Truth and relevance: How are we doing?

The writers on The Incidental Economist received a report this week from Paul Caron, a law professor at Pepperdine University. Using Google Analytics, Caron finds that we had 1.3 million page views last year (an increase of 36% over the previous year) and 858,000 visitors (an increase of 37%). Thanks to Paul for the report and thanks to you, readers, for your time and attention.

I am tempted to add that with this volume and growth, we must be doing something right. But should we judge ourselves on these metrics? After all, counting the market value of our time, we lose money on each post and I don’t think we will make it up on volume.

But if we aren’t seeking page views, what is the point of our blogging? Our goal — in my view — is to communicate the results of research about what works in health care. What are the standards that should be used to judge how well we are communicating this?

I’ll propose two: truth and relevance.

With respect to truthPeter Neuman has an interesting commentary at the NEJM on the evolution of the FDA’s standards for drug company communications. The primary standard is that the communication has to be truthful, but what does that mean? Up until recently, this meant that promotions had to

be supported by “substantial evidence” of purported effects (which generally means evidence from two well-controlled trials, though one randomized, controlled trial is permitted in certain circumstances).

Recent advances in comparative effectiveness research methods have led many of us to believe that randomized trial data can and often should be complemented by data from observational studies with designs strong enough to permit causal inferences.

In the present case it is you readers, not the FDA, who are the legitimate judges of our truthfulness. We hold ourselves to fidelity to the empirical evidence. Are we competent and reliable in interpreting the data we are reporting on? We trust you will let us know if we are not.

So what is relevance? Kepa Korta and John Perry say that

Human cognition is geared towards the maximization of relevance (that is, to the achievement of as many contextual (cognitive) effects as possible for as little processing effort as possible).

I think that is how blogging differs from scientific writing. I want you to be able to quickly get facts that bear upon your (and my) interests, in the hope that you will likewise communicate those facts to others in your networks.

So perhaps page views can tell us something about relevance: If we weren’t relevant, you wouldn’t be here.


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