Weekly Link Roundup: Net Drama Edition

Weekly Link Roundup: Net Drama Edition July 8, 2010

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.

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