Monday, June 7, 2021

#2473: Valdas Anelauskas and the Pacifica Forum

 

The Pacifica Forum was a discussion group in Eugene, Oregon, originally hosted by retired University of Oregon professor Orval Etter (since deceased). The purpose of the forum, which met at the university but was never affiliated with it, was originally to “provide information and points of view on war and peace, militarism and pacifism, violence and non-violence,” but it gradually moved toward promoting rightwing extremism and Holocaust revisionism in the early-to-mid 2000s – Etter himself expressed sympathy with David Irving, and stated that “I admit that there were some bad things done to Jews during World War II, but I don’t believe that everything they claim is truthful.” The forum was listed as a hate group by the SPLC in 2009.

 

Central in the process of turning the direction of the forum was Valdas Anelauskas, a Lithuanian immigrant who describes himself as a white separatist”, and who hosted a series of Pacifica Forum talks in 2006, 2008 and 2009 – in particular a series of lectures on “Zionism and Russia”. According to Anelauskas, Jews perpetrated a greater genocide than the Holocaust during the first half century of Communist rule in the former Soviet Union; he also claimed that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was not a forgery at all, contrary to all evidence, and dedicated one of his lectures to German Holocaust denier Germar Rudolf. As Anelauskas sees it, “there are many good people and also many bad people in every nation, but after many years of my experience and research, I came to the conclusion that among the Jews, for some reason, there is a much larger percentage of bad people than among others.”

 

And Anelauskas was not alone. Another regular Pacifica Forum attendee, hardcore Nazi Jimmy Marr, gave a presentation entitled “National Socialist Movement: An Insider’s View of America’s Radical Right” during which he invited those in attendance to join him in giving the Sieg Heil salute. Marr also delivered a presentation, prepared by Anelauskas from various white supremacist Internet sources, on Martin Luther King, which portrayed Kings as a “moral leper and communist dupe”. Marr also claimed that the American Civil Rights Movement was funded by Jewish communists and the USSR in an attempt to incite violence.

 

Then, of course, the heavyweights arrived. In 2008, the forum hosted rightwing extremist, white nationalist and former Croatian diplomat Tomislav Sunic, author of Homo Americanus: Child Of The Post-Modern Age, as well as David Irving himself and Mark Weber, leader of the Institute for Historical Review.

 

Diagnosis: Some magnificently unsavory fellows here, and though the forum seems to be defunct, holocaust denialism certainly hasn’t disappeared and is arguably more prominent than ever (lots of it on display on January 6, 2021, for instance). Dangerous.

Monday, May 24, 2021

#2472: Tracy Anderson (?)

 

Tracy Anderson is a celebrity personal trainer and guru who offers staggeringly expensive training and food programs to Hollywood and other celebrities. As a fitness guru, she does what fitness gurus do: claiming to have unlocked the non-existent secret of weight loss and getting in shape, by offering standard fitness advice with some nonsense personal twists for marketing purposes (she trains “accessory muscles” (?) instead of your large muscles, offers exercises to pull skin tighter to the muscle and warns women not to lift more than three pounds (or to run) or they’ll become bulky, with lots of vague woo and nonsense fluff and bullshit nutritional advice, and plenty of opportunities to pay her by using products she endorses for kickbacks. Some of the advice she gives will probably give you results, some won’t, and if they do give results it will rarely be for the reasons she suggest. She doesn’t really have the faintest idea when it comes to physiology, fitness or nutrition, or she just doesn’t care (there is a good takedown of the nonsense of her recommendations here, here and here). Just like most fitness gurus, really. The first law marketing is to tell people what they need, and then make sure that your product is the only offering that fulfills the need. Of course, since there is no secret to weight loss and exercise, it’s all about packaging. Anderson is good at that – she’s even made it to Oprah.

 

That the diet advice of the “Tracy Anderson Method”, as highlighted for instance in books like The 30-Day Method, will lead to weight loss is hardly surprising, since it’s basically just starvation: people should restrict their calory intake to 700 calories per day. Any other bells and whistles Anderson adds to make her dietary schemes stand out really don’t matter. Of course, some of her additional claims are downright dangerous. According to Anderson, most foods are dangerous and lead to allergies (“I can’t even eat yogurt, nor can I have a tomato or a strawberry! They all cause allergies!”). Needless to say, following Anderson’s advice is not how you develop a healthy relationship with food or anything resembling long-term health, but you didn’t think she cares much about that, do you? And then there is of course the relentless view of what women should look like underlying allher advice.

 

There is a decent takedown of her particular advice here. As for the nonsense fluff bit, Anderson says things like “[i]n research, the number of muscles in our body keeps going up because [scientists are] starting to look at smooth muscle differently. We need to be connected. Everything needs to be called into action, and our brains – which remain one of the most mysterious objects in the universe to this day – have got to participate.” Yes, scientists. And research. This is prime guru talk. 

 

Anderson is perhaps most famous for being a trainer and fitness advisor for, as well as business partner of, Gwyneth Paltrow, and she has participated in Paltrow’s summit and conferences warning people for some reason to avoid cross-training and boasting about working with Microsoft to access people’s “neural pathways” so they’d connect with her online presence. She has also become known for questionable financial practices.

 

There is a decent resource on Tracy Anderson and her charlatanry here.

 

Diagnosis: We’ll designate her a loon. The alternative, which is hard not to characterize as “vastly more likely”, would make her a truly horrible person. In any case, Anderson’s got plenty of fans, since her advice works as well as anything other health and wellness guru advice and because those who fail to achieve results tend to shut up, and of course because her marketing is glitzy.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

#2471: Paul Anderson

 

Paul Anderson is a naturopath and not a doctor, although many of his fans seem confused about that. And Anderson does have fans – indeed, Anderson currently seems to have established himself as a major-league quack and something of an authority in the altmed and conspiracy theory community.

 

Anderson runs something called Advanced Medical Technologies, which seems to be some kind of franchise system (apparently pseudoeducation promoter and quack authority Leanna Standish is affiliated with Anderson’s group) that offers e.g. infusion therapy (IV), hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), and infrared saunamild hyperthermia (IRMHT). According to Anderson, mild hyperthermia can be used for “anti-infective, cancer, toxicity and many others” – in a sense it can be used for that, but it’s not going to achieve anything. He also offers chelation therapy and “detox services”. None of his offered regimes are even remotely effective for the kinds of things quacks tend to use them for, and several of them are genuinely dangerous. In his promotional materials Anderson emphasizes that he e.g. uses “infusions that have been designed and formulated from the collective experience of over three decades from the minds of Dr. Anderson and the other physicians at AMT,” and that they are “customized and tailored” to you. Evidence for safety and efficacy seems to be less of an issue. The FDA has already cracked down on some providers of the kind of intravenous “micronutrient therapy Anderson offers, though it seems that Anderson himself has thus far escaped their attention; chelation therapy, meanwhile, can and demonstrably does kill, and is equally demonstrably useless – pace the claims of quacks – against anything but acute metal poisoning, which you are not suffering from. Detoxification therapies, against mostly unnamed “toxins”,  are a scam that is interestingly reminiscent of religious purification rituals and far less reminicent of medicine. Intravenous ozone, high dose vitamin C, and the wide range of other infusions Anderson offers are equally medically worthless.

 

Anderson might, however, be most famous for championing IV curcumin as a treatment, something that has demonstrably led to deaths. When a young woman in California died from the treatment Anderson advocates, the naturopaths circled the wagons and Anderson himself issued a tellingly clueless defense, mostly focusing on the fact that turmeric and curcumin are different things, something that the press initially got it mixed up and which was … really, really not the problem here. (The woman died from intravenous curcumin, which is what Anderson promotes.) Anderson and the quack cabal the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), of which Anderson is a prominent member, also emphasized the importance of using a licensed naturopath; Kim Kelly, the naturopath who administered the curcumin, was licensed in California, as if that matters, but it’s easy to see why naturopathic organizations might want to give an impression that she wasn’t.

 

Anderson is also a zealous and tireless campaigner against FDA attempts to rein in or create any sort of accountability system for compounding pharmacies of the kind that produced the curcumin that resulted in the aforementioned death. In 2019, for instance, Anderson testified before the Pharmacy Compounding Advisory Committee (a panel of experts advising the FDA) in support of sodium dichloroacetate, stating that his group had administered over 10,000 doses orally and IV as an adjunct treatment for cancer. Which is not evidence for the safety and efficacy of sodium dichloroacetate but should serve as a stark warning to anyone considering approaching Anderson’s group. The PCAC was not impressed.

 

He is apparently also heavily into epigenetics, since it’s very fashionable, and has even posted what he calls amaster class” in epigenetics, nutrigenomics, and cancer. It’s hard to believe that he has the faintest clue what the central terms he is using actually means (hint: “mutations” and “single-nucleotide polymorphisms” are not synonyms). But his intended audience probably doesn’t either. The “masterclass” is, or at least used to be, one of the first hits if you searched “cancer” on youtube, which suggests that Anderson’s deep misunderstandings and obfuscations are going to be many people’s first encounter with anything related to epigenetics and medicine, which is tragic.

 

And of course he has written a book: Outside the Box Cancer Therapies: Alternative Therapies That Treat and Prevent Cancer. We can’t claim to have read it, but if the excerpt on his website is an indication, it’s precisely the kind of unsupported nonsense you’d have expected from the title: mostly an alternative cancer cure testimonial with no relevant details that would allow one to assess it as even suggesting it would even be a starting point for forming a worthwhile hypothesis abourt anything. He also offers review courses for the naturopathic licensing examination, and various webinars. Indeed, Anderson apparently even teaches courses on IV infusions at Bastyr “University”, which tells you a lot more about the bullshit that passes for “education” at that institution and the opportunism that guides their course catalogues, than about Anderson. More worrisomely, some of Anderson’s deranged rants are given at conferences that real medical doctors can get continuing medical education creditsfor attending.

 

More recently, Anderson has been part of the American Association for Naturopathic Physician’s COVID-19 Task Force. Now, it is hardly very surprising that quacks and woomeisters have been using the pandemic to push their particular brands of woo and quackery hard, and the AANP is no exception. According to at least one of their press releases, the group urges physicians and hospitals to utilize IV Vitamin C as “an effective and affordable intervention” (it isn’t) for “high risk and hospitalized patients”, while also offering to be “a resource to physicians and organizations looking for clinical guidance in the proper use of this intervention”. Purely coincidentally, IV Vitamin C has been one of Anderson’s long-time sources of income; indeed, Anderson has “been using IVC safely and effectively … for over 20 years” and his review of the evidence “shows that the use of IVC in hospitalized COVID-19 patients has a high probability of reducing hospital stay, duration and improving outcomes.” We are not particularly surprised this was the outcome of Anderson’s own review; it is also completely contrary to what the evidence gained through real scientific studies actually tells us.

 

Diagnosis: One of the authorities in the naturopathic community – and living evidence of why naturopaths should not be considered authorities, licensed, or consulted for medical issues.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

#2470: Marvin Anderson

Yes, he appears to be an MD, but Marvin Anderson is more than anything an antivaccine conspiracy theorist and promoter of deeply questionable treatments (MD training does, after all, not necessarily include much training in assessing scientific evidence). He runs a clinic in northern Michigan called Abba’s Place where he “treats” autistic children, and he even has a book: Autism Prevention, Care and Management, which is a deranged journey in pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and antivaccine quackery. Apparently his main “treatment for ASD and ADHD consists of nonsense detox regimesprimarily directed to the digestive tract, including the liver” partially based on the quackery of Australian wellness loon Sandra Cabot, grand promoter of medically worthless and potentially dangerous liver flushes and colon cleanses to detoxify your body.

 

As Anderson sees it, “[a]nimal studies have shown an intriguing connection between inflammation in the intestinal tract and inflammation in the brain” and autism “can involve impairments in the body’s detoxification pathways”. And if you seek his services, he will help you identify “contaminants that are present in his patients and creating a detoxification plan for their safe and efficient removal.” Gibberish and garbage. And of course vaccines are to blame – yes, Anderson still pushes the myth that vaccines are a causal factor in autism, together with other environmental toxins.

 

And Anderson does of course not only treat autism, but a whole range of other ailments, from gluten sensitivity to “intestinal bacterial overgrowth”, and the crucial step seems precisely to cleanse your liver: “The medical profession has largely failed to recognize the important role of the liver as the body’s major filter in processing the ever-increasing onslaught of chemicals,” says Anderson – a claim that would come as a surprise to anyone with a basic understanding of medicine and makes one wonder where Anderson went to medical school – and suggests that it needs detoxification, a claim that is indeed not recognized by the medical profession, for very good reasons.

 

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientific bollocks and quackery. Maintain a safe distance, especially if you’ve actually got medical issues: the last thing you want is a loon like Anderson to come near them.

 

Hat-tip: Respectful insolence

Sunday, May 9, 2021

#2469: Kevin Anderson

 

Anderson with David McNabb

Kevin Anderson is a director of the Creation Research Society and a young earth creationist. Apparently, he also has a real degree in microbiology, which makes him one of vanishingly few creationists with genuine and relevant credentials and something of a sideshow star in the creationist circus – you’ll see him make appearances e.g. in Thomas Purifoy’s “documentary” Is Genesis History? Yes, Betteridge’s law applies, though the film actually tries to answer the question unequivocally in the affirmative: after all, its crucial premise is that “[t]he gospel of Jesus Christ therefore stands or falls along with the historicity of the first chapters of Genesis,” so they didn’t have any choice: evidence or reality be damned. The main target, after all, is “theistic evolutionists” and the case for the central thesis is accordingly made on theological, not scientific, grounds. 
 
Anderson has published several papers in venues like Answer in Genesis’s vanity house journal Answers, and is a regular contributor to creationist conferences (oh, yes: young-earth creationists do the full cargo cult science routine), for instance on the (mythical) discoveries of soft tissue in dinosaur remainscreationists love those, since findings of soft tissues could be used to suggest that there is something wrong with the dating procedures used by mainstream science (and the absence of such is actually compelling evidence against recent dinosaurs, but creationists tend not to consider contrary evidence as falsifying).
 
Like many other creationists, Anderson is not particularly happy with the fact that the evolution of the beneficial mutation of lactase persistence in humans is a rather startling example of evolution in action; together with creationist mainstay Georgia Purdom, he has tried to suggest that lactase persistence “[r]ather than being an example of evolution in action, adaptive mutation is an awesome witness to God’s design of bacteria,” because just so. The results were published in the Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism, which is certainly refereed by Anderson’s and Purdom’s peers.  
 
Diagnosis: Yes, they might come across as confused, almost pitiful village idiots, but we really shouldn’t forget that creationists and religious fundies remain a major force in the US today, and Anderson is a relatively central figure.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

#2468: Barb Anderson

 

Barbara Anderson is a Minnesota-based anti-gay activist and former close ally of Michele Bachmann. She is a long-time “researcher” for the Minnesota Family Council, head of the anti-gay hate group Parents Action League and the MN Child Protection League, as well as (sometime?) vice-president of Janet Boynes’s ex-gay front group known as the National Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus. According to Anderson, “the greatest threat to our freedom and the health and well-being of our children is from this radical homosexual agenda that is just so pervasive,” because freedom is when everyone leads their lives the way Barb Anderson feels is proper and legal restrictions are in place to ensure that they precisely that.

 

Yes, Anderson is a vocal supporter of the scientifically discredited idea of conversion therapy, and she has suggested thata lot” of gay teens have been sexually abused, which is why they are “sexually confused” and in need of “change”. To support her view, she has pushed Paul Cameron’s widely discredited “research” to suggest that homosexuality is “three times more dangerous than smoking”, as well as statements by the small fringe conspiracy group American College of Pediatricians, and she has claimed that the “ex-gay” movement deserves “equal time” in public school discussions.

 

Anderson is particularly opposed to Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools, which she claimsaffirm sexual disorders”, insisting that GSAs will draw more confused and questioning youth into gay experimentation and are used, insidiously, to “recruit” youths into homosexuality. Indeed, even supporting young gay people is getting on a “train that is leading down a track that is going to be very harmful to them and their friends”, and LGBTQ-inclusive anti-bullying efforts are a product of the “pied piper of perversion – homosexual youths should be bullied until they come to their senses. Her views earned her a central role in the Minnesota For Marriage campaign.

 

Anderson is probably most famous, however, for directly contributing to a rash of suicides among teens in the Anoka-Hennepin school district (by actively blocking efforts to reach out to and offer help to teens bullied for being gay or perceived as gay at the shools at which the suicides occurred. Her actions received national attention. Anderson had actively petitioned the shool board (“[t]he majority of parents do not wish to have there [sic] children taught that the gay lifestyle is a normal acceptable alternative”) and managed to get the school board to adopt a “No Homo Promo” directive pronouncing that within the health curriculum, “homosexuality not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle.” Of course, people like Anderson and the Minnesota Family Council refused to assume responsibility for their actions, instead trying to put the blame on the people who actually tried to help while ramping up the insane anti-gay rhetoric. Tom Prichard, head of the MFC, for instance, said that his group would continue to fight anti-bullying efforts in the Anoka-Hennepin schools, and that the suicides were not the product of bullying but rather (imaginary)homosexual indoctrination and the students who died had adopted an unhealthy lifestyle. Anderson, meanwhile, accused safe-school groups such as GLSEN of trying to use the student suicides “as a Trojan horse” to instill “pro-gay training” in schools. At least the evil rot Anderson and her ilk fostered in the district didn’t escape attention. When the school district finally adopted new guidelines, Anderson called the anti-bullying efforts “child abuse and said that the new guidelines regarding sexual orientation would turn kids gay.

 

When Anderson’s group Parents Action League was belatedly and obviously correctly labeled a hate group by the SPLC, Anderson complained that the SPLC is “totally opposed to Judeo-Christian values [for Anderson: primarily hate], they really hate Christians and hate evangelicals,” and that it should the SPLC “that should be considered a hate group.” (She later characterized the designation asa badge of honor”).

 

Diagnosis: Hateful monster. She looks like a kind grandmother, but is a seriously evil, deranged and hateful disgrace to humanity. Fortunately, the efforts of people like her seem to have lost some of its power, but she had time to do serious harm.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

#2467: Kip Andersen & Keegan Kuhn

 

Kip Anderson
What the Health (WtH) is a 2017 Netflix “documentary” advertised as “The Health Film That Health Organizations Don’t Want You To See”, which advocates a plant-based diet and attempts to criticize the impact of meat and dairy products as well as the practices of leading health and pharmaceutical organizations. Of course, that description might make it sound reasonable – and some of its popularity presumably stems from it sounding reasonable on paper – but since sensationalism sells and reasonableness doesn’t, it turns out to be a cornucopia of woo, unfounded fearmongering, pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. It has been universally panned by those who actually know anything about the topics discussed in the movie (including vegans). The nonsense was written, produced, and directed by Kip Andersen (who “stars”) and Keegan Kuhn, and executive-produced by celebrity conspiracy-theorist Joaquin Phoenix. Apparently a companion book of the same name was released in 2017, authored by one Eunice Wong – we haven’t read it, but note the name of the author for future reference.

 

The documentary’s main idea is that all major diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many others) can be prevented and cured by eliminating meat and dairy from the diet, a common idea on the woo-&-conspiracy fringe circuit that has been repeatedly debunked but fails to go away because it is more akin to a religious view than anything based on evidence or reality. You can read more about why the WtH spin on that idea is stupid here. Basically WtH supports the idea with dubious but emotional testimonials and carefully cherry-picked (and egregiously misrepresented) studies, as well as – of course – a large-scale conspiracy theory to the effect that all major health organizations and government agencies have been “bought” by Big Food and Big Pharma and are conspiring to hide the truth – in particular by promoting the idea that some diseases are to a large extent genetic. On the way, we also get a couple of fallacious appeals to ancient wisdom (Hippokrates treated as an authority), toxins gambits, appeals to nature, confusions of correlation and causation, GMO fearmongering and, in particular, an impressive amount of doctor-bashing based on the familiar misunderstandings of how medicine and, well, things in general work common in the alternative medicine communities: so, according to WtH, medical doctors aren’t interested in prevention (idiotic nonsense), don’t consider the underlying causes of disease (of course they do, though the answers are not always amenable to the easy fixes some people desire), actively try to keep people sick so as to not lose patients (as if there is a shortage of patients – apparently MDs are ready to sacrifice their own health and even lives to keep up the charade), and don’t learn about nutrition – complete and utter nonsense, though by actually learning about nutrition, they tend not to come to the same conclusions people like Andersen come to through google, confirmation bias and selective reasoning.

 

And of course: the numbers cited in the “documentary” are bullshit. For instance, according to WtH, food is the cause of most diseases, and 70% of deaths are preventable with lifestyle changes. According to real studies, however, between 20% and 40% of the top five causes of death could be prevented by lifestyle changes – but that includes not only dietary changes: tobacco is still a significant cause of death, for instance; diet has a relatively low impact compared to other lifestyle factors. WtH, however, explicitly asserts that dietary factors are more important than smoking, which is demonstrably false, and that plant-based diets will stop and reverse heart disease and prevent breast cancer, which is not only nonsense, but dangerous misinformation. Among an almost endless row of other lies promoted by WtH are the claim that early exposure to dairy increases the risk of Type 1 diabetes (evidence suggests the opposite) and that the risk of prostate cancer is four times higher with a diet including chicken (demonstrably false), as well as some familiar, easily debunked fearmongering about hormones in cows’ milk.

 

Another line of evidence WtH uses, consists of Andersen calling up major health organizations to argue and promote conspiracy theories; when they understandably enough decline to engage, he concludes that they are stonewalling him and that we can’t trust them because they (like the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Associattion) are in the pockets of the meat industry and only out to make money off of ill people.

 

Andersen & Kuhn previously got some attention for their documentary Cowspiracy, billed as (of course) “The Film That Environmental Organizations Don’t Want You to See”, which is also significantly marred by numerous inaccuracies and distortions put to the service of sensationalism, in particular its central conspiracy theory that a 2009 study found that 51% of all greenhouse gases are produced by animal agriculture. That figure is, of course, wrong (and it doesn’t come from a published study but from some kind of opinion piece by an environmentalist organization based on glaring and obvious mistakes) but Andersen & Kuhn, rather than asking whether they got things even remotely right, concludes that since most major organizations don’t accept the figure, these organizations must be in some vast conspiracy.

 

Diagnosis: Can’t help but offer it as a general recommendation: Avoid documentaries. Documentaries are, in general, shit. It’s a perfect vehicle for cynical conspiracy theorists, pseudoscientists and dingbats, like Andersen and Kuhn, to create convincing infomercials for anything: you can cherry-pick, distort and twist the data any way you like, and it’s easier to polish, and harder to get caught, than in, say, a written article. Sensationalist garbage like WtH should really be all the illustration of the problem you need. And yes: documentaries can be – and have been – used for good. But usually they aren’t.

 

Hat-tip: Harriet Hall @ sciencebasedmedicine (and others)