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You’ve got junk science!

February 7th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Careless sourcing, Junk science

It’s official: AOL is buying the Huffington Post for $315 million. Arianna Huffington will become the editor-in-chief of a newly-created Huffington Post Media Network, which puts her in charge of Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, MapQuest, Black Voices, PopEater, AOL Music, AOL Latino, AutoBlog, Patch, StyleList, and more.

Huffington Post is rightly criticized as a repository of pseudoscience and medical quackery. It regularly lends credibility to such fringe characters as new age guru Deepak Chopra; anti-vaccine physician Dr. “Bob” Sears; and vaccine fear monger Jenny McCarthy, who was recently given a platform to defend Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent vaccine research.

A Huffington Post editor once emailed us Arianna’s supposedly strict policy for health related posts – “any posts that offer medical/health information or advice are only published if authored by a licensed medical professional and the post has gone through medical review with our Medical Editor, Dr. Dean Ornish. Any other pieces written by individuals without a medical license must be treated journalistically with statements sourced, etc. ”

But the policy is unevenly applied. Blogger Kim Evans recommended, without a scintilla of evidence, “deep cleansing enemas” to ward of swine flu. Comedian Jim Carrey told us that vaccines contain anti-freeze and ether. They don’t, a fact that apparently escaped HuffPo medical editor Dr. Dean Ornish. Arianna Huffington also promoted Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s 2005 error-filled article “Deadly Immunity,” which was recently retracted and expunged by Salon.com. But such accountability is unknown to Arianna Huffington.

Deirdre Imus, another HuffPo regular,  grossly misinterpreted studies while claiming that vaccines cause diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Last summer HuffPo medical science blogger Joseph Mercola cast doubt on the efficacy of vaccines to prevent disease:

Conventional medicine teaches that the polio and the smallpox epidemics went away because of the vaccines, and that most of the diseases that we faced in the 20th century in the United States were brought down because of the power, strength and the implementation of the vaccine policy.

Meanwhile, there are a significant number of studies in the medical literature that actually show there were many other reasons that these infectious diseases went away.

Will AOL be a moderating influence on HuffPo? Fat chance. Arianna’s business model is based on an avalanche of free content, which attracts readers, which attracts ad dollars. It’s all about the links, says Dan Gilmor at MediaActive:

If AOL is going after a link-driven community, the blend could work in the long run. The Huffington Post has been evolving from its origins, as the left-wing op-ed page of the Internet, into a blend of aggregation, curation, pandering — all of which have been done with some genuinely intriguing if not innovative technology initiatives — and some home-grown content. The first three of those are likely to be, in the end, much more important for the business than the original content.

Quack medicine is popular because it offers easy answers. And now AOL, the company than made internet access easy for millions, has a soul mate. And Arianna Huffington, the PT Barnum of the information age, has a sugar daddy.

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