Researcher’s use of breast cancer blogs (A-C)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m doing a systematic review of how researchers are using breast cancer blogs. I’ve narrowed the focus to breast cancer blogs because that is the focus for my dissertation. It also helps to keep the dataset manageable, as a lot of review and filtering is needed to remove all the false positive hits from the literature search. Unfortunately “blog” and “cancer” are terms that appear in a lot of articles that have nothing to do with blogging or cancer. Anyways, the purpose of this post is to highlight some of the studies that do use breast cancer blogs as a data source, outlining the ways in which researchers are using the public blogosphere in their research. In addition to breast cancer blog related posts, I’m finding some interesting other things while reading, so I’ll highlight them as well.

Anderson, A. G. (2014). Cancer bloggers’ styles of humor while coping with cancer. Master of Arts. Masters Thesis, University of Texas at Austin, Austin Texas.

In this communication studies research, Anderson analyses several different blogs for the ways in which humor is used to help cope with cancer. Her ethics board deemed the research “not human subject researcher” because the researchers is using only publicly available blogs for her research. She does directly quote blogs and appropriately references them as if they were any other publication. One thing I find interesting though, is that she uses the term “one blogger” rather than the name of the person. For example:

One blogger, who was nearing the end of treatment for breast cancer, recapped her weekend with her readers and talked about how she is beginning to see more ups than downs in her days. She began by giving the example that she was able to go to her daughter’s ballet recital at her school. She wrote:

The first graders did a beautiful performance and they combined a few things they had learned form their Chinese teacher. There was the expected dragon dance and a ribbon dance (which one parent misconstrued from his lisping daughter and was disappointed that it wasn’t ‘River Dance.) But you haven’t lived until you have seen an entire first grade class do the ‘hokey pokey’ in Chinese. I have and I did. (Griffin, 2010)

(Anderson, 2014, p.50)

If the blog had been a research article, instead of saying “one blogger” the researcher would have said Griffin (2010), who was …

This is one example of communication studies research. I am discovering that it is not uncommon to use breast cancer blogs as a source of data for communication studies research.

Bock, S. (2013). Staying Positive: Women’s illness narratives and the stigmatized vernacular. Health, Culture and Society, 5(1). doi:10.5195/hcs.2013.125

Similar to Anderson (2014), Bock (2013) also used publicly available illness blogs as a data source for their research. The research is grounded in folklore studies. The research was broader than breast cancer blogs, looking at women’s illness blogs in general. As such, the bloggers directly quoted where in the fibromyalgia blogosphere. For the analysis of breast cancer blogs, Bock quoted other researchers in the area. This study is another example of how blogs are being used to study rhetoric.

Clarke, J., & van Amerom, G. (2008). A comparison of blogs by depressed men and women. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 29(3), 243-264. doi:10.1080/01612840701869403

I highlighted this study not because it related to breast cancer blogs, but rather because they make a clear statement about how they approached the ethical use of blogs in their study.

The ethical issues regarding the use of Internet for social research are still ambiguous. Some argue that Internet statements are essentially public (Brownlow & O’Dell, 2002; Jones, Zahl, & Huws, 2001). Others think of them as private and confidential. We take the first position because we consider the blogs used to be public. Moreover, we were impressed by the statements made by a number of bloggers about the efficacy and education benefits they felt resulted from their blogging. One example follows: “are you slogging to advocate for increased political will, stronger social and medical strategies, and, About all, greater public understanding in Canada and around the world.” In addition, we did not include any blogs that were copyrighted or that required passwords. We did not interact with any bloggers but simply downloaded and printed the blog content on two specified days. To ensure that those whose blogs used to have complete anonymity we have changed select words including all proper names, some pronouns, verb tenses, in similar words And phrases. We have done this so that it would be impossible to locate any blogs from our data. This strategy actually provides several layers of protection to the bloggers. Not only is it impossible to locate the bloggers in the blogosphere from this data it also is, therefore, if possible to identify the individual blogger as real persons. In addition, we have protected the anonymity of bloggers by changing all names and by not referencing the blog address used in this study. The Ethics chair at our university expressed no reservations about publishing the analysis, given the protection provided to the bloggers.

What I found particularly interesting here is the comment about not including blogs that have been copyrighted. I actually don’t really get this. I suppose that because they changed any of the direct quotes, they cannot republish them because they changed them. For me this doesn’t mean you cannot use in your analysis, but perhaps you might want to avoid in the reports. I don’t know.

The idea of anonymity of the blogger is something that is quite prevalent within the healthcare related fields. Previously, I reflected on how illness blogs make what is intensely private very public, and how this might prove to provide a particular cognitive dissonance for those in health professions fields. This might explain the authors desire to protect the identity of the bloggers, but I’m still a little confused about not including copyrighted blogs in the analysis. I do applaud the authors for writing a very clear statement on how they approached ethics of using illness blogs.

That brings me to the end of the letter C unless I uncover more as I read through the rest of the articles in my list. So far, I’ve found the reading to be rather interesting.

Do you have any questions? What do you think about the use of blogs for rhetoric analysis? Should they be used as a convenient data sample?

Feature image: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Mastectomy and relevant surgical instruments A general system of surgury in three parts… Lorenz Heister Published: 1748 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0



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