Huffington Post + Science. A New Leaf?

By Carl Zimmer | January 5, 2012 10:26 am

Today the Huffington Post is launching a new science “channel,” overseen by a full-time science editor. This should be interesting.

The Huffington Post is one of the most popular places for getting news and opinion, attracting well over 30 million views a month. It started out mainly as a blogging network, and then added on a lot of aggregation of news stories, supplemented by slide shows. More recently, they’ve been hiring full-time reporters and editors on subjects like politics and economics.

When it comes to science, this set-up has led to some…well, let’s call it checkered coverage. You could find your way to straight news stories about science from the Associated Press and other outlets, along with some lightly re-written syntheses of articles elsewhere. Some strong voices in the science world paid visits from time to time to share some thoughts. But the Huffington Post has also run some real stinkers in the past–the kind that send readers to the ER with foreheads fractured by particularly powerful desk-slams.

This morning, Arianna Huffington herself introduced the channel with a long post. Here’s its opening:

I’m delighted to announce the launch of our newest section, HuffPost Science, a one-stop shop for the latest scientific news and opinion. From the farthest reaches of space to the tiniest cells inside our bodies, HuffPost Science will report on the world’s greatest mysteries, most cutting-edge discoveries, and most thought-provoking ideas.

The section will also be home to a robust debate on issues great and small — from the Big Questions of our time (are we alone in the universe?), to quirky, fun ones (will they ever create a pill that will let me eat all the pistachio ice cream I want and not gain weight?) There’s no better time than now to launch a venue that explores these questions, given the explosion of truly medieval thinking in our world — and not just on the fringes. It’s a world in which we have senators and presidential candidates who don’t believe in evolution and who think that global warming is a myth. A world in which politicians don’t just have their own set of ideas but their own set of facts.

Science is a subject that has fascinated me for years. I remember, in the mid-70s, being taken by Bernard Levin to meet Arthur Koestler at his flat in London. I had just read his book, The Act of Creation, on the inspirations that propelled great scientists. Koestler, who described scientists as Peeping Toms at the keyhole of eternity, talked about scientific equations with the ease most of us discuss what we had for dinner (or, if you are a HuffPost regular, the Iowa results). I still remember his lyrical analysis of Einstein’s breakthrough equation, E=mc2. The equation’s assurance that nothing in the universe is unrelated to anything else had a real emotional impact on him — as it soon did on me. An emotional impact not usually associated with scientific equations.

It’s the sense of wonder we so often see in our children. I still recall lying on the grass with my then four and two-year-old daughters one night outside our home in Santa Barbara, and Christina looking out into the night sky and asking, “Mommy, what makes it go?” That sense of wonder will be at the core of HuffPost Science. We will explore timeless questions and we will allow our minds to be blown by what is mind-blowing and awe-inspiring.

You can also get a sense of what HuffPost Science will be like by inspecting this morning’s batch of blog posts. There’s some good stuff there, including a piece by Harvard physicist Lisa Randall. They even have a piece by science writer Seth Mnookin on the latest developments in the controversies over vaccines–which is quite something given all the real estate HuffPo has given in the past to people trying to make the false claim that vaccines cause autism.

I for one am ready to give the Huffington Post another look. If they can bring real science to their huge readership, that will be a great thing.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Meta, Top posts

Comments (23)

  1. Oh noeees, foiled by big pharma again!

    *snark*

  2. this will inveitably be a culture shaper. If steve jobs would of died, not only will we have harvard liberal establishment speaking up for big pharma, we might even see a few “huffington” experts on the field. this also may start a trend of future blog think tanks “according to weilhem and experts.com our best foreign policy approach for 2014 is…”

    it will be exciting and interesting also to see how this has a sway on the internet and things like RT.com

  3. MrPeach

    It sounds lovely, but their track record of publishing woo makes me a bit hesitant to trust that they will stop spreading woo elsewhere on their site – or for that matter not pollute this new forum with nonsense. One can hope, I guess.

  4. ERV

    NOOOOOOOOOO! WHYYYYY???

    <– Not hopeful

  5. Kirk

    Sorry, I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  6. John Kubie

    I can’t top comments 1 – 4, but the spirit is there.

  7. dave chamberlin

    Did science blogging need it’s version of Walmart? Not to us snobs over at GNXP, we are too good for HuffPO…… Ah bullshit.

    There are times when this here poser-egghead-wannabe doesn’t give a crap about boring economic prognostications or complex analysis of the real world, gimme the lowdown on the latest pole dancing pop star and her quick descent into sex/drug/stupidiy addiction, enquirering minds want to know.

    The infotainment world is changing fast and it’s about time science got mass marketed. Will it be flawed? Of course it will, and when it is the hard core science bloggers like our favorites over here at discover will happily and amusingly tear it to shreads. Will the production writers HuffPo employs screw thing up on a regular basis? Of course. Stop acting all aghast about how the real world works. You aren’t changing a damn thing, you are just making yourself feel better. Science for the masses is still overall a good thing. I don’t care if it misleads ten people as long as it hooks one one to say “Hey, maybe science isn’t as boring as my lousy teachers made it out to be”

    And all you HuffPo haters, go over there and check out it’s Comedy section. It has some funny stuff. Liberal, schmiberal, stupid people need salesmen to explain the complex world in comic book simple terms, liberals do it, conservatives do it, everyone serious about getting elected does it, because thats what you have to do to get elected. There is a saying in poker that applies to politics. If you look around the table and don’t recognize the sucker, you’re it.

  8. John Kubie

    dave: while I agree about ‘snobs’ and ‘condescension’, there are times when dumbing down science turns science on its head; frequently, making things appear better-understood, and the opposite of what they are. I think Carl does a great job of explaining science without twisting it. Many others … not so much.

  9. David B. Benson

    Yes, one can hope as it springs eternal…

  10. David B. Benson

    But then I went to HuffPo Science.

    Thanks, but I’ll stick with Live Science & Science Daily.

  11. Jenn

    I just went there and the headline says, “Isaac Newton, Sinner?”. Oh boy.

  12. I agree, Carl. HuffPost is wise to start this with some writers with gravitas, including the President of CalTech. See: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/1LmZVI

  13. Isaac Newton, Sinner

    Maybe they will have articles from my favorite science celebrity, Jenny McCarthy.

  14. Monkey

    I used to love science daily, too. However, I have heard recently that they are also at fault for placing headlines up without the real background – taking the more fantastical side of a paper and running it as a lead, where the reality of the paper is much more subdued. Anyone who can comment further, I welcome your words. I think it was on The Guardian podcast or Skeptically Speaking, or SGU….cant remember exactly…. that the scientist being interviewed warned of the science daily perils. I still like it, I just read it with a stronger filter now.

    I dont think the HuffPo is worth it for others who already have a digestible source of science news, but it surely will benefit the regular HP readers who swim in woo filled pools of reality (most, not all).

  15. Daniel J. Andrews

    If they do a good job of the science, please let us know. Till then, my time is limited and I don’t want to waste it by reading silliness when I can be reading something from real scientists and communicators who take great pains to get things right.

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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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