Sunday, August 30, 2015

#1448: Ted Carrick


Holly Carmichael may be worth a mention for this, but hardly a separate entry. It is hard to question the significance and perniciousness of Ted Carrick, however.

Frederick Ted” Carrick is a Canadian-American “Chiropractic Neurologist” and usually considered the father of modern chiropractic neurology. Chiropractic neurology is, of course, utter bullshit, but that hasn’t prevented the idea from gaining some currency among the reality-challenged segments of the population, and Carrick currently runs the Carrick Brain Centers, places to avoid like the plague if you suffer from any serious condition.

His wikipedia page might even give some people the impression of a distinguished career. In the 1980s, for instance, Carrick was asked to establish the chiropractic neurology diplomat certification program by the American Chiropractic Association, which is an organization to be wary of (partially, of course, precisely because they asked someone like Carrick to establish a diplomat certification program for them). He has also been a member of the clinical faculty of Life University’s LIFE Functional Neurology Center, Professor Emeritus of Neurology at Parker College, Distinguished Post Graduate Professor of Clinical Neurology at Logan College and Professor of Clinical Neurology at Carrick Institute, all organizations you’d be well advised to avoid. We are talking some serious pseudoscience here.

Among Carrick’s dubious contributions to pseudoscience are his studies” on blind spot mapping”. The mapping, which achieved frightening popularity in its time, is a simple paper-and-pencil test that the practitioners say can tell how your brain is functioning (other names include brain function testing”, brain mapping” or cortical mapping”) by detecting an enlarged blind spot in one eye, which is supposed to reflect a malfunction in the brain that can be treated by manipulating the neck on the same side. It is utter, complete nonsense, but the practice is often defended by Carrick’s study”, which is methodologically so bankrupt that he could just as well just have made it all up. Indeed, it is so bad that the James Randi Educational Foundation contacted Carrick and offered him the famous $1,000,000 prize (awarded to anyone who can demonstrate the existence of the paranormal under controlled conditions to eliminate the possibility of deliberate trickery or self-delusion) if he could demonstrate that his blind spot test worked. Carrick refused.

There is a report on one of his presentations here. The presentation was apparently … light on facts and science, but heavy on anecdotes.

Glenn Beck is apparently a fan of Carrick’s (after Carrick diagnosed him with a condition he almost certainly did not have and offered him a treatment that almost certainly does not work), which is, needless to say, not something to be proud of.

Diagnosis: A fine specimen of the cargo cult scientist, Carrick apparently enjoys a rather substantial fan base. Dangerous, in other words.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

#1447: George Louis Carlo


According to antivaxxers, vaccines cause autism. But some of them have expanded their search for causes of autism to other, equally silly targets as well, in particular wireless technology. Yes, the idea is that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and wifi cause autism. And among the proponents of this link there is at least one epidemiologist gone rough to become a “brave maverick doctor” named George Louis Carlo, whose work has been picked up by familiar antivaxxers such as homeopath Heidi Stevenson. To be sure, there’s no biologically plausible mechanism behind the hypothesis, and there’s no evidence of a link, but that has never stopped a good pseudoscientist.

Carlo thinks that cell phone and wireless signals can somehow affect children’s brains so the neurons can’t get rid of toxic heavy metals, including mercury (how did the mercury get there? The obvious target is of course vaccines that never contained mercury in the first place). Of course, the hypothesis that autism is caused by mercury poisoning is a completely dead hypothesis, but never mind – according to Carlo, the important thing is that the alleged effects of EMFs explain why chelation therapy (a popular, useless and horrific thing to expose children to) “doesn’t work” for some children. Now, once again, chelation doesn’t work because autism isn’t mercury poisoning, but the heavy-metal connection is religious creed among antivaxxers, and Carlo gives them the means to explain why their favored treatments don’t work.

Carlo’s evidence for his bullshit consists primarily of fallacious appeal to nature: Radio waves that carry information do not occur naturally; therefore they are toxic (in any dose). He has actually done some “studies” as well (with one Tamara Mariea) – non-blinded, non-randomized observations of children in (relatively) EMF-free environments; needless to say, they’re crap and accordingly not published in even minimally reputable venues.

He has apparently written a book about it (with one Martin Schram) as well, Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age: An Insider’s Alarming Discoveries about Cancer (Carlo once worked for the industry), which seems to be treated with caution even by committed EMF cranks (but they still refer to it since, you know, they favor the conclusions). Carlo is currently fighting for the electrosensitivity lobby through an organization called the Safe Wireless Initiative project. They have done studies (e.g. “a number of scientific papers in various stages of the peer-review process expected to be published by year’s end [2007] addressing this emerging medical problem”) and are very keen on sharing the results (but talk little about the, you know, methods by which they obtained the results, which is kind of important). Here is Carlo criticizing Ben Goldacre for being mean-spirited (he doesn’t just accept their conclusions without evidence) and committing factual errors while neglecting to actually mention any.

Diagnosis: Pseudoscience through and through, but the conclusions – for which there is no evidence – have become sufficiently popular among certain kinds of people for his work to potentially have some influence. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

#1446: Theresa Caputo


A.k.a. The Long Island Medium

We have a hard time deciding what counts as the most disgusting job description there is, but “celebrity medium” is certainly in the running. Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium, is precisely that, and portrays herself as a medium on the television show Long Island Medium, featured on the Orwellianly named The Learning Channel. Caputo claims to have seen spirits since she was four and claims that in her family this is a normal thing. If correct, "hereditary ability to see spirits" would probably not quite be the right medical term for it.

Her sessions are glittering examples of cold reading and the Forer effect at work and, needless to say, no evidence of special abilities beyond those she share with any charismatic pyramid scheme pusher. Caputo’s chats with those who have passed away and are on “the other side” are usually wrapped in loving and moving messages that say precisely what her victims want them to say (as all mediums and predators in the wild Caputo preys on and targets people in difficult situations – and the sheer evil of it should break your heart; and no, it’s not harmless). Indeed, in 2014 Ron Tebo publicly accused Caputo of going far beyond mere cold reading; she also sends staff members to interview audience members in advance in order to be able to pretend that she acquires knowledge from communicating with the deceased.

Dr. Oz is apparently a fan. At least Oz brought Caputo on his show to use a brain scan to “prove” that her “psychic” powers are real and true while she performs bad cold readings (no, really – he did). The scan was performed by Daniel Amen. Amen admitted that there could be multiple explanations for the results, so he concluded that Caputo likely has psychic abilities (yeah, that’s how it works). The test, accordingly, tells you nothing about Caputo, but quite a bit about the quality of Dr. Oz’s critical thinking skills (or honesty) and thus about the trustworthiness of his medical advice in general.

At least Caputo is the proud recipient of a Pigasus Award.

Diagnosis: Another “unsinkable rubber duck,” as those who understand how psychic scams work call them. It doesn’t matter that these mediums are wrong, and caught in the act; they tell the audience – who has no clue how subjective validation works – what they want to hear, and any criticism is accordingly interpreted as persecution.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#1445: Paul Caprio


Sometimes bigots make inane arguments against gay marriage, and Paul Caprio – leader of the Coalition to Protect Children and Marriage (currently FamilyPAC) a “family values” coalition in Illinois – is no exception. In essence, Caprio’s argument is that there are very high murder rates in Chicago, and we should therefore (yes, the connection is … nebulous) ensure that kids are raised by married couples. The obvious conclusion to draw from that is of course that gays should be allowed to marry, but Caprio has some trouble recognizing entailments and logical structures and arrives at the opposite proposition. Here is another one of his campaigns.

He is also the signatory to letters to the president (then Bush jr.) opposing any restrictions on CO2 emissions or measures to prevent global warming, just to make sure that no reasonable person ever takes him seriously.

Diagnosis: Apparently he has a certain amount of influence in wingnut circles, which doesn’t reflect well on those circles. There’s otherwise nothing novel about Caprio; he’s quite simply your typical, predictable, bigoted loon. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

#1444: Theresa Cao


An embarrassment to Tea Partiers, rightwing politicians and Thanksgiving family dinner parties everywhere, birtherism remains popular despite mainstream politicians’ attempts to avoid (without alienating) its proponents – it’s almost as if there were a conspiracy against them. Still, some – usually particularly aggressively lunatic – birthers sometimes manage to draw public attention to themselves. Theresa Cao, a big fan of the WND, is a case in point. Cao, a self-proclaimed birther and nutcase (the latter is not her description, admittedly), drew attention to herself by interrupting the second day of the 112th Congress by screaming, “except Obama, help us Jesus Christ,” during a reading of Article II, Section I of the Constitution (which deals with the requirement for Presidential eligibility). Cao was subsequently removed from the gallery by Capitol police and persecuted for being a good Christian. According to herself Cao felt compelled to let representatives know of the absence of proof for Barack Obama’s eligibility, pointing out that the only hope for the United States is a return to the faith of the Founding Fathers and that doing so is the opposite of Obama’s “socialism” as exemplified by the Affordable Care Act and government takeover of private companies including banks, insurance companies and car companies. Which, of course, is more or less equivalent to saying that Obama is technically ineligible for the presidency because he is not a citizen only using different words.

Diagnosis: Obama’s political views are objectionable; America is a Christian nation; Marxism is bad; therefore, if Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit. Why is that so hard to see? Perhaps “the Chewbacca implosion” is an apt epithet?