Monday, May 30, 2016

#1667: Mike Gravel

Maurice Robert “Mike” Gravel is a former Democratic senator from Alaska (1969-1981) who has achieved some popularity among left-leaning voters for his liberal stance on abortion, gay marriage, pot, welfare issues and climate change-related measures – popular enough that he briefly ran for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2008 before switching to the Libertarian Party. So yes, he has taken a very reasonable stance on plenty of issues, has even supported more funding and rigor in science education, and is opposed to creationism and politics governed by religion (he has even released a video on YouTube called “The Oppressive Nature of Religion”, and tends to dodge questions about faith in debates, saying rather that society should be guided by love, not religion).

But Gravel is also a serious conspiracy theorist. He supports a new investigation into the 9/11 attacks, saying that “critically important evidence has come forward after the original government building reports were completed.” That “evidence” seems to refer to the work of controlled-demolition loons like the group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.

He’s also a UFO conspiracy theorist. In 2013, he was one of several former members of Congress (e.g. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick) to accept $20,000 from the Paradigm Research Group, an advocacy group for UFO disclosure, to be part of what they term a Citizen Hearing on Disclosure – modeled after congressional hearings – regarding their delusional belief that the U.S. government is suppressing evidence concerning UFOs. Gravel was apparently totally on board: “Something is monitoring the planet, and they are monitoring it very cautiously, because we are a very warlike planet.” And he made sure to take a jab at skeptics: “What we’re faced with here is, in areas of the media, and the government too, an effort to marginalize and ridicule people who have specific knowledge,” thus undermining in a matter of seconds many years worth of good work on behalf of sound science and science eduction in the areas of e.g. biology and climate change.

Diagnosis: Once he may have been (at least more or less) a good guy. At present he’s the cranky old conspiracy theorist uncle who ruins Thanksgiving dinners. It’s sad, but you really, really shouldn’t be listening to this fop at all anymore.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

#1666: Chris Grace

Christopher Grace is a professor of psychology at Biola University, a fundamentalist institution that, despite being fully accredited, has a history of not always being very appreciative of science, truth, evidence or decency. Grace is also the director of Biola University’s Center for Marriage and Relationships, which does not appear to the kind of center that would help Biola escape its aforementioned reputation. The center is not particularly concerned with the scientific qualities of its inquiries. And Grace’s own credentials as a scientist are not exactly of the kind that would obviously impress real scientists – yes, he has a publication record, ostensibly in ”the field of psychology”, but publications in “the field of psychology” in magazines and journals such as Journal of Theology and Psychology or Theology, Marriage and Family: A Christian Journal don’t really count.

Several of his publications in these magazines concern evolutionary psychology and intelligent design, and Grace appears to be one of the founders of what he calls “intelligent design psychology,” which is apparently supposed to be an alternative poised to displace evolutionary psychology. We admit that we haven’t bothered to consult his “scientific” output. Grace is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, so his appreciation for science and taking a scientific approach to his studies of reality is evidently poor.

Diagnosis: Another pseudoscientist working at an institution that likes to pretend to be a scientific one. As such he probably deserves a mention, though he seems to be a small fish.

Monday, May 23, 2016

#1665: Jay Gordon

A.k.a. “Dr. Jay” (he likes to call himself that)

We’ve been hesitant about this one, but ultimately decided that we had to include him. Jay Gordon, and M.D., would of course vigorously deny that he is “anti-vaccine”, and although a case could be made that he is less blatantly anti-vaccine than some other members of the anti-vaccine movement who also deny that they are anti-vaccine (such as Robert F. Kennedy), Gordon is anti-vaccine by any reasonable definition, and has managed to become something of an authority in the anti-vaccine movement (anti-vaxxer Bill Maher, for instance, has said that he finds Gordon “extremely credible,” based on his own lack of expertise and minimal understanding of the field). Gordon is, or at least used to be, a pediatrician to Jenny McCarthy’s son, and has surely done little to dissuade McCarthy from her delusions – quite the contrary (apparently he is pediatrician to Mayim Bialik’s children as well). He also hangs around with leaders of the anti-vaccine movement (and various peddlers of quackery such as homeopathy), gives speeches at anti-vaccine rallies, such as the “Green Our Vaccines” rally in Washington, D.C. in 2008, and hasn’t exactly used those opportunities to take a pro-vaccine or pro-science stance. Instead, Gordon is fully on board with the deceptive anti-vaxx strategy of claiming that they just want to get Big Pharma to make safe vaccines, falsely implying that they aren’t safe already. Of course, the standards of safety they are assuming are standards that could never be achieved in any world remotely similar to the actual one. And, to emphasize: Given their utter insensitivity to any reasonable weighing of the risks of getting a disease (and the accompanying hazards) against the possible negative reaction to vaccination these people are emphatically in the crank camp.

Gordon’s website suggests that he wants to provide parents with information that would enable them to make the best choices for their children (which should not mean balancing sound advice with crazy crackpot denialism, but Gordon is unable to see the distinction). His “information” includes links to artciles he has written, including, for instance, his “Autism and Toxins” published in the venerable journal Huffington Post, suggesting “[t]hat there is no proof that these shots are as safe the makers say they are” (yes, seriously: read that again, and you’ll see why dr. Gordon can be correctly accused of misleading parents). In the article, Gordon just dismisses the science, and instead offers his intuitions. He admits that he has “no proof that vaccines cause autism” (no shit) but claims, against better knowledge, that the question has not been adequately studied. Indeed, Gordon explicitly says that we should dismiss evidence, science or the judgments of scientist when these go against “experienced doctors” (himself) who use their “eyes and ears” and listen to “parents who are certain that vaccines caused their children’s autism”; those who dismiss the latter are just “mean-spirited” (and to emphasize: note his distinction between the kind doctors, like himself, and the “mean-spirited” ones who follow science instead of intuition). And when pushed on the issue, Gordon has even tried to argue that we need to redefine “science” to incorporate a broader evidence-base that also takes seriously what he already knows in his guts to be uncontrovertibly true and therefore not refutable by properly done studies. Here is a deconstruction of some of his other misconceptions about vaccines. Here is another.

Gordon also peddles the stupid myth that vaccines are full of toxins such as aluminum and formaldehyde, and although he does vaccinate children on parents’ request, he does so rather unwillingly and advices against following the standard schedule because of his intuition-based misconceptions about how the immune system works (in stark contrast to the recommendations of those who actually know how it works, of course) ; according to Gordon “the immune system, like every other system of the body, matures slowly, and that it can better tolerate viral infection at older ages and better tolerate one virus at a time,” which probably sounds reasonable to those who don’t know much about the topic but is, in fact, nonsense.

But he denies being anti-vaccine; oh, no – he just wants to have a conversation and for his misconceptions (and those of his fellow anti-vaxxers) to be taken seriously. As a matter of fact, Gordon has even said that “I can tell you that my very strong impression is that children with the fewest vaccines, or no vaccines at all, get sick less frequently and are healthier in general. I truly believe they also develop less autism and other ‘persistent developmental delays.’” So, yes – he does believe that vaccines cause autism (Another example? What about: “It’s true that the onset of autism often coincides with the time that kids are getting their shots. But the vast majority of times that I see a temporal relationship, I’m assuming it’s not a coincidence;” because … post-hoc fallacies are not fallacious when he is making them? He offers nothing else). He just doesn’t want to say those words out loud. What about herd immunity? “What I really want is an honest discussion of the risks and benefits of each vaccine and combinations of vaccines for your child. Just your child;” not about herd immunity, in other words. Once again, Gordon is anti-vaccine by any reasonable definition of “anti-vaccine”. Heck, he has even claimed that scientists are involved in a Big Pharma-paid conspiracy to cover up the vaccine-autism link (“The proof is not there yet [so how does he know? That’s right: He just does]. It will be found. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another fifty years and hundreds of court cases to convince the government and the public. Private industry is once again duping the FDA, doctors and the public”). How more anti-vaccine do you think it is possible to be?

Diagnosis: Zealous anti-vaccine facilitator (we do sort of suspect he really knows better). Because he does, in fact, possess a medical degree his misconceptions, half-truths and myths – precisely what the parents he caters to want to hear, of course – seem to carry a lot of weight among those who don’t know better. Dangerous.

Friday, May 20, 2016

#1664: James S. Gordon

James Samuel Gordon is an author, Harvard-educated psychiatrist, and one of the truly big names in quackery and pseudoscience promotion. Gordon promotes mind-body medicine – in particular unproven and alternative techniques – and is the founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), an “educational” organization, as well as a fellow of the Fetzer Institute. The Fetzer Institute funds a range of alternative medicine initiatives – notably an infamous and thoroughly flawed David Eisenberg study on altmed – and has sponsored forums for advocates of psychedelic experience and spirituality. Gordon is, in short, a pretty powerful proponent of alternative and complementary medicine, or “integrative medicine” – the practitioners tend to change the designator every time the public starts to associate the current name with what they actually peddle (Gordon himself has tried to rebrand pseudoscientific nonsense as “self-care strategies”).

Gordon himself is a “licensed acupuncturist”. And like many promoters of altmed (and as the changes in designation would suggest) he is not afraid to use misrepresentation to further his cause: A typical and dishonest gambit is the bait-and-switch tactic of lumping nutrition and exercise – which belong squarely in the science-based medicine – in with “alternative treatments” to suggest that plenty of alternative treatments are demonstrably efficacious (they need to do that, of course, since none of the actually alternative treatments are).

He is also a guru of sorts, and his book The Golden Guru: The Strange Jouney of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh includes a description of his own rebirthing in India as well as a defense ofviolent psychotherapy (yup) and attempts to defend the egregious excesses and abuse committed by Rajneesh, the televangelist fraud and cult-leader who taught him. If you don't remember them, the Rajneesh cult actually made some headlines back in the day, especially in 1984, when Rajneesh’s followers apparently recruited hundreds of mentally ill and drug-addict street people to come to Oregon to vote as part of a plan to take over their section of the state through the ballot box. They also, famously, inoculated salad bars with salmonella bacteria to keep local residents away from the polls – the first confirmed instance of chemical or biological terrorism to have occurred in the US (Rajneesh himself was deported from the US for immigration fraud somewhat later). Gordon has offered plenty of Rajneesh-inspired therapies in his psychiatric practice, including the “mind expanding” technique of whirling and spinning to dizziness, and decades after Rajneesh cult’s influence had faded Gordon continued to sell Audio CDs of Rajneesh’s “Dynamic Meditation” and “Kundalini Meditation” at his own CMBM Online Bookstore. Merely to call this shit “nonsense” is to overlook the danger it may pose to people in vulnerable situations.

Despite his background as a Rajneesh fan the Clinton administration viewed Gordon as fit for tasks that required accountability and responsibility when they appointed him to the position of chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary andAlternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP) (to the protest of real psychologists who have long recognized Gordon as a promoter of potentially dangerous and untested treatments).

He has been in the game for a long time, though:

-       Gordon directed the Special Study on Alternative Services for President Carter’s Commission on Mental Health.
-       In the 80s he designed and implemented a study track for medical students in integrative and alternative medicine at Georgetown’s medical school (which appears to have turned into something close to a pseudoinstitution at this point).
-       His own CMBM was founded in 1991 to offer professional training programs in mind-body medicine and integrative oncology to health and mental health professionals in order to help them integrate pseudoscientific techniques into their practices. He and his followers have apparently also trained local teams in Kosovo, Israel, and Gaza to make the CMBM model a fully integrated and sustainable part of the local healthcare systems there. In 2008 they apparently even won a research award from the US Department of Defense to study their mind-body approaches with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
-       In the 90s, Gordon was also co-director of the Mind-Body Panel at the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), together with Larry Dossey and Jungian transpersonal psychologist Jeanne Achterberg, and managed to steer OAM’s and NCCAM’s Mind-Body research into mysticism and parapsychology.
-       Gordon has also organized a series of Comprehensive Cancer Care Conferences for practitioners of pseudoscience, quackery and New Age craziness, as well as representatives for the NIH and the American Cancer Society. His book based on these conferences, Comprehensive Cancer Care, is not a trustworthy source of cancer-care-related information.
-       He has even been part of the “Scientific Advisory Board” of John Mack’s Program for Extraordinary Experience Research  (Mack is a proponent of “alien-abduction therapy” to help the hundreds of thousands of Americans he believes may have at some point have been abducted by aliens).
-       Heck, Gordon was a speaker at a 1997 conference of followers of “orgone energy” theorist Wilhelm Reich – though he did admittedly seem reluctant to endorse their ideas (suggesting that they should “test” them; yeah, right). But he has pushed the Gonzalez protocol.

His latest (?) book is Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression, which outlines a program “adapted from mythologist Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking [bullshit] studies of the world’s mythic heroes and heroines.” Like most of Gordon’s work we suspect the evidence base for the claims is limited to the author’s ego.

Diagnosis: One of the most dangerous people alive – he has a pretty non-modest view of his own self-importance, but there is no doubt that Gordon has had plenty of negative influence of medical practices and standards of care in the US.

Much of the information for this post was obtained from quackwatch’s entry here.