Monday, September 29, 2014

#1165: Lee Spetner


By virtue of being a physicist, one would think that creationist Lee Spetner would have some aptitude for aligning his beliefs on science to the evidence. No such luck. Spetner spent years in Israel attempting to search for evidence which “contradicted evolution” and favored his religious views. His conclusion was, remarkable, the one he had from the beginning: there was 365 originally created species of “beasts” and 365 birds, as detailed in his book Not by Chance, Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution, which even by its title reveals a profound lack of understanding of evolution. In the book he also says that mutations do not create new information, which is needed to drive evolution, and that mutations are not beneficial as they lead to a loss of information. He also rejects archaeopteryx as a fraud – indeed, Spetner and Fred Hoyle were the creationist critics that really set the stage for later creationist dismissals of the fossil. Of course, Spetner and Hoyle based their objections on complete misunderstandings of an unfamiliarity with the data and relevant processes, tactfully concluding that the real scientists were not only mistaken, but frauds. The incidence, described here, should really have undermined all aspirations of credibility Spetner might once have entertained, but the creationists apparently never noticed.

In short, Spetner’s book is a collection of creationist PRATTs. Do you think Spetner deals with the scientific responses to those PRATTs? Nope. Not a chance – the point was, familiarly, never to do science, but to win the public, and actually dealing with thorny scientific issues would presumably be too much. The purpose of the book is to replace the modern synthesis with a mixture of divine creation and a non-random evolution theory which he believes explains microevolution. His book has been endorsed by creationists and intelligent design advocates who presents it as a the work of a non-creationist presenting evidence against central tenets of evolution, even though Spetner is, in fact, an outspoken, ardent creationist (as discussed here). Indeed, when the 2013 Ball State kerfuffle – erupted due to creationist Eric Hedin wanting to disguise fundamentalist evangelicism as a biology course at Ball State University, Spetner’s work was on the reading list – despite Spetner’s obvious lack of understanding of even the basic tenets of biology or, for that matter, probability theory; there is a wonderful takedown of Spetner’s attempt to use mathematical modeling to undermine evolution here.

He is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

Diagnosis: Nothing more than your standard fundamentalist denialist creationist, really, though Spetner has somehow, occasionally, managed to pass as something else to those who don’t already understand what he is talking about. Disgraceful, really.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

#1164: Glenn Spencer


Glenn Spencer is a white supremacist known, in particular, for his anti-immigration activism. Though he used to be a standard KKK-style guy he seems to have realized, at some point, that wearing a sign saying “stupid bigot” wasn’t conducive to public sympathy – yet his current groups, American Border Patrol, Ranch Rescue, the Minutemen Project, and Voices of Citizens Together (VCT) have all been designated as hate groups as well.

Spencer is probably most famous for having bought a ranch a thousand feet from the Mexico/Arizona border, converting it to a hi-tech security zone complete with infrared cameras, aerial drones and motion detectors. The idea seems to have been to show the American federal government how easy it is to halt illegal immigration. Currently it serves as a base for American Border Patrol’s armed vigilante activities (covered here), which ostensibly take place on “private grounds”. There is a fine portrait of Spencer here.

According to Spencer he is countering what he seems to take to be Mexican plans to (literally) “reconquer” the U.S. Indeed, Spencer is (together with people such as Barbara Coe, who leads the hate group California Coalition for Immigration Reform), one of the main proponents of the Aztlan conspiracy theory, according to which there is a bona fide conspiracy endorsed and backed by Mexico and, in some versions, by most Mexican Americans to forcibly take over the US (“The dream of conquering Aztlan lies deep in the heart of the Mexican psyche,” says Spencer; “[t]his explains why some are willing to risk death. Their goal is more than jobs, it is conquest”).

And, oh, he has also written the article “Is Jew-Controlled Hollywood Brainwashing Americans?” Just to prove to people that he is an insane, paranoid conspiracy theorist. In the article, he assured readers that he had Jewish friends but added that he featred that “this small handful of patriotic Americans are far outnumbered by liberal Jews who now have total control over our media.” Obama isn’t doing a particularly good job either (“brainwashed Americans have just voted to commit national suicide” was his comment on the 2008 election).

Diagnosis: He does at least follow a rather standard pattern of rationality-related morbidity associated with paranoia and conspiracy theories, and there is little risk that his views will become mainstream anytime soon. But he has enough followers to make him dangerous.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

#1163: Mark Souder


Mark Edward Souder was the Republican Representative from Indiana from 1995 to 2010 – he resigned from Congress after admitting to an affair with one of his part-time female staff members, and is as such relatively neutralized by now. But he won’t easily be forgotten, at least not by those of us who care for reason, truth, science and accountability. Souder is a truly fanatical religious fundie, which was amply displayed in his political positions (on the US’s Israel policy he said that “[T]he bottom line is, they’re God’s chosen people. He’s going to stand with them. The question is: Are we going to stand with them?” which is not a particularly fruitful point of departure for foreign policy decisions), and he got out of the Vietnam draft by applying for non-combatant status on religious grounds (though he was not opposed to other people fighting and dying, of course).

For those who care about reason and truth, Souder is probably most infamous for his support for creationists and creationism and for being a staunch ally of the Discovery Institute. In particular, Souder was heavily involved in trying to make a scandal over the Richard Sternberg affair (also here). Together with Discovery ally Rick Santorum Souder put out a report, the contents of which are simply not supported by any evidence, as part of a PR campaign for Sternberg, the Discotute, and the idea that Intelligent Design advocates – including themselves – are victims of discrimination (again, the details are here).

As for solo stunts, Souder is on the record saying that “I personally believe that there is no issue more important to our society than intelligent design. I believe that if there wasn’t a purpose in designing you – regardless of who you view the designer as being – then, from my perspective, you can’t be fallen from that design. If you can’t be fallen from that design, there’s no point to evangelism,” which may or may not be correct but is in any case rather entirely irrelevant to the science of biology. It is also one of the most blatant arguments from wishful thinking to the falsity of evolution (which Souder indeed took to be the conclusion) we have seen in a while.

He doesn’t like gays either, because he is a “family values guy”.

Diagnosis: Religious fundie denialist. He seems to be more or less out of the picture now, but he should really never have come anywhere near any position of power at all in the first place.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

#1162: Amy Max & Roderic Sorrell


Bio-ching is the union of the modern pseudoscience of biorhythms and the ancient superstitious mysticism of the I Ching. It was developed by by Amy Max Sorrell and Roderic Sorrell – “therapists”, according to their websites, and at least reiki masters – who use a computer program to generate something from the I Ching for each of the biorhythmic combos (512, it seems) available in their system. As Robert Carroll describes it, “they’ve added an electronic fortune cookie (with equivalent wisdom) to the biorhythm chart.” (And no: we are not going to give Kevin Sorbo a separate entry, if anyone wondered.)

To prepare for they innovation they went around for several years “sampling the New Age Emporium that is California,” and delved into an impressive variety of techniques from the most delusional echelons of woo, including “the meridian energy of acupuncture, the power of the deep massage of Rolfing” and “the esoteric practices of Taoist meditation,” “herbal healing” and the “newly emerging electronic approaches to the mind: sound and light stimulation of the mind’s beta, alpha, theta and delta waves, and biofeedback.”

If you wish to be exposed to their bullshit in person you can go to their home of Truth or Consequences in New Mexico to have them amend whatever physical or spiritual inadequacy from which you might suffer ($250 per day per person).

Diagnosis: Woo of the highest order, but one cannot help wondering how they would score if measured on a scale of stupidity; after all, their counseling is rather expensive.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

#1161: Michael T. Snyder


Being a crank with a blog on the Internet is not particularly uncommon, and we can’t hope to document all of these. But we will cover a representative sample of the more notorious kinds, and Michael T. Snyder is definitely one of these. A raving, frothing fundamentalist and Biblical literalist, Snyder is in fact the originator of several blogs, all of them trying to back up his firmly entrenched belief that the world is about to end. The first (significant) blog was The Economic Collapse Blog in 2007, a survivalist, rapture ready, tax protesting pit of articles stating how the world is going to hell every single day since the meltdown started in 2007 – indeed, Snyder blames the government for more or less every and any conceivable ill in society, or that he imagines society to have. His track record when it comes to his predictions of collapse is abysmal; he has, as far as we can see, never been close to being right ever.

And yes, there are several of them. You see, when Snyder became dimly aware that his original blog had become an item of mockery in certain circles, he set up other blogs with different names (but the same content). There is a decent summary of his antics here, including various religious and anti-gay rants. As a matter of fact, his rants have reappeared in various places across the Internet, so they seem, curiously, to have made some impact among the denser segments of Internet users.

Diagnosis: Standard internet crank, true, but Snyder’s levels of wrong and fervor are still sufficiently remarkable to earn him a separate entry.