Sep 29 2009

Science Bloggers Pigpile on HuffPo

And with good reason.

I am a bit late to the latest round of this party, but as I have previously pointed out, The Huffington Post has been since its inception a bastion of pseudoscience, especially in the medical field. Like distressingly many news outlets, it has decided to abandon all pretense of being “fair and balanced” in its actual content when it comes to its ideological stance.

Arianna Huffington clearly is enamored of anti-scientific pseudomedical nonsense. Earlier in her career she wrote for and frequently appeared on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher – another quack-friendly media personality.

So it is no surprise that the HuffPo has been a haven for unscientific dangerous medical misinformation. Specifically, writers for the HuffPo, including David Kirby, have consistently taken an anti-vaccine stance.

The science blogging community just can’t keep up with the steady stream of medical stupid coming from the HuffPo, but occasionally an article or group of articles reaches a critical mass of stupid and triggers a response. Such is the case recently.

Peter Lipson at Science-Based Medicine and Orac at Respectful Insolence point out that Dana Ullman, a notorious apologist for homeopathy, an absurd and discredited medical cult, has started blogging for the HuffPo. If Arianna wanted to further drag down the overall scientific quality of her news site (a difficult task), Ullman was a good choice.

His first post, as Peter says, is an “ignorant load of goat droppings.” Essentially, Ullman argues that symptoms are the body’s way of fighting disease, and that by treating symptoms real doctors are impairing the body’s attempts to heal itself naturally. This is pure ideological nonsense, or crap-based medicine, as we call it.

Real life is far more complex than Ullman’s childish straw men. Sometimes symptoms have nothing to do with the body’s reaction to a disease or infection, it is a symptom of a primary malfunction of the body. The hands shake in Parkinson’s disease because cells in the brain that regulate movement have died, and now the system is malfunctioning. We cannot fix or replace these lost brain cells – but we are working on it. We are approaching the problem from every conceivable angle – slowing down the rate of degeneration, or even replacing the cells with new ones. So far any gains in this area have been minimal at best.

But, we can partly compensate for the lost cells pharmacologically, by replacing their lost function. This reduces symptoms, and dramatically increases function and quality of life. Scientists have even obsessed for years over the question of if particular treatments might accelerate the degeneration of neurons, because we wanted to be sure that the treatments were not having any unintended consequences. The evidence so far is reassuring that treatments do not worsen long term outcomes.

Every symptom of every disease requires a similarly complex and individual assessment – not blanket and self-serving ideology.

Ullman basically gets everything wrong – so he should feel right at home at the HuffPo.

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, takes on Frank Lipman who brought out the anti-vax crazy for the HuffPo. Yes, that’s right, Frank Lipman, even though he has an MD after his name, was just pwned by an astronomer about a medical issue.

Lipman essentially advises not to get the flu vaccine because there is insufficient evidence for its safety and effectiveness. I respect this approach to a medical question – assessing the evidence. But then Lipman goes on to recommend that instead people rely upon a host of quackery with even less evidence – including homeopathy. This is not just stupid, it’s hypocritical.

Lipman basically misrepresents the evidence to make his point. On his website he cites Cochrane database reviews, arguing that they show the flu vaccine doesn’t work. But the very reviews he cites, for healthy adults, for example, conclude:

Influenza vaccines are effective in reducing cases of influenza, especially when the content predicts accurately circulating types and circulation is high. However, they are less effective in reducing cases of influenza-like illness and have a modest impact on working days lost. There is insufficient evidence to assess their impact on complications. Whole-virion monovalent vaccines may perform best in a pandemic.

In fact the review shows that the vaccine is 90% effective when the strain in the vaccine matches the strain that is going around that season, but this effectiveness drops to 50% when the strains do not match. This means that the flu vaccine works, but there is room for improvement. Yet amazingly Lipman reads this and concludes that the vaccine does not work and recommends that people do not get it.

The same is true of the other subgroups he cites – the evidence shows the flu vaccine works, but Lipman still manages to get the bottom line wrong. He also ignores the fact that focusing on subgroups misses a major advantage of the vaccine – herd immunity. The best way to prevent the flu is to keep it from spreading, and that’s what herd immunity does, but that requires high rates of vaccine compliance.

All of these shenanigans at the HuffPo have motivated the most popular science blogger, PZ Myers, to advise his readers to boycott the HuffPo, and to yearn for its demise.

Some of us in the science blogging community have wondered aloud if our criticism of the anti-science at the HuffPo is even being noticed. A few months ago it seemed that the editors of the HuffPo blinked at all this criticism – maybe resulting in a brief flirtation with some actual science writing over there, but clearly after reflection they have abandoned scientific legitimacy.

The Huffington Post now seems hopeless.

30 responses so far

30 thoughts on “Science Bloggers Pigpile on HuffPo”

  1. Orac says:

    Sorry, Steve. HuffPo has been hopeless for a long time. It’s been anti-vaccine ever since the very beginning:

    Besides David Kirby, Dr. Jay Gordon, and the usual cast of antivaxers, it then added Deepak Chopra and never looked back (at science, at least). This year, however, it’s only gotten worse. Distant healing, homeopathy, the Beck protocol (which includes blood “electrification” and “ozonation”), and various detox woo, it’s all there and all on HuffPo now.

  2. Orac – I know and agree. As I said, they might have been flirting with balance earlier this year, but now they clearly are not.

  3. superdave says:

    The left wing seems to embrace this stuff since they can cite it as being pro personal choice, but the right wing seems neutral on the issue. Maybe what we really need is a science based medicine party. Or to try to get the right wingers on this issue.

  4. Orac says:

    Right wingers like different woo. For instance, they’re as big into the anti-vaccine movement as liberals. (Dan Burton and Ron Paul are anything but liberals, for instance.) They tend to view it as hating the state telling them what to do, while left-winger tend to distrust big business and by extension pharmaceutical companies (Bill Maher, for instance).

    Whenever anyone tries to tell me that liberals are particularly prone to medical woo, I like to point out that the Nazis were very big into naturopathy and homeopathy, viewing it as “volkish” medicine. Yeah, it risks a Godwin to say that, but it usually makes the point.

  5. Scarybug says:

    Right-wingers seem more likely to substitute prayer for medicine, as well.

    And this year has show they’re just as eager to embrace conspiracy theories when the government is run by the other party.

  6. jtpiatt says:

    To me its not a right-left issue: Huff Po just plain sucks. I’m about as far to the political left as they come in this country, and I wouldn’t touch HuffPo with a ten-foot pole. Furthermore, their blatant disregard for the facts when it comes to science ‘poisons the well’ for me when it comes to their political reporting. Seriously, if they can screw-up a slam-dunk issue like homeopathy, how can they be expected to get the facts straight on issues which are actually sophisticated?

    I say let them have it: bad science is bad science regardless of its political stripes.

  7. mamaG says:

    You people are SO ignorant. Do some research before posting misleading information. Do you have ANY idea what toxins are actually in vaccines??? The damage they cause?? people that willingly risk their children’s lives for the sake of “the herd” are insane. What do you think they created the vaccine injury compensation program for? BECAUSE SOME KIDS ARE INJURED AND DIE from them. Did you know that the pharma companies that manufacture this new DEADLY flu shot-which contains MERCURY and SQUALENE have got a “pass” from having to pay out from any injuries and deaths that occur from their vaccines? AND how long was this vaccine tested before they start dosing the population??? A few WEEKS…thats it. Read up on what happened in the first swine flu many people were neurologically and physically injured and died from the VACCINE…not the flu itself. Make an effort to build up your immune system NATURALLY, omg I said NATURALLY, yup, with herbs like Echinacea. Garlic and a multi vitamin. Eat Healthy ORGANIC (that means grown without pesticides in case you werent aware) food. Cut out sugars and processed foods. If your body is healthy than even if you do get the flu you’ll be able to fight it off sooner. If your body is heavy with toxins and heavy metals..well good luck to ya. You go ahead and line up with the herd and get your wonderful flu shots. I hope nobody else gets as smart as you guys from visiting this site.

  8. mamaG – thanks for regurgitating the anti-science propaganda of the charlatans. Every sentence is loaded is logical fallacies and misinformation. And the irony is thick – you rail against “big pharma” meanwhile you are credulous towards “big supplement” and don’t even realize that the two industries have tremendous overlap. Just like the organic delusion – “big agro” loves organic because you can charge more for less. Never mind that organic farmers use pesticides, they just use “natural” pesticides that are just as toxic (they do the same thing) as chemical pesticides.

    The irony thickens – while you recommend that we inform ourselves, you spout astoundingly uninformed nonsense. You seem to assume that any view that is counter-mainstream must be good. The anti-vax crowd tells you to fear squalene, so you do, without reference to actual scientific information.

    Here is a dose of that for you:

  9. Jordan says:

    I would dearly like to believe mamaG is being satirical. . .

    But if not, NPR recently had a showed specifically about the issues surrounding the current H1N1 vaccine. The reason the government created a vaccine injury compensation program isn’t to get civilians to take the vaccine, but rather to get vaccine producers to make the vaccine. In 1971 there were around 20 producers (I believe) and now there are only 5. They’ve all left the market because people like mamaG misunderstand what is going on. A perfect example is your conclusions about the very Vax injury compensation program you spoke of.

  10. Robin says:

    That little exchange with mamaG would be hilarious if it were not simultaneously so disheartening. Echinacea, Garlic and a multi-Vitamins indeed.

    Thank you Dr Novella.

  11. weing says:


    Is that why Clinton was talking this weekend about the vast right wing conspiracy?

  12. mamaG says:

    Whatever. Nobody is as smart as you, obviously, so theres no point in even expressing an opinion on here different from yours. Yeah people who like to live naturally and use herbs when they’re sick instead of running to the doctors for a prescription to antibiotics are definately charlatins. Alot of pharmaceuticals are derived from plants. I dont listen to what any crowd tells me to do. I make informed decisions, and act accordingly. I’m not really talking about supplements..I’m talking about HERBS and medicinal plants, although I would much rather take some vitamin c pills, and/or some fish oil or echinacea..AND probiotics than an immune system debillatating antibiotic.

    Answer this…How can injecting toxins into the body be expected to produce health? You never replied to the injuries and deaths… I mean, its on the CDC website..the ingredients in vaccines…its seriously OK with you to inject these poisons into your, or your child’s body? What about the risk? No matter how small it seems to you..its just not a risk I’m willing to take with mine, or my children’s lives for the sake of the herd. To me its like playing Russion Roulette. How would you feel if YOUR normal baby came home from a round of vaccines and was suddenly brain damaged, or spiked a fever of 105, and was NEVER the same child again? Honestly. do you have children? If you do..your willing to risk their lives? You cant possibly say that vaccines have no risk.

  13. Doctor Evidence says:

    is there any risk to not being vaccinated?

  14. Adam_Y says:

    Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim said it best all things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous. It applies to oxygen. It applies to water. It applies to formaldehyde which naturally occurs within the body in quantities that do not harm you.

    Also, I can play the same idiotic poison game that you think you are skirting by using “medicinal plants”. Plants have an excellent tendency to soak up anything that is found in the ground. Arsenic, aluminum, and many more “toxins” can actually reach their way into plants. It is not even a byproduct of humans. The stuff occurs naturally in the ground. Plants also do not consistently produce the same amount of the active ingredients. Its analogous to taking an eighth of a pill one day, a whole pill the next, two pills the next day, and half after that. These are just some of the reasons why most medicines are directly obtained from the plant.

    As for risks you are trying to pretend in your deluded lalala land that there are no risks for not vaccinating your child which is idiotic. You child could actually catch the disease that you decided not to immunize her/him for. DUHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

  15. Adam_Y says:

    Dammit I forgot the word not. The sentence should read:
    “These are just some of the reasons why most medicines are not directly obtained from the plant”

  16. @Doctor Evidence
    Yes. The risk of not being vaccinated is in suffering from the disease or condition against which you’re being vaccinated. Projecting forward from mortality in the previous century, vaccines save at least 30,000 lives annually when corrected for population size. This is several orders of magnitude greater than confirmed cases of vaccines being the proximate cause for a death. One can say there is risk to a vaccine, but avoiding receiving one because of that risk would be analogous to not wearing a seatbelt while driving because of the handful of cases where someone is somehow saved by not wearing one come compared to the tens of thousands saved by them.


  17. weing says:

    “Whatever. Nobody is as smart as you, obviously,”

    Why, thank you. But it’s really beside the point. Even you could learn. All it takes is humility and the desire to learn and application of critical thinking to everything, willingness to accept new concepts based on what you’ve verified even though they fly in the face of your prior, steeped in ignorance, world view.

  18. jtpiatt says:


    Despite your persuasive use of CAPS lock, I find your arguments unconvincing. The fact that you cite child deaths as a reason to stop vaccination is particularly curious. If child morbidity if something that interests you, perhaps you should read this brief article about childhood deaths due to measles to the late 19th and early 20th (prior to the development of the vaccine) centuries.

    I’ve done similar archival research with respect to cholera, and can assure you that what turned the tide in that particular pandemic was not an animistic reliance of ‘herbs and wellness’, but rather the same type of careful, scientific study of disease processes that is being advocated in this blog.

  19. Doctor Evidence says:

    Hi mamaG. TerryRobinson brought up an interesting claim:
    that not getting vaccinated also carries risk.

    I’m curious what your take is on this.

    * do you agree that not getting vaccinated also carries risk?
    * have you compared the two risks (vaccinated vs not)?

    your friend, DE

  20. HCN says:

    mamaG, please provide the real actual factual scientific evidence that the DTaP is worse than diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (the latter actually kills up to two dozen American infants per year). The documentation needs to be something I can find in my local medical school library (so no websites, no news reports and no anecdotes).

    Also, are the toxins you speak of worse than tetanospasmin?

  21. Draal says:

    ACTIVE ingredients that occur NATURALLY in plants and microorganisms are SECONDARY metabolites and frequently are produced in MINUTE quantities. (Taxol occurs NATURALLY but it would take harvesting ONE tree for ONE dose;
    So BIG PHARMA steps in an develops SYNTHETIC or SEMI-SYNTHETIC routes to produce enough material that is IDENTICAL to the NATURALLY occurring active ingredient. BIG PHARMA is thus also providing access to NATURAL drugs in SIGNIFICANT quantities to treat thousands or MILLIONS of people that would otherwise be IMPRACTICAL.
    Plus, RESEARCH by BIG PHARMA is CONDUCTED by highly EDUCATED sons and DAUGHTERS who’s GOALS are to PROVIDE a DIFFERENCE to PEOPLE like YOU. ARE you AGAINST all the HARDWORKING men and WOMEN with DEGREES in BIOLOGY, chemistry, PHARMACOLOGY, chemical engineering, ect. and all the DOCTORS that run TRAILS in order to TREAT ailments like CANCER, Alzheimer’s, PARKINSON’s, ect.


  22. mamaG – my astute readers have already made the points I would have made.

    Natural vs toxins is a false dichotomy. Herbs are drugs, plants contain “toxins” – all chemicals, even water, is a potential toxin. It’s all about dose, dose, dose.

    The dose of the chemicals in vaccines has adequately proven safety.

    Straw man – of course vaccines have risks. Practically any medical intervention that works has risks. The only meaningful analysis is risk vs benefit. Vaccines have one of the best risk to benefit ratios of any medical intervention – including anything you would label as “natural.”

    And yes, I have two fully vaccinated and completely healthy daughters.

  23. mindme says:

    ||How can injecting toxins into the body be expected to produce health?||

    Nothing we consume, including the stuff you put in your body, is free of “toxins”. Are you so sure that fish oil you consume is free of all “toxins”? How could putting those “toxins” in your body do you any good? Do you chase it with a glass of water? Bottled water? No toxins in that bottled water, right?


  24. GHcool says:

    I just wrote the Huffington Post an email. It can be seen here:

  25. Authentk8 says:

    MamaG – “I’m not really talking about supplements..I’m talking about HERBS and medicinal plants, although I would much rather take some vitamin c pills, and/or some fish oil or echinacea..”

    Supplement = usually contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes)

    I’m not sure I understand the difference.

    Another point I’m not clear on.

    MamaG – “its just not a risk I’m willing to take with mine, or my children’s lives for the sake of the herd.”

    Aren’t you and your children part of the herd? Are they not getting sick because of your regimen or due to the fact the herd is immunized? Or have they/will they become sick due to the opposite being true?

  26. studio34 says:

    Oh boy mamaG, are you ever drinking the Kool Aid. You’re drowning in woo you poor thing. Someone throw the poor woman an oxygen bottle.

    Let me ask you this mamaG, you blither on about how wonderful “natural” and “alternative” medical treatments are but would you take your car to a “natural mechanic” … or how about getting on a jet being flown by an “alternative pilot”? I doubt you’d go near one because there is only just one real type of mechanic and one real pilot just as there is only one kind of medicine. Either it works or it doesn’t. It’s that simple. If it works it has been picked up by medical science; if it’s junk or without effect it remains in the realm of woo where you lot continue to put endless spin on it.

    Get over it. It’s incredibly boring reading your sort of drivel. At least be original and bring some evidence to the table. Have a look in the dictionary for that word by the way. It seems to have slipped your vocabulary.

  27. wertys says:


    Speak for yourself.

    Reading posts from people like mamaG and pec is fantastic entertainment !

  28. weing says:

    I agree with wertys.

  29. stompsfrogs says:

    “Ullman argues that symptoms are the body’s way of fighting disease, and that by treating symptoms real doctors are impairing the body’s attempts to heal itself naturally.”

    So pain is your body trying to heal itself, and we should inflict pain on people who are in pain? Sounds good, you first Ullman. If you slip and knock yer noggin, you officially just gave us permission to bludgeon you to death, right? I mean, bludgeon you to health. I get so mixed up.

    And I ain’t steppin into that mamaG-tard mess, other than to say that is a burning pile of stupid and I hate Poes. Not funny. 😛

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