those outside their network.
While homophily helps build trust and cohesion to groups, it can also help to isolate them. The social network analysis of diabetes blogs may suggest that new developments in medicine may simply not be reaching bloggers and their readers.
If birds of a feather flock together, as the old adage goes, the same can be said about bloggers.