Monday, November 19, 2018

#2105: David Perlmutter

David Perlmutter is a Florida-based celebrity doctor (neurologist) and author in the tradition of celebrity quacks and frauds like Dr. Oz (indeed, Perlmutter serves as medical advisor for The Dr. Oz Show), and is partially responsible for currently popular and myth-based gluten nonsense fads and for the pseudoscientific basis for popular paleo-diet advice. In particular, Perlmutter advocates a functional and holistic approach to treating brain disorders, and the false main claim of his 2013 pseudoscientific magnum opus Grain Brain is that gluten causes various neurological conditions. The book successful enough for Perlmutter to produce several equally shoddy sequels. He has also contributed to the Huffington Post,The Daily Beast, and Mind Body Green. Perlmutter used to be president of the Perlmutter Health Center until it was sold in 2015, and has also, tellingly, received numerous awards from various quack organization, such as the 2002 Linus Pauling Award of the Institute for Functional Medicine and a 2006 National Nutritional Foods Association thing, as well as a 2015 “Communications and Media Award” from the American College of Nutrition. He also made it onto this list.

It is no exaggeration to call Grain Brain enormously influential; it topped bestselling lists for an unnervingly long period of time (there is a decent explanation for its success here) and really made its author something of a star in the altmed pseudoscience community. In the book (good reviews here and here), Perlmutter ostensibly revealed “the surprising truth” that gluten is a “silent germ” responsible for declining brain health. This is demonstrably complete and utter bullshit. Even pseudoscience advocate David Katz called it a “silly book” that exhibits “the raw power of pop culture repetition, not the staying power of truth.” There is a decent, though sympathetic, summary of Perlmutter’s claims (and the rather serious problems with them) here, and a short summary here.
Meanwhile, real scientists, such as microbiome expert Jonathan Eisen, were not impressed with Perlmutter’s 2015 sequel Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – for Life: “To think we can magically heal diseases by changing to a gluten-free diet and taking some probiotics is idiotic ... It resembles more the presentation of a snake-oil salesman than that of a person interested in actually figuring out how to help people.” The book was the result of his 90-minute TV special, Perlmutter’s “BRAINCHANGE”, which was aired on over 110 PBS affiliates and has continued to air on a regular basis since then. The book promises to help readers harness “the power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain – for life,” and offers ostensibly groundbreaking preventative measures and treatments for allergies, autism, Alzheimer’s, ALS, dementia, Parkinson’s, and cancer. The claim, though false, is actually not particularly new; Perlmutter has for decades offered readers miraculous” treatments that can prevent and remedy all sorts of medical problems, and claimed that the various supplements and “detoxification” regimens he sells on his website are crucial to optimizing brain health. Needless to say, the data do not bear his claims out (there is for instance a fact check of some of his claims here). But then, Perlmutter is not really a scientist – he had a couple of solid publications (unrelated to his current efforts) four decades ago; the more recent stuff are either case reports or published in scam or bottom-feeding journals like the Journal of Applied Nutrition (listed here). He’s got anecdotes, though. His anecdotes do sound miraculous, we’ll give him that. Miraculous-sounding anecdotes is not exactly a credibility boost. It is worth pointing out that the anecdotes in his 2000 book BrainRecovery sounded equally miraculous (and exhibited a similar complete lack of actual evidence to back them up), only this time around cholesterol and saturated fat were culprits, things he recommends in his later work – in the previous work, nonsense like hyperbaric oxygen chambers (he even ran his own “Perlmutter hyperbaric oxygen center”) and special, proprietary supplements were the order of the day (the FDA was not impressed), including glutathione: it’s effectiveness in Parkinson’s patients, he claims, “is nothing short of miraculous”. His stock of anecdotes is at least remarkably flexible. 

Glutathione, by the way, is demonstrably useless (Perlmutter displayed a momentary lapse of judgment and actually contributed to real research showing that it is useless; he seems to have learned), a conclusion Perlmutter conspicuously aggressively neglected to mention in subsequent recommendations for it. Criticism of his recommendations were (and are) predictably dismissed as Big Pharma trolling.Meanwhile, Perlmutter was himself shilling for Protandim, testifying to its undeniable efficacy for treating and preventing many brain orders; the producer, LifeVantage, eventually revealed that it was a scam and wasn’t, as claimed, developed by a biochemist but cooked up by a business executive. So it goes.

Beyond conspiracies, Perlmutter is also fond of another familiar, general response to his critics: “Each progressive spirit,” he tweets, “is opposed by a thousand mediocre minds appointed to guard the past.” He is, in other words, just like Galileo; indeed, Perlmutter explicitly pulls the Galileo comparison, failing to notice the rather crucial bit of asymmetry that Galileo wasn’t opposed by the contemporaneous scientific community.

And of course, as his empire grows, so does the amount of bullshit. Perlmutter has pushed everything from “empowering coconut oil” to demographically tailored supplement blends (such as a $90 “Scholar’s Advantage Pack” for “young adults seeking to optimize cognitive function,” and a $160 “Senior Empowerment Pack”), his own organic foaming hand soap, as well as a $8,500 brain detoxification at a retreat he runs, which includes shamanic healing ceremonies. Recently, Perlmutter has been a devoted champion of the toxins scare.

To top it all, Perlmutter has also made appeals to the antivaxx community. In particular, he has advocated the “alternative vaccine schedule” nonsense (i.e. advising parents to ask their pediatricians about scheduling childhood vaccinations separately), which would put children and communities at greater risk of contracting preventable diseases. Of course, Perlmutter is advocating this against better judgment, but it resonates with his target audience, and Perlmutter is a disgusting excuse for a human being who apparently wouldn’t think twice about a few hundred dead kids a year if it pads his wallet.

Diagnosis: A remorseless snake oil pusher, and one of the most dangerous and vilest of those  in the US today.

Hat-tip: The Cut.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

#2104: Tom Perkins

Tom Perkins is a rich venture capitalist and founding partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Perkins is also delusional, and in a way that seems to have become rather common. In response to a Matthew Yglesias column, Perkins stated that “[w]riting from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’” The persecution complex is strong with this one – “This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” – and although we generally shy away from discussing fiscal policies here, it strikes us as important to emphasize how lunatic Perkins’s Godwin venture actually is. Asking Perkins to pay more in taxes is not “like genocidal anti-Jewish rioting orchestrated by Hitler”.

Perkins followed up by revealing his own take on an ideal democratic system: “You don’t get the vote if you don’t pay a dollar in taxes. But what I really think is it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars, you get a million votes. How’s that?” Now, Perkins followed up by stating that he was just “trying to be outrageous,” before doubling down on the rich people/Holocaust comparison (“the parallel holds”), adding that progressive taxation is persecution and “if Germany had American gun laws, there would have never been a Hitler,” which is not only stupid but reveals an almost stunning lack of understanding of the social and political situation in Germany at the time (including details about whoand how many people supported Hitler). Other subjects Perkins discussed were how the Koch brothers are victims of “persecution”, the evils of “child labor laws” and the non-existence of racism. On the question of whether he felt that he might have lost touch with the real world, Perkins responded that “philosophically,” he said, “nobody can prove that they are connected to reality,” an answer that must be characterized as a marvel of delusional hubris.

Apparently he has also written a book.

Diagnosis: Good grief. “Conspiracy theorist with a persecution complex” doesn’t even begin to suggest the inane delusions of Tom Perkins. At least we have to assume that he hurts rather than helps his cause. The notion that one is being persecuted, however, is a very common among lots of different interest groups, from antivaxers to evangelicals. Use Perkins as a mirror.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

#2103: Shelley Penney

The alkaline diet is a diet fad and type of nature woo that has recently gained quite a bit of popularity. The guiding idea is that altering your blood pH through diet change to make it more alkaline is a means to health benefits. As an idea, it is as stupid and insane as they come, because i) ) changing your blood pH will quickly lead to alkaliosis and death and certainly no health benefits, but ii) it doesn’t matter since it is impossible to change your blood pH through diet anyways. There is, in short, no evidence (not even the slightest) for any of the claims made by proponents of the diet, and the dietary recommendations – which are usually related to alkaline pH values at a rate little better than random chance – are often harmful for different reasonsFacts, however, tend to be of minimal importance to promoters of the idea, who often push it as part of some MLM scheme. It is  of course common to mention that diet can alter urine pH (which may reduce the impact of kidney stones), something that is unrelated to your blood or the rest of your body.

One ardent promoter of the alkaline diet, is Shelley Penney, who runs the blog Real Water Health. RWH pushes in particular alkaline water, which ostensibly contains “millions of added electrons” to make the water alkaline and improve cell hydration. The blog does contain a list of 17 “Peer Reviewed Articles on Alkaline Water”, but a quick scan shows that these are articles discussing research on acidosis; none of them mention any benefits from actually drinking alkaline water. So it goes.

Penney herself is a retired nurse with interests in “health, peace and abundance”. Apparently she skipped the chemistry classes one would have hoped nurses (or any student with a highschool diploma) should have had. Penney claims, for instance, that “because it is very alkaline, ionized water may dissolve accumulated acid waste and return the body to a balance.” (The notion of “balance” involved is presumably this one.) She also claims that “keeping our body fluid pH in an alkaline state may be the first line of defense in fighting any disease,” which is technically true since an arterial blood pH much lower than 7.35–7.45 would quickly kill you. Of course, ionized water (which has a pH around seawater in any case) will not have the slightest effect on your body fluid pH. 

Diagnosis: A disgrace to her profession, currently wasting her life on pushing harmful nonsense. A sad and sordid affair.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

#2102: John Pendleton

John Morris Pendleton is one of many creationists littering youtube and traveling around giving lectures to anti-science audiences. Pendleton is apparently a chemist scientist automotive technician with a BA in chemistry, though he likes to dress up in a lab coat to read the Bible to determine how old the Earth is, and does claim to have “worked in cancer research for 1 1/2 years”. His repertoire consists of plenty of familiar creationist PRATTs – in his youtube videos these are rattled off after his standard declaration “Hello, I’m a scientist” (he’s not) – with a particular emphasis (it seems) on scientists hiding evidence for young earth creationism. For instance, according to Pendleton there are cave paintings that show humans and dinosaurs together, but scientists won’t let you see them – his evidence being primarily, it seems, that archaeologists have closed off certain caves with cave paintings to the general public, which could only be because they want to prevent them from seeing evidence that goes against the official narrative.

There is a splendid takedown of his nonsense here, which also goes into details on Pendleton’s specific claims, which we cannot be bothered to do (visit the videos if you are interested). Among Pendleton’s beliefs are, beyond the inerrancy of the Bible, the idea that the speed of light is not constant, that the Leviathan mentioned in the Bible is actually a Tyrannosaurus rex, that radiometric dating is unreliable because it yields results he doesn’t like, and that the pre-Flood average lifespan was 912 years. Among his more novel claims, however, is the claim that giants not only once roamed the Earth, but survived the Flood (Noah himself, by the way, was 3.30 meters tall) and that UFOs are nothing other than “ultra-dimensional visitors of the spiritual world;” i.e. demons, devils and fallen angels: “It is not wonder, because Satan himself he disguises himself (sic) as an angel of light (or a UFO),” says Pendleton. “Demons-UFOs”, however, aren’t actual spacecraft, but illusions used to deceive humans. Moreover, not only did dinosaurs coexist with humans (they were vegetarian back then); they are still alive in the swamps of Congo and in various lakes such as Loch Ness.

Apparently Pendleton is the founder and director of the Grupo Internacional de Científicos Creacionistas, an organization dedicated to “unmasking the lies” of evolution, and a frequent speaker at creationist conferences especially in Central and South American countries, and has produced a number of videos not only for youtube but for Christian television. Apparently, he was also part of “the team that won the debate on CREATION AND EVOLUTION at the University of Morelos in Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1994” – so it goes – and has translated booklets by Ken Ham into Spanish. Apparently Carl Baugh has been impressed by Pendleton’s work, which is not a badge of honor.

He is apparently currently living in Zacatecas, Mexico (but we include him nonetheless), where he delivers his creationist message in local churches and (for instance) public schools, something the state government apparently has allowed him to do.

Diagnosis: Laughable nonsense, of course. We think it is unlikely that he will manage to convert anyone not already lost to dimwittery, but the fact that he apparently has access to public schools should really be a cause for concern.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

#2101: Mike Pence

A.k.a. A disturbingly good reason to be hesitant about wanting President Trump impeached even if the opportunity were to arise.

Mike Pence, the 48th Vice President of the US and formerly Governor of Indiana, radio show host and Represenative from Indiana’s 6th District, is a fundamentalist science denialist and occasional conspiracy theorist. Though appearing to many to be far more balanced, stable and boring than Trump, it is possible to make a case for the claim that Pence is, in many ways, crazier. 

Fundamentalism, anti-gay campaigning and anti-feminism
Claiming to have received his political mandate from Jesus himself, Pence has long campaigned to obliterate the distinction between religion and politics, and maintains a close relationship with various dominionists (although it would admittedly be an exaggeration to call him a dominionist himself). Indeed, he first received national attention when he introduced (and signed into law) a bill that would allow private individuals and companies to discriminate against LGBT people on “religious freedom” grounds. 

In 2000 (Pence’s history of anti-gay campaigning is as long as it is insane), Pence stated that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a ‘discrete and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities,” and his campaign website called for “an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” but rather redirect resources toward institutions that “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior”. Meanwhile, homosexuality “is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.” According to Pence, Obama thus wanted to “advance a radical social agenda,” and he falsely claimed that anti-discrimination efforts would mean that pastors “could be charged or be subject to intimidation for simply expressing a Biblical worldview on the issue of homosexual behavior.” As for marriage equality, Pence has reminded us that “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family”. This is incorrect.

Pence is known to adhere to the rule that men should avoid spending time alone with women to whom they are not married, ostensibly to avoid temptation. He seems less than cognizant about what the rule tells us about his character. It is worth thinking about.

As a radio show host, Pence expressed numerous notable opinions about a variety of subject matters. In 1999, he argued, in an op-ed, that the Disney film Mulanwas a piece of liberal, feminist propaganda: “Obviously, this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military,” though he seemed very satisfied that Disney apparently undercut their own argument by letting Mulan fall in love: “Moral of story: women in military, bad idea,” said Pence.

Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill” – Mike Pence

Pence is a creationist and has a long history of advocating intelligent design creationism, arguing for instance that evolution is “just a theory” and “just one of many theories”; apparently it follows that these many theories are all equal. Also, the science of evolution hasn’t remained the same since Darwin; therefore it must obviously be bullshit. (It is, in other words, abundantly clear that Pence doesn’t have the faintest idea what a scientific theory in general, and the theory of evolution in particular, actually is). In a 2002 statement on the floor of the House of Representatives Pence told his colleagues that “... I also believe that someday scientists will come to see that only the theory of intelligent design provides even a remotely rational explanation for the known universe.” Wishful thinking comes no more delusional than that.

Pence recommends abstinence-only sex education, which demonstrably doesn’t work to achieve the stated aims. But facts be damned when purity and spiritual hygiene are at stake. For similar reasons, Pence claimed that “condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.”

As for embryonic stem cell research, Pence is opposed to it, wants it banned, and claims that there are alternatives that “obviate” the need for embryonic research, which is bullsit.

Pence also has a long backstory as a climate change denier; he “does not accept the scientific consensus that human activity is the primary driver of climate change,” and claims that “global warming is a myth” and part of a “liberal environmentalist agenda” to raise taxes. Indeed, according to Pence “the earth is actually cooler today than it was about 50 years ago”. This is incorrect, but Pence has probably realized that with his intended audiences there really is no limit to how egregiously he can lie and get away with it; a similar example is when he imagined his way to the claim that there is “growing skepticism in the scientific community about global warming.” After all, Pence has patiently tried to explain to them that COcan’t cause global warming because CO2is a “naturally occurring phenomenon”. More recently, however, Pence has actually come out admitting that he, with a bit of hedging and lots of hesitation, accepts that “there’s no question” that human activity affects climate and the environment. If you expect a more reasonable voting and policy-related behavior, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath, however. 

Finally, Pence is largely responsible for passing “the cruel sham known as right-to-try”, which is largely, and despite the rhetoric, an effort to limit the powers of the FDA to intervene when scams are pushed on people in desperate situations.  

He denies that he is anti-science, though. He just rejects the parts he disagrees with. He likes the rest.


Diagnosis: Fundamentalist anti-scientists are hardly uncommon; neither are fundamentalist anti-scientists in positions of power. But few of them (there are admittedly some) have more power than Mike Pence.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Saturday, November 10, 2018

#2100: John Peloza

John Peloza is – or at least was – a California high school teacher. Peloza is also a creationist, and very unhappy that lying about science while trying to manipulate public school students into adopting his religious beliefs is illegal in the US. (Peloza did for instance give a student a Bible and told another Jewish student that she would go to hell if she did not convert to Christianity.) In 1994, Peloza sued his school district for forcing him to teach the “religion of evolutionism”, a case he of course lost (the ruling is here for those interested in revisiting a number of familiar creationist PRATTs). The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, as they had to, that there is no such religion. Of course, the suit itself showed that Peloza has a dangerously dim understanding of science, and was rather obviously unsuited for the job he had. And indeed, Peloza was subsequently reassigned to teach physical education instead of science.

Diagnosis: Yet another fine (if ultimately minor) example of the kinds of challenges truth, reason and science are up to, and a scary illustration of the kind of nonsense you can hold onto while still being considered qualified for teaching high-school kids. We have no idea what Peloza is up to these days, however.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

#2099: Meghan Pearson

Meghan Pearson is a reiki practitioner and wellness blogger who primarily writes about vegan food. Though perhaps not a big name on the quack scene, Pearson does have a bit of a profile, insofar as her rants have been published by the Huffington Post. An example is her post titled “My Love Affair With Naturopathy”, the occasion being her visit to a naturopath (Toronto-based and therefore not separate-entry-qualified Erin Wiley). 

That article is pretty much as bad as you’d expect. Apparently, Pearson has a number of health problems (it’s a bit interesting how people promoting wellness and natural health very often do) and an attraction to all things “natural”, which to Pearson seems to mean that naturopathy can help her when conventional medicine does not. So according to Pearson, “Western” medicine never goes to the source and its recommendations are driven by big money, as opposed to the recommendations from altmed practitioners who sell untested supplements and treatment regimes unfettered by the dictatorial constraints of reality and evidence.

Well, so Pearson, given her “nutritional background and knowledge [she has no relevant education, of course], and my keen interest in Eastern medicinal techniques [i.e. orientalism]”, sought out naturopath Erin Wiley and was apparently mightily impressed when Wiley hooked her up to electrodes and “measured” a bunch of things in her body – the instruments both said “ping” and produced some sciency-looking charts – and promptly decided that Pearson suffered from, of course, “a condition called ‘adrenal fatigue,” a favorite fake diagnosis among quacks everywhere. Pearson, of course, who wouldn’t be able to distinguish a real medical condition from a dolphin chakra if her life depended on it, happily accepted it all and bought in. Those darned science-based people with their integrity and evidence-based diagnoses would never have come up with anything like this.

Diagnosis: Yep, it’s a paean to letting oneself be fooled. I suppose, in a sense, it is a bit mean to call out the victim – and make no mistake: Pearson is a victim here – but she wrote up a glowing review (and not marked as an ad) for Huffington Post, and we have some sort of duty to remind people not to trust the advice of people like Meghan Pearson. (Besides, it's not like she's completely innocent herself, being a reiki practitioner and very much willing to share nonsense about nutrition.)