Top 10 Worst Anti-Science Websites

My list of the worst offenders on the web in the promotion of scientific and factual misinformation.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Alternative Medicine, Conspiracies, Consumer Ripoffs, General Science, Health

Skeptoid #283
November 8, 2011
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

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

huffingtonpost.com
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.

9. Conservapedia

conservapedia.com
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.

8. Cryptomundo

cryptomundo.com
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

911truth.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.

6. Mercola.com

mercola.com
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".

and

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.

5. Answers in Genesis

answersingenesis.org
Alexa ranked #9,800
Google PageRank 6

Evangelical Christian web sites are a fine thing for those who roll that way, and most such sites do good charitable and social works. But a few stray from that mission, and Answers in Genesis is the leading example. Their "Statement of Faith" is, in their own words:

Scripture teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation, spanning approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ. The days in Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six [6] consecutive twenty-four [24] hour days of creation. The Noachian Flood was a significant geological event and much (but not all) fossiliferous sediment originated at that time.

There's no way around it: This is not doing any kind of a service mission, this is unabashed promotion of scientific misinformation. Even the world's largest Christian organization, the Catholic Church, rejects Answers in Genesis' alternate-reality version of geology, biology, and virtually every other natural science. Worse, AiG provides a wide array of highly polished, very professionally written educational materials including study guides, online courses, and lesson plans for teachers. So far the American court system has done a pretty good job of keeping this stuff out of public schools, but their penetration into private schools and homeschools is only growing.

4. Australian Vaccination Network

avn.org.au
Alexa ranked #21,600 (in Australia)
Google PageRank 4

The website of Australia's best known anti-vaccine activist, Meryl Dorey, earns its recognition by the sheer magnitude of scientific, regulatory, and ethical criticism it has received. The AVN really put itself on the map with its refusal to post a disclaimer clearly identifying itself as anti-vaccine, as ordered by Australia's Health Care Complaints Commission. It's had its license to accept charitable donations revoked for multiple violations of the Charitable Fundraising Act, and its anti-science stance earned it a spot on Australian Doctor magazine's "Top 50 Medical Scandals of the Past 50 Years". If I wanted, I could do an entire podcast just listing the violations, criticisms, complaints, investigations, and regulatory actions the AVN has been hit with.

Yet it persists, boasts thousands of members, and continues to significantly reduce levels of immunity to infectious disease within Australia.

3. Prison Planet / InfoWars

prisonplanet.com
Alexa ranked #2,000
Google PageRank 6
infowars.com
Alexa ranked #566
Google PageRank 6

There doesn't appear to be any clear difference between Prison Planet and InfoWars, the websites of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Both sites are heavily trafficked collections of articles predicting the takeover of the world by nebulous Illuminati in the form of governments, companies and industries. There's nothing wrong with being anti-government and anti-corporate; they're perfectly valid philosophies, if that's the way you roll. Alex Jones' sites are on this list for having almost daily made predictions of New World Order takeovers, global currencies, and mass executions for many years, none of which have ever come true; and for distorting virtually every aspect of modern society into evidence of some vague worldwide plot to control or kill law abiding citizens.

2. Age of Autism

ageofautism.com
Alexa ranked #33,500
Google PageRank 5

This website of investigative reporter Dan Olmsted promotes his own notions that autism is caused by mercury toxicity (contrary to what we've learned scientifically), that it is increasing dramatically at epidemic proportions, not just in counting methods but in actual incidence (contrary to whats been measured), and that it can be cured by holistic treatments, supplementation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, removal of dental fillings, and bowel cleansing (contrary to all research done on these methods).

Web authors like Olmsted obviously must know that their writing is at variance with science based findings, so there must be some kind of cognitive dissonance going on, outright dishonesty, or perhaps even a belief in a global Big Pharma conspiracy of bad science.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Lest you think that fringe cranks like Olmsted have no influence and their sites can be dismissed, Age of Autism articles were cited in a 2006 U.S. House of Representatives bill to re-investigate the thoroughly debunked link between mercury and autism — using taxpayer funds to challenge science-based medicine.

1. Natural News

naturalnews.com
Alexa ranked #1,000
Google PageRank 6

When Natural News began, it was basically the blog and sales portal of anti-pharmaceutical activist Mike Adams. His basic premise has always been the Big Pharma conspiracy, the idea that the medical industry secretly wants to keep everyone sick, and conspires with the food industry to make people unhealthy, all driven by a massive plot of greed to sell poisonous medicines. Adams appears to have become a protégé of Alex Jones, for he now writes on Natural News at least as many police state conspiracy articles as he does anti-science based medicine articles. They carry ads for each other on their sites as well.

Some examples of current articles on Natural News are:

New World Order: Implantable RFID chips capable of remotely killing non-compliant 'slaves' are here

Vaccines lower immunity

Fluoride means lower IQs and more mental retardation

and of course:

Jumping rope and 9/11 truth - how the sheeple have been trained to avoid unpopular truth about WTC 7

Natural News' misleading title — I see very little on the site that I would think to classify as "natural news" — and pretense of being a health resource has helped it to become an often cited and heavily read site. For its frighteningly large influence, and abysmal quality of information, it earns the #1 spot on this list.

Brian Dunning

© 2011 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Barrett, S. "FDA Orders Dr. Joseph Mercola to Stop Illegal Claims." Quackwatch. Stephen Barrett, MD, 26 May 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://www.quackwatch.org/11Ind/mercola.html>

Novella, S. "Mike Adams Takes On 'Skeptics'." Neurologica. New England Skeptical Society, 25 Jan. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/mike-adams-takes-on-skeptics/>

Parikh, R. "The Huffington Post is Crazy about Your Health." Salon.com. Salon Media Group, 30 Jul. 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://www.salon.com/2009/07/30/huffington_post/singleton/>

Pehm, K. "Letter to AVN." Health Care Complaints Commission. New South Wales Government, 7 Jul. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://www.stopmeryldorey.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/HCCC-Report.pdf>

Phelps, D. "The Anti-Museum: An overview and review of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum." Defending the Teaching of Evolution in Public Schools. National Center for Science Education, 17 Oct. 2008. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. <http://ncse.com/creationism/general/anti-museum-overview-review-answers-genesis-creation-museum>

Zaitchik, A. "Meet Alex Jones: The Most Paranoid Man in America." Rolling Stone Magazine. 17 Mar. 2011, Issue 1199.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Top 10 Worst Anti-Science Websites." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 8 Nov 2011. Web. 1 Sep 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4283>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 294 comments

I want to put a different perspective here.

It would be stupid to believe everything on the internet because it is the only place where people are free to express their opinions. We gotta remain skeptic coz we got a world full of assholes who could make a lot of money fooling us. But again, it's also quite stupid assume that there is no conspiracy and totally trust the 'mainstream'. Even our fathers weren't born when this government was formed. My point is, you can't be totally sure that all the information we've learned so far has not, in any way, manipulated, and none of the billionaires could have earned money by fooling us.

I personally think that conspiracy sites like Naturalnews will continue to grow in number just like the increase in the number of people in the recent years who believe the government has deliberately experimented on people, faked us history, etc.

The internet just arrived, my friends, and it's the only thing that is not completely in the control of the government! Let's at least try to keep it that way. And let the game of who's right and who's wrong, go on.

Vivek, Kathmandu
October 4, 2014 5:23am

Remember the single most important thing with regards to any and all assertions:

THE BURDEN OF PROOF LIES ON THE ONE(S) MAKING THE CLAIM.

So, rather than pointing out how there's "blah blah NO PROOF blah blah DOESN'T blah blah AUTISM blah blah blah" - I believe the responsibility is upon whoever thinks vaccines DO cause autism to prove that it actually does, rather than upon the rest of us and/or science to prove that it doesn't.. (And no, citing some anecdotal form of the same claim from a blog, does NOT count as proof. )

Simple rules of life. I have no idea why people feel the need to twist this around..

weasel5i2, Austin TX
October 6, 2014 3:11pm

Vivek wrote :-

"I personally think that conspiracy sites like Naturalnews will continue to grow in number just like the increase in the number of people in the recent years who believe the government has deliberately experimented on people, faked us history, etc."

The number of people is indeed increasing that believe that the govts, particularly the US govt, has deliberately experimented on people and faked history etc..

In fact, that increasing number have access through the Internet of US govt files that clearly contradict several aspects of "mainstream" history, and provide official evidence, much of it official but now unclassified, of US govt deliberate experimentation on unwitting citizens over a long period of time (MKUltra,for one).

It is no longer a belief of many people that unelected "Powers That Be" behind the US govt, its agencies and its military, have engaged in said outrageous experiments against its own citizens.
They now KNOW, because of PROVEN FACTS, irrefutable in the light of evidence from many official sources.

As I said, 911truth.org doesn't belong on any anti-science list.

In my opinion it's a deliberate Skeptoid blemish because of 911truth's anti-Official Story investigations and stance on that Mother Of All US Govt Conspiracy Theories, the Official Story (backed up by the 9/11 Commission Report) of the 9-11 attacks and the alleged perpetrators, never formally identified, never proven.

Macky, Auckland
October 7, 2014 12:38am

World News Daily deserves mention for all out lunacy. Also worth mentioning are VDare, American Renaissance, and Metapedia, for their shoddy methods in "proving" that race exists.

Gavin James Campbell, Langley, British Columbia
October 11, 2014 9:04am

Newsmax should be in here.

DeezNuts, Urbana, Md
October 15, 2014 7:36am

I would like to ask Skeptoid on what grounds it decided to include 911truth.org in its list of anti-science websites ?

Is it "unscientific" to question the many dubious, contradictory, and unevidenced parts of the US Govt-generated Official Story of the 911 attacks ?

Macky, Auckland
February 27, 2015 7:06pm

Macky, because it seems unscientific, I'd say.

For example, got to the 'Unanswered Questions' link on the site, and you do not get questions, you get diatribe, opinion and/or misstatement of facts, been a while since I went there but I won't go past the first page, if they can't ask a question on a page that is supposed to ask questions then they are too irrational for me.

Sure some evidence can seem contradictory, but that is the nature of evidence, to me the 9/11 'truth' movement is focusing on the minutiae rather than the overall picture, there is more consistency with the 'official' version than there is amongst the many many alternatives, IF there were anything to 9/11 truthing then one hypothesis would stand out amongst all others, especially given how much time has passed. I remember from the start we had everything from nano-nukes to holographic planes, whereas the 'official line held true to its tale.

I find it amusing and troubling that the movement is considered in some circles a conspiracy in itself, one to divert blame away from Islam and the fundamentalists that follow it. Who knows?

I just went to that sites first page for the first time in a long while, on their mission page the first line starts:

"TO EXPOSE the official lies and cover-up surrounding the events of September 11th, 2001..."

Does that sound scientifically skeptical, or does that sound like someone with an axe to grind?

erique, Land of Hope and Gory
February 28, 2015 6:08am

Thank you erique.

Firstly the term is "anti-science", which is a little different from "unscientific".
As Brian's article says "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"

In the absence of pure science facts, done and dusted, solid evidence MUST take it's place, if not entirely defined by science, then by critical analysis.

As Brian has said, "Skepticism means to follow a critical thought process, examine all of the evidence, and arrive at a supported conclusion."

While I agree with you that there are some criticisms re diatribe, opinions etc, the sheer bulk of "minutiae" that 911truth reports presents an "overall picture " that should be worrying to anyone who examines all the site, and not simply one page, then resign on the basis of the propriety of that page.

Yes we have nano-nukes and holographic planes in some of the more silly CT's, but (please correct me if I'm wrong) I never saw any of that stuff in 911truth.

Consistency of even a lie, as many believe the Official Story of 911 to be, can be maintained by repetition and sticking to the story no matter what.

And there WERE lies and cover-ups. The 911 Comm. Chair said so, especially in NORAD's case.

But there's nothing in 911truth which I would regard as being anti-science at all, re my question to Skeptoid in the first place.

Macky, Auckland
February 28, 2015 1:21pm

Boy, howdy. Ever notice how butthurt the tinfoil hat crowd gets when you state simply that you'd prefer some evidence to support their claims?

Ever notice how they mistake further assertions for evidence?

It's almost as if they have a personal stake in keeping people misinformed and ignorant.

Sells a lot of tee-shirts, I suppose. Bumper stickers, too...

stratman, Denver
June 7, 2015 12:37pm

No, I for one have never noticed how "butthurt" the "tinfoil hat" crowd gets when evidence is called for.

What I have noticed in the time I've been posting on Skeptoid is how silly so-called skeptics can be when I state simply that there is no evidence for the Official Story of 9-11 outside what the US govt has provided the public.

And how evidently "butthurt" when simple critical analysis, the mandate of Skeptoid, is used to strongly indicate that the Official Story of 9-11 is in itself nothing but a US govt-generated conspiracy theory.

And how the presentation of US govt agency evidence that clearly contradicts said Official Story is met with stony silence for the last 14 months.

"It's almost as if they have a personal stake in keeping people misinformed and ignorant."

The people are misinformed and ignorant, at least when it comes to 9-11.
They have been misinformed as to who the perpetrators were, and they remain ignorant because they have not got the will to try and investigate the truth. They are if fact only clinging to a belief that the Official Story of 9-11, as put out by the US govt, is true.

I have asked Skeptoid and/or its writers on what basis Skeptoid finds 911truth.org to be anti-science, under its own mandate for critical analysis, evidence-gathering, underpinned by science.

More silence.

All the signs show, so far, that as far as 9-11 is concerned, those who endorse the Official Story of 9-11 are themselves the ones who wear the Tinfoil Hats.

Macky, Auckland
June 7, 2015 6:52pm

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