The Swine Flu Is All In Your Head: Is Anyone Awake At the Huffington Post?

By Carl Zimmer | April 28, 2009 6:57 pm

I am told that the Huffington Post represents the future of journalism. I sure hope it’s not the future of science journalism. Some of their posts on swine flu have caused a strange creaky sound in my skull, and for a few days now I haven’t been able to figure it out. It turns out to have been the prelude to a full-out head explosion, which took place when I just read this by New ager Marianne Williamson:

Dear God,
Please take away the swine flu.
Amen

According to Martin Luther King, Jr. there is a power in us more powerful than the power of bullets.

King knew that that power was the power of the Spirit. Call it a religious power, a spiritual power, the power of consciousness or whatever – it has to do with the power of the mind, joined with the power of a Divine Creator.

So don’t be fooled when it comes to this conversation about the swine flu. This flu wasn’t created on the level of the body, because no disease is. It was created on the level of the mind, and it is there that we will root it out at the causal level.

[Bang.]

I invite you to read the rest of the post while I sponge up the bits of gray matter on my desk. She actually gets worse.

What’s particularly confusing about the Huffington Post is that not all of their stuff on science is bad. A piece by conservation biologist Alan Rabinowitz on endangered big cats? Fine by me. But surely if there were a sentient being in charge of the science coverage at the Huffington Post, we wouldn’t have to deal with the swine flu of the mind.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Meta

Comments (30)

  1. brooks

    they’re also a bastion of anti-vaccinationism. disturbing at the least.

  2. Patrick

    There is another nut job over there claiming we just all need to get enemas and the flu can’t get us.

  3. Wait – is it satirical? If yes: hilarious! No not: OMG.

    Carl: OMG is your only option.

  4. Maybe you could write to Arianna and tell her this. Perhaps she’ll institute a new policy of scientific/rational integrity for all articles/blogs. For the most part, HuffPo is decent journalism, but they do sensationalize and commit other similar misdemeanours. I find that commentors try to push for higher standards when they go off the straight and narrow (as do all comments I see so far on this post). It seems to me they should meet that demand.

  5. scott

    while we’re at it, let’s all will away the economic depression and …

  6. “According to Martin Luther King, Jr. there is a power in us more powerful than the power of bullets… the power of the Spirit.”

    That’s a hell of a thing to say about someone who died from a gun-shot wound.

  7. As Jim Morrison once wailed,”You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!” He only takes MC/Visa.

    Send love to Mexico? Well, I guess if we carpet bombed Mexico with kittens and baby pandas, it really couldn’t hurt.

  8. Courtney

    Jackal I was so disturbed by the whole post I couldn’t quite figure out what was the most egregious error. However, I am no longer confused about it at all. You are 100% correct. That’s a hell of a thing to say!

  9. I’ve followed Huffington Post pretty consistently for the last couple of years and have definitely noticed them get increasingly sensationalized. Their headlines can be misleading, they have even more Hollywood gossip (wtf?), and then the ever-increasing number of pseudo-/anti-science malarkey.

    I’m getting pretty close to not visiting there anymore.

  10. It is a conspiracy to force us to by HDTV. Unfortunately it is all too late for some.

  11. Once in a while they have a legitimate piece about science. But when it comes to covering science and science related news, HuffPo gives free reign to New Age fluff and authors of all sorts of pseudoscientific literature.

    If they’re the future of journalism, their science news are a good argument for keeping old media around. At least when I do something with old media, there’s an editing and research process I have to pass by expert editors:

    http://worldofweirdthings.com/2009/04/29/where-not-to-go-for-science-news/

  12. Colin

    Huffington Post has always been infested with woo. Deepak Chopra, ’nuff said. Just take it off your bookmarks.

  13. Mark D

    “The Western allopathic [sic] medical community is doing everything it can to treat the disease on the external planes, and of course we’re grateful for that.”

    Oh those crazy actual went-to-school doctors on the prime material external plane dimension, thank you for doing what you do… in such a limited way.

    At least she isn’t completely telling people to avoid real doctors like the anti-vaccs. Thanks for keeping us updated on what the Huffington post publishes, saves me from reading it.

  14. She’s got it all wrong, Carl. Everyone knows that you can only catch swine flu if you tread on the lines on the sidewalk.

  15. James Hathaway

    It is peculiar in recent history how scientific validity has become optional. It’s not just a disease of the right, where people tend to discount science whenever it conflicts with their agenda — the larger public vibe seems to be “I never understood this stuff in high school, so I don’t have to pay attention to it now.” Life is so much easier when you can just pick a religion or psuedo-religion that fits the reality you would LIKE to live in, which is what is going on in this article. It’s really a failure of public education — if people were never taught to read, they wouldn’t believe that books have anything important to say either.

  16. God I’ve been arguing with people on the recent anti-vax article of Jim Carrey’s for the past few days. These people are completely nutjobs who proudly proclaim that a few vitamins and a good healthy diet (non-GMO and organic no-doubt) will be able to protect you from ANYTHING. I mean I knew the education problem in this country is bad, but I at least remember being taught that vaccines weren’t drugs, and that deadly diseases do exist.

  17. GAC

    “l) Pray it away. Just pray it away, asking God as you understand Him, the Divine Physician, Jesus or whatever other form of divine imagery works for you. Simply ask that it be removed from our midst.”

    Is this article entirely serious. Yes the media over-hypes some of the dangers (they’re over-hyping swine flu as well) but that article is just ridiculous. More hilarious than the people who think swine flu is a biological weapon (it’d be a pretty useless one if it were — it responds to common medications and doesn’t kill anybody fast enough to avoid spreading it where you don’t want it).

    We seriously need to educate people about this stuff. I have personally heard several people say that they were going to avoid pork because of swine flu. What, do you typically eat raw pork lungs?

  18. GAC,

    I’ve been dealing with swine flu conspiracy theorists on my blog pretty extensively but they’re sort of like creationists. They have a belief, they think they have all the evidence, and if you challenge them, you must be “part of the problem” or “need to wake up.”

  19. In general, there’s a lot of medical related pseudoscience in the American left. Huffington Post at this point seems to be ground zero for all of it. It is convenient to have in a single location so I can point to HP when people claim that the Republican Party has a monoply on anti-science attitudes in the US. Given the massive amounts of medical woo on Huffington, I’ve become more or less convinced that Ariana herself is likely sympathetic to this junk.

  20. fasteddie

    Honestly, what is the big deal about swine flu? Why should it be of any more concern than good old fashined influenza? The NY Times said today the regular flu kills about 36,000 in the USA every year, which is about 100 people a day. Swine flu doesn’t look nearly as fatal. Classes are being cancelled, travel plans are being shelved, and Eygpt is preparing to slaughter every single pig in their country for some ridiculous reason.

    Someone give me a good reason why swine flu should even be on my radar.

  21. Fasteddie, while I actually get the impression that the worry is being overblown there are a lot of reasons to be concerned: First, this strain of flu is particularly virulent. The people who normally die from flu are generally old people or people with severely compromised immune systems. Furthermore, there’s a concern that this virus could trigger so-called “cytokine storms” in which people with robust immune systems wildly overreact with potential fatal results. That’s more or less what happened with the 1918 Spanish flu and resulting in disproportional deaths among young people. If this ends up anything like the Spanish flu we could potentially see deaths in the millions. Even if it doesn’t end up that lethal we could easily see deaths in the 10,000s or 100,000s without even looking at a worst case scenario.

  22. (Also, I’m not a biologist so if I said anything terribly wrong in the last comment please let me know!)

  23. Alexandra

    Fasteddie: The problem, or one of them, is that the usual flu season involves a variant of last year’s bug. The population has some measure of immunity to it. This particular strain appears to be new to us, and therefore we have no natural immunity. It doesn’t appear to be as nastily virulent as H5N1 but it doesn’t have to be in order to have significant impact.

    A flu pandemic is a significant problem even if it’s “just” as virulent as the “regular” flu.

  24. fasteddie

    Thanks, Joshua and Alexandra. Your answers make sense.

  25. They had an article on the front page by Jim Carrey about vaccines the other day. After that, I give up on them.

  26. Carl,

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen you use the popular “The Stupid” image before, and I’ve never heard you talk about your brain exploding, or talking / writing in anything other than a near Vulcan-like tone.

    I say that to say, AWESOME POST. When an article makes Carl Zimmer react like this, you know it’s bad.

  27. Jason, that’s interesting in that I normally read Carl’s blog so that I can get the calm “Vulcan-like” analysis from someone. While this is a good post, I hope it isn’t the beginning of a general trend in Zimmer’s writing. I already read more than enough blogs where I can watch people tear idiots apart into little tiny pieces.

  28. Don’t worry, Joshua. I don’t play the so-stupid-it-burns card often.

  29. kibobo

    Check out this website http://www.swine-flu-tracker.com/ that tracks the spread of swine flu, it really puts things in perspective.

  30. Come now Carl, with HuffPo punting Jim Carrey and his wife’s idiotic stance on Autism and Vaccines surely this is a wonderful example of science reporting at it’s best …. #headdesk

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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