Friday, July 12, 2019

#2216: Gary Schneeberger

Gary Schneeberger is president of communication at Focus on the Family and editor of their publication Family News in Focus. According to Schneeberger, the biblical view of marriage and sexuality is badly needed for balance in mainstream media, and “what Focus on the Family’s analysts and experts bring to the national discussion in their media appearances are reasoned, passionate and compassionate insights that help families make sense of, and make their mark in, the world around them.” Of course, “experts” here means “people who agree with us”, not expertson anything remotely relevant to determining the truth of the claims the group is pushing; “passionate”, “compassionate”, “reasoned” and “insights” are similarly understood in non-standard ways. Meanwhile, critics of the group are of course opposed to free speech and trying to silence them by criticism and confronting bigots with stuff they actually say (very fine example here of Schneeberger trying to argue that Keith Olbermann is misrepresenting James Dobson by showing viewers Dobson saying what he actually did say, in context). Exactly as you’d expect, in other words.

According to Schneeberger, the views of the group are shared by a majority of Christians, but he helpfully explains that “we use that word ‘Christian’ to refer to people who are evangelical Christians.” The rest are presumably infidels.

Diagnosis: Schneeberger is not the most flamboyantly crazy spokesperson for the organization, and mostly seems to publicly address organizational or fiscal matters. He is, however, something of a mover and shaker, and his influence, and the harm he is causally responsible for, should not be underestimated.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

#2215. Bert Schlossberg

Bert Schlossberg is an internet crank and conspiracy theorist, primarily (well, exclusively) associated with conspiracies surrounding the 1983 Korean Air Lines Flight 007 incident. Schlossberg describes himself as “[t]he son-in-law of one of the passengers of the ill-fated Korean Air Lines Flight 007, shot down by a Russian air-to-air missile in 1983” and director of The International Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors, Inc. He has even written a self-published book detailing his views on the matter and is principal author of Conservapedia’s rather substantial article – including 16 supplemental articles – on the issue (he is also a Wikipedia editor, but appears to have received less acceptance for his views there – a separate article on “Wikipedia prejudice on KAL 007” has more recently popped up on Conservapedia). Wingnut conspiracy outlets, such as Accuracy in Media and the magazine of the John Birch Society, have covered Schlossberg’s views.

According to Schlossberg KAL 007, having been missed by one of the missiles, managed to land with the passengers and crew surviving; these were then abducted and put into prison camps by the Soviet authorities; this, of course, is why his organization works to free them. Supplementally, he suggests that KAL 007 might have been used as “bait” by the US to test Soviet response to a flight intrusion into their borders, or that it was a targeted assassination of John Birch Society president Larry McDonald, who was a passenger on the flight (why anyone would bother with that is an open question). University of Georgia Law Professor Donald Wilkes considers Schlossberg’s theory to be “even more preposterous” than Michel Brun's theory of a Japanese locale for the shootdown and an air battle having taken place between Soviet and American aircrafts.

Diagnosis: Ok, so in themselves Schlossberg's conspiracy theories are presumably innocuous, but he also makes his own small contributions to polluting the internet with conspiracy nonsense, and deserves a brief mention.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Monday, July 8, 2019

#2214: Joe Schimmel

Joe Schimmel, of something called Good Fight Ministries, is a delusional fundie of the kind that gets invited on Rick Wiles’s radio show. He is also pastor of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley, California, Vice President of Blessed Hope Records, host of the documentary “Hollywood’s War on God” and director of (e.g.) the genre-bending “Left Behind or Led Astray?: Examining the Origins of the Secret Pre-Tribulation Rapture”.

As suggested by his documentary (or whatever you call it), Schimmel tends to be concerned with what he perceives as degenerate or unfortunate elements in popular culture. So according to Schimmel, Miley Cyrus’s fame and fortune is for instance to blame on having (non-metaphorically) made a “deal with Lucifer.” Apparently she has also been “baptized into the Illuminati” and is currently teaching people how to have sex with Satan. She is not the only one. Schimmel tastefully weighed in on Robin Williams’s suicide, too, saying that Williams killed himself because he was possessed by demons, just like lots of other “famous celebrities.” Indeed, the whole reason they got famous in the first place was because Satan has possessed them and given them talent to glorify himself and “promote evil and darkness and increase mankind’s rebellion against God.” As evidence, Schimmel draws on his own complete failure to understand how metaphors work – indeed, ascribing to Schimmel a complete lack of ability to understand non-literal speech is actually remarkably explanatory with regard to many of his views and claims (also beyond this example).

Now, Schimmel has written extensively on such issues, and many of writings fit nicely into the tradition of the anti-rock preachers of the eighties. And based mostly on rumors and his own imagination (and interpreting any metaphor or simile ever used by his targets literally), Schimmel finds demonic connections more or less everywhere, from Kurt Cobain (“one does not have to look very deeply into the life of Kurt Cobain to see that the spirit that inspired him was not the Sprit of God”) to Kesha, the “Satanic cult leader”. 

Much of his work is explained in the potential cult classic “Rock-N-Roll Sorcerers of the New Age Revolution”, available on VHS, where he shows how all rock music, broadly construed, from Elvis and the Beatles to Michael Jackson and onward, is rooted in the New Age movement and the occult. According to one Amazon reviewer “[t]his is not just some crazy pastor ranting about sex, drugs, and rock’n roll.” At least the reviewer sensed that someone might potentially raise precisely that concern. The work is, of course, exactly some crazy pastor ranting about sex, drugs and rock’n roll. There is also the 10-hour series They Sold Their Souls for Rock N Roll (“Rock’n roll sorcerers” might be part of that) in which Schimmel “reveals just how Satan has been effectively using popular music to undermine Gods plan for family and ultimately heralding the coming of the Antichrist and his kingdom on earth,” which shows “hundreds of artists” being “used by Satan to destroy many lives” such as “Elvis, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, U2, Creed, Madonna, Britney Spears, DMX, Tupac, Tori Amos and many more.” 

Schimmel was also mildly freaked out about the movie The Shack (based on the novel), in which God is portrayed as an overweight black woman: “Young’s pretentious caricature of God as a heavy set, cushy, non-judgmental, African American woman called ‘Papa’ (who resembles the New Agey Oprah Winfrey far more than the one true God revealed through the Lord Jesus Christ – Hebrews 1:1-3), and his depiction of the Holy Spirit as a frail Asian woman with the Hindu name, Sarayu, lends itself to a dangerous and false image of God and idolatry.” God is a fit, white man, and much more like Joe Schimmel, of course. 

Diagnosis: A throwback to the Satanic panic of the eighties, really. Schimmel is mind-bendingly insane, yet still has plenty of fans out there.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

#2213: Richard Schiffman

The evidence is pretty clear that popular alternative treatments are, at best, no more effective than placebo, which means for instance that they have no detectable effect on the actual pathophysiology of disease, are (as placebos) variable, unreliable and weak, and that recommending them to patients requires deception. One common conclusion altmed defenders draw from the evidence (if they bother with evidence at all) is therefore that their favored treatments “show promise”, a phrase that to some extent has come to be equivalent to “show no promise”. Another common strategy, however, is to rebrand CAM as “harnessing the power of placebo”, e.g. to produce “powerful mind-body healing”, which sounds utterly silly to anyone with minimal understanding of placebo, but does indeed, well, show promise as a marketing technique.

Richard Schiffman is not, as far as we can tell, an altmed practitioner, but he is a journalist for the hive of quackery that is The Huffington Post and the author e.g. of the article “How the Placebo Effect Proves That God Exists”. Now, Schiffman has already decided that prayer and spirituality is correlated with better health, and that the “jury is out” regarding whether intercessory prayer works (it isn’t), but even if the healing powers of prayer don’t on its own establish the existence of God, surely the placebo effect does: “To my way of thinking, the very existence of this mysterious effect proves that God exists. That’s right, you can find evidence for the foundational truths taught by religion in virtually every double blind medical research study!” You really cannot, and Schiffman doesn’t consider the possibility that “my way of thinking” might be a weak link in the argument. Of course, Schiffman hastens to add that he isn’t making specific claims about specific gods: “But I am not saying that you and I in our egocentric and separate selves are God. It is rather the other way around – when we drop the elaborate pretense and disguise of being these limited and conditioned entities, we discover that we are not separate or apart from anything. We are part and parcel of all that exists.” I.e., by “God” he means the contents of a word salad tossed by a Deepak Chopra generator. How the placebo effect is supposed to support the existence of thisis not entirely clear but has something to do with (this and) mystics who proclaim themselves to be “one with God”. Well, ultimately the argument is that because Schiffman really doesn’t understand the placebo effect, science cannot explain it (they can), and there placebo effects are “miracles” leaving holes in any scientific explanations that Schiffman is free to fill with whatever he wants, and he predictably chooses something resembling the Secret.

And he really doesn’t get it; Schiffman for instance explicitly characterizes placebo responses as a sugar pill making a sick person healthy again (which then is “miraculous” and resists explanation). It would, of course, be good if it worked that way, but it really doesn’t. The placebo effect really is just a name for a rather complex set of phenomena, including experimental bias, observer effects, expectancy effects, and certain well-known artifacts of the clinical trial process. And most importantly, perhaps: placebo effects are commonly observed only for subjectiveoutcomes, and will not detectably affect the pathophysiology of any disease or condition. Life is hard, and invoking The Secretis really not going to make it any easier.

Diagnosis: Chopra-style word salad processor, quack apologist and amateur pseudoscientist. That Huffpo gives this kind of nonsense a platform is really a disgrace.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

#2212: Michael Scheifler

Liam Scheff, famous HIV denialist, woo promoter, antivaccine and anti-GMO activist, and wholesale conspiracy theorist, seems to have passed away (at 46, from a “mystery illness” for which he apparently consulted every naturopathic trick and vitamin supplement in the book). 

Michael Scheifler isn’t quite as high profile as Scheff, but we have no reason to think he’s not alive – though his webpage (here, if anyone is interested) admittedly bears all the hallmarks of 2003-style, allcaps paranoia. The website concerns “Antichrist, 666, and the Harlot Church Dressed in Purple and Scarlet”, and appears to try to establish – through fascinatingly wild and speculative connections between random observations and Bible passages – that the Catholic church is an institution of the Beast, and important in bringing about the ever-imminent End Times (“The Vatican (STATO DELLA CITTÁ DEL VATICANO), which means City-State of prophecy, is the woman of Revelation 17, Jezebel, the apostate harlot, the mother universal church, the persecutor of the saints that sits on seven hills in Rome and claims authority over the kings of the earth”). There is plenty of numerology, too, used to try to associate various aspects of the Catholic church with the number “666”. It relies on some serious research into obscure sources, and is utterly, derangedly crazy. Do check it out.

Scheifler himself is an Adventist. He is, of course, also a young-earth creationist. Indeed, the fact that the Catholic church officially recognizes evolution – a “modern scientific dogma” [INSERT SCIENCE V. RELIGION MEME], as Scheifler sees it in light of a particularly Orwellian understanding of “dogma” from someone who takes the Bible as the only source of authority – is apparently further evidence that Catholicism is of the Beast. Then he links to Kent Hovind.

For some reason Scheifler also links to some scare articles about artificial sweeteners from Joe Mercola’s website.

Diagnosis: Apparently he has been bantering with several Catholic “scholars”, too. Well, if Scheifler’s deranged rants count as scholarship in certain circles, it doesn’t reflect too well on those circles.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

#2211: Henry Schaefer III

Henry Frederick “Fritz” Schaefer III is a computational and theoretical chemist, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Chemistry at the University of Georgia, and a genuine authority on the issues within his field of expertise. He is also a creationist, or at least creationist sympathizer (he describes himself as sympathetic to teleological arguments, but primarily a “proponent of Jesus”), and his background and status lends him considerable weight in the Intelligent Design movement, whose members don’t care so much that evolutionary biology definitely isn’t within his area of expertise. His Wikipedia article reads as a bizarrely laudatory paean to his expertise and achievements, which fits a pattern: The Discovery Institute has also previously been caught exaggerating Schaefer’s credentials. Schaefer is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s silly petition A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, as well as a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and Dembski’s International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, even contributing to the Dembski-edited collection Darwin’s Nemesis(the one with a foreword by Rick Santorum).

Schaefer, of course, doesn’t really understand evolution, opting instead for religiously motivated arguments from incredulity, things like the demonstrably false claim that evolution doesn’t make useful predictions; he has often been cited for that claim by his followers, who don’t care any more for truth or accuracy than he does (nor are they, of course, interested in actually doing science to support any of their own hypotheses). Other concerns Schaefer has with the theory of evolution – addressed in some more detail here – are concerns about abiogenesis, which is not part of the theory, that “the time frame for speciation events seems all wrong to me” (argument from incredulity again, made in blissful ignorance of punctuated equilibrium), and that “I find no satisfactory mechanism for macroevolutionary changes” (you guessed it: incredulity again, this time relying on a bogus creationist distinction between micro- and macroevolution).

Diagnosis: Mostly uncommitted waffling – one suspects that Schaefer senses he’s on the wrong side of science here – but Schaefer has nevertheless obtained a status as something of an authority in the intelligent design cargo cult movement, which is even more an indictment against them than it is against him (though he is clearly a loon, too, for running with it).

Friday, June 28, 2019

#2210: Jack Schaap

Jack Schaap used to be an insane Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor associated with the First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, one of the largest megachurches in the US and most famous for its many sexual crimes cases (it also sports its own “college” and schools). An unrepentant fundie, Schaap’s sermons tended to feature more than a smidgen of bloodlust, with ample appeals to violence, weapon use and sex (the Lord’s Supper being likened to having sex with Jesus Christ, for instance – indeed, Schaap’s whole theology was weirdly sexualized), which apparently made him rather popular among his target audiences; an especially notable example is his fantastically bizarre “The Polished Shaft” family sermon). Among Schaap’s many deranged views, a notable number among them included views about women (he even wrote a book, How to Speak Husband, about “a wife’s role in the marriage” and how “[e]very wife needs to learn to interpret the language of her husband and master that language which she should be speaking as a wife”) such as the idea that a man shouldn’t get his theological views from a woman – after all, “the reason your soul, sorry soul’s going to hell is because a woman told Adam what God thinks about things” – because the Bible was written by men, which is an interesting admission from a fundie pastor like Schaap. He is, of course, also a creationist.

In 2013, Schaap landed himself in trouble (who could have foreseen that?) after having entertained a sexual relationship with a 17-year old girl in his congregation. According to himself, the unfortunate situation arose because he was just so stressed that he couldn’t help himself since people didn’t donate enough money to his church, which is one of the worst excuses among many we’ve come across. He also blamed God’s plan.

Diagnosis: Schaap was, of course, a cult leader, and like most of them, utterly corrupt in all senses of the word. He’s still got fans, though, and his church lives on.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

#2209: Steve Scalise

No, we’re not gonna give this a pass. Steve Scalise is the US House of Representatives Minority Whip and representative for Louisiana’s 1st congressional district since 2008, victim of a deranged leftwing shooter in 2017, and wingnut. Scalise is notable for his general wingnuttery, his attempts at historical revisionism and to question the separation of church and state, and his fierce opposition to gay rights. In 2018 he blamed Obama for trying to rig the midterm elections.

For our purposes, perhaps his most important qualification for inclusion here is his climate change denialism. Sure, he is one of many climate change deniers in Congress, but that really is no excuse. In 2013, Scalise argued at CPAC that climate change is a myth that doesn’t need to be addressed, pointing out that President Obama was cold during the inauguration: “He talked about global warming at his inauguration, I found it ironic that the President was wearing a trench coat it was so cold but he’s talking about global warming,” Scalise said, spectacularly failing to grasp the basics of anything. He also noted that a snow storm later cancelled a congressional hearing on climate change: “you can’t make this stuff up.” And in 2014 he blamed a UN-backed “radical environmentalist” conspiracy: “While their global warming agenda continues to lose support, it’s ironic that radical environmentalists are at it again, less than a month after NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), announced the Great Lakes had the most widespread ice coverage in over 35 years. Thirty years ago liberals were using global cooling to push new radical regulations [they demonstrably were not, though it is unclear how changing one’s view in light of the evidence is supposed to be an indictment of science in any case]. Then they shifted their focus to global warming in an effort to prop up wave after wave of job-killing regulations that are leading to skyrocketing food and energy costs.” He is a bit short on detailing the motives of the conspiracy, but I guess we all know that science is an evil conspiracy anyways.

Steve King apparently thinks Scalise is like Jesus, though King is admittedly not particularly good at thinking.

Diagnosis: Wingnut and denialist who toys with conspiracy theories. It should scare us, but we’ve become so accustomed to it that we barely notice.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

#2208: Paul Scalia

Paul Scalia – yes, his son – is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Courage apostolate and a wingnut fundamentalist. Scalia is, predictably, a staunch opponent of gay rights, and has argued at length that critics of homosexuality are currently being silenced and mistreated because people do not act the way such critics demand that they should act. Scalia does think, however, that it is unfortunate that his fellow critics occasionally lapse into using the expression “homosexual person” since according to Scalia, those people do not exist: “We should not predicate ‘homosexual’ of any person. That does a disservice to the dignity of the human person by collapsing personhood into sexual inclinations.” Nor is sexuality in general a matter of “orientation”, unless it is an orientation toward “the union of marriage”. 

Courage International is the reparative therapy apostolate of the Catholic Church; it is, in other words, the whole business principle of Scalia’s organization that being gay “is not an immutable characteristic or identity,” as he puts it. Courage also operates Encourage, a support group for friends and family members who can’t cope with the thought of there being gay and lesbian Catholics.

Diagnosis: Yes, one of the baddies. Not surprisingly. And while Courage is less famous than, say, Exodus International used to be, they remain determined to cause real, tangible harm to real people.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

#2207: Kurt Saxon

A.k.a. Donald Eugene Sisco (original name)

Kurt Saxon is perhaps the grand old man of survivalism in the US, possibly even the guy who came up with the word. During his career, Saxon has apparently been affiliated with the American Nazi Party, the early Minutemen, the Church of Scientology, Satanism and the John Birch Society. In 1970 he was even invited by the Nixon administration to testify before Congress (transcript here), where he advocated for police and private citizens using bombs to kill leftists, and for college protesters to be dispersed with machine-gun fire. 

Saxon has published multiple books, articles and booklets, a large part being reprints of out-of-date magazines and public-domain books (including military instructional manuals) being collected into books describing home projects in chemistry, electricity and similar activities, such as Granddad’s Wonderful World of Chemistryand several editions of The Poor Man’s James Bond, where he for instance tries to teach us all how to make anti-tank missiles. He has also written books about the imminent end of civilization and about improvised weaponry and poison making, and run magazines like The Survivorand (later) U.S. Militia.

His social views mostly align with the views deranged young-earth creationists imagine strawman atheists to have (Saxon is an atheist), such as society being evil because it allows children who are not physically strong and/or healthy to survive. He is also a critic of Islam, claiming that Islam is a barbaric ideology and an enemy of civilization and that Muslims are people of low intelligence with a violent agenda toward outsiders. Coming from Saxon makes it somewhat unclear whether the critique is intended as an indictment or an endorsement, however.

Diagnosis: He seems to have retired, and we would really have liked to dismiss his ideas as colorful, entertaining and harmless. But there are plenty of people out there who take them seriously.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Friday, June 21, 2019

#2206: Andrew Saul

A.k.a. the MegaVitaminMan

Andrew Saul is a self-proclaimed expert in nutrition and proud holder of a PhD from a “non-traditional PhD program”, the non-accredited diploma mill mail order program Greenwich University. (It never ceases to surprise us that those who defend people like Saul so rarely stop to consider why he would feel the need to mislead his audience by claiming such expertise.) Saul has written several books with titles like Doctor Yourself and Fire Your Doctor; his website takes its name from the title of the former, whereas Fire Your Doctor refers to how important it is that you, his reader, doesn’t consult anyone except him about the contents his advice, and especially not anyone who might have any real competence in any of it, since they’ll only disagree with him and tell you things he doesn’t want you to know. On his website – which Saul refers to as “his peer-reviewed website” and claims to be “one of the largest non-commercial natural health resources on the internet” – and in his books, Saul will tell you what they don’t want you to know and why “a grandmother is worth two doctors” (probably relevant to understanding his claim about his website being “peer-reviewed”), and he promotes a range of demonstrably useless dietary supplements. One reason you need supplements is apparently that much of today’s food is crappy and much of it GMO. No, Saul really doesn’t like doctors: “Doctors command far more respect than they've earned. It amounts to a religion, almost a perverse opposite of Christian Science, when we have so much faith in people.” Moreover, medical science was wrong about much in the past, so it is clearly not to be trusted. Instead, you should trust him, whose degree is at least not from a real medical school.

Also known as the MegaVitamin Man, Saul is best known for promoting huge doses (at least 15,000 mg, but he has also mentioned “½ million to 2 million milligrams”) of Vitamin C as a miracle cure; “[n]ow, I don’t believe in ‘miracle cures’ or silver bullets,” says Saul, “but high-dose Vitamins sure come close”: apparently megadoses of vitamin C are effective for anything from scorpion bites (according entirely to himself, Saul detoxed himself from a venomous scorpion bite using vitamin C, “which acts as a potent anti-toxin;” it most assuredly does not) to chronic disease to compromised immune systems to the flu; vitamin C ostensibly works as an “antibiotic, antihistamine, antitoxin, antipyretic, antidepressant and will even curb your appetite.” Indeed, Saul “personally worked with a woman who had HIV, drug addiction, alcoholism, you name it. I told her to consider really shoveling in the Vitamin C, quit drugs and drinking, and clean up her diet. Well, she got off of drugs and eventually the alcohol. She tried to clean up her diet, and she took an awful lot of vitamin C. I ran into her 20 years later and she told me that the last three times she was tested for HIV they couldn’t find any.” In short, C vitamins clearly fits the definition of “miracle cure”, but for marketing purposes it is probably strategically advantageous to give a more modest first impression lest people think Saul is as ridiculous as he is. “Wouldn’t it be great if your doctor would teach you how to use common Vitamins for healing chronic illness, reversing disease and injury, or just for maintaining health? But most can’t … or won’t – and there’s a surprising reason why.” It is not very surprising. The reason is of course that Vitamin C demonstrably does none of what Saul claims it does. This is not the answer Saul gives.

Indeed, according to Saul, “medical doctors have been using high doses of vitamins to cure disease for over 70 years”; in fact, they “have been stopping and curing Polio with high doses of Vitamin C since the 1930’s. In the 1860’s and 70’s they were curing pneumonia with Vitamin C therapy” (it probably doesn’t need to be pointed out that these claims have nothing to do with reality). Elsewhere he claims that doctors don’t use vitamins to cure disease because “doctors are pretty indoctrinated by the time they finish med school” and will never even consider any alternatives, even though researchers according to him constantly publish on the almost magical efficacy of vitamins; in any case “[i]t could have something to do with money” because doctors are “basically funded by the pharmaceutical industry from the moment they enter med school to the moment they hang up their stethoscope”, and the pharmaceutical – unlike himself and the supplement industry – cannot make money off of vitamins.

Of course, the evidence Saul is talking about is studies published in things like the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Orthomolecular medicine is of course one of the more deranged branches of dangerous pseudoscience out there. In fact, Saul has managed to become one of the more, uh, recognized figures in orthomolecular medicine – he is editor of the “peer-reviewed” Orthomolecular Medicine News Service (he keeps using that expression; I do not think it means what he thinks it means) and was “inducted into the Orthomolecular Medicine Hall of Fame in 2013” – and according to the grand old man of orthomolecular medicine, Abram Hoffer: “Andrew Saul’s website is great. And it’s accurate. I read it all and it’s very accurate.” Hoffer, who died in 2009, was also Saul’s co-author on the book The Vitamin Cure for Alcoholism, one in a series of books that also include The Vitamin Cure for Depression (with one Bo Jonsson), The Vitamin Cure for Children’s Health Problemsand The Vitamin Cure for Infant and Toddler Health Problems (both with Ralph Campbell). Saul’s website, which is certainly not accurate by any stretch of the imagination (you should, for instance, emphatically not trust Saul’s advice on niacin), is mostly a series of links to various articles from a wide variety of quacks and crackpots claiming things that fit Saul’s narrative. 

Saul has also branched out a bit and written Vegetable Juicing for Everyone (with Helen Saul Case) and I have cancer, What should I do: Your orthomolecular guide for cancer management (with Michael González & Jorge Miranda-Massari). What you should is to listen to your doctor and stay as far away as possible from Saul’s book. 

Diagnosis: Certainly a crackpot and pseudoscientist, but his own promotion of his fake degree makes it hard to maintain the position that he is merely a true believer. Dangerous.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

#2205: Jeffrey Satinover

Crank magnetism is the tendency of cranks to be attracted to multiple independent crank ideas at the same time. The prevalence of crank magnetism is not particularly surprising insofar as the crank ideas are rooted in the same errors of thinking, such as an inability to distinguish science from pseudoscience. Jeffrey Satinover is a spectacular illustration of crank magnetism at work. Satinover is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and physicist, and has written pseudoscientific books on a range of subjects within and beyond his own field characterized by being consistently wrong on every major issue. Topics range from brain neurophysiology to the psychology of narcissism to the breakdown of modern society, but he is probably most famous for his writings (and public-policy efforts) relating to homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the ex-gay movement – indeed, Satinover is a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), in addition to being a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Math and Science at King’s College, New York (during Marvin Olasky’s tenure as provost), a fundamentalist Christian college affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ that envisions itself as a counterweight to secular universities “[t]rafficking in the assumptions of atheism and Darwinian evolution”. Satinover is also lecturer at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zürich and Managing Director of Quintium Analytics, LLC, an investment advisory company he founded in 2007. 

Homosexuality
Satinover is a longtime and ardent critic of homosexuality and gay rights. In his 1996 book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth(published by the evangelical and certainly not academic publisher Baker Books) he argues, against the evidence, that homosexuality is a condition that can and should be treated, that it can be compared to pathologies like alcoholism and pedophilia, and that homosexuality, although “not a true illness,” may “be thought an illness in the spiritual sense of ‘soul sickness,’ innate to fallen human nature”; it is definitely psychologically unhealthy “as evidenced by the higher associated suicide rate.” Moreover, “gay activism distorts the truth and harms not only society, but homosexuals themselves.” The book has little scientific merit of course, but Satinover isa psychologist, and credentials like that make him useful to certain groups. He has frequently been called to testify in court cases regarding his views on same sex marriage (though in fairness not always providing the kind of testimony his side wished for), and his research is frequently cited by hate groups combatting gay rights and marriage equality.

Numerology and Quantum pseudoscience
Satinover’s other writings include The Truth Behind the BibleCode and Cracking the Bible Code, in defense of – yup – the Bible Code, the idea that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament contains hidden codes which reveal prophesies. Needless to say, neither book was published by an academic publisher. It is probably because Big Science hates open-mindedness.

Satinover has also written several books that speculate on quantum mechanics as he applies it to conscious thought, includingThe Quantum Brain, which ostensibly explores current developments at the interface of physics, computation, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. He was also a witness for the side of New Age lunacy in the “documentary” What the Bleep Do We Know, as well as its sequel What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole. Apparently, according to Satinover, quantum mechanics can offer a blistering critique of modern psychiatry: “In general, the field of psychiatry strips people of the need to feel responsible. And, often enough, so does religion. But if you take quantum mechanics seriously enough, it puts the responsibility squarely back in your lap. And it doesn’t give answers that are clearcut, or comforting. It says, ‘Yes, the world is a very mysterious place. Mechanism is not the answer, but I’m not going to tell you what the answer is. Because you’re old enough to decide for yourself.” This is not remotely how anything works. Note that Satinover doesn’t suggest that you take quantum mechanics seriously, but that you take it “seriously enough”. We suspect a lot hinges on that “enough”.

Diagnosis: A spectacular illustration of how it is possible to get through a real and thorough education yet be completely defenseless against all forms of deranged pseudoscience. Being a brave maverick doctor doesn’t warrant much respect when you only distinguish yourself from the establishment by being wrong in the dumbest possible ways.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

#2204: Pete Santilli

Santilli in his Bundy wildlife reserve
occupation days.
Pete Santilli is an unhinged Internet ranter whose self-appointed role seems to be to (unsuccessfully) make Alex Jones look reasonable. His broadcasts have trawled through conspiracy theories on everything from 9/11 (“the World Trade Center towers were turned to dust in mid air by a very powerful energy source”) to pizzagate to Sandy Hook, and though he used to have a relatively limited audience (he was “ready to take my show to national syndication”, but had doubts that “the FCC regulated AM/FM radio stations can handle my truth & honesty”), he began gaining traction around 2013 when Ted Nugent and Larry Pratt started to frequent his show; Pratt, for instance, worked with Santilli to develop his theory that President Obama was raising a private army to overpower the U.S. military. Meanwhile, Santilli would violently call for having the entire Bush family and President Obama “tried, convicted and shot” for “treason” (apparently the trial and conviction parts are really optional); H.W. Bush would also be found guilty for his “involvement with his cronies in the John F. Kennedy assassination” and Obama for “moving drugs through the CIA out of Afghanistan”. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, should be “tried, convicted and shot in the vagina.” Yes, Santilli is that kind of person. He went on to describe in detail how he personally wanted to “pull the trigger” on Clinton (he referred to her with a sexual slur) and watch her slowly die, the rationale being apparently revenge for what Santilli believes to be faking the SEAL Team Six’s Bin Laden raid. Even Secret Service apparently took note of that rant.

Later in 2013, in his capacity as spokesman for Truckers Ride for the Constitution, he argued that violence against the government would be justified if his group’s plan to jam the Capital Beltway that surrounds Washington, D.C. and ask members of Congress to resign, failed. Originally, Santilli and organizer Zeeda Andrews called for the arrest of in particular Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but Santilli later backpedaled a little, denied that any arrestation attempts would be made but expressed hope that the senators would “voluntarily resign” as a result of the protest – before going on his radio show to threaten with a “bloody battle” against government if the protest failed, and saying that opponents of the government would have been “justified” in using violence. The event turned out to be somewhat disorganized, partially as a result of infighting over logistics and aims. At that point, Santilli also said that raising the debt ceiling would amount to “financial terrorism” and “an act of terroristic war upon the American people” to which his followers – Santilli explicitly called on the three-percenters – would be justified to “respond violently with the Second Amendment”. He also complained that the government wants to “take my guns away” in order to arm Al Qaeda. And in 2014 he explicitly called for a military coup to “restore the republic from a state of affairs that mostly seems to exist in his own deranged imagination.

Santilli is probably most famous, however, for taking part in and even figuring as a spokesman or at least live-broadcasting as a sympathetic reporter – at least Fox News acknowledged him as a spokesman – for the occupation of a federal wildlife reserve in Oregon led by Ammon Bundy in 2016, which also led to his arrest. (We wish to emphasize that we are somewhat dismayed by the fact that he was arrested for it, though.) It was not his first Bundy stunt: Santilli participated in the Cliven Bundy standoff, too, where he declared that he was prepared to fight to the death with federal agents who were trying to round up cattle that were illegally grazing on public lands – or last, to initiate deranged attempts at activism; “every individual right now needs to stop watching the decimation of our Constitution, the destruction of our country by that freaking NDAA [sic] basketball-dribbling, freaking Muslim Brotherhood bastard,” he said, referring to Obama in connection with the border security policies he was protesting with his “Cinco de Julio” campaign. (He also denounced wingnut hero Joe Arpaio after Arpaio referred to Mexican migrants as “illegal Hispanics”; according to Santilli, that is a diversion created to conceal the truth, that asylum-seeking Muslims are flooding the border to harm America; “there are Arabs coming over the border,” said Santilli: “I personally saw them.” We don’t doubt that Santilli sees lots of things). In more recent years Santilli’s antics seem to have made his popularity in wingnut circles surge.

Santilli is not a fan of gay rights either. In an interview with James David Manning, Santilli pointed out that “when we oppose the sodomites, this is not just a battle between the heterosexuals and the homosexuals, this is a battle between good and evil, a battle between God and Satan himself.

Santilli’s website promotes Judy Wood’s book Where Did The Towers Go? Evidence Of Directed Free-Energy Technology On 9/11, which argues that the Twin Towers were felled by an energy weapon on. Santilli gives the book his personal “100% satisfaction guarantee” and offers a refund if you “do not believe this is the most important book of our lifetime,” though he admits that the evidence that a “free energy technology” was involved in the 9/11-attacks may be “too much for the un-awakened mind”. His website also details the existence of a New World Order controlling the world from “behind the curtain”. “We’ve all been under a PSY-OP (psychological warfare operation) since 9-11,” says Santilli, though we are reluctant to go along further than to establish that there is indeed something off with Santilli’s psychological dynamics. And apparently Glenn Beck, who wrote an entire book detailing how Agenda 21 was a conspiracy to take over the US, is an agent for Agenda 21.

Diagnosis: As Ed Brayton (more or less) puts it, Pete Santilli stands to Michael Savage roughly as Michael Savage stands to Al Sharpton. Rabidly insane monster with ragingly violent delusion.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

#2203: Bernie Sanders

Thomas and Manju Sam are Australian, but their story is worth highlighting nonetheless, insofar as it provides a useful foil for the present entry.

Now, it will probably come as little surprise to readers that the authors of this blog have an overall very favorable view of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy for the type of position he is seeking. Nevertheless, despite his redeeming qualities, we should not overlook some serious flaws (and we’re not thinking about some questionable views on sexual repression and cancer he held 50 years ago): Sanders’s history of supporting medical quackery is rather disconcerting, as illustrated for instance by his 2013 sponsorship of a bill that would waste plenty of government dollars on totally ineffective and unsafe woo. But Sanders’s support for woo has been pretty consistent throughout his career (some background here and many details here), and in 2010, for instance, he said that “to me, the increasing integration of CAM and conventional care just makes sense. Research shows that more people are demanding and turning to integrative care because it parallels their personal values and desire to be treated as a whole personFor a wide variety of reasons, more and more people are not simply content to go to a doctor’s office, get a diagnosis and take a pill. They want to know what the cause of their medical problem is and how, when possible, it can be best alleviated through natural, non-invasive or non-pharmaceutical means.” Note for instance the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature and the rather alarming dogwhistles about how quacks (as opposed to real medical professionals) will treat the “whole person” and the suggestion that quacks, also as opposed to real medical professionals, will get to the “cause of [someone’s] medical problem” (Sanders later suggested that altmed, as opposed to real medicine, focuses on prevention – se no. 21 here). Of course, alternative medicine practitioners don’t treat the whole person and won’t get to the cause of anything (see no. 13 here) – real doctors, however, demonstrably do – but those claims nevertheless constitute the core of the alternative medicine narrative, and the fact that Sanders is adept enough at using these dog whistles to blow all three in rapid succession should be a serious cause for concern.

Sanders is also often credited with inserting a provision requiring licensed CAM professions to be included as part of the healthcare workforce into the ACA. In 2013, he co-sponsored (the main culprit here seems to have been Richard Blumenthal) several bills before the U.S. Congress to expand the availability of quackery to military veterans and funding CAM research at the expense of legitimate research. Fortunately, they failed to pass. Sanders can, however, be at least partially blamed for getting naturopaths licensed in Vermont.

And it is not like he has given up on woo ideas. In November 2015, for instance, Sanders apparently praised holistic and alternative medicine at a meeting of the Veteran’s Administration, claiming that “the increasing integration of Chinese medicine and yoga, for example, as bright spots in a largely dysfunctional American health care system.” Well, his diagnosis of the health care system might be apt, but adding traditional Chinese medicine (“neither traditional nor medicine”) is not going to bring about any positive changes.

He also supports GMO labelling, which is a Trojan horse for the anti-GMO movement (https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/should-there-be-mandatory-gmo-labeling/).

Diagnosis: Compared to some of his most obvious political opponents, including climate-change denying, antivaccine conspiracy theorist presidential incumbents, Sanders’s commitment to woo may not come across as particularly harmful. They need to be exposed, however, and should be a cause of concern.

Monday, June 10, 2019

#2202: Linda Salvin

We should probably give a honorable mention to VSP wanker lord Will Saletan, who apparently feels qualified to share his wisdom about any topic outside of his expertise that comes his way, resulting in egregious nonsense like this, thisor this (to mention a few examples), but the task of having to write up a complete entry for him fills us with dread, so we’ll let the opportunity pass.

Linda Salvin is much more (unintentionally) hilarious. Salvin is an intuitive healer, whose credentials include surviving a commercial airliner crash in 1981 (“As she exited the plane ... she heard reassuring voices that told her she would be unharmed”), being struck by a fire truck, a car accident and a life-altering surgery:  “[w]ith each of these experiences, her spiritual connection and psychic abilities began to grow,” says Salvin. Now she is ready to diagnose and heal you using her intuitions (currently, she is “directly linked to the other side due to a white light experience and three near death”). Medical school and evidence-based practices are for wussies. Apparently she is “on a journey”.

Well, to aid you in your healing Salvin offers several products for you to buy, including her wicks of wisdom, a “spiritual candle-magic line created by Dr. Linda in 1999 while on national radio.” (The “Dr.” part is not particularly well explained.) Apparently, “[s]he was trained in candle magic and took the concepts mainstream for people from all walks of life.” If we understand the procedure correctly, you light the candles (carefully following instructions) and offer some kind of incantation, and the magic will bring you wellness, fortunes and good luck. Oh, and she does fortune-telling, too: “If you are seeking answers to life’s questions such as love, finances, career, relationships, spiritual guidance, health and wellness, legal issues or anything more personal, then you want to book a session for a psychic reading.” Especially the legal issues thing seems to set her apart from most of the competition, which seems to be rather careful about offering that kind of advice. 

Diagnosis: Probably harmless, yet it continues to amaze us – even after all these loons – that people still fall for purveyors of good-luck magic. But apparently they do.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

#2201: Kamal Saleem

A.k.a. Khodor Shami (real name)

That evangelical fundies aren’t always deeply concerned with honesty should come as a shock to nobody. Kamal Saleem, for instance, is one of several “ex-terrorists” (Walid Shoebat is another) who claims to have been involved in islamist terror activities but saw the errors of his ways and is currently touring the religious right circus complaining about the evils of the Quran. In particular, Saleem claims to have been recruited by the PLO in Beirut in 1964 or 1965, four years before it was established in Lebanon, and ten before it was deployed to Beirut. Indeed, he claims to have been part of the Muslim Brotherhood at the same time (of course, his audience will probably not be aware that PLO and the Muslim Brotherhood were archrivals) and have met most of the most high-profile figures in the Middle East at the time. His fictitious backstory is ridiculous enough for one reviewer to dub him the “Forrest Gump of the Middle East.” Indeed, entirely according to himself, Saleem used to be important enough for the Muslim Brotherhood to put a $25 million bounty on his head, and he claims that there have been attempts to earn it: After a 2007 speaking event in California, for instance, he claims to have returned to his hotel to find his room ransacked and a band of dangerous Middle Easterners on his trail. He describes calling the police to alert them to an assassination attempt, though local law enforcement has no record of any such incident. We suppose you are supposed to blame a conspiracy backed by the pro-shariah government of the US.

Saleem used to work for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network – CBN continued to use him as a source even after his back story was revealed as fraud – and was hired by Focus on the Family in 2003, before launching his own ministry, Koome Ministries, in 2006 to “expose the true agenda of [Muslims] who would deceive our nation and the free nations of the world ... America must wake-up and set a continued Christian agenda of Liberty and Truth as a standard to follow throughout the free world,” and embarking upon a lucrative career posing as an ex-terrorist. He has in recent years managed to become something of a mainstay in the religious right circus ring; his participation in The Call‘s “Dearborn Awakening” section – long after his fictitious backstory had been exposed – where he told rally attendees that he is descended from the “Grand Wazir of Islam” (a title that doesn’t exist in Islam) and urged attendees to pray for Muslims to convert to Christianity, is a typical example. 

While preparing for his The Call appearance, Saleem also said that President Obama planned “to break down Article 6” of the Constitution in order to enforce “Islamic law,” warning that “if he breaks this, the Sharia law will be supreme in America.” Not only is this of course deranged nonsense, Saleem is also, ironically enough, closely affiliated with explicitly dominionist groups like Transformation Michigan that are themselves fighting tooth and claw to overturn Article 6. 

Creeping shariah law is a mainstay of Saleem’s unhinged rants (we won’t even try to sum up this maelstrom of paranoid delusions). In 2012, Saleem claimed to have uncovered a liberal plot to use the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade to “bring Sharia law liberally in our face”. The formulations do admittedly suggest that he is poking fun at a paranoid audience, but the sum of evidence show that it is most likely an instance of unhinged insanity. He didn’t offer any details concerning howRoe v. Wade would lead to the implementation of shariah law, but did call it an “Islamic clause”. He doesn’t seem to know very much about Islam. Oh, and according to Saleem, the Obama administration didn’t merely wish to let Shariah law replace the constitution; it also sought to legalize terrorism through immigration reform – again there is a certain lack of detail, but apparently immigration reform means that “all the illegal Muslims will be legalized here” which entails that “terrorism will be legal.” President Obama was apparently also “sending millions to Hamas to import Muslim people” to the U.S. as part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot. The military is also involved: “many generals who swore to destroy the United States of America are generals in the United States”. Then he warned that “this world will become past tense and one day we’ll be wearing ragheads.” Apparently it all has something to do with the UN Resolution 16/18, which reaffirms “freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression” and opposes religious discrimination, and which will ostensibly force the church to “go underground” and thus impose Islam on everyone (or something). Let us at least all agree that there is something here that doesn’t quite add up. 

In 2014, Saleem caught President Obama red-handed, having figured out that Obama secretly wanted ISIS to attack the United States so that he could declare martial law, cancel the next election and become a dictator. And while waiting for the bombs, Obama was waging jihad and helping fundamentalist islamists to take over America with abortion and gay rights, two things fundamentalist Islamists are not known to be particularly fond of, but it is probably all a false flag. We should consider ourselves lucky that Saleem and fellow conspiracy theorists were there to expose the plot. Saleem also revealed that the Obama family was in fact secretly attending mosques every Christmas; he established this by the powers of speculations, which works better for him than facts (what good are theyFactswon’t fit his narrative. Come on!)

Of course, having been exposed as a fraud carries little significance in wingnut circles. In 2012, for instance, the tea party group Constituting Michigan brought Saleem to Allegan High School to warn guests of the danger of creeping sharia law. Responding to criticism of the event Bill Sage, one of the co-founders of Constituting Michigan, dismissed it as “the result of media bias”. It is not clear what piece of criticism that response was supposed to address, but we are also under no illusion that Sage has ever worried about truth, accuracty, honesty or accountability. Dave Agema was also scheduled to speak at the event. Here is the American Decency Association’s attempt to defend Saleem. It is oddly telling.

Indeed, the same year Saleem was also given a platform at the Values Voter Summit, where he entertained audiences with tall tales of his work for Lebanon, Syria, the PLO, Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood and even Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, until he moved to the U.S. to wage “cultural jihad;” there he and his fellow terrorists “met the professors” at American universities and colleges – “our playgrounds” – and helped “the professors to establish new curriculum purposefully” to brainwash students to change “your children to hit your nation with everything they’ve got” (currently “45 percent of Common Core is Islamic indoctrination”; how he arrived at the figure is left open.) He also claimed that Hillary Clinton was working with Islamic countries to eviscerate the Constitution and “subjugate American people to be arrested and put to jail and their churches and synagogues shut down,” which he says would happen “early next year!” 2013 came and passed without subjugation, but the religious right has never turned their back on a false prophet. He made similar claims about Clinton in 2016, and in 2017 he repeated his warnings that the Democrats are plotting to let Muslim terrorists take over America. Mat Staver, for instance, still seems impressed.

Saleem has also produced anti-Islamic videos for the Oak Initiative. His fake backstory is laid out in his virulently anti-Islamic book The Blood of Lambs, which has been reviewed as “obsessively, sadistically violent.” He usually responds to criticism of his claims by accusing critics, including a Christian professor at Calvin College, of being Muslim Brotherhood agents working in cohorts with an Islamic “shadow government” that has formed an “unholy alliance” against him: “Today we the enemy of Islam, the liberal movement, the socialist movement, the communist movement, the women movement, Cod Pink, all of them are coming against me, the Occupy, all of these are coming against me.They have unholy alliances together with Islam, whether it’s homosexual or baby-killer, all these have unholy alliances.” Coherence is not his strong suit.

Saleem emphasized the same confluence of isms on Alex Jones’s show in 2016: “the isms are coming together: Islamism, socialism, secularism, fascism, liberalism, secularism, all of them are part of the ism movement for the Last Days and they are united together for a one-world order” and “world government”.

There is a decent Kamal Saleem resource here.

Diagnosis: First time you encounter him, you’d probably conclude that he is a professional liar, but it seems pretty likely to us that he just isn’t able to distinguish reality from feverishly incoherent imaginations. Completely and utterly batshit crazy.