Huffington Post is a denialist website

How else can you describe a site that regularly publishes David Kirby’s anti-vaccination denialism, Jennifer McCarthy’s insanity, and conspiracy theories from the like of Diedre Imus?

The latest this weekend is the goalpost-moving from David Kirby, which based on the egregious misinterpretation of the Hannah Poling case, represents the new front of anti-vaccination denialists in their war on reason. In the never-ending quest to pin autism on vaccines no matter what the evidence, the anti-vaccine denialists now are trying to make autism a mitochondrial disorder in order to fit their latest imagined victory. Despite the obvious fact that the disorder in the Poling case was a pre-existing genetic dysfunction that was possibly aggravated by vaccines, Kirby has decided to add to the confusion by now suggesting that this was a “concession” by the government of a causative link between vaccines and autism.

There is no evidence of a link. between autisms and vaccines.

This post from Kirby is joined by this article from Barbara Fischkin which has the audacity to blame autism on thimerosal:

These people were poisoned. One of the culprits is, no doubt, the mercury preservative that was put willy-nilly into so many vaccines.

Let’s be clear. The thimerosal-autism link is one of the clearest examples of a failed hypothesis that I can think of. It was extensively studies, and roundly disproven by the fact that 6 years after it’s removal autism diagnoses continue to increase (A longer discussion for why this is). Even Kirby won’t support this nonsense, yet the HuffPo will gladly let other cranky celebrities and other morons write whatever the hell they want about science as if they have any idea what they are talking about.

This is an example of something we here at denialism blog have been talking about lately. Liberalism is no protection from anti-scientific thinking. In fact, if there is a unifying theme of denialism, it is that any extreme of ideological thinking leads to the necessary denial of fact. When one considers the causes of denialist worldviews, one sees again and again some form of fundamentalist belief. Fundamentalist religion leads to the rejection of evolution. Free-market fundamentalists are the leading source of anti-global warming denialism. On the liberal side, a mixture of technophobia and neo-luddism leads to paranoid suspicions about everything from GM crops causing non-existent illnesses to fear of harmless radio technology such as wifi to the fear of vaccines and medicine innovations exemplified by the HuffPo cranks and the evidence-based medicine/HIV/AIDS denialists like Mike Adams and Gary Null.

All overvalued ideology ultimately represents a threat to scientific or rational thinking. Science doesn’t respect political values or preconceived notions about how the world works. Liberals may side with global warming science because it fits with their preconceived paranoia of corporations and technology, and conservatives may love evidence-based medicine because it protects Dick Cheney from the Grim Reaper but it’s clear no matter what the ideology, whenever there is a conflict between science and politics there is always a constituency that favors rejection of fact to maintain a fixed belief.

Medicine is no exception. Conservatives don’t generally object to medicine, but are happy to lie about contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell science or the evil FDA regulators when it conflicts with their pro-life or fundamentalist free market agenda. Liberals don’t object to object to being put together after car accidents either, but their anti-corporate and anti-authority ideology leads them to dream up all sorts of paranoid conspiracy theories that fit with altie-woo and luddite denialism.

I believe public policy should be informed by the evidence first, and ideology should always play second fiddle to what can be demonstrated by the facts. When that order is reversed you are playing a dangerous game. Huffington Post, by supporting this denialist claptrap is risking its reputation on writers who are little more than kooks. I think they should follow the model of Daily Kos. The scientific standards for what appears on the front page is consistently top-notch. The diaries, which are essentially a free-for-all, are monitored for the presence of 9/11 conspiracy nonsense and other kinds of embarrassing crankery which damages the ultimate goal of the website. I would hope that Huffington Post could learn from this and understand the importance of standards for inclusion of posts on their site. These kooks will bring them down, because, dammit, lot’s of us out here in the real world think science is important. I would also hope that contributors to Huffington Post who care about science will realize that Huffington Post shouldn’t get a pass just because they might happen to be right on global warming or evolution. These types of posts from pseudoscientific crackpots are an embarrassment, and the inclusion of these kooks undermines the legitimacy of the site as a whole. If there are people who care about making HuffPo sound like a source of legitimate opinion and analysis, they should take a stand, now, before it’s too late.

Comments

  1. #1 G Felis
    April 28, 2008

    Like most corruption, HuffPo’s comes from the core. Arianna Huffington, while a bright woman, clearly has the critical thinking skills of a small yappy dog, or Oprah. Anyone who would give a platform to Deepak Chopra is not to be taken seriously.

  2. #2 Colugo
    April 28, 2008

    Is Europe a continental version of the Huffington Post?

    In multiple areas of biomedical policy, European countries are more likely to have pro-woo, anti-science public sentiment and/or official policy than the United States.

    Consider: homeopathy, 9/11 conspiracy theories, anti-vaccination, anti-vivisection, human cloning research bans (Germany, France…), embryonic stem cell research bans (Germany, Italy…), water fluoridation bans, anti-food irradiation, anti-GMOs. Even pasteurization is viewed suspiciously in some circles, with the result that toxoplasmosis rates are much higher in France than the United States.

    And I really just mean Western Europe, not Eastern Europe nor all of Europe as a whole.

    It’s not just pro-lifers. Rather it seem to be a political spectrum-crossing, often “progressive,” biotraditionalism along with superstitious and conspiracist thinking.

  3. #3 mwana mwega
    April 28, 2008

    I agree here. I, just like you, have no place for denialists. They need to be exorcise from this wonderful society. These are the same folks who criticize biotech companies instead of going after scientists who do work there. They call corporations like Monsanto, Bayer and Dupont names, but unfortunately they don’t offer any alternative solutions to the problems facing this world. It’s high time we tell these people off and remind them they have no place in this world. Blogger James, in his blog called, GMO Africa, called on scientists to stand up and defend their work. I totally agree with him. Many a scientists are shy from defending their work. They allow some lay people to come and distort what has taken so many years to build. This is the time for scientists to come out and defend the sweat of their work.

  4. #4 Valdemar
    April 28, 2008

    Colugo, you’re quite right. As a Brit it dismays me to admit that Prince Charles (he of the big ears and strange taste in second wives) is a keen advocate of homeopathy, as are most of the older Royals. There is, in fact, a Royal Homeopathic Hospital in London, which is funded by the state.
    Fortunately a lot of people see this lunacy for what it is, and a campaign against homeopathy and general woo is gathering momentum. But at the moment, health crankery infests the UK in much the same way that religious bigotry afflicts the USA.

  5. #5 Peter Mc
    April 28, 2008

    Valdemar is right, health crankery runs deep in the Windsors, but when the shit hits the health fan for them, they are to be seen booking into conventional hospitals.

    There’s a new UK law being proposed that tarot card readers and their fraudulent ilk should have to have a disclaimer saying – basically – that you’re paying for a load of old cack. That being the case, I wonder if it could be extended to homeopathy, reiki, crystal therapy, foototherapy etc.

  6. #6 David Amulet
    April 28, 2008

    Public policy informed by evidence? What a splendid idea!!

  7. #7 John Fryer
    April 29, 2008

    Dr Mark

    Just who is in denial?

    You have a doctorate in physiology but seem unaware or unmoved by the known destruction of brain cells by mercury.

    In just one vaccine diluted evenly through the body the mercury concentration is sufficient to destroy brain cells.

    The mercury is not diluted evenly; it is in fact transported to the brain by known physiological mechanisms.

    Further, mercury is a catalyst, so has an enzymic action.

    12 000 babies are known to die every year in the USA AFTER receiving mercury laden vaccines.

    Today, due to some extra care this number is decreasing but we are left now with 60 000 maimed children every year with partial destruction of brain cells but not sufficient to kill them.

    Vaccines are not given one at a time but up to ten at a time and often each individual vaccine may contain thousands of antigens.

    The work of thousands of scientists tells us vaccines are not 100 per cent safe.

    The figures above give current proven estimates of harm to US children.

    Putting age old science with current health statistics we are left gasping at the carnage that not the Huddington Post is denying but your your blog is denying.

  8. #8 Boris
    April 29, 2008

    You are in denial, John. You turn 12,000 adverse reaction reports into 12,000 dead babies. Shame on you. Stop making shit up, please.

  9. #9 LanceR
    April 29, 2008

    12 000 babies are known to die every year

    Source? Data? Evidence? Didn’t think so…

    each individual vaccine may contain thousands of antigens

    No sh*t? Really? So it isn’t just one giant antibody we’re sticking in ‘em?

    The figures above give current proven estimates

    What, exactly, is a “proven estimate”? Is that anything like a “wild ass guess”?

    Classic denial. Try the links at the top of the page, especially the HOWTO. Perhaps then you will come up with an actual argument.

  10. #10 BDM
    April 29, 2008

    Like most people in these discussions, I don’t know enough about Thimerosal to know whether it causes autism, but the studies you reference come from whithin the American medical establishment, which has a vested interest in denying a link. In an atmosphere in which the Pentagon is disseminating propaganda disguised as news, trusted firms like Bear Stearns and Drexel Burnham intentionally deceive investors, major universities have kickback agreements with lenders, mortgage lenders & millitary recruiters falsify data to meet sales & recruitment goals and so forth, it’s easy to see why the Thimerosal story has legs.
    Until profit motive is removed from the medical profession, there will always be justification for suspicions like the Thimerasol/autism link.

  11. #11 LanceR
    April 29, 2008

    BDM,

    Now that is a relevant comment. It is true that some people remain suspicious of the profit motive. However, when Thimerosal was *REMOVED* from childhood vaccines several *YEARS* ago autism rates have *GONE UP*. That is a pretty powerful negative correlation.

    Also, vaccines and vaccinations are typically a loss for the medical profession. (I think PalMD had some info on this once? A little help?) The idea that a once-in-a-lifetime shot can compete economically with Zyrtec or Zantec is just absurd. The profit motive behind “curing” Restless Leg Syndrome is pretty obvious. The motive behind vaccinations so a generation of children *Don’t Get Horrible Diseases And Die* is less obvious.

    As I said, a good question.

  12. #12 SLC
    April 29, 2008

    Re BDM

    The trouble with Mr. BDMs’ comment is that thimerasol was removed from vaccines given to children 6 years ago. Unless that is he is going to claim that the government is lying about it.

  13. #13 BDM
    April 29, 2008

    No, SLC, I don’t believe the government and/or pharmaceutical industry is lying about the removal of Thimerosal, unless they are lying by omission. Many aerosol products display the words, “CFC Free!” on their packaging. What many people don’t realize though is that the CFCs were replaced with HCFCs, which are just as bad. Could the pharmaceutical industry be doing the same thing with Thimerosal? Anyway, I agree with the thrust of this post that the HuffPo is rather disappointing in more ways than one.

  14. #14 Emily
    April 29, 2008

    Denialism ought to be a new political party. You could pack into it all the people from both sides of the aisle who are oblivious to the realities of science and medicine and who prefer a good conspiracy over a dull fact any day. Unfortunately, that would leave very few people for the Realism party and nothing would change; the Denialists would still be in charge of pretty much everything, except for encountering the occasional third-party opposition from the Sensationalists when they periodically break away from the Denialist/Sensationalist coalition.

    Where are the Big Endians when you need them?

  15. #15 Skemono
    April 29, 2008

    Where are the Big Endians when you need them?

    At Motorola?

    Is there another meaning to “big endian” that I’m not aware of?

  16. #16 Denise
    April 29, 2008

    OK – I know this is off-topic, but since you mentioned restless leg syndrome I have to say something. It is no joke. I had it once for a few weeks (drug side effect) and it was truly unbearable. If I had to live with it forever I probably would have committed suicide.

    That is all.

  17. #17 Evo
    April 29, 2008

    I agree that irrational thinking can cross any ideological line. I’m certainly not going to defend HuffPost on this particular issue. Maybe they do need to screen their posters a little better.

    Accept the science – whether it leads to a conclusion you like or not. If “not” then change your conclusion.

    Now I can anticipate the reaction my statement will receive from some. “You think science is perfect and never refuted”. No, I don’t. But I do think it’s the best tool mankind has ever devised for getting answers. There is no intellectual tool at our disposal that is MORE LIKELY to come up with the answers we need. And, if wrong, it will be shown to be so by – OTHER SCIENCE.

  18. #18 arthritistreatmentguy
    April 30, 2008

    another denialist site?

  19. #19 Matthew
    January 28, 2010

    Thank you for writing this. It’s impossible to voice any of these criticisms on the Huffpost website because any critical statement of the Huffington Post is immediately censored.

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