Sunday, January 31, 2016

#1584: Terry England

Christina England is one of the looniest conspiracy theorists in the anti-vaccine movement (a hero at, but also British – just thought we should mention her anyways just in case anyone ever runs into her.

Terry England is not related to Christina (as far as we know), and is admittedly not anywhere as dangerously insane. Change the contrast class to normally bright people, however, and Terry England is still quite staggeringly lunatic. England is a state representative in Georgia, and most famous on a national level for defending a bill that would outlaw all abortions after 20 weeks … of fetuses already dead or so congenitally deformed that it had no hope of living after birth. Well, we can have a debate about whether abortion is the taking of a life or deprivation of a future or whatever, but what could possibly have been the rationale behind England’s bill? Going through labor and giving birth to a corpse is a life experience for the woman, according to England. Right. England has worked on a farm, and cows and pigs don’t get the benefit of a medical procedure to remove dead calves and piglets; they just have to buck up and deliver it. So it follows that human breeder sows have to do the same, doesn’t it? Also, some guy he met was willing to give up all the chickens he used for chicken fights (!) if only abortions were banned, and England found that really moving.

And if you’re thinking that “well, one foolish comment should not suffice to qualify as a loon,” rest assured. England is also a hardcore climate change denialist. “[W]hen I see sound science that points to climate change and global warming as something that man is causing and that is not something happening naturally, then I will consider [enacting environmental regulations aimed at reducing the effects of climate change].” Of course, given England’s unwillingness to look and ability to evaluate evidence, you can rest assured that this will never happen.

Diagnosis: Oh, relatively stock example of a village idiot elected state legislator, and Georgia has an impressive clown car’s worth of them

Saturday, January 30, 2016

#1583: William Engdahl

There are (at least) three strategies available to the science denialist. First, you can try to pretend that science supports your position by cherry-picking the scientific literature or quote-mining; second, you can try to argue that the science “isn’t settled yet”, usually by finding a crazy loner with questionably relevant credentials who disagree with the overwhelming consensus; or – the most common one – you can fall back on conspiracies: Scientists know or suspect the truth, but are either too afraid of their reputations to investigate radical alternatives (since nothing will bar you from fame and recognition or a Nobel prize more effectively than discovering something new) or simply paid to hide it from the general public.

William Engdahl is not afraid to appeal to conspiracies when science doesn’t yield the results he wants, and has made a bit of a career out of it as a freelance journalist and an “independent” historian, researcher and author of books like Myths, Lies and Oil Wars and Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. Engdahl is a long-time associate of the LaRouche movement and has, in fact, written many articles for their publications.

Many of his writings concern oil and international politics and economics relating to oil. To assess the value of his output, one should probably notice that Engdahl is a “peak oil denialist”. In fact, Engdahl is a proponent of abiotic oil, the idea that petroleum is not biological in origin and hence that peak oil is a politically motivated conspiracy to … well, you know, some vague gestures about controlling people. Conveniently enough, Engdahl is also a global warming denialist; according to Engdahl, global warming, like peak oil, is merely a “scare” and a “thinly veiled attempt to misuse climate to argue for a new Malthusian reduction of living standards for the majority of the world while a tiny elite gains more power.” GMOs, on the other hand, are dangerous, and the fact that science is in pretty much agreement to the contrary can easily be explained away by appeals to corporation-driven conspiracies (he doesn’t hesitate to cite the few studies that point in a direction he has already determined that studies ought to point in – we’re talking experienced denialism here). He’s even written a book on the topic, Seeds of Destruction. The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation, which does precisely what you think it does: Start with the conclusion Engdahl wants to defend in the face of scientific consensus; cherrypick and selectively quote studies that can conceivably be used to serve his agenda, and dismiss the rest by appeals to conspiracy theories, where the evidence for a conspiracy consist precisely of the fact that the vast majority of scientists disagree with Engdahl (who, again, has no relevant expertise on the issues in question).

In a 2011 interview with Russia Today Engdahl stated that the 2011 Egyptian Revolution was orchestrated by the Pentagon to facilitate Barack Obama’s Middle East foreign policy: “The ultimate goal of the US is to take the resources of Africa and Middle East under military control to block economic growth in China and Russia, thus taking the whole of Eurasia under control.” And the Arab Spring was a plan “(...) first announced by George W. Bush at a G8 meeting in 2003 and it was called ‘The Greater Middle East Project’.” Don’t let details, evidence and reason get in the way of a good conspiracy theory, shall we?

Diagnosis: The kind of guy Jerome Corsi and Tom Bethell turn to for information. A total joke, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t possess some influence over the weak of mind or the seriously misinformed.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

#1582: Rick Emmer(?)

Skimming through the entries in our Encyclopedia, at least one group of truly American loons seems to be strikingly underrepresented: the bigfooters. Oh, yes, we’ve covered Mark Russell Bell, who is pushing an updated version of the Bible that also includes information on bigfoot and UFOs, and the good Arthur David Horn had some ventures into that territory before he discovered Zechariah Sitchin and David Icke. But when it comes to real, serious bigfoot researchers, we haven’t got much.

Give a warm welcome, therefore, to Rick Emmer. Emmer is the author of Bigfoot: Fact or Fiction, and apparently hasn’t quite mastered the distinction suggested in his title. As with a lot of Bigfoot hunters, Emmer claims that bigfoot was first discovered by Leif Eiriksson during his discovery of Newfoundland – there is no textual evidence for such claims, of course, but that doesn’t prevent Emmer from quoting … something (almost certainly Peter Byrne, another bigfoot crackpot and the author of The Search for Big Foot: Monster, Myth or Man? since Emmer, like Byrne, claims that Eiriksson called the native population “skellrings”, when they would have used “skrælings” or “skrellings”, a typo that would have been obvious if Emmer had gone to a primary source or translation done by a real historian instead of crackpot rantings by a fellow lunatic). The real sagas contain no trace of any encounter that can be interpreted as even remotely “bigfooty”, but why go to the primary sources when mining your own deranged imagination is so much more fun? The rest of the scholarship of the book is of comparable quality.

As a matter of fact, Emmer might not quite fit the bill as a bigfoot fanatic. It turns out that he has actually written a whole series of cryptozoology books with the title “X: Fact or Fiction”, where “X” is “kraken”, “megalodon”, “giant anaconda” and – but of course – “the Loch Ness monster” If he had applied a minimum of rigorous scholarship and intellectual honesty, these would all have been very short books consisting mostly of the word “no” (without bothering to double check I assume that the megalodon in question is supposed to be a currently existing megalodon, an idea famous from several Discovery Channel docufrauds).

Diagnosis: Oh, well. We suspect that Emmer isn’t much of a loon when push comes to show. But his fans clearly are, and if you weigh Emmer’s contributions to humanity he’ll be found sorely wanting.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

#1581: Dan Ely

Well, Dan Ely is, in fact, a Professor of Biology at the University of Akron, and has, indeed, published some research. He “has no formal training in evolutionary biology outside what he may have received in an introductory biology course”, of course (though he certainly doesn’t point that out voluntarily), and received his formal training in a medical school environment. But yes, he’s got a title suggesting expertise in biology. He’s also a creationist. He belongs, in other words, to a group of rare specimens the anti-science brigade values very highly and knows to use that for what it’s worth.

Thus, Ely ended up testifying during the Kansas evolution hearings, for instance, where he displayed a rather fundamental lack of understanding of evolution, as well as some troubles with honesty (and tried to avoid answering questions about the age of the Earth). His colleagues at Akron, some of whom do, indeed, have a background in evolution, even published a letter decrying Ely’s “profound misconceptions” and misrepresentations in that context (emphasizing that “Dr. Ely is a physiologist whose religious beliefs have caused him to seek out non-existent ‘discrepancies’ in evolution to prove his preconceived notion that common ancestry must be false”) and decrying his portrayal of his interactions with the members of the department at Akron who actually do evolutionary research: Ely claimed that:

I go to our molecular biologists that are following molecular phylogenies and I say, is there any discrepancy here? This is your area, it's not my area specifically, are there discrepancies? Are there controversies? Absolutely. And so they would go on to explain to me either from plants or from animals the different discrepancies that there are […] And as I went to further experts in our department that were geneticists and individuals in molecular phylogeny like this, I said, is there something that we're missing in evolutionary theory? I don't belong to any special groups. I've come to these conclusions on my own. And they said absolutely, absolutely there’s discrepancies. There's discussions all the time.”

Of course, the “discrepancies” are debates over details in the history of species, but Ely doesn’t present them as such. It’s a pretty familiar gambit among anti-science campaigners.

Diagnosis: Honesty is not the first quality that springs to mind when describing the situation, and it is easy to wonder to what extent Ely is a very virtuous person. It's not the first time we've seen religious fundamentalism in tension with the virtues the religion officially promotes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#1580: Don Elmore

Ken Ham is to many the ultimate symbol of religiously driven ignorance, anti-science fundamentalist crazy, but there are those who are crazier than Ken Ham – we’ve encountered a couple – although they fortunately don’t have Ham’s organization or influence. In fact, there are those who are so much crazier than Ken Ham that they attack Answers in Genesis from the right. Pastor Don Elmore of Union Kentucky, for instance, although he praises AiG’s tireless battles against reason and science, thinks they’re part of a humanistic conspiracy:

I am aware of the forces supporting “Answers in Genesis”, these being the same powers that are supporting similar multi-cultural anti-Christian organizations such as Alpha, Promise Keepers, The Full Gospel Businessmen’s Association, Billy Graham ministries, producers of many modern Bible versions, and a multitude of other ministries. These forces are the anti-Christian powers seeking One World Government under man, not God. The essence of my criticism is to show that “Answers in Genesis” supports the humanistic and unbiblical “Brotherhood of Man” doctrine (which also is a Hindu/Roman Catholic/Masonic/Jewish/Judeo-Christian and World-Church belief).

Of course, what really irks Elmore is miscegenation (oh, yeah):

For instance, less than 60 years ago, mixed racial unions were illegal in most of the states in the United States and other White nations. But now, they are tolerated as being supposedly within God’s plan. Under the influence and promotion of the Jewish-Masonic-Papal-Communist/Socialist controlled governments and media, Western Christianity has succumbed to the approval of race mixing, and we will be looking at what is behind this. The Bible abounds with evidence of God’s clear will that the races be separate in every way. “Answers in Genesis” mould all its answers around Judeo-Christian doctrines and traditions, and claims a different basis and definition of “race” from that which the Bible gives. Furthermore, there is evidence of Jewish Talmudic sources, or of what the Apostle Paul calls “Jewish fables”.

Whee. You can read the whole screed here, but you will never get those sanity points back. It should come as little surprise that Elmore is an associate of Mark Downey.

Diagnosis: Absolutely deranged. Possibly the craziest loon we have yet covered in our Encyclopedia.