UK Huffpo is a Mockery of Journalism

By Keith Kloor | May 7, 2012 2:39 am

There was talk that the much maligned (but heavily trafficked) Huffington Post gained some journalistic cred after it snagged a Pulitzer Prize this year. We should keep in mind what makes the Huffpo engine run. As the LA Time’s Tim Rutten wrote:

The bulk of the site’s content is provided by commentators, who work for nothing other than the opportunity to champion causes or ideas to which they’re devoted.

We should also judge the “internet newspaper” on the substance of its overall content. Take the Huffpo’s UK science edition, for example. If it has an editor (much less a science editor), I’d be shocked. There are two stories fronted recently on its page that are so bad they read like parody. One of them is by an editor of a fashion website. Her piece argues that

Victorian, matter-based, Darwinian model of evolution is backward-thinking and flawed given the recent leaps and bounds in metaphysical sciences and physical historical evidence disproving linear evolution. The ideology we randomly mutated from ocean slime to our knuckle-dragging neanderthal long-long lost cousins to our current incarnation is one that’s been dogmatically accepted into mainstream evolutionary hegemony without challenge until recent years.

Wait, it gets better. The whacky builds on the whacky, to this near the end:

Everything is energy – including us. Life is the interaction of magnetic vibrational fields and our evolution is subject to the cosmos, not random selection. There have been peak sunspot emissions and coronal mass ejections in 2012 so it’s little surprise humankind is awakening.

Unlike Darwin, the Maya, ancient Hindus and Hopi Indians recognised evolution/time as cyclical. There is overwhelming global, physical evidence that vast, advanced civilisations preceded us: the technology in which to create, many of today’s engineers assert we do not possess.

The audacious lunacy of the article seems to surprise even PZ Myers, who deconstructs it in typical fashion. It was his post that got me poking around Huffpo’s UK science section, where I came across the weirdest thing I’ve ever read on global warming. It’s by a musician who leads off his piece (and stay with it, just for fun) this way:

This past February, 2012, on the day after the Superbowl, I achieved enlightenment on a flight from Ushuaia Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, headed back to The United States.

It wasn’t the first time I’d achieved such a glorious and all encompassing perspective; that moment where you think and figure less, and simply just are. a being. being; experiencing your interconnectedness to all things; realising what you are is only that you are. and in that; everything.

The first time I experienced it was in a bath tub in New York City. For no reason to my knowledge I suddenly saw how every tile surrounding the tub was made, manufactured, and grouted with love. I saw how the plumbing was only made possible by a plumber who either loved his job or his family, enabling him to do such a fine job connecting the pipes from below the city streets all the way up to the 23rd floor where I was pruning in the tub. Behind every detail I saw an act of creation by a creature who was a product of creation itself. The material world seemed less material and appeared to me as it really was; an extension of my experience, that which I sometimes call my Self. I didn’t float in the tub figuring it all out or making anything up, it was just a clear and present stream of consciousness that brought me to tears; eventually twisting its way down the drain and leaving me just as watered and weighed down by the gravity of being human trying to maintain or make sense of the memory, as I was uplifted only moments before.

Everything about this, from the lack of copyediting, to the long, nonsensical wind-up, wouldn’t be tolerated at a respectable high school newspaper.

You know who’s laughing loudest? Arianna Huffington, who probably can’t believe she’s making millions off of dreck like this.

 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Journalism, science
MORE ABOUT: Journalism, science
  • http://muchachoverde.blogspot.co.uk/ Hengist McStone

    That passage by the musician ought to be submitted to <I>Private Eye’s</I> Pseud’s Corner.

  • Steve Crook

    I am unsurprised. I’ve sat in a room with people with opinions like these and had to listen to them criticising science and engineering and blaming them for everything that’s wrong with the world. They’re blissfully unaware of the hypocrisy of their situation as they leave to drive home in their cars, well fed, warm and vaccinated.But that’s the miracle of the internet, everyone has a voice. 

  • Michael Larkin

    Keith, I agree that much in Huffpo is dreck. I agree much of the musician’s article is dreck – especially the climate-related reflections. It’s appallingly written, too.

    However, his tangential experience of cosmic consciousness may just have been genuine. Lots of people, including myself (a CAGW sceptic), have had it – a sense of interconnectedness with all things – especially living organisms, human beings in particular. It comes in different flavours and strengths, and for no apparent reason; it can last hours, days, even weeks.

    Having an experience like this says nothing about on which side of certain issues one happens to be, how scientifically literate one is, how logically-minded, how articulate, how right or wrong in one’s interpretations, or how it is integrated in the conscious mind with pre-existing opinions. Any more than one having the experience of being a father means that all fathers think alike in all ways.

    This relates to a major issue I have with the climate debate: Some people on both sides tend to think that being (as they see it) beyond the pale in one area automatically implies being so in another. One can’t think the evidence is weak for second-hand smoke being carcinogenic, and possibly be right to be sceptical about CAGW; one must be a cryptocommunist if one isn’t sceptical about CAGW; All sceptics are creationists, all alarmists are atheists, yada yada yada.

    That’s just complete bollocks. Many people, I opine, are sincere in their beliefs and should be able to debate sensibly without reference to other areas of disagreement.

  • Mary

    Snorf.

    I haz a theory {and you should take it at the value random posters offer}: because in general the UK science coverage and attempts at public outreach are better than US–HuffPo has to work even harder to bring teh stupid back to the average.

    I have a formula that can explain this. It came to me in my last out-of-body experience. But it’s in a special language none of you would understand.

  • Vinny Burgoo

    Al Gore recommended the Mraz piece on his blog. He thought it was ‘eloquent’ and urged everyone to read it in its entirety – unnecessary advice because it would be impossible not to once you’ve started it. It’s a comic masterpiece. I loved the bit about the water bottle. Global warming can be tackled if, when flying business class from one end of the world to the other on the way back from a pointless junket to Antarctica, we insist on drinking tap water. What planet are these people on? (Perhaps there were psychoactive bacteria in the plane’s water tank.) Others who went on the junket thought that women haven’t been given enough credit for exploring Antarctica, that only the optimism of doomwankery can defeat the pessimism of denial, and that people should care about the climate crisis if they care about mental health. The junket was supposed to be educational, but wrong facts were everywhere, even from Al Gore. The asylum on a coach trip to the seaside.

  • kdk33

    I’d rather have floating bathtubs than another BBD “3C” rant.

    The internet puts the onus on the consumer to figure out what to take in and what to discard.  I think this is a good thing; people are, on the whole, smarter than we think. 

    The notion that information needs to be vetted for the public stems from the idea that people are stupid.  It creates perverse incentive and all kinds of unintended consequences – these can be summarized as: who gets to be the judge.  The information free-for-all is much to be preferred. 

  • BBD

    kdk33

    I am delighted that having the science brought to your attention on a regular basis is getting on your tits. You deserve nothing less.

  • BBD

    Good thing the Huffpo doesn’t pay its contributors.

  • BBD

    @ 3

    Aciiiid! We’ve all been there mate. A couple of decades ago…

  • Nullius in Verba

    Oh, come now! It’s not all bad!

    I was going to do the brilliant ‘Life on Mars 99% certain” story as well at first, but in the interests of brevity I’ll skip over that one and move straight to the subject close to all our hearts – the melting of Antarctica. They report that 20/54 ice shelves observed were thinning. That’s less than half, yes? They think they’re being melted from below by global warming.

    Unusually for pop-science, they actually explain their reasoning for this, which is impressive. They say “In most places in Antarctica, we can’t explain the ice-shelf thinning through melting of snow at the surface, so it has to be driven by warm ocean currents melting them from below.”

    My first thought was, “hang on a sec’, why couldn’t it be the glacier speeding up? If the same volume of ice flows past a point faster, it would thin. Speed times thickness equals volume flow rate.” These guys are way ahead of me, though. The very next paragraph they say “We’ve looked all around the Antarctic coast and we see a clear pattern: in all the cases where ice shelves are being melted by the ocean, the inland glaciers are speeding up. It’s this glacier acceleration that’s responsible for most of the increase in ice loss from the continent and this is contributing to sea-level rise.”

    And why is it melting? Is it the recent heat wave that has all the penguins out on the beach in their bikinis?

    “the BAS discovered that 20 of Antarctica’s 54 ice shelves across Antarctica were actually being melted from below, by warm water, rather than warmer air caused by global warming. They believe that changes in wind currents pushed warmer water towards the ice shelves.”

    Ah! So not tropical temperatures, it was changes in wind currents.

    So does that mean it wasn’t global warming? No! “The cause of the wind change itself, Pritchard said, was due to man-made
    greenhouse gases and the hole in the ozone layer, as well as natural
    weather variation.”

    Impressive! Did you see the way he stuck “natural weather variation” on the end there in very small print?

    This is important for the following reason. “It means that we can lose an awful lot of ice to the sea without ever having summers warm enough to make the snow on top of the glaciers melt – the oceans can do all the work from below.” In other words, we can have global warming doom without having to have any actual global warming. Great news!

    And the most important question – how scary is all of this?

    “The area which the BAS studied, the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet, would add 16 feet to the global see level if it melted, scientists predict, but it would take decades for that to happen.”

    Decades!! Al Gore was right! We’re Dooooomed!

    That’s pretty scary.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Oh, yeah. Forgot the link.http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/26/antarctica-melting-quicker-than-scientists-thought_n_1454848.htmlBut seriously, it should make us appreciate what we have here more, in Keith, when we see what other science news readers have to put up with.

  • kdk33

    BBD, when you bring science penguins will fly.  Away from the melting ice no doubt.

    As I said, people are pretty good at figuring out which information is valid and which isn’t.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    HuffPost’s record on science is indeed appalling and proves that the rightwing fringe doesn’t exactly have a monopoly on unscientific delusions.

  • Mary

    I’ll admit that some crank science drama has little impact on people’s daily lives and is truly fun to read for just the genuine laughter content.

    But there are times it matters. There are real and immediate public health consequences to things like vaccines, raw milk, cancer treatment quackery, etc. But there are real issues with dismissing science and good sense for public policy in the longer term too. 

    Cox later gave the BBC a statement (which it declined to issue) saying, “I apologise to the astrology community for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation.”

    http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d8006?etoc

  • BBD

    NIV

    My first thought was, “hang on a sec’, why couldn’t it be the glacier speeding up? If the same volume of ice flows past a point faster, it would thin. Speed times thickness equals volume flow rate.” These guys are way ahead of me, though. The very next paragraph they say “We’ve looked all around the Antarctic coast and we see a clear pattern: in all the cases where ice shelves are being melted by the ocean, the inland glaciers are speeding up.

    The ice shelves are impediments to the gravity-driven glacial drainage of the WAIS. They thin because they are melting from below. The glaciers behind them speed up because the ice sheet is no longer blocking its access to the sea as effectively.

    Decades!! Al Gore was right! We’re Dooooomed!

    A multi-metre sea level rise in decades is a disturbing prospect. There is a useful discussion of all this in Hansen 2007.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #15,

    V good, BBD. Have you considered writing for HuffPo’s science page yourself?

  • BBD

    Well, you would clearly benefit from an improved understanding of this topic.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #17,

    Yes indeed. Like how does ice floating on water impede the flow upstream? Or how does Jimmy ‘Death Trains’ Hansen continue to get away with it? I need lots of educatin’.

  • BBD

    Sea ice? Impede a glacier?

  • kdk33

    @18:  Viscosity

  • BBD

    On a more general note, what the hell did we do in the UK to deserve our very own edition of the HuffPo? As if things weren’t bad enough already…

  • BBD

    kdk33

    Very sciencey! Now all you need to do is point to examples of this ‘viscosity’ (of seawater with frazil ice or grease ice?) impeding glacial flow and you are done.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #20,

    Apparently.

  • BBD

    Well, let’s see the evidence then.

  • kdk33

    #24

    The point is self-evident. 

    And let’s not hijack another thread.

  • BBD

    The ‘point’ is unsupported by any evidence.

    Of course we can leave it there. I would hate to be baited (I won’t say trolled) into thread hijacking. Although I suspect KK can discern cause from effect.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #26,

    Agreed. On both your points.

  • BBD

    Damn! That means I can’t post this link to another study without being hoisted by my own petard. Still, observations appear to support Jim ‘Crazy Train’ Hansen’s published view in 2007. Perhaps the old fraud is on to something.

  • PDA

    the Maya, ancient Hindus and Hopi Indians recognised evolution/time as cyclical.

    Well, yes. If you have the right perspective, after all, you can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti. And you don’t see human beings as two-legged creatures, either, but as great millipedes with babies’ legs at one end and old people’s legs at the other.So it goes…

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    Kind of like the Examiner business model

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Or higher education in the south bay.

  • hr

    The muso’s article includes”I knew my choice to fly actually contributes to the need for oil. Fuck. Should I never fly again? ”He should have stayed in Antarctica, think of  the fun he would have had with all those snowflakes.(As an aside – The chest-beating about the modern world by those who are benefiting most it just makes me want to vomit. I’m sure you don’t condone violence, generally I don’t myself, but sometimes you feel there are some people you wouldn’t tire from repeatedly punching in the mouth)

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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