Friday, March 30, 2012

#315: Ed Peltzer

I hesitated over Tim Pawlenty, who has argued that intelligent design creationism should be taught in schools. It seems likely he was just pandering to potential voters, however, and Pawlenty has, to his credit, been one of few hardcore rightwingers to take global warming seriously (though he radically toned down his lack of ignorance when he started thinking about running for president).

Edward Peltzer may not be the most notable member of the creationist movement, but at least he is clearly deranged enough to merit inclusion in our Encyclopedia. Peltzer is a “senior research specialist” at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. He is, in fact, an analytical chemist working in oceanography, and has some actual peer-reviewed publications – he even seems fairly knowledgeable about these matters. Since the creationist movement is arduously seeking out anyone with a modicum of scientific credibility who supports their cause, Peltzer is widely used, e.g. in the Kansas Evolution Hearings.

His contribution to said hearings can be found here. They are revealing; after a lengthy presentation on the problems of abiogenesis, Peltzer spent the last minute launching into an incoherent rant about “the religion of naturalism” in modern science. During cross-examination, he rejected common descent and evolution (hesitant old earth creationism). He has also given talks on the origin of life and the “problems” of scientific naturalism in various creationist venues.

At least he seems to be doing some worthwhile and actually helpful work related to global warming. Still.

Diagnosis: Another otherwise intelligent chap who is willing to throw critical thinking and science under the bus if the results don’t fit sufficiently smoothly with his preconceptions. It’s sad, really.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

#314: Rod Parsley

Rod Parsley is a televangelist and Jerry Falwell wannabe – he runs multiple “ministries” (he is in particular associated with the World Harvest Church), his own Christian college, and is heavily involved in politics (pandering hysteria, paranoia, bigotry and the good old fundamentalist persecution complex – ‘there are people who disagree with me, therefore I am persecuted and a martyr’).

Parsley is an honorary “doctor of divinity” – granted by Liberty University – and a regional director for John Hagee's group Christians United For Israel. Fortunately, since Parsley lacks the intellectual integrity of Oral Roberts and the jovial amiability of Pat Robertson, his following, while substantial, will probably remain limited. A lot of his outreach (Bridge of Hope, Breakthrough) is focused, naturally enough, on poorer and conflict-filled parts of Africa, apparently fertile grounds for the kind of violent fanaticism that would not go over particularly well even in the States. As is common with such people, Parsley is constantly on the lookout for money. In 2009, a “demonically inspired financial attack” made times difficult for him, so he asked his followers to “help me take back what the devil stole”. The “devilish theft” was apparently a court settlement concerning instances of child abuse at one of the church-run childcare centers (also here). His pleas for money seem to have become an annual thing, by the way, since he is apparently high on Satan’s list of favorite victims.

Parsley is a staunch theocrat (denying any separation of church and state in the Constitution), proud member of the dominionist movement, and staunchly opposed to gay rights and to abortion (employing the “the U.S. government, by funding Planned Parenthood, is complicit in “genocide” against African Americans, because Planned Parenthood performs abortions in the black community”-argument). In 2006, he even called for his followers to take up arms against the “thirty, forty liberal pastors who filed against our ministry with the Internal Revenue Service.”

Relying on his expertise on religion Parsley claims that Islam is an “anti-Christ religion” predicated on “deception”, and – surely historically accurate – that “America was founded in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed.” Furthermore “Muhammad received revelations from demons and not from the true God” (there is probably a reason why this particular argument fails to be popular even among more extreme Christian apologetics given its tu quoque potential); to clinch it, he proves (by assertion) that “Allah was a demon spirit.” Keep in mind that this comes from a guy who was an actual advisor to the McCain campaign, even though McCain admittedly cut his ties to Parsley (and Hagee) after these screeds.

If you want to see Parsley warn his followers that the end times are imminent (“the Antichrist is waiting in the wings”), you can watch this one (but you don’t really want to see that). He is also an ardent critic of moral relativism except when he wants to defend his own actions.

There’s a good Rod Parsley resource here.

Rod should not be confused with Ross Parsley, the guy who (temporarily) took over the New Life Church after Ted Haggard’s fall from grace.

Diagnosis: Endlessly insane fundamentalist power channeled into a tireless howl of rage against reality, packed into the kind of serpentine charisma that drives even moderately insane theocrats away. Dangerous nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

#313: Sarah Palin

A.k.a. Bible Spice
A.k.a. Pit bull in lipstick (her own characterization)
A.k.a. Caribou Barbie

Ok, this one’s a challenge. How to distinguish stupidity from lunacy? (Or for that matter, from malevolence – if Grey’s Law applied both ways, many people we’ve ignored would have to be counted as loons). Ignorance tends to turn into lunacy when accompanied by second-order ignorance, at least, but this is probably not a necessary condition, although incompetence at basic rational reasoning may perhaps be sufficient.

So Palin’s application for inclusion in the Encyclopedia raises questions. I think we should disregard her ignorance, vileness, vacuity, helpless blathering, idiotic statements on the verge of meaninglessness, incompetence, complete (and I mean complete) lack of self-awareness, and her ability to talk into a camera for five minutes with complete confidence without producing any meaningful content (which reflects badly on her followers more than on herself), or even her rather obviously pathological habit of lying. But stupidity and Dunning-Kruger are at least at work in this one, and in this one. And genuine insanity seems to run rampant here.

She had been noted for her creationist sympathies before she burst into fame in 2008, and is indeed on the record as a young earth creationist, Ken Ham-style, as well as for peddling theocracy.

She is more extensively covered here. We really can’t be bothered to rant at length about this one.

John Lofton thinks Sarah Palin is a liberal appeaser, by the way.

Diagnosis: Serious loon. But the real problem is people like this. The appeal of Palin seems to be fading since she declined a run for president, and her lasting influence is doubtful.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

#312: Frank Page

Frank S. Page is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Taylors, South Carolina, and former President of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has written several books and articles, and is the lead writer for the Advanced Continuing Witness Training material. He is a staunch follower of Rick Warren and an excellent example of the radical band of Southern Baptists – which should be sufficient to qualify him for an entry.

Page is also a member of the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, where he complains that the president won’t listen to their policy suggestions. Page is for instance serving on the “fatherhood task force”, and feels that the government isn’t taking seriously the fact that strong Biblical faith makes fathers better fathers – sure, there’s government money available for fatherhood related issues; the problem is that the money isn’t earmarked for boosting fathers’ Biblical faith ().

It would presumably be superfluous to describe Page’s views on homosexuality.

Diagnosis: Another Taliban fundie. There’s plenty more where he comes from.

#311: William R. Pabst

William Pabst is afraid they (They) are going to come and put him away. Now, some may suspect that Pabst is sufficiently crazy for that to be a distinct possibility, but he is also telling us that they are going to take us all away and put us in concentration camps. Who? Why, FEMA of course. The notion of FEMA concentration camps has been alluded to by such balanced authorities as Glenn Beck, but Pabst was the guy who really popularized this important idea back in the seventies.

According to Pabst “it is clear that the FEMA contingency plans to round up political dissenters was related to the FBI's investigation of political dissidents.” In fact, “There are over 600 prison camps in the United States, all fully operational […] They are all staffed and even surrounded by full-time guards, but they are all empty. These camps are to be operated by FEMA […] should Martial Law need to be implemented in the United States.” FEMA is apparently a kind of shadow government (ultimately run by the UN, of course) that has been deeply involved in several famous incidents, such as “the Los Angeles riots and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the black helicopter traffic reported throughout the United States […] are flown by FEMA personnel. FEMA has been blamed for many new disasters including urban forest fires, home heating emergencies, refugee situations, urban riots, and emergency planning for nuclear and toxic incidents. In the West, it works in conjunction with the Sixth Army.” You can read more about FEMA in all its glorious insanity here:  (reports from one Terry King seem to play a major role).

Pabst has all the details here (with an interesting commentary by Peter Dale Scott). These include mind control drugs, and the fact that mental health facilities are really brainwashing camps. Pabst is really afraid of that mental healthcare thing (there is more here) – the point is to break down any sense of nationalism and patriotism and induce a love for the New World Order. And there must be a conspiracy, for when Pabst filed a motion concerning the government’s plans to institute the new world order, they didn’t take him seriously. What better proof of a conspiracy do you need? You can read more here. It is … illuminating.

Now, Pabst’s original book is thirty years old, but it remains the go-to-book for militia groups and people with mental health problems. I don’t honestly know what Pabst is doing these days or even if he’s still around.

You may also want to look at this interestingly unhinged screed by one Thomas R. Eddlem. 

Diagnosis: Pabst has made paranoia into something of an art form. Completely unhinged, of course, and it is unclear how dangerous he is.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

#310: Todd Ovokaitys

The Kryon gang (whose members also included Jan Tober, Gary Liljegren, Robert Coxon, Peggy Phoenix Dubro and Barbara & Rob Harris) has received an entry already (under Lee Carroll), but Todd Ovokaitys deserves his own. A biography on the Kryon website is found here.

Ovokaitys is apparently the most immediately dangerous of that inerrantly lunatic group. “Often called Dr. Todd by his associates” (a telling observation), Ovokaitys has apparently worked on developing holistic treatments for HIV. He also had a profound transformational experience during an experiment where “the usual anchor points dissolved with the feeling of instant transport to a different dimension of being. There was a doorway or portal to traverse, with a message of the responsibility taken on through the choice to go further. Instantly upon walking through this doorway, a living form was seen that filled a room - and had the shape of a DNA strand enlarged millions of times. This form communicated that science only partly understood how DNA worked.” (you make sense of that one). Currently, he works to provide complementary treatments to HIV-plagued regions of Africa, and ought, as such, probably to be locked up and have the keys thrown away since he would actually be harming people. His therapy, Gematry, “uses laser light to give healing power”. More here. Apparently his techniques have spawned a welter of woo.

You can listen to him talk about reversal of Parkinson’s symptoms here.

Diagnosis: Insane; probably well-intentioned and with, at present, relatively modest impact, but this guy is really, really dangerous.

Monday, March 12, 2012

#309: Dean Ornish (?)

This is an important one. Dean Ornish (M.D.) is president and founder of Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, as well as Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. As such, since he is sympathetic to complementary medicine, he has become (with Mehmet Oz) among the most powerful and credible proponents of woo in the US. He acknowledges his debts to Swami Satchidananda. Now, Ornish has not (as opposed to Oz) completely gone over to the dark side – he still does real science, but his friendliness to quackery is scary.

It is easy to see where it is coming from. Ornish is widely known for his lifestyle-driven approach to the control of coronary artery disease (CAD), and he (and colleagues) has actually done studies strongly indicating that a lifestyle regimen featuring Yoga, meditation, a low-fat vegan diet, smoking cessation, and regular exercise could not only stop the progression of CAD, but possibly reverse it (the result was shown in a randomized, semi-controlled trial, and published in the Lancet in 1990). If correct it could, conceivably, be interpreted to show the existence of cheaper and safer alternatives to invasive procedures.

Fair enough. With insufficiently developed critical thinking skills, investigations like this can easily place you at the edge of the abyss. And Ornish has taken the whole thing to Satchidananda and the dark side by endorsing a “holistic view of preventive medicine”. Ornish has used his background to promote (but always in a slightly qualified manner) all sorts of woo – amidst doing real science (well, usually preliminary science), combining it with his conviction that doctors are close-minded (for a more sensible definition of open-mindedness, go here).

Senator Tom Harkin used Ornish in his campaign for CAM.

Apparently Ornish is walking down the path of the Sith rather quickly; among his assignments is Chief Medical Editor at Huffington Post, where he promises to provide a “clear and balanced view” on (among other things) alternative medicine. He is venerated by the morons on the dark side from Gary Null to Mike Adams.

Diagnosis: Dean Ornish: turn away from the dark side, even though I realize that it might easily be too late. You are on the verge of doing some real harm (and are possibly already doing it).

#308: Bill O’Reilly


No, we couldn’t pass him up. Now, there is of course much that can be said about O’Reilly, even keeping politics out, and some of his failings are summed up here. There are reasons to think that O’Reilly is not always perfectly honest and that he sometimes makes things up. This bit is pretty illustrative in that respect. Well, ok – O’Reilly is the master of just saying whatever he wants to think is on track without any care whatsoever concerning its veracity. He is the stuff Fox News is made of, in other words. Take his infamous reporting, with Fox News’s own “crime analyst” Rod Wheeler on the “Lesbian rape gangs” in D.C.

But no matter how you cut the pie, there is no way around O’Reilly’s by now infamous ‘you can’t explain that’. You can see Ethan Siegel explain exactly that here. Not that it would change anything for O’Reilly’s ilk. Here are some more things Bill O’Reilly cannot explain. Colbert weighs in here.

During the discussions around the health care reform (and O’Reilly’s blatant lying about it), someone pointed out to him that Canada had a higher average life expectancy than America. O’Reilly’s response is a classic (think of it uttered in the classic O’Reilly patronizing voice): “well, that's to be expected […], because we have 10 times as many people as [they] do. That translates to 10 times as many accidents, crimes, down the line."

He also entertains theocrat sympathies. It is unclear whether he just doesn’t know the Constitution or deliberately lies about it, however. And while he doesn’t explicitly endorse creationism here – though he comes uncannily close () – he obviously does not understand evolution (though I don’t suppose anyone expected that).

Diagnosis: O’Reilly is either both astonishingly stupid and ignorant, or he is a disillusioned cynic who sometimes plays stupid just to see how silly claims he can get away with. The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

#307: Ross Olson

Ross Olson (MD) is probably a nice guy in many ways. He is also a vocal member of the Twin Cities Creation Science Association and an ardent proponent of teaching ID creationism in schools. He is hardly a mover and shaker in the insanity movement, and most of his efforts seem to be directed at promoting Jerry Bergman.

I guess there is some point in including some minor figures as well to illustrate how deep the lunacy runs in current American culture. Olson, by the way, has some real trouble with Harry Potter (unfortunately the link to his "thoughtful analysis" now seems to be broken).

If you go to his website, you’ll find pretty much all the standard creationist canards (irreducible complexity, entropy and lots of links to the American Family Association).

Diagnosis: Superfluous

Monday, March 5, 2012

#306: Dan Olmsted

After the creationists come the vaccine-denialists. Olmsted is an “investigative reporter” and self-proclaimed medical expert who started out writing about the vaccine manufactroversy and adhered so completely to the “cover both sides” misunderstanding of objectivity (a spectacular display of this misunderstanding, and how pervasive it is among journalist, is committed by Daniel Schulman here) that he ended up jumping the ship of reason. Currently he edits the Age of Autism website, billed as the “Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic”. Although real experts think autism is a genetic disorder and that reported increases are due to changes in diagnostic practices, Olmsted thinks (well, because he thinks so) the (probably non-existent) increases are due to environmental factors and that the genetics is mostly secondary. He has been described as a serious case of confirmation bias.

Olmsted has been a major contributor to enforcing policy changes (together with David Kirby), and a major force in flogging the scientifically stone dead thimerosal-autism link, despite the fact that he is completely without understanding of medical science (e.g. this). He has also written books, such as “Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic” (with Mark Blaxill). As a consequence of the fact that the book didn’t make much of an impact, and that Olmsted’s movement and complete lack of scientific support have proven unable to convince scientists and physicians that vaccines cause autism, he has realized that he needs a scapegoat. So, in the style of a true conspiracy theorist, he is blaming “progressivism” for being a huge part of the reason his impact is limited to cranks and denialists (also here). He has also accused critics of the antivaxx movement, such as Paul Offit, of committing “character assassination”. The mind boggles.

He also claimed that the BP spill finally showed that experts are not to be trusted. Hence, vaccines cause autism.

Diagnosis: Spectacularly delusional crackpot who delivers every time you’d think that confirmation bias couldn’t be taken any further. A tireless and extremely dangerous promoter of bullshit.

Friday, March 2, 2012

#305: Denyse O’Leary

A.k.a. Denyse “buy my book” O’Leary

Ok – I’ll admit that this is a violation of our policy. Denyse O’Leary is Canadian through and through. But she needs to be covered, and we’ll justify including her by pointing out that the main outlet for her delusional rants is Bill Dembski’s blog ‘Uncommon Descent’ (no link!). In fact, O’Leary, who is a staunch evangelical Catholic, runs several blogs where she proposes intelligent design creationism, metaphysical dualism and non-material neuro-science (she has absolutely no idea, though), and attacks the multiverse theory in physics because it is perceived as a real threat to her religion (she doesn’t even begin to comprehend it, however). She rarely allows comments on her blogs.

As for the non-materialist neuroscience, one of her blogs is actually devoted to trying to show that the ghost in the machine really abides in the pineal gland.

Among her contributions to the creationism/evolution manufactroversy – she was even invited to teach a course on Intelligent Design at the University of Toronto (religious studies department, not for credit) – is her critique of evolution in light of the “Travis incident” (see if you can make sense of it). Apparently the assumption is that the closer a being is to humans in the “tree of life”, the more acceptable is it to keep that being as a pet. A rather illuminating assumption. She was also skeptical of the veracity of Lucy because Lucy didn’t fit her preconceptions. She has also argued (by quote-mining) that Stephen Jay Gould rejected evolution because there are things in his writings O’Leary thinks don’t support evolution (because Gould understood evolution and O’Leary doesn’t). In fact almost everything disproves evolution in O’Leary’s mind, even everything that supports it (besides, evolutionary theory is racism). She’s honed the skill of quote-mining and misreading articles to perfection, and – to repeat – she has absolutely no clue about how science works.

Lots of her writings are concerned with showing how religious people are persecuted. This is shown by the fact that those evil secularists sometimes go as far as disagreeing with her. It is to be expected since “[e]ssentially, modern American culture is biased toward atheism, and nothing suits atheism better than Darwinism, its creation story,” biology and science are really religions because scientists write books and their ideas are taught to children and all Christians are apparently martyrs. In a wonderfully paranoid and deluded projection, O’Leary even asserted that “[atheists] can't help it. It is part of the natural authoritarian bent of athiests. They can't win the battle of ideas so their only hope is to silence opposing ideas by legal action”. The comment was made when she worked herself into the idea that Dawkins et al. were planning to sue the Expelled producers to prevent the release of the Expelled movie. In a similar vein, O’Leary has extensively criticized the peer-review system (an atheist conspiracy) because the fact that journals require publications to be based on evidence and sound methodology prevents creationist screeds from being published in top journals.

Her “nine predictions if ID is true” shows that she has no idea what “prediction” means in science. On the other hand, she said this concerning numbers: ”No numbers are evil or unlucky. All numbers are – in my view – created by God to march in a strict series or else a discoverable series, and that is what makes mathematics possible. And mathematics is evidence for design, not superstition.” So we actually did get a prediction out of ID from O’Leary: Partially ordered sets do not exist. [hat-tip ”Jason”, at GoodMath/BadMath].

O’Leary has written several books and is relatively immodest about promoting them in her blogposts (hence her nickname), such as “Faith@Science: Why Science Needs Faith in the Twenty-First Century” (discussing issues such as stem cell research and claiming that only Christians can offer moral guidance on this topic since only Christians say that it is immoral), “By Design Or By Chance?: The Growing Controversy On The Origins Of Life In The Universe”, and “The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul” (with neurotheology expert Mario Beauregard; her case for dualism is based not on science and evidence but garbled, shallow theology).

Diagnosis: That O’Leary is one of the central intelligent design creationists, and shows that the movement rewards persistent scientific illiteracy, stupidity and lack of concern for evidence, methodology and reality. That was hardly shocking news, I suppose.