Please, stop reading The Mind Unleashed

There’s a scourge eating away at the quality of online journalism. It’s not just the partisan news outlets, the well-disguised native advertising, or the websites full of off-the-wall rants; it’s sites that publish such a range of material that the good reporting is indistinguishable from the bad.

Take The Mind Unleashed, a relatively young news outlet with millions of “Likes” on Facebook. Placing eye-catching visuals front and center, TMU is attractive and colorful. Boasting the slogan, You are encouraged to think freely and question everything, it targets an educated, spiritually attuned audience—striking a chord, perhaps, among millennials looking for an alternative to mainstream media.

The site’s homepage is clean, uncluttered, and visually appealing. [screenshot]

Though it doesn’t refer to itself as a “science” purveyor, TMU relies heavily on scientific studies. It doesn’t always represent those studies accurately, however, and with article categories like “Paradigm Shift” and “World Truth” right alongside “Health” and “Science and Tech,” it’s handing shaky pseudoscience a megaphone just as loud as the one it offers to legitimate scientific discovery.

Pseudoscience and bad reporting aren’t new. But I have generally been able to filter them out of my life. In the last year, however, TMU has quietly crept into my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Nine of my friends—nine people who have passed my own intelligence, sanity and personality tests—are among the 2-year-old website’s 6.2 million Facebook followers.

If TMU has slipped through their “B.S.” filters, where else can it infiltrate? Is it influencing the public discussion on science in any meaningful way? Or will it eventually blow over, like any of a thousand failed news outlets of the past?

I can dismiss pseudoscience on virally popular sites like Reddit. But pseudoscience in my social circle? Now it’s personal.

Fear-Mongering Unleashed

Fig2

This bold title lures curious readers in–only to prey on their fear. [screenshot]

A friend of mine recently shared an article entitled “Ebola – What You’re Not Being Told.” Its catchy title beckons readers with the promise of a scandalous cover-up. But beneath that, it just preys on fear.

The article focuses on a 2012 paper published in Nature in which Ebola was reportedly transferred from pigs to macaques housed in separate cages within the same laboratory. The findings suggest that Ebola can be spread without direct contact, at least between these two species. It’s almost certainly alarming, but any inferences about how Ebola might be spread between humans remain purely speculative.

Not only does the unnamed TMU author present speculation as fact, (s)he even blatantly misuses the term “airborne” after repeating a researcher’s hypothesis that the virus was spread via large droplets.

“Translation: Ebola IS an airborne virus.  …

UPDATE: Someone pointed out that in medical terms, if the virus is transferred through tiny droplets in the air this would technically not be called an ‘airborne virus’. … On one hand this is a question of semantics, and the point is well taken, but keep in mind that the study did not officially determine how the virus traveled through the air, it merely established that it does travel through the air … Essentially I am using the word ‘airborne’ as a layman term.”

This kind of manipulative reporting is not only shoddy; it’s irresponsible. It propagates a sense of distrust in the very institutions on which our society must rely for accurate health information.

Hyperbole Unleashed

The Mind Unleashed first blipped onto my radar in late 2013, when a friend shared an article on Facebook entitled “97% of Terminal Cancer Patients Previously Had This One Procedure.” I was curious—so I clicked.

That one procedure? A root canal. The author, “Dr. Mercola”—an osteopathic doctor whose first name appears nowhere on his website except for his medical license—supports this claim with little actual data, omitting both the source of his “97%” figure and the prevalence of root canals in people who don’t die of cancer. He does, however, fill his prose with unsupported, hyperbolic statements and false claims.

To be fair, TMU did not publish this article; it shared it on Facebook. This is a gray area in the social media world: while a “share” should not be mistaken for any level of fact-checking, it still implies support of the general message. It doesn’t matter if TMU’s social media editor actually read the article: the share gave it a TMU thumbs-up. And that should be reason enough to throw anything else with the TMU brand into the “Beware: Pseudoscience” junk bin.

Menace Unleashed

Even more dangerous than an outlet that touts pseudoscience is an outlet that does so inconsistently. As The Mind Unleashed has gained popularity, it has upped its share of articles highlighting legitimate scientific findings and achievements. Buried among stories about UFOs and anti-vaccinating celebrities are articles on alternative energy and advances in 3D printing. Many others, like the Ebola story above, twist research from reputable journals out of shape and into something not quite right.

The stealth threat is real and potent. Readers drawn into TMU by a decently reported article on the harmful effects of pesticides could easily step over the line between journalism and pseudoscience and find themselves hooked into an essay on the reasons to avoid antibiotics.

Awareness Unleashed

I’m not the first person to have noticed this website’s red flags. In an article entitled “How Conspiracy Nuts are Duping Well-Meaning Liberals,” an author at Forward Progressives explains how TMU and other outlets break the mold of typical pseudoscience pushers. Bruce, the author of the blog Rousing Departures, claims that TMU “lures people in with affirmations, platitudes of dubious worth, plagiarized conspiracy theorist memes, and dangerous medical misinformation served up as wisdom.” Bruce feels so strongly about the site that he’s written a form letter to help people ask their Facebook friends to stop following it.

In contemplating the future of TMU, I can’t help but think of Buzzfeed and Upworthy, two viral news sites that in their earlier days won over social media with fluffy “click-bait” overlying questionable journalistic standards. The jury’s still out as to whether they should be fully embraced as “journalism,” but as they grew, both sites expanded to contain more reporters with journalistic integrity.

For TMU, I’d like to see how this teetering between good and bad shakes out. If more and more intelligent readers get pulled in, which will triumph: the poor reporting and sexy headlines that attracted readers in the first place, or the good reporting that is almost certainly, if not implicitly, in high demand?

When it comes to my own friends, however, it might be time to stage an intervention. And in case I can’t do it myself, Bruce has me covered.

5 Responses to Please, stop reading The Mind Unleashed

  1. Ms Badger 16 November, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Thank you for this, Kerry! I really wish this didn’t go on. It’s just one more thing we have to deal with in trying to stay factual in info sharing. To my dismay, I’ve seen a few folks who apparently haven’t realized how bogus that site is. I’m going to share this on facebook, you can be sure.

  2. Sabrina 18 March, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Of course there are some articles on there that have some biased information but if you think articles you find on “reliable” websites like news sites don’t do the same, you are too closed minded to even touch the realm of the world outside of what science has proven. People of science tend to believe that science has proved all and that everything that science has proved is all there is the world and that’s the end of it. But Einstein himself had found aspects of the world that defied his own laws. There was once a time in a history where things were unknown and if you think we’ve discovered all of it, you are mistaken. AND if you believe that the government tells you everything there is to do with our health and our world, well I’m glad you like living in the comfort of the system, constantly paying your bills, eating genetically modified foods, paying taxes, working for the system, getting sick for the system and DYING once you’re useless to the system. This site, although yes, some articles may not be the most accurate, opens your eyes to these things.

    If you are not critical enough to read these articles and use logic and look over the sources (WHICH most articles do provide), then that’s YOUR own problem and maybe you’re lack of open-mindedness is the reason behind your bitterness.

    • Andrew 11 July, 2015 at 8:40 am #

      Right on Sabrina, well said that girl! You have to be responsible for yourself. Let’s face it, there is BS everywhere. I think TMU has a lot of thought-provoking stuff. Yes some of the ‘science’ articles are seriously dodgy (I am a physicist) but scientists also don’t know everything!! Our powers of observation and understanding are limited as human beings I believe.

  3. Janessa 30 March, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    I agree with Sabrina. No matter where the source you have to use common sense and filter the B.S. We have become a society of sheep content with the web of lies our own government has woven around us. I find it very ironic that your site name is Out of the Fog yet you still don’t get it.

  4. Elizabeth (Lizzie) 27 March, 2017 at 7:46 am #

    Thank you for this excellent article and reminder. I just shared it on Facebook and was dismayed to find that the image that went along with the share is a big copy of the TMU ? splash screen ? banner ? logo ? I no longer seem to be able to X out these photos when they’re offensive, and in case like this I’d love to have a big red “No Sign” stamp to hit them with.

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