Tuesday, March 19, 2019

#2160: Les Riley

The founder and director of the anti-abortion group Personhood Mississippi, Les Riley is a rightwing extremist who used to blog for the Christian separatist group Christian Exodus, a group of dominionists whose mission statement says that “[t]he initial goal was to move thousands of Christian constitutionalists to South Carolina to accelerate the return to self-government based upon Christian principles at the local and State level. This project continues to this day, with the ultimate goal of forming an independent Christian nation that will survive after the decline and fall of the financially and morally bankrupt American empire.” In 2016, the group, which has ties to the neo-confederate League of the South, attempted to set up an independent, theocratic state in South Carolina but they have since moved on to establishing theocratic settlements in Panama and Idaho. They also promote survivalism, naturopathy and natural childbirth.

Riley is also chairman of the Constitution Party of Mississippi, and has stated that its goal is to “restore American government to its Constiutional [sic] limits and American jurisprudence to its Biblical presuppositions.” According to their platform, “The U.S. Constitution established a Republic rooted in Biblical law,” which sounds like an attempt to state a fact but fails miserably. The Personhood organization is well covered here; as Riley sees it, the real hope for the personhood amendment efforts is that they “would help lead people to convert to Christianity” (i.e.: his brand of Christianity, of course).

Visiting the area right after the event (in connection with a personhood campaign drive), Riley also weighed in on the Aurora shootings – or rather, people’s responses to the shootings: “how ridiculously people would respond to a crisis when they don’t repent, when they don’t turn to God, when they don’t acknowledge their Creator. You see this shooting and rather than crying out to God there’s this big memorial with teddy bears and it’s great that people want to be part of something bigger than themselves but rather than turning to their Creator they again turn to their folly.” 

Diagnosis: Charming, isn’t he? At least an alarming number of legislators and politicians seem to think so. Dangerous.

Hat-tip: Rightwingwatch

Monday, March 18, 2019

#2159: Seth Riggio

Seth Riggio is an admittedly rather obscure fundie theocrat associated with the Conservative Party USA and founder of  the organization The Conservative Comeback, which is primarily an anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality group (“upholding the Sacred Bond of marriage against an increasingly anti-family culture and the pro-homosexual agenda”) devoted to combating the separation of church and state. In 2012, Riggio endorsed Tom Hoefling for president, the candidate for the outspokenly theocratic America’s Party, partly because he found Mitt Romney to be as objectionable as Obama: “Mitt Romney is also in favor of Homosexual couples adopting children. Barack Obama does the same. What difference is there if these men both agree that placing innocent children in homes where such perversion takes place. This entails that they both support this evil… WHAT ARE WE THINKING!!!” Rest assured you are not, Seth. “We [those supporting Romney] are supporting a man who is willing to allow innocence to be slaughtered,” said Riggio. Also Hitler, apparently.

Diagnosis: Whatever. He may have a bright career ahead of him in wingnut circles, at least.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

#2158: Jim Rigano

Jim Rigano was for a while, until 2016, a member (vice president) of the Springboro, Ohio, board of education, famous nationwide for its attempt to get creationism taught as science in public schools in the guise of a “controversial issues” policy – according to the school district website, “evolution/creation,” “'pro-life/abortion,” “contraception/abstinence,” legalization of drugs, gun rights, and global warming would be among the topics added to a list of “controversial issues”. Kelly Kohls was perhaps the main driver behind the proposals, but Rigano deserves his own entry for his stalwart efforts on behalf of lunacy. According to Rigano, the proposal was made in part because they (he) did not want students to be “indoctrinated by teachers”. Said Rigano: “We want to make sure that all sides are being taught in a fair and balanced way and then, also, we want to encourage critical thinking.” We are fairly confident that Rigano did not really want to promote critical thinking. (In the process the anti-science faction apparently also relied on advice from John Freshwater and Liberty Counsel.)

Diagnosis: Hardly a star in the anti-science movement, Rigano still deserves a mention insofar as he, at least for a while, possessed some actual power over Springboro schools, powers he was disposed and prepared to misuse. Hopefully neutralized. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

#2157: Ron Riffe, David Bay & Cutting Edge Ministries

Cutting Edge Ministries (CEM) is a South-Carolina-based fundamentalist group of deranged conspiracy theorists, famous (to some limited extent) for instance for various 9/11 truther conspiracy theories based on pareidolia and numerology: 9/11 was, according to the website’s contributors, a ploy orchestrated by the Illuminati, and this is shown by the appearance of the Illuminati “signature” in connection to the event, as CEM has demonstrated in “a series of articles detailing this use of the number ‘11’, proving that the Illuminati was the planning, active agent behind these attacks”. For instance, the number eleven occurs in the date of the attack, the number of the first aeroplane to hit the World Trade Center, the number of the plane which hit the Pentagon (77, which gives 11 if you divide it by 7), the number of floors in the towers, the fact that the buildings resembled an 11, that one of the planes had a crew of 11, etc. They are apparently dead serious. The group is perhaps even better known, however, for their collection of “Harry Potter is of Satan” articles. It is, shall we say, unclear whether any of the article writers actually read any the books.

Though David Bay is (or used to be) the director of CEM, Pastor Ron Riffe used to be perhaps been the main contributor to CEM’s online rantings (it is not entirely clear), and has made his mark in particular on their promotion of one of the most inane pieces of conspiracy theorizing on the entire Internet: Six school shootings committed over a space of two years in the US, when marked on a map, form two rough lines, which shows that “they were planned events, not isolated, sporadic horrors:” Riffe then suggests that the lines are actually part of a hexagram, which he promptly drew onto a map of the world to go hunting for other disasters that occur in the vicinity of any of the lines, like Venezuelan floods, the Waco incident, the murder of Jonbenet Ramsey and the crashing of John F. Kennedy Jr’s plane (“While his plane apparently did not go down right on the line, it went down close enough to it to raise one's eyebrows”). And at the center of the hexagram? The Galapagos Islands, “at which Darwin conceived his Satanic idea we now call Evolution.”

[I]t is highly conceivable [interesting choice of words] that the Illuminati would create such a symbol, believing it would reverberate with Satanic power to aid them in achieving their global objectives.” The author does understandably not go into details about the magic properties by which it is supposed to aid them. Things are prone to get a bit murky at this level of conspiracy theorizing, but it involves the UN, the Clintons and “the exercise of powerful Black Magick Witchcraft” by the government in attempts to confiscate your guns.

Somewhat refreshingly, Riffe is a fierce critic of the King James Bible; all English Bibles, in fact: “The fact of the matter is that 100% of all English Bibles bear the imprint of Rosicrucian/Freemason tampering! ... The tampering took place primarily in the chapter and verse divisions, artwork, etc. of the early English translations as signs to ‘those in the know’ that the publications were done under Rosicrucian supervision.” It seems like disagreement over the inerrancy of the King James Bible made Riffe and CEM part ways at some point around 2006. 

Riffe is also a fierce critic of anti-semitism … though “we need to understand there is a trait among the Jews as a race of people that contributes greatly to anti-Semitism. For reasons known only unto God He continues to give many of them an uncanny ability to make money and prosper […] And over time they have become some of the most powerful and wealthy individuals among the world’s bankers and financiers. But that tremendous wealth is being misused by some extremely wicked individuals among them – in some cases involving entire families that go back for generations – as they operate financial empires having no national allegiance or recognizing any borders. Their insatiable lust for power has played a major role in most (if not all) of the wars that have been fought over the last two hundred years.” It’s not all of them, though. Some are nice.

Cutting Edge Ministries has produced a number of books and DVDs, mostly on how the hidden Powers That Be are covertly working to bring about the End Times.

Diagnosis: As unhinged as they come: dimwitted, bigoted, angry and evil. Probably relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things, however.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Thursday, March 14, 2019

#2156: John P. Rickert

John P. Rickert is a Catholic priest with a Ph.D. in mathematics from Vanderbilt University. Given his education, Rickert met the requirement for signing the Discovery Institute’s very silly and (given its goal) actually self-undermining petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, which he did. Rickert is – relatively typically for the signatories – not a scientist by a long shot, however. Instead, Rickert has made a bit of a career campaigning against reductionism in churches (though he doesn’t seem to have a very clear idea about what “reductionism” might possibly mean). Rickert is, however, a young-earth creationist, who thinks the fact that some fossil finds (such as ancient whale bones found in what is currently a desert) haven’t been explicitly and speicifcally predicted by scientists may be evidence against evolution. He is just asking question, though, and responds to criticism of his claims by suggesting that his interlocutors are afraid of questions. 

Diagnosis: Minor figure, to be sure, but he is a creationist and did put his name on that list, so here he goes.

Monday, March 11, 2019

#2155: Dan Reynolds et al.

Dan Reynolds is chairman of the Triangle Association for the Science of Creation, a North Carolina-based group whose “mission is to rebuild and strengthen the foundation of the Christian faith by increasing awareness of the scientific evidence supporting the literal Biblical account of creation and refuting evolution.” The group is ostensibly focusing on creation science, but as the mission statement also makes explicit, it really has nothing to do with science but with dogma – the conclusion is given; now we have to make the evidence fit. To achieve their aims – to “show Christians and others in the Triangle area that the facts of science are consistent with the Biblical account of origins and inconsistent with the evolutionary worldview” –  they offer “speakers, books, videos, movies, and slides for churches, civic groups, campus organizations, and schools; hosting creationist seminars and debates; sponsoring creationist films on local-access cable TV; holding periodic meetings; and engaging in other activities.” Yes, it is, of course, all about outreach and winning souls for Jesus, not research. Their website is, as you would expect, full of articles displaying a striking lack of understanding of the theory of evolution, while pushing all the standard creationist PRATTs, including skepticism about radiometric dating, flood geology, evidence for the historical existence of the Nephilim (media is part of an evolutionist conspiracy to cover up the evidence), Walter Brown’s pseudoscientific hydroplate theory, pointing out gaps in scientific knowledge (such as claiming that they don’t know how dinosaurs died out; therefore the Biblical story of creation is correct), claiming that dinosaurs and humans coexisted and that dinosaurs are really the behemoths of the Bible, and that religious knowledge is better than science because religious knowledge never changes whereas science does, which is sort of missing a rather obvious point. There is also a number of forays into pseudoarchaelogy, including out-of-place artifacts, and the group seems pretty excited about Graham Hancock’s pseudoscientific rantings. 

It's the usual stuff. Chairman Dan Reynolds does have a PhD in organic chemistry, which does, of course, not amount to any kind of authority on evolution, but which makes him eligible for signing the Discovery Institute’s laughable petition A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism. Other members of their Board of Directors include (for future reference):

-      Everette Coats
-      Jeffrey Gift 
-      David Greear
-      Fred Johnson, another signatory to the Discovery Institute petition.
-      Phil Johnson, Vice Chairman (no, not that Phil Johnson, we think).
-      Elizabeth McVeigh, who at least has an article on their page arguing, by incredulity and disregarding all actual research on the topic, that the human ear is too well-designed to have evolved.
-      Henry Middleton 
-      Joe Spears, their resident pseudoarchaelogy fan, responsible for their articles e.g. on out-of-place artifacts.
-      Mark Stephens, a Duane Gish fan, who finds scientific explanations (“scientists basicly conjecture or guess using the naturalistic evolutionary theory”) for the extinction of dinosaurs (Biblical “dragons”) ridiculous since how could changes in climate have killed off tough dinosaurs and let, say, thin-skinned mammals survive? Therefore, concludes Stephens, the Biblical story is better: dinosaurs survived the flood (since Noah brought two of eachkind and thus must have brought dinosaurs on the Ark), but post-flood climate change killed them off. Yes, you may have some questions about that story, especially in light of Stephens’s argument against evolution. Stephens also toys with the idea that dinosaurs may still exist. Also, schools are part of an evolutionist conspiracy to deceive children. 
-      Gerald Van Dyke, who may have done some science at some point (he used to be the resident creationist at North Carolina State University) but seems to have left the principles of science far behind when it comes to biology. Probably the member of the group with the highest profile in the creationist pseudoscience community, Van Dyke was supposed to witness for the defense in the 1981 McLean v. Arkansas case. According to Van Dyke, “[m]acro-evolution is strictly philosophy, not science,” because he says so. (A member of a group that thinks that science adjusts its theories and confidence levels to the the evidence is a shortcoming of science should probably not be viewed as an authority on the distinction between science and philosophy.)


Diagnosis: There are lots of these groups of fundamentalist conspiracy theorists around, and there doesn’t seem to be much to distinguish this one as either more or less lunatic than the others. It is not clear how influential they are, but at least they’re zealous.

Friday, March 8, 2019

#2154: Rebecca Rex & Dawn Richardson

Antivaxxers are very active in Texas, and antivaccine groups like Texans for Vaccine Choice have been quite effective in blocking commonsense measures and legislation, such as legislation that would have required school-level reporting of vaccine exemption rates so that parents interested in not sending their children to a school with high exemption rates could choose. No, Texans for Vaccine Choice isn’t really about choice; it’s just against vaccines.

Well, spineless major antivaccine groups like the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) (shades of Badger’s Law here: don’t peruse the NVIC site if you actually seek information) know to exploit the situation in Texas. For instance, in connection with the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, antivaccine advocates Rebecca Rex and Dawn Richardson jumped in with the post “Texas Parents: Know Your Vaccine Choice Rights During Hurricane Harvey Flood Emergency” (discussed here) encouraging antivaccine parents to take advantage of the disaster to “stand up for their right” not to vaccinate their children and to wreak havoc in general, for instance by urging parents to take advantage of a law designed for what is normally a small number of homeless children to be enrolled in school immediately, to enroll their own children without the requirement for documentation of vaccine status.

Rex and Richardson are the founders of PROVE – Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education – which does not request vaccine education but that denialist talking points and conspiracy theories be given equal time in discussions of vaccine-related issues. Here is Rex trying on the Nirvana fallacy. Richardson, meanwhile, is also the NVIC Director of Advocacy, and has been in the antivaccine game for a while. She must for instance be credited with managing to get a personal belief exemption added to Texas law in 2003, and has been heavily involved in blocking efforts to restrict exemptions in a number of states.

Diagnosis: They seemingly try their hardest to avoid looking like complete and utter loons. They fail. But they have already been frighteningly successful in blocking efforts that would actually save lives, so it’s not just a matter of laughs.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

#2153: Walter ReMine

Walter ReMine is an electrical engineer and young-earth creationist, and something of an authority in the creationist cargo cult science movement. ReMine is for instance responsible for (with Kurt Wise) reintroducing the pseudoscientific discipline of baraminology, which has become a central area of young-earth creationist pseudoinquiry with various pseudojournals, conferences and bullshit devoted to it; ReMine himself introduced a number of central baraminological concepts and the central terminology.

ReMine is particularly famous for his decades-long obsession with Haldane’s dilemma, which isn’t a dilemma and no obstacle to evolution, though ReMine makes sure to misrepresent science to make it sound like it is. Besides, ReMine’s position in the creationist community and the general hero worship that seems to be required for their work – after all, they cannot use science or evidence to identify authority – means that his claims have, despite being fundamentally mistaken, become fairly common talking points among creationists; falsification has never been a particularly effective contributor to change in creationist ideas. Of course, instead of correcting his mistakes, ReMine’s response to refutation is to complain about evil scientists and the global conspiracy that prevents him from revealing the fatal flaw in the theory of evolution to the world. (Hint for rational people: if the options are “there is a global conspiracy to suppress the truth I have discovered” and “I am wrong”, it is a good idea to at least consider the latter option.)

More recently, ReMine has introduced what he calls Message Theory, but seems to be still rather strikingly reluctant to properly define it – he does point to testability as a central virtue of the theory, but struggles to tell us how to test it. But he has at least (self-)published a book, The Biotic Message, which according to himself presents a completely revolutionary new theory – in reality, the book only tellsus that his theory is superior to evolution but doesn’t actually describe the theory in any systematic manner that would allow us to check. As for his arguments against evolution, they are somewhat undermined by the fact that he fails to understand some rather fundamental points about evolution. The book hasn’t quite managed to go mainstream quite yet (actual geneticists were not impressed), but you know: Conspiracies and stuff – ReMine more or less explicitly invokes them.

Diagnosis: If you develop a claim and nobody is impressed, the wise person will at least consider the possibility that the claim is wrong; ReMine, however, seems to be the kind of person who takes it to demonstrate that nobody else understands the field as well as himself, and therefore as a boost to his ego. (This would explain much of his antics quite well.) He has, however, established himself as something of an authority in the creationist community – which is not something to be proud of, of course.

Monday, March 4, 2019

#2152: Judith Reisman

Judith Ann Reisman is a wingnut activist most famous for her deranged crusade against sexologist Alfred Kinsey and insane hatred of homosexuality, which she believes was the cause for the rise of Nazism. Her thoughts are often published by the WND, RenewAmerica and The New American, the magazine of the John Birch Society. Reisman is also visiting professor of Law at Liberty University (her education is not in law; the important thing is that she is an ideological fit), and Liberty Counsel’s favorite expert when it comes issues pertaining to sexuality. Reisman’s advice was endorsed by Rick Santorum, who also supported a ban on pornography (Reisman claims that pornography is ultimately the source of all evil.)

Reisman on Kinsey
Reisman’s attacks on Kinsey (more details here) are unconstrained by truth, reality or reason. She has, for instance, falsely accused Kinsey of being a fraud who employed and relied on pedophiles for his research, and even that he himself sexually abused children, based on the fact that she doesn’t like the results of his work. Indeed, Reisman views Kinsey as some kind of Satan who is personally responsible for what she perceives to be the cultural decay of America. In 1991 she sued the Kinsey Institute, its then director, and Indiana University for defamation and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress regarding alleged attempts to censor her book Kinsey, Sex and Fraud (they criticized it, for its remarkable falsehoods and misunderstandings), a case ultimately dismissed with prejudice in 1994. Her follow-up book Sexual Sabotage: How One Mad Scientist Unleashed a Plague of Corruption and Contagion on America was, shall we say, not better, and according to one critic “takes the unseemly shape of a paranoid sermon on American decency held together by acerbic ad hominems, a tapestry of slippery slope arguments, a string of unwholesome linkages (“Nazi serial pedophiles”), and a litany of medieval, Victorian, and McCarthyian diagnostics.” In the book, published in 2010 by the wingnut conspiracy theorist press WND Books, Reisman calls Kinsey a “traitor” to America because in her mind, he and his researchers deliberately set out to defame the Greatest Generation and destroy the world. Even Kinsey’s death is a conspiracy: Reisman claims that he died of “brutal, repetitive self-abuse” (i.e. masturbation) when in fact he died of heart problems and pneumonia.

Prior to the release of the 2004 film Kinsey, Reisman and wingnut extremist Laura Schlessinger attempted to place an advertisement alleging that Kinsey was a pervert and a pedophile, or, as she put it elsewhere, “a scientific and moral fraud, a certifiable sexual psychopath as well as a sadomasochistic pornography addict and a sexually harassing bully” (“certifiable” in this context does not mean what ordinary people ordinarily think it means) and that “Dr. Kinsey’s most egregious fraud is that he wasn’t a scientist. He was an ideologue who was most importantly a sex offender at best, and, beyond being a sex offender, he was certainly a child sexual abuser and/or solicitor and guide in the perpetration of that abuse.” At least we can pretty firmly establish that Reisman is unable to see the distinction between a scientist and an ideologue. Ultimately, Reisman wishes to discredit not only Kinsey but the entire field of sexology, “the sexindustrial complex” that has grown out of his work: “One doesn’t measure American sexual habits,” she said. “That’s not a science.” At least what she is doing certainly isn’t.

In 2012, Reisman predictably blamed Kinsey for the child abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, pointing out that it is no coincidence that the abuse “problem in the Church” began just when Kinsey published his work, which is technically true given that there is not even remotely any correlation in the timelines here that could even be said to be coincidental. 

Erototoxins
Pornography, according to Reisman, is dangerous, and not only for spiritual reasons. According to Reisman there is a genuinely physiological mechanism that makes pornography dangerous: If you view pornography, an addictive chemical mixture floods the brain and harms it. Reisman has dubbed this mixture “erototoxins”. Of course, she has not actually provided any evidence for the existence of erototoxins, nor described any plausible mechanism, or even attempted to define “harm” as in “harms the brain”. She has, however, expressed an impressive degree of confidence that MRI studies will prove the existence of porn-induced physical brain damage. And such proof will be followed by a mass of lawsuits against distributors of pornography. Reisman is ready. Yes, it is a little bit sad, but remember that Reisman is really evil, too.

More importantly, insofar as pornography can “subvert cognition”, then it stands to reason that “these toxic media should be legally outlawed, as is all other toxic waste, and eliminated from our societal structure.” Indeed, as she sees it, there cannot really be any substantial arguments against her position, since individuals who have suffered brain damage from “pornography are no longer expressing ‘free speech’ and, for their own good, shouldn’t be protected under the First Amendment.” (This really, really isn’t how the First Amendment works.)

The 2002-2011 Proceedings of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences state, concerning Reisman’s public statements about erototoxins, that “facts stood in the way of her opinion and testimony.” As of October 2018, PubMed still contains no results either for “erototoxin” or for “erotoxin.”

When Rick Santorum claimed that “a wealth of research is now available demonstrating that pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences,” he was referring largely to Reisman. “Research” and “demonstrating” are not really the correct word choices. Similarly, at a 2004 congressional hearing convened by Sam Brownback, Reisman, apparently billed as an expert on addiction, testified that “pornography triggers myriad kinds of internal, natural drugs that mimic the ‘high’ from a street drug. Addiction to pornography is addiction to what I dub erototoxins,” proposing a ban on all sexually explicit images as mind-altering drugs because they cause the release of opioids. We will grudgingly admit that it takes some effort to really comprehend the abysmal depth of the idiocy expressed here.

Erototoxins emitted from pornography are also to blame for homosexuality, and apparently sex-ed rewires the brain and consequently promotes homosexuality. To back up the claims, Reisman has pointed to a case where pheromones were used to confuse male gypsy moths in order to prevent them from mating with females, which is evidence that pornography is similarly confusing men by emitting erotoxins and thereby make them less attracted to women (or something like that); according to Reisman: “Pornography is a visual pheromone, a powerful 100-billion-dollar per year brain drug that is changing sexuality even more rapidly through the cyber-acceleration of the Internet. It is ‘inhibiting orientation’ and ‘disrupting pre-mating communication between the sexes by permeating the atmosphere’ and Internet.” Apparently this passes as “science” at the creationist institution Liberty University.

But sex-ed is of the devil, of course; sex ed turns children into prostitutes and “little sexual deviants,” says Reisman, and sex ed classes are designed to brainwash children into thinking they might be gay, transgender or “all kinds of other things”, making “these kids become fodder for adult predators.” Accordingly, she has argued that public schools should face class action lawsuits from parents for illegally “grooming” children for sex (an idea taken up by Michigan state representative Gary Glenn). In 2013, Reisman engaged herself in the fight against sex-education in Croatia. According to Reisman, George Soros has “brought in pedophiles from around the world” to the country as part of the effort to set up the system and make kids gay. Yes, Soros is turning kids gay. And to repeat ourselves: Reisman, with no education in law (or psychology), is a visiting professor of law at Liberty University, an institution that pretends to be a university.

Anti-pornography campaigning
Her anti-porn campaigns have been going on for a while, but really took a turn with a 1983 talk on CNN’s Crossfire about “connections between sex education, sex educators, and the pornography industry,” a talk that really made for an interesting study in delusional imagination and the ability to make up conspiratorial connections from nothing. She was subsequently invited by the US DOJ to apply for a grant to conduct a “study at American University to determine whether Playboy, Hustler, and other more explicit materials are linked to violence by juveniles” for the amount of $734,371, which was approved without competition. Reisman subsequently spent three years reading porn (Pamela Swain, director of research, evaluation and program claimed that the study could be accomplished for $60,000), and produced the report “Images of Children, Crime and Violence in Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler”, which was, perhaps needless to say, void of anything resembling quality, rigor, accountability or accuracy. In the report, Reisman claimed that she had found “2,016 cartoons that included children apparently under the age of 17 and 3,988 other pictures, photographs, and drawings that depict infants or youths.” Sex crime researcher Avedon Carol commented that the report was a “scientific disaster, riddled with researcher bias and baseless assumptions”, partially since (in the words of expert reviewers) “the term ‘child’ used in the aggregate sense in this report is so inclusive and general as to be meaningless.” American University refused to publish the completed work. Despite its shoddiness, the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography concurred with the report, with the result that several stores stopped selling Playboy and Penthouse.

When Playboy and Penthouse printed nude photos of Madonna in 1985, Reisman warned that because of the entertainer's idolization by youth, their publication would destigmatize and “encourage voluntary display by youngsters,” leading to an increase in child pornography. This is not remotely how this works.


Expert testimony at the Mapplethorpe exhibition obscenity trial
During the 1990 obscenity trial of Dennis Barrie, director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, for displaying controversial photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, Reisman was called as (the only) expert witness for the prosecution, after having had, the previous year, written an editorial in The Moonie Times with the title “Promoting Child Abuse as Art” accusing “Mapplethorpe of being both a Nazi and a child molester”. (The defense argued that she was not qualified as an art expert, but the judge allowed her to testify as a rebuttal witness.) During her testimony, Reisman did not discuss the explicit content of Mapplethorpe’s work, but argued rather that the five photographs were not works of art because they either did not display a human face, or, in the case of Self-Portrait, just a face that “... displayed no discernible emotion,” and that without emotion, the placement of the photographs in a museum implied that the activities displayed were appropriate. She also testified that “anal sodomy is traumatically dysfunctional and is definitely associated with AIDS” and claimed that the pictures of nude children legitimized pedophilia. One really, really wonder what the prosecution thought of her defense. Barrie and the Center were acquitted of all charges by the jury.

Reisman is apparently still being called as expert witness by various deranged and bigoted conspiracy theorists, both in the US and abroad.

The Gays
Reisman is a fan of Scott Lively’s The Pink Swastika and apparently believes that the homosexual movement in Germany gave rise to the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. Thanks to Alfred Kinsey, warns Reisman, the American homosexual movement is poised to repeat those crimes: “Idealistic ‘gay youth’ groups are being formed and staffed in classrooms nationwide by recruiters too similar to those who formed the original ‘Hitler youth.’” Accordingly, she has enthusiastically endorsed criminalization of homosexuality. 

According to Reisman, homosexuals employ recruitment techniques that rival those of the United States Marine Corps to transform innocent children into raving homosexuals: homosexual “recruitment is loud; it is clear; it is everywhere.” People like Judith Reisman tend to think things are everywhere. 

And the ultimate goal of gay people is not what they say it is. According to Reisman, “the whole point of the objective” of GLSEN’s (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network – a “modern version of the Hitler Youth,” according to Reisman) anti-bullying efforts is to promote pedophilia; indeed “the aim of homosexual males and now increasingly females is not to have sex with other old guys and get married but to obtain sex with as many boys as possible.”

Not happy with the decision to allow gays to join the Boy Scouts, Reisman claimed that it is a result of a debate going back to Alfred Kinsey: “The Boy Scouts are up for grabs at this point in time, and I mean that in many ways,” Reisman said. And what will happen is, as Reisman sees it, that gay Boy Scouts will “train” and sexually assault other scouts and then trick them to “believe they are naturally ‘that way.’” In fact, it is a step in a strategy to implement … communism. That’s right: gay rights is ultimately about communist tyranny. How is that going to work, you may ask. Well, “the drive for homosexual, bisexual, bisexualization of the children” is meant to make people become “controlled by their sexual lust.” At that point, they will become a “slave population” who will lose their sense of right and wrong (homosexuals “aim to wipe out all morality – whatever legal mechanisms that have protected the weak from the strong for thousands of years,” says Reisman) and “buy into the tyranny.” You probably shouldn’t ask.

In 2015 Mat Staver, on behalf of Reisman, submitted one of the most bizarre legal briefs in the history of legal briefs submitted in the context of same-sex marriage cases.

Miscellaneous
In 2018 Reisman said that pizzagate is “worthy of FBI investigation”.

There is a decent Judith Reisman resource here.

Diagnosis: We probably shouldn’t, but it is hard not to speculate whether much of what Reisman says about gay people tell us more about Reisman than she wants to reveal (and certainly more than it tells us about gay people). A raving lunatic monster in any case, and her influence is greater than I think most reasonable people (whose paths she rarely crosses) realize. 

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Saturday, March 2, 2019

#2151: Mark Regnerus

Mark Regnerus is a is a sociology professor at UT Austin. Regnerus is most famous for a 2012 population-based study published in Social Science Research (details here; review here) from which he drew, based on fundamentally flawed conceptual and methodological grounds (some details here and here) that “that the household instability that the NFSS reveals is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital to esteem and support this new (but tiny) family form,” a conclusion demonstrably not supported even by his own flawed data if analyzed carefully rather than with a true motivated reasoner’s selective sloppiness – and remember: the study didn’t even remotely study children growing up in same-sex households; essentially, Regnerus compared well-functioning straight households with broken families where at least one of the parents had at one point had a homosexual affair. 

Of course: even serious scientists can published flawed studies and draw unwarranted conclusions (though reviews of the referee process of the journal show that the Regnerus study took it one step further, to put it diplomatically, leading to the expected outcome). What makes Regnerus a loon, however, is how he doubled down on his conclusions once they were conclusively shown to be unwarranted (e.g. this). (Not that he doesn’t have a prior history of religiously motivated anti-gay lunacy). You may, for instance, try to follow him down the rabbit-hole in this interview, where he for instance claims that women are far more vulnerable today than they were 50 years ago because of access to contraception and because they no longer can break with unfaithful husbands (yes, it’s fascinatingly bizarre to watch). And here is Regnerus claiming that sex has become “the opium of the masses,” that “we are lacking transcendence and sex is a transcendent act,” because … science? Oh, no: “Sex doesn’t explain the world, religion does,” said Regnerus, providing us all with a rather nice opportunity for head-scratching.  

The study in question was funded by the conservative Witherspoon Institute. Now, research needs funding, of course, and Regnerus stated, seemingly reasonably enough, that the Witherspoon Institute played no role in the design of the study, and dismissed accusations of improper influence. However, the release of emails between Regnerus and Witherspoon Institute employee Brad Wilcox strongly suggested otherwise. In one of them, Wilcox for instance approved several items relating to the study on behalf of the Witherspoon Institute. Wilcox, who funded and planned Regnerus’s study, was, by the way, also on the editorial board of Social Science Research, where the study was published, which is surely a coincidence.

Regnerus and his study were, in fairness, defended by some sociologists, too, but looking at the list of defenders will give you some eerie reminders of certain Discovery Institute antics.

Regnerus also contributed to an amicus brief in opposition to same-sex marriage and appeared as an expert witness in a 2014 federal court hearing regarding Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. His testimony was however rejected by the judge since Regnerus’s arguments derived from methodologically flawed data that were “not worthy of serious consideration”. Of course, the fact that his research was fundamentally flawed and the results refuted by later studies doesn’t mean that Regnerus’s misinformation attempt goes away; rather, he has become something of a hero, as well as active participant and speaker, in wingnut circles, and his study (or “study”) has gotten to live a rich life also among wingnut anti-gay groups abroad. Here is Regnerus’s strikingly feeble attempt at ciriticizing better studies coming to different conclusions than his own.

During a speech at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2014 titled “What Sexual Behavior Patterns Reveal about the Mating Market and Catholic Thought”, Regnerus claimed that “normalization of gay men’s sexual behavior” in society will also lead heterosexual men astray and demand anal sex from women, thus causing a surge in the “practice of heterosexual anal sex.” He also called gay adoption as “mean” as abortion.

There is a fine Mark Regnerus resource here.

Diagnosis: It is pretty clear, and Regnerus has more or less admitted as much, that Mark Regnerus is not primarily a scientist: he is an ideological activist and fundamentalist with a degree, who will not let data, facts or evidence stand between him and any predetermined conclusion, one for whom the role of evidence is to support whatever he already believes.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

#2150: Jeanna Reed

Hardly a mover or shaker in the antivaccine autism quackery movement, Jeanna Reed primarily came to our attention through her role in the tragic tale (murder) of Alex Spourdalakis. Reed is affiliated with – or runs, we are not sure – Autism is Medical, an autism biomed quackery group with a website full of familiar antivaccine and autism biomed nonsense, include sections on mitochondrial disorders and banners asking if autism is vaccine injury. It demonstrably is not.

And the Spourdalakis connection? It is admittedly not entirely clear, but it seems very likely that Alex Spourdalakis’s mother was subjecting him to autism biomed quackery on the advice of Reed, causing horrible suffering. Reed is apparently convinced that autism is caused by underlying physical conditions (bowel disease, mitochondrial dysfunction and/or “autistic enterocolitis”, a non-existent condition introduced by Andrew Wakefield and Arthur Krigsman), which is false, and it seems like she may have fooled Alex’s mother into thinking that following various quack treatments would remedy her son’s condition. Of course they wouldn’t. Reed is, in that case, to a large extent, to blame for the subsequent murder of Alex Spourdalakis. The antivaccine movement admittedly spun the story somewhat differently.

Diagnosis: A ghastly excuse for a human being. Oh, we are convinced that she thinks she is helping, but she isn’t, and has long since crossed the line where stupidity becomes indistinguishable from malice.  

Sunday, February 24, 2019

#2149: James Redfield

James Redfield is the author of the novel The Celestine Prophecy, which has come to be viewed as something of a spiritual guide for the New Age by a substantial group of very silly people (“This book is very simply about how we get and use energy. When we get enough energy, in the right ways, we can ‘raise our vibration.’ With a higher vibration we are better able to tap into our psychic and intuitive skills, and thus are better able to discover and live our true purpose in life,” says one reader who, we suspect, wouldn’t be able to define “energy” (or “vibration”) if her or his life depended on it. Redfield himself treats his novel very much that way, too, in addition to using it as the basis for a very material industry that includes newsletters (The Celestine Journal: Exploring Spiritual Transformation), sequels (The Tenth Insight, which “will take you through portals into other dimensions,” The Secret of Shambhala; In Search of the Eleventh Insightand The Twelfth Insight: The Hour of Decision), audio tapes and CDs. The book is discussed in detail here. There are hints of L. Ron Hubbard. This is a cult.

Most of the teachings gleaned from his writings consist of vague gesturing about (never-defined) energies and vibrations, and, in particular, on how to increase your energy level in order to vibrate harder, because that is apparently good for you. However, for some reasons these energies and vibrations mean that for “half a century now, a new consciousness has been entering the human world, a new awareness that can only be called transcendent, spiritual. If you find yourself reading this book, then perhaps you already sense what is happening, already feel it inside.” Like most millenialist prophecies, we are always already on the verge, it seems. And how should you prepare for this consciousness? You should, according to Redfield, avoid the negative (you can tell good from bad people by their eyes), quell your doubts, follow your intuitions, adopt a teleological worldview, tap into collective consciousness and evolve. Apparently it is no coincidence that coincidences are happening more and more frequently at present, as Redfield sees it, though there are of course really none. Good lord.

In fairness, there are some more concrete events described in the novel, too (concerning mysterious insight into vibrations set down by Mayans in the 6thcentury in Aramaic(!)), but those are fictional, and Redfield’s followers should take them seriously but not literally (perhaps you should vibrate at the frequency of their post-truth truthiness?). The novel also reminds you about the restlessness of contemporary life and focus on material goods – a deeply profound revelation, isn’t it? – and advices readers to care about auras instead. 

In any case, the book is supposed to convey nine “deep” insights, primarily about subtle energies (previously undetected by science, but which forms the basis of all things – how does he know about them? The insights of the Arameic-speaking Mayans that he invented, of course; silly you) that you can freely tap into by mystical experiences (unless blocked by childhood traumas, which can make you a psychic vampire) and which, if everybody does, will allow us to vibrate ourselves off the planet, which is apparently good. The sequels promise three more “insights”. Redfield has also written God and the Evolving Universe: The Next Step in Personal Evolution, with Sylvia Timbers and Michael Murphy.

The effectiveness of his message rests not on the contents but on its championship of solipsism and self-centered, self-serving egotheistic subjectivism (with a dash of victim blaming): truth is whatever you make it, follow yourself, evolve your spirituality, don’t care about reality. Subjective validation and communal reinforcement are everything you need. “Post-truth” is the currently popular word for it, we think.

Diagnosis: Redfield seems, at least superficially, to be a true believer, so we will assume he is. It doesn’t make him significantly less disgusting. And to his fans (and fans of similar tripe):youare the reason for fake news, post-truth nonsense, conspiracy theories and inauthentic living (yes: go read some Sartre instead, though we suspect you are too dimwitted to get anything out of it).

Hat-tip: skepdic.

Friday, February 22, 2019

#2148: Ruth Reddens & Earl Fernandes

More anti-abortion activists. Ruth Reddens and Earl Fernandes are some of the local activists of Dayton, Ohio, involved for instance in the 2012 40 Days for Life prayer vigil in front of the Kettering abortion clinic (Reddens was the organizer). Now, anti-abortion activists have held prayer vigils outside the clinic for decades, but Reddens and Fernandes took it one step further, arranging an “exorcism of locality” with exorcism prayers, which are designed to drive evil out of a place, rather than out of a person. “Hopefully, the spiritual battle will be won,” said Reddens. It doesn’t work that way. She did, however, obtain permission to perform the exorcism from Rev. Steve J. Angi, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Participants to the event would be reading Pope Leo XIII’s Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel (“[s]eize the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the devil and Satan, bind him and cast him into the bottomless pit, that he may no longer seduce the nations”), a prayer, said Rev. Fernandes, dean of the Athenaeum of Ohio seminary in Cincinnati, that “is said over a place that’s infested with the evil spirit, to remove any evil that might happen to be there.”

Diagnosis: There are legitimate discussions to be had over moral and political issus related to abortion, but your opponents do not have the views they do because of demon possession. Some people ought really not to watch old horror movies.