Monday, September 20, 2021

#2484: Andrew Auernheimer

A.k.a. weev


We can’t stomach writing more than a brief note about this unsavory piece of tripe, but Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer, best known by his pseudonym “weev”, is a hacker and an altright, cybersexist, self-avowed internet troll. Auernheimer has apparently been acting as webmaster for the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, and SPLC describes him as “a neo-Nazi white supremacist” known for “extremely violent rhetoric advocating genocide of non-whites”. It is, of course, worth emphasizing out that the point of many of his more incendiary remarks and ploys – calling Timothy McVeigh one of “the greatest patriots of our generation” and saying that “Hitler did nothing wrong”, for instance – is culture jamming (other examples include expressions of gratitude to Dylann Roof: “I am thank thankful [sic] for his personal sacrifice of his life and future for white children” and praise for Anders Breivik: “He is a hero of his people, and I cannot wait for his liberation from captivity at the hands of swine”), but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t support genocide. He does. And his frequent death threats (e.g. here) are worth taking seriously. Moreover, Auernheimer is surprisingly well connected.


Diagnosis: He really is a sad piece of garbage. Unfortunately, there are lots of other sad, pieces of troll garbage who follow his lead like drones while thinking they’re doing something worthwhile and edgy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

#2483: Perry Atkinson

Perry Atkinson is a wingnut fundie and host of the TheDove TV/radio programs “Mornings on theDove”, “Afternoons on theDove” and “Focus Today”, and the kind of guy whose outlook on the world is nicely encapsulated by his complaint (with wingnut fundie extremist Sam Rohrer) that  the lack of respect” being shown toward (then-)President Trump was a sign of lawlessness and thus a precursor to the rise of the Antichrist. By contrast, according to Atkinson, Obama was “the most offensive attack against Christianity in the history of the United States”.


Atkinson is probably most notable for providing a microphone for a variety of delusional fundies and extremists, such as – in addition to Rohrer (repeatedly) – Josh Bernstein, Jerome Corsi (here), Alex McFarland (here), Star Parker (here) and David Kupelian (here). Atkinson, however, usually manages to insert his own nuggets of bigotry, hate and delusion in his conversations with these people, such as when he expressed doubt, while talking to John Guandolo, that Representative Ilhan Omar can “ever really be an American” given that Omar is “a Muslim in favor of Sharia law” and America is founded on everyone observing the principles of Christianity, as enshrined in the Constitution (according to Guandolo; meanwhile, it’s apparently a problem that Muslims have these negative stereotypes of Christians and Jewish people, which should disqualify all Muslims from holding government positions, given that having such negative views and stereotypes are in conflict with the Constitution). Here is Atkinson with Laurie Cardoza-Moore, founder of the Christian Zionist group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, on how Mueller’s testimony during the first impeachment of Trump failed to harm Trump because God protected him for being such a staunch supporter of Israel. And here is Atkinson, together with Meeke Addison of the American Family Association, on Pete Buttigieg’s 2019 campaign, with Atkinson expressing shock and disgust that Americans let an openly gay man run for anything whatsoever (and Addison accusing him of engaging in “violent sexual acts”).


Diagnosis: Yet another bigoted clown on the wingnut extremist circuit – nothing new, and although he often manages to look almost reasonable in comparison to the characters he invites on his show, he is not, by any standard, reasonable.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

#2482: John Astin

John Astin is not among the more flamboyant loons in our Encyclopedia. Rather, Astin – a songwriter, “spiritual teacher” and health psychologist affiliated with Santa Clara and Notre Dame de Namur Universities – has been relatively non-flamboyantly been pushing altmed, in particular mind-body medicine, and built himself a pretty substantial reputation in altmed circles through papers and studies that at least exhibit a surface veneer of scientific respectability, for instance about what makes people resistant to scams and quackery integrative medical procedures. Much, perhaps most, of his output belongs squarely in the category tooth fairy science. He has also written a number of New Agey, mindfulness-inspired books of poetic pseudo-phenomenology praised by people like Deepak Chopra.


Astin is perhaps most famous, at least among woo-sympathetic research, for developing various questionnaires and scales that, typical of tooth fairy science, seem designed to give the “researchers” answers that fit what they wish to be true. A good example is the Nondual Embodiment Thematic Inventory (NETI), developed by Astin and David Butlein, which is supposed to assess things likecompassion, resilience, propensity to surrender, interest in truth, defensiveness, capacity to tolerate cognitive dissonance and/or emotional discomfort, gratitude, frequency of nondual experience, anxiety level, motivational paradigm, authenticity, level of disidentification from the mind, and humility” – the categories are generally not operationalized in any meaningful way, however, and the inventory gives you items like “Understanding that there is ultimately no separation between what I call my ‘self’ and the whole of existence (Please choose only one of the following: Never; Rarely; Sometimes; Most of the time; All of the time)” and “Conscious awareness of my nonseparation from (essential oneness with) a transcendent reality, source, higher power, spirit, god, etc.” and “A sense of the flawlessness and beauty of everything and everyone, just as they are” (same scale on both). The scale seems never to have been validated for anything, least of all “nondual” awareness, which seems to be some woo jargon for “being at one with the universe” (yes, it is metaphors all the way down – trying to cash them out is so … reductionist). To use the scale to measure change after some treatment and then claiming that the treatment had any effect would, in other words, be a rather strikingly clear example of tooth fairy science. And people do seem to use it, and they publish their results in venues like John Weeks’s Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.


Another example of Astin’s research: Back in 2000, Astin published a paper analyzing 23 clinical studies involving prayer, therapeutic touch, and some other “unconventional forms of spiritual intervention” and found that 57 percent of the studies showed a positive impact on the patients, a figure that, according to him, is “highly significant” and “far more than one would expect to see by chance alone” (even though he admitted that the “heterogeneity of the studies precluded a formal meta-analysis”). Well, but that depends on the studies included, doesn’t it? Astin claimed that they “were chosen for the scientific quality of the research” but although we haven’t tried to look at them all, at least one of the studies included was this one. Suffice to say: if that passes Astin’s criteria for scientific quality, it would be bizarrely interesting to see some examples of studies that failed them. But at least it is safe to conclude that Astin’s results are worthless – and that’s even before considering the problems associated with drawing conclusions by tallying positive studies given familiar phenomena like publication bias and p hacking.


Diagnosis: Far from an obviously crazy nonsense-monger, Astin has worked himself into something of a position of authority in the tooth fairy science movement, and one of those who give their claims a thin veneer of scientific respectability, unless you look at all close at what’s going on. He’s been pretty hard working, and the two examples we mention here are just examples – they should, however, be damning enough.

Monday, September 6, 2021

#2481: Julia Assante

Julia Assante is an author, medium and spiritualist who claims to have been a medium and psychic since 1977. She also appears to be somewhat successful – her fees are steep – presumably, in part, because she also happens to possess a doctorate in Archaeology and Art History of the Ancient Near East from Columbia University, something that shouldn’t give any credence to her inane rants but does make some people think she is smart. She has also given lectures on a variety of silly crackpot paranormal topics, including remote viewing and energy healing.
Among Assante’s books are The Last Frontier: Exploring the Afterlife and Transforming Our Fear of Death, well known for its thick and obtuse layers of quantum woo and endorsement of various fraud “psychics” who have claimed to have scientifically proven the afterlife. The book claims for instance that the infamous Helen Duncan and her ectoplasmspirits” were the real thing (they were really made from cheesecloth – this is not really a matter of controversy), as was the Irish medium Eileen Garrett, who purportedly channeled information from deceased persons from the R101 airship disaster, something that has has been thoroughly refuted. Assante doesn’t engage with the refutations. She also claims that reincarnation has been scientifically proven.
But then, she has also said thatI don’t care about delineating imagination from reality, because for me reality’s a pretty slippery thing too.” Indeed.
Assante is also involved with past life therapy, and believes such therapy can cure many ills. Needless to say, it cannot.
Diagnosis: Yup: Riding the postmodernist train straight into Alex Jones country with the clown flag proudly flying. Yet people actually listen to her (probably mostly because she is ready to confirm, in an authoritative voice, whatever nonsense they wish were true.)
Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Monday, August 30, 2021

#2480: Dave Asprey

The bulletproof diet is a version of the “Paleo” diet constructed and promoted by web-marketer and blogger Dave Asprey. The basic idea is that you should eat the way you intuit how they ate back in the stone ages, when everyone – as consistently shown by the remains discovered – were malnourished but didn’t get cancer because they usually didn’t live long enough to develop cancer. In particular – and that’s presumably the claim Asprey is particularly known for – you should drink (his) buttered coffee. His 2014 book The Bulletproof Diet did not particularly impress the experts: “Although the book tends to cite references accurately, it fared poorly in scientific accuracy due to dietary recommendations that are not well supported by the bulk of the scientific literature. It does not present convincing evidence that fungal toxins impact cognitive performance, and this seems unlikely due to the extremely small amounts found in typical foods and beverages.” 

In general, Asprey’s recommendations are characterized by cherry picking, a tendency to cite studies that don’t really claim what he thinks they claim (or that they suggests, as when he conveniently fails to mention that the studies are performed on mice but not humans), or that he mischaracterizes partially because he doesn’t know enough about the rest of the field nutrition to determine the significance of the findings – Asprey has no credentials in any field relevant to the issues he talks about. 

His fans are more impressed than the experts, given that the scientific establishment must be corrupt since they, who have no financial stakes in the issues, are critical of the advice of Asprey, who does. So it goes. He’s got plenty of celebrity endorsements as well. In fairness, many of his recommendations are unlikely to harm and may even help (though not necessarily for the reason he gives), though some are ridiculous rubbish, such as his opposition to sucralose and his endorsement of raw milk

The bulletproof diet’s trademark selling point, however, is promotion of consuming large amounts of stimulants, specifically caffeine and the prescription drug Modafinil. Indeed, Asprey recommends replacing breakfast with substantial amounts of “Bulletproof Upgraded Coffee” (mixed with a spoonful of “Bulletproof Upgraded MCT Oil” and fat – his diet tends to forego proteins in favor of fat) because it is purportedly low in fungal toxins, something Asprey falsely claims is bad for cognitive performance. He also claims that most people are “[s]uffering from a Modafinil Deficiency”, which is false and gels poorly with his general appeal to cavemen given that Modanifil is a synthetic drug. Asprey claims to have been on a 300mg daily dose of the stimulant for more or less a decade, together with synthetic hormones (“testosterone replacement therapy”). He also suggests injecting your own urine into yourself to relieve allergy symptoms. Which is, hopefully needless to say, not a very good idea. Science writer Julia Beluz characterized Asprey’s bullshit aptly: “The Bulletproof Diet is like a caricature of a bad fad-diet book. If you took everything that’s wrong with eating in America, put it in a Vitamix, and shaped the result into a book, you’d get the Bulletproof Diet.” There are other, reasonable critiques of his bullshit here, here and here

Asprey managed to throw himself into the limelight again in 2020 when he decided tohack coronavirus” (“biohacking” remains his favorite term) and endorsed a long list of products that aren’t going to help you, including andrographis, probiotics, vitamins, coenzyme Q10, omega fatty acids, black cumin seed oil, hydroxytyrosol, sulforaphane and l-glutamine, and directed readers to his own products for sale. The fun lasted until The Federal Trade Commission asked him to stop because he could provide no evidence for the efficacy or safety of his advice. 

Diagnosis: Yes, he is indeed everything that is wrong with America rolled up into one, perhaps apart from fundie wingnuttery. His products do not work, his advice is shit, and he is, for all practical purposes, a conman, even though he probably does believe his own claims. 

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki, Julia Beluz

Friday, August 20, 2021

#2479: Frank Arguello

Frank Arguello is a cancer researcher, MD and author, most famous for his promotion of “atavistic oncology” and “atavistic chemotherapy”, which is silly pseudoscience based on misunderstanding evolution and summed up in his book a book Atavistic Metamorphosis: A New and Logical Explanation for the Origin and Biological Nature of Cancer, which also resulted in his Atavistic Chemotherapy Clinical Trial™ (yes, that’s a trademark), a website and – possibly – an apparently ongoing (since 2011) “clinical trial” hosted in Mexico. He seems to have once been a real researcher, but doesn’t seem to have published anything serious for the last 20 years – that is, since before he started pushing his own, home-made, grand unified theory of cancer.


The fundamental idea behind Arguello’s hypothesis is that cancer is a reversion to a primordial cell type. That idea was promoted by a couple of physicists who did not realize that it was already acentury old, and just as silly now as it was a century ago, but which even if it had been true would not have provided any support for Arguello’s nonsense. Of course, Arguello can’t show much by way of other evidence for his thoughts, either, though he has … you guessed it: cherry-picked testimonials (and as is common with these kinds of quackery, we are of course not told what treatments the patients producing the testimonials actually did receive).


Going through the details of Arguello’s claims would require a bit of stage-setting; fortunately, it is done in detail for us here. Suffice to say, if atavistic chemotherapy worked as well as Arguello claims, it would be easy to demonstrate it with a few relatively small clinical trials for different tumor types – apparently, however, his treatments are so obviously effective that he doesn’t really recognize the need. That he instead offers vague testimonials and tours Canada and the US looking for patients (without revealing what his protocols are) should really tell you everything you need to know. And no, his results are not published in any peer-reviewed journals – ostensibly because he has no peers.


But of course there is a conspiracy: In his own eyes, Arguello is a brave maverick doctor standing strong against the forces of disinformation and darkness, and the reason atavistic chemotherapy hasn’t caught on isn’t that it’s bullshit contradicting well-established principles of biology and evolution based on 150 years of evidence, or because the hypothesis really provides no useful predictive power for treatment; no, it is due to the nebulous and nefarious workings of Big Pharma to suppress information, and the armies of shills they employ to try to discredit him. Following a familiar trick among pseudoscientists, Arguello even offers to face a “public challenge” by conventional oncologists to demonstrate the efficacy of his methods by treating a patient with stage IV breast cancer, based on criteria that are, in practice, impossible to meet (for instance because it requires the participants to be a reputable academic cancer center and the set-up of the challenge has no chance of passing anything that an ethical review board any such center would be bound to obey). Employing another familiar trick from pseudoscientists, Arguello does not respond well to science-based criticism.


Diagnosis: Pseudoscientific crank – really, Frank Arguello is a nice case study in the workings of pseudoscience and some typical pseudoscience tricks, threats and gambits. His antics might seem almost funny until you realize that he targets some of the most vulnerable and desperate among us.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

#2478: Julaine Appling

The Wisconsin Family Council (WFC) is, as the name suggests, an extremist Taliban satelite group that advocates and lobbies for Christian fundamentalist policy, notably advocating for corporal punishment in religious schools and opposing laws granting rights to children, sex education, gay marriage, and laws designed to punish sexual abuse in churches. The WFC is, formally, a Family Policy Council, i.e. an organization affiliated with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.


The WFC was founded by Marvin Munyon in 1986 (who, according to many of his former students, himself has a long history of violence against children, which is relevant to explaining some of WFC’s policy positions), but the current CEO (2021) is Julaine Appling. Appling is, as you’d expect, vehemently anti-gay and opposed to same-sex marriage. Back in 2009, when Wisconsin started allowing domestic partnerships, Appling and the WFC filed a lawsuit to stop them, with Appling calling the law “an assault on the people, the state constitution, the democratic process, and the institution of marriage” and complaining that government officials “are pandering to a marginal group of people and we’re challenging that in court,” because protecting minorities is apparently unconstitutional. The lawsuit received national attention, partly because Scott Walker, who took over as governor of Wisconsin during the trial and was thus named defendant, agreed with the lunatics and tried to stop the case. The courts did not agree with the plaintiffs. Appling also wanted Wisconsin to throw gay people who got married outside of Wisconsin in jail.


Part of the problem with gay marriage, as Appling sees it, is that it “ensnares” people in “sexual sin”, which “kind of wraps its cords around you until you become completely identified by it” and makes you “no longer able to distinguish between right and wrong and good and bad.” We recommend taking a few seconds to appreciate the sheer insanity of that piece of reasoning. Appling also claimed that recognizing same-sex marriage will pave the way foradult–child” marriages, because she is utterly unable to draw distinctions.


Appling is also anti-divorce and has lobbied to make it more difficult for (heterosexual) couples to get a divorce: “marriage is indeed under attack and no-fault divorce is one of those attacks,” said Appling. In 2010, WFC even attempted to criminally prosecute teachers for teaching state-mandated comprehensive sex education, and in 2017 WFC notably opposed legislation that would make it easier to prosecute clergy members who molest children and sue religious organizations for failing to deal with abusers in the wake of the abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Milwaukee. Family values, you know.


Other (2021) members of the WFC’s board of directors, noted for future reference, include:


-       Jack Hoogendyk, Michigan politician

-       Randy Melchert, former President of the Civil Rights Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin

-       Lee Webster, representative on the Wausau School District school board

-       Jo Egelhoff, Appleton politician


Diagnosis: Complete mindrot, and the putrid mess that is the ugly mind of Julaine Appling is, unsurprisingly, fuelled by hatred, anger and paranoia. She has certainly lost some important battles in the culture wars, but she remains a non-negligible adversary for anyone who cares about reason, truth, decency and autonomy.