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Ethics for Science and Health Bloggers

Our Second post in the b5media 12 Days of Christmas series is by Hsien-Hsien Lei. I’ll let her introduce herself and tell us about the topic of – a topic that might well be worth thinking through for all types of bloggers but which is particularly relevant for some in a field like Hsien-Hsien Lei.

Hi. I’m Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei and I write the Genetics and Public Health Blog. Unlike most of the other blog tips you‚ll be reading about in this series, mine will be geared towards science and health bloggers who, I think, have greater responsibilities to their readership. We’re not just blogging about the next generation of iPods or the latest celebrity to make a fool of himself. We’re blogging about life and death.

So maybe I’m being a little over-dramatic. But it’s true that science and health bloggers need to fully disclose any information that may mislead readers. For instance, I am a doctor, but I’m not that kind of doctor; I hold a PhD, not an MD. That makes a huge difference in how I understand and interpret the latest science and health news.

From the start of the Genetics and Public Health Blog, I made it clear that I wasn’t beholden to any advertisers or sponsors. While ads may appear on my blog, they do not influence my writing in any way. Everything I write is my own opinion. No one tells me what to write.

I encourage all science and health bloggers to write a post answering the following 10 questions posed by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health:

1. Who runs this site?
2. Who pays for the site?
3. What is the purpose of the site?
4. Where does the information come from?
5. What is the basis of the information?
6. How is the information selected?
7. How current is the information?
8. How does the site choose links to other sites?
9. What information about you does the site collect, and why?
10. How does the site manage interactions with visitors?

My answers are posted at the Genetics and Public Health Blog. If you choose to answer these questions too, leave me a comment!

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Comments

  1. Fly Girl says:

    Good questions to be up front about for any blog — whether health related or something else.

    Being up front about those issues reduces the likelihood of claims of conflict of interest. It’s honest from both a business and intellectual standpoint.

  2. hyipfarm says:
  3. Hsien Lei says:

    Ack! How awful. Thanks for pointing that out, hyipfarm. And I’m guessing Darren’s already away for the weekend. :(

    Correct link is http://www.geneticsandhealth.com..

  4. Cary says:

    Great post Hsien…it was so important to me that people realize that I’m just a caregiver, and not a doctor, that I put it right in my blog’s masthead.

    The web is full of dubious health information, and unfortunately, some of that dubious info comes from some fairly successful health-related blogs. Personally I prefer to be a part of the solution instead of the problem.

    I’ve also seen some bloggers that seem to think that having a prominent disclaimer makes it OK for them to be sloppy at what they report. IMO that just gives a bad name to blogging.

    The question of how to approach comments is a really great one. Some health blogs deal with this by just ignoring comments, which I personally find offensive. I mean, if you’re not going to respond to comments then why have them turned on in the first place?

    Of course, the opposite side is that you don’t want to open yourself up to a lawsuit by someone who takes what you say as a suggestion for treatment. I personally try to respond to all comments on my blogs, but I will admit that periodically someone asks me a question that seems a bit too risky to answer…even if I do have an opinion about it.

    In fact, that just happened today, and I’m still weighing how to answer the question…

  5. Hsien Lei says:

    Cary, Don’t even get me started with rampant misinformation….

    I should probably do some research on the legal liabilities of providing information on the Web. But, writers of health-related magazines/books should have the same liability as bloggers, right? I haven’t encountered any situation in which medical advice is required, but if a comment/question makes you feel uncomfortable, I would just refer people to their physician. If you do offer your opinion, labeling it as such with the caveat that there is disagreement among medical professionals should take care of it.

    As for blog etiquette, I personally never re-visit blogs where the writer doesn’t acknowledge my comments. Maybe I’m just petty that way. ;)

  6. Hsien Lei says:

    Flygirl: I would definitely look favorably upon any website/blog that fully disclosed their affiliations/biases.

  7. I think there are two sides to this question, both posing dilemmas.

    The first is that medical science isn’t always right. If you need sudden direct intervention, OK. But on chronic conditions the prescriptions are often too strong and temporary, treating symptoms not causes.

    Older, alternative treatments often work better, but are not subject to anything like the same regulation, so you’re usually taking a chance.

    Some sort of reconcilation between the two would be good, but not, I hope, by placing both in the hands of government agencies.

    Is there an answer to this?

  8. Hsien Lei says:

    John: Very difficult to say but what I think we all need to do is take charge of our health. We need to live a life of prevention, not treatment.
    And it’s imperative that we educate ourselves as much as we can so that we don’t blindly follow any one medical professional.

  9. Hsien Lei says:

    Oh, dear, I forgot to close my tag. Darren’s going to shoot me for clutterin up his comments.

  10. Hsien Lei says:

    Just trying to close the bold tag.

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  12. Niels Olson says:

    I wrote this post on the blogger as a public figure back in July. Food for thought.

  13. tanya says:

    Great post – I am really going to get right onto including the answers to the questions on my blog. I run a healthy food reviews website, and to talk about misinformation and everyone thinking their way is the ‘one and only right’ way – I think the ‘net nutritionists’ have cornered this market.

  14. Hsien Lei says:

    Thanks, Niels and tanya. It certainly does matter how we behave online. For instance, I wouldn’t want tanya to think I was cornering the market on false genetic information. ;)

  15. Dr. O says:

    Actually HONcode Foundation already provides the certification for websites, based on disclosures essentially the same as the ones raised in the article. So why not to make sure that health blogs have HONcode seal of approval?

    Here is an example. Our website Medgadget.com is in compliance with HONCode Foundation:

    http://www.hon.ch/HONcode/Conduct.html?HONConduct254536

  16. Hsien Lei says:

    Thanks for the tip, Dr. O. I will check out the HONCode Foundation ASAP.

  17. Hippocrates says:

    HONcode could be a start. But given how many specific differences exist between blogs and “first-generation websites” it would not hurt to develop a clearer set of guidelines.

  18. […] The “10 Questions” is a good start for building credibility and trust in medical blogs, but they are not enough […]

  19. Michael Rack says:

    thanks for posting the 10 questions. I answered them on a Dec 18 post for Rebel Doctor Web Log http://rebeldoctor.blogspot.com/

  20. Good point made by this post.

    I run a health related blog myself and have added an automatic generated disclosure policy, clearly stating the things you mentioned in your list. All health & science bloggers should do so…

    *frowns*

  21. Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really prompted me to do so! really nice post.

  22. Buy Avodart says:

    Nice blog.I run a health related blog myself and have added an automatic generated disclosure policy.Thanks…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Welcome, ProBlogger readers! You may be wondering why I keep referring to the Genetics and PUBLIC Health Blog. That was the first incarnation of this blog under About Weblogs. I’m still the same person and the content is still the same, but our name has been streamlined. Hope you’ll find this “meme” helpful and informative. [...]

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