Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#2231: Bob Sears

Bob Sears is a California-based celebrity pediatrician, initially famous for his promotion of attachment parenting but currently best known as one of the central figures in the antivaxx movement, notable for his unorthodox and potentially dangerous views on childhood vaccination. Though he vehemently rejects the “antivaccine” label, Sears is at the very least one of the most diehard antivaxx apologists out there, vocal vaccine delayer, promoter of the nonsense “too many too soon” gambit, and a master antivaccine dogwhistle performer; he is also a mainstay at antivaccine conferences and meetings. No, seriously: Bob Sears is antivaccine.

His book The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for your Child(2007) proposes, against accepted medical recommendations, two alternative vaccination schedules, a proposal that has garnered almost as much celebrity endorsement as it has received criticism from people who actually understand how this works based on medical evidence. Sears’s advice (or systematic misinformation) has contributed to dangerous under-vaccination in the national child population. The book has been accurately described as “basically a guide to skipping vaccines,” and it “may as well be called The Anti-Vaccine Book.” Rhetorically, the book relies to a large extent on the balance fallacy “to compromise between mutually exclusive positions, like young-earth creationism and evolution” by handwaving and false and misleading claims. Of course, Sears knows very well what audience he is targeting, and is using well-established techniques for reaching them; it is thus little surprise that his book has been highly successful among certain knowledge-challenged groups. There is an excellent discussion of his techniques, as well as his dangerous misrepresentations of the facts and evidence, here. For instance, Sears predictably (and, one has to suspect, deliberately) misuses the VAERS database to argue, falsely, that the risk of serious adverse events over the course of the current vaccine schedule is 1 in 2600. Then he says that the “risk of a child having a severe case of a vaccine-preventable disease is about 1 in 600 each year for all childhood diseases grouped together,” leading him ask whether “vaccinating to protect against all these diseases worth the risk of side effects?” Even disregarding his nonsense calculation of the risk of adverse events, even minimally intelligent readers should be able to identify the sleight of hand: Yes, Sears weighs the risk of an adverse event against the risk of acquiring a vaccine preventable disease using current disease incidence rates, which, of course, are what they are because of current vaccination rates. It is accordingly safe to conclude that Sears isn’t only a loon, but actively malicious. (He has also, on several occasions, lied about the danger of the diseases in question, of course.) Similarly, with regard to HIB, Sears admits that HIB is bad, but also “so rare that I haven’t seen a single case in ten years … Since the disease is so rare, HIB isn’t the most critical vaccine.” That it wouldn’t take long for him to see plenty of cases if people followed his advice, is not addressed. He also employs the appeal to vaccine package insert fallacy.

The rhetorical strategy described in the above paragraph is a mainstay of Sears’s marketing toward the antivaccine community. Though he admits that vaccines kinda work and are responsible for eradicating dangerous childhood diseases, Sears also said, in 2014, that he thinks “the disease danger is low enough where I think you can safely raise an unvaccinated child in today’s society.” Notably, Sears encourages anti-vaccine parents not to tell others of their decision not to vaccinate, writing that “I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly,” clearly, and probably correctly, recognizing that his intended audiences don’t worry too much about the ethics of free-riding. After all, Sears doesn’t care about ethics either. It is not for nothing that Sears has been a house expert for the insane New Age pseudoscience website mothering.com, for instance. 

In 2008, Sears told the NY Times that 20% of his patients do not vaccinate at all, and that another 20% vaccinated partially, commenting that “I don’t think [vaccination] is such a critical public health issue that we should force parents into it.” In 2008, Sears got in some trouble when one of his “intentionally undervaccinated” seven-year-old patients was identified as the index patient who started the largest measles outbreak in San Diego since 1991, resulting in 839 exposed persons, 11 additional cases (all in unvaccinated children), and the hospitalization of an infant too young to be vaccinated, with a net public-sector cost of $10,376 per case. It is both disheartening and interesting to see Sears react to suggestions that he is kinda responsible here, but the reaction is relatively representative for the contortions Sears often gets himself into when simultaneously respond to critics, trying to maintain a veneer of respectability, cultivating his status in the anti-vaccine movement and attempting to escape blame of his moral failings. (Sears has predictably been attacked by other antivaxxers, too, over his lack of ideological purity).

Sears has said that he created his alternative vaccine schedules to allow parents to vaccinate their children “in a more gradual manner” than by following the CDC-recommended schedule partially because vaccination risks causing “antigenic overload”; the idea is based on fundamental misconceptions and not on sound scientific evidence. Interestingly, Sears has admitted that there was no published, peer-reviewed evidence to support the notion of vaccine overload, and claimed that “my precautions about spreading out vaccines are theoretical, a theoretical benefit to kids …”. PIDOOMA, in other words.

Health freedom
Sears is staunchly opposed to California Senate Bill SB277, a bill that eliminated non-medical vaccine exemptions, and tried to fight it under the banner of “health freedom”, comparing non-vaccinating parents to Nazi-persecuted Jews during the Holocaust. Because that’s the kind of person he is. (It is a common gambit among antivaxxers.) When the bill passed, Sears responded by teaching antivaccine parents how to proceed to obtain exemptions without any medical justification, basically offering to sell medical exemptions for $180 apiece. No, seriously (details here; and Sears wasn’t the only one to do so). Sears and one Melissa Floyd, a self-proclaimed “data analyst”, subsequently launched a website and associated facebook group called the Immunity Education Group to spread misinformation about the law, the CDC, infectious diseases and vaccines (some examples here).

Sears was similarly opposed (i.e. unhinged) to bill AB 2109, a bill that would require pediatricians to counsel parents on the risks and benefits of vaccines, partially because of its ostensibly hidden agenda: “it isn’t difficult to see the REAL reason for the bill: to increase vaccination rates in our state by making it more difficult for parents to claim the exemption,” said Sears, identifying what for a hidden agenda must be counted as remarkably open and explicit. The point of the bill was otherwise to ensure that informed consent was actually informed, but Sears – who has otherwise been very concerned about “informed consent” – seems to have been mostly worried about liability issues that might arise from any legal duty to be honest with his patients being imposed on him. 

In 2016, the Medical Board of California released a six-page opinion accusing Sears of “gross negligence”, “Repeated Negligent Acts”, and “Failure to Maintain Adequate and Accurate Records” (quacks and antivaxxers were quick to run to his defense). And in 2018, the Medical Board placed Sears on 35 months of probation after he settled a case in which the Medical Board accused him of writing a doctor’s note exempting a two-year-old child from vaccinations without obtaining basic information about the patient (detailed discussion of the charges here). Per the terms of his probation, Sears is required to take 40 hours of medical education courses annually, attend an ethics class, be monitored by a supervising doctor, and will have to notify hospitals and facilities of the order, with restrictions on supervising physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Sears denied any wrongdoing, of course.

Oh, and he also runs an online store selling untested supplements at steep prices for all people in all sorts of different situations, such as the $18.99 (per 2015) Children Liquid Immune Boost supplement, presumably aimed at the same group who buys into his misinformation about vaccines. 

Bob’s brother Jim Sears, also a pediatrician, has been involved in the antivaccine movement as well, and appears for instance in the antivaccine propaganda movie Vaxxed, where he claims not to be antivaccine while simultaneously spreading antivaccine conspiracy theories and defending Andrew Wakefield.

Diagnosis: One of the central figures in the antivaccine movement (regardless of how he tries to market himself), and thus one of the most significant threats to the health, life and well-being of children in the US today. Utterly despicable.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

#2230: Steven Seagal

More celebrity loons, and we suppose it comes as no shock to many that Steven Frederic Seagal struggles with reason, fact and comprehension. Seagal has been a lot of things, from martial artist, musician and aspiring politician to apologist for dictators, but is perhaps best known for a ridiculously overblown ego and intense paranoia. He has also claimed to be CIA black ops, a psychic, a “healer” and the reincarnation of a Buddhist God or holy man (which is presumably a step on the only way to justify his earlier claim to have put “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hours into my weapons training”).

A fierce critic of Obama’s supposedly authoritarian governing style (he should have been impeached, e.g. over Benghazi, as Seagal sees it), Seagal is instead a fan of Vladimir Putin because Putin as a statesman “simply gets shit done when necessary”. Apparently, Seagal considers Putin “one of the great world leaders” and a “brother”, and has taken it on himself to be some sort of PR agent for Russia, including defending Russia’s actions toward the Ukraine; Seagal has even played a concert at a Russian nationalist bike show in Crimea in celebration of the annexation; in 2017 he was also banned from Ukraine for five years for being a national security threat. Putin has reciprocated the bromance, and Seagal is currently a Putin-appointed special envoy to the US, ostensibly with the task of improving relations between the countries. It is impossible to imagine that this might have been Putin's true intention.

A possible contender for “world record in bizarreness”, Seagal’s own reality show was, in 2008, invited to Phoenix by sheriff Joe Arpaio to film a season and partake in police work. The apex of the season was probably when Seagal arrived at the scene of an alleged cockfighting ring driving a tank through the suspect’s gate; 115 roosters and a pet puppy were apparently killed in the process; Seagal summed up the operation by claiming that animal cruelty was one of his pet peeves. (That said, America’s most pressing problem, which Seagal learned while working with Arapaio, is its open borders.) In 2014 Seagal also considered running for governor of Arizona. Here is an interesting take on the similarities between Steven Seagal and Donald Trump, in case you thought he would have been guaranteed to lose.

A staunch defender of gun rights, Seagal has argued that the mass shootings that have occurred in the US are false flag operations with the intent to create unbearable restrictions for gun owners. He has also proposed that the solution to mass shootings is to have armed guards at every single school.

Honorable mention also to Seagal’s woo-based energy drink, the Lightning Bolt energy drink, “the only all natural 100% juice energy drink on the market”, which allows the consumer to “partake of the true Asian Experience”.

Diagnosis: A silly celebrity loon. But remember: so was Donald Trump.

Friday, August 16, 2019

#2229: Patrick Scrivener

A.k.a. Noel Kilkenny

Patrick Scrivener is an ostensibly Irish-born, incoherent, fundamentalist conspiracy theorist (we use “ostensibly” since we are unsure whether we can trust a word of what he says). Scrivener’s main schtick seems to be the belief that Catholicism is some sort of Satanic conspiracy; in fact, according to Scrivener “the Papacy has been controlled by the British Secret Service from it’s [sic] creation” – yes, you read it correctly – not unlike most other ills that affect what Scrivener takes to be “our flat earth” (oh yes, that too). To explain the British Secret Service connection: “The British Empire WAS the Roman Empire after 313 AD when Druid Constantine became Emperor. The British Empire lost Britain in 410 but continued in Rome. The continuation continued [sic] after the Fall of Rome in 476 because the Papacy was under control of the British. The British Empire regained Britain after the Norman Conquest.”

To give you some flavor of Scrivener’s scholarship, it is worth quoting him at some length; the following is collected from his criticisms of the website Fundies say the darndest things, which have naturally picked up some of Scrivener’s observations: 

Fundies Say The Dardest Things is a M16 controlled website to discredit my exposing of the great conspiracy! M16 agents on Fundies Say The Dardest Things post my articles on The Reformation Online onto this site because the site’s title makes it seem like the people who’s posts end up here are crazy! Fundies Say The Dardest Things want me to seem crazy [Fstdt doesn’t really deserve the credit for that] to prevent people from taking my words about Joshua of Nazareth, the Flat Earth, the Jesuits, and the British seriouslyWhen Joshua of Nazareth claimed to be the messiah, the Pharisees tried to discredit him by calling him crazy [Scrivener is just like Jesus].However he gained so many followers that they decided to crucify him. Joshua of Nazareth lived in the Roman Empire. The British Empire was established in 313 AD when Druid Jesus Constantine became Emperor. The British learned of the strategy of discrediting their opponents from the Romans. Jesus Constantine created the Latin Church. The Papacy has been controlled by the British Secret Service from it’s creation. The Pharisees originally mocked Joshua the Messiah but Joshua gained so many followers that they decided to crucify him.” And now that M16 is on to him, as demonstrated by the fact that Fstdt has picked up his quotes? “The British Empire will eventually send James Bond to assasinate me [!] for exposing their conspiracy. But I will not cower in fear to the British. I will continue to expose the diabolical conspiracy and preach the truth about the messiah to save the souls of those who read my site from Hades.”

No, the James Bond reference isn’t just a figure of speech. According to Scrivener “[t]here was a real James Bond that existed”, namely Jackie Kennedy: “Jackie Kennedy was the female James Bond. Licensed to kill James Bond was a fictional character created by Ian Fleming, but the real life career of the female James Bond far surpasses any of the plots in his spy novels.” Kennedy was for instance instrumental in bringing Fidel Castro to power – apparently Castro was a CIA agent: “what eventually led to the Cuban Missile Crisis was the close ties between CIA Castro and MI6 Nikita Khrushchev” (no further detail given, unfortunately) – and married JFK on orders from the M16, before assassinating him and later RFK. Evidence? According to Scrivener “it can be proven conclusively that she was completely OWNED by the Agency”; it is unfortunate that he doesn’t try to, you know, supply the proof. Anyways, “[t]here are more James Bonds. Daniel Craig’s James Bond is based on an MI6 agent that is after me. Proof of it is a meme an MI6 agent did on the internet. Luckily I have guns in my house to defend myself.” That last sentence should perhaps give rise to some concern.

Of course, it’s conspiracies all the way down. Did you know that “Queen Elizabeth I(Shakespeare) […] was secretly part of the Latin Church and was planning to surrender England to the Spanish Armada”? Bet you didn’t – and by the way, Mary Stuart’s rule “shows the consequences of letting women rule over men!”. As for Elizabeth Shakespeare: “Queen Elizabeth I went under the identity of Shakespeare because the name of the Virgin Goddess Athena means ‘Shakespearer’ so as the Virgin Queen she wanted to symbolize Athena and the Virgin Mary since she was a secret Latin Church member. However Shakespeare’s identity was kept a secret to prevent people from finding out.” That is not what “because” means. Nor did you probably know that James Earl Ray “was brainwashed by Dr. Donald Ewen Cameronat the Montreal and Expo67, which Scrivener coincidentally attended (“It’s a small non-rotating world after all!!”), andthen sent south to be the fall guy or ‘patsy’ for the upcoming MI6/CIA assassination of Martin Luther King.”

Moreover, according to Scrivener, “Christianity has been proven to be the one true religion. The evidence that Christianity is the true religion is the historical documents of Joshua of Nazareth, and the fact that bible prophecies have been fulfilled. The Bible fortold that the NATION of Tyre would never again be found. That prophecy was fulfilled because since it’s fall there has not been a nation called Tyre. The city of Tyre is currently in the nation of Lebanon.” As proofs go, this one exhibits some shortcomings.

Oh, and flat earth: According to Scrivener, “[t]he ‘space age’ was launched to undermine the foundation of the earth!! Even though children were exposed to the ball earth when they first entered kindergarten, it wasn't until the dawn of the ‘space age’ that thinking people were forced to accept it as a ‘scientific’ fact.” This is not entirely correct. Scrivener’s main point, though, is that the idea of a spherical Earth is a conspiracy created by Satan: “The fact that the earth is stationary and flat is the very foundation of Christianity […] Satan knows that he must undermine the foundation in order to enthrone is mother goddess.” How did Satan get the conspiracy going? Well, the answer is worth another somewhat lengthy quote:

Jesuit ‘Sir’ Isaac Newton invented GRAVITY to explain why the oceans, and all living things, stick to a rotating ball earth. Newton was a bitter foe of the Fifth Monarchy Men, and he spent most of his life studying the Book of Daniel and Revelation in order to refute them. Gravity did away with antipodes or men walking upside down in the Southern hemisphere. According to Jerome’s corrupt Latin Vulgate Version, the earth is suspended in space by NOTHING:He stretched out the north over the empty space (Lat. super vacuum) and hangeth the earth upon nothing (Lat . super nihili). (Job 26:7, Douay-Rheims Version). That is an apt description of the earth according to Newton: A ball hanging in SPACE suspended by NOTHING or GRAVITY. Newton’s ‘law of universal gravitation’ states that ‘a particle attracts every other particle in the universe using a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.’ In other words, the further an object is from another, the less the gravitational attraction. To prove this bizarre theory, astronots aboard a fake ISS are shown in ‘zero gravity.’ Remove gravity from the fake Newtonian system [gravity-denialism is a common feature of flat earth conspiracy theories] and the foundation is as unstable as water. That has not prevented NASA from spending billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up their crumbling foundatiuon. To go to so much trouble to exalt a female pagan deity is beyond belief.”

Scrivener was no fan of Hillary Clinton either, seeing right through her campaign to the British-Satanic-Round-Earth-Zionist-Catholic plot beneath: “Hillary in the White House is a vital part of the ‘Virgin Mary’ Co-Redemptrix dogma!! Hillary in the White House is a vital cog in the Rockefeller/Vatican scheme to force acceptance of that dogma worldwide: For all nations (UN) have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication [sic], the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury (Revelation 18:3). On 9/11, the official Hillary double was introduced. Hillary can run the White House vicariously through her double like she ruled the nation during the Presidency of her husband. The official Hillary double was introduced on 9/11. That date was so appropriate because Jay and Hillary Rockefeller engineered the 9/11 false flag operation. If Hillary is placed in the White House, both Russia and the United States will have doppelganger Presidents. For the past 500 years, with very few exceptions, female rulers have been bitter persecutors of Christianity [followed by a list of pseudohistorical examples pulled straight from Scrivener’s deranged imagination.]”

If you dig into his oeuvre, you’ll find deep sea monsters and free energy stuff as well, and that’s just scratching the surface. Scrivener’s website is here, and is worth a visit – at least it will give you all the details about how smart Scrivener is (Irish Gaelic “was not that difficult to learn because it used the letters of the English alphabet!!”).

Diagnosis: Possibly the most delusional person with regular internet access in the US at the moment. Probably harmless, though his proclamation that “I have guns in my house to defend myself” is somewhat disconcerting.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

#2228: Ben Scripture

J. Benjamin Scripture is a creationist with a PhD in Biochemistry (he is sometimes presented as having a PhD in biology, which is different). Since he has a PhD, he was eligible to sign the Discovery Institute’s silly petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, but calling Scripture a “scientist” would be, shall we say, a bit of a stretch, and his dissent from Darwinism is not remotely scientific. He is nevertheless teaching biology and biochemistry at Grace College and Manchester College, dark and angry fundamentalist Bible schools that wouldn’t welcome real biology in their classrooms anyways.

Hardly a bigshot in the creationist movement, Scripture nevertheless gives talks and participates in “debates” on creation and creationism. Indeed, he even appears to have his own radio show, “Scripture on Creation”, where he e.g. rejects the results of radiometric dating, recommends Expelled, points to evidence of dinosaurs being described in the Bible (the behemoth – it is likely to be a dinosaur since “what animal alive today fits this description?” ) and discusses the layout of the Ark. He is, however, perhaps most notable for his inability to distinguish random rocks from fossilized brains.

Diagnosis: A reasonably minor character, but Scripture is making his own, small contribution to the erosion of trust and truth as generally recognized values in today’s society. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

#2227: Tamara Scott

Tamara Scott is the Iowa state director for Concerned Women for America, whose mission is to “protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens,” and member of the Republican National Committee. In addition, Scott has promulgated bigotry and delusion on radio and cable TV shows since 1998, and currently hosts the weekly online show “Tamara Scott Live”. She was also Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign co-chairperson for Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, and has been involved in organizing political prayer rallies.

Anti-gay activism
Scott is, unsurprisingly, most notable for her persistent opposition to gay rights and marriage equality, and she has alleged that the legalization of gay marriage hurt Iowa’s economy: “It costs you, the taxpayer, as high as $280 billion a year for fragmented families, that’s according to the Family Research Council.” Now, the Family Research Council is hardly a reliable source for anything but hate, but even assuming their figures one might reasonably wonder how encouraging more people to marry would lead to “fragmented families”. Scott is apparently also concerned that marriage equality will pave the way for man-Eiffel Tower marriage. It is perhaps telling that she doesn’t even dimly recognize the significance of consent.

Scott has also argued that it is ironic for feminists to be in favor of gay marriage; after all, feminists want equality, and it is by banning same-sex marriage one ensures an equal number of men and women were married. “So my laugh is, why wouldn’t you want equality in a marriage?” continued Scott. We suspect that there are aspects of feminist thought (the thoughtpart, for instance) that Scott hasn’t yet quite grasped. She also said she couldn’t support civil unions either because that would lend state support of “the act” that “God has not condoned” and thus violate her religious freedom to remain unaware of gay couple having sex: “I can’t condone what he’s condemned, […] So to ask or to force American citizens to condone something that’s against their deeply held religious convictions is wrong. So whether you call it marriage or you call it a civil union, you’re still asking your fellow citizens to embrace something that goes against their First Amendment religious protections.” This is not how the First Amendment works.

Among things Scott asks listeners to ponder are questions like: “If homosexuality is something to be celebrated by the left, by Hollywood, then why does it need all of these protections? And if it needs these protections, then why do we promote it as an everyday lifestyle and a regular choice for our youth?” (she doesn’t really want you to ponder it) and “if homosexuality is truly just something that happens, then why, one, do we have to recruit it in our kindergarten through college-level educational system and, if it’s just an everyday thing, why does it need all these special protections in the civil rights?” She did make it clear for “all those haters out there” that she was just “asking the question, though.

Religion, race and politics
Scott is in general firmly opposed to the separation of church and state (it is “nowhere” in the Constitution, according to Scott, though we have already sort of established that Scott has some difficulties understanding the Consitution). Indeed, Scott does not only think that state-sponsored school prayers should be reinstated, but that we need to repent the decision to end them in order to get back on God’s good side. Apparently, not allowing state-sponsored school prayers has led to “assault, rape, murder”. To back up her claims, Scott cites “studies” done by David Barton, a source that is systematically less reliable on matters of fact than the Deepak Chopra quote generator. (In reality, the rates of violent crime and sexual assault have plummeted over the last two decades, of course; and this is certainly not the only time Scott has relied on questionable sources.) She also suggested that instead of passing a “horrible” anti-bullying bill currently being considered in the state legislature, Iowa should just return Christian prayer to schools.

Later she doubled down on her claims, and argued that removing forced prayer from public schools decades ago led to plummeting test scores, increased violence, more parents divorcing, everything in Ferguson, riots, Antifa, and the Resistance. She then accused critics of lying by quoting her verbatim.

In 2015 she weighed in on the Charleston church shooting claiming that the tragedy was “being hijacked to a racial issue.” According to Scott, the shooting in a black church by a gunman with white supremacist views who explicitly stated his desire to start a race war wasn’t as much a “racial issue” as an attack on religion (it is “being made into more of a racial issue than it was”). Scott then accused critics of the Confederate flag of turning a symbol of “fun” into something divisive.

Scott is of course also opposed to immigration, and has pointed out that “we have no idea what’s coming through our borders, but I would say biblically it’s not a Christian nation when you entice people to do wrong;” she has apparently realized that it is good to give reasons for her claims, but has clearly not figured out how it works or what reasons are. She did, however, warn us that child refugees may be “highly trained warriors”. Elsewhere, she has claimed that lenience toward undocumented immigrants would be a betrayal of the founding fathers, because “we put blood on the line to get the liberty we have, so we can’t allow others not to do the same in their country or we bring those wars here.”

Anti-vaccine views
Given the level of density at play, it should perhaps come as little surprise that Scott is also an antivaxxer. According to Scott, antivaxxers are unfairly demonized: disease outbreaks in school do not happen because people don’t get their kids vaccinated but because the “socialist” schools make kids share pencils and have become places where students are now “facing each other”. Apparently Trump’s antivaccine views are just one more reason to vote for him, as Scott sees things.

On Trump
Scott has criticized fellow Christians for not being sufficiently supportive or forgiving of Trump: “Let’s not be judgmental ourselves. Maybe God’s called someone to a camp for various reasons;” indeed critics of Trump are being judgmental and “not very loving” when they criticize Trump, for “only God” knows the candidate’s heart “and God has allowed what has taken place this far.” This sentiment only applies to rightwing politicians of course; as Jesus taught us that forgiveness is a partisan matter. Note also, Scott points out, that Trump promised that “he’ll end the war on Christianity”; Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, “created the war on Christianity,” which is a surprising claim even for someone who stands out for their lunacy among the religious right. At one point she also suggested that Obama in 2016 was trying to bring in massive amounts of refugees to the US to help sway the election. “Am I suggesting that they’ll be voting?said Scott. I’m not saying that.

Diagnosis: Even we will have to admit to being impressed by Scott’s ability to stand out from her associates; even by the standards of wingnut lunatics Scott’s level of deranged confusions are rather exceptional. She does enjoy a modicum of popularity and influence, and remember: she isa member of the RNC.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

#2226: Ami & Steve Sciulli

Ami and Steve Sciulli are “sacred sound healing musicians who use quartz crystal bowls and electronically enhanced world flutes to create an environment for healing, expansion, and relaxation” under the name Life in Balance. Apparently, Life in Balance “is committed to using sacred musical instruments merged with current technology to create an integrated sonic environment for transformation. They perform both Sound Healing Meditation (Inbreath) and Dance/Music Concerts using global rhythms (Outbreath).” (We sheepishly admit that we couldn’t quite get ourselves to sample their music.) The Sciullis offer energy – “sound healing energy transmission”, in fact. Moreover, if you listen to their “bio-electrical sound current” (it would perhaps be interesting to hear their definition of “bio-electrical”), then “The Sound becomes a fertile field for potential and intention to be made manifest”. It’s like The Secret, with quartz crystal singing bowls: Ami Sciulli, ostensibly “a longtime student of metaphysics” (we suspect she would be in for a shock if she enrolled in a philosophy program at an accredited institution), has “developed an ability to remain in a space of expanded expression and to transmit this frequency through pure thought and the perfect structure of quartz crystal bowls” (you’ll have a hard time falsifying that claim!), and “[u]nderstanding that there is a unifying energy that connects everything, she produces sonic wave vibrations that reach the receiver at their own level, allowing them to connect with and then resonate with the vibrations as they grow stronger.”

As one Jim Brenholts, producer of Tracks Across the Universe: Chronology of Ambient & Electronic Music, described them, “Steve and Ami have been on a mission for years promoting the holistic healing arts of music. They are at the edge and in the center, knocking on the door to the perpendicular universe!” Oh, ye poor, narrow-minded souls who are chained to the idea that words are best used to produce sentences that mean something

Diagnosis: New Age word salads don’t come much more nebulous than in the Sciulli’s promotional materials, at least. Still, if you wish to vibrate at the doorstep of a perpendicular universe, you’ll probably not find any better option.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

#2225: Joseph Sciambra

We have encountered a couple of ex-gay activists before, and have to admit that it is sometimes difficult not to feel some empathy or pity for them. In the case of Joseph Sciambra concern might be appropriate as well. Sciambra claims to be an “ex-gay” porn star, and says that anal sex “release[s] into the world these rare demonic entities”; indeed, unless everyone immediately commits to abstaining from homosexual activity, we risk that the “devil could be given birth to anally.” 

Sciambra describes it all in his book Swallowed by Satan, where he also claims to have been a neo-Nazi and a Satanist. The book doesn’t exactly scream trustworthiness. Much of it is dedicated to graphic accounts of brutal sex with other men, voices Sciambra heard in his head that he claims are demonic spirits, and even having sex with demonic figures; in one story, he goes to a club to get “gang-banged” and during sex “conceives” a demon in his anus. After sex, the demon apparently “gushed from my body” in his discharge and “would grow and pitilessly hover about me. Sometimes, it spoke.” He blames his descent into homosexuality on innocently using a Ouija board as a child and “an occult sex ritual that I engaged in” with “a gay cabal of male witches,” where he had group sex with a man with “the head of a goat or ram.” At some point he was also possessed by a Nazi ghost. (For those who may be interested, some further excerpts and claims are discussed here). No wonder Sciambra “cannot understand why the gay experiment has not been abandoned like other failed utopian philosophies that resulted in mass murder – fascism, Nazism, communism.”

His YouTube page includes a biopic, “Death in Room #122,” as well as video commentaries like “How to Stop Masturbating,” “Gay Marriage: A Satanic Ceremony” and “Former Gay Porn Star Tells of His Possession by Demons and Deliverance from Satan”. Apparently Bryan Fischer was impressed and invited Sciambra on his show, where they talked about how Sciambra was “devoured by the Prince of Darkness” when he “entered the homosexual lifestyle,” an experience Sciambra described as “scary”. Then he warned kids against coming out as gay and implored gay people to “stop the silliness, stop the lies and stop the deception because how high does the body count have to get before we will admit that the gay lifestyle has been a disaster?” Sciambra knows a lot about lies and silliness, at least. 

Diagnosis: As reliable on homosexuality as he is on Satanism and Nazism, we suppose. We are, however, willing to concede that there might, indeed, be some unusual sexual proclivities at work here. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

#2224: Rob Schwarzwalder

Rob Schwarzwalder is currently Senior Lecturer at Regent University, Pat Robertson’s mockery of educational institutions. And prior to that, Schwarzwalder was vice president of the fundamentalist hate group the Family Research Council. In that capacity, Schwarzwalder would for instance call for boycotts of Starbucks, warning that the company may be endangering the country’s economic health by supporting marriage equality. How, you might ask? Well, because “[b]y supporting a movement that would further vitiate the already weakened family unit, [Starbucks CEO Howard] Schultz is tacitly but actively advocating the continued erosion of the institution – the two-parent, heterosexual, traditional and complementary family unit – without which no economy or society generally can thrive.” How recognizing same-sex marriage would lead to erosion of the family unit is not entirely clear (unless Schwarzwalder believes that gay people, if denied same-sex marriage, would instead opt into stable, loving heterosexual marriages), but this really has nothing to do with reason or evidence, of course. Apparently it has something to do with supporting gay rights being a matter of  “show[ing] a lack of love” and sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage leading to “the withering of the soul and the erosion of society.” President Obama thus got it all wrong, since “there is no love in affirming something God declares wrong and harmful, whether it relates to human sexuality or thievery or malice or deception or anything.” Schwarzwalder has also suggested that legalizing gay marriage might lead to civil war.

To change it up a little, Schwarzwalder claimed in 2016 that defending trans rights is “fascistic” and “the banning of dissent”. Apparently legal or political decisions Schwarzwalder don’t agree with are violations of his First Amendment rights and thus contrary to democracy. And indeed, Schwarzwalder is much concerned about First Amendment rights, in particular religious freedom; he has little idea what religious freedom involves, though. “Everyone should be free to agree with me” is not quitethe correct interpretation.

Schwarzwalder has weighed in on other issues, too. He has for instance argued that conservative Christians do not “cherry pick” the Bible when they claim that the Bible’s command to stone rebellious children doesn’t really mean what it says. The guiding principle to reading the Bible is apparently that you should adhere to the Biblical commands Schwarzwalder favors the way he interprets them, and that principe should be applied universally and without exception. He is also a creationist and climate change denialist, of course.

Diagnosis: Precisely what you’d expect from someone in Schwarzwalder’s position: complete rubbish.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

#2223: Jeffrey M. Schwartz

Jeffrey M. Schwartz is a psychiatrist with a genuine research background. He is also a religious fundamentalist, signatory to the Discovery Institute’s nonsense petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, and featured in the 2008 creationist promotion “documentary” Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, where he told Ben Stein that science should not be separated from religion, that is, that dogma should be allowed to overrule empirical research if you don’t like what the data tell you. As for evolution, Schwartz seems to accept evolution in general, but thinks that humans are exempt and able to transcend their origins for reasons that seem to lay closer to Deepak Chopra than to Kent Hovind.


Schwartz is, however, most famous as a proponent of non-materialist neuroscience. Schwartz’s argument for dualism is basically a combination of an argument from incredulity, and a (handwaving) appeal to quantum theory and the New Age (and false) notion that quantum physics somehow demonstrates that a “mind” is a necessary component for anything to happen (Schwartz’s coauthor is Henry Stapp, who is a defender of this, shall we say, non-standard  – though “refuted” would be more accurate – interpretation of quantum mechanics, which would, if true, be evidence for classical idealism, not dualism); there is a concise discussion of their silliness here. Schwartz provides no actual alternative dualist hypothesis that has been worked out in any detail, such as testable predictions, whatsoever, of course, preferring to handwave about a “mental force” that he argues solely by assertion is a natural feature of the universe and not magic. And no: neuroplasticity and what Schwartz calls “reprogramming the brainis of course not evidence for dualism, insofar as nothing can be evidence for a hypothesis that has not even been coherently defined.

Jeffrey M. Schwartz must not be confused with Jeffrey H. Schwartz, who is also something of a crackpot but does, as a physical anthropologist, at least have a rudimentary understanding of the basics of evolution (and whose writings have been a source of quote mining among creationists like Ray Comfort).

Diagnosis: Pseudophilosophy in the service of religion. Schwartz is a real scientist and has done some real science; but his reframing of his research in handwavy mumbo-jumbo has nothing to do with science. Now, some might say that Schwartz’s views are arguably not that radically silly; still, he has aligned himself with the anti-science movement and stalwartly supports their campaigns against science, reason and civilization.

Friday, August 2, 2019

#2222: Robert L. Schulz

Robert Louis Schulz is an engineer by training, Founder and Chairman of We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education and We the People Congress, and “a constitutional activist with a decades-long focus on holding government accountable to the Constitution, through the First Amendment Right to Petition” – or put differently: a tax protester loon and tireless promoter of what might be termed civics woo, a type of woo that is arguably crazier and more likely to cause immediate harm even than most medical woo. Schulz has been credited with “setting the cornerstone for this new era of militias, tax protesters and ‘sovereign citizens’,” and has apparently filed well over one hundred court actions, on a pro se basis, against government actions he asserts are unconstitutional deprivations of individual liberty. His success rate is, predictably, dismal. Like most central characters in the sovereign citizen movement, Schulz has had plenty of opportunities to test out some of his hypotheses in real life settings, but since he is rather poor at assessing the rich data set his experiences have given him, he appears to have learned exactly nothing. For instance, in 2007 he got in trouble (United States v. Schulz, (529 F.Supp.2d 341)) for selling a scheme based on the premise that withholding tax was voluntary; at least the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York was not impressed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the injunction (517 F.3d 606) (the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case).

Schulz had already gained some attention for making similar claims in 2001, with an ad that named three former IRS agents who claimed that most Americans owe no income tax and that the 16th Amendment, which authorizes the U.S. government to levy income taxes, is fraudulent and invalid, and that only employees of foreign-based companies owed income taxes. The campaign won a surprising amount of traction. And of course, Schulz’s arguments, which have been rejected repeatedly by the courts, has predictably been the source of some impressive prison sentences. “Our effort is called ‘Project Toto,’” said one of Schulz’s USA Today ads: “Just as the little dog in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ pulls the curtain back and exposes the truth about the Wizard, our series is intended to ... reveal [that] ... the tax system is founded upon fraud and operates as a giant hoax.”

In 2008, Schulz placed an ad he claimed to be worth “tens of thousands” of dollars in the Chicago Tribune to express his foundation’s belief that Obama was not a US citizen and therefore ineligible for office. Schulz was also a core player in organizing the Jekyll Island Project in 2009 and a subsequent 11-day “continental congress” in St. Charles, which gathered an impressive range of paranoid rightwing extremists and conspiracy theorists, including such fascinating fellows as Tom DeWeese, John Stadtmiller, Robert Crooks, leader of the California nativist group Mountain Minutemen, and Edgar Steele, author for instance of the 2002 essay “It’s the Jews, Stupid!!!”, where he claims that – you guessed it – “Jews are the problem. Jews have been the problem since before they saw to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.” Schulz himself was also a speaker at the We Are Change 9/11 conference in 2010. The St. Charles meeting resulted in the creation of an “Articles of Freedom” document that declares that the federal government “now threatens our Life, Liberty and Property through usurpations of the Constitution.”

Diagnosis: Of course, it continues to baffle us that people never stop to consider whether the question “is this going to fly when I am taken to court?” might actually be relatively independent of the question “is this correct at a theoretical level?” even when they are stupid enough to convince themselves that the answer to the latter is, wrongly, “yes”. Whether Schulz asks himself that question is moot, but at least he seems to encourage his listeners not to; and he seems to have quite a number of listeners.