Respectful Insolence

Funny how everything old is new again, isn’t it?

Yes, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over nearly six years of blogging, it’s that, sooner or later, everything is recycled, and I do mean everything. At least, that was the thought going through my mind when I came across PZ’s discussion of a clueless wonder who appears to be advocating a science section in that cesspit of anti-vaccine quackery and quantum woo, The Huffington Post, whose proclivities for pseudoscience have led its activities to be characterized as a war on medical science. It’s actually more than just a war on medical science, though. It’s a war on all science, as posts by Deepak Chopra and a recent pro-“intelligent design” creationism post claiming that Darwin led inexorably to Hitler’s genocide demonstrated. If there were any conclusive evidence that HuffPo is all about all kinds of pseudoscience, I was hard-pressed to think of what it could be.

It’s déjà vu all over again, as the saying goes, given that a proposal that HuffPo develop a science section was floated to the science blogosphere nearly two and a half years ago, to the hysterical guffaws of the assembled bloggerati, guffaws that turned to gasps of dismay when science bloggers realized that this was actually a serious proposal. Fortunately, the proposal appeared to have gone nowhere, although unfortunately not entirely so given how much HuffPo seems to have expanded its medical writings into realms of quackery hitherto unplumbed outside of NaturalNews.com, Mercola.com, and Whale.to.

So here we are, nearly two and a half years after the previous time that someone advocated a science section for HuffPo, to the ridicule of serious science and medical bloggers everywhere, and the same idea rises from the grave again, like one of those zombies in The Return of the Living Dead who claw their way out of the ground as the rain picks up the 245-Trioxin in the crematorium smoke and saturates the graveyard with it. This time around, the person advocating the formation of a science section at HuffPo is someone named J.L. Vernon, who wrote a post entitled Ongoing debate about the establishment of a “Science” section on the Huffington Post “News” website. He starts out with what sounds like an admirable set of goals:

My pet project of late involves a personal campaign to establish a “real science” section on HuffPo. I have several reasons for pursuing this campaign:

  1. To introduce the concept of “junk science” to HuffPo readers via Twitter and this blog (in case they aren’t aware that most of the content purported to be science on the website, isn’t).
  2. To highlight specific examples of “bad science” that currently are pervasive on the website.
  3. To motivate scientists and science communicators to use the HuffPo phenomenon as a teaching moment for all science lovers.
  4. To perhaps influence HuffPo to consider the damaging effects of their current content.
  5. To encourage HuffPo to actually establish a “Science” section on the website.

First off, I think Dr. Vernon needs to choose a different term than “junk science,” given that that term is hopelessly tarnished by its use by and association with denialist campaigns. That’s a minor quibble, however. It would be very enjoyable to watch some HuffPo bloggers actually try to highlight specific examples of support of pseudoscience in HuffPo blogs, but there are simply too many examples to make this a practical and achievable task. The reason, as I pointed out a mere three weeks after the very launch of HuffPo, is that anti-vaccine pseudoscience is in HuffPo’s very DNA. It was there at the beginning, and, over time, the varieties of pseudoscience, quackery, and woo have only expanded exponentionally, starting with Deepak Chopra and proceeding to a veritable All Star Team of Woo, including homeopaths, cancer quacks, and Chopra–oh my!

Oh, and H1N1 quackery, too.

Besides, if having the entire science and medical blogosphere frequently post examples of the quackery and pseudoscience promoted by HuffPo bloggers and mock them relentlessly over the course of the five years of HuffPo’s existence has failed to shame Arianna Huffington and HuffPo’s editors into dialing down the woo, what on earth makes Vernon think that having that criticism come from actual HuffPo bloggers would make one iota of difference at all? Seriously. Such thinking can only be described as being as magical as the thinking behind homepathy or reiki. Or maybe it’s a case of The Secret, in which wishing for good things brings them inevitably to you.

Vernon then builds up a Mt. Everest-sized straw man about the arguments made against having a science section in the HuffPo and proceeds to apply napalm liberally to it:

Now, the opponents of my little campaign include upstart bloggers and well-established science writers. Some have directly challenged the wisdom of my pursuit while others have passively expressed their opposition to the idea of partnering with HuffPo, whom they consider to be an “enemy” of science. The most resounding message emerging from the opposition is the idea that having “real science” share a platform with “bad science” will ultimately tarnish the reputation of the legitimate scientists and science communicators who choose to participate. This is essentially the same argument Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and others take when refusing to debate creationists. The concept here being that by sharing the stage with creationists, scientists lend credibility to the creationist arguments. In some ways, I think this is a cowardly response. If you have a sound argument, the opposition should not win the debate.

Didn’t anyone tell Vernon that straw men that large have a tendency to collapse due to their own weight long before the flames of burning stupid can set them alight? First, that is not quite the argument that is used by Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and others (including myself) for not promoting a science section in HuffPo. It’s the argument used for not getting on a stage with a creationist or other pseudoscientist and, you know, literally debating them, not the argument for why it’s a bad idea to have a science section in the HuffPo. In the case of a live debate, having a creationist appear on stage with a real scientist does give undue credence to his views, because his points appear to be equal to those of the scientist.

More importantly, for a debate to be an intellectually useful exercise, there should be two reasonable points of view being argued, points of view that have a sufficient amount of evidence to support them that it is not unreasonable to hold either view being debated. The evidence doesn’t have to be of equal quantity and quality on each side, of course, but it should at least be somewhere in the same ball park — or on the same planet. This isn’t a rule that is limited to just Holocaust deniers, either. Vaccine denialists (a.k.a. anti-vaxers), evolution denialists (a.k.a. creationists), scientific medicine denialists (a.k.a. alt-med mavens), HIV/AIDS denialists, or 9/11 Truthers, they all fall into this category. All of them desperately crave respectability. As much as they disparage mainstream thought in the disciplines that they attack, be it medicine, vaccines, history, or current events, they desperately crave to be taken seriously by the relevant disciplines. Being seen in the same venue, on the same stage, or on the same media outlet with relevant experts as an apparent equal gives them just what they want. Switching to another example of cranks, Holocaust historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt has stated clearly that she does not debate Holocaust deniers and used the most apt simile I’ve seen about debating pseudohistorians that could apply equally to pseudoscientists, “Debating a denier is like trying to nail a blob of jelly to the wall.” Some of the bloggers (Deepak Chopra, anyone?) are really good at being the jelly that you can’t nail to the wall with science.

No, the reasons that Vernon’s proposal won’t work only partially have to do with giving undue credence to pseudoscientists by appearing on the same blog with them or because reputable science bloggers would have their reputation sullied by appearing with pseudoscientists on HuffPo, although both are not unreasonable concerns. Rather, the reason Vernon’s proposal won’t work is simple: Arianna Huffington. Does he honestly believe that anything major happens on HuffPo without Arianna’s approval? Moreover, for such an endeavor to have even the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of actually working, even Vernon realizes that there have to be some ground rules, rules that HuffPo has already shown it won’t abide by. HuffPo censors comments and even edits posts that are too critical of the pseudoscience that resides there. Again, it’s embedded in the culture of the organization. For any change to occur, you’d have to get some serious buy-in from Arianna herself, along with a sea change in the editorial staff who oversee the bloggers and censor moderate the comments. When Vernon writes things like this in a previous post, it’s clear he’s not living on the same planet I am:

If HuffPo were to create a “Science” section, I would hope that they would follow one simple rule. The content must meet the rigors of the peer review process. The pseudoscience blogged by Jenny McCarthy and Deepak Chopra should not see the light of day on the Science section.

First off, Jenny McCarthy, much to my surprise, has only ever written three posts for HuffPo, the first of which was a brain-meltingly awful defense of Andrew Wakefield; amazingly, it took until 2010 for her to show up as a HuffPo blogger, although her ex-boyfriend Jim Carrey beat her to it with his Fire Marshall Bill discusses vaccines post. As I’ve speculated before, maybe she’s so bad that even HuffPo can’t fix what’s wrong with her writing. That’s exactly the problem at HuffPo. As PZ alluded to, in the HuffPo universe, Deepak Chopra, homeopaths, Jenny McCarthy, Dr. Jay Gordon, Robert Lanza are the “scientists.” Even if Vernon got his way and managed to produce a perfect little world of science blogging about only peer-reviewed studies in the HuffPo blog universe, how long would it be before Chopra or Bill Maher asked their good friend Arianna if they could have a blogging spot in the new science section? Or before Dr. Mark Hyman, purveyor of “functional medicine” asked to write about the latest “scientific discoveries” in medicine?

Not long at all, and thus endeth the science section.

If you don’t believe me, check out Vernon’s first post in which he advocates for a science section at HuffPo. He described an event at which Arianna Huffington was speaking and where he had the opportunity to ask her a question after her talk. Seizing the opportunity, Vernon quite reasonably and admirably asked Huffington why HuffPo promotes anti-vaccine pseudoscience and the claims that vaccines cause autism. What do you think Arianna Huffington’s response to his polite but challenging question was? It was that the science behind vaccines and autism was “unsettled,” and the reception Vernon received for asking that question was not entirely welcoming:

My question, however, was received with cheers from the audience and her answer with boos and hisses. I pressed on. I inquired about the likelihood of the HuffPost creating a science section for readers like me. Her response, I paraphrase, “We have plans for a travel section first. Then we’ll look into a science section.” Again, ewwws and boos from the audience. What could I say? She put it all out there in no uncertain terms. Science is not a priority for the HuffPost.

So, Arianna Huffington basically told Vernon publicly and point blank that science is not a priority at HuffPo (tell me something I don’t know!); yet in his fantasies he wishes to persist. He even wishes to persist after Arianna pointedly (and almost literally) gave him the cold shoulder, ignoring him completely later at the reception, even though he was standing right next to her. Does a message get any more obvious than that? Arianna supports the anti-vaccine quackery, the New Age woo, and the various flavors of “alt-med” nonsense, each more ridiculous than the last. She even showed it in no uncertain terms through her hostility towards someone who had the temerity to ask her about her blog’s support for quackery and pseudoscience in public. I don’t know about Vernon, but Arianna Huffington’s behavior is pretty darned strong evidence that she is not about to reconsider her position any time soon. In fact, Vernon reminds me a bit of the stalker who won’t take no for an answer and starts hanging out outside the house of the object of his affection, monitoring her comings and goings, and looking for every opportunity to press his case to her.

Vernon also has the gall to bring up the recent kerfuffle over the Pepsi blog that recently engulfed ScienceBlogs:

The recent soap opera that transpired at scienceblogs.com is a prime example of scientists failing to see the potential opportunity in holding steady in the face of confrontation. Despite many years of frank language about the importance of scientists communicating effectively, some of the greatest internet science communicators tucked and ran out the back door when Pepsi landed a spot in their neck of the woods. For me, it was a sad defeat for science. The scientists owned the playing field. The “enemy” entered their territory and rather than rallying together to insist that the “enemy” change its ways or exit the field, the scientists took their ball and went home. This epitomizes the elitist mentality that these bloggers and writers rail against when talking about science communication. What a missed opportunity to bring Pepsi to the table and hold them accountable for their bad science! Who knows? Maybe this community could have identified some good science behind that “evil” Pepsi Logo or, even better, they could have pressured Pepsi to correct some of their “bad science” ways. Instead, like a World Cup Futbol chump, the scientists pulled a poorly executed flop hoping to draw a yellow card on their opponent. Pepsi, on the other hand, simply went back to their corporate jet and headed back home, uniform untarnished.

Talk about clueless. Vernon obviously hasn’t been paying attention. ScienceBloggers didn’t object to the Pepsi blog “entered their field.” ScienceBloggers objected because management started the blog with no communication with them, didn’t involve us in the decision-making process or even let us know about the blog before it went live. Worse, given that the Pepsi blog blurred the line between advertising and our content, many of us decided that, after factoring in all the other indignities and examples of not communicating with its own bloggers about such issues, they could no longer be associated with ScienceBlogs. (I’m still not sure whether I should remain associated with it.) In other words, the whole “Pepsigate” affair was about far more than merely the presence of the Pepsi blog, as a post by Vernon’s apparent hero in the matter and choice to be the organizer of this fantastical new HuffPo science section, Bora Zikovic explains.

Sadly, Vernon is very confused, and his motivation seems to be far more about page counts and eyes reading web pages than it is about promoting science to the masses. For example, in his earlier post, he opined:

In February 2010, the Huffington Post was averaging more than 40 million unique visitors each month. Arianna credits the growth to the website’s creation of subcategories for its content. For example, HuffPo’s technology and sports sections didn’t exist last summer, and now they account for 10 percent of the traffic. Comedy, Style and Entertainment sections have all grown in recent months. To date, despite the creation of a “Religion” section, there is no “Science” section.

Why do I care? Because I can’t think of a single science website that receives this kind of traffic. Where else can “Science” fall in the direct path of 40 million web surfers each month? No where!

In other words, to him it’s all about the eyeballs, and Vernon is willing to do practically anything to deliver them to science, including getting in bed with the devil, metaphorically speaking. In his current post, he builds on this idea:

Once the “real science” section has been created, I have few concerns that the section will receive traffic. Further, I have confidence that science will not lose face, assuming HuffPo follows some basic rules (see below). Why do I have such confidence? Because I see science side-by-side with unsavory content everyday on the internet and television and in magazines and newspapers. For example, while watching local news, there might be a story about Lindsay Lohan going to prison followed by a story describing the most recent archeological discovery. Most often, the news anchor leads the science story with “Scientists have discovered…” In these circumstances, I give the public enough credit to distinguish the science news from entertainment news. Not to mention that every major broadcasting channel carries reality TV, daytime programming, infomercials, talk shows, news and, occasionally a science show (if you consider Jack Hanna to be science). The public knows the difference between the different types of programming. I also believe the public is smart enough to know that the falsified articles by NYT’s Jayson Blair do not impact the science writers of the NYT Science News. People do have the ability to compartmentalize, therefore I know the public will be able to recognize when they click on the “science” section tab, they are getting different programming from the “comedy” section.

I like the Jayson Blair example as evidence of Vernon’s blind spot in this issue. For one thing, it’s not about the science itself, it’s about the credibility of the source reporting on the science. If Jayson Blair were a science reporter and had pulled his fraud in his reporting of science, then, yes, his falsifications would indeed have impacted the NYT reputation for science reporting. I will give him credit for awesome framing, though. He frames the debate over whether HuffPo should have a science section as being the idealists (him) versus the naysayers (apparently those of us who think his idea has no chance of success and demonstrates breathtaking naïveté). Personally, I’d frame it as realists and scientists (us) versus fantasists in denial that elements of the left wing can be just as deeply anti-science as the right wing.

More interesting, is daytime TV really the sort of model that Vernon wants to apply to how science blogging would fit in at HuffPo? Really? Think about it. What sort of science content do you see on daytime TV? In terms of medical science, you see The Doctors “telling both sides” of the vaccine-autism manufactroversy and Dr. Oz’s show promoting the joys of reiki. You see Oprah Winfrey giving a platform to Jenny McCarthy and a whole host of woo-meisters, including Suzanne Somers and Christiane Northrup. On local news, you see stuff like stories on orbs. That’s all mixed in with fluff stories about celebrities, hard news, inanely happy chat shows, and all manner of other mindless drivel. Worse, given the blurring of the line between science news and entertainment news perpetrated by these sorts of shows and news outlets, I do not share Vernon’s faith in the ability of the American public to distinguish between real science news and entertainment news. After all, there seem to be large numbers of people who can’t tell that what HuffPo serves up in terms of science isn’t science but rather pure pseudoscience.

In fact, I’m not particularly sure that Vernon himself is able to recognize good science. On his blog, he posted a video called The Story of Cosmetics:

As you may recall, I had quite a bit to say about a video very similar to the video above by supporter of all things quackery, Dr. Joe Mercola. The particular video that Vernon posted happens to be very much beloved of that other supporter of all things quackery, Mike Adams. The video itself is a perfect example of misunderstanding the entire principle of “the dose makes the poison” and raises fear of chemicals to ridiculous levels, describing her bathroom as a “minefield of toxins,” complete with an image of a baby in a bathtub with a skull and crossbones placed over him and another image of men with money signs on their chests wearing top hats pouring poison into the baby’s bathtub. About the only thing in the video that isn’t completely over the top is the part about hair straighteners, and even that skirts the limits of believability. Of note, the narrator claims that she had herself “tested for toxicity” and found herself to be “loaded with“–not just having been exposed to, but loaded with–mercury, lead, and other horrible toxic chemicals. One can only wonder if she used Doctors Data to test herself. This is exactly the same sort of exaggerated fearmongering that would be right at home in HuffPo.

Oh, wait. It is at home on HuffPo. Annie Leonard, the woman who narrated the video, blogs for HuffPo and posted the video on her HuffPo blog. It would appear that Vernon is far more in tune with the sorts of dreck that is regularly posted on HuffPo as “medicine” and “science” than he would care to admit if he thinks that this video is an accurate representation of the science of the health risks and “toxin” content of cosmetic products and shampoos.

I think I’m starting to understand why Vernon appears so misguided in his quest to get a science section started in the pseudoscience-infused ocean of woo that is The Huffington Post. I also find it rather depressing that he would say simply repeat variation on his theme in his followup post. Particularly tiresome is his repetition that scientists are being somehow childish by concluding that HuffPo is beyond redemption and not wanting to have the stench of its pseudoscience attach itself to them. One wonders if, because Vernon himself is a self-described liberal who adheres to the same sorts of political beliefs represented by HuffPo, he is simply in denial that HuffPo, that bastion of “progressive” political commentary, is so bad in its support of quackery, New Age woo, and pseudoscience that it can’t be salvaged. After all, it’s supposed to be the Republicans who are waging a “war on science,” not liberals and progressives, but such a view of one’s superiority when it comes to science becomes difficult to maintain when a bastion of “progressive” politics like HuffPo is waging its own ideology-based war on medical science.

If Vernon wants to dive into the cesspool of pseudoscience that is HuffPo and try to change it, all I can say to him is: Good luck. He’ll really need it. I also say to Vernon: Stop blaming science writers, science bloggers, and scientists for not wanting to associate themselves with pseudoscience on HuffPo. I don’t want to associate myself with it, and I can’t blame other scientists who don’t want to associate themselves with it. Besides, the real way to produce a science section for HuffPo with any credibility whatsoever is to purge the pseudoscience first. Do that, and then credible science writers might be willing to consider joining up. Don’t do it, and they won’t. It’s that simple. As Vernon himself demonstrates in his first post on this topic, the anti-science comes from the very top, and it’s the very top that needs to prove it’s changed by acting to clean up HuffPo.

I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

It’s been two years since the last time someone proposed a science section for HuffPo. Nothing’s happened. My prediction is that the results of Vernon’s efforts will be exactly the same, and in 2012, besides the end of the world hapenning, someone new will try to get a science started in HuffPo. My only fear is that, if that someone succeeds, 2012 may indeed be the end of time.

Comments

  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    July 29, 2010

    I also wish him luck, but I’m not holding out much hope. I agree with you that a real science section will never happen until the pseudoscience is purged—which cannot be done with chelation therapy ;-) —and the woo comes right from the top. With apologies to Dr. Horrible, when the fish is rotten at the head, maybe it’s best to throw it back in the water.

  2. #2 superdave
    July 29, 2010

    This is not entirely related or original but it amazes me how even though the republicans are portrayed as being the anti intellectual party, the reality is that both republicans and democrats can also be anti intellectual when the science doesn’t jive with their philosophy. They both love science as long as it supports whatever they are arguing. I think the perfect example here was Bill Frist and Bill Maher on the topic of vaccines, where Frist ( the staunch conservative) was the voice of reason and science compared to Maher.

  3. #3 Scott
    July 29, 2010

    Hey, if he pulls this one off, maybe he should then proceed to get a “real biology” section created at the Discovery Institute. His odds are just about as good.

  4. #4 jtotheizzoe
    July 29, 2010

    Regarding pageviews: HuffPo gets 40 million hits per month strictly BECAUSE they publish what they do, be it nip-slips or pseudoscience quackery. They don’t get 40 million hits in spite of their content, they draw their audience specifically because of their content. Publishing “real science” would not play to their demo-quack-ographic at all, sadly.

    And that content is, outside of politics, media and some tech news, largely tabloid junk.

  5. #5 JamesBrown
    July 29, 2010

    I disagree.
    I’m not sure a science section would succeed but stranger things have happened. HufPo has a wide audience and many, like myself, would be attracted to a science section if the articles were on the level of say Popular Science. A journal level section, like American Scientist, would simply be too difficult for all but a very small number to read.
    As far as having Chopra or McCarthy post I would welcome it. It would give me a chance to comment on what they say. As it is there is now way at all for my voice to be heard when they post where there are no comments allowed.
    There is no point in giving the field to foolishness without a complaint.

  6. #6 Scott
    July 29, 2010

    Ok, look: Why don’t we just say that going specifically to HuffPo is a non-starter. Ain’t gonna happen unless it magically transformed into a more editorially independent site, plus a whole bunch of other things.

    Question is: where SHOULD science blogging get shown off specifically for the purpose of attracting the non-science-minded in order to peak their interest into further reading?

    Science blogs, and ScienceBlogs, in an independent setting aren’t the best because you’ll rarely catch the eye of someone who didn’t want to come here (or to any sci blog) in the first place.

    New York Times Science Section? Discover? SciAm?
    I don’t think so, because even *those* are self-selecting.

    What respectable (meaning non-woo oriented and editorially fair) sites are there that are mixed purpose and will attract people with widely varying interests?

    My first thought is the Gawker chain of sites. Note that this is NOT a promotion. I happen to read Lifehacker daily, Kotaku, Gizmodo, and io9 occasionally. Each one *appears* to be independent of the other one’s subject matter.

    But the best thing they do is they often cross-link an article from one site to another if there is any kind of cross-over relevance. This kind of thing would be a great way of escorting people into a scientific conversation even though they were not originally looking for one.

    Does this possibility – or any other similar web presence that fulfills the rules of editorial independence and not having total crap content – still make some here retch?

    If so, why?
    If not, what other possible outlets can we think of?

  7. #7 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 29, 2010

    Scott, I like your suggestion about the Gawker chain. They have often mocked the Anti-Vax celebridiots and Creatards, so they’re already essentially on side. Also, the writers have a wicked sense of humour.

    I also suggest Slate as a netzine that isn’t consumed by flakiness.

  8. #8 Greg Fish
    July 29, 2010

    Why do I care? Because I can’t think of a single science website that receives this kind of traffic. Where else can “Science” fall in the direct path of 40 million web surfers each month? No where!

    Hate to burst Vernon’s bubble but the vast majority of these hits couldn’t possibly care less about science. The majority of HuffPo’s traffic are political opinion peieces, recycled current event articles, and T&A. For the hell of it, I checked out of of their front page stories last night. It was about some starlet named Coco tweeting pictures of her butt cleavage. Seriously. That’s front page HuffPo news.

    Does Vernon think that the same readers who were so attracted to that HuffPo’s usual fare oscilate between “ooh, what’s the latest in Hollywwod T&A?” and “how about a peek at the latest discoveries in astrophycis as published in Nature and Physcial Review?”

  9. #9 jtotheizzoe
    July 29, 2010

    Ok, let’s turn this into a constructive conversation . . . HuffPo, I think the consensus is that they aren’t amenable to change and aren’t worth the energy to change (maybe not even the right audience target).

    Not there, but where? I like the Gawker idea, Slate as well. Does one try to expand Wired’s blog offerings? national Geographic or Dicovery linking up with a “traditional” media outlet?

  10. #10 Vicki
    July 29, 2010

    JamesBrown @5:

    What makes you think that a site that censors criticism of Chopra now would change its policy and print the criticism if the site first defined Chopra’s woo as “science”? I don’t see it.

  11. #11 Casual Reader
    July 29, 2010

    JMHO, but I’d be for anybody but Gawker, if for no reason other than their utterly unreadable/unusable commenting system. Slate could work, though, and they could use the content.

  12. #12 James Sweet
    July 29, 2010

    In other news, the Klan has just announced a new African-American Outreach program.

    (Repeat of comment I made on PZ’s blog)

  13. #13 Adam_Y
    July 29, 2010

    My first thought is the Gawker chain of sites. Note that this is NOT a promotion. I happen to read Lifehacker daily, Kotaku, Gizmodo, and io9 occasionally. Each one *appears* to be independent of the other one’s subject matter.

  14. #14 Adam_Y
    July 29, 2010

    What happened to my post? The Gawker chain of sites has engaged some shady behavior. The people at Gizmodo actually got kicked out of an electronics depot for such childish and juvenille behavior. Ars Technica has a pretty nice science section. Boing Boing has posted some Huffington post level of stupid articles.

  15. #15 Frameshift
    July 29, 2010

    Slightly off topic, but this magazine is similar to Huffpo, for obvious reasons. There is obviously a demand for this kind of nonsense, dressed up in the fancy facade of ‘science’.

    Nope, no science to be found here. Just a lot of magical thinking, preying on people’s fears of dying. I’d appreciate it if you let me know what you thought.

    http://www.lef.org/magazine/

  16. #16 Ian
    July 29, 2010

    @James Sweet – I know your comment is meant to be facetious, but the KKK actually consulted with black leaders (most famously Marcus Garvey) on devising a “back to Africa” strategy.

    That was not meant by way of refutation or to make a specific point, it was just a fact that surprised me when I heard it.

    Um… HuffPo bad.

  17. #17 Stephen Downes
    July 29, 2010

    I’d rather see ScienceBlogs stick to science (which is challenging enough, to judge by recent events) rather than engage in what appear to be politically motivated attacks on other websites.

  18. #18 Kristen
    July 29, 2010

    Scott,

    Your comment really made me think. I agree with you to a point.

    Science needs a way to appeal to the masses, I don’t know that this could be accomplished through a website, no matter how mainstream. I think evidence-based science (unfortunately this is not redundant) needs a person or group of persons who are interesting and can relate to the general public. Then people might listen, but only after their attention is captured by something (or someone) flashy or exciting.

    People in general fear what they don’t understand. They don’t understand because they can’t be bothered to put in the effort, they just want someone to tell them.

    Science doesn’t lend itself to this kind of intellectual lazyness. So I don’t know that this problem has a solution, it surely doesn’t have an easy one.

    It is a “you can lead a horse to water” type of problem.

  19. #19 Chance Gearheart, NREMT-P/EMD
    July 29, 2010

    @18, Kristen: I’m afraid I have to agree with you. The culture in the United States (and don’t get me wrong, the culture of pseudoscience is not one exclusive to the American culture) has long encouraged anti-intellectualism as a desirable feature, starting in the early days of education and continuing into adulthood. People simply aren’t interested in Evidence Based Science or undersanding the “Why things happen and how this takes place”, when it clashes with their cultural mores and values. Examples of this include Medicine, Vaccination, Mental Health, Climate Science, Evolutionary Science, et all. It’s much easier for them to adapt that view to theirs, expecially that it’s all a vindication for some end-of-times theory or a conspiracy by a few to control the many, than it is to truely learn about the science and incorporate it in a practical manner for each person.

    People don’t want to understand because they’ve been taught they don’t have to – compartmentalization is something horribly wrong with our society when it comes to knowledge. Sure, I understand how to do X skill, but what do you mean that Y substance may have the small chance of causing Z. Or I know X is true because Y says so despite abundant evidence it doesn’t. We’ve been taught to value star power and sensationalism over common sense and science – one of the reasons people still buy magnetic healing bracelets and reiki foot pads.

    Another problem is, expecially for the middle aged and older, often times what they learned has exploded so far beyond what they know, or has been invalidated completely, that they can feel lost in trying to learn the science behind why and how. It’s far easier for pride to continue to force ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence against.

    Lastly, in my mind, we have the fact that (and this is important to learn for new people in Medicine, by the way) the more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. And at times, that terrifies people searching for an answer to why they have to deal with X disease or Y illness, expecially when that disease or illness is rare, little is known about it, or little can be done. In addition to the shock factor that some treatments can bring for diseases (It’s all to easy to associate the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy with the decline in cancer patietns, and not the biology behind cancer itsself which is far more complex and on a far more microscopic level than people realize)

    And all of this makes them all the more vulnurable to people who peddle nonsense, conspiracy, and off-the-wall panceas that would require a complete loss of connection with the physical world and the history of science in general to believe would have a function.

  20. #20 Chance Gearheart, NREMT-P/EMD
    July 29, 2010

    Stephen Downes interjected:
    “I’d rather see ScienceBlogs stick to science (which is challenging enough, to judge by recent events) rather than engage in what appear to be politically motivated attacks on other websites.”

    Exactly how is it politically motivated to have the desire to debunk a website which at it’s core provides misleading, incorrect and, sometimes, dangerous information to people seeking answers for medical questions?

  21. #21 Harry
    July 29, 2010

    J. L. Vernon?
    Are you sure that someone is not channelling Jules Verne?

  22. #22 DLC
    July 30, 2010

    If it’s pseudo-scientific blather, it’s fair game for skeptical scientists, regardless of the political writings elsewhere at the same site. Well, for that matter, the political writings are fair game too. It’s that whole First Amendment thing, you know.

  23. #23 Scott_SGG
    July 30, 2010

    Note, I’m a “new” Scott, so I changed my name here so not to be confused with any other Scotts :) Apologies for any confusion there. I have read here and elsewhere on SB, but rarely (or never?) commented here before.

    @14, Adam_Y: I have no personal clue about the goodness/badness of Gawker’s practices. If they really are shady, then yeah absolutely forget them. The goal is to find the right cross-pollinating venues for this kind of work.

    @18, @19: I agree and that’s the challenge I figure all science/med communicators face. That’s probably why any cross-over venues should be one where people are already *thinking*, at least a little. With the Gawker family, Gawker and Jezebel would be terrible choices to link with, but io9 (sci-fi) and Lifehacker (computer oriented + “lifehacking”) and maybe even the gamer one could have just the folks that think beyond the superficial and might be interested in real science if it was presented to them.

    Ars Technica is a place I have to check out more, but, sure. And also – Slate, etc, yeah!
    In fact, political blogs (er, well some…) would be a great place. Darksyde’s posts at daily Kos are a great addition there. Perhaps other blogs or more formal sites like Slate, the Atlantic, or whatever, would like to formally set up a science beat?

    Also, to be clear – as this always seems to come up, trying to push into a more “mainstream” venue is not meant to be a replacement or a shift of resources away from science-centric venues like SB. It’s a complementary path – one that I think is worth pursuing.

  24. #24 Kristen
    July 30, 2010

    Oops! Thanks for the correction, Scott_SGG. Your blog does look interesting, though.

    I am constantly frustrated trying to interest others in science. I am hoping my four children will be different, I want for them to value knowledge and think for themselves.

    The oldest is 13 and already she is bristling at having nerds for parents. We insist she get good grades, especially in math and science. Apparently, a teen will be mercilessly teased for getting decent grades in America. This is sadder than words can express.

    Since she has not been ours from birth, I am hoping the little ones will feel differently about intelligence (We call them our “little nerdlings”). :)

  25. #25 Natalie
    July 30, 2010

    Scott @6 – I’m not sure how long this has been true, but I was perusing the NY Times Science section yesterday and they have a sidebar with ScienceBlog links.

  26. #26 Vicki
    July 30, 2010

    That NY Times sidebar has been there at least since last fall; that’s how I found this site.

  27. #27 Frameshift
    August 1, 2010

    I do hope that Orac will forgive the strong language, but this summed up my feelings about all of this so well I just had to share.

    http://www.asofterworld.com/

  28. #28 Kalopin
    October 6, 2011

    Science, politics, and religion will always be intwined. It’s just the confusion of the ones in command that’s different. The 99% have to understand the propaganda, misinformation, manipulation, and the greed of the top 1%. Just as most recently is happening with cosmic rays, sunspots, astronomical alignments, and N.E.O.s, such as astroids and comets [as with Comet Elenin]. Their efforts to ignore and even change the facts are way too obvious to ones that pay attention. Blinders are put on all news channels, spending all the time on one or two mundane, overexposed, old stories. I consider us very lucky to at least have this one mode left to communicate honestly, as even this is being infiltrated. As I’m sure most of you are aware there will be several extreme meteor showers in the days ahead, due to the Earth passing through the tail of a comet, which I still believe is Comet Elenin, although N.A.S.A. has another name. Hopefully there won’t be much harm, but this scenerio is very real and should be given more attention to get better prepared. There is, however some documented proof of a comets destruction as it impacted our planet. We may be the only species to have some affect on the outcome. If this may interest you, then I invite you to this link at http://www.wix.com/koolkreations/kalopins-legacy ,”documents and links”, “a few comments on 1811 and 2011″

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.