Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#1917: Jed Macosko

Another intelligent design creationist (his relationship, if any, to last entry’s Christopher Macosko is unclear), Jed Macosko is an assistant professor (of biophysics) at Wake Forest University who, unlike most ID proponents, appears to publish peer-reviewed scientific research. None of the serious publiscations seems to touch on Intelligent Design, of course, but it gives him credentials, which can be used for marketing ID regardless of whether they actually help establish intelligent design creationism research as a scientific enterprise. Macosko is also a Fellow of William Dembski’s International Society for Complexity, Information and Design, and a Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture between 2001 and 2003. Unsurprisingly, Macosko is also a signatory to their ridiculous petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, which – to put it simply – does not reflect scientific dissent from Darwinism.

In addition to peer reviewed research that does not concern Intelligent Design, Macosko produces
non-peer-reviewed material that does, indeed, purport to support ID, and is perhaps best known for co-editing, with Dembski, “A Man For This Season: The Phillip Johnson Celebration Volume” (information about the volume here); Macosko himself contributed a chapter on “how Johnson has influenced [the authors] approach to biology and what implications such an ID-fiendly approach would have for biology” coauthored with David Keller, a University of New Mexico chemist who is not a biologist either. Funny that.

He is also on the editorial board of the pseudojournal Bio-Complexity, and was involved – giving biological guidance – in the subversive creationist game CellCraft; subversive, since it was not marketed as promoting ID and those using it might not notice that the biology was deliberately skewed creationistwise. That game is not his only outreach effort. There is a reasonably thorough discussion of some of his 2002 public lectures on “Darwinism and cell complexity” (marketed as “Free scientific lectures offered”) here. One of these lectures, at UC Davis, is titled “Life’s Molecular Machines: By Chance or by Design?” (sponsored by a Christian Bible-study group called Grace Alive and opened with a plenary prayer) and yes – as you’d expect, it predictably and misleadingly suggests that evolution is “by chance”, which it is certainly not. The other “scientific” lecture, “If Darwinism is Unfounded, Why Do so Many Smart People Believe It?” was to be given at the Grace Valley Christian Center. Apparently anti-science is science, only more comprehensive since it includes the “anti” part as well.

Diagnosis: One of the slicker, more professional-seeming anti-scientists in the creationist enterprise, and as such probably one of the more dangerous. No, it isn’t more scientific or rational, or less anti-science, than green-ink rants in weird font combinations about how the Bible disproves that the Earth is round, but it sounds more professional and is deliberately targeted toward those who aren’t really well-versed enough in evolutionary biology to tell the difference.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

#1916: Christopher Macosko

Christopher Macosko is a Professor at the University of Minnesota most famous for receiving Templeton funding (apparently) to “study” intelligent design. Macosko has a PhD in Chemical Engineering, and no expertise in any field related to evolution, but promoters of intelligent design creationism take what they can get; the purpose of funds for studies in any case not scientific inquiry but outreach.

Macosko apparently became a born-again Christian as an assistant professor after a falling-out with a business partner, and for many years he taught the freshman seminar “Life: By Chance or By Design?” According to Macosko “[a]ll the students who finish my course say, ‘Gee, I didn’t realize how shaky evolution is’,” which tells you quite a bit about Macosko’s course and nothing about the foundations for the theory of evolution (the title, though, tells you a bit about how poorly Macosko understands that theory).

Since he does possess a PhD, in an unrelated field, Macosko is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s sad and ridiculous petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientist, but unlike most pseudoscientists, Macosko is affiliated with a real university, which might give a sheen of legitimacy to his efforts to those who don’t know better. Still pseudoscience.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

#1915: Christy Mack

If you know of one person called “Christy Mack”, it may not be this entry’s Christy Mack, but this entry’s Christy Mack (this Christy Mack) is far more powerful and dangerous. This entry’s Christy Mack, the wife of a wealthy investment banker, is the founder of the Bravewell Collaborative, an organization whose goal has been to promote the study and use of CAM (or “integrative medicine” as it is currently known, or “quackery” as it was previously known) in medical academia. In other words, Mack has been one of the most important figures in the marketing of and attempts to legitimize pseudoscience and woo, attempts that have thus far been dismayingly successful – there has been a proliferation of quack departments in medical centers in North America (part of the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine), including many of the most prestigious medical schools in the US (one example of Bravewell’s efforts here; another one here; a general discussion of Bravewell is here). 

Bravewell has done major investigations themselves to justify their push for alternative medicine – not into whether such treatments work, of course, but into how popular they are (and in the process rebrands “food/nutrition” and “massage” as “alternative medicine” to boost their numbers.) Actually, in 2012 they also investigated how “successful” the treatments have been … by asking the various quack centers to report how successful they feel that the various treatments defined as “complementary” has been for various conditions (boosted by the centers’ own “customer satisfaction” reports). Best to stay away from, you know, actual records and data, since that would be unlikely to yield the conclusions they want. Oh, and we just have to quote the conclusion from that report: “One of the most striking, though perhaps predictable, conclusions of this study is that integrative medicine is, in fact, integrative. It integrates conventional care with non-conventional or non-Western therapies; ancient healing wisdom with modern science; and the whole person – mind, body, and spirit in the context of community.” Inanity hardly comes dafter than this.

The Bravewell Collaborative shut down in 2015, according to Mack, because “our principal strategies had achieved our goals, and when integrative medicine had become part of the national conversation on healthcare, our members collectively decided that it was time to sunset the organization,” a justification that certainly seemed believable at the time (though one should perhaps not exaggerate the success of Trojan horse efforts from the CAM community). A discussion of its achievments is here. Note that improved health outcomes for patients was apparently never part of their agenda.

An interview with Mack and some of her collaborators – including Ralph Snyderman, former dean of Duke University Medical School and now devout promoter of pseudoscience – is reported on here

Diagnosis: Bravewell has been one of the most influential and powerful forces of pseudoscience and woo in the US, and Mack is one of many extremely wealthy people who has ample time and resources to realize themselves by claiming to have quasi-magical powers and insight, and use those to justify efforts to ruin their societies. Most of these are harmless, but Mack is certainly not.