I feel like a master journalist now

Not because I’ve done anything good but because others keep doing things that are impressively bad.

In doing some research for a desultory LIVESTRONG piece on energy supplements and heart rate, I came across perhaps one of the worst articles of its type in the history of the Internet, with “its type” being anything purporting to offer science-based health information on a widely read site. Or, if you prefer, anything posted anywhere. The writing itself hits all of the low notes of the craft–hyperbole, repetition, gratuitous capitalization, subject-verb mismatching etc.–but even worse is the amount of extraneous, wonky, and flat-out erroneous content. This section is my “favorite”:

Energy drinks and alcohol is a popular combination, but can be dangerous as well. The trouble is this: energy drinks are an upper. They dilate your pupils and increase your heart rate. They make you ready to spring into action. Alcohol is a depressant, or a downer. It makes your pupils constrict, and lowers your heart rate. Thus, when you combine an upper and a downer, as you do when you mix an energy drink with alcohol, your heart doesn’t know what to do. It goes back and forth between increasing and decreasing in BPM. This is not only unhealthy, but can also be dangerous. You are essentially throwing off the rhythm of you heartbeat. Once again, low levels are fine, but it is dangerous when moderation is thrown out the window.

First of all, ethyl alcohol may cause bradycardia at high levels, but is proximate effect is tachycardia. Combining stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol can have an additive effect on cardiac conduction and lead to things like atrial fibrillation in susceptible people. As far as the heart not “knowing” what to do, there are no “decisions” when it comes to drugs with potentially antagonistic effects. The heart will not “choose” methamphetamine over hypothermia and jack itself up to 160 beats per minute or “opt for” the reverse and sink to a pulse of 40. I’m also skeptical of the idea that booze and energy drinks are a popular combination, but if that’s the case among anyone reading this article with a nodding head, maybe that’s why they’re on a site with “fat chicks” in its name.

Three Fat Chicks apparently gets about 35,000 page views a day, or over a million a month. Maybe, though its support forums and so on, it’s a valuable resource for people wanting to lose weight or become fitter, and articles need not be written in masterful prose in order to convey meaningful information. But this kind of shit is a reminder than on the Internet, even high-traffic and superficially slick-looking sites often lack any sort of quality control or oversight and that when something as important as health is involved, it’s a good idea to check sources–and “Are Energy Drinks Safe on Heart Rate?” doesn’t have any.

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