We Can Do Better Than Bad Science Journalism By A Weasel January 22, 2015 5:10 AM   Subscribe

There are lots of articles like this one posted to Metafilter where journalists try to aggregate scientific research and end up screwing up the conclusions. But this one is by Johann Hari, who is a deeply malicious falsifier. He's the British Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass. Normally I think we should evaluate articles without regard to their author, and indeed this article is being ably dismantled in the thread. But here we have a very smart person who has often bent his intelligence to unethical and self-serving ends. What's more, he's now doing the "overblown science reporting" thing that is harder to catch because we want it to be true. Let's stick with the actual neuroscientists on this topic, like Carl Hart.
posted by anotherpanacea to Etiquette/Policy at 5:10 AM (79 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

are you asking for a deletion?
posted by jayder at 5:19 AM on January 22, 2015


I don't see a single comment from you in that thread. That's really weird. You cared enough to post a MeTa but not to comment in-thread?
posted by jayder at 5:24 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Felt fair to add a link to the recent interview in which Hari addresses his scandal and discusses the efforts he says he is making to improve the trustworthiness of his reporting, eg. posting audio clips for all interviews in this book. I'm emphatically not expressing an opinion either way here about it though!)
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:28 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I agree we'd do well to take a critical look at any scientific claims being made when making a post. I wouldn't be comfortable however making any up-or-down calls about this as a mod, if only because sooner or later you'd have to talk about where to draw the line in all but the most clear-cut instances, and I suspect that's a short walk to madness.

I think the article's claims being called into question in-thread is essentially the system working as intended? I'm absolutely willing to be convinced otherwise. Beyond that I can only repeat the "flagging helps" and "send us a note" mantras -- a broken record, I know, but this one was barely flagged and though the "cause of addiction found" framing raised an eyebrow for me I'd simply much rather go by community sentiment than by my own limited understanding of the topic at hand.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 5:40 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm glad to see Carl Hart mentions show up somewhere. In the post would be good, too!
posted by rtha at 5:45 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


if only because sooner or later you'd have to talk about where to draw the line in all but the most clear-cut instances

Since when is that true on Metafilter? I disagree, and I wish you wouldn't have used that specious slippery-slope language. We trust the mods to discern which specific circumstances necessitate a deletion, and which do not. If someone wants a single line, too bad. This is one of the best reasons why we have mods imo-- to make reasoned informed judgement calls about what warrants a post and what does not. I don't know if this should have been deleted, but I would hope that if this is as false and malicious an article as anotherpanacea claims that mods would feel just fine about shutting it down.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:48 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've never understood why we continue to say "broken record" when CDs break just as often, if not more.
posted by Melismata at 5:49 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea, so you're calling for a lifetime ban on posts with links to articles by Johann Hari, or references to his work? That seems a bit steep.
posted by alms at 5:49 AM on January 22, 2015


The linked piece just kinda reads like an OpEd, which would make this a single link Op Ed post.
posted by edgeways at 5:49 AM on January 22, 2015


I think anotherpanacea is just asking people to be more skeptical when they post articles making big claims, a MeTa doesn't always have to be a request for a change to moderation policy.
posted by Think_Long at 5:59 AM on January 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


Bad science journalism isn't the even the worst thing weasels do. They also rip your flesh.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:00 AM on January 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


Do you mean that if people are posting articles they should check the background of the author first? I didn't know who Johann Hari was so if I'd come across this article I wouldn't have known to check him out first. But I learned about him in the thread itself so the system works? I'm just not sure if you mean that posters should be more careful of who they link to, or if mods should be quicker about deleting posts by people who are not trustworthy, but in both cases it seems like it's asking people to either research authors first or to have a lot of prior knowledge which they might not have.
posted by billiebee at 6:10 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've never understood why we continue to say "broken record" when CDs break just as often, if not more.

A broken record keeps repeating the same thing. A broken 33⅓ record is in a locked groove, repeating the same ~1.8s groove over and over again. In my experience, the most common skip failure mode for a CD is also a single rotation, but on a CD, that works out to fraction of a second, so we perceive it as a stutter, which wouldn't make a very good metaphor.
posted by zamboni at 6:12 AM on January 22, 2015 [33 favorites]


That seems a bit steep.

So let me get this straight. This guy is an admitted plagiarist and a harasser of fellow journalists, and you have a problem with banning his HuffPo schlock?

I just don't understand what a disreputable person like this is doing writing articles on addiction in the first place. While I don't think neuroscientists should have the only say on matters such as this, I'm very glad anotherpanacea brought this to my attention, because it's very easy to read stuff like this and not know who's doing the writing.

And we should take care to point out "overblown science reporting."
posted by phaedon at 6:13 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


We trust the mods to discern which specific circumstances necessitate a deletion, and which do not.

I think gnfti's point was more akin to the recent MeTa which suggested the mods delete clearly wrong answers in Ask, in that to be able to do that they have to be able to know which are the clearly wrong answers. To know which are the dubious scientific claims requires the mods know all the science, as well as all about those who have ever written about science.

If there were grounds to delete the post I'd think it more because it's a single-link HuffPo op-ed, but it didn't seem outragefiltery and there's enough to look at in Hari's claims that it's possible this might be actual journalism rather than anything like his previous work. If nothing else, the remotest mistake is going to be jumped upon because he will be under so much scrutiny. If his book's claims are falsified, there will surely be articles pointing that out now or soon.

It's a thin enough post, so it would have been nice if more of the in-thread complaints had come from people who had at least read the rather short article, let alone the stupid trans man derail, but it feels like the system working as intended to have the complaints appear in-thread and give their differing views and context.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:16 AM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'd be okay if there was a lifetime ban on Hari's writing, yes. I'd also be okay if this particular post was deleted but future work was given a fair chance. And I'm also also okay if nothing happens.

I've just noticed that this guy is trying to make a comeback and I, personally, would like Metafilter to avoid becoming a part of it, out of solidarity with his victims or reasonable skepticism about his credibility if nothing else.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:17 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


anotherpanacea, so you're calling for a lifetime ban on posts with links to articles by Johann Hari, or references to his work?

I don't really get why people are trying to turn this into a specific request for a specific rule so they can then reject the strawman rule as over-broad.

As an at least nominally self-policing website, a call for linking to better science journalism seems inherently reasonable; even if you don't think there's actually a problem.
posted by spaltavian at 6:17 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, I apologize for not posting a "META" link in the thread itself before dfan could do it. The queue for Metatalk posts means that I wasn't sure exactly when this would go live.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:20 AM on January 22, 2015


I just don't understand what a disreputable person like this is doing writing articles on addiction in the first place.

"I can stop writing articles on addiction any time I like! I only keep doing it because you kids make me!"

...

I'm glad that anotherpanacea has brought this up, and of course we should avoid bad science posts, but at the same time, this seems like a quintessential example of the sort of thing which can be self-policing within the threads themselves. If the article is bad and comes from a disreputable pedigree, then that can be hashed out right then and there.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:21 AM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think gnfti's point was more akin to the recent MeTa which suggested the mods delete clearly wrong answers in Ask, in that to be able to do that they have to be able to know which are the clearly wrong answers. To know which are the dubious scientific claims requires the mods know all the science, as well as all about those who have ever written about science.

They don't need to know all the science to listen to MF members in the field when they say Hey this guy is a fabricator and plagiarist. They can read the links anotherpanacea provided and draw their best conclusions and decide to delete OR not delete. This isn't AskMe it's the front page where stuff gets deleted all the time for being bad or badly framed or a bad fit.

ANNND another thing that's buggin me. The fact that anotherpanacea didn't make a huge stink about it in that thread is commendable right? Because meta discussion belongs in meta. But if he had made a big stink about it, the thread is more likely to have been deleted. Seems a little unfair to castigate him for being thoughtful.

These are all my bugs.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:23 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't really get why people are trying to turn this into a specific request for a specific rule so they can then reject the strawman rule as over-broad.

who's trying to do anything? anotherpanacea actually didn't say what he/she wanted, and we are trying to figure out the purpose of this MeTa. Jesus.
posted by jayder at 6:24 AM on January 22, 2015


These are all my bugs.

I agree. And if it's HuffPo's jobs to churn out shit lifestyle pieces masquerading as breaking news because they get a lot of hits, while ignoring issues such as authorship, I think we would be better served talking about it here and maybe not linking to them.
posted by phaedon at 6:26 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wish you wouldn't have used that specious slippery-slope language. We trust the mods to discern which specific circumstances necessitate a deletion, and which do not.

The point is that we don't vet posts in the sense that we do not personally evaluate every post to determine if the facts/science, etc., are sound and then only allow them to stand if they meet our personal bar. As gnfti says, sometimes there are obvious problems that are immediately obvious to us, but usually we check things out (and possibly delete) when we're alerted by flags and/or contact mail.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:29 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Poster wrote in comment #1187636">> who's trying to do anything? anotherpanacea actually didn't say what he/she wanted, and we are trying to figure out the purpose of this MeTa. Jesus.

That can usually be accomplished by asking "What do you want to happen?"
posted by rtha at 6:30 AM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: "The fact that anotherpanacea didn't make a huge stink about it in that thread is commendable right? Because meta discussion belongs in meta. But if he had made a big stink about it, the thread is more likely to have been deleted. Seems a little unfair to castigate him for being thoughtful."

There is a difference between making a stink about the thread in a thread and making a stink in a thread about the topic/subject/author/website/etc that are part of the post. The first is never allowed and should rightly go to MetaTalk, the second is a bit dicier - sometimes a derail, sometimes axe grinding - but usually, pointing out valid issues and problems with the linked material is OK and in fact encouraged.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:37 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Casting another vote for "the system works." I would not have known what a weasel Hari was without the discussion in the post, so it provided useful information. The mods aren't Varley's Titanides, able to sense wrong intuitively and delete bad posts; they need to see flags.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:41 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


As gnfti says, sometimes there are obvious problems that are immediately obvious to us, but usually we check things out (and possibly delete) when we're alerted by flags and/or contact mail.

That makes sense, thanks for clarifyin'!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:43 AM on January 22, 2015


Okay, this Meta raises a very interesting point. Who is the "filter" in MetaFilter?

I have always been of the view that the OPs, the community, and the discussion in each thread provide the primary filter. When I see an FPP, I will often glance at the discussion to get a sense of whether I should bother reading the article. The other MeFi member provide a filtering function, helping me decide what I should and shouldn't put time into reading, helping provide alternative perspectives and skepticism on the material, and in some cases providing information about authors or other people involved in the FPP content that was not made clear in the linked content itself.

Sure, the moderators also provide an important filtering function, but the mods provide a pretty blunt instrument. They delete things. Sometimes they tell people to chill out. In an ideal world, they wouldn't have to do any of that. Moderator-provided filtering only comes into play when the community is not doing its part 100%.

By contrast, the filtering (commentary, correction, discussion, summarization, synthesis) providing by the community is inherent in the core purpose and meaning of MetaFilter.

This FPP was a great example of that. It had a headline making some big claims. The discussion pretty quickly made clear, "nothing to see here, move along". After glancing at the discussion, I wouldn't have bothered to waste my time reading the linked article.

This Meta also informed me about Johann Hari, someone I had never heard of until today. That's great, too, but it could also have been pointed out in a non-flamey way in thread. You have to be careful not to derail with an in-thread comment like that, but it can be done. "Keep in mind that author of linked piece is a well-known plagiarist and unethical harrasser (link)."

MetaFilter filters. That's the point.
posted by alms at 6:49 AM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


I've mostly said my piece, but I do want to add one issue: anybody reading Metatalk probably reads the comments. But lots of people read neither.

Currently, the original post has 25 favorites, and it will likely get more. Those are people who are unlikely to read the comments, but will read the article. So one reason for a deletion is just to save the subset of readers who don't read the comments down here. I suspect that is the largest group, dwarfing us comment readers, comment posters, and Metatalk folks by quite a lot.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:53 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't see a single comment from you in that thread. That's really weird. You cared enough to post a MeTa but not to comment in-thread?

I don't see the disconnect here. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. He had a policy issue and took it to meta. Had he written in thread, "This is a crap topic by a crap writer and this crap post should be deleted!" he would have been told to take it to meta.

Asking him to participate in a crap thread that he believes shouldn't be there is sort of asking him to contribute to the problem.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:55 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I really like two things that happened here:

1. The confirmation that metafilter can deal with stuff as it comes in the door with an appropriately critical eye, both in-thread and here. I think that it says more about us that we can do this than we delete things that seem a bit sketchy automatically right out the door.

2. That metafilter brought this to my attention in the first place. I would have had no idea about Hari if it hadn't been for this metatalk specifically (I missed the discussion on the blue), and I feel that I'm more informed because of it.

So, deleting the thread would have deprived me of both of these things. Keeping it alive does not give more credence to Hari (in my mind) than he deserves if we handle it correctly. It was a pretty good scenario that it didn't prompt a deletion, and it was great that we brought it to the attention of others from more than one angle once it was live.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:57 AM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Those are people who are unlikely to read the comments, but will read the article.

I don't think I'm comfortable with the idea of deleting posts to "save" people from reading things you don't think they should read, for whatever reason. Also I thought a usual complaint is that people read the comments but not TFA itself?
posted by billiebee at 6:59 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Asking him to participate in a crap thread that he believes shouldn't be there is sort of asking him to contribute to the problem.

He has information about the writer lacking credibility. Wrote many words on it here. Would have made sense to put that in the thread to enlighten people who are reading that thread.

As it is, he rushed to MeTa without any attempt to improve the thread he was complaining about. Just struck me as weird.
posted by jayder at 7:05 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


That can usually be accomplished by asking "What do you want to happen?"

You'll note that the very first comment to this MeTa is mine, asking whether the poster is asking for a deletion. anotherpanacea didn't answer.
posted by jayder at 7:07 AM on January 22, 2015


As it is, he rushed to MeTa without any attempt to improve the thread he was complaining about.

He's not talking about improving the thread, though, but about whether the article should have been posted in the first place.
posted by jaguar at 7:08 AM on January 22, 2015


I don't think I'm comfortable with the idea of deleting posts to "save" people from reading things you don't think they should read

But we (or, mods) do this all the time with really terrible, thin, opinionated blog pieces, or, in a hypothetical situation where someone posted a piece of "journalism" by, say, a known MRA dude writing about something unrelated. In a very real sense, allowing a post to stand on the front page is endorsing at least that people should click the link and advocating that people take the article (or whatever the link is to) seriously. Here, that act, taking this seriously as journalism, gives credence to someone who doesn't seem to deserve it, especially without any background in the post itself about that author. I still don't know if this specific case merits a deletion, but the reasons for doing so would be sound and very much established in this community.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:10 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


He's not talking about improving the thread, though, but about whether the article should have been posted in the first place.

If he thinks the article is crap, he should have said so in-thread. Discussion of the links is what we have comment functionality for. Pretty simple.

Asking him to participate in a crap thread that he believes shouldn't be there is sort of asking him to contribute to the problem.

One more thing about this ... making a MeTa, without making an attempt to contribute to the thread itself, just reeks of show-offy know-it-all goody-goody hall monitor bullshit that is incredibly annoying.
posted by jayder at 7:10 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


You seem fun.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:12 AM on January 22, 2015 [21 favorites]


One more thing about this ... making a MeTa, without making an attempt to contribute to the thread itself, just reeks of show-offy know-it-all goody-goody hall monitor bullshit that is incredibly annoying.

And yet the linked article really is HuffPo self-promoting bullshit from a proven dubious author.
posted by aught at 7:13 AM on January 22, 2015


jayder, I think this post was worded a bit strongly, but the poster has made it clear it's ok to have an open discussion about this, that there are no calls to delete or change policy here, we're just chatting about it.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:13 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


One more thing about this ... making a MeTa, without making an attempt to contribute to the thread itself, just reeks of show-offy know-it-all goody-goody hall monitor bullshit that is incredibly annoying.

Um, what? This seems like a good-faith attempt to bring up a concern in MeTa rather than derailing the thread. I've known show-offy know-it-all goody-goody hall monitors, I've BEEN a show-offy know-it-all goody-goody hall monitor and anotherpanacea, sir, is no show-offy know-it-all goody-goody hall monitor.

Seriously, anotherpanacea had a concern, raised it in MeTa, now we're talking about it. This seems like a weird amount of vitriol for something that feels pretty low-key.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:20 AM on January 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


If he thinks the article is crap, he should have said so in-thread. Discussion of the links is what we have comment functionality for. Pretty simple.

This pretty much flies in the face of site convention. The convention, when you see something you think is not worthy of being here is to either flag it an move on or open a meta. Sure, he could go in there, tell everyone why it's not a good fit, but I am guessing he thought that would accomplish little, be a thread shit for this who disagreed, and probably pretty problematic comments.

Sure, he could have taken the time to improve the thread, but why waste that time? If there was an anti-vax thread spreading misinformation who would expect someone to refute the bad information? It's just not how most people want to spend their day.

Your favorite science sucks.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:22 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


The convention, when you see something you think is not worthy of being here is to either flag it an move on or open a meta.

I think there's a difference between yet another "This is 'Best of the web'?!?" threadshit and "This research is crap, and the author of this article is a known liar -- here are some links to better bodies of work on the subject."
posted by Etrigan at 7:27 AM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


"This post is terrible and should be deleted because..." = threadshitting, not allowed
"This article is terrible and should be ignored because..." = good comment A+++ would comment again
posted by Rock Steady at 7:28 AM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


In a very real sense, allowing a post to stand on the front page is endorsing at least that people should click the link and advocating that people take the article (or whatever the link is to) seriously.

Fair enough. It was maybe just the "saving people" language that pushed some buttons. I don't like the idea that people can't be trusted to make their own minds up about things and have to be rescued, and I'm not sure where the assumption that people who favourited the article won't read the comments comes from. But I see what you're saying.
posted by billiebee at 7:34 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think Johann Hari's past transgressions should be noted (and they were, in thread) but they are not evidence that this particular article is flawed. He claims to be trying to revive a tainted career and that's laudable. I'm a believer in rehabilitation and second chances, as opposed to the "lock him up and throw away the key" approach.

If someone has a problem with his methodology or his interpretation of data or his conclusions then by all means speak up and provide reasoned criticism or a counter-argument, preferably in the thread itself. I'd honestly appreciate that.

I don't think mod intervention or site-wide policy change is warranted here.
posted by rocket88 at 8:02 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sure, but no one should be under any obligation to participate in a thread they think is crap with the intention of making it better. You can if you like, but I would hope most people would have better things to do than writing a treatise on why "New Kids on the Block" really isn't the best band of all time.

It's like the Facebook memes that go by where a 20 second check on Snopes and you can show your friends they are idiots.

I wasn't saying he couldn't make those comments. I was saying he was probably better served going the route he did rather than participate in the thread he felt was a crap thread. We give that advice all the time. "No one is forcing you to click. Don't like it, move on." Etc. In this case though it's not just a matter of being upset there's yet another capybara post, but of bad science and misinformation.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:03 AM on January 22, 2015


Currently, the original post has 25 favorites, and it will likely get more. Those are people who are unlikely to read the comments, but will read the article.

Favorites have many functions, from "nice post!" to "I want to bookmark this to check out the link later" to "I want to bookmark this to check out the comments later" to "man, this is a trainwreck and I'll want to see how it turns out" to, no doubt, other things I'm not thinking of offhand. I don't see any reason to suppose they represent people who are especially unlikely to read the comments.
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


This article has started popping up on my FB feed and I'm happy it was posted here so that people that know more on the subject than me (like, everyone) can comment on how much the article sucks.
posted by pibeandres at 8:25 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I too am glad the post is there. I saw the article and wondered about it and I am very glad to have the critique and background provided by other posters.
posted by BibiRose at 9:01 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


He claims to be trying to revive a tainted career and that's laudable. I'm a believer in rehabilitation and second chances, as opposed to the "lock him up and throw away the key" approach.

I'm with you to a certain extent, but I also think once you get caught embezzling, you shouldn't get to be an accountant ever again, once you get caught driving drunk, you shouldn't get to be a long-haul trucker ever again, and once you get caught plagiarizing, fabricating sources, and using a sockpuppet to slander people on Wikipedia, you shouldn't get to be a journalist ever again.

I hope he rebuilds his life and finds a career he can excel at, but he's violated the fundamental responsibilities of his former profession in so serious a way that for him to take a few years off after he got caught, claim to have seen the error of his ways, and just pick back up again is absurd. Are there really so many journalism jobs in the UK that giving one of them to a known liar and plagiarist wouldn't leave somebody qualified and more honest without one?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:17 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm disappointed to learn that the author of the Huffington Post article is a human and not a weasel because at first I thought "Wow! A published weasel!" and the truth is much more mundane.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:22 AM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


This is a bit harsh, Hari is clearly in recovery of some sort - there's an article where he mentions being addicted to prescription drugs during the era in question.
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:40 AM on January 22, 2015


I think we can do better than this crap, but we can do better by telling each other that this is crap and not to post it, rather than having the mods delete it.
posted by corb at 9:41 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Chalk me up as someone who believes that the discussion of this article, which I have also been seeing around FB and the like, is valuable in itself. I would not have known all of the concerns surrounding the author, and am glad that it was posted so that knowledgeable MeFites could come in and discuss the merits of the research, as well as the history of Hari's work.
posted by blurker at 9:59 AM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hari deserves a second chance, but not as a journalist. There are plenty of people out there who can write without lying and he's not one of them. I won't read his work.
posted by Thing at 9:59 AM on January 22, 2015


This is a bit harsh, Hari is clearly in recovery of some sort - there's an article where he mentions being addicted to prescription drugs during the era in question.

Good for him, and I generally sympathize, but he's not entitled to a job as a journalist. He can do something else. There are worse fates in life than to work in a different field.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:00 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The fact that he is in recovery should make us worry about his exculpatory writing for addicts. Although I can't help thinking his own life is a partial disproof of the claim that environment alone explains addiction. He was in the nice rat park, after all.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:49 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's weird. We've had more than our share of John-Stossel-like sensational-and-wrong "science" reporting get posted on the front page in the past year. The best thing to do is not deletion, but to adopt the scientific method and critique it to death. It might even embarrass the poster into trying harder next time to do a better job of pre-filtering. But even that isn't the point — we have enough people here with the background to pull apart bad science where it pops up.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:57 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are worse fates in life than to work in a different field.
Yes there are, but by that logic, should Anthony Hopkins now be flipping burgers ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:49 AM on January 22, 2015


Uh, why would he be flipping burgers? If Anthony Hopkins had somehow committed a sustained, egregious series of ethical offenses within the world of acting, then I would be fine with him not acting anymore.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:51 AM on January 22, 2015


Yeah, if you purged Fleet Street of every hack who had a substance abuse problem, you'd maybe have enough people left to put out one newspaper a week, so you probably shouldn't do that, but most of them manage to get their drinking and drugging in without it making them commit egregious journalistic fraud over and over again for years and only stopping once they got caught.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:02 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


The post was obviously crap. Was if flagged as such?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2015


There are lots of articles like this one posted to Metafilter where journalists try to aggregate scientific research and end up screwing up the conclusions.

oh no

But this one is by Johann Hari, who is a deeply malicious falsifier.


oh NO

He's the British Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass.


I don't know who they are but that sounds terrible

Normally I think we should evaluate articles without regard to their author

then why did you mention those authors

and indeed this article is being ably dismantled in the thread.

oh, ok, good then

But here we have a very smart person who has often bent his intelligence to unethical and self-serving ends.

oh no (again)!

What's more, he's now doing the "overblown science reporting" thing that is harder to catch because we want it to be true.

but you just said people didn't believe him? now I don't know what to think

Let's stick with the actual neuroscientists on this topic, like Carl Hart.


if only there was an open thread where you could have posted that link?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:41 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think there's a difference between yet another "This is 'Best of the web'?!?" threadshit and "This research is crap, and the author of this article is a known liar -- here are some links to better bodies of work on the subject."

Exactly. This is a silly meta.

But we (or, mods) do this all the time with really terrible, thin, opinionated blog pieces, or, in a hypothetical situation where someone posted a piece of "journalism" by, say, a known MRA dude writing about something unrelated. In a very real sense, allowing a post to stand on the front page is endorsing at least that people should click the link and advocating that people take the article (or whatever the link is to) seriously. Here, that act, taking this seriously as journalism, gives credence to someone who doesn't seem to deserve it, especially without any background in the post itself about that author. I still don't know if this specific case merits a deletion, but the reasons for doing so would be sound and very much established in this community.

And this is nonsensical. A front page post lends no particular credence to the ideas it references, it only says it's not self-promotion and is worthy of discussion, as this clearly is.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:44 PM on January 22, 2015


acting ....ethical offence

Uta Hagen might disagree. Anyway, the premise of the meta is that haris past behaviour is being reenacted right here so we should ban him.
My point is that he's obviously had some form of rehabilitation and are perhaps jumping the gun slightly - Russell brand doesn't hang out with naughty people.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:14 PM on January 22, 2015


Yes there are, but by that logic, should Anthony Hopkins now be flipping burgers ?

Not sure I'd eat a hamburger prepared by Anthony Hopkins...
posted by uosuaq at 2:40 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Although I can't help thinking his own life is a partial disproof of the claim that environment alone explains addiction. He was in the nice rat park, after all

I can't work out if this is Meta humour - making a point that would seem to suggest you haven't RTFA in a Meta you started to say no one should RTFA.
posted by billiebee at 3:17 PM on January 22, 2015


I agree that this is a silly Meta.

The article itself is perfectly fine, if maybe a bit average and with a stupid click-baity headline. The problem seems to be Hari's history: plagiarism and fucking with Wikipedia appear to be unforgivable sins.
Normally I think we should evaluate articles without regard to their author, and indeed this article is being ably dismantled in the thread.
No it's not. In the original thread most of the dismissive remarks are answered a few posts later by someone with a citation. Even the content of the link in this Meta to the article by Carl Hart doesn't contradict what's in the article.

His history should have been mentioned in the OP because his history should affect your reception of his writing. Personally I find it interesting to see someone try to redeem themselves (see the hilariously in-depth backing up of quotations on the books website - it appears that literally every quote in the book is there in audio form).
posted by coleboptera at 3:31 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I missed the FPP when it was originally posted. I came across the article on FB, found another article on the same subject and thought, hey I bet the folks on MetaFilter would have some interesting opinions and information about this topic, maybe I'll make a post! So did a search on MF for johann hari and realised a) someone had beat me to the punch and b) Johann Hari, previously unknown to me, has quite the chequered career.

Another vote for MetaFilter functioning as designed. The FPP could have been a bit more developed with some other related links or info, either about addiction or about Hari, but a lot has come out in the discussion anyway. And it is an interesting discussion, just like I thought it would be.

Well done, MetaFilter! Don't ever change! (Not even the snarkers.)
posted by Athanassiel at 3:47 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Those are people who are unlikely to read the comments, but will read the article.

But wholesale deletion of the article (which you have neither flagged nor commented in the thread of) seems like it's foisting work off on to the mods that the community can just as easily participate in. Making MeTa posts that are MeFi posts-by-proxy isn't as likely to get your (good) points across as a good comment in the original thread.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2015


I'm with you to a certain extent, but I also think once you get caught embezzling, you shouldn't get to be an accountant ever again, once you get caught driving drunk, you shouldn't get to be a long-haul trucker ever again, and once you get caught plagiarizing, fabricating sources, and using a sockpuppet to slander people on Wikipedia, you shouldn't get to be a journalist ever again.

I probably agree that Hari shouldn't be working in journalism. Follow Jeremy Duns on twitter for more on this, but Hari has never been truly repentant. That said, metafilter is not a journalistic organisation, and journalistic organisations are giving Hari work. I don't know how I'd feel about a metafilter policy to auto-delete every Hari article, and, as Jessamyn says, puts a lot of pressure on the mods to know every bad news blogger and charlatan that exists.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:27 AM on January 23, 2015


My second FPP ever, and it got a MeTa. This has been an intimidating experience.

I can see (now) that the original post could have used more research and better framing. At the time I just thought it was an interesting article. If the mods believe it's best to delete the post, I will accept that. However I did appreciate the discussion (most of it) on the blue.
posted by bunderful at 5:11 AM on January 23, 2015


(I proofread the book that article is from! Can't say I fact-checked it [though I did correct a couple minor things like neighborhood names]. IIRC Hari does have pretty exhaustive disclaimers and detailing/verification of his sources in light of his history, for what that's worth.)
posted by ferret branca at 6:38 AM on January 23, 2015


I admit to being part of the problem. I complained in that addiction thread, but I didn't flag it. That was dumb of me.

(Side note not intended to spawn another meta at this time: I wish there were a 'not best of web' flag.)
posted by maryr at 7:33 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, we don't need to spawn another MeTa to point out that "best of the web" has never actually been even a casually-enforced guideline of the site, and several other MeTas have covered this fact, so I'm not sure how helpful such a flag would be.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:02 PM on January 23, 2015


I can see (now) that the original post could have used more research and better framing. At the time I just thought it was an interesting article. If the mods believe it's best to delete the post, I will accept that. However I did appreciate the discussion (most of it) on the blue.

No-one thinks you're a doofus for that OP. It's just the sort of thing where doing a quick google and adding a link or two about the controversy/scandal would have preempted some grumbling.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:15 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think Johann Hari's past transgressions should be noted (and they were, in thread) but they are not evidence that this particular article is flawed. He claims to be trying to revive a tainted career and that's laudable. I'm a believer in rehabilitation and second chances, as opposed to the "lock him up and throw away the key" approach.

That's a shame. Given that he writes/produces Russell Brand's blog/YouTube Channel, I was hoping we might be able to get a proscription on those as well.

(FWIW, I agree re. second chances. I also think his book looks much more interesting than anything Carl Hart wrote.)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:11 PM on January 24, 2015


Actually, there's another piece by Hari which I think would be worth posting on its own merit: The Hunting of Billie Holiday. I knew a little bit about what happened to her, but I learned a lot more from this article, and anyone interested in the life of Billie Holiday and/or the history of the drug war would probably find it worthwhile, though the story it tells is disgusting and disturbing. I don't think Hari's fucked up history takes away from the worth of the piece. Of course if it does get posted, a link to this MeTa would be in order.
posted by homunculus at 9:12 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


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