Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#268: Don McLeroy

A.k.a. The Texas Dentist

McLeroy is a dentist. He is also a religious fanatic. In his own words: “Am I a religious fanatic? Absolutely. You’d have to be to do what I do.”

What McLeroy did, and what he was referring to, was being chairman of the Texas Board of Education. His term ended in 2009, and even though Texas’s insanely ignorant Taliban fundamentalist governor Rick Perry reappointed him, said reappointment was rejected by the Texas senate. Cynthia Dunbar remained, however.

McLeroy has, in his position as chairman of the Board, also attempted to reject advanced placement environmental science textbooks because they, in Don’s mind, contained errors (not found by any serious scientist). Over objections from experts in 2004, McLeroy also voted to approve health textbooks that stress “abstinence-only” in regard to instruction about pregnancy and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

In 2005, McLeroy – who is an utterly insane young earth creationist – conducted a sermon in his church, talking about the Board of Education, saying that naturalism is “the enemy” and that “Intelligent Design [is] the big tent [… b]ecause we’re all lined up against […] naturalism. Whether you’re a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it’s all in the tent of Intelligent Design.” The sermon is available online, as are McLeroy’s notes. He has also said: “I think what we’re doing is destroying America’s soul in science." Nevertheless, his mandate was how best to teach Texas’s kids about science.

His campaigns against evolution have been characterized by ignorance (especially here), lies, quote-mining, complete disregard of science and rank dishonesty. His motivation (in line with Gary Bauer and David Barton) is: “… we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan – he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.” He seems to have got his talking points mostly from various creationist websites and the Discovery Institute.

The NCSE has provided a video of McLeroy’s statements. If you want to have your last hopes for the future of humanity crushed, see this (if our encyclopedia weren’t exclusively concerned with Americans, the whole country of India would presumably qualify).

Diagnosis: Flamingly moronic, ignorant Taliban-style religious fanatic bozo, McLeroy is one of the most determined and tireless crusaders against truth, science and knowledge, since these things, in McLeroy’s deluded mind, are among the biggest threats to religion. McLeroy has indeed managed to do real harm, but he is probably rather neutralized at present.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#267: Adam McLeod

A.k.a. Adam DreamHealer

Adam McLeod is one of (apparently) many people who (apparently) struggles to distinguish fiction from reality. In McLeod’s case, the fiction is Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol”, which led McLeod to issue this less-than-entirely-coherent press release. Actually, McLeod has promoted what he discerns as Brown’s ideas here for several years. From the press release: “’The Lost Symbol’ addresses the power of intention as fiction, yet Adam DreamHealer has presented this as reality in his Intention Heals workshops and books for the last 7 years. Dan Brown references IONS (Institute of Noetic Science) several times and Adam shares an interesting history with the founder of IONS, Dr. Edgar Mitchell [to be covered later]. […] Adam has presented his ‘Intention Heals’ workshops across North America to thousands of participants on the power of our own intentions and self-empowerment in healing.”

Right. What’s it all about? In line with the best of woo, Adam props his dreck up with the word “quantum”. He claims he can simply look at a picture of someone with cancer and cure that person by “intent” over a distance, claiming it works by Quantum Holography. You can read about it, and the “evidence” for it (as presented by luminaries such as Gregg Braden & Bruce Lipton, internet kook Laura Lee, Spiritual Incarnation expert Chuck Laurenson and Hulda Clark disciple John Mullen) here. Adam’s own explanation attempt applies the words “energy” and “information” a lot, but does not display any sign of understanding what these expressions actually mean in any particular context. In addition to the “explanation”, he has also some (dubious-sounding) anecdotal evidence and the claim that he “has always sought a scientific explanation to support what he intuitively knows to be true as a healer: that our intentions influence our reality.” That’s called confirmation bias. At least “[h]e is continuing his studies in Naturopathic Medicine to become a Naturopathic Doctor.”

So much for science, I guess.

Oh, and concerning his anecdotal evidence: “Since 2006 Adam has been collecting survey results about intentional healing on his website. Thousands of people have responded […]. Astonishingly, over 75% of respondents rate their health issues as having improved significantly through the self-empowering techniques described in Adam's books and workshops. Using chi-square and binomial statistical testing, these results showed that a statistically significant number of people experienced health improvements.” Read that again. Slowly. If you have any understanding whatsoever of how to test medical hypotheses, your response better be “wtf?”. “On his website” is a clue; selection bias is another.

More on Adam DreamHealer here.

There is even a blog devoted to him, which may be worth looking at.

Diagnosis: Some may suspect a fraud, but McLeod is at least definitely completely ignorant of science and the scientific method and probably of reality as well. Impact uncertain, but he seems to enjoy some popularity, and given that his area is cancer woo there may be some real danger to real people involved.

#266: Cynthia McKinney

If we’d been doing an international encyclopedia, the British would have made some inroads at this point. After all, the British have flat-earther James McIntyre. They also have Gillian McKeith, who may not be a flat-earther, but given her general understanding of science might just as well have been.

But leave it to the Americans to come up with anyone as terminally insane as Cynthia McKinney. McKinney was a presidential nominee of the US Green Party in the 2008 U.S Presidential Elections (she did receive more votes than Ron Paul) and has long been a member of Congress representing Georgia. She lost her seat in Georgia in 2002, regained it, but lost it again in 2004 when she slugged a Capitol police officer. Alex Jones-style, McKinney believes more or less every conspiracy theory she has encountered.

A selection of claims McKinney has endorsed is that the US military shot and killed 5000 prisoners during Katrina and dumped their bodies, a multitude of 9/11 conspiracy theories (unsurprisingly), and that Jeb Bush was running a drug ring out of Columbia while he was governor of Florida. Conspiracy theories concerning famous assassinations endorsed by McKinney include believing that James Earl Ray did not kill Martin Luther King Jr., that Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill JFK, that Sirhan Sirhan did not kill Robert F. Kennedy, and – particularly vehemently – that Biggie did not kill Tupac.

The latter may or may not be the case, but part of the reason for McKinney losing her seat in 2002 was her obsession with the case and spending a little too much time and effort and governmental resources to deal with this question (she tried to pass a bill to release the government’s secret records on the murder). lists her as the sixth most insane person who has ever run for president (I have a feeling the list may not be entirely complete).

Diagnosis: The Democrats' answer to Michele Bachmann, McKinney is really stunningly insane, and despite the good stuff she’s done, she is a real threat to sanity and society.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

#264: Sean McDowell

Sean McDowell is the terminally stupid offspring of last post’s Josh McDowell. Even more than his father, Sean is an ardent creationist who likes to make arguments like this one. Despite the intense competition, this must surely rank among the more obtuse creationist arguments out there; see also this). Sean McDowell has even coauthored a book with Bill Dembski titled “Understanding Intelligent Design”. They also compiled a list of “Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Intelligent Design”. Some optimists may have thought Dembski had a basic grasp of science by now. No such luck – unless he and McDowell know they’re being dishonest and just hoping that said biology teachers know nothing about the scientific method or science (in particular information theory) either.

Sean McDowell’s attempt to explain away Tiktaalik is, uh, noteworthy.

Diagnosis: More moronic even than his father, Sean McDowell takes the very effective and very common combination of zeal and ignorance to new heights. He hasn’t quite made an impact to equal his father’s in any respect, but makes up for that in obtuseness.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#263: Joslin “Josh” McDowell

Josh McDowell is an evangelical preacher and Christian apologist – and one of the most famous ones at that. His book “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” tries to establish the historicity and divinity of Jesus and the inerrancy of scripture. To do that, he primarily uses Scripture (+ confirmation bias, selective use of (and mangling of) actual historical science). And he lies. A pretty extensive commentary on and rebuttal of his claims can be found here. The arguments are really, really, really bad. They belong either to the “Many people have died for their faith. Would they be prepared to do this for a lie? Therefore God exists” category, or the “Jesus Christ is either who he says he is, or he is the biggest con man history has ever known. But he cannot be the latter since he is the son of God, and no son of a perfectly good God could be a liar” category. And no, McDowell is no new Aquinas, even though certain other famous apologists may arguably make him look that way in comparison.

McDowell has been associated with Campus Crusade for Christ since 1964. He has also written “More Than a Carpenter”, “A Ready Defense”, “Right from Wrong”, “Why Wait?” (with Dick Day – a defense of abstinence) and a lot of other books. He’s very concerned about the Internet, however, since the Internet enables skeptics to share information with people who could otherwise have become good Christians.

Oh, and he is an ardent creationist. Little surprise there. He was in fact one of the adventurers who “found Noah’s Ark” with Bob Cornuke.

Diagnosis: No one begs the question quite like Josh McDowell; add to that the unerring reliance of selective use of evidence and pure confirmation bias, and you have a true loon. McDowell, the ur-godbotter, scores on all points, and his fame and influence should really be inexplicable.

#262: Jenny McCarthy

The term “indigo child" was introduced by psychic reader Nancy Ann Tappe and popularized by our old friend Lee Carroll (of Kryon). According to Carroll indigo children represent the next step in human evolution, but we close-minded normal folks fail to recognize their potential and classify them as attention-deficit instead.

Now, Jenny McCarthy used to believe that she was an indigo mother and her son was an even more evolved crystal child (she even ran the website Indigo Moms). In 2007, however, McCarthy attended the University of Google for some weeks and decided that her child was vaccine damaged instead. And so it began. Currently McCarthy is the poster model for the antivaxx movement. She is a blatheringly obtuse, highly delusional flapdoodler, but rather persistent and apparently on good enough terms with the equally dense Oprah Winfrey (and the even denser Julie Deardorff) to become rather dangerous. Let us emphasize: McCarthy knows nothing about science, the scientific method, or medical science in particular. She does believe that she has scientific credentials, however, since she is a mother of a kid with special needs. See her explain her scientific credentials here (you can also see her arguments being evaluated by her peer here and here). Predictably, her favorite argument is the empathy gambit (also here); basically, it's “if you criticize my arguments that vaccines cause autism you are being callous since I have a child with special needs”.

McCarthy claims that her son's autism was caused by MMR vaccine but cured through chelation therapy. She has also written a book about it, “Louder than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism”, with which she appeared on Oprah and Larry King Live, occasions she effectively used to promote woo, incoherence, false hope and dangerous misadvice. As a result it is far from unlikely that she is personally responsible for the deaths of actual children. She is currently an activist for J.B. Handley’s crackpot organization Generation Rescue (see also this and this). Her teammate and boyfriend Jim Carrey was a staunch ally, but they have since broken up. Her doctor, the crackpot Jay Gordon, remains on her side however, though he denies being anti-vaccine (despite the fact that he obviously is).

McCarthy regularly writes for that horrible pit of cranky tripe, the Huffington Post, recently including – predictably – a defense of science fraud Andy Wakefield. Age of Autism’s Ann Dachel weighed in as well, in a piece of such wretched idiocy that she automatically qualified herself for mention in any serious encyclopedia of loons. Huffpo hasn’t invited McCarthy to contribute a regular blog – McCarthy’s writing skills are, shall we say, subpar – but she does contribute relatively frequently nonetheless, and her rants are usually slightly more unhinged than those of other anti-vaxxers who have previously weighed in on any particular issue.

McCarthy made it to #19 on Buffalobeast’s list of the 50 most loathsome people of 2010.

Diagnosis: Stupendously moronic crank whose level of lunacy is only matched by the firmness of her conviction that she is right, regardless of what reality says. She is zealous, and must be counted as one of the most dangerous loons in existence.

Monday, November 14, 2011

#261: Dennis McCarthy and the EErs

One of the most die-hard, incomprehensibly silly crackpot theories out there is the “expanding earth” (EE) hypothesis (discussed here, in some detail). The current main exponent of the idea is probably superhero comic writer Neal Adams whose main support for the theory seems to be argument by animation. This guy, Guy, has also written several books (i.e. unpublished studies) on the topic apparently.

Dennis McCarthy is the crackpot idea’s main scientific alibi. He has actually written some “real science” stuff where he sensibly avoids taking up his whackaloon ideas. But he has also written extensively on Expanding Earth and – as a consequence – plate tectonic denialism (and subduction denialism; yes, there is denialism – there’s always denialism).

The discussion here may be informative. An explanation of his view can be found here.

Diagnosis: Super-crackpot who shows, once and for all, that even the most discredited and silly scientific theories just won’t die. He is probably harmless and the whole debacle is really rather fascinating.

#260: Susan Mazur

Susan Mazur is a science journalist. She is most famous for credulously swallowing every piece of nonsense (especially concerning biology) she comes across from creationists and ultra-crackpots. It doesn’t really help that real scientists calmly explain things to her. The only thing that seems to stick in her mind is “conspiracy”. For example, see her claims concerning the debate surrounding Fodor & Piattelli-Palmarini’s epically clueless recent book. Part of her problem seems to stem from her obsession with the balloon animal übercrackpot rants of Stuart Pivar. She’s even written a book on the “controversies” among evolutionary scientists (praised by the creationists of Uncommon Descent), and is genuinely concerned with “exposing the evolution industry”.

Her incoherently muddled reports on evolution are gleefully read by creationists as evidence that the theory of evolution is in trouble, and while Mazur cannot probably be correctly classified as a creationist herself, she does lend them some help through her sensationalist misrepresentation.

Diagnosis: The epitome of bad science journalism, Mazur has turned into a sympathetic voice for anti-science crankery everywhere. As such she is probably causing some harm. Complete idiot.

#259: Mark Mathis

Mark E. Mathis is a movie producer and media consultant. He is currently the president of Mathis Media, LLC, a media-consulting firm. He is most famous as the associate producer for the pro-creationism movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, which attempts to convince viewers of a conspiracy within the scientific community to silence supporters of intelligent design (or more precisely distort facts to make it look like a conspiracy). A useful but slightly too positive commentary is found here.

This means, of course, that Mathis was personally responsible for misleading evolutionary biologists PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins to get them to appear in the film by presenting the project to them as wildly different from the movie he actually produced (in addition to the usual cut and paste). It was also Mathis who – famously – personally prohibited Myers from viewing the movie, even though he appears in it. Both Mathis and his partner Walt Ruloff predictably misexplained the incident rather feebly.

The animation company XVIVO has also notified the producers that the company would sue for copying a film.

Mathis knows absolutely nothing about evolution. That of course does not prevent him from claiming that it is an unscientific and false theory, of course, which to be expected of hardcore creationists.

Diagnosis: Your typical hardcore dishonest know-nothing who sees a conspiracy whenever the facts don’t line up with his ideology. Complete hack, but his actual long-term impact is uncertain.

#258: Peter Marshall

Rev. Peter Marshall of Peter Marshall Ministries in Massachusetts has suggested that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were divine punishments for tolerance of homosexuality (not an uncommon claim among the less cognitively gifted). Therefore (it seems) he was appointed by the Texas Board of Education to consult on the social studies standards. The goal of the TBoE was of course to get the Christian Nation nonsense into the schoolbooks.

As expected, the criminally ignorant Marshall is a huge fan of David Barton’s work. He argued that the claim that the Founding Fathers were influenced by Enlightenment thought is at best exaggerated. The Founding Fathers were influenced by the Bible. There is a question whether Marshall is just ignorant or flat out lying. Probably both.

He also argues that the Constitution does not protect the separation of church and state. In fact, it seems that Marshall has adopted Barton’s general rhetorical strategy of trying to spread lies faster than real historians can refute them.

Diagnosis: Bald-faced, willfully ignorant, remorseless and relentless Liar for Jesus. He seems to have a rather central position in the Christian reconstructionist movement, and must as such be considered moderately dangerous.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#257: Perry Marshall

Perry Marshall is still something of a legend among the more clueless creationists (at least this fellow, one D. Donohew, seems smitten, but I am not sure Marshall can really be blamed on the unnervingly Time Cubish quality of that letter). Marshall’s schtick is “Information theory disproves evolution”. His master argument is 1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism; 2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information; 3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind. It's a pretty decent example of begging the question for intro to critical thinking-students, I’d say. His rant is here, and further underlines the rather question-begging nature of his enterprise: both that DNA is a code (by definition) and that codes cannot occur naturally (by definition – since they are meaningful). Some might even say that there are traces of a fallacy of equivocation in an argument of the kind “DNA is a code; all codes are meaningful (DNA contains information and is meaningful) – that is: some agent with intentions must have meant something by it; if no one meant anything with the code in the DNA, it wouldn’t really be information; thus, evolution is false”. He repeats it here.

Marshall likes himself some ridiculous inferences from math. From a slightly misleading presentation of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, he immediately explains: “This is what it means: Faith and Reason are not enemies. In fact, the exact opposite is true! One is absolutely necessary for the other to exist. […] All closed systems depend on something outside the system. You can always draw a bigger circle but there will still be something outside the circle. Reasoning inward from a larger circle to a smaller circle is “deductive reasoning. […] Reasoning outward from a smaller circle to a larger circle is ‘inductive reasoning.’” That’s not Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and its corollaries, to put it mildly.

Marshall’s real business seems to be some kind of Ethernet guru and expert advisor on Google Adwords (I think it is the same guy, but may be wrong).

If you have the stomach for it, you can read (about) Randy Stimpson writing similar tripe here.

Diagnosis: Pure crackpot, egregious mangler of facts and (apparently) professional Chinese Room – he writes about mathematics, but somehow he seems to fail to grasp what it is all about. In short, Marshall stands to Dembski roughly as Ray Comfort stands to Behe.