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.

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