My list of the worst offenders on the web in the promotion of scientific and factual misinformation.
By Brian Dunning via skeptoid
H/T: Thomas J. Proffit
Read transcript below or listen here
The Internet is a dangerous place. It’s full of resources, both good and bad; full of citations linking one to another, sometimes helpfully, sometimes not. Today we’re going to point the skeptical eye at ten of the worst web sites in terms of quality of science information that they promote. To make this list, they not only need to have bad information, they also need to be popular enough to warrant our attention.
Many of these sites promote some particular ideology, but I want to be clear that that’s not why they’re here. Sites that make this list are only here because of the quality of the science information that they advocate.
As a measure of each site’s popularity, I’m giving its ranking on Alexa.com as of this writing. Of course this changes over time, so I’m rounding them off to give a general idea of each site’s traffic. Also, I’m giving its US traffic ranking, as these are English language sites and the worldwide rankings are skewed by sites in China, Russia, and the rest of the non-English world. For a starting point of reference, Skeptoid.com’s ranking is currently about 40,000, meaning that 40,000 web sites in the United States get more traffic than I do. And, compared to the number of web sites there are, that number is actually not half bad — but note how it compares to some of these sites promoting misinformation.
Let’s begin at the bottom of our list of the worst offenders, with a site that nevertheless has staggering amounts of traffic:
10. Huffington Post
Alexa ranked #23
Google PageRank 8
The Huffington Post is arguably one of the heaviest trafficked news, opinion, and information sources on the Internet. Its many editors and 9,000 contributors produce content that runs the gamut and is generally decent, with one exception: medicine. HuffPo aggressively promotes worthless alternative medicine such as homeopathy, detoxification, and the thoroughly debunked vaccine-autism link. In 2009, Salon.com published a lengthy critique of HuffPo’s unscientific (and often exactly wrong) health advice, subtitled Why bogus treatments and crackpot medical theories dominate “The Internet Newspaper”. HuffPo’s tradition is neither new nor just a once-in-a-while thing.
Science journalists have repeatedly taken HuffPo to task for this, and repeatedly been rebuffed or not allowed to submit fact-based rebuttals. HuffPo’s anti-science stance on health and medicine appears to be deliberately systematic and is unquestionably pervasive.
Alexa ranked #13,600
Google PageRank 5
Conservapedia was founded by Christian activist Andrew Schlafly as resource for homeschooled children, intended to counter what he saw as an anti-Christian bias in Wikipedia and science information in general. It is, in short, an encyclopedia that gives a Young Earth version of every article instead of the correct version. If you want to know about dinosaurs, geology, radiometric dating, the solar system, plate tectonics, or pretty much any other natural science, Conservapedia is your Number One resource to get the wrong answer. That it is intended specifically as a science resource for homeschooled children, who don’t have the benefit of an accredited science teacher, is its main reason for making this list.
Alexa ranked #41,800
Google PageRank 5
Run by cryptozoologists Loren Coleman, Craig Woolheater, John Kirk, and Rick Noll, Cryptomundo promotes virtually every mythical beast as being a real living animal. Cryptozoology may be a fun and illustrious hobby for some, but its method of beginning with your desired conclusion and working backwards to find anecdotes that might support it is pretty much the opposite of the scientific method. Cryptomundo only ranks as #8 on our list because, let’s face it, cryptozoology is not exactly the most harmful of pseudosciences. It’s more of a weekend lark for enthusiasts of the strange.
Cryptomundo’s forum moderators have something of a notorious reputation for editing comments posted by site visitors, and for deleting comments that express skeptical points of view. Some skeptical commenters have reported even being banned completely from the forums, not for spamming or trolling, but just being consistently skeptical.
See this screen capture of Cryptomundo’s amusing criticism of my inclusion of their site.
7. 9/11 Truth.org
Alexa ranked #109,000
Google PageRank 5
The only reason this site has such a low traffic rating is that its field is saturated with competition. 9/11 Truth.org is only the largest of the many, many web sites who began with the idea that 9/11 was a false flag operation against American citizens staged by the American government, but unlike most others, it has stayed on topic. Even more than a decade after 9/11, 911 Truth.org still manages to find and post articles almost daily promising to reveal new evidence proving the conspiracy.
Alexa ranked #650
Google PageRank 6
The sales portal of alternate medicine author Joseph Mercola has received at least three warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stop making illegal health claims about the efficacy of its products. A tireless promoter, Mercola has built his web site into probably the most lucrative seller of quack health products. But Mercola’s web site is not wrong because it’s lucrative; it’s wrong because the vast majority of its merchandise has no proven medical value, yet virtually all of its product descriptions imply that they can improve the customer’s health in some way. Today’s Featured Products include:
Probiotics supplements that can “boost your body’s defense against disease and aid your production of essential nutrients”.
Krill oil that provides “A healthy heart, Memory and learning support, Blood sugar health, Anti-aging, Healthy brain function and development, Cholesterol health, Healthy liver function, Boost for the immune system, Optimal skin health”.
At least Mercola.com usually includes the required statement (tucked way down at the bottom of the screen in a tiny font) that “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” Presumably that’s a result of all the regulatory action he’s suffered.
More . . .