Monday, January 15, 2018

#1949: Miles Mathis

Miles Mathis is an artist, poet and writer, and one of the more colorful pseudoscientists – and insane conspiracy theorists – of the whole wide Internet.

He is probably most famous for his claim that π is actually 4, though with the caveat that it be a “kinematic situation”, which sort of misses some important points about how mathematics works and π is calculated. Mathis also thinks that standard mathematical derivatives are false, and consequently that most of math and science is wrong well, predictive success to the contrary. (“Quantitatively, this may be THE biggest error in all of math and physics, since every single physical equation with π in it must now be thrown out”.) Mathis’s ideas have not been accepted by anyone minimally affected by reason and rationality (there is a good critique here). Part of the reason is that he doesn’t quite seem to grasp how mathematical proofs work, which is a bit of a drawback if you are trying to do one. Nor does he even remotely grasp the use–mention distinction or the distinction between a thing and a representation of that thing, or between a graph and what it can be used to represent. Needless to say, the inability to draw these distinctions is not conducive to doing good mathematics. There’s a good discussion of his work here, and a very courteous refutation here. An example (Mathis’s writings contain long passages like this): “Now let us return to the geometric circle. All the equations of geometry are created by assuming that time is not a factor. You can’t really just ignore time, so what the geometry does is assume that all underlying time intervals are equal. What does that mean, specifically? Well, it must mean that all the lines are understood to have been drawn with the same velocity. We can ignore the velocity since we define it as equivalent. What does that mean? It means that the radius is a velocity itself.” This is incorrect.

Of course, this is just the doorway to the rabbit hole. Since calculus is wrong and the derivatives have been calculated wrong (he shows this primarily by trying to redefine the derivatives), and any physical experiment that relies on them wrong as well, Mathis has developed his own unified field theory, which for the most part is an esoteric model based on extravagant and untestable hypotheses and confusions, but from which he draws some notable conclusions, e.g.:

This means that if the Earth were denser, you would weigh less, not more. You weigh less on the Moon not because it is less dense, or because it has less mass, but because its foundational E/M field is stronger. And its foundational E/M field is stronger because the Moon’s radius is smaller than the Earth’s.”


This means that the dark matter math is also a type of modified Newtonian dynamics. It is modified in that it takes the definitions and turns them upside down. We could call it a FFAND: a falsified and fudged Newtonian dynamics.”

Conspiracy theories
Mathis’s writings extend beyond math and science, however. Given that he claims to have overturned more or less all of science and mathematics, it is hardly surprising that he thinks scientists are in a conspiracy to suppress the truth and block information (paywalls, for instance, is a measure to hide information).

And from there, it is a short step to adopting virtually any other conspiracy theory you could dream of as well. Mathis has claimed that the Boston Marathon bombing was faked and that the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a “scripted tragedy, and he is both a birther and a 9/11 truther; indeed, according to Mathis the Lincoln assassination was faked as well. Moreover, all the major Internet sites, including NASA’s or those devoted to mainstream physics, are infiltrated by the CIA, and John Lennon is still alive in Canada after faking his own death, whereas Stephen Hawking is not but has been replaced by an impostor. 

As with most of those who subscribe to ranges of conspiracy theories like this, his writings eventually devolves into anti-semitism. Among the people Mathis has accused of being Jewish are Jack Nicklaus, C.S. Lewis, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte and Pierre-Simon de Laplace.

Diagnosis: One of the most hysterically delusional cranks on the whole of Internet. And as with so many promoters of garbled, incoherent insanity, Mathis actually enjoys a number of followers ready to display anger, lack of comprehension and general idiocy in comment sections across the web. He must nevertheless be counted among the Internet’s curious splashes of color rather than as a serious threat to anything whatsoever.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki (Mathis does not seem to like his rationalwiki article or hesitate to accuse its editors of being in part of a conspiracy to suppress him and his insights).

Saturday, January 13, 2018

#1948: Keith Mason

Keith Mason is, together with Cal Zastrow, the founder of Personhood USA, an anti-abortion organization that seeks to (legally) define the term “Person” as starting from the moment of conception. The organization’s first target upon forming in 2008 was the Colorado Constitution (repeatedly unsuccessful), but they have expanded their target rapidly since then, with variable results. Mason is also affiliated with Operation Rescue.

Well, one thing is the goal. Another is the insane and tortured reasoning going into the campaigns to achieve those goals. “I think it’s important to note with the term fertilized egg, that’s the same thing as using the N word for an African American,” says Mason. It is not. According to Mason, however, it is so, “[b]ecause it’s a dehumanizing term and it’s not based in science.” Mason is not a scientist, which shows. Of Roe v. Wade, Mason maintains that “it’s a bad law,” because “[i]t was not based in reason. They ignored the concept of the pre-born child being a person.” Since Mason’s critique of the phrase “fertilized egg” is that it is not “based in science”, it seems to follow that he thinks “pre-born person” is. Science and reason are not Mason’s strongest suits.

Of course, like so many anti-abortion activists, Mason’s prime target seems to be contraception, and in particular women controlling their own sexuality. Because religion. No surprise there.

Not surprisingly, Mason and Personhood USA are also supportive of a wide range of other religious rights issues, including anti-gay legislations. And like so many rightwing groups, they have also taken their agenda abroad, where various religion-based efforts to write discrimination and oppression into law may find more sympathetic audiences than in the US. Mason’s group is for instance active in fighting reproductive rights advances at the United Nations and has been pouring money into unspecified projects in Europe. Mason is also a regular at the fundamentalist anti-LGBT activist World Congress of Families.

Diagnosis: One can have a reasonable debate about the moral status of abortion, but not with Keith Mason, who is a deranged loon fueled by bigotry and fiery religious fanaticism. He and his group are certainly influential, however.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

#1947: James Maskell

James Maskell is an anti-vaccine campaigner and the CEO of Revive Primary Care, an organization promoting altmed and conspiracy theories. Maskell believes that vaccines (may – he’s JAQing off) lead to a slew of negative health outcomes, including autism, which is false, and moreover that “vaccine side effects are largely underreported because the passive nature of the legal system puts the onus on the victim to make the connection, file extensive paperwork, and report the issue,” which sort of neglects the number of large-scale studies done on vaccines. Given his complete inability to assess evidence, probabilities and health outcomes, Maskell concludes that he “fear[s] the risk of complications from vaccines more than [he] fear[s] the risk of complications from infection,” since the risk of death from, say, measles is roughly 1/1000 (if not worse) and the risk of serious vaccines reactions (not death) is one in a million or lower. Also toxins; according to Maskell, vaccines commonly contain aluminum, “antibiotics, formaldehyde, MSG and thimerosal.” Most importantly, however, “I’ve seen scientists get it wrong before, and I don’t want my daughter to be a statistic,” which she sort of is becoming by not being vaccinated and which one would particularly become by succumbing to a vaccine-preventable disease. “Between the 1920s and 1960s, the same groups that are used to sell vaccines today (doctors, industry marketing, etc.) were used to sell cigarettes, and this has become known as ‘tobacco science’,” which is quite simply false regardless of how you try to view it (though the parallel between those who denied the link between tobacco and cancer and promoters of “natural cures” rejecting the evidence of the safety and efficacy of vaccines, is rather striking). Most importantly, vaccines have, according to Maskell, been insufficiently studied, where the standards for “sufficient” would be coming to the conclusions he wants the studies to arrive at, otherwise never.

Instead, Maskell promotes natural health (apparently he also takes his daughter to a chiropractor, which is … not recommended, but hardly surprising). Indeed, according to himself, he has spent the last few decades “encouraging a shift away from conventional western medicine and toward a wellness-centered, functional medicine model,” that is, away from the cold, alienating strappings of evidence and science toward the natural, which is a more personal, warm and fuzzy dogma since you can apparently define it any way you want and it is completely impervious to evidence, fact and skeptical investigation, and the anecdotal.

Like most anti-vaccinationists and conspiracy theorists, Maskell has a complicated relationship with honesty, as shown by the interview he did on ABC’s 7:30 show. Reporter Jane Cowan should receive an honorable mention as antivaxx sympathizer for failing to declare Maskell’s conflicts of interest (no entry, since she is not American).

Diagnosis: Conspiracy theorist, denialist and hardcore promoter of pseudoscience. Though perhaps not among the most famous members of the antivaccine brigade, Maskell does seem to have some influence, and his apparently ability to formulate grammatical sentences and assume what might immediately appear to be a relatively friendly and humble demeanor, might make him somewhat more dangerous than some of his ilk.