Irresponsible Health Blogging

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I need some feedback. Something has been bothering me for awhile now. It has do with blogging about health and nutrition. When hobbyists like myself learn new information and change our views and come to realization that some of our older posts are incomplete or flat out wrong, what should we do?

The way I blog about health topics has changed. I’ve gone from being confident that I had the answers to being confident that the people I was reading at the time had the answers. And I’ve been wrong on both accounts many times.

In recent years, I’ve taken a different approach. Instead of taking sides, I acknowledge that I don’t know and do my best to cover the various sides of the argument. Then I will put forth my current view on how it applies to me. Like the investor who thinks he has a good basket of stocks, but knows he could be wrong.

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Photo by Heather Krisman

Every month I receive comments, mostly to older posts from people that are hurting. They get on a search engine, type in their concerns and land on one of my posts. A small fraction of those people will leave a comment asking me to help them.

This is not earth shattering news that people seek out information on sites with no credibility. On search engines my site often outranks real scientists, not because my content is better, but because I have a 15 year old domain, a fast server and the site is mobile friendly.

Over on my coffee site, I continue to go back and improve older articles. New photos and better instructions. But even if I didn’t, the stakes a reader takes by following my article are low. The coffee might be too weak or too bitter. Unpleasant, but no big loss. If however, someone follows incorrect or incomplete information here they could end up in worse health. This is concerning.

There is a date in the URL of each post telling the reader those were my views on that day. I use that piece of information when judging content. I don’t think everyone does. I believe that sites that don’t do that with health or financial information are less trusty worthy. See Blogging and Permalinks.

Some thoughts.

  1. Go back and remove and/or redirect older posts. This would be a ton of work. Also it assumes that I now know the information on those posts is wrong, which itself could be wrong. In other words, I could be wrong that I got it wrong.
  2. Leave the posts as they are. This shows the journey of how I changed as I encountered new information. This path assumes the reader is going to play catch up, which most won’t.
  3. Although I have honest intentions, I mostly have disdain for sites that remove older posts that make the site look bad. A financial site that I read for years took down years of posts. Many of my links broke. Good content was lost.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts, especially if you are a health blogger.

31 thoughts on “Irresponsible Health Blogging

  1. Padraic Hagan

    My $0.02 is to stay with #2. The backposts are there for those who might seek them out, and you’ve always been pretty direct and forthcoming as your views have changed.

    We’re all still learning in an imprecise area of knowledge, with so many open questions. I thought I knew all the answers 5 years ago, now it’s that much more exciting to realize that there’s so much unanswered.

  2. Vytautas

    Agree with Darin.. Leave as they are.

    Then let someone call you out on it. Then agree and give them a link to newer article with better approach. Readers in this case will sense humility and progress from your side, thus being able to relate well and be more inclined to continue coming back for more

    An exception could be if you get one of those ‘Eureka’ moments just days or weeks after publishing something now considered to be wrong.

  3. Aaron Stroud

    I’d go back through each article and add a short disclaimer to the top of each page with questionable content. Preferably the disclaimer would link to later posts with your revised understanding. If you don’t have anything relevant to link to on your site, you could always link out to the relevant authority or just leave it with a simple warning.

    If you had enough time, you could go back through the articles and mark them up with additional comments and the offending text.

    Definitely do not delete the pages (although all of the text might be appropriate for some pages) or redirect them. I’ve personally found it rewarding to read many of your older posts since I discovered your website fairly recently.

  4. Jim

    MAS:
    Good question. I agree with the others that you should let the old posts remain. Maybe you could put a universal header in all posts– “As a result of reading and personal experience, my thoughts on many topics are constantly evolving. Thus, if you are reading an older post, my thoughts on the topic may have evolved. Feel free to search the site for any more recent posts on the topic.”

  5. Mark

    Aaron’s idea makes the best sense to me, but is probably too time-consuming. I also like Jim’s idea of a general disclaimer, perhaps including an encouragement to use the post’s tags to find more recent posts.

  6. Lorna

    A script, plug in, something that out an alert like “This is f…ing old. Maybe I changed my mind!” Linked to the homepage or same tag posts?

  7. Marc

    C Mas

    I’ve followed your site for a while. During this time my views and compilation of knowledge has changed and increased respectively. If something works to improve your health goals then it is ok to report. Recommendation is another story. I don’t see you recommend health solutions for others. For example, I now believe some of your views on exercise are very wrong. Muscle endurance and flexibility are the proper goals for most everyone not muscle size. Aerobic base building is desirable. Stand-alone high intensity exercise regimens done for a few minutes a week go against currently recommended medical opinions. Your anti-bread stance is troublesome also. I still like your blogging, but even the false reasonings of Dr. Oz are coming to an end with his future shows.

    No one is perfect
    Marc

  8. @All – I am leaning towards some variation of Aaron’s idea. Knowingly leaving up bad info doesn’t sit well with me.

    @Marc – There are posts that do have a recommend tone to them. If you look back a few years, you will find them. These are the posts that trouble me now. Bread is one example. I’ve gone from “bread is toxic” to ones where I take issue with both the alarmists and the denialists. Quite a difference. As for exercise, I might be coming around more to your view, but for different reasons. Stay tuned.

  9. Barb

    Leave the posts as they are, but IF you have the time add Aaron’s disclaimers and links.

    If not … maybe add a link at the top to a page where you detail/flesh out the ideas in this post. Maybe sort of like “About.Best Of.Stuff I Like.Health Concerns.Support etc”. Any title that you think will best be noticed by the target audience you are concerned about. You can include notes like your changed beliefs and the fact that they may change yet again along with the particular issues that you feel are most important.

    And maybe something in the masthead – a subtitle like “staying Critical of everything I read on the Internet” or whatever sounds appropriate to you that acts as a subliminal warning to people to stay critical or be aware.

    These two things should be quick and easy to add but would provide the necessary warnings to the the less than critical reader who might not notice the dates or look further. You can’t really protect people from themselves but you can make it a little easier for them to be more cautious.

    Great site by the way, I really appreciate your openness about how your opinions have changed over time as well as your experiments that did not work out as you hoped.

  10. Rob

    Why not just put a short disclaimer at the top that you’ve updated your views somewhat, and that new info will be at the end of the article? That way people can follow your thought process and weigh the evidence for themselves.

  11. Jeremie

    Greetings,

    To begin with, I’m not a health blogger, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.

    I do not believe – neither like – when content is removed (unless the website is closing, and even in that case, there is some arguments to be made in favor of keeping it online). I think it’s good and important to be able to follow the journey, as it helps to understand some of your present choices and ideas. By the way, you often link your own old articles in some cases to give feedback on a subject on which you investigate, either to reinforce your thoughts or simply say you feel you were wrong about it. Not only would it break a lot of links in more recent articles, but it would deprive us (readers) of a strong context that I always liked and found really interesting.

    Long story short, I’m more in favor of the second solution, BUT with a twist.

    As you mentioned, the URL in your articles gives a tip about how old it is. Hell, there is even the complete date right below the title! Do people pay attention to it? Most won’t even bother to read it (I’m working in IT for almost 10 years now, which is plenty of time to experience this painful truth…). I think a good way, if it’s possible for you, would be to prepare a disclaimer that would be automatically inserted in any pages older than a given time span, or that you mark yourself as “deprecated” (or both). Something that would explain that “the information in the article is to old or not up to date and might not reflect the current ideas of the writer”, you get the idea.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents on this matter. I personally like the way you write, either on this blog or the one about coffee (I found “Critical MAS” thanks to “INeedCoffee” actually), and I’ll continue to come here with pleasure, whatever you decide.

  12. @Barb – I do have a Best Of Nutrition page for the posts that I think are the better ones.
    https://criticalmas.com/best-of/nutrition/

    @All – I am looking a plugin that will allow me to remove specific pages from the search engines. This way the links won’t break, but the random person will be far less likely to stumble upon a page with outdated information.

    Thanks for all the great feedback!

  13. Cathy

    How about disabling comments on those older articles? Sorry if someone already suggested this, but I think that while this old information is not for you it may be for someone else. For instance, it really helps folks to see that in order to get control of their health they need to clean up the diet. Not all the old information is useless. You also have bridges of sorts from old ways of thought to new ones with the idea that WAPF is the natural outcome of Paleo. Since you have a job, two blogs and a life, then it may be an herculean task to implement Aaron’s idea even though it is a good one.

    FYI, when I find a new blog I like, I usually read all the entries to get a feel for it. But I may be just different.

  14. thomas

    I say to slightly edit the old posts hotlinking them to newer insights. Or add footnotes and mention where changes were made in each article.

  15. Hey MAS, Great topic!

    (1) Since you have never held yourself out as an expert, I don’t think you have near the obligation to do anything that those who self-identify as “world leading expert in ______ nutrition”

    (2) I’m with you on the reticence to delete posts. I’ve had to do that with a few that contained personal information I’ve had to remove from my blog, where the whole post made little sense without it, but otherwise I’ve tried to keep things intact.

    (3) I happened across this post of Melissa McEwen’s recently ( http://huntgatherlove.com/content/breaking-vicious-cycle ) that is 5 years old. Here’s the image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-7O6DuL8wn6s/Vfm0LPzftEI/AAAAAAAAKE8/2kAllO5Yn2s/s1600/Screenshot%2B-%2B9_16_2015%2B%252C%2B11_07_19%2BAM.png

    I think this is a nice way to deal with things, don’t know if she has this auto-generated or added it manually. I’m hoping the former is possible!

    So (4) Other than that, if you get activity on an old post, the best you can do is pass judgment at that time. If it’s really erroneous deal with it at the time. I’m sure I have a ton of stuff in my archives that even if it’s not technically incorrect (don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some is, but that’s not always so cut and dried!) is most definitely written by someone with less knowledge than I currently possess. When I come across these, if I edit significantly, I do my best to point out where and why. But that’s just my personal compromise.

  16. Hey, this is something I wonder about, too. I get uneasy thinking about the editing I’d like to do. I think your priority should be to trek on and focus on the articles you’d like to right in the present moment. But I also think if you have completely abandoned your beliefs about something you can add a note. Taking down an article might disappoint some people that really like that article, but leaving it as is if you have abandoned that stance might confuse people.

  17. When you link to older posts, do you get pingbacks on those posts? If so, can you list them first before the comments? That would be an easy way to update the old content. Otherwise, something like Melissa’s disclaimer on all old posts, if you can do that without changing each post, or a disclaimer on the posts you’re particularly unhappy about.

    My opinions about diet changed dramatically about a year and a half ago, and now I’m discovering that I was actually right the first time on some of it.

  18. @Anemone- I disabled internal pingbacks about a year ago and removed those links. I was using so much internal linking that I had way too may pingbacks.

  19. Marc

    One issue not addressed here as respects irresponsible health blogging is sensationalism. There are several outstanding health concerns in America today affecting a large percentage of the population:

    1) diabetes
    2) hypertension
    3) obesity
    4) depression
    5) heart disease

    There are numerous experts in each of these areas. For example, those with hypertension need moderate exercise (urban hiking…not HIT), and a low sodium diet (homemade bone broth…not kimchi). The obese need some volume of exercise at a moderate pace…..not a few minutes of weekly isometrics-that can cause peaks in blood pressure. I could go on…..but reporting on the core health issues listed above will not pull in the ratings that the Dr. Oz/Mercola types so loves.

    If your regimen of health recommendations do not help the vast majority improve their lot in life…..then of what value are they?

    Not much I opine!

  20. @Marc – Why must my blog be for the audience you decide? This is my journey. I’m not one of the sick and obese, but I still have an interest in fitness and nutrition. Never have I stated or even implied that unhealthy people should follow what I am doing. If I have, post the links and I’ll address it immediately.

  21. Brian

    Marc,

    “If your regimen of health recommendations do not help the vast majority improve their lot in life…..then of what value are they? Not much I opine!”

    This comes across as a very narrow-minded comment.

    I do not fit into the typical class of fitness buff at all…nor of some aging ill person…and have found it very difficult to find any blogs or websites that even remotely understand my world as a tall middle-aged extreme ectomorph who wants to stay in shape. So finding this site has been a great resource for me. I don’t necessarily agree with every bit of info…but the overall gist and actual insights are different than most anything I have found and really hit home for ME quite often. The best advice and insight I have found on here has been the “I Won Fitness” article. Your comments suggest Mr. Allen’s time and blogging is useless if it does not address a wider more needy audience. Screw that! He is simply talking about his journey and what he is taking from said journey. There are more than enough other blogs and resources out there for the vast majority whose lots need improving.

    Brian

  22. If your regimen of health recommendations do not help the vast majority improve their lot in life…..then of what value are they?

    Not much I opine!

    It never ceases to amaze me that there are people out there like Marc who think their opinions of this nature need to be expressed.

  23. Marc

    @brian

    My comments come from my perspective. They were not directed at your unique personal situation or c Mas. To deny or limit my perspective seems “narrow-minded.” I enjoy reading this blog for precisely the freedom of expressions that are contained within. There was nothing wrong with my post.

  24. Marc

    @mas
    My post was not directed at your perspectives. I’m sorry if my post offended…..certainly was not my intention.

  25. Carmen

    People will find other places with information that could be carless. Yours is careful and you do not state you are a doctor or that you know everything. I am not a blogger, but just yesterday I found your page and it seems very valuable to me. I can’t really save information as now I use only mobile and tablet and it would be difficult. I am writing to ask you, please do not delete these pages. I find very useful information here and I am not risking anything.

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