Weekly Link Roundup: Net Drama Edition

The intertubes are exploding with drama this week! I’m still catching up on a backlog of reading material myself, but I thought I’d post about the more notable news items.

• First off, I just have to mention this because it’s such delicious schadenfreude: Chris Mooney, atheist-basher extraordinaire, had a commenter earlier this year named Tom Johnson who claimed to be a scientist and wrote about how rudely and viciously he’d seen atheist professors treat their Christian colleagues. Mooney was much taken with these claims and devoted at least one entire post to promoting them. One little problem: Turns out “Tom Johnson” was an impostor who made this story up.

Mooney, allegedly a journalist, accepted this story uncritically because it fit his prejudices. And lest you accuse me of Monday-morning quarterbacking, quite a few of his commenters pointed out that “Tom Johnson”‘s story seemed implausible when it was first posted. But Mooney waved those concerns aside, claiming he had personally verified the author’s identity. Clearly, either this was a lie or his fact-checking was other than rigorous.

This episode is emblematic of what drives the accommodationists in general: sloppy handling of the facts, a lack of interest in understanding people’s real motivations, and a refusal to engage with valid criticism. Note that, so far, Mooney has not apologized for slandering the reputation of the New Atheists based on lies.

• On a more depressing note: ScienceBlogs, a site that aggregates some of my favorite science bloggers, has blatantly violated one of the most basic rules of journalism: keep a strict separation between editorial content and advertising. The breach comes in the form of their appalling decision to publish a blog on food nutrition… by PepsiCo. Judging by its initial post, this blog will be straight-up corporate propaganda from Pepsi’s PR department:

As part of this partnership, we’ll hear from a wide range of experts on how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages. The focus will be on innovations in science, nutrition and health policy. In addition to learning more about the transformation of PepsiCo’s product portfolio, we’ll be seeing some of the innovative ways it is planning to reduce its use of energy, water and packaging.

I’m guessing what we won’t be seeing is any reason why artificially colored and flavored corn-syrup water needs to be part of anyone’s diet.

By selling this space to corporate flacks, ScienceBlogs’ management has sullied the reputation of all the legitimate, non-bought-and-paid-for science bloggers whom they recruited to write for them. I have no idea what they were thinking. Actually, scratch that, I do know what they were thinking – they were thinking of the money Pepsi was offering them to do this. What I don’t understand is why they let ethical considerations take a back seat. Shame on you, ScienceBlogs.

• On a similar note, although the Huffington Post has always been a haven for pseudoscience and quackery (especially the loathsome anti-vaccine campaigners), they’ve really outdone themselves now: they’ve given column space to David Klinghoffer, a creationist affiliated with the Discovery Institute, to publish a screed about how evolution was responsible for Nazism. Worse, they’re censoring criticism of this decision from their own writers.

What’s to be done with the Huffington Post? Is their credibility and scientific integrity so utterly ruined, at this point, that rational, progressive readers ought to boycott them? Or is it still worth our time to write articles for them promoting science and reason, on the theory that the best use of light is to bring it into dark places? What do you think?

• And lastly, on the topic of cranks – we all know of the crackpots and pseudoscientists who try to silence skeptics by filing nuisance lawsuits, sending frivolous legal threat letters, or otherwise using the legal system for harassment. Now another such outfit has sued Dr. Stephen Barrett, proprietor of the excellent Quackwatch site. Since truth is a defense, I expect this lawsuit to be dismissed in short order. But in the meantime, Dr. Barrett could use some help with his legal bills. The reality-based community ought to defend its own, and if you’re as outraged by this news as I am, I hope you’ll consider sending a few dollars his way.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • bPer

    Prof. PZ Myers (Pharyngula blog) has reported that ScienceBlogs has dumped the Pepsi blog.

    βPer

  • Katie M

    That’s good news (although I guess I really don’t have the right to complain-I’m drinking a Pepsi as I’m typing this), but will it bring back some of the bloggers who left in protest?

  • Jim Baerg

    Re: “using the legal system for harassment”

    How hard is it far a victim of such tactics to get compensation from the harasser?

    I think for any accusation that goes to court the judge & jury should have the option of ruling that the accusation is of such little merit that the accuser should be forced to compensate the accused & punished on top of that.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    “any reason why artificially colored and flavored corn-syrup water needs to be part of anyone’s diet.”

    Ummm, cuz it’s yummy? IMHO at least. All things in moderation and all that, but really, don’t act surprised that people like their vices. If they didn’t feel good, they wouldn’t be vices…

  • Steve Bowen

    although I guess I really don’t have the right to complain-I’m drinking a Pepsi as I’m typing this

    I’m drinking a cheeky little Cotes Du Rhone, way healthier.

  • Alex Weaver

    Re: “using the legal system for harassment”

    How hard is it far a victim of such tactics to get compensation from the harasser?

    I think for any accusation that goes to court the judge & jury should have the option of ruling that the accusation is of such little merit that the accuser should be forced to compensate the accused & punished on top of that.

    I think being convicted of filing Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation should be a felony for a third offense or more.

  • lpetrich

    Some more recent netdrama: Real Names on the Official Forums [New REAL ID function]

    Someone discovered not only the real name of a Blizzard employee, but also his physical address and other such info.

    PZ Myers on it:
    An interesting experiment in online social forums : Pharyngula
    The interesting experiment is already getting interesting : Pharyngula

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Prof. PZ Myers (Pharyngula blog) has reported that ScienceBlogs has dumped the Pepsi blog.

    Yes indeed. Wow, that was quick – the Pepsi blog didn’t even last 24 hours. I’m glad to see the ScienceBlogs people have regained their senses (granted, that tsunami of criticism probably played a part in changing their minds). But it still troubles me greatly that they ever considered this a good idea, and I’ve yet to see any announcement of what they’re going to do to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again in the future.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    The stuff with Mooney rises far above the label “drama”, imo. At one point or another, he was dishonest; the Judas kiss for a journalist.

  • Valhar2000

    Note that, so far, Mooney has not apologized for slandering the reputation of the New Atheists based on lies.

    He has no time for apologies! Templeton paid him a lot of money, and they expect him to earn it.

    I’m guessing what we won’t be seeing is any reason why artificially colored and flavored corn-syrup water needs to be part of anyone’s diet.

    It tastes good.

    The reality-based community ought to defend its own, and if you’re as outraged by this news as I am, I hope you’ll consider sending a few dollars his way.

    Already did, when I read about it at Skeptico’s blog. I hope Dr. Barrett can counter-sue and fleece those dirt bags.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Wow, that Science Blogs thing is just bizarre. Did they really think that any of their readership would care how much PepsiCo wants to toot its own horn? Whenever I encounter advertising that doesn’t boil down to a bullet-pointed argument in favor of one product against another, I find such efforts to be obnoxious and alienating (unless it’s a new product, I guess…). But I gotta say, Ebon, PepsiCo doesn’t exactly need to argue that people should drink their products; plenty of people do that all on their own.

    I think it was pretty obvious that Ebon wasn’t criticizing soda drinkers but rather criticizing a drinkable candy manufacturer’s attempt at superfluous pimping and self-congratulation. Of course people drink Pepsi because it tastes good; the absurdity is that such a company should seek to insert itself into the Science Blogs community, and somehow manage to succeed (if temporarily).

    Anyway, thanks for helping me get some use out of that Drama Appreciation class I took in high school!

  • Alex Weaver

    Anyone else read ERV? And, if so, anyone have a working hypothesis as to the root of her completely unhinged ongoing tirade about this? Abby’s always struck me as fairly insightful and levelheaded, albeit passionately expressive… as someone who would bloody well know what terms like “straw man” mean and why they’re bad (not to someone who recognizes the fallaciousness of “uncharitable reading of opponent’s positions in a sneering tone as a substitute for actually rebutting them” whether or not she has a Latin translation handy – I mean, she’s specifically and rightfully criticized a certain triumvirate of SBlings for having that as standard operating procedure on numerous occasions). I’m genuinely at a loss to explain the reaction I’ve observed.

  • Nes

    To be somewhat fair to PepsiCo, they do a lot more than artificially colored and flavored HFCS water. They also own Quaker, Frito-Lay, Tropicana, and Gatorade (Ok, so that one is artificially colored and flavored salted sugar water; not much difference). I believe they also do vending machines. So, they might actually have something to say about nutrition since they would likely study it for their other brands.

    Not that any of that excuses what would have almost certainly been little more than a paid advertisement.

    And as a participant in the Starcraft II beta, don’t even get me started on RealID, though they have backed off on requiring it on the forums… for now. You still need to use it in-game if you want to chat with people on your friends list that are playing other Blizzard games. Why? Valve certainly doesn’t require my real name to talk to other people who are playing other Steam games.