Tag Archives: blogs

Finding good reads on medical research

If guys can have bromance, surely writers are allowed a little prosemance.

Here, then, is a brief list of some of my favorite medical research bloggers:

Hilda Bastian is the editor and curator of PubMed Health. Check out her new blog for Scientific American, Absolutely Maybe, about uncertainty in medical evidence.  She talks about statistics with cartoons at Statistically Funny.

Dr. Kenneth Lin is a family practice physician in Washington D.C., and one of those people who apparently never sleeps. In addition to his practice, he’s the associate editor of American Family Physician, he’s working on his masters degree in public health and writing four blogs. My favorite is Common Sense Family Doctor, where he often talks about the application and interpretation of medical evidence — something that’s too often missing from medical study coverage.

Virginia Hughes is a masterful writer with a deep understanding of science and medicine.  She’s one of those writers who is so good, just reading her is likely to rub off and make you a better writer. Her elegant musings can be found on her blog, Only Human, for National Geographic. And fair warning, the whole Phenomena group, which also includes Brian Switek, Carl Zimmer, and Ed Yong, is pretty wonderful. Don’t blame me if you click over only to realize you’ve been reading blog posts for an hour and ignoring your own deadlines. Not that this has ever happened to me.

Nepotism alert, of sorts. Ivan Oransky, M.D., is an AHCJ board member and he’s well known to most members as the gatekeepers of our solid gold electronic discussion list (membership has its benefits!), but he’s also a darn fine blogger. Through Retraction Watch, he and Adam Marcus have trained a valuable spotlight on cases of scientific fraud that once quietly escaped notice. He also keeps an eye on issues related to journal embargoes at Embargo Watch.

Those are my picks. Now share yours. Post a comment to tell us about bloggers who make your regular reading list and why.

Pfizer’s online community about aging fails to impress blogger

If you don’t know about Ronni Bennett’s blog – Time Goes By: what it’s really like to get older – you should.

Core Topics
Health Reform
Other Topics

It’s one of the most consumer-centered sources of information about aging on the Internet. For the most part, it’s written by people experiencing this stage of life firsthand, not those studying or writing about it from a distance.

Bennett was a longtime journalist before she ran into what she calls “a wall of age discrimination” and ended up forcibly retired. The blog expresses her values: Drop the pretense, tell it like it is, and steer clear of advertising and sales pitches.

Bennett describes the site’s genesis this way:

“It was launched in 2003 after I had spent seven or eight years on a personal research project to find out what it’s like to grow old. There wasn’t much good news. From the popular press to scholarly and medical journals, books, government, advocacy groups and NGOs, one message stood out: aging equals decline, disease and debility. No one had anything good to say about it.

Refusing to believe that my future would be that sad and bleak, and since no one else was was doing it, I decided to write about what it’s really like to get old. I had no illusions then that there would be much audience for such a loser topic but in time, I was happily proved wrong.”

If you spend time on the blog, you’ll find an abundance of riches. In addition to regular posts from Bennett and other contributors, there is a carefully compiled list of blogs by and about elders – a gold mine for reporters. There is Bennett’s touching description of her mom’s final illness and death, a subject that all kinds of writers have been tackling recently in various publications. (More on this later in another blog post)

And there is a weblog, the Elder Storytelling Place, where people can share their day-to-day experiences with humor, tenderness, practicality, or any other approach that seems fitting. I especially like the way Bennett introduces this section:

“Among Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging is to find meaning in one’s life and one way to help in this task is to pull together, piece by piece, one’s memories – great and small – into a coherent storyline. In doing so, there is a natural shift of our attention inward, says Jung, leading to the removal of regret and to reconciliation. In telling our stories we not only fulfill Jung’s task for ourselves, we pass on the wisdom we have gained to those who listen or read.”

I thought of Time Goes By this week when I encountered the media buzz accompanying a new initiative called “Get Old,” funded by drug giant Pfizer and supported by advocacy organizations such as the National Alliance for Caregiving and Easter Seals.

(See the press release here. For selected media coverage, see the Washington Post‘s write-up and CBS Money Watch’s and USA Today‘s.)

The centerpiece of this project is a new website, www.GetOld.com. In press release speak, the site is touted as a “first-of-its-kind online community” where “people can get and share information, add to the dialogue, and contribute to the growing body of knowledge” about aging.

I imagine Bennett might object to that description. And I’m darned sure she’d object to Pfizer’s sponsorship of this venture as well. (See her recent post, “No Way to Treat a Crabby Elderblogger,” if you have any doubts.)

It’s a savvy move on Pfizer’s part, aligning itself with all those consumer organizations, adopting an attitude of listening to people with an open, curious mindset, positioning itself as a company that helps people live longer and enjoy new experiences. But do not deceive yourself for even an instant: The goal here is to bolster the Pfizer brand and, ultimately, sell more of the drugs that the company links so effectively with longevity and quality of life.

If you have any doubts, see this Pfizer-sponsored video on the company’s “Smart Marketing Page” for the “Get Old” campaign. (I must be getting old: I’ve never encountered a Smart Marketing Page before. I use caps here, as in the press release, to emphatically express the importance of such a page.)

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

Maybe all the participating consumer organizations have received assurances that no cleverly disguised sales pitches will appear on www.GetOld.com and that all information deriving from this project will be unbiased. But, fellow journalists, do you trust that will be the case? And why did so many stories about this initiative ignore that issue and swallow the Gallup & Robinson survey results – the news peg in the press release designed to secure media coverage – hook, line and sinker?


Bennett sent me some comments about the “Get Old” site after I let her know I was writing this post. I’ve edited them below for length.

“Mostly I object to the website. What a disaster. It violates just about every established guideline for useful, readable, entertaining websites, so much so for elders in both design and content that it’s an insult to us.

As you undoubtedly know, individual elders age at dramatically different rates than people in younger stages of life so that sometimes an 80-year-old’s decline – as in eyesight, for example – can be no more than that of a 50- or 60-year-old. Other times, a 60-year-old can have aged as much as an average 80-something. This also applies to one’s emotional, intellectual and psychic development.

So to section the website by age makes no sense at all, especially when they encourage readers to register their ages so that they can, as the site states, “provide you with stories and information that are relevant and customized for you.” It just doesn’t work that way when talking about elders.

Long before old age, by 40 on average, the majority of us wear reading glasses. But Pfizer has made the text so tiny on their section-front pages, there is no way to know the subject of the item before clicking on it and, even then, the topic is often unclear.

As people age, their eyes have trouble distinguishing between certain colors when they abut one another: red/orange, for example, and blue/green. Yet Pfizer – on that awful “jumble” page of unreadable topics – mixes blue and green boxes that too many elders will blend together.

The site fails aesthetically from page one; there is nothing inviting there, nothing engaging, nothing to pique anyone’s interest. It’s badly conceived and executed.

Visiting some health care blogs you might not know

FierceHealthcare, a site that says it’s geared toward health executives, spotlighted nine health care bloggers and, once they realized all nine were male, five female health bloggers. We thought we’d point out some blogs that our readers might not have on their radar.

Tip: To navigate those slide shows, just click on the tiny mug shot hiding in the bottom right corner well beyond the point where you assume the post has already ended.

Worth a visit

popHealth Populi: Jane Sarasohn-Kahn’s strategy seems to be to take something interesting and current, illustrate it with a chart or graphic and then riff on that idea, bringing in other sources as needed. The upshot is that her site’s updated almost daily with something you usually haven’t already heard somewhere else.

Dr. Greiver’s EMR: While the list included a number of wonky HIT blogs, I found that I learned the most from Canadian physician Michelle Greiver’s running updates on her transition to electronic medical records. I recommend taking a few minutes to start from the beginning and scan Greiver’s journey. You’re sure to come across a heap of fascinating anecdotes, from how EMRs make flu shot clinics more efficient to how much she dislikes insurance companies.

HealthBlawg: Health attorney and consultant David Harlow’s Blawg (shorthand for Law-Blog) often touches on topics of interest to health journalists, including electronic medical records, privacy and, of course, HIPAA.

Politifact, AP fact check health care claims

Angie Drobnic Holan, writing on the St. Petersburg Times‘ Politifact site, has composed a point-by-point debunking of a lengthy anti-reform chain e-mail that’s been circulating in recent days. Among the e-mail’s claims about the bill: self-insuring employers will all be audited, health care will be rationed, the “Health Choices Commissioner” will make all decisions for you, leaving you with no input, illegal immigrants will get free health care, union retirees and community organizers will get subsidized health care and eligible folks will be automatically enrolled in Medicaid whether they like it or not.

Politifact also rates a few of the e-mail’s claims as “barely true” or “half true,” including the conversion of the general recommendations of the government’s health advisory committee to “a government committee will decide what treatments and benefits you get” and the repackaging of electronic medical records-related goals as “Every person will be issued a National ID Healthcard.” Many of the assertions made in the e-mail were based on blogger and tweeter Peter Fleckenstien, who posted his rebuttal here.

In another Truth-o-meter post, Politifact reports that U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan (Mo.-D) misquoted the Congressional Budget Office about cost of health care reform plan during a recent town hall meeting.

Charles Babington of The Associated Press also is debunking confusing claims and distortions about the health care reform bill. Among the claims he focuses on:

  • House Republican Leader John Boehner’s claim that it will lead to government-encouraged euthanasia
  • Reform will lead to government-funded abortions.
  • Americans won’t have to change doctors or insurance companies.
  • Reform will lead to rationing, or the government determining which medical procedures a patient can have.
  • Overhauling health care will not expand the federal deficit over the long term.

Trib’s Triage blog ends, Graham goes investigative

The Chicago Tribune‘s Triage blog has closed its doors and Judy Graham – the face of the blog for the past year – has moved on to the paper’s investigative and watchdog team.

Graham will still find time twice a month to write the sort of stories Triage writers have come to know; fans will be able to find them in the pages of the Chicago Tribune‘s Sunday section and in other Tribune papers.