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HuffPost Health: A soon-to-be one-stop shop for quackery?

Oh, goody. Just what we need.

Some of my readers sent this to me yesterday, and I, like them, was appalled. Apparently that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post, has decided that it’s starting a “real” health section (to be, apparently, distinguished from its old “Lifestyle” section, where previously most of its health quackery reporting and commentary resided (and presumably will still reside). Also, yes, I know I use the term “wretched hive of scum and quackery” whenever I mention HuffPo these days, but that’s just because that’s just what HuffPo is when it comes to medicine. Perhaps I’ll start abbreviating it WHSQ and use it as a hash tag on Twitter or something.

In any case, the Chief Quack Herder (i.e., the Chief Medical Editor) over at HuffPo, Dr. Dean Ornish, has announced:

Beginning today, The Huffington Post is launching a new section, HuffPost Health. It’s a place for serious and interesting conversation and education around all aspects of personal health and well-being, including treatment, prevention and wellness.

As you know, there is no shortage of information on the Internet. For example, a Google search of “heart disease” yields over 25 million entries. You could literally spend the rest of your life reading through these.

What’s needed is an intelligent forum for sharing a spectrum of evidence-based ideas and approaches to enable you to sort out what works, what doesn’t, for whom and under what circumstances.

How true. Unfortunately, given its track record dating back to the very beginning of its existence of enthusiastically supporting anti-vaccine quackery, the quantum woo doodlings of Deepak Chopra, credulously breathless promotion of “distance healing,” and even the purest of quackery, HuffPost Health isn’t going to be the place to go for anything “evidence-based” and certainly not for sorting through the health information noise on the Internet to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Indeed, lately HuffPo has even been promoting breast cancer quackery in the form of a dubious alt-med cancer cure testimonial and Dr. Christiane Northrup’s promotion of breast thermography as a valid alternative test to screen women for breast cancer and letting cranks like Joe Mercola push raw food faddism. In fact, given its high level of traffic and its dedicated stable of woo-meisters and quackery supporters, HuffPo is a huge part of the problem. It’s certainly not part of the solution. Indeed, I started laughing uproariously when I heard about this–that is, at least before I started crying.

Fortunately for us, in addition to Arianna Huffington herself trumpeting the project and pointing out how much HuffPost Health will promote “integrative” medicine, Dr. Ornish lets us know right from the start what the real agenda of HuffPost Health will be:

HuffPost Health will be a clear and balanced resource to provide a comprehensive view of the state of health and health news in a given day. It will provide a forum for intelligent discourse and divergent but respectful points of view. HuffPost Health will empower you with state of the art information you can use to make informed and intelligent decisions that affect your life in meaningful ways.

In this spirit, HuffPost Health’s articles and videos will include the best of evidence-based allopathic Western medicine (including drugs and surgery), lifestyle and functional medicine (including nutrition, fitness, stress management, supplements, and love and support), mind/body medicine (including mental and emotional health), women’s and men’s health issues, and integrative medicine (including complementary and alternative medicine).

“Clear and balanced”? Is that anything like the liberal mirror image of FOX News’ slogan “fair and balanced”? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. In any case, all the “alt-med” buzzwords are there. There’s “empower,” which means giving you the power to choose nonsense over science by representing nonsense as being “evidence-based.” Then we have the term “respectful,” which is a much beloved quack buzzword for “don’t criticize me for speading pseudoscience and quackery, you big meanies.” Finally, there are the terms “allopathic” and “Western” applied to science-based medicine. Let’s just put it this way, it’s not 100% reliable (more like 99.9%) reliable, but whenever you see someone apply the word “allopathic” and/or “Western” to a description of science-based medicine, you know you’re about to hear or read something that is not science-based and is probably a defense of quackery. Certainly HuffPo’s history demonstrates that perfectly. Let’s just put it this way. I reject the false dichotomy that is “allopathic”/”Western” medicine versus “complementary and alternative medicine.” There are three kinds of medicine: medicine that has been scientifically validated to work, medicine that has not, and medicine that has been scientifically shown not to work. To quote the cliche, “alternative” medicine that has been shown to work becomes just medicine.

Of course, HuffPo mentions that it’s going to be writing about functional medicine, which is pure woo, and “integrative medicine,” which involves “integrating” quackery with science-based medicine, mixing it up in an unholy blender of woo to the point where it’s sometimes hard even for those of us who write about these issues to be sure where the woo ends and science-based medicine begins. That’s the point. By associating quackery as co-equal with science-based medicine, the quackery takes on a patina of scientific respectability that it doesn’t deserve. Unfortunately, HuffPo is one of the primary promoters of this sort of “blending.” Arguably, because of its traffic and mainstream cred, HuffPo is more dangerous than Mike Adams or Joe Mercola. After all, it’s pretty easy to recognize Mike Adams as a pure crank. It’s not quite as easy (at least, not for the average person) to recognize Mercola as a crank, but still pretty easy. HuffPo, on the other hand, is mainstream, a source that a lot of left-leaning individuals go to for political commentary.

Remember when I joked disparagingly about HuffPo starting a science section, first back in 2008 and then again this year? Sadly, finally, after over five years in existence, HuffPo has begun a medical section. Being the optimist that I am, I like to see the bright side. At least there’ll be a lot of new blogging material. Heck, maybe by segregating the woo even further, it’ll be possible to ignore it more easily. On the other hand, if this new section is successful, it’ll be an influential one-stop-shop for quacks.

If you don’t believe me, just take a look at HuffPo’s medical review board. Arianna Huffington trumpets them as being there ” to provide guidance and allow us to maintain the highest standards.” Clearly, Arianna has a different idea of what high medical standards mean than I do. Among the members of this inaugural HuffPo medical board is a veritable who’s who of woo and quackademic medicine. There’s Dr. Dean Ornish leading the pack, of course. Then there’s Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. David Katz (he of the “more fluid concept of the evidence“), and an acupuncturist and “doctor” of homeopathy (“Dr.” Patricia Fitzgerald, who is also very fond of detox quackery), among others. I do wonder how the reputable physicians who were mixed in with the quacks (like the homeopath), just as “integrative medicine” attempts to “integrate” pseudoscience with science-based medicine. Either way, it looks like there’s a new woo source in town, and its name is HuffPost Health.

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]

44 replies on “HuffPost Health: A soon-to-be one-stop shop for quackery?”

Just embrace it as your one bookmark for all your ranting needs. Never be without a topic again – maybe start the daily HuffPo watch?

It will be easier to find; rather than wading through all of the living page, it will be on one page without the occasional viable piece. It will be much easier to direct students to where to find their woo to dissect, and the pieces will be shorter that Mercola’s posts on his own site. See, lots of bright sides!

Now, the question is will Lanza and Chopra be left on their own over in the living section or will they get to go in the health section with Hyman, Ullman, Mercola, and company?

If they are really wanting a clear and balanced treatment, I trust they will be having regular articles by those “Western” doctors, right? And not just pretenders like Jay Gordon

Pablo, I’m afraid that that representative of western medicine might well be Ornish himself ( in other words,”not very”): while he has an MD and teaches at UC,SF, he has delved into the dietary “mysteries of the East”. I’ve read one of his earlier books : the regime is much too difficult to maintain and probably isn’t appropriate for most heart patients ( see T. Gorski’s criticism, also @ Quackwatch). I wonder how much his ideas have influenced ( and given some credibility to) our friendly web woo-meisters: ultra low fat diet, mostly vegetarian, exercise as panacaea, meditation. Actually, I eat moderately low fat, no red meat,and exercise quite a bit, but I’m not crazy.( see NaturalNews/ Mercola/ Gary Null for *their* general diet/ execise recommendations )

Well, I’m sure that HuffPo will at least be open to discussion that suggests that the authors might be in error–apparently just like that bastion of open, science-based debate, Age of Autism. Here’s something that AoA’s Kim Stagliano posted today:

“Readers, we’re all about debate and we do sometimes wade into controversy – that’s OK! The day AofA plays is ‘careful’ or tells our contributors that they can’t get into a controversial topic we’re cooked.”

Dang! Another irony meter!

“unholy blender of woo”

Woo-garitas! Now with hangover-free homeopathic tequila.

Just a couple of quibbles. There is no relationship between the generally liberal politics of the HuffPo and the wackitude that appears in the “health” section. Woomeisters in general are not liberal and liberal political ideology does not somehow lead to unscientific beliefs. On the contrary, as a general statement, the left and liberals are champions of science and reason. This problem is a personal peccadillo of Ariana’s, not a problem of liberalism in general.

Second, I did check out the section today and for the most part it was unobjectionable. The junk that appears on the HuffPo is, I dunno, maybe 10% or so of the total? Anyway it’s scattered about, it isn’t the whole bag. That actually may make it more pernicious, of course, it makes the garbage harder to detect. But maybe a strategy of acknowledging the legitimate material while trashing the illegitimate is the best approach.

What’s needed is an intelligent forum for sharing a spectrum of evidence-based ideas and approaches to enable you to sort out what works, what doesn’t, for whom and under what circumstances.

… like, say, the peer-reviewed research literature?

Second, I did check out the section today and for the most part it was unobjectionable. The junk that appears on the HuffPo is, I dunno, maybe 10% or so of the total? Anyway it’s scattered about, it isn’t the whole bag. That actually may make it more pernicious, of course, it makes the garbage harder to detect. But maybe a strategy of acknowledging the legitimate material while trashing the illegitimate is the best approach.

Uh, you are aware of HuffPo’s history, aren’t you? It’s so egregious that I’m not willing to give HuffPo the benefit of the doubt, particularly looking at who’s on their “medical board” overseeing the content of HuffPost Health.

Woomeisters in general are not liberal and liberal political ideology does not somehow lead to unscientific beliefs. On the contrary, as a general statement, the left and liberals are champions of science and reason.

LOL. Need I remind you that all the New Age-style woo is primarily touted by liberals? Ultimately there’s one real truth. Liberal or conservative, science and reason are typically only championed when and as they serve the ideology of the person doing the championing.

Science and reason are a cause in themselves for some few people (Orac commendably among them), but for the great majority of people on ALL points of the political spectrum they are not. Claiming them as inherent to liberalism is inaccurate.

I find that I am a lonely liberal when it comes to calling out the woo. I have found this to be the case in a number of cities and parts of the country. My woo friends and acquaintances are well-educated in the liberal arts, but science illiterate in the extreme . They’ve been brought up on a steady diet of Evil Pharma, What They Don’t Want You To Know, Anything Ancient/Eastern Must Be Better Than Drugs and MD’s, Science Doesn’t Know Everything, and Yoga, Supplements and Exotic Juice Will Save You. Most of them have traded New Age and other woo for the religion they were brought up with and accept woo the same way they once accepted the Ressurection and the whole “blood of Christ” theology.. I would put Arianna into this same category–these people read widely, but forgot whatever they learned about critical thinking and they don’t like anything “negative” like when I point out how many mutual acquaintances of mine and theirs are dead from cancer in spite of mountains of woo. They are cultish in that they shun anyone who doesn’t buy the woo. It’s all just an exension of their fundamental need to “believe”.

I have had experiences that are similar to Anthro. I am pretty damn liberal and have a lot of very liberal friends but I am pretty much alone in being critical of this type of thing. I get all the standard tropes about science not knowing everything, that there are lots of medicines that do very little, big bad pharma, and generally an attitude that it is really terrible to be critical of beliefs. At least as long as we are not talking about politics, then it seems to be okay.

Not that I have not know lots of conservatives and right wing people who believed all sorts of silly things, they often also rejected science they did not like such as evolution and sometimes also believed a lot of wooish stuff. I mainly found the reasons given to be different amoung the groups but neither thought much of critical thinking, at least applied in general.

Whenever anyone feels it’s necessary to refer to “allopathic medicine” instead of just “medicine” (or “modern medicine”), it’s a warning sign.

Neither liberals nor conservatives are in the lead when it comes to embracing woo.

That honor goes to libertarians (Ron Paul and his pro-homeopathy, antivax ideology provide one example).

Maybe it’s that pro-woo sentiment naturally leads one to gravitate to libertarianism. Being constantly afraid that some nasty regulation will wipe out access to your quackery du jour (or ability to sell it) would tend to make you libertarian, a philosophy under which pretty much anything goes.

Dr. Sears is on the board as well. Actually, I’ve always wondered, Orac. What is your opinion of Dr. Sears?

Not to be melodramatic, but when I read Dr. Ornish’s statement I actually had an involuntary physical reaction. I shuddered and shivered. I must be getting more sensitive to the woo.

What we really need to do is promote woo among Republicans. The Earth is overpopulated by 60%, and voluntary self-darwinization is more humane than famines and pandemics.

Back a ways to “diet, exercise, and meditation.” Most docs today agree that all of those are helpful, so let’s please not lump them in with quackery. There’s plenty of peer-reviewed research showing that meditation reduces stress levels, and plenty more to show that stress is a co-factor in a wide range of chronic diseases.

Now I’m going to stick my neck out about something, in the interests of objectivity.

I’ve always had a low opinion of Deepquack Chopra, in particular for his amazing talent of getting interviews with respectable scientists and then using them to associate himself with respectable science. That kind of self-promotion makes me want to vomit.

However, a few weeks ago I heard a guy on the radio talking about religion, and about how people of different religions should learn to get along peacefully, and so on. It all sounded good, and perfectly reasonable, and he was certainly knowledgeable about comparative religion.

Then at the station break, they mentioned their guest’s name. Yep, Deepquack himself.

So at this point I’ve revised my opinion about him slightly, and I’m posting this by way of posting a finding that partially contradicts a previous hypothesis:

He should still keep his nose out of science, the further away the better. But the guy is reasonable enough when he talks about religion. And that would be a perfectly valid role for him to take, and one that should be encouraged. If he confines himself to religion, he might even do some good.

Think of this as a form of harm-reduction, like needle exchange. Until the addict is ready to quit, at least give him clean needles so he won’t get HIV.

superdave @10: I watched the Somers video on that link, and immediately remembered the remark made about some British actress who had botoxed herself: “Her lips now come around corners five minutes before she does.”

g724: “However, a few weeks ago I heard a guy on the radio talking about religion, and about how people of different religions should learn to get along peacefully, and so on. It all sounded good, and perfectly reasonable, and he was certainly knowledgeable about comparative religion.”
How much do you know about comparative religion? It’s easy for somebody who knows little about some specialist subject to be dazzled by somebody who talks like he knows all about it. That’s how many alt-med practioners fool the marks, by spouting science-sounding rubbish.

@Dawn: use the little search box on the left side of the screen. Type in Dr Sears and you will find several posts Orac has written about Dr Sears and his pseudoscientific practice of medicine (especially Dr Sears “alternative” vaccine schedule). Then you will know what Orac thinks about Dr Sears.

MI Dawn

“I think the track record of the Huffington Post makes it unlikely this will be an accurate and scientific source of medical information, but we can hope for some improvement.

An early clue may be seeing how they handle this story from this morning’s New York Times.

That’s an easy one. We need to stop using Pharma drugs, and buy supplements from China instead.

Growing up in India I observed local religious pundits and how they could manipulate the mind of a believer, I agree with your assessment of the self anointed King of Self help – Deepak Chopra.

But the question I ask is – who made him what he is today?
– The US Media!!

It is an uphill battle getting people to sift through what are scientifically proven facts and what are Deepak Chopra marketing engine facts!

Blogs such as these can help reign him in.

Perhaps this is meant to be your next stop when you can’t get in to see your ObamaCareless approved doctor for 10 months.

Re. Sophia8 at #27: Comparative religion was part of my grad work. And to be quite clear, I was not “dazzled” or “impressed” by Deepquack, and he didn’t have any particularly new or important insights. He was saying “the right things” in terms of trying to encourage peaceful relations among the Abrahamic tradition based religions. He was saying things that would have the effect of persuading people to overcome their stereotypes about Muslims. All of that was well & good, and certainly quite a bit more constructive than the fear mongering we hear from the hate talkers in the right-wing media.

And yes I’m familiar with the ways in which dreckmeisters mush together one part respectable science with three to six parts of dreck to attempt to seem credible. The fact that Deepquack says some useful things to help counteract the hate talkers does not relieve the criticism of his relentless self-promotion of obvious horse-puckey. But one can make distinctions, as with being able to hold criticism of specific Obama Administration policies while at the same time supporting Obama and working ferociously to get out the vote for Democrats.

Could I suggest WHoSaQ rolls off the tongue far sweeter than WHSQ and sounds vaguely insulting to boot.

In fact, on further thought a far greater impact could be had if you dropped the wretched

“hey, have you read the huffington post today?”
“you mean the Ho-Saq (Ho-Sac)?”
“the… what?”
“the hive of scum and quackery (hive of scum and charlatanism)”

The efficiency of value delivery is spectacular

For my amusement this morning, I decided to take a quick peak at the Huffpo’s new Health section. Alas, I didn’t spot anything on the NY Times article I had linked to, but
it could easily be missed.

There was the usual dreck like this article about “Detox Your Body-Bathing For Better Health”.

Or, you could read Susan Weissman’s argument that children might have fewer food allergies if they got more fevers!

It would be interesting to see orac’s analysis of Nancy F Koehn’s series of articles on her experience with breast cancer.

Apparently she did get conventional therapy (she doesn’t specify) but prefers to concentrate on the mental and emotional toll. She offers “insights” such as these:

For a disease that is so (tragically) high in its incidence, there is precious little in terms of received wisdom, medical research, even how-to books on how one is to keep one’s spirit strong through the months (and often, years) of dealing with breast cancer.

There will be increasing integration between the reactive, surgical-strike approach of western medicine and the more proactive, holistic orientation of eastern medicine.

Respect for the power of both kinds of treatment, used in concert, will grow on the part of practitioners and patients. Finally, patients will be empowered to listen to and learn from the right-side of their brains as well as from their heart, as they consider what treatment options are best for their particular situation and being.

I think that the way she lists “received wisdom, medical research, and how-to books” as comparable sources of useful information shows her real point of view.

Even relatively good articles like this one by Dr Jeffrey Toney suffer from being written for a general audience with a preference for just using familiar metaphors like searching for a needle in a haystack instead of trying to clearly explain the scientific results being reported.


I’m confused. Why would you think that doctors and hospitals are incapable of conducting Medicare fraud?

The fact that a few regular docs commit fraud does not change anything about the scientific findings upon which Western medicine is based. #38 is nothing more than a straw man plus an ad-hominem.

I am grateful to be living in a country where a person can voice their OPINION. Strong venomous words avail nothing. State your point and move on!!


I am grateful to be living in a country where a person can voice their OPINION.

And one of the other great things about this country is that when idiots voice opinions that are based on wishful thinking and ignorance, those opinions can be subjected to the jeering mockery they deserve.

Better yet, “opinions” that are factually false.

A huge proportion of the stuff on HuffPoo’s health section is effectively equivalent to expressing the “opinion” that 1+1=giraffe.


I am also glad to live where people can voice their opinions. Why is it OK for Orac to say “HuffPo is wrong” and virtuous for you to say “Orac is wrong”? Why is it okay for you, but nobody else, to criticize other people’s style? (Also, if you think the discussion should move on, why resurrect this thread now?)

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