Research disseminated by blog: will it ever be seen as reliable and valid?
I’m writing this on birthday, that’s because I love writing and what better way to spend your birthday than doing something you love.
I don’t like writing for peer-review publications though. That’s hard; time-consuming and restrictive. Authors must comply with the journal’s style or risk rejection. Even when the style has been slavishly followed, the paper is at the mercy of two reviewers, experts in their field who have the power to determine whether the paper should be published or not. Despite a requirement to remain objective, reviewers are bound to be influenced by what they believe to be the right way to write a paper; what should be included/excluded in the discussion; and whether the journal’s readership would find the work interesting. As a qualitative researcher I have frequently been frustrated by requests to remove personal/first person pronouns because they don’t fit with style, or to restructure an ethnographic narrative to comply with a scientific reporting structure. I have to conform, to play the game, and it often feels like blagging my way through the system.
This restrictive practice of publication is perpetuated by the academe in its insistence the peer-review process guarantees quality assurance. I have many times seen advice which warns students to stay clear of Google and the Internet; peer-reviewed resources being the only acceptable sources to be used. Furthermore, peer-reviewed publications are still the only way an academic or researcher will get recognition in the Research Excellence Framework, and thus be seen as credible by their peers. The message perpetuated then is that peer-reviewed work reigns supreme and non-peer-reviewed sources, not being subject to such rigor, do not really count.
So currently, researchers must continue to submit their work for peer-review if their writing is to be taken seriously. However, as well as publishing, researchers are measured by the impact of their research on practice in the real world. This means their written work must be read by practitioners if it is to influence practice. Paradoxically, though, much research written to be acceptable for publication in peer-reviewed journals is inaccessible (both in language and availability) and, quite frankly, dull to most practitioners (and, if we are honest, to much of the research community too). Consequently there exists an oft-cited research-practice gap.
But new media platforms offer a solution. Web 2.0 internet technology empowers anyone to upload and share information to a world-wide audience without the restrictions imposed by publishers and the peer-review system. It provides an exciting opportunity for researchers to disseminate widely and to write in a style which appeals to a range of audiences, giving voice to many more potential authors. Far from discouraging its use, we should therefore embrace the internet as incredibly important; not only does it liberate the author but it also empowers the reader, making the previously inaccessible accessible.
Crucially, far and away the majority of knowledge transfer is happening on the internet. Google is the most frequently visited web page, according to Ofcom’s 2015 Adults’ media use and attitudes report. More than 85% of the population go straight to Google to access information. A straw poll of my advanced practice post-graduate students suggests this is not just the general public but professional practitioners too. If this is where people go to search for information then clearly this is where researchers need to be prepared to publish. A well-written blog (see how to do this at http://www.healthworkscollective.com/marie-ennis-oconnor/278256/beyond-buzz-25-content-ideas-your-healthcare-blog by my favourite health care SoMe tweeter – Marie Ennis-O’Connor, worth a follow @JBBC) will enable a researcher to reach a wider audience, in terms of both diversity and location; disseminate findings more quickly (it can take over a year to get a paper through the review process); and unshackle the author from the straight-jacket imposed by a journal’s style regulations.
Importantly, because access to the full research study may still be essential for justifying a change in practice a blog can be used to direct practitioners to the peer-reviewed (i.e. ‘quality assured’) paper. So blogging is in effect a double whammy; writing a blog which links to a peer-reviewed paper acts to promote the research at the same time. In 2014, Knight showed that using blogs and other social media platforms to disseminate research resulted in significantly higher citation rates (see I just can’t get away from an entrenched need to cite peer-reviewed research!). Thus, new media can be used to support the traditional peer-reviewed research assessment processes – until of course such a time when new media publications are valued in their own right as credible sources of information.
To the future; some are beginning to challenge the notion of evidence-based practice where the only evidence is the peer-reviewed publication. They are questioning the value of norm-based evidence for patient-oriented and personalised care. Instead, the importance of on-line patient narratives are being reconsidered as worthy sources of knowledge. Previously dismissed as ungeneralisable and therefore impractical for driving population-level decisions about health, these personalised stories written as blogs by patients, help us all understand the patient experience from a lived-experience. Described as ‘autopathography’ (and expressed eloquently by Rebecca Hogue http://rjh.goingeast.ca/2015/09/19/tribes-and-autopathography/ ) these provide the perfect example of how and why blogs (and micro-blogs) will eventually be acknowledged, by health professionals and health researchers, as valuable sources of information.
Our WOMMeN project embraces this important epistomological change in what we trust as credible knowledge.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to blog for the sheer enjoyment of writing!
Reference: (because they’re still important!)
Knight, S. R. (2014) “Social media and online attention as an early measure of the impact of research in solid organ transplantation.” Transplantation 98(5): 490-496.