Since May, Emily Willingham has gone from a Forbes “Contributor,” to “Subscriber,” and back to “Contributor” again according to her bio on the Forbes website. The difference between the first and second time she was listed as “Contributor” is that during the first time, she was actually contributing – albeit with embarrassingly misleading stories. Since her demotion to “Subscriber,” Forbes has published nothing from her, and she began referring to herself as a “Former journalist” in her Twitter bio. She would then replace it with her current bio which says, “All sweetness and light wrapped in a glittery sugar-spun cloud of happiness. Plus unicorns! So many unicorns.” This Twitter update along with the reversion to her old “Contributor” status at Forbes happened shortly before her receipt of UK lobby group Sense About Science’s 2014 John Maddox Prize, apparently to minimize attention to the fact that she no longer contributes.
Named in honor of Nature’s late editor, the John Maddox Prize is given out each year to reward someone who “has promoted sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest” according to Sense About Science. Willingham was rewarded for writing a Forbes article that is now the basis of a libel suit against her. Sense About Science is funded by the BMJ Group, which the plaintiff suing Willingham is also suing for libel.
Despite the fact that Willingham is now listed as a Forbes “Contributor” again, she still has not actually contributed a single article since May – one month after she wrote the article she is being sued over. Even before that, she conflated the research results of an early CDC study of thimerosal with those of a later one to wrongly deny that CDC researchers ever found an association with autism when they actually had. When asked on Autism Investigated about this misrepresentation of Willingham’s, Forbes Senior Editor Matthew Herper had no comment. When she won the award, he inadvertently drew attention to her no longer contributing to Forbes by referring to her writing in the past tense: “I loved having her write for us. She’s awesome.”
Willingham’s award is more a curse than an honor for Forbes, bringing yet more attention to her embarrassing reporting and to the even more embarrassing fact that she is still not contributing there anymore. The only purpose the reversion of her status back to “Contributor” from “Subscriber” currently serves is to minimize attention to that fact. It appears just as unlikely that this “Contributor” will ever contribute anything to Forbes again.
Addendum: See on Autism Investigated.