On blogging

I started this blog towards the end of last summer, mostly as a place to talk about health care reform.  I found that I was answering the same questions over and over again, and – tired of continually hearing “where would I go to read more on that?” – I decided to put most of my answers in writing.  At least then I could tell people the answer was on my blog.

Although health care reform is far from over as a policy issue, it seems that it is no longer consuming everyone’s lives as it was a few short months ago.  As people’s interest in hearng about the ins and outs of research and policy as it pertains to health care systems wanes, I’ve found myself with less and less to write.

It’s not that I don’t feel like I have anything to say.  It’s that I started this journey by focusing on health care reform because I felt like I had some credibility on the issue.  I have opinions on lots of topics, of course, but at least in that domain I thought I had earned a place in the discussion.  Maybe that’s why I haven’t been posting as much in the last few weeks.

The last week changed that, however, because of two posts.  First, there was my post on vaccines and autism.  It amazes me how much that topic can set people off.  To some, it’s like questioning religion.  I am simply astounded at how many of the emails I received were from people who admitted up front that they knew vaccines caused autism by faith and faith alone.  It’s no longer a matter of science.  The second was my post on my troubles with my prescription and my insurance company.  I didn’t receive any email, but I was surprised (and a little touched) by the people who retweeted it and commented on it in their own blogs.

I sometimes wonder, as I’m sure every blogger does, if what I’m writing makes any difference.  I wonder if anyone reads it.  I see the big league blogs, many of which I list on the right side of the page, and wonder if mine might ever have even a fraction of the impact I’m sure theirs do.  This week has given me renewed hope, mostly because of a string of strange links and common threads.  It’s made me think that the blogging world may be smaller than I assumed.

It started with an email I received from a friend of mine.  I know David (and his wife) back from my days in Seattle.  At the time he was a newspaper reporter and an author.  I still remember reading a draft of his book while I was on call as a resident, where I somehow managed to think I was qualified to make notes and comments on it.  Anyway, David saw my blog post on vaccines and autism and send me a link to this comic on the Andrew Wakefield situation.  You should go check it out, as it shows the situation to be even worse than I made it out to be.  I love getting emails like that because (1) they expand on what I was trying to say and (2) show me people I respect are reading what I write.

But the week got better, when I read Austin Frakt posting about my rant against my insurance company.  I admire Austin’s blog immensely, and have linked to it many times (as have many of the big blogs).  Just a few minutes later, I read a post by David (again) on his own blog, where it turns out one of his emails was excerpted on The Daily Dish.  Turns out it’s his favorite, blog, too.  I was even more surprised to read David’s full email, where it turns out he mentions me, in part because of some of my posts about Megan McArdle’s writings.  Not long after, I was reading The Daily Dish myself, and saw David quoted directly, with attribution this time, on an entirely different subject, as he talked about his guidelines for journalists.

It’s a big week for him, I imagine.  He deserves it.  You should read his blog.

It feels like a big week for me, too.

I’ve written any number of scientific papers.  I’ve written months of blog entries.  I’ve even written a book.  And yet I still have trouble thinking of myself as a writer.  Maybe it’s because English was my least favorite subject in school.  Maybe it’s because I feel like writing is a skill I have forced myself to learn with repetition and not something I’ve been formally trained to do, or a gift, or something that comes easy to me.  Or maybe it’s because I admire some writers so much I just can’t lump myself in with them.  But, as my agent once shouted at me in surprise when I said I said something along these lines, I am a “real” writer.  So maybe I should feel free to write about more than merely health care policy.

I think I just might.

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