Monday, September 10, 2018

#2069: John Oller

John Oller is a hardcore young-earth creationist with a (real) PhD in general linguistics (he does, however, invoke the biblical Tower of Babel story to explain the diversity of human languages, so one should probably be wary of listening to his claims even in his area of expertise). Despite his education, Oller is currently Professor of Geophysics and Head of the Science Division at Bryan College. Bryan College is, accordingly, not a place to pursue an education. As a proudly self-proclaimed “creation scientist”, he is also a member of the Board of Trustees and the Technical Advisory Board of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). The ICR lists him as a “physical scientist” on their List of Creation Scientists in the Physical Sciences (he also appears on the Creation Ministries International’s list of scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation and  Answers in Genesis’s List of Creation Scientists). Oller, of course, isn’t a physical scientist by a long shot, but presumably close enough for groups that care as much for science as the ICR. 

Creationist adventures
Oller has enjoyed a long career in the creationist movement and in campaigns to have creationism taught in public schools, e.g. in Louisiana. There is a critique of his Louisiana efforts, including his successful effort to convince the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to give control over the procedure for complaints about creationist supplementary materials in public schools to the fundamentalist, creationist Louisiana Family Forum, here; summaries here and here. His Louisiana adventures seem to be mostly a sad tale, however (though he seems to have returned to the fight for creationism in Louisiana schools in 2016), culminating in a lawsuit he brought against his colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, supported by the Alliance Defense Fund, claiming that said colleagues had urged him to leave, reduced his class size, forbidden him from participating in policy committees, banned his textbook, denied him opportunities to lecture or instruct students, and marginalized his status at the university because of “viewpoint discrimination.” The lawsuit was, of course, duly supported by the WND, which called Oller a “globally recognized” professor and denounced his critics as politically correct and engaging in censorship, having apparently no real idea what either expression really means. The courts, however, were not impressed, and Oller also lost the appeal (twice) before petitioning the Supreme Court to hear his case. That one failed, too.

Anti-vaccine promotion
It is natural to suspect that Oller’s colleagues were as much put off by his anti-vaccine views as by his young-earth creationism. Of course, having not the faintest grasp of science, evidence or intellectual integrity, it really shouldn’t be that surprising, but Oller is apparently a big fan of Andrew Wakefield and the latter’s completely debunked attempts to connect vaccines to autism – Oller still seems to believe that vaccines cause autism). And just like delusional fundamentalist anti-scientist conspiracy theorists like Ken Ham admire Oller’s work on creationist pseudoscience, so his views on vaccines automatically earns him the respect of central anti-vaccine advocates because it appears to provide support for what they already believe. Indeed, Oller was even first author on a paper coauthored with anti-vaccine stars Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic trying to argue that the neonatal tetanus vaccine administered was in reality an anti-fertility ploy. The paper was so bad that Shaw and Tomljenovic, who must be close to setting some sort of record in number of retracted papers, themselves ultimately retracted the paper from the predatory journal in which it was published. (The article was subsequently republished by the journal – initially with an addendum outlining the authors’ conflicts of interest, but that addendum later disappeared, which is unsurprising given how predatory journals tend to work.)

Diagnosis: So, Oller is not merey your run-of-the-mill insane fundie and staunch anti-science advocate: the neonatal tetanus vaccine saves a lot of babies, and fueling conspiracy theories around it will literally kill children. That’s right: Oller promotes conspiracy mongering that kills babies. A better illustration of Clark’s Law is hard to find.

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