Who says blogging can’t have an effect?

A couple of days ago, I did a Respectfully Insolent™ takedown of a disappointingly credulous and misinformation-laden article published on Medscape about the human papilloma virus vaccine Gardasil. The article was clearly biased, and, worse, it quoted Oprah’s favorite woo-loving gynecologist Dr. Christiane Northrup parroting germ theory denialism and the myth that Louis Pasteur “recanted” on his deathbed. All in all, it was a terrible article.

Today, multiple people have pointed out to me and I have seen at the blog Holford Watch that the link to the Medscape article now leads to a “page cannot be found” error. Apparently, Medscape has pulled the article. At least, that’s the only explanation I can think of. Maybe Medscape has some shame after all.

On the other hand, this is not the way to go about it. Rather than admitting it made a mistake in not adequately fact-checking the article, leaving such ignorant quotes by Dr. Northrup to be included, and publishing such a shoddy article in the first place, Medscape has instead apparently taken the cowardly way out and simply quietly pulled the article, perhaps hoping that no one will notice. A better course would have been to pull the article, but leave that link leading to an explanation why the article was pulled. By taking the cowardly way out, Medscape has, if anything, lowered rather than raised my opinion of it. Although I’m happy to see that its editors apparently still have a sense of shame, I’m disappointed that they chose such a poor way to correct their mistake.


  1. #1 JoJo
    August 6, 2008

    Well done.

    I must agree that Medscape’s response was half-assed, at best. How about your non-response to my earlier comments? No parallels I’m sure.

  2. #2 Orac
    August 6, 2008

    You mean your anti-Semitic drivel agreeing with David Irving?

    Anti-Semites like you are not worthy of my continued attention. I indulge myself occasionally in swatting down your statements when I feel like it, but you have nothing of value to add to the conversation, which is why I rarely consider it a good use of my time to continue to engage you–except perhaps when I’m in an exceptionally cranky mood.

  3. #3 Annie
    August 6, 2008

    It depends who the blogger is, PZ. You are recognized as an authority, and that’s all good.

    But I’ll give you a recent example of when blogging did indeed have no impact, and a wrong, wrongness went and still goes unchallenged.

    Remember that KaiserNetwork live webcast a couple of weeks ago ostensibly about the health blogosphere and its impact on health policy and journalism that included a keynote speech by HHS sec Mike Leavitt and a preponderance of right wing health bloggers, such as Goldstein from the WSJ?

    Well, I live-blogged it (not well, but you can get the flavor of what went down) and wrote several follow up posts, strongly filleting the self-promotion that Leavitt did throughout his 40 minute long self-adulatory remarks which were filled with misstatements, falsehoods and lies.

    Not only was my readership at an all time low for those posts, but no one questioned Leavitt – no one from the progressive blogosphere, the skeptic/science blogosphere, the health blogosphere or from the corporate media.

    Except moi. And I’m still about the only person who knows about this dichotomy of lie presented as truth and propaganda as policy – unless traffic skyrockets and people read the posts. Feh.

    Leavitt was smart (or maybe it was the smartness of Ogilvy, the PR firm taxpayer dollars fund to provide Leavitt and his HHS cronies with slick marketing that pushes partisan faith-based fiction as fact and propaganda as policy. At any rate, now he’s successfully introduced the fiction that he’s a credible blogger and knowledgeable about health policy as fact because no one questioned or publicized the lies he’s telling about this.

    And blogging about it didn’t do any good at all (except that Ogilvy and HHS were all over my blog pre- and post-webcast, so at least THEY cared /snark).

  4. #4 JoJo
    August 6, 2008

    I disturbs me that just because I refer to factual materials you classify me as “anto-semitic”.

    I haven’t supported Irving.

    I haven’t denied “The Holocaust”.

    But you figure that by labeling me thusly you can ignore me. That’s despicable.

    Respond to some of Finkelstien’s points, some of Shakah’s point’s, for that matter, respond to some of my points instead of just calling me a “holocaust denier”. It would behoove you.

  5. #5 Orac
    August 6, 2008

    No, I figure labeling you an anti-Semite and supporting Irving based on your statement here, where you first paraphrase Irving:

    Here’s the beef:

    If, over thousands of years, every civilization you’ve lived within has eventually thrown you out or tried to exterminate you, shouldn’t you perhaps at least consider that it’s not a problem with “the other”? Could it just be a problem with your culture?

    I mean, sure, everyone else in the whole wide world could be fucked up, but wouldn’t Ockam’s razor suggest something else?

    You basically paraphrased Irving and then agreed with him, and in doing so repeated his anti-Semitism. Goodbye, anti-Semitic troll.

  6. #6 JoJo
    August 6, 2008

    No, I paraphrased Shahak.

    I knew you would censor me instead of dealing with the issues I raised. I just wasn’t sure how long it would take. Not very long.

  7. #7 JoJo
    August 6, 2008

    Well, damn. I thought you’d banned me. I admit my error.

    Nonetheless, the whole “jews were innocent victims of the holocaust” is as silly as “Americans were innocent victims of 9/11”.

    Read Finkelstien, read Shohak, get back to me.

  8. #8 Matt Carpenter
    August 6, 2008

    I readily agree with Orac about you, JoJo. Feigning victimhood doesn’t help your position, it makes you look disingenuous.

    If your statements here are any indication of the arguments of Finkelstien and Shonak, I’ve seen enough already.

  9. #9 Annie
    August 6, 2008

    Gak! Orac, I referred to you as PZ – so sorry! I can indeed distinguish between the two of you. Another case of fingers faster than brain….*g*

  10. #10 Nathan Baum
    August 6, 2008

    Nonetheless, the whole “jews were innocent victims of the holocaust” is as silly as “Americans were innocent victims of 9/11”.

    To the extent that the US itself was responsible for the attack, it was due to its imperialistic foreign policy. I imagine that few of the actual victims of the attack were directly responsible for the US’s foreign policy toward the Middle East. In that respect, almost all the victims would have been innocent.

    I don’t think the holocaust could in any sense be blamed upon the imperialistic foreign policies of the Jewish state, what with that state not existing at the time.

    Given the above, it seems unreasonable to attempt to compare how responsible Jews were for the holocaust with how responsible Americans were for 9/11.

  11. #11 Dangerous Bacon
    August 6, 2008

    Getting back to the subject of Orac’s post – maybe Medscape’s having “disappeared” its crummy and biased article is the best we can hope for.

    I’m hard pressed to think of any major website or news organization that has published credulous woo and later retracted it with an apology. Case in point – some years back, USA Today ran a “cancer journal” by one of its reporters, Cathy Hainer, who had breast cancer and decided when it was diagnosed at an advanced stage to forego further medical therapy and enthusiastically plunged into “alternative” treatments. These included colon cleansing at a “spa”. The paper never included any warnings about the uselessness of these treatments, and would not print letters criticizing its policy in the matter. Years after Hainer’s death at 38, gushing commentary on her foray into woo was still circulating on the Internet.

    Sorry if I’ve mentioned this here before, but this still grates on me. How many other cancer patients went for this stuff in lieu of potentially lifesaving therapy, because the paper seemed to endorse it?

  12. #13 BGT
    August 6, 2008


    You are off topic, and trolling. I think that about covers it all.

  13. #14 DLC
    August 6, 2008

    for Medscape: you put up BS, you should own up to it.

  14. #15 Alan Kellogg
    August 6, 2008

    Ladies and gentlemen, please keep in mind that Nathan Baum is not from this planet, and is not expected to arrive for another ten years. Which means his knowledge of events is lacking in many areas, where it is not bent worse than a preteen’s scatological humor.

  15. #16 Orac
    August 6, 2008

    You’re of the “Anyone who saus it wasn’t six million is a denier” school.

    And you appear to be of the “millions of Jews died and the Jews deserved it” school of anti-Semite.

    Do not comment further on this in this comment thread. If you must continue to comment, go back to the David Irving post, where your comments, although still just as despicable, at least have something to do with the content of the post. Any off topic posts in this thread by you will be deleted with extreme prejudice.

  16. #17 NickG
    August 7, 2008

    You were expecting something else from Medscape? Though I can see their reasoning. They realize that they published a stinking pile of crap and have a choice: They can quietly pull it, in which case a tiny number of reasonably civilized people will say things like “what a bunch of sucktastic weasels.” Or they can link to an explanation that of why they pulled the article and have the anti-vax idiots creating a frenzy of negative-PR-hysteria because suddenly Medscape is now the enemy.

    That’s a no-brainer for a corporation like Medscape. That’s why I read Bandolier regularly but Medscape only on 12/31 when I realize that I haven’t kept any records from any of the CME I’ve done through the year and I pound through 20 hours of CME credits on their site in a couple of hours (thanks to a small rent in the time-space-continuum.)

    And will you post a video if you delete JoJo with extreme prejudice? I bet you could get it to the top of YouTube if you have good audio of the cracking and squishing noises punctuated by blood curdling screams.

  17. #18 Joe
    August 7, 2008

    PalMD has a bit more on MedScape and Gardasil

  18. #19 daedalus2u
    August 7, 2008

    In my opinion, that is crap. If you want your journal to be considered part of the responsible media you have to explicitly correct errors that you make. Explicitly correcting errors is orders of magnitude more important to be considered part of the scientific literature.

    If you run your publication based on what a fringe group of anti-science wackos think and do, you are no better than the National Enquirer or the Weekly World News. If your reporting isn’t reliable enough to stand up against the intellectual powerhouses of Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, it isn’t reliable enough to publish in the first place.

  19. #20 BB
    August 7, 2008

    Orac, 6 million Jews dying in the Holocaust may be an underestimate. Some recent scholarship points to a figure as high as 8 million.

  20. #21 Dr. Val
    August 7, 2008

    I’m glad Medscape took the article down. That shows that they’ll do the right thing when an error is spotted – and I bet that the people who let this go live will be disciplined and new policies/procedures will be instituted to tighten the quality control further. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the journal to make its internal improvements public – and a splashy apology isn’t in their best interests given Nick G’s point about drawing more attention to anti-vaccinationist woo.

    In this case Medscape did the right thing, and next time we find an error, we should flag it directly to the Editor-In-Chief for the most rapid and civilized resolution. Readers like us can help make Medscape better – but tearing them down when they’re responsive to correction doesn’t seem productive.

    *Full disclosure – I used to work at Medscape, and know that their leadership is very interested in quality control and science-based medicine. I’m sure they were quite distraught that this article slipped through the cracks and will take steps to prevent that from happening again.*

  21. #22 HolfordWatch
    August 7, 2008

    Dr Val wrote:

    In this case Medscape did the right thing, and next time we find an error, we should flag it directly to the Editor-In-Chief for the most rapid and civilized resolution. Readers like us can help make Medscape better – but tearing them down when they’re responsive to correction doesn’t seem productive.

    Medscape were notified. We also contacted Dr Harper who had been quoted in that lamentable piece (we may publish something more from her as it seems that the nuance of her contribution has been lost in the chaff in that article).

    According to Google, the original article is widely reproduced in various antivax places on the internet. So, unfortunate though it may be, it is desirable that there are posts that criticise the flaws in the piece and the Medscape withdrawal does not achieve that – plus the pushpoll on the front page as covered by Denialism) does the topic no service. That poll doesn’t look as if they have genuinely been responsive to correction and they are still failing to provide a context for the assertions.

    Serious neurologic, thromboembolic, and autoimmune complications have been reported in a small number of patients who received Merck’s HPV vaccine, prompting a recent joint advisory by the FDA and CDC. But the agencies emphasize that the vaccine is safe. How will this news change your use of the HPV vaccine?

  22. #23 Paul Murray
    August 7, 2008

    Well, it’s not nessesarily anything sinister on MedScape’s part. Possibly just bad website management. Face it – they did the right thing: “Oops, this article is full of crap! Pull it *now*.”. The righter thing would have been not to have put it up in the first place, but still.

    Maybe they could have left it there, but with the entire text struck through (with the “strike” tag or as a css property – and also with a bit of an explanation as to why the text was struck in a box somewhere.

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