The blog reviewed here is ‘The MacGuffin‘. I was impressed by the MacGuffin site after coming across a post on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. In the About section, we learn that the author is a neuropsychologist with a healthy degree of scepticism.
Appearance and Design
There is a brown wallpaper-like background design, while the central pane features a beige mottled background on which the articles and navigatable elements rest. The title pane features a black-and-white photograph of a man at a desk engaging in an unhealthy behaviour. Articles are titled, dated, comment-enabled and generously illustrated. Site navigation is possible using chronological and categorical archive links in the central pane. The overall design is simple, uncluttered and there are links to external blogs of interest as well as to the author’s twitter account.
The first archived posts date back to 2008 and in the first post, the author writes that
‘I need to create a blog in order to tell my version of the truth‘
In a number of posts there is a critical approach to research papers and there is much that the student of critical appraisal can learn from this blog. The author demonstrates a very good knowledge of psychopharmacology and the posts often examine data on new drugs or biological illness models. For instance, I was interested to read this post on a cholinergic theory of depression. This article features a link to a video on a depressant and while the video is tongue-in-cheek, it is a useful starting point for reflection on construction of diagnostic categories. In this post, the author discusses the practicalities of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation as well as examining the data from a study in this area.
My impression of this blog is that it the author tends to take a polarised view towards the research which I think can be useful for making decisions about research. The reader can choose to agree, disagree or go their own way. In a sense, I thought the author is facilitating a judgemental approach to the data. I tend to prefer to keep an open mind on things, but there is an obvious advantage to the polarised view in that it provides an easy to remember ‘label’ that can be attached to a piece of research. So for example, suppose that you read a paper in a journal. At the end of the paper, you retain some of the information – sample size, sample population characteristics, outcome measures, drop-out rates and so on. Perhaps after 4 or 5 similar papers it’s more difficult to remember the details of individual studies, they get mixed up or some of the data disappears altogether from memory. In contrast, if for each paper the bottom line question is – ‘do I agree with these results’ and the reader comes away with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, then after 5 studies they may be much more likely to retain the information they have chosen to associate with the study. That simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response is an oversimplification and to some extent innaccurate but it also denotes the outcome of a process. This process is the engagement of the reader with the research article. The blog simplifies this process even further by presenting the essence of the study together with the authors views so that the reader can choose to do less work in reaching that ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response than if they had read the original study themselves*. This in turn can improve the productivity of the reader in engaging with the literature although as in the quote above, it must be appreciated that the blog author is presenting a heavily edited version of the examined research (by reducing a relatively large research article to a single blog post). Anyhow, I thought this is a good blog for keeping an eye on psychopharmacology and psychotherapy (although I disagreed with the author’s views on EMDR!).
* Perhaps this is the appeal of Twitter in that the authors need to communicate efficiently which in turn increases the likelihood of polarised views or endorsements which subsequently enables the audience to make quick decisions about twittered research.
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