HuffPost Health: A soon-to-be one-stop shop for quackery?

Oh, goody. Just what we need.

Some of my readers sent this to me yesterday, and I, like them, was appalled. Apparently that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post, has decided that it’s starting a “real” health section (to be, apparently, distinguished from its old “Lifestyle” section, where previously most of its health quackery reporting and commentary resided (and presumably will still reside). Also, yes, I know I use the term “wretched hive of scum and quackery” whenever I mention HuffPo these days, but that’s just because that’s just what HuffPo is when it comes to medicine. Perhaps I’ll start abbreviating it WHSQ and use it as a hash tag on Twitter or something.

In any case, the Chief Quack Herder (i.e., the Chief Medical Editor) over at HuffPo, Dr. Dean Ornish, has announced:

Beginning today, The Huffington Post is launching a new section, HuffPost Health. It’s a place for serious and interesting conversation and education around all aspects of personal health and well-being, including treatment, prevention and wellness.

As you know, there is no shortage of information on the Internet. For example, a Google search of “heart disease” yields over 25 million entries. You could literally spend the rest of your life reading through these.

What’s needed is an intelligent forum for sharing a spectrum of evidence-based ideas and approaches to enable you to sort out what works, what doesn’t, for whom and under what circumstances.

How true. Unfortunately, given its track record dating back to the very beginning of its existence of enthusiastically supporting anti-vaccine quackery, the quantum woo doodlings of Deepak Chopra, credulously breathless promotion of “distance healing,” and even the purest of quackery, HuffPost Health isn’t going to be the place to go for anything “evidence-based” and certainly not for sorting through the health information noise on the Internet to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Indeed, lately HuffPo has even been promoting breast cancer quackery in the form of a dubious alt-med cancer cure testimonial and Dr. Christiane Northrup’s promotion of breast thermography as a valid alternative test to screen women for breast cancer and letting cranks like Joe Mercola push raw food faddism. In fact, given its high level of traffic and its dedicated stable of woo-meisters and quackery supporters, HuffPo is a huge part of the problem. It’s certainly not part of the solution. Indeed, I started laughing uproariously when I heard about this–that is, at least before I started crying.

Fortunately for us, in addition to Arianna Huffington herself trumpeting the project and pointing out how much HuffPost Health will promote “integrative” medicine, Dr. Ornish lets us know right from the start what the real agenda of HuffPost Health will be:

HuffPost Health will be a clear and balanced resource to provide a comprehensive view of the state of health and health news in a given day. It will provide a forum for intelligent discourse and divergent but respectful points of view. HuffPost Health will empower you with state of the art information you can use to make informed and intelligent decisions that affect your life in meaningful ways.

In this spirit, HuffPost Health’s articles and videos will include the best of evidence-based allopathic Western medicine (including drugs and surgery), lifestyle and functional medicine (including nutrition, fitness, stress management, supplements, and love and support), mind/body medicine (including mental and emotional health), women’s and men’s health issues, and integrative medicine (including complementary and alternative medicine).

“Clear and balanced”? Is that anything like the liberal mirror image of FOX News’ slogan “fair and balanced”? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. In any case, all the “alt-med” buzzwords are there. There’s “empower,” which means giving you the power to choose nonsense over science by representing nonsense as being “evidence-based.” Then we have the term “respectful,” which is a much beloved quack buzzword for “don’t criticize me for speading pseudoscience and quackery, you big meanies.” Finally, there are the terms “allopathic” and “Western” applied to science-based medicine. Let’s just put it this way, it’s not 100% reliable (more like 99.9%) reliable, but whenever you see someone apply the word “allopathic” and/or “Western” to a description of science-based medicine, you know you’re about to hear or read something that is not science-based and is probably a defense of quackery. Certainly HuffPo’s history demonstrates that perfectly. Let’s just put it this way. I reject the false dichotomy that is “allopathic”/”Western” medicine versus “complementary and alternative medicine.” There are three kinds of medicine: medicine that has been scientifically validated to work, medicine that has not, and medicine that has been scientifically shown not to work. To quote the cliche, “alternative” medicine that has been shown to work becomes just medicine.

Of course, HuffPo mentions that it’s going to be writing about functional medicine, which is pure woo, and “integrative medicine,” which involves “integrating” quackery with science-based medicine, mixing it up in an unholy blender of woo to the point where it’s sometimes hard even for those of us who write about these issues to be sure where the woo ends and science-based medicine begins. That’s the point. By associating quackery as co-equal with science-based medicine, the quackery takes on a patina of scientific respectability that it doesn’t deserve. Unfortunately, HuffPo is one of the primary promoters of this sort of “blending.” Arguably, because of its traffic and mainstream cred, HuffPo is more dangerous than Mike Adams or Joe Mercola. After all, it’s pretty easy to recognize Mike Adams as a pure crank. It’s not quite as easy (at least, not for the average person) to recognize Mercola as a crank, but still pretty easy. HuffPo, on the other hand, is mainstream, a source that a lot of left-leaning individuals go to for political commentary.

Remember when I joked disparagingly about HuffPo starting a science section, first back in 2008 and then again this year? Sadly, finally, after over five years in existence, HuffPo has begun a medical section. Being the optimist that I am, I like to see the bright side. At least there’ll be a lot of new blogging material. Heck, maybe by segregating the woo even further, it’ll be possible to ignore it more easily. On the other hand, if this new section is successful, it’ll be an influential one-stop-shop for quacks.

If you don’t believe me, just take a look at HuffPo’s medical review board. Arianna Huffington trumpets them as being there ” to provide guidance and allow us to maintain the highest standards.” Clearly, Arianna has a different idea of what high medical standards mean than I do. Among the members of this inaugural HuffPo medical board is a veritable who’s who of woo and quackademic medicine. There’s Dr. Dean Ornish leading the pack, of course. Then there’s Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. David Katz (he of the “more fluid concept of the evidence“), and an acupuncturist and “doctor” of homeopathy (“Dr.” Patricia Fitzgerald, who is also very fond of detox quackery), among others. I do wonder how the reputable physicians who were mixed in with the quacks (like the homeopath), just as “integrative medicine” attempts to “integrate” pseudoscience with science-based medicine. Either way, it looks like there’s a new woo source in town, and its name is HuffPost Health.