Science bloggers challenge credibility of Huffington Post “wellness” editor

peter lipson Should the news site label its columnists and editors as “doctors” when they don’t have medical degrees?

Peter Lipson, an internist who specializes in the prevention and treatment of illness, doesn’t remember exactly when he first began criticizing health-related articles at the Huffington Post, but his agitation has reached its apogee over the past few weeks. During that time the health section — placed within the larger “Living” tab — has published articles claiming possible links between vaccinations and autism, a piece on colon cleansing and detox, and a swine flu article stating that Americans should “stay home as much as possible,” “avoid public places unnecessarily,” and “get some surgical face masks and wear one when you need to be in public places, even if you feel a little foolish and until others have caught on.”

Lipson is a blogger for ScienceBlogs, run by Seed Media Group, and has been writing a series of critical pieces attempting to debunk the claims in many of these articles. He isn’t the only one; several of the other science bloggers under the same domain have been piling on as well, and recently two of them have gone after the credibility of “Dr.” Patricia Fitzgerald, a ” licensed acupuncturist, certified clinical nutritionist, and a homeopath,” who has received a “Master’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and a Doctorate in Homeopathic Medicine.” She also — to the science bloggers’ disdain — happens to be the Huffington Post’s “wellness” editor (an email sent to the website requesting comment for this piece was not returned).

“Part of it is a misrepresentation of qualifications,” Lipson told me in a phone conversation. “They started putting the word ‘Dr’ in front of everyone’s name — more or less for anyone who has a doctorate in something or other — and Patricia Fitzgerald claims to have a doctorate in homeopathy, whatever that is. Homeopathy is a completely discredited fantasy. When you give that kind of credibility — I mean first you invite them to a well-known mainstream outlet, you let them call themselves a doctor when they’re not really qualified, and then you let them interview other people and present them as professionals — it just layers on and layers on.”

It would be different if they admitted up front that these stories were all editorial in nature, the internist said, and presented them as such. He compared the method of fact checking in the health section of HuffPo to that of the Gray Lady. “They need to exercise some kind of journalistic integrity,” Lipson said. “When you read the New York Times, whether you agree with what they do or not — people can argue about the quality having gone down — but when you read the editorial pages and you read the news, you know there’s some editing going on. You know they don’t just say, ‘write whatever you want and we’ll throw our name above it.’ They have real editors.”

As a point of reference, Fitzgerald recently wrote a post about actress and former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy and her book, Healing and Preventing Autism. “Jenny McCarthy and thousands of concerned parents, doctors, and health advocates aren’t just waiting for an official cure,” Fitzgerald wrote. “They’re finding answers, and getting results.” (italics in the original) The article states that McCarthy promotes “biomedical intervention” and the actress claims that “thousands of children have improved with this type of therapy.”

Inevitably, the article does touch upon McCarthy’s claims about possible dangers from the “excessive” use of vaccines. Fitzgerald writes at the end of this section, “The autism-vaccine link is being studied because there are actual concerns that warrant these studies. Some studies support the use of certain vaccines, while other studies do not. Often there are conflicts of interest within studies. It can make anybody’s head spin trying to sort through these studies.”

Given that the vaccine-autism links are widely rejected by the scientific and medical community, this “two-sideism,” as Lipson calls it, is infuriating.

“It is irresponsible and it’s immoral,” he said. “They’re allowed to write whatever they want — I make that clear. But they should show some editorial fortitude that there are some lines that you shouldn’t cross. It’s an idealogical problem.”


  1. jane's meat curtain Says:

    If you’re going to post a diary at DKos, the least you can do is post a tip jar – especially if you’re just doing it to pimp your own blog.

    Or are you afraid of feedback?

    Bawk bawk!

  2. AZ Says:

    Man, you’re getting torn up by the Kossacks. Haha!

  3. Rowan Says:

    “Master’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and a Doctorate in Homeopathic Medicine.”

    It is my understanding there is no such thing as a Doctorate in Homeopathic Medicine. I believe the correct title is a Diplomate in Homeopathic Medicine. It is a certification granted by the American Institute of Homeopathy.

    What is interesting is that to receive the Diplomate from AIH, a person has to have an MD or a DO, yet in the titles recited in the HuffPo article neither is attributed to Fitzgerald.

  4. Simon Says:

    Re: Jane’s meat curtain

    A tip jar for what? I don’t understand.

    As for posting to promote my blog, Markos does not provide any payment for the thousands of back end diarists that fuel traffic to his site. I do not feel the least bit guilty for linking to my own blog when providing his site with originally-researched content.

  5. Dr. David Robinson Says:

    Maybe it is best if the egos were all put away on both sides, and, instead, take a more cooperative approach. While I understand where Peter Lipson is coming from, taking a stand that medical science and medicine are the only fields with credible answers to all subjects “human body” is most elitist (and egotistical). Yet, citing credibility beyond what has actually been received in educational degree is misleading and smacks of an inferiority complex. Perhaps it is better to call for the use of the term “Physician”, if we wish to keep things in the medical arena. Case in point, while I am a “Doctor of Chiropractic” (bio at use the prefix “Dr.” (or the suffix “D.C.”), I do not consider myself a “Physician”, as THAT term denotes “Medical Doctor”. I have NO quams about being referred to as a “Chiropractor” (and a “straight” one at that! – no P.I. involvement!…at all!), but by all rights and privaleges federally and in all 50 states, am considered a “doctor”, as my degree denotes. So, using the term “physician” would be a way to keep things medical if that is what is preferred.

  6. gordo Says:

    David Robinson, D.C.–

    Given the likelihood of confusion, I think that people in the health care business should leave the title of “Doctor” to those who have medical degrees. I recently took my pregnant wife to an appointment at the University of Arizona Medical Center to see a doctor, only to be informed during the visit that “Dr.” Smith (not her real name) was actually a nurse/midwife.

    Now, I’ve got nothing against having a midwife guide us through the pregnancy, but I think it’s important that my wife see a real doctor — sorry if you find that terminology elitist — at least a couple of times during the pregnancy, and I want a real doctor present during the delivery. And I shouldn’t have to interrogate the receptionist in order to find out whether or not the person we’re going to be seeing has a medical degree.

    Psychologists, chiropractors, and midwives all perform legitimate functions, as do paramedics, nurses, and massage therapists. But they’re not doctors in the sense of the word that most people use when seeking a health care professional, and shouldn’t represent themselves as such.

    As for homeopaths like Fitzgerald, the fact is that they’re not health care professionals at all, anymore than the snake oil salesmen of the 1800s were. They sell distilled water and claim that it has properties that distilled water simply doesn’t have. They are outright frauds, even if they’re too deluded to it.

  7. F. Andy Seidl Says:

    I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately for the Huffington Post to publish as credible “science” many articles that are anything but that… anti-vaccination quackery, reality denial, and Deepak Chopra’s ramblings on intelligent design.

    I have really liked the Huffington Post for a long time, I have been a bit bummed out to see it start to go the wacky-age-way.

    I blogged more about this here:

    Deepak Chopra Does Not Understand Evolution–Deepak’s recent article in the Huffington Post makes it embarrassingly clear he has never really studied the theory of evolution at all.

  8. E. Eric Schandlehausen Says:

    Why is demanding that people not make grandiose claims without any evidentiary support, or which are contrary to the evidence “elitist?” Rejecting that point of view simply makes one irrational and unreasonable. The problem with many of the “health” writers on HuffPo is that they rely on dispoven hypotheses, lack of evidence, or outright lies to suggest that their point of view is correct. Such muddle-headed thinking impedes real progress toward treating illness and endangers people. (It’s not surprising that a chiropractor finds science “elitist” since his own field has a long history of quackery within its ranks…)

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