Investigating Biomedical Research Literature in the Blogosphere: A Case Study of Diabetes and Glycated Hemoglobin (HbA1c)*[dagger][double Dagger]

Article excerpt

Objective: The research investigated the relationship between biomedical literature and blogosphere discussions about diabetes in order to explore the role of Web 2.0 technologies in disseminating health information. Are blogs that cite biomedical literature perceived as more trustworthy in the blogosphere, as measured by their popularity and interconnections with other blogs?

Methods: Web mining, social network analysis, and content analysis were used to analyze a large sample of blogs to determine how often biomedical literature is referenced in blogs on diabetes and how these blogs interconnect with others in the health blogosphere.

Results: Approximately 10% of the 3,005 blogs analyzed cite at least 1 article from the dataset of 2,246 articles. The most influential blogs, as measured by in-links, are written by diabetes patients and tend not to cite biomedical literature. In general, blogs that do not cite biomedical literature tend not to link to blogs that do.

Conclusions: There is a large communication gap between health professional and personal diabetes blogs. Personal blogs do not tend to link to blogs by health professionals. Diabetes patients may be turning to the blogosphere for reasons other than authoritative information. They may be seeking emotional support and exchange of personal stories.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formula omitted.)


The widespread use of the Internet by lay individuals who require health information is well known [I]. It has been estimated that almost 80% of Internet users have searched for health information online [2]. The development of Web 2.0 applications, especially those relating to social networking, provides additional ways for individuals to access health information. Patients, along with their families and friends, increasingly seek and share health information in a multitude of public and semipublic online venues. Among Web 2.0 applications, blogs have emerged as a powerful medium through which computer-literate individuals can express themselves. As more people begin to blog, many more people are also starting to rely on information provided by the blogosphere. Patients, caregivers, and doctors are increasingly turning to the blogosphere to search for information, discuss treatment options, and share their stories and experiences [2, 3]. Blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies enable Internet users to actively contribute to the abundance and diversity of online content. Technorati estimates that, between 2002 and 2008, more than 133 million blogs were launched and almost 1 million blog posts were published every day [4].

Recent work by Neal and McKenzie indicates that librarians' criteria for evaluating sources should move toward more user-centered criteria. Sources traditionally considered authoritative may not necessarily be what the lay public desires [5]. The blogosphere represents a large source of wide-ranging opinions and attitudes. As with the Internet generally, not all information published in the blogosphere is credible or reliable [6-8]. Patients could be misled by erroneous or outdated information. Bloggers interested in health information can increase the quality and reliability of their blogs by following and citing biomedical literature. The increasing availability of scientific literature through open and public access methods, or at least free availability of abstracts, suggests that it might now be easier for laypeople to access such literature. Davis and Walters emphasize the need to explore differences between communities that produce and communities that consume scholarly literature [9]. However, little research has been done to date regarding whether, and how, biomedical literature is cited in the blogosphere. This study explores this area, using the example of diabetes disease management, through the following research questions:

* How many blogs cite biomedical literature and why? Who are the authors of those blogs? …