The Primate Diaries

i-368ac1770c2844969e2520203f2852b4-bl0516-censorship.jpegAt ScienceBlogs we value our independence. Just consider the recent posts over the laughable PepsiCo nutrition blog to see how seriously people take this. But one thing that would never happen is for anything we write to be edited without our consent.

As I wrote yesterday, I am disappointed in the Huffington Post’s decision to grant a public stage to David Klinghoffer, Senior Fellow at the intelligent design “think tank” known as the Discovery Institute. DI is a self-avowed propaganda vehicle seeking to “wedge” religion into public schools. Once HuffPo handed him the megaphone Klinghoffer proceeded to assert blatant falsehoods about how Charles Darwin was responsible for inspiring Nazi eugenic policies towards a goal of racial purity, claims that have been refuted again and again.

But worse than being factually incorrect is how morally repugnant this is. Abusing the memory of the Holocaust to win cheap political points against science is disgraceful. It’s also a bizarrely hypocritical stance for the Huffington Post. Last year HuffPo’s editors deleted a video from journalist and author Max Blumenthal because they thought it was disrespectful towards Israel. And yet, they now allow the leader of a political organization to exploit the murder and sterilization of millions in their cynical campaign against Darwin. Where is the logic (not to mention the journalistic integrity) in these decisions?

The vast majority of my response yesterday was devoted to critiquing Klinghoffer, but I offered a few choice words at the end to the editor(s) who made the decision to offer him a forum in the first place:

David Klinghoffer and his fellow creationists should be ashamed of themselves, and the decision by Huffington Post to give a platform to an organization pushing a tactic rejected by a US federal court judge as “breathtaking inanity” should be strongly criticized. (screen capture)

But you didn’t read that part. It was edited out.

Needless to say, the Huffington Post has had a very poor record as far as science is concerned. A simple search will bring hundreds of posts in the last few years from this network alone (and I guarantee you most will be critical). However, in contrast, some of their political writing has been quite good (see here and here for two recent examples). Since I am a political writer, as well as a science writer, I was conflicted about the opportunity to write for them. However, the positive response I received from my critique of US policy in Haiti and the abuses of Coca-Cola suggested I made the right choice.

But what should be done now? Reject Huffington Post as a hopeless loony bin? Focus only on political writing and let the pseudoscientific ramblings fester in their stew of illogic? Or is it useful to have a few contrarians in the mix?

Comments

  1. #1 weez
    July 7, 2010

    Reject Huffington Post as a hopeless loony bin?

    You bet.

  2. #2 JohnChen
    July 7, 2010

    I’m not usually one to defend the Huffington Post, but they didn’t delete Blumenthal’s video because it was disrespectful towards Israel. They deleted it because random drunk people saying racist things is not news.

  3. #3 MosesZD
    July 7, 2010

    It is a loony bin. But if you give up the ground, the loonies will be at your intellectual border in just moments and you’ll have only lost the ground while gaining nothing.

  4. #4 cervantes
    July 7, 2010

    I’ve tried swimming against the tide there, for example posting critical comments on essays by the despicable upper class twit RFK Jr. But it gets drowned out in the vast sea of ignorance and superstition. I think it’s probably most effective to discredit them from the outside.

  5. #5 Gus Snarp
    July 7, 2010

    The real question is whether associating with the Huffington Post undermines your credibility. Tactically speaking, being there as a voice for reality is the right thing to do, but strategically it may be a mistake. The Huffington Post’s descent into woo having gone so far that they would side with this nonsense over science, and the frankly spotty quality of even their political writing, creates a real credibility issue. Any time I read a political article on HuffPo I have to turn on my full skeptic powers. Even if the article makes sense and I agree with its point of view I can never believe anything on HuffPo without independently verifying the facts involved. And if a name becomes strongly associated with HuffPo, that lack of credibility can transfer to them as well.

  6. #6 eric
    July 7, 2010

    EMJ,
    Just went to HuffPo to read your article. As of 9:25am EST, your last paragraph is back in. Congrats!

  7. #7 paul
    July 7, 2010

    …they didn’t delete Blumenthal’s video because it was disrespectful towards Israel. They deleted it because random drunk people saying racist things is not news.

    Right, and the latest nude celebrity photos are? Nice article. It’s a relief to see some sanity there for a change. Keep it up.

  8. #8 Josh
    July 7, 2010

    Just went to HuffPo to read your article. As of 9:25am EST, your last paragraph is back in. Congrats!

    Actually, the “paragraph” is not back in. They put in the part criticizing Klinghoffer, but they left out the part about HuffPo, and very sloppily I might add. The result is that the last sentence of the article is a sentence fragment. HuffPo fail.

  9. #9 MM
    July 7, 2010

    eric, I still see the following ending:

    “David Klinghoffer and his fellow creationists should be ashamed of themselves for pushing a tactic rejected by a US federal court judge as “breathtaking inanity” should be strongly criticized.”

  10. #10 Badger3k
    July 7, 2010

    I am glad you posted that response, but am not surprised that they would censor part (even if they were finally shamed to let it back, apparently). When Arianna went a bit off the edge during the election, I was soured off her the political writing, and more recent stuff makes me go along with some of the posters on Kos (about this very topic) that she is not a progressive or friend of progressives, but an opportunist going where the wind blows. I think a voice or two of sanity is needed there, but for me the whole site has no credibility for anything, be it political or scientific (I purposely left out the hordes of woo-meisters who infest HuffPo, since they really have no “science” section).

    Your call, but you do have supporters wishing you success there.

  11. #11 truthspeaker
    July 7, 2010

    They do it for comments too. Most of my comments make it through moderation, but any comment criticizing the HuffPo for running a piece does not. Interestingly, I made a comment on Klinghoffer’s article about Martin Luther’s “On the Jews and Their Lies” that also didn’t get approved. Maybe criticism of Martin Luther isn’t allowed either.

  12. #12 Olivia
    July 7, 2010

    Your political posts are AWESOME!!! Everyone check out his one about Haiti (take a minute and actually read it). You don’t see stuff like that on HuffPo every day.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-michael-johnson/haitis-political-and-econ_b_438160.html

  13. #13 eric
    July 7, 2010

    @8 and @9 – you’re right, thanks for the correction. My mistake. I read EMJ’s post above as implying the entire quoted part was missing. So when I saw it, I guess my eyes just scanned over the missing HuffPo reference. This type of editing is even more represensible than just dropping the paragraph.

  14. #14 Ali
    July 7, 2010

    I would suggest staying there and continuing to write. 99% of your article was allowed to stay there and I think that’s good. Not many businesses will allow a direct criticism of their own business, so I’m not too mad at HuffPo for removing that, i can see where they came from.

    But the good part is that 99.99% of your article went in unedited, so you should continue to write or the loonies will have all the space with no one to challenge them.

  15. #15 The Tim Channel
    July 7, 2010

    What’s up with all the progressive circular firing squads? The fact that HP is able to profit off the exposure of such lunatics is not a crime. Nobody makes you click the link. If you follow said link, you will read the aforementioned ID article. What is the problem here? Will sane people suddenly fall to their knees and begin praying to their benevolent designer? I don’t think so. Better to shed as much light on the lunatics as possible. At the end of the day, HP contains so much teeny bopper bullshit it’s awfully hard to mistake it for the New York Times. (Not giving a pass to the NYT for covering up war crimes..google their water-boarding is not torture reporting time-line)

    I see the same type of slings and arrows being directed to Firedoglake by many progressives. When did it go out of fashion to persistently pursue war criminals?

    What’s next? Critical reviews of my latest religious joke? To wit:

    The economy is bad all over, but it’s been particularly hard on me. My chain of mixed-race Mormon marriage counseling centers didn’t do as well as I anticipated.

    Have at it.

    Enjoy.

  16. #16 Lorin
    July 7, 2010

    I think that by writing for the Huffington Post, you tacitly lend your approval to the whole publication–unless, I suppose, you add a note to each of your political pieces saying that you disavow their “science” writing. Also, people who go to Huff Po to read your writing might decide to look around, and be exposed to its pseudoscientific rantings–which they might now be more likely to trust.

  17. #17 terrymac
    July 7, 2010

    Lorin said: “I think that by writing for the Huffington Post, you tacitly lend your approval to the whole publication”

    How can that be, if one does not have control over the whole publication? Here I added a comment to this article – does that mean I agree with all the other commentators, over whom I have no editorial control? Does it mean I agree with the author of the article 100%? Neither; it merely indicates that I agree with what I myself have said, nothing more.

    The same is true for any author on HuffPo or any other media outlet; the author speaks for herself and her views, not for the rest of the newspaper, web site, or show.

    We are better served by a diversity of opinions, even those with which we disagree, than by an artificial uniformity. Who is to say that the censors at Preferred Media Outlet are 100% Correct?

    Caveat Lector; let us beware, and keep our mental faculties sharp.

  18. #18 moderation
    July 7, 2010

    They edited your article without your permission! What else needs to be said … GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!

    Who knows how the HuffPo may edit an article in the future … could it change the meaning of your post? Would you tolerate such a thing being done to a research article you were trying to publish?

  19. #19 Hitch
    July 7, 2010

    Intriguing. Most of the paragraph is restored, except direct criticism of the HuffPo.

    Here is the current wordage, with the grammar garbled up some due to the editing:

    “Creationists do a poor service to the memory of Holocaust victims by using their deaths in a politically motivated attack against science. David Klinghoffer, his fellow creationists, and those who give them a platform should be ashamed of themselves for pushing and allowing a tactic rejected by a US federal court judge as “breathtaking inanity” should be strongly criticized.”

    For the record, when I checked your article for the very first time I’m positive that the explicit criticism of HuffPo was there. I think they have done a number of edit passes on it now.

    Pretty lame indeed. They will print historic revisionism, but they will not print if people call them out directly on it, basically undermining the core thrust of your own article.

  20. #20 phantomreader42
    July 7, 2010

    Every time you write something to be published there, work in that Klinghoffer is a Nazi, and HuffPo should be ashamed to be giving him a platform. And point out how many times you’ve been censored for saying so.

  21. #21 Bill Snedden
    July 7, 2010

    End every one of your HuffPo articles with “Ceterum censeo DiscoTute esse delendam.”

  22. #22 JohnChen
    July 7, 2010

    …they didn’t delete Blumenthal’s video because it was disrespectful towards Israel. They deleted it because random drunk people saying racist things is not news.

    “Right, and the latest nude celebrity photos are?”

    Celebrities can be newsworthy. Their racist remarks certainly are. But a video of random people hating on Jews or Arabs is no more instructive than a screenshot of the typical comments section following any Israel-Palestine news article.

    The New York Times published a rather dishonest opinion piece by Muammar Qaddafi. I also wouldn’t hold it against them if they chose to excise a critical remark directed against them by a guest contributor. Certainly, the Huffington Post is much more sensationalist and doesn’t enjoy quite the same reputation for professional integrity. But I think the same standard can still be applied.

  23. #23 MM
    July 7, 2010

    Hitch, they edited it at least twice now. The original was exactly as EMJ said. Now Slate has written about it!

    http://www.salon.com/news/huffington_post/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2010/07/07/huffpo_antiscience

  24. #24 Douglas Watts
    July 7, 2010

    Good job, Eric.

  25. #25 Bennett Lovett-Graff
    July 7, 2010

    Just push HP to get a better science editor. There is the source of the problem.

  26. #26 ishmael daro
    July 7, 2010

    I don’t read the Huffington Post because I know their poor record on science writing, but that’s why you should continue to write for them, both political and science writing. After all, people who go the the HuffPost’s “Living” section expecting the same new age crap they always read might be pleasantly surprised, or at least challenged, by your writing.

  27. #27 hgc
    July 7, 2010

    Remember this about Huffington — she is (was?) and acolyte of the cult of John-Roger. I am always suspicious of cultists.

    http://www.john-roger.org/

  28. #28 dephlogisticated
    July 7, 2010

    This was my post to the Klinghoffer piece of work (which never got posted):

    Klinghoffer: you’re full of pure garbage. Just another fundamentalist bible-banger lying and deceiving for your bronze age mythological deity. But it’s okay for you to do that, right? Because you’re doing it for him.

    Hypocrisy at its finest!

    The Nazis believed that the Aryan race was your god’s chosen race, per the book ‘Atlantis’ by Donnelly. Read Aryans = Atlantians. The object of the Nazis was to remove the impurities that had been bred into the Aryans over several millennia. And reveal, once again, the pure Aryan super-race chosen by your deity to rule the world.

    To enter the SS, you had to prove your Aryan background back to something like 1750.
    Aryans were only allowed to copulate with other Aryans.

    And just out of curiosity, why did the Nazis recommend copulating at midnight in cemeteries to produce the strongest offspring? I’m not aware of anything like that in ‘The Descent of Man’.

    Did they use evolution as a means to understanding breeding? Of course they did. Although none of it worked. Mendel’s work with what has became known as genetics wasn’t rediscovered until the 1910s. That’s what the Nazis latched onto. And remember, Mendel was an Austrian Christian monk. (Oops!) The Nazis wanted to see if they could use genetics as means to find those impurities and reverse the process to create your god’s race.

    Last, and certainly not least, Darwin disagreed entirely with eugenics. Even while you Christians were using the bible to continue justifying slavery.

  29. #29 Pierce R. Butler
    July 7, 2010

    Going to the Huffpo link, I first saw promos for three very woo-woo articles across the top of the page, then our esteemed host’s headline, then a green-&-orange block declaring -

    The Berlin Wall of Evolution Is About to Come Down

    2013 Darwinism Falls

    http://www.CosmicFingerprints.com

    So long as that’s who’s paying the bills, expecting HP to upgrade seems a forlorn hope.

  30. #30 Pierce R. Butler
    July 7, 2010

    dephlogisticated @ # 28: … why did the Nazis recommend copulating at midnight in cemeteries to produce the strongest offspring?

    Please allow 3 internet clichés -

    1) Citation needed.

    2) Rule 34. :-P

  31. #31 llewelly
    July 7, 2010

    What’s up with all the progressive circular firing squads?

    Huffington Post’s persistant support for creationists, anti-vaxers, and other anti-science liars is a clear signal they are regressive. That kind of nonsense is not progress; it does not improve the well-being of any honest person. Shooting down creationists, anti-vaxers, and other anti-science monsters is necessary defense of sanity. It’s not a “circular firing squad”.

  32. #32 Mr. Gunn
    July 7, 2010

    I’d quit if I were you. What if you don’t notice it next time they edit one of your posts? Who else has had their posts edited? Doesn’t it kinda call into question your own integrity, knowing that what you actually wrote is materially different from what’s published?

  33. #33 Hitch
    July 7, 2010

    A commentor on the original Klinghoffer article managed to get a full description on Martin Luther in.

    I think we have to separate moderation of comments from editing articles. The moderators have to make quick decisions which comments are appropriate and which are not. It’s a value judgment, and one moderator may read quoting anti-semitic stuff of Martin Luther as approval and hence not permit it. I think that is a legit thing to happen. They much have huge volumes of posts to moderate and perhaps they don’t even see the context when they moderate.

    But editing an article after the fact, for mere self-protection. That is a whole different story.

  34. #34 UnEasyOne
    July 7, 2010

    Waaay back in the beginning, when Huffpo deleted comments expressing disappointment that an assassination attempt against Cheney had failed, I could see the writing on the wall.

    I wouldn’t have posted the comments, myself, but Ariana couldn’t get to other media fast enough to spread the word that the comments were deleted. IMHO, the comments were legitimate political speech.

    Many people at the time pointed out that it is Ariana’s site and she has a perfect right to delete whatever she wants.

    I absolutely agree.

    Having firmly established in my own mind, however, that Ariana is a class A media whore who will sell out the left in a heartbeat, I exercised my own rights. I immediately unsubscribed to her virtual rag and have not posted a comment there since.

    I was a bit shocked (but completely unsurprised) when I went back there to explore this controversy. It looks like I would expect the National Inquirer Online (which I have never visited) to look.

    What you do is up to you – but I’m betting that sooner or later, you will be forced (by your own ethics and standards) to do exactly what I did.

  35. #35 Art
    July 8, 2010

    Keep up the good fight.

    And when and where they censor you stuff their nose into it any way you can, here or there at the very least, and whack them with a rolled up newspaper. If they censor that use that for another post. Never give an inch. Fight the good fight.

  36. #36 Red Dog
    July 8, 2010

    I’ve had so many comments banned from the Huffington Post that I started a blog, with some other people to record them:

    http://bannedfromhuffpo.blogspot.com/2010/04/introduction.html

    I’m not the kind of person who uses profanity or personal attacks in my comments. What I find so infuriating about the things banned at the Huffington Post are that they usually involve comments that are too critical of the authors. Not in a personal way but simply pointing out errors, and often with new age authors such as Chopra, Lanza, and others. For example Lanza had an article where he made a claim about work he had done with BF Skinner that essentially claimed Skinner was supporting the idea that animals have an inner life. Anyone who knows Skinner knows that he barely thought that humans have an inner life! Or at least not one that could be studied scientifically.

    There are more examples at the URL above.

  37. #37 UnEasyOne
    July 8, 2010

    No offense, Red Dog, but why are you still giving HP page views and commenting there?

  38. #38 Mike
    July 8, 2010

    Red Dog:

    For example Lanza had an article where he made a claim about work he had done with BF Skinner that essentially claimed Skinner was supporting the idea that animals have an inner life. Anyone who knows Skinner knows that he barely thought that humans have an inner life! Or at least not one that could be studied scientifically.

    I’m not sure what Lanza’s views are, or precisely what you mean by “inner life”, but if you simply mean ‘having thoughts, feelings, etc’ then it’s undeniable that Skinner believed not only that animals have this “inner life”, but also that it can be studied scientifically.

    This is an undeniable point as it was the entire basis of his radical behaviorism – that is, his ideas of how behaviorist processes worked were “radical” because he applied them to private behaviors (inner life) as well as external and observable behaviors. If we ignore Skinner’s ideas on how we need to study the private behaviors of organisms, then he would simply have been a methodological behaviorist like all those before him.

    It is true, however, that Skinner thought that what we viewed as thoughts and feelings weren’t exactly what these things actually were, due to imprecise definitions and unscientific/biased conclusions, but his arguments were that we needed to define these things better, not that we should discard them.

    John Watson, on the other hand, argued that the inner life of animals and humans was impossible to discover at his time and with the available technology, so for psychology to continue as a science then it should refrain from making unfalsifiable claims about the unobservable hypothetical entities “inside” an organism”.

  39. #39 PJ
    July 9, 2010

    I must agree with post terrymac Post #17. Most publications have editorial control over content. And, good publications have a variety of writers on staff with differing points of view. Sometimes they will disagree. Yes I think Huffpo over edited the piece. But it was their right to do so. It is up to the readers to be skeptics and think for themselves.
    As for myself, the only thing I read on Huff is the comedy section.

  40. #40 John Kwok
    July 9, 2010

    Salon has weighed in with a terrific essay condemning not only David Klinghoffer, but also HuffPo’s willingness to grant Klinghoffer a platform while muzzling critics such as yourself, Eric:

    http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/07/07/huffpo_antiscience/index.html

  41. #41 Another_Scientist
    July 9, 2010

    I wouldn’t associate with HuffPo even if you paid me handsomely. Indeed, it is a “hopeless looney bin.” Likewise, your two examples of good political writing featured in the HuffPo are simply article reprints from the Guardian and Chicago Tribune, respectively.

  42. #42 evden eve nakliyat
    July 11, 2010

    Hi all;
    A fatal flaw was that they failed to have any representative posts ready to go up when the blog went live.

    Had they done so, and had the content been surprisingly acceptable, the reception might have been better.

    Instead we get this “Hi! Welcome to ShillBlog!” (crickets) and everyone, quite reasonably, expects the worst.

  43. #43 Resuna
    July 20, 2010

    If they censor your work, how can you work from within?

  44. #44 David Gerard
    July 20, 2010

    The problem is that they think science works like politics. Which is the attitude that generates such gibbering journalistic idiocy as Climategate and the MMR scare. They don’t understand the concept that the universe doesn’t lie.

  45. #45 tütüne son
    July 21, 2010

    It is true, however, that Skinner thought that what we viewed as thoughts and feelings weren’t exactly what these things actually were, due to imprecise definitions and unscientific/biased conclusions, but his arguments were that we needed to define these things better, not that we should discard them.

  46. #46 x
    July 23, 2010

    @38 aka Mike

    No, radical behaviourism is called “radical” because it contrasts with methodological behaviourism.

    Behaviourism generally is the idea that only behaviour and not introspection, can be studied scientifically. In this sense all modern psychology is behaviourist. Behaviourism emerged mainly out of Thorndike’s work – that human learning follows the same patterns that stimulus-response associations do in animal learning.

    Methodological behaviourism was the idea that “the mind” exists but cannot be studied scientifically. Thus psychology should focus only on observable behaviours. However it allowed what could be called “intervening variables”. So for example you can study psychological construct like “hunger” if you define it in terms of a behaviour (e.g., how much food a person eats).

    Radical behaviourism is the idea that “the mind” does not exist. Thus they ignored intervening variables and took Thorndike’s work to its logical conclusion – that even complex behaviours were built up out of simple S-R links. Similarly in philosophy of mind radical behaviourists (Gilbert Ryle) argued consciousness was a category error.

    Of course this all fell apart when Skinner tried to extend associative learning to explain verbal behaviour (Verbal Behaviour was the name of the book, as well) and Chomsky promptly destroyed his entire argument. Around the same time there was also a few new experiments which showed that conscious processing was used in human learning (e.g. use of hypothesis testing, role of short term memory etc.).

    So no, Skinner didn’t believe mental states, which is what you’re calling “inner life” were real. In fact the methodological behaviourists were closer to studying what you call “inner life” than the radical behaviourists – the compelete opposite of what you’re saying.

  47. #47 Red Dog
    July 31, 2010

    Just returned to this page after a long while.

    UnEasyOne asked “No offense, Red Dog, but why are you still giving HP page views and commenting there?”

    Good question. Because for one thing when it comes to politics and general news I haven’t found a better site. I also like the topics that woo writers like Lanza raise even though I completely disagree with their answers. I also have gotten to virtually know several people who comment there and enjoy the community.

    To Mike. I disagree about Skinner. I think X above said it better than I did and I agree with X.

  48. #48 ev dekorasyon
    August 2, 2010

    I must agree with post terrymac Post #17. Most publications have editorial control over content. And, good publications have a variety of writers on staff with differing points of view. Sometimes they will disagree. Yes I think Huffpo over edited the piece. But it was their right to do so. It is up to the readers to be skeptics and think for themselves.

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