Let down by Crooks and Liars

I normally like Crooks and Liars.

However, this time around, while blogging about the Autism Omnibus, Nicole let me down. Saying that “I don’t pretend to have any special medical knowledge; so I will link both sides of the thimerosal debate,” she then linked to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s totally dishonest fearmongering piece of crap from two years ago and Arthur Allen’s voice of reason.

This is the sort of lack of critical thinking that comes from “presenting both sides of a debate” as though they are roughly equivalent when they are not. It’s like the press presenting creationist arguments alongside those of scientists. It’s far easier to present “both sides” than to bother to find out that one side’s position is without support. To help her realize this, for Nicole’s edification (and for the benefit of the antivaccinationists who are infesting the comments of Crooks and Liars), I present a little Respectfully Insolent™ education:

  1. Salon.com flushes its credibility down the toilet
  2. The Autism Omnibus: When you don’t have scientific evidence, tug on the heartstrings!
  3. Surprise, surprise! Andrew Wakefield was paid by lawyers to undermine the MMR vaccine
  4. Arthur Allen-David Kirby Debate: All about a story with “legs”
  5. Even the zealots can’t defend this hypothesis any more
  6. Another Salvo in the Mercury/Autism Controversy
  7. Arthur Allen on conflicts of interest in the mercury militia movement
  8. Autism Omnibus crashing?
  9. Robert F. Kennedy Junior’s completely dishonest thimerosal article
  10. Lies, damn lies, and quote mining
  11. “On a mission to discredit any and all evidence of a mercury-autism linkage”
  12. Anti-mercury warriors descending further into the depths

And, there’s more where that came from, if needed. Commenting about an issue requires more than just posting links to “both sides.” What Nicole did was no different from saying, “I don’t pretend to have any special knowledge of biology, so I will link both sides on the evolution debate,” and then linking to TalkOrigins and Answers in Genesis.


  1. #1 Wes
    June 13, 2007

    That’s one of the frustrating things about being a skeptic. Oftentimes you can’t rely on easy cliches, and have to make a point that takes a little while to spell out. Meanwhile, the kooks can just spew out a string of easy-to-remember catchphrases which resonate much better with the target audience. And most people won’t take the time to check the facts themselves, so the kooks get bolstered by mostly well-meaning people who want to “present both sides” of the “debate”.

    The end result is you’ve got the kook’s argument (which is superficially very convincing and very easy to follow) presented as an equal with the more sensible argument (which has a lot more substance and hence can’t be easily distilled into catchphrases) and the public, who usually aren’t up to date on the relevant facts, will be very likely to side with the easier argument (the kook’s). And to make matters worse, trying to convince the media outlets not to present the kook’s argument is a catch-22, since the kook can easily spin your complaints into a “he’s persecuting me!” which will come across well to the audience for the same reasons.

  2. #2 Skeptyk
    June 13, 2007

    How about:

    “I don’t pretend to have any special historical knowledge; so I will link both sides of the Holocaust debate; here are links to The Nizkor Project and Ernst Zundel. Let’s teach the controversy. It’s only fair.”


  3. #3 Alison
    June 13, 2007

    Doesn’t it seem telling that the only people who want to “present both sides of the debate” have no knowledge of one of them?

  4. #4 Joe
    June 13, 2007

    My local NPR station aired a piece on immunization, giving equal time to a chiropractor (?!) who opposed it and a doctor who spoke for it. When I complained, the news manager insisted that he had used a stopwatch and both sides had equal time. I could not convince the guy that is still irresponsible. He had been a journalist for 35 years and didn’t need any advice from a chump like me.

  5. #5 AnnR
    June 13, 2007

    I’ve never seen Crooks and Liars before, but I will say that the descriptions of the two viewpoints appears biased to me.

    It’s RFK pointing to “causation and suspected cover-up”, like those things are fact, and Arthur Allen’s “opinion”, like there is no fact, just his opinion. Without too much special knowledge beyond having experienced the gyrations of special education and classifications to get funding I think Allen has a decent argument.

  6. #6 Jon
    June 13, 2007

    I read Crooks and Liars daily and this bothered me too. I was hoping either you would see it or someone would point it out to you and that you’d post a reply.

  7. #7 Alan Kellogg
    June 14, 2007

    Yes, it is blantant self-promotion, but I think certain parties would prosper by reading stuff like this.

  8. #8 Joshua
    June 15, 2007

    Completely ridiculous. This is exactly the kind of lazy reporting sites like C&L and Media Matters expose and criticise every day. Is it wrong when Fox or CNN does it but ok when they do?

    I’m not going to pretend like I’ve never been lazy or made a stupid mistake, but to make a mistake that you spend half your time calling other people out for? Yeah, that’s kind of not cool.

    Since Nicole really didn’t have the medical knowledge to analyse the case on her own, she had two options, either of which would have been the Right Thing: 1) Not report on it. Seriously, there are other sites where people can get their news. What happened to “Write what you know?” 2) Ask somebody with medical knowledge. Like, I dunno, a doctor? If she doesn’t have the medical knowledge to understand the evidence, what makes her think Robert Frickin’ Kennedy, Jr. does? At least when a journalist reports some stupid thing Behe says, they’re at least taking the word of somebody who should know what he’s talking about. What makes RFK, Jr. a valid source for medical judgments?

  9. #9 mark
    June 16, 2007

    I noticed that and reacted the same way. It would have been better for Nicole to take a quick look at (for example) The Millenium Project.

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