Entertainment/culture Medicine Pseudoscience Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

A science section for the Huffington Post? More like a pseudoscience section!

Sadly, the death crud continues apace, although at a low enough level that I feel I can eke out a brief post, mainly because it relates to what I’ve been saying all along about a group blog that I tend to dislike. Both Shifting Baselines and DrugMonkey have pointed out that Huffington Post blogger David Sloan Wilson has asked if it should have a science section. As part of the article, he offers the “only” argument why not:

The only argument against creating a “Science” section, as far as I can see, is that it would be B-O-R-I-N-G. Sure we should know about science, and we should also eat our vegetables and exercise daily, but that’s not what causes people to visit websites. I think that this argument fails for two reasons. First, it only works for media outlets driven purely by entertainment, such as People magazine. Media outlets that strive for the intellectual high ground have an obligation to report substance. Second, who says that science must be boring? Done right, science journalism can be riveting, especially when it is used to understand and improve the human condition, as it increasingly is in my own field of evolutionary biology.

A far better reason that the Huffington Post should not start up a science section is because of its history of already having a pseudoscience section. One wonders why Wilson didn’t mention this.

Let’s go back into time nearly three years ago, when the Huffington Post first came into being. A mere two weeks after its inception, I noticed that antivaccinationist pseudoscience was running rampant on its blogs. In a brief period of time, there were two articles by that mercury militia enabler and master of deceptive rhetoric David Kirby, an article by Janet Grilo, and crunchy Santa Monica pediatrician to the stars Dr. Jay Gordon (who’s also been associated with HIV/AIDS denialism). And let’s not forget all the articles by antivaccinationist Deirdre Imus and conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. over the last three years.

Let’s also not forget the biggest reason of all that the HuffPo has zero credibility as a source of science: The regular forum that it gives to that master of all things woo, Deepak Chopra. Whether he’s saying stupid things about genes, inane things about evolution, pushing the dubious “PEAR” studies, and major woo about dualism and universal consciousness, no one turns the woo up to 11 like Chopra. Indeed, so intense is the woo that Chopra routinely dishes out on the Huffington Post that I even coined a term for it: Choprawoo.

Sloan concludes:

I also think that if many scientists can be persuaded to blog for the Huffington Post, then something new and magnificent might emerge–a forum for scientists to engage in the actual scientific process, in full view of the general public. When the scientific process works as it is supposed to, it is more accountable than almost any other social process. If there is one thing lacking in popular culture today, it is accountability. The idea of putting the scientific process on display on the virtual pages of the Huffington Post makes me positively giddy with excitement.

The wag in me can’t help but counter that we already have the beginnings of such a place. It’s called ScienceBlogs. I also can’t help but point out to Dr. Wilson that the Huffington Post should clean out all the woo, antivaccinationist pseudoscience, and New Age idiocy from its pages before even contemplating a science section. Dr. Wilson should first petition Arianna Huffington to clean out the dreck, such as David Kirby, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Deirdre Imus, and Deepak Chopra. Otherwise, any “science section” in the Huffington Post is likely either to be a joke or to be in such marked contrast to the proclivities of the rest of the blog that it would be hard to take seriously.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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