Do Sites Promoting Pseudoscience Admit It?

A recent event with a friend has led to the opportunity for reflection, especially in light of other similar threats that Stephen Barrett and  Amy Wallace and Paul Offit have all faced. Speaking up and naming things woo or pseudoscience can carry the real threat of legal action. As in the case of Wallace, her publishing company, and Offit, time and money are lost fighting the claim, but they ultimately prevail. But how many individuals without that time and money are simply silenced, forced to delete posts, offer up apologies and stifle their right to speak freely and honestly?

So, if we are factual, if we comment on blogs or on twitter about something being pseudoscientific, are we putting ourselves at risk? Probably, depending on how litigious the person or company we've leveled our charge of woo against is. Sometimes a threat is just that, a threat, with the intent to silence us, and as unpaid bloggers we have to decide what lines we're comfortable living within. I decided last year that my boundary line was involved with guest bloggers on Countering; my willingness to be threatened with lawsuits ends at my own typing fingers. Others will draw different lines. And many will choose to give in to the demands, remove the content and find another way to go about fighting misinformation. There is no single answer, no one right way to wage a battle against pseudoscience.

Now, my particular way of handling this, in this specific situation, would be to ask a series of questions. Do companies who have a large number of paid (through advertising) writers acknowledge when those writers descend into woo or were woo from the get-go? What number of posts would it take to make the claim that a  particular company/site has less than accurate information on it? Would three posts do the trick? What about ten? What about twenty?

After all, I've written dozens of articles on Huff's woo, with nary a take-it-back-or-else letter from them. As far as I know, none of the science bloggers who fight the Huff woo have ever been threatened by a lawsuit. Maybe Huff doesn't care. Maybe Huff thinks any exposure is good exposure.

So what about other sites that do similar things, sites like, oh, let's say, Examiner. Is that site promoting pseudoscience? Would it threaten litigation, attempt to silence critics? How many articles would it take to make a convincing argument that evidence-based practices might not be the most important thing to them? Do you think over two dozen might be adequate?





































Now, in no way am I saying this site is pseudoscientific. I'm just asking questions, letting readers look the articles over and draw their own conclusions.

*Links courtesy a blogging friend (I will post the blogger's name if I get permission).


C. S. Wyatt said...

Examiner "reporters" are generally promoting their own businesses. Sometimes, it is really obvious, though more often it is like the local "Real Estate" column in a newspaper -- "written" by a Realtor, of course, who often buys the content from yet another party.

Examiner, Seed, Associated Content, eHow, et al, do not care about quality of content. They care about having readers and ad income.

Ren said...

Thanks for pointing this out, Kim. It's one of the reasons why I dissociated myself from them. I had too many other "examiners" contacting me behind the scenes to complain that I was "pushing" vaccines and "big pharma".

Autism Reality NB said...

Some sites which promote pseudoscience do not admit it. Respectful Insolence for one does not admit the pseudoscience it promotes. NOTE: Beware of any alleged science site that uses childish insults like WOO, QUACK etc.

KWombles said...

No problem, Ren.

Harold, you've got to work a bit harder to avoid letting your biases get in the way; your definition is way off.

From wikipedia:

"Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific methodology, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.[1] Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.
Distinguishing scientific facts and theories from pseudoscientific beliefs such as those found in astrology, homeopathy, medical quackery, and occult beliefs combined with scientific concepts, is part of science education and scientific literacy.[2][3]
The term pseudoscience is often considered inherently pejorative, because it suggests that something is being inaccurately or even deceptively portrayed as science.[4] Accordingly, those labeled as practicing or advocating pseudoscience normally dispute the characterization.[4]"

Autism Reality NB said...

Biases? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm

KWombles said...

Harold, do you have a chart or something that lets you know when it's time to come over and comment, usually off-topic, and almost always negatively?

If you actually read my posts, you'd have seen several where I write that we all operate under biases and that these distort reality, that science is the only way to get around confirmation and disconfirmation biases.

I also try to off evidence to back up claims. Sure, a good ad hom or flat out name-calling feels good, but at the end of the day what matters are the claims and the evidence for them. I offered a string of articles at Examiner to support the claim, asked as a question, as to whether Examiner was promoting pseudoscience. I let readers judge that for themselves.

You came in with your bias against Orac and offered no evidence for your claim; you misused pseudoscience and you used "alleged science." In short, you sounded like Age of Autism who hurls insults and denigrates science bloggers.

It isn't relevant if Orac heaps insults; it has nothing to do with the scientific accuracy of his information. The two, contrary to your melding, are not entwined and have nothing to do with the other.

KWombles said...

offER evidence. Hah,I wrote off evidence. Interesting and no doubt fair game to play with Freudian slips. I point that in someone else's direction naturally.