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Do Sites Promoting Pseudoscience Admit It?

March 2, 2011

A recent event with a friend has led to the opportunity for reflection, especially in light of other similar threats that Stephen Barrett and  Amy Wallace and Paul Offit have all faced. Speaking up and naming things woo or pseudoscience can carry the real threat of legal action. As in the case of Wallace, her publishing company, and Offit, time and money are lost fighting the claim, but they ultimately prevail. But how many individuals without that time and money are simply silenced, forced to delete posts, offer up apologies and stifle their right to speak freely and honestly?

So, if we are factual, if we comment on blogs or on twitter about something being pseudoscientific, are we putting ourselves at risk? Probably, depending on how litigious the person or company we’ve leveled our charge of woo against is. Sometimes a threat is just that, a threat, with the intent to silence us, and as unpaid bloggers we have to decide what lines we’re comfortable living within. I decided last year that my boundary line was involved with guest bloggers on Countering; my willingness to be threatened with lawsuits ends at my own typing fingers. Others will draw different lines. And many will choose to give in to the demands, remove the content and find another way to go about fighting misinformation. There is no single answer, no one right way to wage a battle against pseudoscience.

Now, my particular way of handling this, in this specific situation, would be to ask a series of questions. Do companies who have a large number of paid (through advertising) writers acknowledge when those writers descend into woo or were woo from the get-go? What number of posts would it take to make the claim that a  particular company/site has less than accurate information on it? Would three posts do the trick? What about ten? What about twenty?

After all, I’ve written dozens of articles on Huff’s woo, with nary a take-it-back-or-else letter from them. As far as I know, none of the science bloggers who fight the Huff woo have ever been threatened by a lawsuit. Maybe Huff doesn’t care. Maybe Huff thinks any exposure is good exposure.

So what about other sites that do similar things, sites like, oh, let’s say, Examiner. Is that site promoting pseudoscience? Would it threaten litigation, attempt to silence critics? How many articles would it take to make a convincing argument that evidence-based practices might not be the most important thing to them? Do you think over two dozen might be adequate?


Now, in no way am I saying this site is pseudoscientific. I’m just asking questions, letting readers look the articles over and draw their own conclusions.

*Links courtesy a blogging friend (I will post the blogger’s name if I get permission).


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