Friday, August 14, 2020

#2370: Barret Vanlandingham

Rev. Barret Vanlandingham of the Fort Gibson Church of Christ is a fundamentalist and a young-earth creationist, who is unafraid to parrot all the standard creationist canards or to display his utter lack of grasp of science or how science works. Commenting on the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, for instance, Vanlandingham pretended to be startled that Nye dismisses the Genesis Flood as the myth it is, for as Vanlandingham sees it, there is “vast amounts of evidence in favor of a worldwide flood”, mostly because he doesn’t seem to understand what evidence is (here is Vanlandingham further discussing what he thinks about evidence, brilliantly supporting our assessment). Among his purported evidence is the claim that “every major culture around the world has reported a worldwide flood” (utter nonsense) and the fact that trilobite fossils have been discovered all sorts of places, something that science, apparently, is not able to explain but the Bible is (it really isn’t). Equally importantly, for Vanlandingham, is the absence of evidence for evolution; for instance, “there is no fossil evidence that one species or animal ever became a different species” because Vanlandingham simply dismisses that massive amount of evidence. The conclusion, of course, is that Big Bang and evolution are just as much articles of faith as the Biblical account, since there is no evidence and “[s]cience says that for something to be believable, you have to be able to measure it and repeat the experiment,” which is a completely expected misunderstanding from your typical creationist who has no idea how science is supposed to work.* Vanlandingham’s conclusion, of course, is that “the Bible has never been proven wrong, on anything” (here’s a brief list) but actually “been very helpful in discoveries related to all areas of science” (here is a list). That’s the conclusion you will be able to draw when you can, by assertion, just dismiss the evidence you don’t like, and use your own imagination and wishful thinking to generate the evidence you want to have. “Delusion” is the common term for the process. 

Diagnosis: Creationist with a creationist’s standard complete and utter lack of understanding of what science is and what the point of science could possible be. Not a big player in the religious fundie anti-science brigade, perhaps, but nonsensical enough to merit an entry.


*Short explanation: The whole point of science is to gain knowledge of that which goes beyond direct observation because it is e.g. too far away in time or space, too general (laws are universal; what’s observable are particular instances) or has to do with cause and effect (correlations are directly observable; causality is not). But the crucial characteristic of science is that we test these hypothesis about the unobserved against their observable conseqeunces! The Big Bang is unobservable, but its effects are not, and by observing whether the predictions we derive from the Big Bang hypothesis hold or not, we confirm or disconfirm that hypothesis. And it is of course a standard requirement on scientific experiments and observations that they be repeatable. But now the fundamental and utterly idiotic misunderstanding systematically made by creationist morons like Ken Ham and Barret Vanlandingham should be obvious: It is the observations – the ones we test our hypotheses against – that need to be repeatable and measurable, not the state of affairs described by the hypotheses! Failure to recognize this point reveals not only a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific method (distinguishing hypotheses from observations) but a fundamental misunderstanding of the very point of science (to gain knowledge about the unobservable). 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

#2369: Bob Vander Plaats

Bob Vander Plaats is a wingnut activist and politician (running for governor of Iowa on numerous occasions and even gaining the endorsement of Chuck Norris), CEO of the organization The Family Leader, and the National Co-Chair for Ted Cruz for President in 2016 – though Vander Plaats later claimed that God intervened to elect Trump. He has previously endorsed a range of religious-right-sympathetic political candidates. 

As a political activist, Vander Plaats has a straightforwardly theocratic vision of governance, where any policy must accord with his interpretation of the word of God: presidents, Congress and judges today “have forgotten who is the Lawgiver. That God institution (sic) government. He has three institutions: He has the Church, he has the family, and he has government. Where those three intersect, that is the focus of The Family Leader.” As such, his principles for running government are fairly straightforward: “You apply his principles and precepts to economics, then your economic house is in order. You apply his principles and precepts to marriage and the family, well marriage and family is in order. You apply his principles and precepts to foreign policy, and foreign policy is in order.” At least he didn’t claim, when the Iowa House of Representatives had an opening invocation given by a Wiccan priestess in 2015, that it was a violation of his religious freedom; he did warn them that it might cause God to exact some sort of retribution, however. 


His group The Family Leader is an umbrella group that includes the Iowa Family Policy Center, Marriage Matters, and a political action committee, the goal being to focus the efforts of religious-right groups to ensure a stronger influence on political campaigns.


Family values

“Family” is of course usually just a code for anti-gay bigotry in Vander Plaats’s speeches and columns. According to Vander Plaats, the Supreme Court’s 2013 DOMA ruling would cause a “constitutional crisis” because the ruling defied “the law of nature and the law of nature’s God.” In fairness, however, he has already made it clear that he doesn’t understand the Constitution. When a Kentucky judge struck down Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban, Vander Plaats insisted that the decision “runs contrary to liberty” and defies the Declaration of Independence (he failed to offer further clarification). Then he suggested that Congress should defund courts and judges that come to conclusions he disagrees with, just to emphasize once again his abject failure to understand the fundamentals of that Constitution thing. He did, on the other hand, praise Russia’s criminalization of speech supportive of gay rights, something that apparently makes Russia a beacon of liberty and a model for how to enforce the American constitutional amendments.


Here is Vander Plaats saying amazingly silly things about the 2014 Utah marriage ruling. One the one hand, Vander Plaats is a fierce defender of states’ rights and a critic of federal judges coming to decisions that aren’t in line with what he would like them to conclude with state constitutions, having even urged states to ignore Supreme Court rulings they don’t like; on the other hand, he is vehemently opposed to the “leave it to the states” position on marriage equality because gay marriage, like slavery, is something “you don’t leave up to the states. Of course, ultimately he is, of course, just against same sex marriage, and will use whatever argument is ready at hand – being concerned with contradictions is anti-American. 


Meanwhile, supporters of gay rights and marriage equality are really campaigning against liberty and America. Gay rights activists are, according to Vander Plaats,  “always going to throw stones” because Satan “wants to discourage” conservative Christians. He also links gay rights advocacy to advocacy for pot legalization to terrorism, and has compared a gay pride event with the Boston Marathon bombing. He has elsewhere argued (but of course) that legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to legalization of pedophilia and criminalization of the Bible, applying his usual aptitude for facts, reasoning and obvious distinctions. 


Note, however, that Vander Plaats is not merely the crazy fundie conspiracy theorist with a website he should have been, but someone with actual political power. In 2010, for instance, he led the (successful) campaign against the retention of three members of the Iowa Supreme Court who had voted to overturn Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act in Varnum v. Brien.


In fairness, and as opposed to many family values advocates, Vander Plaats has been a critic of the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the Mexican border, calling it “unconscionable. Inexcusable.”


There is a good Vander Plaats resource here.


Diagnosis: Lunatic bigot with a frightening amount of power and influence. It says, unfortunately, a lot about many of the good people of Iowa that he has this power.

Monday, August 10, 2020

#2368: Katherine Vandemoer

Kate Vandemoer is a Montana-based hydrologist, blogger and birther activist, most famous for instigating the Usurpathon, a “Rolling ‘Velvet Revolution’ to Remove the Usurper [i.e. then-president Obama], et al,” from office. The plan – one of many similar ones – was to bring 10,000 protestors to the Mall, Congress, and the White House to lay siege to the administration. (Two people showed up.) The claims and arguments featured on Vandemoer’s blog, meanwhile, may be characterized as ludicrous even by birther standards, featuring – in addition to relatively standard birther nonsense – secret codes that will show that Obama’s birth certificate is a “definite forgery” and claiming that Hawaii was a communist outpost in the 1960s. 50s-style red-baiting is a pretty characteristic feature. Vandemoer was also a consultant for the Tea Party group Concerned Citizens of Western Montana (headed, at least at one point, by white supremacy-sympathizer Terry Backs).

Now, Vandemoer is, indeed, a hydrologist, and she used to work as a retained consultant/rep for the Northeren Araphao tribe for a set of water management and recovery programmes set up by Congress. After her contract failed to be renewed in 2010, Vandemoer commented that she “was wrongfully terminated without cause from a position and I have strong circumstantial evidence that the decision came from somewhere else.” Of course, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to take her delusional insanity into account when making a decision on whether to renew her contract, but Vandemoer, ever the martyr, of course assumed that they perceived her as a threat, which only requires a common fallacy to serve as evidence that her claims are correct.


She is currently, it seems, chairman of the board of something called the Montana Land and Water Alliance, which appears to be a group primarily created to oppose certain water treatment plans and policies in Montana. We won’t claim any deep familiarity with those issues, but at least Vandemoer’s contributions are characterized by her trademark failure to grasp the facts, lying, idiotic reasoning and conspiracy mongering; even so, her claims seem to have found at least some traction with certain parts of the legislature. Apart from that work, Vandemoer is pushing geoengineering and chemtrail conspiracies: “we know what they are spraying, why they are spraying, and the additional tools that are used to manipulate the human environment and inject trouble into our very breathing space. While each one of these tools is dangerous in itself, the combined use of HAARP [but of course], chemtrails, and nanotechnology is wreaking havoc across America.” Moreover, the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 was a false flag operation, and the government is artificially generating earthquakes and tornadoes. The goal, ultimately, is to create a crisis that “allows the government the ‘opportunity’ to step in and take over.” 


Diagnosis: Dingbat crazy conspiracy theorist. At this rate she’ll probably be nominated for Congress before you know it. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

#2367: Cindy Uwanawich (?)

Almost not worth covering, but Cindy Uwanawich is a self-proclaimed psychic of Crestline California who used to operate something called The Psychic Door, and who was arrested in 2013 for fleecing her clients. In particular, this particular “psychic” told a client that she was able to remove some spirit that had attached itself to said client on the condition that she brought her nine pennies, nine nickels, nine dimes, nine quarters and $9,000 for nine days. We somehow doubt that those coins would make much of a difference if push came to shove. 


Now, we harbor some serious doubts about the extent to which Uwanawich believed her own story (tried reading her last name slowly, anyone?), and her grift is pretty much par for the course and not much different from that of prosperity gospel preachers, except for the obvious South-East Asian horror movie inspiration and the fact that the preachers tend to get off the hook. We are not really sure, however, how much it matters whether she believes in her own powers or not. That a murderer falsely thinks his murdering makes the world a better doesn’t really make shit difference, assessment-wise.


Diagnosis: A fairly common specimen, distinguished from the flock mostly by the fact that she was caught. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

#2366: Anjum Usman

The Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) protocol was a project established by the Autism Research Institute, a quack organization, to promote a series of unproven and dangerous treatments for autism based largely on the scientifically discredited idea that autism is some form of “vaccine injury” or “toxicity” and/or food intolerance, and that dangerous detox therapies can help “cure” people with autism. There is a decent exposé of the project here. The project was formally closed down in 2011, but the DAN! practitioner network was continued by Dan Rossignol, who is apparently into more or less every type of autism quackery there is, and his Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS); by 2015, the organization’s online clinician directory listed 49 members in the United States, of which 33 were medical or osteopathic physicians. Interestingly, most of the latter (67%) have been subject to government actions for a variety reasons, but at least seven of them for reasons related to practices that are central to the DAN! approach, primarily administering, causing harm and even killing children with chelation therapy:

-       Roy E. Kerry, MD, whom we have met before
-       Richard E. Layton, MD
-       Seshagiri Rao, MD, for nontherapeutic prescribing, failure to secure informed consent, and fraudulent billing related to mismanagement of five children with autism or autism spectrum disorder
-       Alan Schwartz, MD, who lost his medical license due to incompetence, gross and repeated negligence, unprofessional conduct, and violating a previous probationary order
-       Stephen L. Smith, MD, charged with using unreliable diagnostic tests and failing to provide or refer patients for appropriate treatment
-       Anjum Usman, MD

As a group, these are not practitioners you’d want anywhere near your children, but the focus of this entry is the last one on that list.

Anjum I. Usman, a self-proclaimed “autism specialist”, operates the True Health Medical Center in Naperville, Illinois, and is “board certified in family practice and in integrative and holistic medicine”. She also owns of the Pure Compounding Pharmacy, and has been the target of at least two complaints. The first complaint was for offering care that “demonstrated extreme departure from rational judgment” – settled with a consent agreement under which Usman (without admitting or denying fault) was fined $10,000 and placed on indefinite probation for a minimum of one year. The second complaint was accompanied by a civil suit, and the details of that suit might give you an impression of the kind of pseudoscience-based quackery you might encounter if you use her services, perhaps in particular her commitment to the scientifically unsupportable, deranged and dangerous quackery that is chelation therapy as a treatment for autism. Now, if you take chelation therapy and add a lot of useless vitamin supplements and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, at least you’ll have a reasonably effective recipe for making lots of cash off of the troubles of patients and caregivers, and Usman seems to have been pretty successful for a while. As a result of the complaint, she was also put under supervision, but given that the supervisor (Robert Charles Dumont) is a witch doctor an acupuncturist and member of the faculty of the Integrative Medicine Department of Northwestern University School of Medicine, one might be excused for entertaining some serious doubt about the quality of that supervision. Usman was also involved in Roy Kerry’ treatment of Tariq Nadama, being the one to diagnose the boy with high aluminum levels and referring him to Kerry.

Usman is regular presenter at Autism One ( annual gathering of vendors, providers and quasi-researchers to push various grifts and quackery on desperate parents, appearing for instance with a talk on biomed quackery in 2015. She also participated in the relatively high-profile antivaccine autism summit in Dallas in 2016, and even serves on the board of Generation Rescue.

Diagnosis: Monster. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

#2365: David Usher

A wingnut’s wingnut, David Usher is president of the Center for Marriage Policy, a deranged fundie group founded in 2011 with the blessings of Phyllis Schlafly.

As the name of his organization indicates, Usher is not happy about marriage equality. Now, arguments against marriage equality are often silly, but Usher arguably takes silliness to a new level, as illustrated for instance by a column in which he argues that marriage equality is unconstitutional because same-sex marriage is tantamount to polygamy, with the third partner being the government. Supporters of marriage equality, meanwhile, are trying to use marriage equality to “to convert marriage into a feminist-controlled government enterprise and subordinate the rest of America to entitle it.” Of course, polygamy isn’t unconstitutional either (rather, laws banning polygamy have been found to be constitutional, which is an entirely different thing), but if you are disposed to offer the kind of argument Usher offers here, such details probably wouldn’t really matter to you anyway. (It might be that it is feminism that Usher thinks is unconstitutional). In particular, Usher claims that by legalizing same-sex marriage, women – regardless of their sexual orientation – will marry other women in order to collect government benefits in an “arrangement of government-sponsored economic polygyny,” and that, as Usher sees it, places an “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory” social and economic burden on men: “Sexual orientation does not matter when two women marry and become ‘married room-mates. They can still have as many boyfriends as they want, and capture the richest ones for baby-daddies by ‘forgetting’ to use their invisible forms of birth control.” It is, admittedly, somewhat tricky to unravel the deranged knots in Usher’s mind to precisely identify precisely what he has fundamentally misunderstood here (other than the Constitution), but part of it seems to be that same-sex marriage is dangerous because women are spineless thugs who, without men to restrain them and control their access to sperm, wouldn’t think twice about using same-sex marriage as a means to oppress men (controlling access to sperm seems to be assumed to be men’s primary means to keep women from overthrowing and ruining everything). Here is (a report on) Usher expanding on his point and explaining how feminists came up with the concept of gay marriage” as a ploy to collect welfare from the government

Apparently the idea has become something of an idée fixe for him, complete with a definition of “feminist marriage as “a marriage between any two women and the welfare state,” deranged projections and conspiracy theories. In 2013, he lamented that the Defense of Marriage Act wasn’t properly defended at the Supreme Court because it was “never argued that gay marriage is unequal and unconstitutional” with the use of his claims and arguments. He also warned that with legalized same-sex marriage discrimination against men” will operate “similarly to pre-civil-rights racism and that since gay men and lesbian women will be having a bunch of kids, “schools will be aggressively promoting lifestyles that kill or disable children and infect innocent women and babies with HIV,” and – not the least – lead to an increase in violent crime. Perhaps the best part of that rant was the beginning, where Usher stated that the way to win the fight for his side is with good arguments. 

Part of the problem, though, is that  “alligator feminists” had (and still has) a stranglehold on national policy, mostly as a result of Obama’s Council on Women and GirlsWhen he announced the office, he took every ranking NOW lesbian and put them on that committee,” said Usherso you have all of the worst, nastiest lesbians in the whole country in the White House.”

But Usher has engaged in other political debates, too. An ardent supporter of Donald Trump, Usher declared in October 2016 that Trump’s candidacy for the presidency “represents America’s third War of Independence.” Not only that, but “Trump’s War of Independence is far more complex than anything before it,” declared Usher, and stated that Trump is waging a fight against the globalists who seek world domination.

Diagnosis: Raving madman, but pretty representative for the standards of thought on the wingnut anti-equality circuit, where neither he nor his organization seems to be among the more significant players.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

#2364: John Upledger

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a type of alternative therapy that uses touch to palpate the synarthrodial joints of the cranium. It is often promoted as a cure for all sorts of health conditions, but is, of course, complete nonsense based on fundamental misconceptions about the physiology of the human skull. It was invented in the 1970s, following a familiar pattern, by John Upledger, an osteopathic physician, though it has its roots in an older form of pseudoscience, cranial osteopathy.

CST is, of course, pure pseudoscience. Medical research – like here – has found no good evidence that either CST or cranial osteopathy has any health benefit, and it may be harmful, particularly if used on children or infantsMoreover, it is founded on basic assumptions that are demonstrably false; to say that the core idea of CST, that there is a craniosacral rhythm, cannot be scientifically supported is an understatement – tests show that CST practitioners cannot in fact identify the purported craniosacral pulse – and practitioners notably produce conflicting and mutually exclusive diagnoses of the same patient. Like other alternative and new-age-inspired therapies, CST draws heavily on indefinable, pseudoreligious concepts such as energy (in the new-age sense), harmony, balance, rhythm, and flow – typical vitalistic nomenclature that in their application bears striking resemblances to medical ideas and practices in medieval Europe, even if practitioners often try to describe the characteristics as “non-Western”. Subjective validation is a powerful tool for CST practitioners, however: Who needs evidence, accuracy and facts when you’ve got anecdotes? (Yes, there have been some tooth fairy science-studies sympathetic to CST carried out, but even these fail to find anything to recommend the technique). There is a good, short introduction here, and even the Wikipedia article on CST is fairly decent.

Upledger himself, however, has become something of a celebrity in alternative medicine circles, and versions of CST have become popular among certain groups of chiropractors and “alternative”-sympathetic dentists (among the latter, CST has been particularly promoted by one Viola Frymann). According to Upledger, CST “works with natural and unique rhythms of our different body systems to pinpoint and correct source problems,” which is incorrect, but the basis for his apparently somewhat successful Upledger Institute of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. According to the institute website, CST complements “the body’s natural healing processes” and can cure almost anything, from autism to learning disorders to colic and neurovascular or immune disorders. It can even, predictably, boost your immune system. Indeed, CST for colic has apparently been a thing in the UK, where parents pay £30–£50 per treatment (you may need up to three) for osteopaths to lightly tickle their babies heads. Despite the simplicity of the technique you absolutely cannot do it yourself – the touches are very soft and have to be applied to very specific points. And the touching ostensibly make permanent changes, but not to the shape of the skull itself because that would be measurable (and bad).

Of course, CST was only the first stop on Upledger’s journey in the world of quackery, and he quickly moved on to things like energy cysts, sound healing, healing energy that could be transmitted from one hand to the other through the patient’s body, and dolphin therapy (dolphins touch the therapist and the therapist touches the patient). His books CranoSacral Therapy: Touchstone of Natural Healing and Your Inner Physician and You: CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release (reviewed here) go far beyond CST, with one of their most striking ideas being the not-entirely-coherent ideas of patients’ “Inner Physician” that Upledger can communicate with to help treat you. One such inner physician apparently appeared to a patient in the form of a seagull and asked to be introduced as “Mermaid.” In another case, Upledger was caring for a four-month-old French baby who was “as floppy as a rag doll”; although the baby had never been exposed to English, Upledger decided to see if  the baby’s “Inner Physician” would communicate with him via the craniosacral system in English, and it did: “I requested aloud in English that the craniosacral rhythm stop if the answer to a question was ‘yes’ and not stop if the answer was ‘no.’ The rhythm stopped for about ten seconds [remember that he is unable to measure it]. I took this as an indication that I was being understood. I then asked if it was possible during this session for the rhythm to stop only in response to my question and not for other reasons, such as body position, etc., The rhythm stopped again. I was feeling more confident. I proceeded.” Eventually he determined that the baby was exposed to toxins, but he nevertheless managed to heal it of toxins through consultation with the baby’s “Inner Physicians”. Yes, it’s … mediumship, but we like to think that even hardened loons who think they talk to the dead would be somewhat concerned about Upledger’s application of their ideas.

The connection between CST and dolphin therapy has been further developed, by one Rebecca Goff, into AquaCranial therapy, which is a good candidate for constituting the zenith of New Age nonsense.

Diagnosis: Garbled insanity, but apparently it’s possible to package it in a manner that makes it appealing to certain groups of people. Upledger is a true believer, surfing the pink, fluffy clouds of the astral plane, powered by subtle energies according to the Law of Attraction. He does have significant influence in the alternative movement, though, and his recommendations have had darker consequences than just parting people with their money for nothing. 

UPDATE: Upledger seems, possibly, to have passed away.