Pharyngula

JL Vernon is lobbying to have Huffpo dedicate a section of their undeservedly popular, cheesy website to science. He makes a superficially reasonable argument: to work within the belly of the beast to promote good science, in opposition to the tripe they usually publish. I’m sympathetic, really I am, but I see the Huffpo as a dead cause.

I also think Vernon fails to grasp the problem here. For instance, he complains about the refusal of anti-creationists to debate the opposition.

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 Meyers and others take when refusing to debate evolutionists. 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.

That’s wrong on multiple levels. First, a debate is not won by sound argument; it’s by persuasive rhetoric. Many creationists have that skill (I have to repeat a mantra I’ve got: creationists are not stupid, just ignorant and misled by ignorant arguments), so it is a serious tactical error to think that because all the facts and science are on your side, you’re going to win debates. That’s a recipe for consistent failure.

The other problem here is that I’ve “won” most of my debates…because the other side is just nuts. Jerry Bergman and Geoff Simmons, to name two, were raving loonies who made me embarrassed to be sharing a spotlight with them. There was no gain for me, and plenty for them. You get two possibilities: you’ll face an eloquent rhetorician who will run rings around you despite your command of the facts, or you’ll get a nutcase who makes you feel like you’re sharing the podium with a brain-damaged hobo. Neither are great options.

The final big problem is that creationist debaters willingly lie and distract to win their arguments. The Gish Gallop is just one of the tools they use; they sputter out dozens of claims that are false and falsifiable, if you had an hour to address each one. And then, of course, if you do “win”, they’ll cheerfully lie to their little closeted evangelical audiences that they not only defeated you, but that you were a big abusive meanie who was rude and accused the creationists of making stuff up.

I have little hope for Vernon’s endeavor if he doesn’t grasp these basic realities of dealing with kooks.

As for Huffpo, he has a couple of hurdles. He has openly announced his intent to expose the “bad science” on HuffPo — while I like that idea, does he really think Ariana Huffington is going to look kindly on that proposal?

Also, we know that Huffpo editors censor articles. There isn’t going to be any criticism of the site’s major goals, the promulgation of Newage garbage, getting through unbutchered.

But let’s assume Vernon succeeds, and gets a good science section with reputable contributors writing about good solid science and criticizing the pseudoscience and quackery otherwise rife on Huffpo. If it acquires even a scrap of prestige and respect, I can predict exactly what will happen: Deepak Chopra and Robert Lanza will ask Huffington to include their raving madness in that section. They write about “science” and “medicine”, after all. And a credible science section on Huffpo will be quickly subverted to promote quackery.

Convergent Revolution agrees that Huffpo Science would be a bad idea. Huffpo is tainted fruit — stay away from it altogether.