Tuesday, April 24, 2018

#2002: Austin Miles

Rev. Austin Miles is a paranoid idiot writing for Alan Keyes’s website Renew America. Miles is a 1950s throwback red-scare conspiracy theorist and the kind of person who, in 2014, would assert that Obama were going to cancel the 2016 elections as part of his plot to turn America into a Marxist dictatorship: “This has been planned for a long, long time. One thing about the Communists, they are very patient as they quietly work toward the completion of a definitive goal ahead,” says Miles. The patience of communism is, of course, all the evidence he presented, as well as all the evidence he needed. The goal in question is “to see America turned into a Marxist Socialist Nation controlled by Communist Czars – and did you notice that the word ‘Czar’ was never used in regards to government officer titles in the United States until Obama was placed on the throne? That term was only used in Communist Russia.” As a matter of fact, on the other hand, the term has been used at least since Nixon, and annoying people who actually learned something in elementary school might point out that communist Russia had little love for “czars”. Details.  

Presumably, communism is a black people thing. “The Communists are scheming for the Ferguson, Missouri incident to be the fuse that explodes into a national race riot. That is what Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are hoping to accomplish,” says Miles. And you might have wondered, like Miles, how zeh communists managed “to keep Obama’s birth certificate and university papers (which listed him as a ‘foreign student’) out of sight” (Miles is of course a birther). Well, you see, zeh Communists have “slowly managed to work their way into key positions in the U.S. Government, corporations, the schools, and even the churches. They were in a position to block any inquiries about Obama and to humiliate anyone who suggested that his paper work was flawed.” It is “no secret that Obama’s sponsors and pushers were and are, The Communist Party USA (CPUSA). These days, what was once kept in secret, is now in the open. They have inserted themselves into every facet of American Life and can gang up on critics or questioners. They also control the media.” The idea that the CPUSA controls the media and the White House is arguably even more insane than the idea that it is controlled by bands of extraterrestrial chickens in human-flesh suits. 

Here is Miles hysterically reporting that Obama “according to news reports, spent his 4th of July at a Mosque and invited Muslims to be with him at the White House.” The news reports in question were the rather obviously satirical National Report. And “[w]hat did Joan Rivers mean when she called Obama Gay and Michelle Trans on national TV? Actually that idea has been bandied about for some time. There will no doubt be more to come. It is interesting to Google the name, Michael LaVaughn Robinson who was born in Chicago along with Michelle Obama. The world gets nuttier every day,” says Miles, citing similar sources; the irony being of course completely lost on him. It’s not Miles only foray into fake news

Well, in 2015 he put it all together. Apparently he had worked on this for a while, so let’s let him state it in his own words: “Obama is not clinically insane but has been specifically programmed by his Communist handlers along with his Muslim allies to take America over the cliff. […] Obama is totally controlled as an authentic Manchurian Candidate. Obama’s importance to The Party is that he is the one tool created by the Communist Party to destroy America, the last country standing in the way of a Marxist-led One World Order. He was the handpicked candidate to bringing America down. This is precisely why he is he so important in history and remains so calm and poised in all situations. Obama and the Party have conducted many rehearsals to prepare for the take-over which will be accomplished in the early part of November 2016. The first rehearsal was when the Communists and Muslims, who had deftly shoehorned their way into government offices by deceit and voter fraud, put him the Oval Office. He would not show his birth certificate, or any information about his real identity including his educational records which shows conclusively that he was here on a foreign student visa. All of that was sealed. […] The rehearsal was to determine if the Congress, Senate, Speaker of The House or Sgt. At-Arms would have him removed. Those spineless jelly fish sat quietly with no questions or hearings. The next rehearsal was to see if Obama could make Marxist statements with his exact intentions with no push back reaction. Check: Rehearsal Went Well. The final rehearsal will be the early part of November, 2016 when Obama intends to use Executive Order to declare himself president (dictator) for life.” 

Part of the plot is, of course, to confiscate guns, and the push for doing so is underway. “First of all, I am convinced that these mass killings were purposely orchestrated for this very purpose, to disarm all Americans to retard resistance. Notice how the mentally ill (or just disturbed) perpetrated these shootings. They could easily be brainwashed into carrying out such deeds […]. Then when Obama makes his move in 2016, he can waltz to the throne with no push back.” One hitch, though, is that Obama is going to die himself: “Obama has already rehearsed the nosedive of America to destruction. What he does not seem to realize, is that as millions of Americans die while the plane crashes, Obama will be among the dead. He is too blinded and stupid to consider that.”

In short, “[t]he sub-human creature called Obama, can rightfully be identified as a charismatic monster that rose straight from the pits of hell. From hell did he come and to hell shall he return,” says Miles.

Miles is also a creationist, of course, and has written columns mocking the Big Bang Theory and calling Carl Sagan “corrupt”. He nevertheless quote-mines Sagan to make his “points”, which do not, shall we say, reveal profound insights into biology, cosmology or science in general.

Diagnosis: Has been described as the Platonic ideal of deranged wingnut idiocy. So there’s that. His audience is probably fairly limited, but that it exists at all is pretty frightening. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

#2001: Barbara Mikulski

Barbara Mikulski served as Senator (D-Maryland) for some thirty years between 1987 and 2017 – and was ten years in the House of Representatives before that – and is currently a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. 

For our purposes, Mikulski is notable for her support of quackery. In 2013, Mikulski was the main force behind US Senate Resolution 221 declaring October 7 to 13 to be the “Naturopathic Medicine Week”. Naturopathic medicine is , of course, not medicine. Naturopathic medicine is quackery. Nevertheless, the aim of the Naturopathic Medicine Week was recognition of “the value of naturopathic medicine in providing safe, effective, and affordable health care.” Naturopathic Medicine is neither effective, nor particularly affordable, nor necessarily safe, of course. Of course, we do ought to recognize that it isn’t, but that was hardly what Mikulski had in mind. (A House Resolution with the same text was apparently introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, but it did apparently not go anywhere.)

Mikulski herself was for a long time a close ally of the Senate’s big godfather of woo, Tom Harkin. Back when Obamacare was being debated, Harkin and Mikulski were the main drivers behind inserting into the law provisions that could be used to ensure that CAM practitioners would be reimbursed. Also with Harkin, Mikulski co-chaired a meeting at the Institute of Medicine to promote “integrative medicine”; more on those efforts here. Mikulski has also participated in numerous events supporting the legal and political recognizition of quackery, such as the 20thanniversary celebration of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine. “If we can change medicine, we can change the world,” said Mikulski, which is of course true even given the changes she suggested, but not in a good way. Heck, Mikulski has even appeared on Dr. Oz’s (then) radio show to promote integrative medicine as some sort of solution to any and every problem in American medicine.

Mikulski and Harkin repeated the Naturopathic Medicine Week resolution in 2014. This time they emphasized the problem of chronic diseases in the US, which is, indeed, a problem, but which – contrary to their assertions – naturopathy does nothing whatsoever to remedy (quite the opposite). According to Mikulski and Harkin:

-      Naturopathic medicine provides noninvasive [yeah, right], holistic treatments that support the inherent self-healing capacity of the human body and encourage self-responsibility in health care,” which – except arguably the last bit – is false.
-      Naturopathic medicine focuses on patient-centered care, the prevention of chronic illnesses, and early intervention in the treatment of chronic illnesses,” suggesting falsely that conventional medicine does not; the realdifference is, of course, that conventional medicine actually helps.
-      Naturopathic physicians attend 4-year, graduate level programs that are accredited by agencies approved by the Department of Education;” which is nominally true (but dishonest) but says nothing about the quality of naturopathic education, which is garbage.
-      Aspects of naturopathic medicine have been shown to lower the risk of major illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes;” which cannot be characterized as anything but a blatant lie.
-      Naturopathic physicians can help address the shortage of primary care providers in the United States,” which is false – but it is deeply frightening that someone in Harkin’s and Mikulski’s positions of influence would even consider a strategy like this (but they do; this is some scary stuff).
-      Naturopathic physicians are licensed in 20 States and territories;” indeed, which tells one a bit about how little licensing reflects evidence, truth or facts.
-      Naturopathic physicians are trained to refer patients to conventional physicians and specialists when necessary;” even though many of them will go to great lengths to avoid precisely that.

This time, a similar bill did indeed pass in the House, again sponsored by Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At Large) and cosponsored by Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Sam Farr (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Frank LaBiondo (R-NJ).

At least follow-up efforts have met with mixed results. You can read more about Harkin’s and Mikulski’s (and other Senators’ and Representatives’) war on facts, evidence and health here.

Diagnosis: Probably even more frightening than the anti-science and fundamentalism of the religious right (creationism is fringe-nonsense compared to this kind of pseudoscience), at least Mikulski is no longer in the Senate to promote denialism, quackery and efforts to undermine health-care. Unfortunately, there are plenty of others to fill her shoes.


Friday, April 20, 2018

#2000: Harry Mihet

Liberty Counsel (LC) is an organization created (ostensibly) to defend religious freedom. In reality, they do no such thing, of course. Instead, LC is an extremist, at least borderline dominionist hate group for whom “religious freedom” means the freedom of fundamentalist, radical wingnuts to suppress other people’s religious freedom. Its most prominent members are Mat Staver and Matt Barber, but those are not the only deranged lunatics associated with the group. Harry Mihet, for instance, is the current vice president of legal affairs and chief litigation counsel for LC, and his confusion regarding what constitutes religious oppression and freedom is telling. 

For instance, Mihet thinks that gay rights is the same as communist oppression. Indeed, in 2017 Mihet brought anti-gay hero and wingnut welfare recipient Kim Davis on a tour to Romania to spread their message that “same-sex ‘marriage’ and freedom of conscience are mutually exclusive, because those who promote the former have zero tolerance for the latter.” (Davis and Mihet, of course, wouldn’t dream of promoting either.) Mihet said that Davis gave a “powerful” message about the need to define marriage in the Constitution in a way that prevents the kind of “devastating” impact on people of faith experienced in the United States because of “judicial activism and judicial overreach,” where “judicial activism” means that a court issued a decision Mihet didn’t like. Davis didn’t choose to become a celebrity, said Mihet (she sort of did), who has also compared Davis to MLK, but because of her courage: “God gave her a tremendous platform for liberty.”

In 2014, the Church of Satan in Oklahoma sought to arrange a black mass in a public civic center in Oklahoma City (since other religious groups were allowed to). Mihet, of course, argued that Oklahoma City should not allow its public facilities to be “used by a satanic group for the sole purpose of mocking, insulting and offending other faiths through a lewd and lascivious ceremony. The perverted sexual deviance characteristic of a ‘black mass’ ought to remain in the dark tombs and catacombs where it originated, and should not see the light of day in a civilized society, much less on public property.” I.e. religious practices should be banned if they offend people of other faiths, but only if those practices are not his practices, of course. The reason an organization puts “Liberty” in its name is that no one would ever think that what they were doing had anything to do with liberty just based on looking at what they are, in fact, doing. 

As you’d expect, Mihet is miffed about the fact that subjects such as evolution are allowed to be taught in schools but creationism is not. This is completely unfair, since atheism and humanism are religions, too, and if “public schools decide to teach the tenets of those religions while excluding the tenets of other theistic religions, then that is discriminatory treatment in and of itself.” It’s instructive to note how the distinction between a religious tenet and a scientific result is lost on Harry Mihet, and it is something to keep in mind when Mihet elsewhere might happen to say anything about what science shows or says. 

When New Jersey banned the practice of ex-gay therapy on minors in 2013, the LC filed a lawsuit to block the law, with Mihet claiming that the law is really an attack on Christianity, mostly because everything Mihet doesn’t like is an attack on God. He also warned then-governor Chris Christie that he would beat him up his friend would come beat him up he’d risk divine punishment for having “declared war” on the Gospel and for assisting the “power of darkness” (the ban is part of an “intense and coordinated effort to silence people of faith when it comes to the subject of homosexuality”). The LC didn’t win the court case.

Apparently God will also punish America in general for gay marriage, presumably by sending tornadoes to areas of the US where gay marriage is unpopular (as He seems to have a tendency to do). Mihet has also claimed that good Christians in the near future may well have to go to jail for their opposition to gay marriage, once again just “like Martin Luther King did. As usual, the predictions are based solely on Mihet’s febrile imagination, just like it is when he claims that the “destruction of marriage has been [marriage equality proponents’] goal all along,” since obviously you’d only want to enable couples to get married if you hate marriage, and therefore marriage equality is really motivated by a hatred of God. According to Mihet, marriage equality proponents are not even trying to hide the fact that this is their goal, since he can easily see that it is through his powers of intuition. 

Apparently anyone who disagrees with him is intent to put Christians in jail; those who oppose ENDA, for instance, will soon be charged with crimes against humanity, according to Mihet, presumably because that’s how he would treat those who disagree with him if he could. As usual, Mihet’s claim tells you little about proponents of ENDA but quite a bit about the workings of the deranged mind of Harry Mihet.

Diagnosis: Pure insanity. Mihet’s level of bigotry is arguably only matched by his level of critical thinking skills and his paranoia. The LC as an organization, however, is not without power and influence.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

#1999: Christina Michas

Christina Michas is the head of the Palm Springs chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. Like so many associated with the organization, Michas is a conspiracy theorist, and has putatively rigorously researched the Satanic connection between Common Core education standards, Agenda 21 and Obamacare. And the conclusions of her research? The people behind this nefarious conspiracy have, as their “ultimate goal” to set up “internment or re-education camps for those that will not comply with their sick agenda.” According to Michas “the comparison of Nazism and Common Core” is, as it figures in her febrile and deranged imagination, “uncanny.” “If this isn’t Nazism, Communism, Marxism and all the ‘ism’s,’ I don’t know what is,” says Michas, which is true, but not in the way she imagines. “I know this sounds insane,” Michas adds in a moment of clarity, but concludes that “sadly, it is a reality we are facing today.” That conclusion is not the most apt she could have drawn from her stated premise.

A more complete glimpse into the ravings of Christina Michas: “The ultimate goal of UNESCO, via the nationalization of our education system is to create ‘good global, sustainable citizens’ who will be ‘managed’ by a Global Government. The ultimate goal is to have a ‘managed citizenry’, a managed economy, and a managed environment once again returning to Mother Earth worship. This is where eugenics and William (Bill) Ayers, Obamacare, the Nationalization of our Economy, Energy, Health and Education systems comes into play. Ayers is a major driver behind Common Core and sadly is a very radical Professor today that has had much influence on students thinking … He and other key players including the Clinton’s, Bushes’, Gore, Gates, Soros, Rockefeller, Warren Buffet, Obama and his minions, etc. Understand that one cannot ‘manage’ most of adult America today. The ultimate goal of these radicals from the UN, the US and other nations is to set up Internment or Re-education camps for those that will not comply with their sick agenda. You either are ‘retrained’ or you will have to be eliminated. The Healthcare Bill will take care of the ‘useless’ senior population via ‘managed care’. The government will have free reign with the youth. You cannot change a nation unless you change how it thinks and operates … Hence, the lesson learned from Lenin, Stalin, Marx et al., “get the children and you change generations’.

Some will probably notice some rather major leaps in that reasoning, but that’s because they’ve been brainwashed with reason, logic, distinctions and care for evidence, which are the tools of the Satanic-Muslim-gay-atheist-liberal-environmentalist-Illuminati agenda.

Diagnosis: Not the faintest trace of coherence. Completely and utterly deranged. At least she is a living illustration of why kids need education in how to use the Internet to search for information.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

#1998: David Michael

David Michael is an Ohio-based writer for the website The Journal of Natural Food and Health, which is of course not a medical or scientific journal but is likely to confuse precisely their target audience: those who wouldn’t know the difference. Michael is a supporter of all things woo and quackery, and – no surprise – staunchly antivaccine. He is, despite displaying similar attitudes toward truth and evidence, probably not numerically identical to British holocaust denier David Michael, however. 

The David Michael in question is perhaps best known for weighing in on the Sarah Hershberger case, where he defended and recommended choices (foregoing chemotherapy in favor of “natural” cures for cancers, like herbs and diet) likely to lead to pain and death but for which he would almost certainly never be held responsible. Michael even claimed that natural cures had cured Hershberger, without any indication whatsoever that Hershberger was, in fact, cancer free – and even if she was, it would of course have been because of the chemotherapy she did undergo and not because of any woo she received (“nutritional supplements, including high doses of vitamin C and B17, oxygen therapy, detoxification methods, as well as the IV chelation”) or diet (“lots of vegetables and raw foods and taking special natural supplements”) she adopted afterwards. For people like Michael, however, you figure out which factors correlate with an event, pick the one you want, and declare this to be the “cause”. Also, there is a conspiracy (there is always a conspiracy): hospitals are only in it for the money, unlike quacks who sell expensive, untested remedies supporting no plausible beneficial mechanism to people in desperate situations. 

Diagnosis: The Internet’s full of them, but we’ll pick out those we can. David Michael is yet another idiot lending his voice to pseudoscience, denialism, quackery and anti-vaccine nonsense, and he’s loud, stupid and enthusiastic. Stay away. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

#1997: Daryl Metcalfe

More lunacy in the state legislatures. Daryl D. Metcalfe has been a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (12th district) since 1999 and is currently majority chairman of the House State Government Committee. “I was a Tea Partier before it was cool,” says Metcalfe. He has also toyed with birtherism. In 2018 he even suggested that he was sympathetic to the crisis actor conspiracy surrounding the Parkland shootings.

Anti-gay measures and theocratic leanings
Beyond Pennsylvania, at least, Metcalfe is most famous for his vigorous opposition to gay people. He has for instance tried to cut state funding to universities that offer domestic partner benefits, and in 2009 he sued a gay New Hope couple for attempting to get a marriage license. That same year, he opposed a State Assembly resolution declaring October “Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” claiming that the bill “had language in it that brought men into the situation”, which he took to be evidence of the power of a nefarious homosexual agenda.

Metcalfe was long the leader of the fight against gay marriage among Pennsylvania lawmakers. In 2011, he introduced House Bill 1434 that would amend the state constitution stating to ban same-sex marriage and any substantial equivalent. That one failed, and subsequent reintroductions of the bill the following years had fewer and fewer cosponsors. In 2013 Metcalfe led an effort to impeach the state’s attorney general for “misbehavior in office” and “violation of her constitutional, statutory, and ethical duties” because of her pro-gay views and unwillingness to defend Pennsylvania’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act because of its obvious unconstitutionality.

In June 2013, after DOMA had been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, openly gay state representative Brian Sims attempted to make a speech in the Pennsylvania House in support of the decision. The anti-gay fraction, led by Metcalfe, promptly blocked him from speaking, with Metcalfe saying that “I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law.” It’s worth noting, in passing, that Metcalfe has also decried Muslims because they “don’t recognize Jesus Christ as God.”

In December 2017 Metcalfe made national news when he reacted to a colleague touching his arm while speaking to him, saying “I’m a heterosexual. I have a wife. I love my wife. I don’t like men as you might so stop touching me all the time. Keep your hands to yourself. If you want to touch somebody, you have people on your side of the aisle that might like it. I don’t.” The incident definitely got awkward. Keep in mind that Metcalfe controls a committee that oversees civil rights legislation.

Environmental issues
As behooves a wingnut with a penchant for conspiracy theory-thinking (gay agenda), Metcalfe is also a global warming denialist. For instance, in 2009 Metcalfe criticized Operation FREE (a coalition of veterans and national security organizations that promotes environmental issues), saying that “as a veteran, I believe that any veteran lending their name, to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control more of the wealth created in our economy, through cap and tax type policies, all in the name of national security, is a traitor to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation!” It is instructive to note the inability to separate scientific investigations from politics. Metcalfe has of course, as illustrated above, a rather tenuous grasp of that Constitution thing he keeps referring to.

White nationalism
In 2015, Metcalfe invited white nationalist Robert Vandervoora to testify before Pennsylvania’s state government committee, a move that earned him some criticism. Metcalfe responded to critics by arguing that white “nationalism” is not white “supremacy”. This is not a good line of defense. Metcalfe’s argument was, however, praised by white supremacists at the neo-nazi site The Daily Stormer.

Diagnosis: And again the good people of Pennsylvania demonstrates a serious case of poor judgment. Metcalfe is a delusional conspiracy theorist not fit for cooking his own food, but the people of Pennsylvania’s 12thDistrict apparently don’t see his lack of reason, judgment or rational thinking skills as a drawback.

Friday, April 13, 2018

#1996: Geoff Metcalf

Geoff Metcalf is an author, writer, columnist, (formerly) radio talk show host, and editor of CalNews.com. He was also heavily involved in the development of the WND – their first columnist apart from Joseph Farah, in fact – and involved in the founding of NewsMax. His CV also includes being a recipient of the NRA Defender of Freedom Award and Eagle Forum’s Media Person of the Year 2000.

As an utterly unhinged conspiracy theorist, Metcalf has been toying with a variety of nonsensical drivel. In his interview (here) with hysterical anti-vaccine advocate and conspiracy theorist Michael Belkin (promptly archived by whale.to), for instance, even Belkin had to steer the conversation away from some of the conclusions Metcalf seemed eager to draw, such as Metcalf’s constants attempts to push a government conspiracy to poison American soldiers (“Agent Orange, the Gulf War Syndrome victims and guys who had problems with the anthrax vaccine. There is a common thread here”) and, in particular, global warming denialism. Science is a government conspiracy to ruin America and suchlike. And make no mistake, Metcalf is hardcore antivaccine.

The conspiracies are presumably led by some nebulous forces attempting to institute a one world government, and although Metcalf appears to realize that “[a]ny suggestion that [globalism] amounts to ‘world government’ or ‘tyranny’ brings with it the risk of being pegged as a conspiracy nut,” he doesn’t quite grasp why such pegging is justified.

Want to bet on whether Metcalf is a creationist, too? Of course he is. I suppose it should come as little surprise given that he has already established that science is a vast, liberal, government conspiracy.

Diagnosis: Wild, unhinged, rabid madman. There are many like him, and they seem to tend to listen to each other, whipping each other up into more and more frenzied delusions.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

#1995: Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas is a fundie apologist, pseudo-philosopher, author, radio host (The Eric Metaxas Show) and a regular on various TV shows, such as Glenn Beck’s, Mike Huckabee’s and Laura Ingraham’s shows. He has also received various honorary doctorates from places like Liberty University.

Creationist
Metaxas is a creationist. According to Metaxas, the discovery of really old stromatolites that suggest that the origin of life occurred some 3.7 billion years ago, suggests to Metaxas that “evolution just got harder to defend” since it leaves only a few hundred million years for life to have first occurred after Earth got sufficiently habitable for it to exist. Nevermind that abiogenesis has nothing to do with evolution (indeed, Metaxas’s article is an illustrative example of creationist confusion over this basic distinction) or that the discovery doesn’t even pose any actual problem for an explanation of abiogenesis without appealing to goddidit. Metaxas has no time for details like the absence of a genuine problem in his objections; neither do David Klinghoffer and Stephen Meyer, who seem to be Metaxas’s primary sources for this particular creationist take on the discovery. Apparently evolution is just full of assumptions. 

Indeed, Metaxas often claims that science is “increasingly” giving us evidence for God – and therefore, apparently, for creationism – and systematically does so in a manner that is willfully ignorant of the scientific findings he is interpreting. A good example is discussed here (more details here and here). Of course, being utterly ignorant of science, Metaxas relies on third- or fourth-hand sources for his claims, and tend to choose systematically unrealiable ones (like Meyer). So, for instance, arguing that the octopus genome is evidence against evolution and for design, Metaxas writes that the researchers who sequenced the genome found that “Compared with other invertebrates, the DNA of the octopus was ‘alien’: nothing like the genetic codes of what they thought were similar animals, like clams and sea snails,” which is directly contradicted by … the paper in which the results were published. Yup: Metaxas didn’t read the paper, didn’t understand the science, and then made things up from whole cloth to conclude that all scientists are wrong and evolution is bunk. Another example of the same is here. It’s a useful reminder if you ever end up reading anything else he’s written.

Metaxas does have a large array of creationist PRATTs at his disposal, though, and is not afraid to use them. Here, for instance, is the creationist argument against evolution from misunderstanding genetics (the “DNA is a code” claim) and the “odds are against evolution” canard, irreducible complexity and the “evolution cannot add information” gambit, which at least is decisive evidence that the person raising the gambit doesn’t understand the basics of evolution, genetics or information.

Hack
Among Metaxas’s books are If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Libertyand Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Lif, as well as various biographie, including an infamous biography on Bonhoeffer that was widely panned by historians and theologians. He has also written children’s books and Veggie Tales scripts.

As for the Bonhoeffer biography, Metaxas responded to critics – historians and theologians who actually have some expertise on the issue – by asserting that “there’s not a syllable in my Bonhoeffer book that isn’t true” before dismissing those critics as “liberals” who are “very vicious” because they can’t handle the truth. This is demonstrably false. In any case, the biography seems primarily to have been an excuse for going full Godwin over his political opponents. (Indeed, many of the most delusional members of the religious right appears to view themselves as modern-day Bonhoeffers insofar as there are critics who don’t think they should be free to force others to conform to their views on social issues, and have therefore understandably been positive to Metaxas’s mischaracterizations). In 2014, for instance, Metaxas argued that “[j]ust as Bonhoeffer tried to get churches in Germany to link arms and fight Hitler, so too must churches in America rally together to push back against the government’s increasing tyranny.” Apparently “[t]he parallel today is simply that you have a government, a state, which is getting larger and larger and more and more powerful.” In a moment of dim self-awareness, Metaxas conceded that “people think that’s incendiary or I’m being hyperbolic,” which he countered by asserting that “I’m not.” 

In his 2012 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast Metaxas compared legalized abortion to the Holocaust. And in 2014, he argued that the existence of gay-inclusive churches was proof that America is turning into Nazi Germany (“We see that obviously happening in issues of sexuality, but how can you say that most mainline denominations in America today are profoundly Christian when they have given up the ghost on all of these fundamentals of the faith? You had the exact same thing happening in Germany. It’s just setting things up so that when evil comes, where do people turn?”)

His book If You Can Keep Itis reviewed here, here, here, and here. As you’d expect, the book is the work of a true hack, straight out of David Barton’s playbook (indeed, Metaxas admitted to using Barton’s pseudohistory as a source), portraying Founding Fathers as religious extremists, the Puritan settlers as defenders of religious freedom (utter lunacy), and whitewashing slavery, all in attempt to support the familiar but mythical portrayal of The US as a Christian Nation. There’s a good discussion of Metaxas’s attempt to distort history in the service of his political agenda here.

Here is a fine example of Metaxas’s blatantly lying.

Wingnut
For the 2016 election Metaxas supported Trump. This election, said Metaxas, represents as critical a turning point as the Civil War or the American Revolution, since Clinton would nominate judges who “legislate from the bench” – activist judges, in other words, where “activist judge” means any judges who comes to a different conclusion than Metaxas (who, needless to say, is rather far from being a legal scholar).

Diagnosis: It’s still a little baffling to us that people who consider themselves so pious and faithful show such blatant disregard for truth and accuracy. Eric Metaxas is a systematic liar and a hack, and the respect and influence he has gained accordingly both a damning indictment of his fans’ claims to value honesty, truth and accountability, and deeply frightening.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

#1994: Kenny Merriken

A village idiot of Lake City, Florida, Kenny Merriken has become something of a local attraction for protesting outside the county school administration building, every morning, over the fact that the state requires the school to teach evolution in biology classes. According to Merriken, he is “protesting the scientific teaching of evolution, which is a fallacy contrary to the Holy Bible.” One notes that Merriken doesn’t know what “fallacy” means. Apparently, his goal is public acknowledgment that Evolution is a fallacy contrary to the Bible, which suggests that he doesn’t quite grasp the Constitutional scope of role of government in religious matters either. Alternatively, he would accept a public debate with the Columbia County School District and its teachers. “I believe these teachings are persuading those who are weak in faith, courage or intellect,” says Merriken.

In his own eyes, however, Merriken is just trying to bring justice to poor students oppressed by the curriculum; “I’m standing up for the little guy,” said Merriken. Merriken is not standing up for the little guy.

Apparently he has talked to the city council, the county commission, a state representative and the state department of education, without luck. We imagine that they were as deeply impressed by his tenacity as they were by his acumen.

Diagnosis: Probably harmless, and certainly not helping his own cause. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

#1993: Woodson Merrell

The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a recognized hospital in Boston, and we are sure many patients have received thoughtful help and attention there. But BI is also famous for their attempts to push dubious treatments and outright quackery on patients with less expertise in medicine and who don’t necessarily possess the background knowledge needed to recognize it. Having firmly decided to sacrifice integrity for marketing concerns, BI even sports a Center for Integrative Medicine, which for instance received a large donation from Donna Karan’s foundation in 2008 to “experiment combining Eastern and Western healing methods” – by “Eastern healing methodsthey of course mean “prejudices credulous and often wealthy Americans have about what wise shamans do in the magical Orient”. According to Karan and the BI what they do in the East is apparently yoga and aromatherapy, and the hypothesis was that yoga and aromatherapy can “enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation”. Aromatherapy is a scam, and yoga cannot enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation, so as an experiment the experiment was of course a failure. But it was, of course, not an experiment. More details here.

Dr. Woodson Merrell is (or at least was back then) the Executive Director of BI’s Center for Health and Healing (or Continuum for Health and Healing; we don’t have a clear view of the organizational details and name changes going on here), and a regular speaker at various pseudoscience, denialist and quackery conferences. The center’s website is a mess of insanity, suggesting for instance that autism, ADHD, and learning disorders are caused by vaccines, that “craniosacral therapy” and homeopathy are useful treatments for ADHD and autism as well as for a range of diseases, various versions of the toxins gambit (few things are more surefire signs of quackery and scams than mentions of undefined toxins), that chiropractic is useful for things like PMS and asthma, and recommendations for a wide variety of quackery, including Therapeutic Touch, Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Merrell is also on the Advisory Board of the lobbying organization known as the American Association of Health Freedom (formerly known as the American Preventive Medical Association), which was founded by Julian Whitaker to lobby against legal regulations that prevent quacks, frauds and scammers to prey on people in desperate situations; that organization is well described here.

Merrell is apparently ready to believe every implausible medical claim that comes his way. It is thus scary to see that at his center, he “supervises an extensive array of consumer and educational programs,” including “training for medical, chiropractic and acupuncture students, as well as for residents and fellowships in integrative medicine.” Apparently, Merrell is also a member of some working group on curricular reform for integrative medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (not an institution to get your degree from), has testified on integrative medicine to Congress, been Chairman of New York State’s Board of Acupuncture, and been a Board Member of New York State’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct, no less, as well as a member of numerous committees on “education” in quackery. He has also made numerous media appearances.

Among Merrell’s publications are apologetics for homeopathy (“Homeopathy essentially rests on two scientific tenets: the principle of similars and a claim concerning the biologic effects of high dilutions,” says Merrell: Homeopathy has nothing to do with science, of course, and these are not scientific tenets but dogmas; they are of course completely false), “The Impact of Acupuncture and Craniosacral Therapy Interventions on Clinical Outcomes in Adults With Asthma” (craniosacral therapy does, despite the authors’ claims, not help with anything; the coauthors include one L. Mehl-Madrona, no less) and the infomercial-dressed-up-as-a-study paper “The Arginine Solution, The First Guide to America’s New Cardio-Enhancing Supplement” (with Robert Fried and James Thornton) about the putatively near-miraculous effects of a seriously worthless supplement. That BI saw fit to give a person like this a salary does not boost their credibility or reputation as a solid and trustworthy institution.

Diagnosis: A complete piece of shit, and a serious threat to health, civilization and the good life.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

#1992: Eric Merola

Merola being interviewed.
I do not know who the interviewer is.
Eric Merola is a writer, director and producer of silly and often angry conspiracy “documentaries”, especially denialist ones aimed at promoting one or another preposterous form of quackery. His “breakthrough” might have been his involvement in the fantastically idiotic low-production-value conspiracy flick Zeitgeist, which was cleverly and apparently somewhat successfully marketed to the significantly critical-thinking challenged segments of the population. He is probably most famous, however, as an ardent champion of the cancer quackery of Stanislaw Burzynski; Merola’s got not one but twoconspiracy-suffused propaganda pieces promoting Burzynski’s magic elixir treatments for cancerBurzynski: The Movie (reviewed here), and Burzynski The Sequel (reviewed here).

Burzynski: The Movie predictably portrays Burzynski, a man whose career consists of pushing appallingly expensive, unproven treatments to people in desperate situations, as a brave maverick doctor persecuted by the establishment. It was endorsed by crackpots and conspiracy theorists like Joe Mercola and Mike Adams. Apart from conspiracy mongering, the propaganda piece offers testimonials (some discussed here; needless to say, they’re underwhelming) and encourages viewers, who have no medical expertise and no background knowledge to assess evidence for medical claims, to think for themselves. The movie was unsurprisingly met with little enthusiasm among those who actually know how cancer, medicine, evidence and science actually work, so Merola subsequently engaged in a rather aggressive campaign to demonize “The Skeptics”, ostensibly a shadowy organization of people dedicated to protecting Big Pharma and making sure patients don’t have access to the magic hands and potions of Burzynski’s, based on the fact that when someone criticize you for your shoddy work they are always in a conspiracy to hide the truth (also Big Pharma). Having suggested that critics are in a conspiracy to silence him, Merola responded by using a (possibly bogus) DMCA takedown notice to silence his critics. Here is a good discussion of the kinds of tactics Merola engages in to silence critics. Rather predictably, the documentary (extended ad, really) landed Merola an interview on the Dr. Oz show. A new edition, discussed here, was released in 2016.

The sequal was, if possible, even more unhinged, (relying for instance on this one), but then again: it istargeted at i) already converted altmed conspiracy theorists and ii) people in desperate situations, remember.

Merola’s defense of quackery doesn’t stop with Burzynski, however. In 2014 he released “Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering”. No, yes: Merola defends Ralph Moss’s silly old idea of pushing laetrileas a cure for cancer, no less, which is, by now, in roughly the same category as pushing expulsion of blood demons by bloodletting as a cure for cancer (and make no mistake: laetrile touted as a cancer cure is quackery). Anyways, the leadership at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is apparently running the vast conspiracy to suppress this magic cure. (More details here). It would have been interesting to hear Merola or Moss explain precisely why MSKCC would want to cover up evidence of a highly effective cancer treatment, but conspiracy theorists don’t usually think too hard about such tangential details.

Diagnosis: Aggressive conspiracy theorist and promoter of the most egregious forms of quackery and pseudoscience. He is pretty productive and, not the least (as mentioned), aggressive enough to successfully make the world a worse place. Dangerous.