Monday, October 19, 2009

Social Network Analysis of LASIK Comments (or Pew, Pew, Pew)

Christina Green, Jeff Kuznekoff, Holly Ningard, & Alyssa Pusecker

This project examined 258 reader comments left in response to a
NYT article about LASIK eye surgery.

Laser-assisted In Situ Keratomileusis (LASIK) is a medical procedure which uses a laser to reshape the cornea. The goal of the procedure is to enhance one’s vision without the need for contact lenses or glasses. Each year roughly 1 million LASIK surgeries are performed in the United States alone. However, many people who have the surgery performed are unhappy with the results and are unprepared for the medical side effects.


The comments were coded by four coders for social network analysis. In addition to quantitative data already present (i.e., time stamp, comment number), the coders also recorded data pertaining to the content of the comments left. In particular, the coders noted if the comment was for, against, or neutral towards LASIK and, if the commenter had the procedure performed, if their results were positive or negative. Data was entered into NodeXL to perform the social network analysis. This method allows for the extension of social network analysis beyond it’s use in certain disciplines.


Most messages were directed towards a more general audience or other readers; however, some of the posts were directed towards the author. It is worth noting that those comments linking the two clusters had a negative view towards LASIK. When looking at only comments directed toward the author, we find a nearly equal representation of negative, positive, and neutral views of LASIK. We did find that six comments linked the author and general clusters; however, if our coding method were further refined we feel that this linkage may actually be stronger. Overall, the comments did not appear to be as linked as we had originally anticipated.

In addition to analyzing the connections between nodes, we also examined the number of people recommending a particular comment. The earlier comments received a higher number of recommendations than comments occurring later on. That being said, we did find a few comments that occurred later on which received a fair amount of recommendations from other readers. In all likelihood, people probably did not read all of the comments and this would explain why the later comments received fewer recommendations than the earlier comments.


Perhaps the biggest recommendation we have for this project is to further refine the coding scheme used. While the coding method we used for this project was helpful, further work on this method would likely help to ascertain what interactions are taking place. We would recommend using additional coding categories to ensure that coders are able to account for a variety of interactions taking place. We would also recommend further attention be paid to who the comment is being directed towards.


The goal of this project was to analyze reader comments to a New York Times article on LASIK eye surgery. The comments offered a wide variety of personal experiences, advice and general opinions on the matter from readers worldwide. By looking at the results of the coding, we were able to determine that positive and negative comments tended to balance each other out. This may help to show that the effects of LASIK eye surgery are just as diverse among people, and the surgery should be seriously looked over between patient and doctor before deciding if treatment is right. The comments also showed how easily it was to diffuse information (both credible and potentially not so credible) to millions of viewers; it offered a place for professionals and average citizens alike to share their experience or knowledge of the subject.


  1. since this is a fairly new procedure i am curious to see if there are any long-term effects... such as thirty years down the road. Is the dissatisfaction rate going to increase by having this surgery? I think it probably will.

  2. hey- your image links are broken. any way to fix them?

  3. I think I was able to fix the link.

    Dumitru, that is one of the concerns about having the surgery. The FDA is actually taking a more proactive approach toward LASIK and trying to ensure that patients are more aware of the potential side effects and what to expect. It's been around for probably a bit over a decade now, but long-term studies haven't been performed yet. My doctor basically told me that I will most certainly need reading glasses when I get older; however, I probably would have needed them anyway given family history and the amount of time I spend in front of a computer. In my case my vision went from about 20/60 with astigmatism before surgery to about 20/15 (one year after the surgery).

  4. I was really surprised by how little conversation was actually going on in this setting. The Network map really shows that the conversation was more like a series of parallel play moments, rather than the rich give and take that I associate with other online discussion formats. I guess I should not have been so surprised though, given the nature of the comment structure, and seeing my own comment right here, I am not really interacting with the earlier comments, just with the issues presented in the initial post.