Thursday, January 31, 2019

#2138: Allen Quist

Michele Bachmann is crazy, but compared to her mentor, Allen Quist, she can at least occasionally come across as deceptively reasonable (they’re close: Allen Quist’s wife Julie was for instance Bachmann’s district director while Bachmann was in Congress). Quist is a soybean farmer, former state representative, and twice gubernatorial candidate who served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1983 to 1989; he ran for Congess in 2013 and won the primaries, but lost the general election. Most notable for his anti-abortion line, Quist believes that abortion should be a first degree homicide and has even written a book, The Abortion Revolution and the Sanctity of Life, about the topic, which does not even try to engage with the moral philosophical literature on the issue. 

During the 1990s, Quist and Bachmann worked together to demolish Minnesota’s state curriculum standards through the group Maple River Education Coalition (MREC) (later EdWatch), considering the curriculum standards to be a gateway to a totalitarian society built on moral relativism due to its reliance on science and truth. In particular, MREC opposed the Profile of Learning, an attempt to bring the state into compliance with federal curriculum standards, which according to Quist was a step toward a United Nations takeover of Minnesota. Moreover, “sustainability” is just a euphemism for a future dystopia in which humans would be confined to public-transit-oriented urban cores (yes, “mass transit” is a conspiracy against freedom) and if the standards were implemented, Minnesota schools would become breeding grounds for “homosexual indoctrination.” Aaron Miller is apparently another one of Quist’s acolytes, especially with regard to their shared views on science and education.

Indeed, Quist has been consistently paranoid about the UN, especially Agenda 21, for decades, and has emerged as one of the leading Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists on the prairie, making several tours of Minnesota’s Tea Party circuit to warn about the terrors of Agenda 21. Part of the agenda, according to Quist – an especially effective talking point among his audiences – is international gun control, which Obama apparently was continuously on the verge of signing during his whole tenure as president. One of the UN’s major strategies for compliance to the gun ban effort is, as Quist sees it, apparently spreading “the myth of global warming”.

To get a sense of EdWatch’s approach to eduction, it is worth looking at Quist’s current efforts as editor of (CMod), a children’s “education” and “learning” website targeted at homeschoolers, which “challenges the worldwide views of established education” and instead offers religiously motivated pseudoscience, anti-science, denialism and myths. Since Quist is a hardline young-earth creationist, one of CMod’s lessons suggests for instance not only that dinosaurs lived alongside humans in the past but continued to do so well into medieval times. As CMod sees it, history books and science books have falsely determined that dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago. Their counterevidence? “[T]he only reasonable explanation for the Stegosaurus carved in the stone on the wall of the Cambodian temple is that the artist had either seen a stegosaurus or had seen other art works of a stegosaurus. Either way, people and stegosaurs were living at the same time.” There is little reason to think that the stegosaurus depiction in question, which in any case does not depict a stegosaurus (but rather a rhino or a boar) unless severe pareidolia is applied, is not a fabrication. Elsewhere, Quist provides what he takes to be scientific evidence for the existence of dragons, and suggests that the Book of Job should be taught as a science lesson: “Today we know beyond a reasonable doubt – Job 41 is a picture-perfect description of SuperCroc,” which is silly on amazingly many levels. Quist once also told a reporter that he believed women were “genetically predisposed” to be subservient to men. Not that Quist knows what genesare.

As a politician, Quist was notable also for his unhealthy obsession with sex (he spent a total of 30 hours during a single 1988 session talking about it), and in particular sex he ostensibly doesn’t like. He campaigned hard against legalizing same-sex marriage, led efforts to prevent extending human rights protections to gays and lesbians, and famously sponsored a (failed) bill that would require AIDS testing for all marriage license applicants. He managed to draw some criticism for suggesting that supporting a gay counseling center at Minnesota State University would be similar to supporting one for the Ku Klux Klan, saying that “its presence suggests university approval for the homosexual lifestyle and the practice of sodomy … You wouldn’t have a center for the Ku Klux Klan,” and that “both would be breeding grounds for evil –AIDS, in this case.”

No fan of the ACA, Quist called it “the most insidious, evil piece of legislation I have ever seen in my life … [that seems to happen rather often in Quist’s case]. Every one of us has to be totally committed to killing this travesty … I have to kill this bill,” and argued that “Obama, Pelosi, [Tim] Walz: They’re not liberals, they’re radicals. They are destroying our country.”

Diagnosis: Wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, denialist and bigot. His influence, however, is greater than you might initially think, as he seems to have been training a small army of deranged extremists for the better part of three decades. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

#2137: Janet Quinn

Janet Quinn is an “Associate Professor, Adjunct,” (a bit unclear what that means) at the University of Colorado School of Nursing, and a true crackpot. Though she does have a PhD in Nursing Research and Theory Development from NYU, her thesis was on therapeutic touch (TT) (Quinn is a former student of Dolores Krieger) and an excellent example of what is accurately known as tooth fairy science: Quinn ostensibly showed that therapeutic touch need not use physical contact in order to produce results similar to the version that used actual touch. Of course, that result is not very surprising since TT has no (non-placebo) health benefits either way – TT is perhaps most famous for being falsified (e.g.) in an elementary school science project (Rosa et al., published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) – but that was not how Quinn or subsequent TT fans interpreted the findings (the dissertation, we emphasize, did not try to show that TT had any effect, just that actual touch made no difference).

According to her website, Quinn has additional training in “Transpersonal Psychology [no less], Holotropic Breathwork™ (certified) [being certified in a trademarked technique is not something that should bolster confidence], Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy (individuals and couples), Spiritual Direction (certified) [again, nothing to be proud of]”. She has also been a “practitioner
of Centering Prayer and Meditation for 20 years” and “[t]eaching, researching and practicing Holistic/Integrative Nursing for over 30 years.” But she is also affiliated with the University of Colorado, some might point out, and indeed she is. Despite the fact that TT is bullshit and Quinn’s other qualifications are steeped in pseudoscienc, her classes and teaching materials are expensive and popular. Ironically, that the perceived benefits of TT are merely reflecting the fact that patients respond positively to extended, caring, interpersonal contact with their nurse was actually demonstrated in a 1989 study by Quinn herself, though she didn’t manage to realize that this was the conclusion.

According to Quinn, TT involves “centering” within your head in order to assess which areas of the energy field feel “out of balance” with the rest of the field; then you clear and mobilize the energy field before, finally, “directing” energy to facilitate healing. Quinn admits, though, that “we don’t have empirical data to demonstrate the existence of a personal energy field,” but “it’s a working hypothesis. In science, you’re allowed to do that.” Well, no; not after it has been shown, as conclusively as tests come, that the technique doesn’t work; it would be a legitimate to entertain such a hypothesis if the technique worked and we hadn’t figured out why it did. Quinn, of course, is not talking about “science” when she says “In science”(Of course, one may also point out that her “working hypothesis” is a collection of vague metaphors, a half-baked attempt at poetry, and not a working hypothesis at all)

Quinn has also been involved in NCCAM-funded (i.e. taxpayer money) research on Distant Healing Efforts for AIDS by Nurses and ‘Healerswith Elisabeth Targ (daughter of Russell Targ). Targ herself explained the difficulty of doing such research given skepticism in the mainstream medical community; as she put it, she must guard against showing a negative result, because the mainstream will take those negative results and attempt to discredit what she is trying to show. We’ll just leave that admission up there as it is.

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientific nonsense from a New Age crackpot. Her ideas, though, have actually – and despite being New Age mumbo-jumbo with (demonstrably) no health benefits – had a lot of influence on nursing practices and cost taxpayers substantial amounts of money for useless tooth-fairy research. A waste of money, and a waste of a life. Sad.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

#2136: Greg Quinlan

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) is an organization devoted to promoting conversion therapy (also for children) and the (more or less mythical) ex-gay movement, the central ideological commitment being that homosexuality is not a product of biological determination – instead, being gay is “a political identity”. PFOX, which is supported by the Family Research Council, maintains that it champions and protects the rights of ex-gays, though ostensibly apart from their president there are virtually no actual ex-gays in the organization but plenty of anti-gay activists. The current president, Greg Quinlan, however, is, at least according to PFOX, a former homosexual who came out at the age of 23 – he “departed from homosexuality” in 1993, and went on to found the Pro-Family Network, a family values™ (primarily anti-gay marriage) organization.

In 2007, when the D.C. Board of Education approved new health and physical education guidelines, PFOX came out in opposition to “grade-specific sex education and information about HIV/AIDS” because such information “would undermine abstinence-only messages,” a claim that nicely illustrates that this is all about a religious notion of purity, not health, welfare or happiness (given that abstinence programs demonstrably aren’t conducive to the latter aims). Indeed, according to Quinlan, sex health ed classes are arenas for gays to recruit kids into the gay movement – the HIV/AIDS scare in the 80s and 90s was a tool for promoting their agenda, apparently. 

In 2014 PFOX became the target of national ridicule for putting up a billboard next to highway I-95 in Richmond with the text “Identical twins: One gay. One not. We believe twin research studies show nobody is born gay [not quite]” in between photos of two men, seemingly identical twins. However, both images on were stock photos of a single man who identifies himself as “openly gay and happy my entire life,” and not too impressed with PFOX’s billboard. Quinlan was unfazed by the criticism. Though they have petitioned serious organizations for attention, PFOX is currently mostly relegated to sharing the stage with things like birthers, Sandy Hook truthers, Liberty Counsel, Michele Bachmann and similar kinds of lunatic fringe dredge. Nevertheless, their pamphlet Preventing Bullying at Your School, which says that kids become gay because people call them gay and that later in life gay people bully those who “decide to pursue alternatives to homosexuality”, actually ended up being distributed at some high schools in 2012.

Those, of course, are just examples. Quinlan himself is, as you’d expect, a fundie, who in 2012 endorsed Lou Engle’s call to create a prayer movement – take a moment to think about it with this transcript as a prop – to confront the “homosexual and abortion tornadoes” that are “coming to destroy America”. Quinlan also participated at Engle’s Awakening conference, where he complained that New Jersey’s anti-bullying law is being used to bully Christian students and that the law, like most things he disagrees with, is actually fascism. In general, according to Quinlan, “homofascism” is threatening liberty through “anti-heterosexual legislation.” He has also linked homosexuality to pedophilia and called same-sex marriage “a ban on heterosexual rights.” To bolster his “argument” he touts the false claim that childhood molestation causes homosexuality and claims that marriage equality is “the heart of where Satan’s attacking”, which admittedly isn’t much of an argument but still as good as his arguments get.

As for gays themselves, Quinlan argues that gays and lesbians are experiencing “sexual cannibalism” and promote suicide among LGBT youth in order to succeed in “making martyrs out of the kids that we’re recruiting to behave as homosexuals.” You see, gays are all around, even where you don’t obviously see them, and so are their conspiracies. For instance, (then-)Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Elena Kagan are secretly gay – as well as “black-robed Nazis” who seek to “accommodate their own personal predilections, including their own sexuality” – and so is (then-)president Obama; Obama is “a down low president,” as Quinlan perceives things. His evidence? “Rumors”. No, seriously.

Meanwhile, the near-mythical ex-gays are being persecuted everywhere; indeed, the way ex-homosexuals are being treated today is just like what the Nazis did to the Jews, claims Quinlan (with Douglas McIntyre of Homosexuals Anonymous and allegedly ex-transgender Grace Harley), before likening the impact of the gay rights movement, which he described as demonic, to the wreckage of a tornado hitting a town; “we have lost our country,” lamented Quinlan. And to add, well, injury to injury, Satan, too, is working to drag ex-gays back into a homosexual lifestyle, as indicated by the track-record of previously declared ex-gays. It’s quite sad, actually.

There is a decent Greg Quinlan resource here.

Diagnosis: Angry, delusional, fundie conspiracy theorist. Yeah, nothing new. But Quinlan actually wields some influence in certain circles, and must be considered moderately dangerous.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

#2135: Hal Puthoff

Harold Puthoff is an engineer and parapsychologist and one of the true legends of pseudoscience. In the 1970s and 1980s Puthoff directed a CIA/DIA-funded program at SRI International tasked with investigating paranormal abilities, collaborating with Russell Targ in a study of the purported psychic abilities of Uri Geller, Ingo Swann, Pat Price, Joseph McMoneagle and others, as part of the Stargate Project. Both Puthoff and Targ became convinced that Geller and Swann had genuine psychic powers, which doesn’t exactly speak too well of their methods or critical thinking abilities. Some of their “research” was summed up in the book Mind at Large: Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Symposia on the Nature of Extrasensory Perception(Puthoff, Targ and Charles Tart.

When psychologists attempted to replicate Targ and Puthoff’s remote viewing experiments (they seem to have invented the term by the way, which is really just a fancy name for “clairvoyance” or “telepathy”), they were unsurprisingly unable to do so. Accordingly, they investigated the procedure of the original experiments to see whether they could explain the discrepancy, and thus discovered that the notes given to the judges in Targ and Puthoff’s experiments contained clues as to which order they were carried out, such as referring to yesterday’s two targets, or they had the date of the session written at the top of the page. They concluded that these clues were the reason for the experiment’s high hit rate (this was not the only problem with the “research”). One may wonder why Puthoff and Targ put the clues in there, but you probably shouldn’t. In fact, the investigators (Marks and Kammann) were initially able only to investigate the few actual transcripts Targ and Puthoff had actually published; to find out whether the unpublished transcripts contained cues, Marks and Kammann wrote to Targ and Puthoff requesting copies, which Targ and Puthoff refused to supply – which is pretty unusual in scientific contexts. Marks and Kammann were nevertheless able to obtain copies from the judge who used them, and guess what? The transcripts of course contained a wealth of cues. In other words, if Targ and Puthoff weren’t frauds, they must have been extraordinarily delusional, possibly even by pseudoscientist standards. Subsequent tests of their hypotheses were negative; moreover, students have easily been able to obtain Targ and Puthoff’s desired results based on the clues left in the transcripts alone. Though bunk, Puthoff and Targ’s experiments are still harvesting press coverage from the credulous (or spineless).

In 1985, Puthoff founded the for-profit company EarthTech International and a purportedly scientific research organization, Institute for Advanced Studies, where he is Director. Puthoff and EarthTech were granted a US Patent in 1998 after five years delay, due to controversy over their claim that information could be transmitted over a distance using a modulated potential with no electric or magnetic field components. The case is still used for educational purposes in patent law to illustrate that even for a valid patent “even a competent examiner may fail to distinguish innovation from pseudoscience.” 

In particular, Puthoff is famous for his promotion of zero-point energy (ZPE); indeed, he is probably the main promoter of the idea. And it is pseudoscience, of course. Puthoff’s work on ZPE lacked transparency and scientific backing, and as such bore a striking resemblance to his psi work.

It is worth mentioning that already in the 1960s, while a devout top-level scientologist, Puthoff wrote, in a scientology publication, that he had achieved “remote viewing” abilities during his ascension through scientology ranks, and that scientology had given him “a feeling of absolute fearlessness.” (He later severed all connections with scientology.) 

Diagnosis: Though it is hard to believe, Puthoff seems to be a true believer, which makes his systematic and striking failures to make his experiments methodologically sound all the more interesting. Probably harmless by now, but his legacy continues to sillify the Internet.

Hat-tip: Skepdic

Sunday, January 20, 2019

#2134: Kevin Purfield

Kevin Purfield is an insane conspiracy nut whose main claim to fame is being arrested, apparently for harassing the families of the victims of the Aurora shootings to tell them that their loved ones didn’t really die and that it was all part of a grand conspiracy. The reason he concludes it was a conspiracy is that it is all conspiracies. Purfield also has a youtube channel where he delves into them: 9/11 was a hoax, there are military bases on the moon and what have you. He has earlier been apprehended for trespassing at a shopping center while talking about teleportation and “security bases on the moon.”

Apparently Purfield has also been harassing the families of the Newtown shootings, calling them up to tell them that there was no shooting. This is, of course, a theme that has become so pervasive among fringe lunatics that it has even drawn the attention of mainstream media.

Diagnosis: Ok, so we are talking about diagnosed mental illness here, and we tend to avoid calling those out. But mental illness doesn’t quite absolve you from agency and responsibility. Probably ultimately harmless, but he was certainly not perceived that way (justifiedly so) by the families he harassed.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

#2133: Fred Pulver

Tachyons are theoretical particles or waves that travel faster than the speed of light, a recurring theme in popular science, and thus far without empirical support for their existence. New Age religions are religions, however, and have never cared for empirical support. So, according to Fred Pulver, not only is it the case that the “Tachyon Field supplies the energy needs of all living organisms until balance is achieved, then it eases until called upon again. As it is needed, and a depletion occurs, it rushes in until balance is achieved once again;” Pulver has also harnessed its energy. It’s like ormus. Just in case you run out of tachyon balance, you can buy one of his many takionic products (beads, belts, water). The products are of course called “takionic” since “tachyon”, being a common word, cannot be trademarked; “takionic” can.

He claims to have empirical evidence, though: “Motors have been built which draw upon the Tachyon Field for energy. They exhibit strange behavior, such as increasing in speed the longer they run, even though they are connected to no visible power source.” Well, it’s not empiricalempirical: no one has actually seenthe aforementioned motors. But how can you doubt someone who offers to restore your takionic balance for something as mundane as money? Moreover, “[t]akionic products, with their aligned atomic polarities, enhance the body’s natural ability to draw from the Tachyon Field for its energy needs. Athletes have discovered that Takionic products allow them to perform faster and longer, and shorten recovery time. As conduits for input from the Tachyon Field, Takionic products are proving themselves in the sports performance arena.” He probably just forgot to name said athletes due to sheer excitement over the results.

Oh, but there is more: Did you know that “[t]achyon theory is holistic”? Bet you didn’t. It is holistic “because it accepts the notion of two interdependent universes which are actually indivisible: the visible, sub-light speed universe and an invisible, faster-than-light one. Tachyon theory also substantiates omnipresence, a purely metaphysical concept. God is omnipresent (simultaneously existing everywhere). Omnipresent existence can only occur at faster-than-light speeds, since slower-than-light travel takes time to cross space. Therefore, omnipresence can only be an attribute of a Tachyon Universe where time and space are uniform.” This is not quite what “holistic” means, but we have at this point left the realm of coherence and sense behind a long time ago anyways, so why not? He can even explain the powers of healers: “Healers have learned to access the Tachyon Field’s resources for its healing powers more successfully than the average person has.” (Ok, so “explain” may be a bit too strong.) At least he’s got testimonials (some rather confused examples here), including an enthusiastic endorsement from Gary Null, no less.

He’s not the only one to tap the marketing potential of tachyons, though. There is at least also e.g. the, Advanced Tachyon Technologies (ATT) of Santa Rosa. They’ve got chakra balancing kits.

Apparently Pulver is also an expert on sanpaku, the idea that it is a symptom (or proof, or whatever) of physical and spiritual imbalance if the white of the eye can be seen between the pupil and the lower lid when the subject looks forward. The condition can ostensibly be cured by a macrobiotic diet. Apparently both JFK and Robert Kennedy were sanpaku, as was Marilyn Monroe. I suppose we’ll have to confirm with Barry Martin.

Do we all have to conform to the scientific method before we promote anything? Such rigidity seems counterproductive and illogical to me,” says Pulver when the scientific basis of his claims are questioned. Meanwhile, just to have it both ways, his website states that “[h]undreds of tests conducted on students and adults revealed that this unique headband improved their mathematical test scores by as much as 20-30%. The headband delays mental fatigue and heightens focus and concentration.” The tests are, of course, as unavailable for double-checking as the motors and athletes he claims to have observed.

Diagnosis: Seems to be a true believer, which is pretty incredible.

Hat-tip: skepdic

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

#2132: Ana Puig

Ana Puig is a Tea Party Operative who was appointed legislative liaison for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue as part of Governor Tom Corbett’s attempt to turn “Pennsylvania’s state government into a favor mill for campaign supporters.” Puig, previously co-chair of and registered lobbyist for a local group called the Kitchen Table Patriots, had earlier argued that Obama was a Communist in the mold of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, citing her own experience (as a native of Brazil) to argue for a “direct correlation between what’s happening in the United States and what has happened in Brazil and Latin America –  the implementation of 21st Century Marxism. In other words, a camouflaged statement for Communism.” She went on to claim that “21st Century Marxism” – which seems to mean whatever she disagrees with for whatever reason – would be implemented after “a liberal or progressive candidate [like Obama] is introduced to the masses as the messiah that is going to fix all problems imposed to them by evil capitalists.”

Apart from her red scare delusions Puig has been caught defending a Nazi memorabilia enthusiast in her organization as “a historian” and “an extremely smart person,” featured a blog promoting birther conspiracy theories and identified then-president Obama as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood on her group’s website. Not the least, she has spent a lot of warning of the creeping threat of Sharia law in the United States, which, of course, would be inconsistent with a communist takeover, but consistency is, as we all know, a liberal conspiracy. And of course, Puig and her group are climate change deniers, dismissing climate change as “fraud science backed by the mercenary alarmists in the scientific community and the U.N.

Diagnosis: So predictable, yet so stupid. Ana Puig is, of course, your standard green-ink conspiracy theorist, but for Gov. Corbett what mattered was apparently her ideological commitments and campaign contributions. The really scary thought is that, as long as ideological stance is what matters, it would actually have been difficult for him to find anyone more competent at this point. (Puig herself is, for the record, gone now).

Hat-tip: ThinkProgress

Sunday, January 13, 2019

#2131: Cindy Pugh

More state legislators. Cindy Pugh is former a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives representing District 33B in the western Twin Cities metropolitan area. Pugh is not a fan of marriage equality. Indeed, Pugh thinks that what LGBT activists are after is not really marriage equality – that’s a smokescreen – but “OUR First Amendment RIGHTS”, our religious freedom and freedom of speech (random capitalization in the original; Pugh is a fan of random capitalization). Because if she disagrees with someone, then those persons must be dishonest, therefore conspiracy.

Apparently, Pugh has previously associated with Bradlee Dean, and Pugh's group, the Southwest Metro Tea Party (co-founded with Michele Bachmann), has sponsored Bradlee Dean & Jake “McMillian” MacAulay movie nights, anti-Agenda 21 presentations (more here and here) and John Birch Society nights. She was, however, not the only Minnesota legislator who sought information and guidance from WallBuilders and their ProFamily Legislators’ Conference; we note Abigail Whelan for future reference.

In 2018, Pugh received some attention after she, together with two other wingnuts, claimed to have learned of a “plot to ‘mobilize Muslims to infiltrate our Republican caucuses’.”

Diagnosis: Deranged, lunatic conspiracy theorist. At least temporarily neutralized after losing her 2018 reelection bid, but there’s always a danger that she’ll pop up again, so its worth keeping track of her antics.

Friday, January 11, 2019

#2130: Scott Pruitt

A.k.a. King of the swamp

Ok, we’ll be (relatively) brief. Scott Pruitt, an Oklahoma lawyer, was Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from February 2017 to July 2018, at which point he was under at least 14 separate federal investigations by the Government Accountability Office, the EPA inspector general, the White House Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, and two House committees over his spending habits, conflicts of interests, extreme secrecy, and management practices. Almost a model representative of the Swamp, Pruitt’s main contributions while in office was to successfully partially dismantle his own agency and managing to take baldfaced corruption and misuse of government funds to cover personal expenses to almost unprecedented levels; randomly selected examples here, here and here (ok, that last one was only semi-randomly selected)). His main qualifications for his position, apart from being a Trump sycophant and zealous but deranged wingnut denialist, was his history of filing numerous lawsuits against the EPA over the better part of a decade, all of which had failed.

For our purposes, Pruitt’s main qualification for an entry here is his climate change denialism. In March 2017, Pruitt, who has no scientific background whatsoever, stated that he “would not agree that” carbon dioxide is “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see” since “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact.” This is false, and also contradicts the EPA’s public stance, as stated on the website – though right after Pruitt’s announcement, the EPA also announced that the website “would be undergoing changes to better represent the new direction the agency is taking,” including “the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information,” in particular those that contradicted Pruitt’s statement (some details of the changes are described here). A few days later, Pruitt fired a number of scientists from the agency’s 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors to replace them with industry representatives, and later in 2017, he purged the EPA advisory panels and forbade any scientist who receives a grant from the EPA from then serving on them. By December 2017 over 200 scientists had left the EPA, to be replaced with industry representatives more attuned to Pruitt’s own views. In March 2018, Pruitt proposed to restrict the EPA from considering research that relies on confidential information, such as medical data, apparently because of “scientific transparency”. It is safe to say that the motivation was not transparency. Pruitt and other agency heads also delayed the public release of the Climate Change Report within the National Climate Assessment, for obvious reasons.

His understanding of science, evidence assessment and critical thinking is brilliantly illustrated by his June 2017 suggestion, at a board meeting of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (a climate change denialist organization), that he would arrange public debates on the human role in climate change modelled after a “red team blue team” exercise, since scientific questions are best settled by rhetorical skills and charisma in brief political discussions. The reason for the format is of course a deliberate balance fallacy: to make it look like a debate between two equally respectable sides, as if there is no scientific consensus on the issue and that pseudoscientific denialism is on equal footing with regard to the evidence. 

During his tenure, Pruitt was also part of Ralph Drollinger’s weekly Bible study meetings for members of Congress and Trump’s Cabinet, which warned (among other things) that America is in the process of shifting from Christianity to the “false religion of Radical Environmentalism.” According to Drollinger, it is unbiblical to believe that mankind’s actions could destroy the Earth (also, “[t]o allow fish to govern the construction of dams, endangered species to govern power plants, flies to govern hospitals, or kangaroo rats, homes, is to miss the clear proclamation of God in Genesis”).

Of course, Pruitt’s poor grasp of science – and associated dismissal of it – is not restricted to climate science. Pruitt is also a creationist, saying that evolution “is a philosophical and not scientific matter” and claiming that “[t]here aren’t sufficient scientific facts to establish the theory of evolution.” Of course, Pruitt wouldn’t be able to distinguish a scientific fact from a deranged delusion if his life (or at least money) depended on it. He has also lamented that “minority religionsare pushing Christianity aside in the US (he had the backing of the religious right to the end, true to the religious right’s complete, systematic and proud lack of concern for ethical issues), advocated for Constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and abortion, and claimed that when courts make decisions he disagrees with we are talking about a tyranny executed a “judicial monarchy.”

He resigned in July 2018, but his resignation hardly improved things.

Diagnosis: One of the most spineless, morally corrupt, deranged and dangerous people to walk the face of the Earth.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

#2129: Matt Pruitt

That there is a “Bigfoot Field Researchers’ Organization” isn’t really that surprising (director: one Matt Moneymaker, no less). That they don’t find anything isn’t particularly surprising either. In fact, it is even unclear whether “loon” is a fitting epithet for all of their members. Matt Pruitt, for instance, is a name we encountered through reports from his 2012 venture to find the Boggy Creek Monster, a Bigfoot relative, in Arkansas. Pruitt’s adventure involved a 31-squatcher strong expedition that was thwarted by a park ranger when it turned out that Pruitt had forgotten to apply for a park pass. Pruitt was given a $524 ticket. But then, the squatchers had paid him between $300 and $500 apiece for the privilege of having Pruitt lead them, so you should probably not feel sorry for him. 

Apparently he also runs a blog, and is a frequent interviewee for various cryptozoology outlets. He is also a “member of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy (NAWAC).”

Diagnosis: Very possibly not a loon at all. He still deserves a mention, though.

Hat-tip: Skeptophilia

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

#2128: Alan Pressman

We initially encountered Alan Pressman as a member of the board of directors of Purity Products (Jahn Levin’s group), a manufacturer and online pusher of homeopathic remedies and, in particular, dietary supplements and vitamin supplements (pseudovitamins, mostly) with a mission “to help you experience dynamic, vibrant health,” which sounds like an interesting health goal (would you really like your health to be “dynamic”?). We don’t know if he’s still affiliated with that group, but the association should give you an idea about where he is coming from. Pressman (a “DC, CNS, DAC, BN” – ah, alphabet soup) is a chiropractor and author of numerous books on nutrition, who currently runs the radio show Healthline, which is – to put it diplomatically – not a place to get your health information (unless your goal is to make your health “dynamic”, that is), as well as InVite Health (a telling name), a “unique health and wellness brand that combines innovative products, nutritional education, and a luxury retail store experience”. At least that last bit suggests that he isn’t even trying to hide what kind of venture we’re talking about. (Yes, InVite is a standard online supplement pusher.) Pressman himself has also served as Chairman of the Department of Clinical Nutrition and Professor of Nutrition Research at New York Chiropractic College, as well as Associate Professor of Bio-Nutrition at the University of Bridgeport, a naturopathic college.

According to the website, InVite’s products are developed by “healthcare experts who understand both the science behind vitamins and supplements,” but looking at their list of nutritionists and consultants, you’ll find precisely what you’d expect: a number of naturopaths, people affiliated with the Bridgeport institution. and holistic health coaches. The “science behind vitamins and supplements” is, of course, pretty clear; the InVite people don’t mean thatscience, though. 

But let’s just list some of those consultants for future reference, shall we? (Many of the names are followed by mysterious acronyms and information about certifications/association with organizations that receive sometimes less than 10 results on Google). They include:

-      Amanda Williams, who holds a doctorate in medicine from Xavier University in Aruba. That institution is described here. But rest assured: Williams “has successfully completed training as an instructor in Diabetes Self-Management through Stanford University” and “continues to obtain medical education credits through the American Academy of Anti-Aging”. It’s actually interesting that they offer this information on their website for everyone to see.
-      Claudia Guy, an ND.
-      Wilfredo Hernandez, who has a degree from the University of Bridgeport, and a FirstLine Therapy® Certification from Metagenics  detox nonsense. 
-      Kayanne McDermott, another ND and Bridgeport graduate.
-      Claire Arcidiacono, yet another ND, Bridgeport graduate, and an InVite Director of Nutrition. Dangerous.
-      Allie Might, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach who is “passionate about cleansing and detoxification”, which is, needless to say, not a particularly laudatory or attractive character trait.
-      Archana Gogna, a part-time instructor (focusing on “inflammation and which foods and supplements have the ability to naturally combat it,” which should be a one-word, two-letter class) at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, an almost legendarily insane black hole of quackery. 
-      Kristina Smyth, who has “a Health Coach Certification from The Institute of Integrative Nutrition,” which is not something to be proud of. Neither is “member of National Association of Nutrition Practitioners” (any crackpot can be), whereas “member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners” (no drugs, plenty of supplements – the difference being that the latter are not FDA regulated) is downright frightening.
-      Nur Abulhasan, who “holds certifications in Integrative Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and has been actively serving as a Holistic Health Coach.”
Diagnosis: They should be ashamed of themselves. They really should. They aren’t. Dangerous.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

#2127: Michele Presnell

Michele Presnell represents the 118thdistrict in the North Carolina General Assembly (yes, them again). Presnell is against Muslim prayers because “I do not condone terrorism.” Some background: Presnell co-sponsored of North Carolina’s proposed (since dropped), unconstitutional 2013 resolution to establish Christianity a state religion, and made the claim about Muslim prayers in response to a constituent asking her, in an attempt to probe her capacity for empathy with those who do not share her religious views, whether she would “be comfortable with a public prayer to Allah before a legislative meeting in Raleigh.” In an attempt to explain her answer (and defend the resolution), Presnell said – sadly but entirely predictably – that “we just need to start taking a stand on our religious freedom or it will be whisked away from us.” “Religious freedom” means religious freedom for herand freedom for anyone else to share her religious views whether they want to or not.

Diagnosis: Fundie nincompoop. Delusional and dangerous.

Friday, January 4, 2019

#2126: Burt Prelutsky

“Columnist for the WND” is not a badge of honor, but Burt Prelutsky is one and has none. As a fundie wingnut with a persecution complex, Prelutsky is very concerned about the marginalization and persecution of Christians in the US. As evidence for such (widespread) persecution and marginalization, Prelutsky cites for instance the, well, claim that when conservative politicans are criticized for their political views it is really intended an attack on their religion. Which, for course, is merely a restatement of the hypothesis. A tendency to take a restatement of one’s (ridiculous) hypothesis to be evidence for the hypothesis can help explain quite a bit of Prelutsky’s thinking on these issues. Prelutsky is for instance very concerned with the War on Christmas, which he blames on “my fellow Jews” who are trying to “pull off their own version of the Spanish Inquisition, forcing Christians to either deny their faith and convert to agnosticism or suffer the consequences.” When it comes to “pushing the multicultural, anti-Christian agenda, you find Jewish judges, Jewish journalists and the largely Jewish funded ACLU at the forefront,” writes Prelutsky: “anti-Semitism is no longer a problem in society; it’s been replaced by a rampant anti-Christianity,” a claim splendidly undermined by his own column. (He went on to attack Jewish Americans for not showing enough support for the Republican Party and not being grateful that America is “a Christian nation.)

Part of the problem, as Prelutsky sees it, may also be that Christians in the US are too nice and timid. That’s why Prelutsky had to remind them that it is wrong for Christians to care for undocumented immigrants, pointing out that such actions as treasonous, and leading to the sad state of affair that Christians are currently helping Latinos “overrun America by destroying our schools, undermining our economy and over-taxing our social services” and “encouraging one specific group, Hispanics, to invade this nation” in order to “fill their respective pews.” Most blame, however, should be placed on “homicidal” progressives like then-President Obama and congressional Democrats, of course, who are actively seeking to “destroy America”.

No fan of Obama (a “friend and close associate” of Satan because he threatened to close the Guantanamo camp), Prelutsky has also complained that Obama shared “the instincts of Stalin, Hitler, Franco, Mao, Castro and Mussolini, but, fortunately, he lacks their power to kill dissidents or even have them exiled to Siberian gulags.” Because anyone who disagrees with Prelutsky on politics is Hitler. And if you disagree with him you want to murder him – an idea that tells you nothing about those who disagree with him but may suggest something rather disconcerting about how Prelutsky would have wanted to treat his political opponents if he had the opportunity. A further illustration: Prelutsky wants us to “bomb Mecca off the face of the earth, not concerning ourselves in the least with collateral damage, letting the Muslims [or “swamp creatures”, as he calls them] know once and for all that our God is far more powerful and, yes, vengeful than their own puny deity.” We should apparently do so because Muslims are “savages”.

In the internal WND competition to come up with the silliest attempt to compare Obama to an evil person, Prelutsky went with John Hinckley, arguing that the president “is every bit as delusional” as the guy who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in a stream-of-consciousness rant that would be incoherent even by WND’s (lack of) standards. Here is his take on whether Obama is the Antichrist.

Prelutsky has also weighed in on issues connected to race with his usual combination of insightfulness and sharp wit. Here he compares Mandela and MLK in a way that is impossible to sum up; it is, however, at least telling that his criticism of MLK is based on the premise that “the relations between blacks and whites in America not only haven’t improved since the late ’60s, they have become far worse,” which, given segregation laws and lynchings, might tell you something about what Prelutsky thinks is the proper way of treating black people. He certainly has a thing for stereotypes. (Apparently he thinks they are humorous.)

Vehemently anti-science, Prelutsky is both (apparently) a creationist and (definitely) a global warming denialist. Science, as Prelutsky sees it, is a liberal conspiracy: “Liberals are always given to landing on the side of what they insist is science, whether the topic is Darwin’s theory of evolution versus intelligent design or man’s ability to control the weather. That’s because they believe that scientists are, like themselves, much smarter than other people,” says Prelutsky. As examples of the folly of science, Prelutsky then goes on to highlight the Piltdown Man, which scientists revealed was a hoax, and Pluto, “which for a long time, was regarded as one of the planets in our solar system. Then, without warning, Pluto woke up one morning to find it had been demoted to the status of a plutoid.” And, not least, the Brontosaurus, where “anthropologists mistakenly mixed up a few bones. What it was actually was something called an Apatosaurus.” It is not entirely clear what Prelutsky thinks his examples are supposed to illustrate, apart from the fact that science is a self-correcting enterprise, given that it is scientists, and not delusional wingnut bloggers, who discovers that corrections are needed and then go on to make them; it seems, though, that a guiding idea is the delusion that because scientists adjust their theories in the face of new evidence and better models, Prelutsky is correct when he rejects science for religious and political purposes. Apparently, this illustrates something about Obama, gay people (Prelutsky has problems with gay people) and leftwing professors.

Diagnosis: Ok, so he is ultimately a relatively minor figure, but he is awfully silly so we couldn’t help but describe him at some length here. Though ostensibly a “humorist” the way in which he is funny – he sort of is, if you can disregard the hate, rage, evil and stupid – is not the way he intends.