Sunday, June 30, 2019

#2211: Henry Schaefer III

Henry Frederick “Fritz” Schaefer III is a computational and theoretical chemist, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Chemistry at the University of Georgia, and a genuine authority on the issues within his field of expertise. He is also a creationist, or at least creationist sympathizer (he describes himself as sympathetic to teleological arguments, but primarily a “proponent of Jesus”), and his background and status lends him considerable weight in the Intelligent Design movement, whose members don’t care so much that evolutionary biology definitely isn’t within his area of expertise. His Wikipedia article reads as a bizarrely laudatory paean to his expertise and achievements, which fits a pattern: The Discovery Institute has also previously been caught exaggerating Schaefer’s credentials. Schaefer is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s silly petition A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, as well as a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and Dembski’s International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, even contributing to the Dembski-edited collection Darwin’s Nemesis(the one with a foreword by Rick Santorum).

Schaefer, of course, doesn’t really understand evolution, opting instead for religiously motivated arguments from incredulity, things like the demonstrably false claim that evolution doesn’t make useful predictions; he has often been cited for that claim by his followers, who don’t care any more for truth or accuracy than he does (nor are they, of course, interested in actually doing science to support any of their own hypotheses). Other concerns Schaefer has with the theory of evolution – addressed in some more detail here – are concerns about abiogenesis, which is not part of the theory, that “the time frame for speciation events seems all wrong to me” (argument from incredulity again, made in blissful ignorance of punctuated equilibrium), and that “I find no satisfactory mechanism for macroevolutionary changes” (you guessed it: incredulity again, this time relying on a bogus creationist distinction between micro- and macroevolution).

Diagnosis: Mostly uncommitted waffling – one suspects that Schaefer senses he’s on the wrong side of science here – but Schaefer has nevertheless obtained a status as something of an authority in the intelligent design cargo cult movement, which is even more an indictment against them than it is against him (though he is clearly a loon, too, for running with it).

Friday, June 28, 2019

#2210: Jack Schaap

Jack Schaap used to be an insane Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor associated with the First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, one of the largest megachurches in the US and most famous for its many sexual crimes cases (it also sports its own “college” and schools). An unrepentant fundie, Schaap’s sermons tended to feature more than a smidgen of bloodlust, with ample appeals to violence, weapon use and sex (the Lord’s Supper being likened to having sex with Jesus Christ, for instance – indeed, Schaap’s whole theology was weirdly sexualized), which apparently made him rather popular among his target audiences; an especially notable example is his fantastically bizarre “The Polished Shaft” family sermon). Among Schaap’s many deranged views, a notable number among them included views about women (he even wrote a book, How to Speak Husband, about “a wife’s role in the marriage” and how “[e]very wife needs to learn to interpret the language of her husband and master that language which she should be speaking as a wife”) such as the idea that a man shouldn’t get his theological views from a woman – after all, “the reason your soul, sorry soul’s going to hell is because a woman told Adam what God thinks about things” – because the Bible was written by men, which is an interesting admission from a fundie pastor like Schaap. He is, of course, also a creationist.

In 2013, Schaap landed himself in trouble (who could have foreseen that?) after having entertained a sexual relationship with a 17-year old girl in his congregation. According to himself, the unfortunate situation arose because he was just so stressed that he couldn’t help himself since people didn’t donate enough money to his church, which is one of the worst excuses among many we’ve come across. He also blamed God’s plan.

Diagnosis: Schaap was, of course, a cult leader, and like most of them, utterly corrupt in all senses of the word. He’s still got fans, though, and his church lives on.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

#2209: Steve Scalise

No, we’re not gonna give this a pass. Steve Scalise is the US House of Representatives Minority Whip and representative for Louisiana’s 1st congressional district since 2008, victim of a deranged leftwing shooter in 2017, and wingnut. Scalise is notable for his general wingnuttery, his attempts at historical revisionism and to question the separation of church and state, and his fierce opposition to gay rights. In 2018 he blamed Obama for trying to rig the midterm elections.

For our purposes, perhaps his most important qualification for inclusion here is his climate change denialism. Sure, he is one of many climate change deniers in Congress, but that really is no excuse. In 2013, Scalise argued at CPAC that climate change is a myth that doesn’t need to be addressed, pointing out that President Obama was cold during the inauguration: “He talked about global warming at his inauguration, I found it ironic that the President was wearing a trench coat it was so cold but he’s talking about global warming,” Scalise said, spectacularly failing to grasp the basics of anything. He also noted that a snow storm later cancelled a congressional hearing on climate change: “you can’t make this stuff up.” And in 2014 he blamed a UN-backed “radical environmentalist” conspiracy: “While their global warming agenda continues to lose support, it’s ironic that radical environmentalists are at it again, less than a month after NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), announced the Great Lakes had the most widespread ice coverage in over 35 years. Thirty years ago liberals were using global cooling to push new radical regulations [they demonstrably were not, though it is unclear how changing one’s view in light of the evidence is supposed to be an indictment of science in any case]. Then they shifted their focus to global warming in an effort to prop up wave after wave of job-killing regulations that are leading to skyrocketing food and energy costs.” He is a bit short on detailing the motives of the conspiracy, but I guess we all know that science is an evil conspiracy anyways.

Steve King apparently thinks Scalise is like Jesus, though King is admittedly not particularly good at thinking.

Diagnosis: Wingnut and denialist who toys with conspiracy theories. It should scare us, but we’ve become so accustomed to it that we barely notice.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

#2208: Paul Scalia

Paul Scalia – yes, his son – is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Courage apostolate and a wingnut fundamentalist. Scalia is, predictably, a staunch opponent of gay rights, and has argued at length that critics of homosexuality are currently being silenced and mistreated because people do not act the way such critics demand that they should act. Scalia does think, however, that it is unfortunate that his fellow critics occasionally lapse into using the expression “homosexual person” since according to Scalia, those people do not exist: “We should not predicate ‘homosexual’ of any person. That does a disservice to the dignity of the human person by collapsing personhood into sexual inclinations.” Nor is sexuality in general a matter of “orientation”, unless it is an orientation toward “the union of marriage”. 

Courage International is the reparative therapy apostolate of the Catholic Church; it is, in other words, the whole business principle of Scalia’s organization that being gay “is not an immutable characteristic or identity,” as he puts it. Courage also operates Encourage, a support group for friends and family members who can’t cope with the thought of there being gay and lesbian Catholics.

Diagnosis: Yes, one of the baddies. Not surprisingly. And while Courage is less famous than, say, Exodus International used to be, they remain determined to cause real, tangible harm to real people.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

#2207: Kurt Saxon

A.k.a. Donald Eugene Sisco (original name)

Kurt Saxon is perhaps the grand old man of survivalism in the US, possibly even the guy who came up with the word. During his career, Saxon has apparently been affiliated with the American Nazi Party, the early Minutemen, the Church of Scientology, Satanism and the John Birch Society. In 1970 he was even invited by the Nixon administration to testify before Congress (transcript here), where he advocated for police and private citizens using bombs to kill leftists, and for college protesters to be dispersed with machine-gun fire. 

Saxon has published multiple books, articles and booklets, a large part being reprints of out-of-date magazines and public-domain books (including military instructional manuals) being collected into books describing home projects in chemistry, electricity and similar activities, such as Granddad’s Wonderful World of Chemistryand several editions of The Poor Man’s James Bond, where he for instance tries to teach us all how to make anti-tank missiles. He has also written books about the imminent end of civilization and about improvised weaponry and poison making, and run magazines like The Survivorand (later) U.S. Militia.

His social views mostly align with the views deranged young-earth creationists imagine strawman atheists to have (Saxon is an atheist), such as society being evil because it allows children who are not physically strong and/or healthy to survive. He is also a critic of Islam, claiming that Islam is a barbaric ideology and an enemy of civilization and that Muslims are people of low intelligence with a violent agenda toward outsiders. Coming from Saxon makes it somewhat unclear whether the critique is intended as an indictment or an endorsement, however.

Diagnosis: He seems to have retired, and we would really have liked to dismiss his ideas as colorful, entertaining and harmless. But there are plenty of people out there who take them seriously.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Friday, June 21, 2019

#2206: Andrew Saul

A.k.a. the MegaVitaminMan

Andrew Saul is a self-proclaimed expert in nutrition and proud holder of a PhD from a “non-traditional PhD program”, the non-accredited diploma mill mail order program Greenwich University. (It never ceases to surprise us that those who defend people like Saul so rarely stop to consider why he would feel the need to mislead his audience by claiming such expertise.) Saul has written several books with titles like Doctor Yourself and Fire Your Doctor; his website takes its name from the title of the former, whereas Fire Your Doctor refers to how important it is that you, his reader, doesn’t consult anyone except him about the contents his advice, and especially not anyone who might have any real competence in any of it, since they’ll only disagree with him and tell you things he doesn’t want you to know. On his website – which Saul refers to as “his peer-reviewed website” and claims to be “one of the largest non-commercial natural health resources on the internet” – and in his books, Saul will tell you what they don’t want you to know and why “a grandmother is worth two doctors” (probably relevant to understanding his claim about his website being “peer-reviewed”), and he promotes a range of demonstrably useless dietary supplements. One reason you need supplements is apparently that much of today’s food is crappy and much of it GMO. No, Saul really doesn’t like doctors: “Doctors command far more respect than they've earned. It amounts to a religion, almost a perverse opposite of Christian Science, when we have so much faith in people.” Moreover, medical science was wrong about much in the past, so it is clearly not to be trusted. Instead, you should trust him, whose degree is at least not from a real medical school.

Also known as the MegaVitamin Man, Saul is best known for promoting huge doses (at least 15,000 mg, but he has also mentioned “½ million to 2 million milligrams”) of Vitamin C as a miracle cure; “[n]ow, I don’t believe in ‘miracle cures’ or silver bullets,” says Saul, “but high-dose Vitamins sure come close”: apparently megadoses of vitamin C are effective for anything from scorpion bites (according entirely to himself, Saul detoxed himself from a venomous scorpion bite using vitamin C, “which acts as a potent anti-toxin;” it most assuredly does not) to chronic disease to compromised immune systems to the flu; vitamin C ostensibly works as an “antibiotic, antihistamine, antitoxin, antipyretic, antidepressant and will even curb your appetite.” Indeed, Saul “personally worked with a woman who had HIV, drug addiction, alcoholism, you name it. I told her to consider really shoveling in the Vitamin C, quit drugs and drinking, and clean up her diet. Well, she got off of drugs and eventually the alcohol. She tried to clean up her diet, and she took an awful lot of vitamin C. I ran into her 20 years later and she told me that the last three times she was tested for HIV they couldn’t find any.” In short, C vitamins clearly fits the definition of “miracle cure”, but for marketing purposes it is probably strategically advantageous to give a more modest first impression lest people think Saul is as ridiculous as he is. “Wouldn’t it be great if your doctor would teach you how to use common Vitamins for healing chronic illness, reversing disease and injury, or just for maintaining health? But most can’t … or won’t – and there’s a surprising reason why.” It is not very surprising. The reason is of course that Vitamin C demonstrably does none of what Saul claims it does. This is not the answer Saul gives.

Indeed, according to Saul, “medical doctors have been using high doses of vitamins to cure disease for over 70 years”; in fact, they “have been stopping and curing Polio with high doses of Vitamin C since the 1930’s. In the 1860’s and 70’s they were curing pneumonia with Vitamin C therapy” (it probably doesn’t need to be pointed out that these claims have nothing to do with reality). Elsewhere he claims that doctors don’t use vitamins to cure disease because “doctors are pretty indoctrinated by the time they finish med school” and will never even consider any alternatives, even though researchers according to him constantly publish on the almost magical efficacy of vitamins; in any case “[i]t could have something to do with money” because doctors are “basically funded by the pharmaceutical industry from the moment they enter med school to the moment they hang up their stethoscope”, and the pharmaceutical – unlike himself and the supplement industry – cannot make money off of vitamins.

Of course, the evidence Saul is talking about is studies published in things like the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Orthomolecular medicine is of course one of the more deranged branches of dangerous pseudoscience out there. In fact, Saul has managed to become one of the more, uh, recognized figures in orthomolecular medicine – he is editor of the “peer-reviewed” Orthomolecular Medicine News Service (he keeps using that expression; I do not think it means what he thinks it means) and was “inducted into the Orthomolecular Medicine Hall of Fame in 2013” – and according to the grand old man of orthomolecular medicine, Abram Hoffer: “Andrew Saul’s website is great. And it’s accurate. I read it all and it’s very accurate.” Hoffer, who died in 2009, was also Saul’s co-author on the book The Vitamin Cure for Alcoholism, one in a series of books that also include The Vitamin Cure for Depression (with one Bo Jonsson), The Vitamin Cure for Children’s Health Problemsand The Vitamin Cure for Infant and Toddler Health Problems (both with Ralph Campbell). Saul’s website, which is certainly not accurate by any stretch of the imagination (you should, for instance, emphatically not trust Saul’s advice on niacin), is mostly a series of links to various articles from a wide variety of quacks and crackpots claiming things that fit Saul’s narrative. 

Saul has also branched out a bit and written Vegetable Juicing for Everyone (with Helen Saul Case) and I have cancer, What should I do: Your orthomolecular guide for cancer management (with Michael González & Jorge Miranda-Massari). What you should is to listen to your doctor and stay as far away as possible from Saul’s book. 

Diagnosis: Certainly a crackpot and pseudoscientist, but his own promotion of his fake degree makes it hard to maintain the position that he is merely a true believer. Dangerous.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

#2205: Jeffrey Satinover

Crank magnetism is the tendency of cranks to be attracted to multiple independent crank ideas at the same time. The prevalence of crank magnetism is not particularly surprising insofar as the crank ideas are rooted in the same errors of thinking, such as an inability to distinguish science from pseudoscience. Jeffrey Satinover is a spectacular illustration of crank magnetism at work. Satinover is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and physicist, and has written pseudoscientific books on a range of subjects within and beyond his own field characterized by being consistently wrong on every major issue. Topics range from brain neurophysiology to the psychology of narcissism to the breakdown of modern society, but he is probably most famous for his writings (and public-policy efforts) relating to homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the ex-gay movement – indeed, Satinover is a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), in addition to being a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Math and Science at King’s College, New York (during Marvin Olasky’s tenure as provost), a fundamentalist Christian college affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ that envisions itself as a counterweight to secular universities “[t]rafficking in the assumptions of atheism and Darwinian evolution”. Satinover is also lecturer at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zürich and Managing Director of Quintium Analytics, LLC, an investment advisory company he founded in 2007. 

Satinover is a longtime and ardent critic of homosexuality and gay rights. In his 1996 book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth(published by the evangelical and certainly not academic publisher Baker Books) he argues, against the evidence, that homosexuality is a condition that can and should be treated, that it can be compared to pathologies like alcoholism and pedophilia, and that homosexuality, although “not a true illness,” may “be thought an illness in the spiritual sense of ‘soul sickness,’ innate to fallen human nature”; it is definitely psychologically unhealthy “as evidenced by the higher associated suicide rate.” Moreover, “gay activism distorts the truth and harms not only society, but homosexuals themselves.” The book has little scientific merit of course, but Satinover isa psychologist, and credentials like that make him useful to certain groups. He has frequently been called to testify in court cases regarding his views on same sex marriage (though in fairness not always providing the kind of testimony his side wished for), and his research is frequently cited by hate groups combatting gay rights and marriage equality.

Numerology and Quantum pseudoscience
Satinover’s other writings include The Truth Behind the BibleCode and Cracking the Bible Code, in defense of – yup – the Bible Code, the idea that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament contains hidden codes which reveal prophesies. Needless to say, neither book was published by an academic publisher. It is probably because Big Science hates open-mindedness.

Satinover has also written several books that speculate on quantum mechanics as he applies it to conscious thought, includingThe Quantum Brain, which ostensibly explores current developments at the interface of physics, computation, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. He was also a witness for the side of New Age lunacy in the “documentary” What the Bleep Do We Know, as well as its sequel What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole. Apparently, according to Satinover, quantum mechanics can offer a blistering critique of modern psychiatry: “In general, the field of psychiatry strips people of the need to feel responsible. And, often enough, so does religion. But if you take quantum mechanics seriously enough, it puts the responsibility squarely back in your lap. And it doesn’t give answers that are clearcut, or comforting. It says, ‘Yes, the world is a very mysterious place. Mechanism is not the answer, but I’m not going to tell you what the answer is. Because you’re old enough to decide for yourself.” This is not remotely how anything works. Note that Satinover doesn’t suggest that you take quantum mechanics seriously, but that you take it “seriously enough”. We suspect a lot hinges on that “enough”.

Diagnosis: A spectacular illustration of how it is possible to get through a real and thorough education yet be completely defenseless against all forms of deranged pseudoscience. Being a brave maverick doctor doesn’t warrant much respect when you only distinguish yourself from the establishment by being wrong in the dumbest possible ways.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

#2204: Pete Santilli

Santilli in his Bundy wildlife reserve
occupation days.
Pete Santilli is an unhinged Internet ranter whose self-appointed role seems to be to (unsuccessfully) make Alex Jones look reasonable. His broadcasts have trawled through conspiracy theories on everything from 9/11 (“the World Trade Center towers were turned to dust in mid air by a very powerful energy source”) to pizzagate to Sandy Hook, and though he used to have a relatively limited audience (he was “ready to take my show to national syndication”, but had doubts that “the FCC regulated AM/FM radio stations can handle my truth & honesty”), he began gaining traction around 2013 when Ted Nugent and Larry Pratt started to frequent his show; Pratt, for instance, worked with Santilli to develop his theory that President Obama was raising a private army to overpower the U.S. military. Meanwhile, Santilli would violently call for having the entire Bush family and President Obama “tried, convicted and shot” for “treason” (apparently the trial and conviction parts are really optional); H.W. Bush would also be found guilty for his “involvement with his cronies in the John F. Kennedy assassination” and Obama for “moving drugs through the CIA out of Afghanistan”. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, should be “tried, convicted and shot in the vagina.” Yes, Santilli is that kind of person. He went on to describe in detail how he personally wanted to “pull the trigger” on Clinton (he referred to her with a sexual slur) and watch her slowly die, the rationale being apparently revenge for what Santilli believes to be faking the SEAL Team Six’s Bin Laden raid. Even Secret Service apparently took note of that rant.

Later in 2013, in his capacity as spokesman for Truckers Ride for the Constitution, he argued that violence against the government would be justified if his group’s plan to jam the Capital Beltway that surrounds Washington, D.C. and ask members of Congress to resign, failed. Originally, Santilli and organizer Zeeda Andrews called for the arrest of in particular Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but Santilli later backpedaled a little, denied that any arrestation attempts would be made but expressed hope that the senators would “voluntarily resign” as a result of the protest – before going on his radio show to threaten with a “bloody battle” against government if the protest failed, and saying that opponents of the government would have been “justified” in using violence. The event turned out to be somewhat disorganized, partially as a result of infighting over logistics and aims. At that point, Santilli also said that raising the debt ceiling would amount to “financial terrorism” and “an act of terroristic war upon the American people” to which his followers – Santilli explicitly called on the three-percenters – would be justified to “respond violently with the Second Amendment”. He also complained that the government wants to “take my guns away” in order to arm Al Qaeda. And in 2014 he explicitly called for a military coup to “restore the republic from a state of affairs that mostly seems to exist in his own deranged imagination.

Santilli is probably most famous, however, for taking part in and even figuring as a spokesman or at least live-broadcasting as a sympathetic reporter – at least Fox News acknowledged him as a spokesman – for the occupation of a federal wildlife reserve in Oregon led by Ammon Bundy in 2016, which also led to his arrest. (We wish to emphasize that we are somewhat dismayed by the fact that he was arrested for it, though.) It was not his first Bundy stunt: Santilli participated in the Cliven Bundy standoff, too, where he declared that he was prepared to fight to the death with federal agents who were trying to round up cattle that were illegally grazing on public lands – or last, to initiate deranged attempts at activism; “every individual right now needs to stop watching the decimation of our Constitution, the destruction of our country by that freaking NDAA [sic] basketball-dribbling, freaking Muslim Brotherhood bastard,” he said, referring to Obama in connection with the border security policies he was protesting with his “Cinco de Julio” campaign. (He also denounced wingnut hero Joe Arpaio after Arpaio referred to Mexican migrants as “illegal Hispanics”; according to Santilli, that is a diversion created to conceal the truth, that asylum-seeking Muslims are flooding the border to harm America; “there are Arabs coming over the border,” said Santilli: “I personally saw them.” We don’t doubt that Santilli sees lots of things). In more recent years Santilli’s antics seem to have made his popularity in wingnut circles surge.

Santilli is not a fan of gay rights either. In an interview with James David Manning, Santilli pointed out that “when we oppose the sodomites, this is not just a battle between the heterosexuals and the homosexuals, this is a battle between good and evil, a battle between God and Satan himself.

Santilli’s website promotes Judy Wood’s book Where Did The Towers Go? Evidence Of Directed Free-Energy Technology On 9/11, which argues that the Twin Towers were felled by an energy weapon on. Santilli gives the book his personal “100% satisfaction guarantee” and offers a refund if you “do not believe this is the most important book of our lifetime,” though he admits that the evidence that a “free energy technology” was involved in the 9/11-attacks may be “too much for the un-awakened mind”. His website also details the existence of a New World Order controlling the world from “behind the curtain”. “We’ve all been under a PSY-OP (psychological warfare operation) since 9-11,” says Santilli, though we are reluctant to go along further than to establish that there is indeed something off with Santilli’s psychological dynamics. And apparently Glenn Beck, who wrote an entire book detailing how Agenda 21 was a conspiracy to take over the US, is an agent for Agenda 21.

Diagnosis: As Ed Brayton (more or less) puts it, Pete Santilli stands to Michael Savage roughly as Michael Savage stands to Al Sharpton. Rabidly insane monster with ragingly violent delusion.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

#2203: Bernie Sanders

Thomas and Manju Sam are Australian, but their story is worth highlighting nonetheless, insofar as it provides a useful foil for the present entry.

Now, it will probably come as little surprise to readers that the authors of this blog have an overall very favorable view of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy for the type of position he is seeking. Nevertheless, despite his redeeming qualities, we should not overlook some serious flaws (and we’re not thinking about some questionable views on sexual repression and cancer he held 50 years ago): Sanders’s history of supporting medical quackery is rather disconcerting, as illustrated for instance by his 2013 sponsorship of a bill that would waste plenty of government dollars on totally ineffective and unsafe woo. But Sanders’s support for woo has been pretty consistent throughout his career (some background here and many details here), and in 2010, for instance, he said that “to me, the increasing integration of CAM and conventional care just makes sense. Research shows that more people are demanding and turning to integrative care because it parallels their personal values and desire to be treated as a whole personFor a wide variety of reasons, more and more people are not simply content to go to a doctor’s office, get a diagnosis and take a pill. They want to know what the cause of their medical problem is and how, when possible, it can be best alleviated through natural, non-invasive or non-pharmaceutical means.” Note for instance the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature and the rather alarming dogwhistles about how quacks (as opposed to real medical professionals) will treat the “whole person” and the suggestion that quacks, also as opposed to real medical professionals, will get to the “cause of [someone’s] medical problem” (Sanders later suggested that altmed, as opposed to real medicine, focuses on prevention – se no. 21 here). Of course, alternative medicine practitioners don’t treat the whole person and won’t get to the cause of anything (see no. 13 here) – real doctors, however, demonstrably do – but those claims nevertheless constitute the core of the alternative medicine narrative, and the fact that Sanders is adept enough at using these dog whistles to blow all three in rapid succession should be a serious cause for concern.

Sanders is also often credited with inserting a provision requiring licensed CAM professions to be included as part of the healthcare workforce into the ACA. In 2013, he co-sponsored (the main culprit here seems to have been Richard Blumenthal) several bills before the U.S. Congress to expand the availability of quackery to military veterans and funding CAM research at the expense of legitimate research. Fortunately, they failed to pass. Sanders can, however, be at least partially blamed for getting naturopaths licensed in Vermont.

And it is not like he has given up on woo ideas. In November 2015, for instance, Sanders apparently praised holistic and alternative medicine at a meeting of the Veteran’s Administration, claiming that “the increasing integration of Chinese medicine and yoga, for example, as bright spots in a largely dysfunctional American health care system.” Well, his diagnosis of the health care system might be apt, but adding traditional Chinese medicine (“neither traditional nor medicine”) is not going to bring about any positive changes.

He also supports GMO labelling, which is a Trojan horse for the anti-GMO movement (

Diagnosis: Compared to some of his most obvious political opponents, including climate-change denying, antivaccine conspiracy theorist presidential incumbents, Sanders’s commitment to woo may not come across as particularly harmful. They need to be exposed, however, and should be a cause of concern.

Monday, June 10, 2019

#2202: Linda Salvin

We should probably give a honorable mention to VSP wanker lord Will Saletan, who apparently feels qualified to share his wisdom about any topic outside of his expertise that comes his way, resulting in egregious nonsense like this, thisor this (to mention a few examples), but the task of having to write up a complete entry for him fills us with dread, so we’ll let the opportunity pass.

Linda Salvin is much more (unintentionally) hilarious. Salvin is an intuitive healer, whose credentials include surviving a commercial airliner crash in 1981 (“As she exited the plane ... she heard reassuring voices that told her she would be unharmed”), being struck by a fire truck, a car accident and a life-altering surgery:  “[w]ith each of these experiences, her spiritual connection and psychic abilities began to grow,” says Salvin. Now she is ready to diagnose and heal you using her intuitions (currently, she is “directly linked to the other side due to a white light experience and three near death”). Medical school and evidence-based practices are for wussies. Apparently she is “on a journey”.

Well, to aid you in your healing Salvin offers several products for you to buy, including her wicks of wisdom, a “spiritual candle-magic line created by Dr. Linda in 1999 while on national radio.” (The “Dr.” part is not particularly well explained.) Apparently, “[s]he was trained in candle magic and took the concepts mainstream for people from all walks of life.” If we understand the procedure correctly, you light the candles (carefully following instructions) and offer some kind of incantation, and the magic will bring you wellness, fortunes and good luck. Oh, and she does fortune-telling, too: “If you are seeking answers to life’s questions such as love, finances, career, relationships, spiritual guidance, health and wellness, legal issues or anything more personal, then you want to book a session for a psychic reading.” Especially the legal issues thing seems to set her apart from most of the competition, which seems to be rather careful about offering that kind of advice. 

Diagnosis: Probably harmless, yet it continues to amaze us – even after all these loons – that people still fall for purveyors of good-luck magic. But apparently they do.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

#2201: Kamal Saleem

A.k.a. Khodor Shami (real name)

That evangelical fundies aren’t always deeply concerned with honesty should come as a shock to nobody. Kamal Saleem, for instance, is one of several “ex-terrorists” (Walid Shoebat is another) who claims to have been involved in islamist terror activities but saw the errors of his ways and is currently touring the religious right circus complaining about the evils of the Quran. In particular, Saleem claims to have been recruited by the PLO in Beirut in 1964 or 1965, four years before it was established in Lebanon, and ten before it was deployed to Beirut. Indeed, he claims to have been part of the Muslim Brotherhood at the same time (of course, his audience will probably not be aware that PLO and the Muslim Brotherhood were archrivals) and have met most of the most high-profile figures in the Middle East at the time. His fictitious backstory is ridiculous enough for one reviewer to dub him the “Forrest Gump of the Middle East.” Indeed, entirely according to himself, Saleem used to be important enough for the Muslim Brotherhood to put a $25 million bounty on his head, and he claims that there have been attempts to earn it: After a 2007 speaking event in California, for instance, he claims to have returned to his hotel to find his room ransacked and a band of dangerous Middle Easterners on his trail. He describes calling the police to alert them to an assassination attempt, though local law enforcement has no record of any such incident. We suppose you are supposed to blame a conspiracy backed by the pro-shariah government of the US.

Saleem used to work for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network – CBN continued to use him as a source even after his back story was revealed as fraud – and was hired by Focus on the Family in 2003, before launching his own ministry, Koome Ministries, in 2006 to “expose the true agenda of [Muslims] who would deceive our nation and the free nations of the world ... America must wake-up and set a continued Christian agenda of Liberty and Truth as a standard to follow throughout the free world,” and embarking upon a lucrative career posing as an ex-terrorist. He has in recent years managed to become something of a mainstay in the religious right circus ring; his participation in The Call‘s “Dearborn Awakening” section – long after his fictitious backstory had been exposed – where he told rally attendees that he is descended from the “Grand Wazir of Islam” (a title that doesn’t exist in Islam) and urged attendees to pray for Muslims to convert to Christianity, is a typical example. 

While preparing for his The Call appearance, Saleem also said that President Obama planned “to break down Article 6” of the Constitution in order to enforce “Islamic law,” warning that “if he breaks this, the Sharia law will be supreme in America.” Not only is this of course deranged nonsense, Saleem is also, ironically enough, closely affiliated with explicitly dominionist groups like Transformation Michigan that are themselves fighting tooth and claw to overturn Article 6. 

Creeping shariah law is a mainstay of Saleem’s unhinged rants (we won’t even try to sum up this maelstrom of paranoid delusions). In 2012, Saleem claimed to have uncovered a liberal plot to use the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade to “bring Sharia law liberally in our face”. The formulations do admittedly suggest that he is poking fun at a paranoid audience, but the sum of evidence show that it is most likely an instance of unhinged insanity. He didn’t offer any details concerning howRoe v. Wade would lead to the implementation of shariah law, but did call it an “Islamic clause”. He doesn’t seem to know very much about Islam. Oh, and according to Saleem, the Obama administration didn’t merely wish to let Shariah law replace the constitution; it also sought to legalize terrorism through immigration reform – again there is a certain lack of detail, but apparently immigration reform means that “all the illegal Muslims will be legalized here” which entails that “terrorism will be legal.” President Obama was apparently also “sending millions to Hamas to import Muslim people” to the U.S. as part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot. The military is also involved: “many generals who swore to destroy the United States of America are generals in the United States”. Then he warned that “this world will become past tense and one day we’ll be wearing ragheads.” Apparently it all has something to do with the UN Resolution 16/18, which reaffirms “freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression” and opposes religious discrimination, and which will ostensibly force the church to “go underground” and thus impose Islam on everyone (or something). Let us at least all agree that there is something here that doesn’t quite add up. 

In 2014, Saleem caught President Obama red-handed, having figured out that Obama secretly wanted ISIS to attack the United States so that he could declare martial law, cancel the next election and become a dictator. And while waiting for the bombs, Obama was waging jihad and helping fundamentalist islamists to take over America with abortion and gay rights, two things fundamentalist Islamists are not known to be particularly fond of, but it is probably all a false flag. We should consider ourselves lucky that Saleem and fellow conspiracy theorists were there to expose the plot. Saleem also revealed that the Obama family was in fact secretly attending mosques every Christmas; he established this by the powers of speculations, which works better for him than facts (what good are theyFactswon’t fit his narrative. Come on!)

Of course, having been exposed as a fraud carries little significance in wingnut circles. In 2012, for instance, the tea party group Constituting Michigan brought Saleem to Allegan High School to warn guests of the danger of creeping sharia law. Responding to criticism of the event Bill Sage, one of the co-founders of Constituting Michigan, dismissed it as “the result of media bias”. It is not clear what piece of criticism that response was supposed to address, but we are also under no illusion that Sage has ever worried about truth, accuracty, honesty or accountability. Dave Agema was also scheduled to speak at the event. Here is the American Decency Association’s attempt to defend Saleem. It is oddly telling.

Indeed, the same year Saleem was also given a platform at the Values Voter Summit, where he entertained audiences with tall tales of his work for Lebanon, Syria, the PLO, Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood and even Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, until he moved to the U.S. to wage “cultural jihad;” there he and his fellow terrorists “met the professors” at American universities and colleges – “our playgrounds” – and helped “the professors to establish new curriculum purposefully” to brainwash students to change “your children to hit your nation with everything they’ve got” (currently “45 percent of Common Core is Islamic indoctrination”; how he arrived at the figure is left open.) He also claimed that Hillary Clinton was working with Islamic countries to eviscerate the Constitution and “subjugate American people to be arrested and put to jail and their churches and synagogues shut down,” which he says would happen “early next year!” 2013 came and passed without subjugation, but the religious right has never turned their back on a false prophet. He made similar claims about Clinton in 2016, and in 2017 he repeated his warnings that the Democrats are plotting to let Muslim terrorists take over America. Mat Staver, for instance, still seems impressed.

Saleem has also produced anti-Islamic videos for the Oak Initiative. His fake backstory is laid out in his virulently anti-Islamic book The Blood of Lambs, which has been reviewed as “obsessively, sadistically violent.” He usually responds to criticism of his claims by accusing critics, including a Christian professor at Calvin College, of being Muslim Brotherhood agents working in cohorts with an Islamic “shadow government” that has formed an “unholy alliance” against him: “Today we the enemy of Islam, the liberal movement, the socialist movement, the communist movement, the women movement, Cod Pink, all of them are coming against me, the Occupy, all of these are coming against me.They have unholy alliances together with Islam, whether it’s homosexual or baby-killer, all these have unholy alliances.” Coherence is not his strong suit.

Saleem emphasized the same confluence of isms on Alex Jones’s show in 2016: “the isms are coming together: Islamism, socialism, secularism, fascism, liberalism, secularism, all of them are part of the ism movement for the Last Days and they are united together for a one-world order” and “world government”.

There is a decent Kamal Saleem resource here.

Diagnosis: First time you encounter him, you’d probably conclude that he is a professional liar, but it seems pretty likely to us that he just isn’t able to distinguish reality from feverishly incoherent imaginations. Completely and utterly batshit crazy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

#2200: Ray Sahelian

Ray Sahelian is an MD and relatively well-known promoter of all sorts of herbal products and supplements for which there little or no evidence for efficacy, and a rather striking scarcity of evidence for safety. Though youtube seems to be his preferred marketing channel, Sahelian has written a number of books – peer review focusing on correlations between claim and reality, or the use of data is, shall we say, rather lax for such books, as supposed to real studies – on such supplements, including Mind BoostersThe Stevia Cookbook, Kava: The miracle antianxiety herb(if you buy into claims about something marketed as “miracle” anything you almost deserve what you get). His own products include the Physician Formulas line of nutritional supplements. 

Sahelian appears to like to come across as a fairly reasonable guy, but he is also critical of anyone expressing skepticism toward Big Supplement, such as Quackwatch. Now, and in his response to Quackwatch Sahelian didn’t actually blame Quackwatch for being shills outright (unlike most conspiracy theorists criticized by Quackwatch) – he did try to poison the well just a little bit by wondering why Quackwatch isn’t writing critical articles about Big Pharma; i.e. Sahelian doesn’t like that Quackwatch is calling out the supplement industry and would rather see that they were writing about something else – indeed, if we wish to play the game, it is worth observing that Sahelian is proud of the fact that he “also consults and formulates products for vitamin companies”, whereas Quackwatch’s Stephen Barrett has no ties to Big Pharma. Sahelian also claims that Quackwatch is unbalanced because Barrett “often, if not the majority of the time, seems to point out the negative outcome of studies with supplements […] and rarely mentions the benefits they provide.” Which may, of course, be because the supplements in question don’t really provide any health benefits and reality has an anti-supplement bias. To Sahelian, however, the failure to present both sides, even when there is only one, is unscientific: “A true scientist takes a fair approach,” says Sahelian. We suspect he doesn’t really have the faintest clue how science works, which would actually explain a bit of his behavior. 

Moreover, according to Sahelian, Barrett’s criticism of supplements is hollow since “[d]oes he take any supplements himself to learn firsthand how they work? […] Anyone who comments about supplements and has not taken them, or has not had feedback for several years from hundreds or thousands of patients, does not have a full understanding of how they work or what benefit or side effects they have.” Or put differently: anecdotes, personal experience and motivated reasoning trump carefully conducted, controlled studies, always.

Sahelian’s website pushes more or less any herbal supplement and natural cure you could imagine – yes, Sahelian does nominally warn readers about the fallacy of appeals to nature, but those are just words; the warning has certainly had no impact on the advice he himself provides. His claims are otherwise backed up mostly by anecdotes, though there is a smattering of appeals to ancient wisdom in there as well.  

Diagnosis: Though he likes to promote himself as “moderate”, there is little in Ray Sahelian’s advice or writings to distinguish him from Gary Null, apart from the tone and the rhetoric. We recommend maintaining a safe distance.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

#2199: Jonathan Saenz

Jonathan Saenz is the president of Texas Values, which is a piece of information that should really be sufficient to establish that he is a serious loon. Texas Values is the lobbying arm of the Liberty Institute, an organization notorious for peddling conspiracy theories and discredited stories about how government and progressive activists are attacking religious liberty.

And just as you’d expect, Saenz really, really doesn’t like gay people – that his former wife apparently left him for another woman might be part of it, but his lunacy is nevertheless all his own. The primary goal of his group is to combat LGBT equality and basic protections for LGBT people, such as efforts to prevent anti-LGBT bullying (that would, as they see it, constitute granting “special rights” to “homosexuals”). They also wish to keep anti-sodomy laws on the books, claiming that efforts to repeal such laws are efforts to push a gay “agenda”. In addition, Texas Values opposes sex education and considers themselves brave soldiers for good in the mythical “war on Christmas”, mostly by pushing conspiracy theories and myths: the “war” is “a key front in the radical movement to remove all religious expression from the public square” and create a world where children are too afraid to even talk about Christmas at school.

In 2014 Saenz called the marriage equality ruling in Texas a “hollow victory” (??), after calling it “one of the most egregious forms of judicial activism of our generation;” judicial activism, of course, is when the courts issue a ruling Saenz doesn’t like ( To help himself cope with such decisions, Saenz has turned to denialism so delusional (growing support for gay marriage in the US is “a myth” – the vast majority of Americans really agrees with him; facts be damned) one would almost have felt sorry for him if he weren’t so hateful; the same sort of delusions are on glorious display here.

He is no fan of non-discrimination ordinances either, ostensibly because they discriminate against his religious freedom to discriminate against those who don’t share his religious beliefs. Indeed, with regard to Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, Saenz called it a demonic attempt to empower “sexual predators” to “terrorize women and children.” 

In conclusion, according to Saenz, gay people are like an enemy army, and “America today is occupied territoryThe enemies of religious freedom occupy every power center from government to academia. Everyone except its spiritual core…” That core would be the pastors, who are now “the Leaders of the Resistance,” who are accordingly targeted by this demonic army of gay people (therefore you should send Saenz money). Indeed, Saenz seems to think that the battle for marriage equality is really just a flimsy cover for a Satanic attack on churches and, ultimately, Christianity itself – gay rights advocates really want to “destroy” marriage, “attack churches,” and make sure “religious liberty will be obliterated”; indeed, advocates of gay rights ultimately want to throw their opponents in jail, or even in concentration camps. Of course, Saenz’s paranoia is partially fueled by his complete inability to grasp the distinction between criticism and censorship – true to form, Saenz has called those who criticize him “enemies of freedom”. He also, unsurprisingly, has a bit of trouble with the distinctions truth/falsehood and honesty/lying.

Though his energies have, at least the last few years, mostly been devoted to anti-gay efforts, Saenz has a long history of wingnut advocacy for a wide range of types of bigotry, denialism or pseudoscience. Saenz, a staunch creationist (the theory of evolution, which he doesn’t remotely understand, is a “left-wing ideology” that “any respectable scientist” should see through), was for instance a supporter of having Texas public schools teach creationism; when the education board decided that science classes should be devoted to science in 2009, Saenz was outraged and lambasted the board for wanting to “bow down to the scientific community”: “It’s outrageous that our highest elected education officials voted to silence teachers and students in science class” and thus prevent them from teaching kids all other non-science stuff that Saenz they might believe. “Despite being overwhelmed by e-mails and phone calls to keep strengths and weaknesses, the divided State Board of Education ignored constituents and sided with a small group of activists,” continued Saenz: “This decision shows that science has evolved into a political popularity contest. The truth has been expelled from the science classroom.” It is a lovely illustration of Saenz’s deranged mind that he failed to notice the blatant contradiction between those two claims. He did, however, commend the board for a resolution calling on textbook publishers to limit references to Islam, ostensibly to combat the stealth influence of Middle Easterners on textbook publishing.

He has also called it “untrue and factually and historically inaccurate” that the Constitution separates church and state, as if he had any idea what “untrue” and “inaccurate” mean.

There is a good Jonathan Saenz resource here.

Diagnosis: As confident as he is delusional, Saenz actually wields quite some influence in his native Texas. Extremely dangerous.