Two days ago, I posted my utter contempt for the idea of a science section in that cesspit of pseudsocience, New Age woo, and quackery, The Huffington Post. Part of the reason for my scoffing at the very idea that a science section in HuffPo would not rapidly degenerate into yet another outlet for more of the same.
Another aspect of the HuffPo culture that is utter anathema to good science blogging is its culture of deleting critical comments. There’s even been a whole blog, Banned from HuffPo, dedicated to discussing and publicizing HuffPo’s offenses against free speech. The blogger, Red Dog Bear, even lists the types of “moderation” that goes on at HuffPo:
- Bot censorship. There appears to be an expert system or “bot” that pre-screens posts and either removes or puts in a queues for further scrutiny comments that it deems to be inappropriate. How this bot works I have no idea. All I can say is that it is incredibly arbitrary and in my experience screens out many perfectly reasonable comments.
- Author censorship. Comments that are overly critical of an author, especially comments that point out bias that the author may have are often censored. For example in my experience any comment that deals with Depak Chopra’s alleged connections to healthcare corporations are always censored.
- Censorship censorship. Comments that ask questions or critique the censorship policy itself are very frequently censored. I’ve personally left several comments on various articles authored by Ms. Huffington hoping for some type of response and those comments never make it through.
- Huffpo censorship. Comments that have to do with the internal workings or bias of the Huffington Post are almost always censored.
So why does this matter? I’m not opposed at all to some degree of moderation. In fact at times I wish there was more moderation on the site. I often see spam, racist comments, homophobic comments, anti-semitic comments and countless comments that are off topic or simply pointless. I would be happy if more of those comments were moderated out. What makes this something I think worthy of concern is that the censorship has gone from being mildly annoying to a serious suppression of free speech on the site.
Particularly revealing is that, when it comes to “moderation,” the mandate is from the corporation. While HuffPo can run its affairs anyway its management sees fit, before it could ever have even a whiff of a chance of producing a decent science section, the iron hand of “moderation” would have to be much lightened, and, more importantly, it would have to be radically changed so that it isn’t intentionally designed to shut down criticism of the pseudoscience laid down by so many HuffPo bloggers.
In the meantime, J.L. Vernon is still flogging this putrefying corpse of a horse with his Letter to the @HuffingtonPost Requesting the Establishment of a Science Section. My advice to him: Give it up. HuffPo needs to clean up the pseudoscience from its medical and lifestyle sections. It also needs to radically reform its comment moderation policies to eliminate the heavy-handed censoring of critical comments. Until those things happen, any science section in HuffPo will either start out right from the beginning as or rapidly involve into a pseudoscience section.