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The Vitamin D Council methodology: A look at how we cover research in blog and news

Posted on: November 22, 2013   by  Brant Cebulla


At some point you may have asked, what is the methodology behind the research and news the Vitamin D Council covers? If you’re a researcher or a health professional, you might even consider this a vital piece of information that the Council has not addressed to date.

It’s an important question. In medical literature, when researchers perform a systematic review, their methodology in finding research and deciding which to include in their review is central to their review and what they eventually find.

While we’re just running a blog and writing news pieces (not quite the magnitude of writing a systematic review), our methodology is important in ensuring we provide reliable and up to date information to you, the public. If our methodology was overly flawed, we wouldn’t be doing a good job addressing:

  • Recent high quality research
  • Recent novel research
  • Recent note-worthy news

In this blog, I’ll cover our methodology in deciding what to cover in the news and blog, and I’ll show you some of the tools we use.

To start, we collect as much research and news we can on vitamin D. The more comprehensive we can be in our search for research, the more we ensure we’re covering everything we need to cover.

We use a web tool called Feedly to help us collect research and news. Feedly, like the old Google Reader, is a “news aggregator” in which you can link up your favorite websites’ posts and RSS feeds to Feedly, and Feedly will organize those articles in a variety of different ways. To reiterate, Feedly basically takes all our RSS feeds and places them in their interface, so it’s an RSS aggregator.

Currently, we have feeds coming into Feedly from PubMed, ClinicalTrials.gov, Vitamin D Council and Google Alerts. In the future, we will be adding feeds from specific journals and popular news sources, but we’re still waiting for Feedly to implement feed-filters (which would allow us to get vitamin D-only feeds from journals and popular news sites).

The RSS feed we have coming from PubMed is here: http://1.usa.gov/1dWVyZ4. It is a search of:

(((“vitamin d”[MeSH Terms] OR “ergocalciferols”[MeSH Terms]) OR vitamin d[Text Word] OR vitamin d2[Text Word] OR vitamin d3[Text Word] OR cholecalciferol[Text Word] OR colecalciferol[Text Word] OR hydroxycholecalciferol[Text Word] OR dihydrotachysterol[Text Word] OR maxacalcitol[Text Word] OR oxacalcitriol[Text Word] OR paricalcitol[Text Word] OR doxercalciferol[Text Word] OR dihydroxyvitamin[Text Word] OR hydroxyvitamin[Text Word] OR falecalcitriol[Text Word] OR calcitriol[Text Word] OR alfacalcidol[Text Word] OR alphacalcidol[Text Word] OR calcifediol[Text Word] OR calcipotriol[Text Word] OR epicalcitriol[Text Word] OR lexacalcitol[Text Word] OR seocalcitol[Text Word] OR ergocalciferol[Text Word]) OR (“Vitamin D Deficiency”[Mesh] OR “Vitamin D-Binding Protein”[Mesh] OR “Vitamin D Response Element”[Mesh] OR “Receptors, Calcitriol”[Mesh] OR “Calcium-Binding Protein, Vitamin D-Dependent”[Mesh] OR “vitamin D 24-hydroxylase “[Substance]))

From ClinicalTrials.gov, we have a feed coming in that searches for “vitamin D,” it is here: http://1.usa.gov/1eBEueb. This feed lists registered clinical trials (at various stages), with the trials with most recently updated details listed at the top.

In all, this is a screenshot of all these feeds in Feedly:


One database that would make our literature search more comprehensive is Embase, but we do not use it. Embase, like PubMed, is a literature database, but ran by Elsevier and based out of Europe. Unlike PubMed, it is not free to use, so we do not use it.

How much literature are we missing out on by not using Embase? 4,800 journals are indexed in Embase, 1,800 of which are not indexed in PubMed (MEDLINE to be more accurate). Similarly, of the 5,200 journals indexed in PubMed, 1,800 are not indexed in Embase. So to be truly comprehensive, it’s important to search both databases. We are essentially missing out on 1,800 journals.

The last research and news we collect is by word of mouth. Researchers will email us, “Hey, did you see my research?” Members will email, “Did you see this news?”

We take these correspondences into full consideration. While it may not seem too methodological, it’s actually not too different than what a Cochrane systematic review team would do: Contact those in the field of the topic they’re reviewing and ask for any research and data they might be missing.

From here, as a team, we decide which topics we want to cover and how we want to cover them. Should we blog on this study? Should we write a news story? Should we do nothing with it?

Research papers we want to blog on and cover in depth, we start taking measures to obtain the full-text paper. These measures include:

  • Finding and downloading the open-access paper for free.
  • Contacting researchers we have good connections with.
  • Purchasing research through DOCLINE System.

In terms of the types of research papers we decide to cover in the blog, we look for research papers that are high-quality and primary, so we look for randomized controlled trials and large cohort studies. We look for novel research, no matter the study type. And we look to cover best-methods research in educating on vitamin D and improving vitamin D status, so we can better learn as a community how to take on the vitamin D issue.

We, in a sense, relegate research papers to our news section when we feel the research/paper don’t meet the above criteria, or that we feel we can’t offer great insight to, or that we feel no great insight is needed. We obtain these research papers for the news section in the same manner that we do for research papers in the blog section.

Sometimes when we look to obtain research papers, we’re not sure yet if we want cover in blog, news, or maybe we’re not sure whether to cover the research at all. So we use another tool to organize incoming papers and our general collection of papers: Mendeley.

Mendeley is a reference and PDF organizer. It takes all of our PDF research papers, stores them and organizes them in a helpful and meaningful way.

In Mendeley, we as a team can organize papers into folders and tags and use the software as a tool to further organize and decide what to do with research. Once we have the full PDF research paper, we can take a look at the study in-depth and better decide what to do with it. We will place recently added papers to either our “For blog” or “For news” folders to let us know we have research to cover. If we decide we shouldn’t cover a particular paper, then we do nothing with it and just store it in our Mendeley database.

This is a screenshot of our Mendeley setup:


From here, our team of authors pick out specific studies, read them and synthesize them as best they can and offer insight as best they can when needed. And then after a couple edits between myself and the author, you see the end product: a news or blog article.

Note that not all news and blogs fit this methodology, but this is the methodology we most routinely stick to. Anytime you read a recap of a single study, this was the methodology.

We deviate from this methodology in some instances. For blogs, sometimes authors feel inspired to cover a specific topic and will do a mini-literature search and cover the topic in a way that helps get their point across. Dr Cannell writes many blogs in this fashion, often citing many articles in that blog piece. Sometimes we write journalistic pieces. Sometimes we want to educate on basic science and will use various studies as examples. And sometimes we discuss Vitamin D Council happenings.

For news, sometimes there is no full-paper to cover. For instance, if a conference reports on a poster or oral presentation, we will cover that in the news because we don’t know when the full-paper will be published (and it could be months and months). We also cover events, industry announcements, government and agency announcements/news, Council happenings, recruiting announcements and more. None of these types of news require the above methodology.

Comments or critiques of our methodology? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share here or send us an email.

1 Response to The Vitamin D Council methodology: A look at how we cover research in blog and news

  1. [email protected]

    Thank you, Dr. Connell, for sharing with us the very interesting and accurate methodology you use to collect scientific information that you then shape in a digestible form for us. My confidence in you is strengthened.

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