Huffington Post, Bad Science and AOL

Tonight, I saw this Twitter message from Carl Zimmer, a science writer journalist and reporter for whom I have great respect:

MT @BadAstronomer: Media FAIL *again*. This time, it’s HuffPo and Apophis.. CZ: That’s $315 million of AOL FAIL now!

While I remain a dedicated HuffPost blogger, I’m the first to recognize that giant news media organizations can be prone to error sometimes in their zeal to garner a wider audience. After all, provocation is a proven method to get someone’s attention.

My Scibling, “Orac” over at Respectful Insolence might appreciate this one.

But here’s my pledge to readers: anything I submit to The Huffington Post, or ScienceBlogs, or any other news media outlet, will be backed up by peer-reviewed scientific literature, unless it is written expressly as my opinion, in which case I will inform you as such. Deal?

My current readers may note that I have maintained this pledge since my first posting. Simply put, The Huffington Post would be better served to cover stories focused on science and technology if they had more writers who are practicing scientists or are bone fide science writers.

I am disappointed with this story:

According to the posting on Discover magazine:

Oh for FSM’s sake. Again?

First, let me be clear: the odds of the 250-meter-wide asteroid Apophis hitting the Earth in 2036 are extremely slim, like less than 1 in 135,000 (and I just heard 1 in 250,000 from another expert). This is less than the odds of getting dealt a straight flush in five-card stud poker. Those are teeny tiny odds.

So then why oh why did The Huffington Post just put up an article about Apophis hitting us in 2036? With the headline “Apophis Asteroid Could Hit Earth In 2036, Scientists Say”? After I already posted that this original story was totally garbled by a Russian journalist, who grossly misquoted a Russian astronomer?


Now, they claim this info comes from a UPI article, but that article is pretty clear about the odds. While the HuffPo article also puts in the odds, they interlace it with a lot of doomsday stuff.

For example, they used a graphic illustration right at the top of a huge asteroid impact, just to make sure they scare their readers. They also include a video, saying “Watch a shocking visualization of what the event could look like,”… and the video shows what it would look like if the Earth were hit by an asteroid that was 800 km (500 miles) across.

That’s a little bit bigger than 250 meters. By a factor of 30 billion (in volume, which is what counts in impacts). I actually wrote about this video a couple of years ago. While an Apophis impact would suck (if it happened, which it almost certainly won’t), it would not rip the crust of the planet off and eject it into space, leaving behind a boiling, seething mass of lava and killing every thing down on Earth to the last bacterium.



So, nice going HuffPo. You’ve managed to once again mangle science and reality, adding to the already shameful articles about the Betelgeuse nonsense, and the nearly daily dangerous antivax and alt-med stuff.

Man. The least they could do is space this stuff out a little bit so I have time to breathe between debunkings.


  1. #1 chezjake
    February 9, 2011

    As long as you continue to support HuffPo by blogging there while *not* actively protesting their faux science and support of woo medicine, I will not read or support your blogging on any other space.

    Be pro-science and anti-woo everywhere, all the time. Otherwise you’re just as bad as all the other woo-meisters.

  2. #2 Jeff
    February 9, 2011

    While this may be considered my first “active protest” against their “faux science,” do not forget that some of the very best scholars and experts are HuffPost bloggers, and that it is by invitation only. Complain as much as you like, but publishing on their site is a distinction that must be earned. Nothing is “black” and “white.” The more scientists contribute to their conversation – and any other blog with a wide readership, for that matter – the better.

  3. #3 Ceal Smith
    February 9, 2011

    And many of the “best scholars and experts” of the real left are leaving Huffpost as fast as they can say “AOL, by invitation only”. Make whatever choice you must, but don’t fool yourself about the truth of it:

  4. #4 socle
    February 10, 2011

    Complain as much as you like, but publishing on their site is a distinction that must be earned.

    Well, somehow Dana Ullman made the cut.

  5. #5 Orac
    February 10, 2011

    So let’s see. You don’t believe me when I tell you that HuffPo is a wretched hive of scum and quackery when it comes to science (and in fact criticize the very use of the term), but you start seeing tweets from Phil Plait and Carl Zimmer, and you start believing it.

    I already discussed the possibility of a HuffPo science section on two occasions:

  6. #6 David
    February 10, 2011

    Your posts perhaps give them some claim to credibility, which draws readers in to viewing the other posts, which are nonsense. When does posting on HP cross the line from “contributing to a forum” to “collaborating with promulgators of lies”?

  7. #7 Jeff
    February 10, 2011

    As I indicated, nothing is “black and white.” Being open-minded benefits both readers and writers; I am not ready to dismiss The Huffington Post’s coverage of science wholesale because some of the coverage is excellent, and yes, some is pseudo-science. The question is, what can we as scientists do about? Complaining and name-calling is futile. Making substantive contributions may make a difference in enhancing public understanding of science.

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