Monday, March 20, 2023

#2629: Joetta Calabrese

Joetta Calabrese is a homeopath, and as homeopaths are wont to do, she offers terrible advice on a range of issues. Ebola, for instance: According to Calabrese, “in the case of Ebola, no conventional treatment or vaccine is available. Fortunately for us, homeopathy has great renown for its healing ability in epidemics.” Homeopathy has no benefit for anything whatsoever, and insofar as that is reasonably well known, the statement might technically count as true, though not for the reasons Calabrese imagines it to be. She offers a range of what she considers to be treatment options, though – “remedies” homeopaths would push, without evidence of efficacy, for other diseases that, to Calabrese’s mind (to the extent that it’s there), “match this symptom picture” (homeopathy, of course, is all about symptoms) – all of which consist of water soaked into sugar pills. And, to repeat, Calabrese seems to believe these things, if her website is any indication. She also has a book, The Survivalist Guide to Homeopathy, which suggests she might be into other nonsense than medical nonsense as well.


Diagnosis: Completely delusional. If you suffer from anything, you’re better off trusting random chance selections of remedies than the advice of Joetta Calabrese. A significant threat to her surroundings.


Hat-tip: Respectful Insolence

Friday, March 17, 2023

#2628: Dan Calabrese

Dan Calabrese is a serious wingnut, conspiracy theorist, and editor-in-chief of the North Star Writers Group, which was operative a decade or so ago. Calabrese went on to be editor-in-chief of Herman Cain’s Best of Cain website, a position he used to promote various anti-gay nonsense and general wingnuttery. According to Calabrese, gay rights advocates and websites like OKCupid are promoting fascism and Bolshevism while acting just like The Borg of Star Trek: This movement is evil. The gay movement understands something. They understand that in order for their movement to ultimately succeed, they need to turn the entire culture into a mindless army of obedient adherents like the Borg on Star Trek.” The occasion was the CEO of Mozilla stepping down after being revealed to donate to a campaign to repeal marriage equality in California in 2014. What it has to do with Bolshevism is unexplained but obvious enough. It’s instructive, however, to note that Calabrese thinks trying to get people to agree with him means turning them into a “mindless army of obedient adherents”. Don’t agree with Calabrese is the obvious lesson here.


Calabrese has weighed in on a number of equality-related issues, however. When Burger King launched an LGBT pride themed burger at one San Francisco location, Calabrese complained that when he was eating lunch, he didn’t want to “be thinking about is dude-on-dude action.” It’s unclear why he would, but he desperately yelled at Burger King that “You’re the ones who are making it an issue, not me.” But that’s incorrect; it’s Calabrese who makes it an issue because he can’t stop thinking about dude-on-dude action. “I don’t remember the last time adulterers, murderers or drunk drivers convinced a burger chain to name a product after them,” he lamented, because gay people are exactly like murderers and drunk drivers.


And that happened at the same time then-President Obama ensured he would keep gay people “in a state of demonic oppression” since he backed efforts to curtail the practice of conversion therapy on minors. Homosexuality is “demonic” and a gay person is in need of “a deliverance minister [who] can help him to get rid of the evil spirit.” Obama, by extension, is a phony Christian.


He was also, in 2014, appalled that Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer chose to pick Lisa Brown to be his running mate, since Brown in 2012 mentioned the word “vagina” in a House floor speech against an anti-choice bill. That’s a word no civilized person would use for a body part (at least unless it’s prefaced by ‘grabbed’, we suspect), and to Calabrese, Brown will forever be the Vagina Woman (it is, in other words, OK to use the word as a slur, but not to refer to a body part – you see the difference?)


Meanwhile, activists working to reform marijuana laws are “idiotic” and “dumb. They are dumb primarily because they overlook “the spiritual implications of this issue”, namely that smoking marijuana “invites demonic infestation” and “puts a person at serious risk of demonic attack”. You see, “strident marijuana activists” have turned marijuana into their “god” and thereby given themselves “over to the spiritual enemies of God.” So there. Dumb.


Calabrese was also one of the main proponents of the Hilary Clinton shoe truther conspiracy theory. It’s not his only Clinton conspiracy. His ability to assess information is, in general, questionable.


Diagnosis: “Everyone who disagrees with me is possessed by demons!” is not a good starting point, but Calabrese starts and ends up there. Idiotic. Dumb.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

#2627: Marco Cáceres de Iorio

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is an old beast among anti-vaccine groups, and one of the most unhinged – yes, it is Barbara Loe Fisher’s group. The Vaccine Reaction (TVR) is a house organ of the NVIC, and one that continues to spew out antivaccine propaganda covering every anti-vaccine PRATT and trope we have encountered (the VAERS database, anyone?), applying no discernible judgment as long as their claims, accusations and conspiracy theories might resonate with their audiences. Marco Cáceres is the editor of TVR, and seems to have written most of their articles.


According to Cáceres and the TVR, the numbers of people who “have been sickened or injured by the toxins in our environment, foods, and pharmaceutical products” (i.e. vaccines) is enormous and on the rise. They know this because they have already decided that it is the case, and will do anything to make the evidence fit the hypothesis, regardless of what medical science might say. Indeed, a central ploy of the TVR is, unsurprisingly, to try to spin virtually any medical event of note to concern vaccines, even when they really know it doesn’t. So when former Senator José Peralta died of sepsis at 47, Cáceres rushed to point out that the CDC admits that the flu vaccine can cause allergic reactions. He didn’t say outright that Peralta was killed by the flu vaccine, of course. Sepsis is, after all, not an allergic reaction. But you get no prize for answering the question “If Peralta died of sepsis, why did Cáceres bring up allergic reactions to the flu vaccine?”


And on the other hand, one can always go disease denialism. When the zika virus led to an increase in incidence of microcephaly in Brazil (thus suggesting a market for, you know, a zika virus vaccine), Cáceres was quick to lament how viruses are always the easy scapegoat (and “the same thoroughly unscientific mentality has been disseminated widely with regard to bacteria, disease, and fever”) – after all, viruses are natural: “we carry lots of viruses within us all the time, and they don’t harm us in the least bit. And some of them actually do good things for us,” says Cáceres, as if it were remotely relevant to the issue. But it is important to remember that germ theory denialism often lurks right beneath the surface in antivaccine thought.


And oh, is he (and antivaccine activists in general) persecuted! And in his post “Internet Trolls Attack Anyone Resisting Vaccine Party Linehe connects the dots: it’s the shills! All those social media friends and people showing up to tell you that vaccines are safe and effective: they are either backed by shadowy pharma-financed people or rely on information that originates with a small number of shills – apparently using a number of aliases to make you think there are more of them than there are. And one of the notable things about these nasty fellows is how mean they are – they resort to slander and personal insults [i.e. correct people like Cáceres using the mean and offensive technique of appeal to evidence], and when you do that, it shows that you have lost. No, Cáceres didn’t grasp the irony of his claim. But conspiracies are, unsurprisingly, strong with Cáceres, and with them comes the right to dismiss any research or evidence on the basis of perceiving ulterior motives: For instance, Cáceres could easily dismiss research on antivax media by noting that the lead author of a study was an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health – in other words, the author was interested in public health and thus clearly not a disinterested party.


Diagnosis: One of the really central producers of antivaccine propaganda, and as such a serious threat to human health an well-being. Dangerous.

Monday, March 13, 2023

#2626: Roman Bystrianyk

We’ve already – long ago – covered quack, antivaccine activist, and fake news and pseudoscience (including homeopathy) promoter Suzanne Humphries, but we’ll get another opportunity to mention her shit here by covering her sometimes coauthor Roman Bystrianyk. Together, Humphries and Bystrianyk have written the book Dissolving Illusions, an antivaccine screed brimful of alternative facts about polio, a topic of major significance to publice health, and where lies and mischaracterizations like the ones Humphries and Bystrianyk are pushing may have real-life disastrous consequences. There is a review of the book here, and more details here. In essence, the book is an attempt to use falsehoods to minimize the significance of polio – an “insignificant” disease, according to H&B – in order to push an antivaccine agenda; after all, if vaccines contributed nothing to public health by eradicating polio, what good are they? The main reason polio wasn’t a big deal is, according to H&B, apparently that it was relatively uncommon, and that some of the paralytic cases attributed to polio in the 1950s were probably misdiagnosed (almost no one reasonable would consider the 3,145 deaths from polio, mainly children, in 1953 – which was certainly not misdiagnosed –  to be particularly significant, would they?) H&B’s nonsense has apparently had some impact in antivaxx circles.


It’s not Bystrianyk’s first foray into this kind of antivaccine gambits. In a rant about measles vaccines, he tried to pull a similar claim about measles, claiming that measles deaths had “almost” been eradicated prior to the introduction of the vaccine. There is a graph about measles and the vaccine. It is here. Bystrianyk doesn’t show it. Instead, he points out that in 1963, the whole of New England had only 5 deaths attributed to measles. And who cares about five dead kids? Measles is “not dangerous in well-nourished people,” says Bystrianyk. That’s a lie. (He’s got other lies about the vaccine to share, too, but we don’t feel the need to repeat them.)


Bystrianyk’s background is in software development, not medicine. But he’s done his own research on vaccines!


Diagnosis: Garbage, at absolutely every conceivable level.


Hat-tip: Joel Harrison & sciencebasedmedicine

Friday, March 10, 2023

#2625: Roger Byrd

Roger Byrd is, or at least used to be, pastor of the Jonesville Church of God in Jonesville, South Carolina, and he managed to ascend to internet immortality back in 2008 when he put up the signOsama, Obama, hmm, are they brothers?” in front of his church. Apparently the question struck Byrd because the names ‘Osama’ and ‘Obama’ are similar enough to be distinguished by a single letter, which is the pattern parents typically follow when they name siblings. Confronted with the silliness, Byrd tried to explain:See, it asks a question: Are they brothers? In other words, is he Muslim? I don’t know. He says he’s not. I hope he’s not. But I don’t know. At least he managed to make it clear to the rest of us that, yes, Roger Byrd is the kind of person who could put up a sign like that and think he was clever. And being dimly aware that some people associate being offensive with something negative, he hastened to reassure us that the sign wasn’t intended to be offensive: “It’s simply to cause people to realize and to see what possibly could happen if we were to get someone in there that does not believe in Jesus Christ.” Whoops! That sentence exceeded the three-word limit Byrd tenaciously needs to observe if his utterances are to express even semi-coherent thoughts.


Diagnosis: Not notable at all, but sufficiently hilariously inept to be worth a mention. His congregation probably loves him. Possibly dangerous.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

#2624: John Byrd

John Byrd is a fundie creationist village idiot and sometime guest columnist for the Shreveport Times of Shreveport, Louisiana. Byrd does not like science. In particular, Byrd does not like how science doesn’t invoke God to explain natural phenomena. “By limiting scientific inquiry to ‘natural’ explanations for observed phenomena,” says Byrd, “what was considered good science often becomes ‘religion’.” Yeah, science was better before – and notice how he explicitly invokes ‘natural’ phenomena as a presupposition for science rather than (more accurately) the results of employing appropriate means for investigation and confirmation of hypotheses.*


Byrd’s primary target is, of course, evolution: the reason creationism isn’t taken seriously as an alternative is not because it contradicts the evidence and offers no explanation for anything but because people who conclude with the Bible rather than evolution are ostracized from the scientific community by fiat (it’s an interestingly post-modern, Edinburgh-school like view of science Byrd is espousing). He does struggle mightily with distinguishing science from religion, though; according to Byrd, “Darwinism is an atheistic theory that attributes all that we see to chance and natural causes,” and “[t]eaching Darwinism in biology class is tantamount to teaching Atheism 101.” (And no, he really doesn’t get evolution – in particular, he doesn’t get the point about evolution being precisely not a matter of random chance – and goes all in on Hoyle’s fallacy). And as for evidence? Not only does Byrd deny that it’s there, he even attempts to claim that the fossil record is evidence against evolution, mostly because he doesn’t bother to actually look.


Yes, it is, in particular, a disaster that creationism isn’t taught in public schools, especially when it is adopted by so many people Byrd finds admirable for their intellect; and make no mistake, “[i]f it weren’t taught in science classes, most of us would say it takes a complete fool to believe [evolution].” And then, because he is unable to distinguish a scientific theory supported by empirical investigation from a moral theory, he blames being taught the theory of evolution for kids today ostensibly being engaged in “immoral and directionless” behavior (they “wallow with the lascivious hogs”). Indeed, by not using public schools to evangelicize, “we have become a nation of fools.” (Yes, there is an irony there that Byrd couldn’t possibly appreciate.) Indeed, Byrd thinks that teaching science in science classes not only should be but is illegal.


In his letters and columns, Byrd has run more or less the full gamut of intelligent design creationist gambits, including invoking Stephen Meyer as an authority and standard creationist misunderstandings of information. (More or less all of his writings also feel the need to take the effort to point out that “One Nation Under God” is part of the US pledge of allegiance.) Then he quote mines Supreme Court judges.


Diagnosis: Yeah, a fairly typical specimen: He does not understand the theory of evolution, and he does not want to try to understand it, but he does have deep opinions about it nonetheless and will use all his efforts to try to flail against the strawman he has constructed. Given that he is, at least, able to formulate grammatical sentences, there is a bit to learn from his flailings for the rest of us.


*Yes, it’s that point again: the myth of “methodological naturalism”, the idea that scientific research relies on assuming certain metaphysical ideas (about causation, the nature of phenomena, and so on), and is, as such, prevented from discerning other possibilities. The idea is common among denialists and those who desperately want to shield their ideas from scientific inquiry, and it is utterly silly (how would one get any foray into quantum mechanics, or investigate (and refute) paranormal phenomena – which we do – if that were correct?). In reality, science is committed to basic empiricism, the idea that the source of confirmation of hypotheses (including, of course, hypotheses about unobservable phenomena) comes from the observations and patterns the hypotheses predict. And the current hypotheses about phenomena like the origin of life or the universe are accepted because they yield the most successful predictions and explanations of those observations. If you prefer to entertain a “non-natural” hypothesis – fine: What you have to do, then, is to show that it yields better predictions of observable patterns and data. That’s the bar. “non-natural” hypotheses aren’t barred; it’s just that, at present, none of the “non-natural” hypotheses some people like does a good job – or any job at all – in yielding good predictions of data, and certainly not at a level comparable to, say, evolution or the Big Bang. Science doesn’t need to rule out any type of explanation by fiat.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

#2623: Mack Butler

Demented antivaccine activist Hilary Butler is a New Zealander. We don’t know if Mack Butler is antivaccine, but he is certainly a full-blown science denialist, conspiracy theorist and wingnut, so it would not surprise us much.


Butler, an electrical contractor, was a member of the Alabama House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018, representing Etowah County and St. Clair County, and is, as of 2022, running again. He is most famous for sponsoring a bill to make it harder to remove Confederate monuments in Alabama, ostensibly because “What happened in America was horrible, and it’s important we learn how horrible it was”; he did not specify what he was referring to as being horrible (and we don't dare guess). He also thinks that abortion is “human sacrifice”, and that all supporters of abortion (and all members of the Democratic party) are “pure evil and guilty of murder by association”.


For the purposes of this entry, however, we are most interested in Butler’s incessant attempts to have creationism taught in Alabama public schools. In 2015, Butler introduced a bill that encouraged science teachers to teach whatever they pleased, without accountability or oversight, in science classes, particularly when it cane to issues prone tocause debate and disputation, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning.” According to Butler, it “takes a lot more faith to believe in evolution because he is unable to distinguish between believing something based on evidence and believing something based on faith. The bill died in committee.


In 2017, however, Alabama adopted his House Joint Resolution 78, which adopted language straight out of the creationist Academic Freedom Act promoted by the Discovery Institute (the Discovery Institute was thrilled). Butler said his resolution on science instruction in public schools was an effort to encourage students and teachers to discuss intelligent design, thus ensuring that the resolution would never hold up in court: “In the development of critical thinking, we need to make it welcoming at least for a student or teacher to bring up another theory.” It should bother you that before becoming a representative, Butler was a school board member at Etowah County Schools for 10 years.


Diagnosis: If the thought occassionaly crosses one’s mind that surely, given his tactics, Butler must be secretly working to subvert denialist efforts in Alabama, then that is unfortunately extremely unlikely to be the case. Butler is just a dense, wingnut conspiracy theorist.