Wednesday, April 23, 2014

#1008: Boyd Packer

Boyd K. Packer is a Mormon leader and president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is, needless to say, considered something of an authority within the Mormon church – indeed, he is currently the second most senior apostle among its ranks. He is also, as such, among the big architects behind the Church’s official positions on various matters.

As a religious fanatic, Packer is predictably obsessed with sex – that is, other people’s sex lives – and his views on homosexuality, though exactly what you’d expect, are abominable.

A more personal style is revealed in his claims about history (on which he has no expertise), having advocated that LDS historians should refrain from discussing history that does not promote faith – i.e., censor out whatever doesn’t fit with Packer’s predetermined ideas about what contributes to his particular version of the Mormon faith. In a 1981 speech to educators in the LDS Church Educational System, he cautioned that “[t]here is a temptation for the writer or teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not […] some things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy.” Thus, with regard to all historians who are members of the LDS Church, he stated that “[o]ne who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for ‘advanced history,’ is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants and will be held accountable.” Yes, that’s how fundies do “science” – in the service of dogma. Intellectual honesty isn’t even on the radar. Of course, his statements drew some criticism – LDS member and historian Michael Quinn pointed out the obvious problems. It is not as obvious that LDS member C. Robert Mesle’s criticism – that Packer created what Mesle views as a false dichotomy “between the integrity of faith and the integrity of inquiry” – is much less loony when you think about what he’s actually trying to say. Packer’s views on art aren’t much different from his views on history, by the way.

Diagnosis: Probably in his nineties by now, but has – rather obviously – lost none of his reasoning powers, and retains a position of quite a bit of authority and power. A dangerous, evil old crank. 

#1007: Charles L. Pack

Insofar as he is still going strong (no really updated information located) Charles L. Pack must be pretty old. And, of course, and more notably, pretty dingbat insane. Pack is the founder, conference director and president of Thy Kingdom Come, Inc., author of multiple booklets on Bible prophecy, publisher of the bi-monthly Spirit of Prophecy newspaper, and one of the heroes of the RaptureReady site. Yes, one more of those.

The stuff he promotes is thus the expected ravings, but among his more personal touches is the promotion of The Hallelujah Diet®, consisting mainly of raw fruits and vegetables, as well as Barleygreen, a natural barley grass. After all, it cured him! At one point in his life, Pack apparently suffered from a delibitating disease that conventional medicine was unable to stop, and enter the Hallelujah Diet (®). As a result of his experiences, Pack founded the website Be In Health to provide answers to questions about his medical problems and their cure (biographer Nicole Balnius interestingly calls him “Dr. Pack” when talking about the promotion of woo – Pack has diploma in divinity), as well as questions about a host of other people whose physical ailments have been helped by diet, nutrition, and the use of natural products.

Aside from promoting “natural” treatments, Pack preaches about endtimes, hell and the end of the world – indeed, the “end-time events could happen within the span of the calendar hanging on your wall.”

Diagnosis: There is always something fascinating with interdisciplinary cranks, but apart from that Pack is probably pretty harmless.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

#1006: Mehmet Oz

A.k.a. “America’s Doctor”

Mehmet Oz is a TV doctor who first came to public notice through his appearances on Oprah. He currently hosts his own syndicated television talk show, “The Dr. Oz Show,” which is currently one of the saddest and most substantial threats to civilization imposed on the world through Television. The general format of the show consists of inviting many people who work in healthcare for the audience, go through some points that align with real medical science, and then ruin everything by promoting various altmed garbage (warning letters he receives from the FDA don’t carry the same weight with the public, who probably never gets to hear about them anyways). As a doctor, Oz is in fact one of the most accomplished cardiothoracic surgeons of his generation, which makes his journey to the dark side all the more tragic.

The show is currently filled with recommendations ranging from the dubious to the downright fraudulent, and Oz has even given time to batshit crazies such as Deepak Chopra and Joseph Mercola, the latter described as a “pioneer in alternative medicine” and “a man your doctor doesn’t want you to know.” Usually Oz stops short of explicitly endorsing charlatans (at least in the earlier seasons), but just giving them a platform at all borders on malfeasance and is definitely a violation of any Hippocratic Oath, as well as giving these cranks and quacks an opportunity to promote themselves with an “as seen on the Dr. Oz Show” tag. His interaction with Mercola, according to critics (who are right), marked the completion of his journey to the Dark Side. He sealed it further by embracing homeopathy publicly and promoting it on his show in a segment called The Homeopathy Starter Kit. And with his “15 Superfoods” segment he has entered something frighteningly reminiscent of Kevin Trudeau-land.

Oz has furthermore promoted faith healing, “energy medicine”, reiki, and appeared on ABC News to give legitimacy to the claims of Brazilian faith healer “John of God,” who uses old carnival tricks to solicit money from the seriously ill. He has hosted Ayurvedic ( guru Yogi Cameron on his show to promote nonsense “tongue examination” as a way of diagnosing health problems, and in 2011 he more or less endorsed none other than John Edward (good portrait here) – Oz even suggested that bereaved families should visit psychic mediums to receive messages from their dead relatives as a form of grief counseling. The segment is discussed here. He has later followed that one up with a segment featuring Long Island medium Theresa Caputo, whom Oz promotes as somehow being able to help his viewers deal with anxiety by communicating with dead relatives on “the other side” – indeed, he even brought ultrapseudoscientist Daniel Amen to his show to argue that brainscans show that Caputo’s psychic powers are genuine (needless to say, the brainscans show no such thing). He has promoted Goodnighties sleepwear, which is said to be “impregnated with a substance that emits negative ions,” red palm oil, contributed to the distribution of the A├žai scams, and featured an anti-vaccine-sympathetic episode on autism with Bob Sears as his guest. The list goes on. If you ever came to doubt that Oz is a quack, there is for instance this, or his speculation about a connection between cell phone use and cancer (no, there is no evidence of such, for crying out loud), or his support for grounding.

Why does he do it, one might ask, and I suspect a lot is revealed in his manifesto, a chilling combo of various postmodernist relativist bullshit: “Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean. You find the arguments that support your data, and it’s my fact versus your fact.” No, it isn’t – but the sentiment explains quite a bit about how woomeisters think.

One of his biggest controversies involved the chemical resveratrol. While pharmaceutical research on laboratory mice showed some potential as an anti-aging agent, Dr. Oz promoted it as some New Age miracle, pushing his own supplemental version of the chemical, despite a current lack of evidence of its benefits or risks for humans. In 2012 he also provided some false balance regarding reparative therapy, which suggested that this utterly discredited bullshit might have some merit (discussed here).

Dr Oz is the proud winner of the James Randi Educational Foundation's Pigasus Award (Media section) in both 2010 and 2011 for doing “such a disservice to his TV viewers by promoting quack medical practices that he is now the first person to win a Pigasus two years in a row.” The awards are discussed here.

There are some good discussions of his practices here, here, and here (though the latter is a bit mild).

Diagnosis: One of the most dangerous cranks alive. No less.

Monday, April 21, 2014

#1005: William Owens jr.

William Owens jr. is the founder and president of a tiny outfit that goes by the name of the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP). He is also National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) religious liaison, and as such just as unhingedly crazy as you’d imagine. Owens is a True Christian™. President Obama, on the other hand, is not a True Christian (but probably more of a Muslim thing), largely because Obama “is intent on ending capitalism with his communist policy of redistribution of wealth.” And that gives you an idea about where Williams Owens comes from, or at least where he has been standing in more recent years – he was once a civil rights leader in Nashville; not much left of that at present, though Owens doesn’t seem to be aware of his fall).

CAAP, a small, strange group, which exists solely for the purpose of attacking African-American leaders and organizations from the right, in particular on the topic of the relationship between democrats and gays. Indeed, the group – or project – is associated with NOM’s plan (according to internal planning documents) to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks.” Owens, on his side, thinks a man having sex with another man is like a man having sex with a dog and that homosexuality is a contagious disease caused by and spread through molestation, which of course makes him perfect for NOM’s morality agenda, and he does not hesitate to draw a connection to the Democratic party. Indeed, not only is Obama not a Christian according to Owens (I mean, he supports gay marriage – that should silence all doubts) but the Democratic Party is also a “demonic party” that must be stopped (some of his statements to that effect are discussed here). Apparently Obama wants a “dictatorial-style rule” (and “has rejected God”), which is, of course, synonymous for disagreeing with Owens and which makes Obama just like a white supremacist.

When marriage equality was on the Maryland ballot in the 2012 election Owens, never one to shy away from hyperbole, warned voters that if we “change God’s law” by legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption then “the whole gamut of the family is going to be destroyed and all areas of the social life will be destroyed from what has been for thousands of years.” Indeed, gay marriage will “deteriorate the black family more than anything else” (no further explanation given, but his wife, Deborah Owens, made a similar assertion in a Washington Times op-ed where she warned that the “homosexual agenda” will “erode the very foundation of our society”). Fortunately, Owens said, black voters are turning against Obama because of this issue.

To no one’s surprise Owens was deeply hurt by the DOMA decision; according to Owens the Supreme Court “neglected our most precious children who need a mother and a father united in marriage for healthy development,” and repeated his warnings about the erosion of society. He also called for anti-gay activists to launch a new Civil Rights Movement to fight and seek to repeal the civil rights of gay people (Owens wouldn’t have put it quite like that; indeed, Owens would say “think of the children”: “The adults are confused and they’re confusing the children,” Owens lamented, “how can two men rear a child? How can a man be a mother? Tell me that.” But that’s not quite how civil rights work.) In 2014 he seems to have been primarily devoted to pushing for the impeachment of Attorney General Eric Holder for “trampling the rule of law” by not defending DOMA, and therefore for trying “to coerce states to fall in line with the same-sex ‘marriage’ agenda;” indeed, according to Owens, Holder “shredded” the Constitution “in order to impose a radical homosexual agenda,” one that betrays “the black community and the values that we hold dear.” What? You miss reason and argument? Oh, but it was never about that for William Owens.

Diagnosis: It’s getting a bit tiresome, isn’t it? At least his impact appears to be limited.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

#1004: Tim O'Shea

A.k.a. The Doctor Within

Tim O’Shea might not be among the most famous altmed practitioners in the US, but he is surely one of the most consistently delusionally wrong (and has been awarded with a substantial presence at for his efforts). O’Shea is into, well, pretty much everything and anything. He is for instance a germ theory denialist. That’s right. Bacteria and viruses don’t cause disease. Evidence? We still get sick, and there are companies that earn money off of antibiotics – and, to make sure no one would think of him as anything but a loon, O’Shea also claims that Pasteur recanted his theory on his deathbed, and then Deepak Chopra has, according to O’Shea, also shown that there is little association between germs and disease. Actually conducting research couldn’t fit worse with O’Shea’s agenda, so you get none of that, of course.

Primarily, O’Shea is an anti-vaccinationist, Director of the World Association for Vaccine Education (WAVE), and author of Vaccination is Not Immunization (praised by David Ayoub). As you’d expect O’Shea holds vaccines responsible for all sorts of ills, from autism to peanut allergy (as well as measles), and as you’d also expect, he doesn’t have much idea about how to find or use evidence or research. Primarily, his “evidence” is his own use of his good common sense (that sense that also led him to germ theory denial), and various appeals to perceived but undocumented correlations.

The board of directors for WAVE – which is a significant player in the antivaxx movement – includes Boyd Haley, Sherri Tenpenny, HIV denialist Andrew Maniotis, Marc Girard (another mainstay), Dan N. Schultz, Eileen Nicole Simon, KP Stoller, and Mary Tocco (yet another hero).

Diagnosis: Absolutely astonishing madman, who is fully unable to distinguish evidence from his own powers of intuition – which seem to be calibrated toward giving him idiotic results.