Thursday, November 28, 2019

#2274: Mitchel Soltys

Answers in Genesis is apparently still running their own vanity journal, the Answers Research Journal, and the garbled nonsense that finds its ways into its pages is still strangely fascinating. Many of the contributors to the journal are completely unknown, and we have to admit that we have no clear idea who Mitchel Soltys might be. For volume 4 of the Answers journal, however, Soltys penned “Toward an Accurate Model of Variation in DNA”, which is, to be honest, more annoyingly tiresome than fascinating. In the paper – discussed here (yes, there is a lot of toward, in the gesturing sense) Soltys flogs the long-dead creationist information cannot originate in statistical processes” gambit, which, as always, is based on fully failing to understand “information” and what it might mean in the context of genetics. (Yes: the “information is a code, and a code requires intentions” should sound like a pretty silly equivocation even to those who don’t know anything about DNA or information theory; and yes: Soltys does cite Werner Gitt, and no: he doesn’t address any of the damning objections to Gitt’s claims.) And just to cover his bases, Soltys added a standard “[m]utations don’t result in new genes” stock phrase, completely without backing it up. The really telling passage in the paper, however, is “As we continue our discussion we could use actual gene mappings, but that would be overly large and complex […]”: yes: science, detail and fact is uninterestingly complicated. The primary aim of the article is, relying on analogies, to come up with a definition of “biblical kind”, “[t]he set spanned by all organisms having the same instructional segments and structural arrangements in DNA.” Supporting data? Oh, ye doubting fools.

Diagnosis: Nonsensical pseudoscientist. Probably a very minor figure, though, and unlikely to win many new converts to pseudoscience.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

#2273: Stan Solomon

[Update: Did he die, back in 2015 or so?]

Stan Solomon is a fundie wingnut radio host who does the kind of stuff fundie wingnut radio hosts do, such as demanding that the police murder peaceful protestors when he disagrees with the contents of those protests and palling around with deranged crazies like Alan Keyes and Larry Pratt.

Solomon is not only a fundamentalist, he hates anything he deems non-Christian, and deems non-Christian anything he hates, thus giving himself reason to hate it even more: Latinos, Jews, gays, environmentalists, and just about everyone else: “… it doesn’t make a difference what group it is. If you put anything ahead of doing what’s right in God’s eyes, or better yet ignoring the reality of God, then you’re a tool, you’re a useful idiot.” “God’s eyes” in this context means his eyes, of course.

And importantly, his enemies are all the same: “The left, which is godless and serves Satan, has an agenda. To accomplish their agenda they have to get idiots, morons, numbnuts to do stupid things so the focus will be on them and not on the libs, not on the leftists. Jews, homosexuals, blacks, gays, Islamists, you may think they’re disparate groups, they’re not, they’re all tools. Because while we’re mad at these two punks, we’re mad at Trayvon Martin, that thug that deserves to be dead and I’m glad he’s dead.” (Maintaining focus is not Solomon’s strong side.) Continues Solomon: “Pieces of crap, homosexuals like what’s that one guy’s name? [Dan] Savage. That faggot. That horrible, awful, terrible excuse for a human being who is at the White House promoting attacks on Christians. I hope he dies – he probably will – of every disease known.” Worst of all, though, are black people and Latinos, and Solomon has called on his white listeners to buy guns to protect themselves against black and Latino people: black and Latino public school and college students are “terrorists in training” who are deliberately being taught” to hate white people in an effort to start a race war. Solomon even predicted that Obama would would establish “a black force” to attack white people.

Solomon also thinks that having humanist chaplains in the military is a really bad idea because humanist chaplains would try to convince soldiers to kill themselves.

Anti-gay efforts
It should hardly come as any surprise that Solomon is virulently anti-gay. Indeed, Solomon has opted to go for Scott Lively-style conspiracy theories about homosexuality, and claimed that homosexuality is even to blame for Nazism; according to Solomon, not only is homosexuality “destructive of the individual, destructive of the society and every society in the history of the world that has accepted homosexuality has crashed and burned – someone tell me where I’m wrong” [he doesn’t really want you to tell him where he is wrong], but “many people don’t know that the Nazi party was born out of a homosexual group; they call it the pink swastika.” There is, of course, a good and rather obvious reason why many people don’t know that.

He has also warned that liberals will take the children of conservative parents and put them into the homes of abusive gay couples. And of course, “the media won’t talk about it”, which means that it must be a conspiracy, which is all the evidence for his claim Solomon ever needed. (Phyllis Schlafly thought he was on to something with that one.)

Politics and general wingnuttery
In 2014 Solomon suggested initiating a violent uprising against Obama and have “100 million march on Washington” to depose Obama and the then-current government – “I don’t think our military and the few pitiful police they have there wouldn’t be able to stop us,” said Solomon. Though he seems to suggest that fascism is bad when he blames homosexuality for fascism, he rather explicitly doesn’t think it is bad.

Politicians who support gun laws, meanwhile, should be shot; indeed, “that’s why we need to have guns, you know what, more than one politician has been dispatched while doing a dance trying to avoid certain, shall we say, metal jackets.” After all, politicians who disagree with Solomon are evil people who will use Obamacare to force gun owners to undergo electroshock therapy, his evidence being apparently that this is the kind of thing evil people would do. So it goes.  

He does seem to have a particular obsession with Michelle Obama. For instance, when she was promoting healthy eating among youth, Solomon responded: “They have that Michelle O-Buick butt Obama’s you know, by the way, she doesn’t eat that crap, she eats like a garbage disposal at a fast food joint. Actually, they might name one after her … They just eat the biggest junk in the world.” President Obama, meanwhile, was, according to Solomon, “a homosexual Muslim married to man”; yes, it all comes together – Solomon’s mind isn’t spacious enough to keep thoughts apart. The evidence is apparently that Obama is a “wussy guy who throws a ball like a girl.” That, apparently, means that Obama also wishes he could be a drag queen. Phyllis Schlafly applauded Solomon’s reasoning, thanking him “for being a voice of truth and sanity on the air.” Solomon is of course also a birther: “Barack Obama is not an American, never has been, not in his actions, not in his speech, not in his politics and not in his birth.”

As mentioned above, Solomon expressed great joy over the death of Trayvon Martin; he was apparently equally happy about the death of Michael Brown: “I’m glad he’s dead. He deserves to be dead.”

Apparently, according to himself, NSA is monitoring his show, so when Larry Pratt, a recurring guest on Solomon’s show, expressed his excitement about Sarah Palin running for Senate in Alaska by saying that she would be a much-needed “bomb-thrower” in the Senate, Solomon felt the need to clarify: “By the way, NSA, if you’re monitoring our show, that was just a manner of speech, ‘bomb-throwers.’ We’re not Muslim morons. We’re not Democrat idiots. We’re actually intelligent life forms, so drop dead.”
Diagnosis: If Phyllis Schlafly congratulates you for being a voice of sanity, you are not a voice of sanity. Stan Solomon competes with people like Rick Wiles for the title of “most incoherently crazy wingnut” with regular access to an audience, and stars in the wingnut movement continue to flock to his show.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

#2272: David Snoke

David Snoke is one of the central characters of the intelligent design creationist movement. A physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Fellow of the American Physical Society (and, it must be emphasized, a respectable scientist in his own field), Snoke was also a co-author on a controversial paper with Michael Behe in 2004. The topic of that paper was of course outside of Snoke’s area of expertise, and apparently his contribution was an appendix verifying the numerical results with analytical calculations showing that for a novel feature requiring multiple neutral mutations the time to fixation has a sublinear dependence on population size – of course, what was wrong with the claims in the paper, which ostensibly supported Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity, was not the calculations themselves, but the thought that they measured something relevant for any aspect of the theory of evolution (there are some good comments here and here; more damning counterevidence here). Indeed, contrary to Behe’s claims (as became clear e.g. during the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial) the article might ultimately even undermine the notion of irreducible complexity, as Behe had to admit under oath. (The Discovery Institute still had no trouble hyping it, of course, since for them this was never about science, truth or evidence.)

But the Behe collaboration was not a one-off for Snoke – he has even tried on a number of variants of the old creationist appeal to information – who later wrote a gushing endorsement of Behe’s book in 2014 (with Jeffrey Cox and Donald Petcher), published a numerical study of the evolution of novel structures in the journal Complexity with a (lego) model attempting to show that “natural assumptions” for the cost/benefit of building new structures should lead to a dramatic increase of useless, or vestigial, structures in a population, and arguing that the lack of observation of such large numbers of vestigial parts in organisms thus pointing to fine tuning of the mechanisms of evolution – of course, Snoke et al. never seems to consider the, from a biological point of view, obvious alternative: numerous organisms, some with suboptimal parts, instead of single organisms with massive amounts of suboptimal parts; it’s little wonder real biologists were unimpressed. In 2014 he also published a review article for the Discovery Institute arguing that the prevailing paradigm of modern systems biology favors an intelligent design perspective, and this bizarre post appears to argue that lack of evidence for a designer is evidence for design. Snoke is also a signatory to their bankrupt petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

His 2006 book A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, argues in favor of a “day-age” interpretation of Genesis as consistent with biblical inerrancy, and he has spoken and written extensively on how to reconcile science and biblical inerrancy.

Diagnosis: Real scientist with a decidedly pseudoscientific side-career – there are some of those – and a good illustration of how expertise in one area may result in nothing but feeble nonsense when dabbling in another.

Friday, November 22, 2019

#2271: Warren Cole Smith

Warren Cole Smith is an evangelical writer (e.g. coauthor of Restore All Things), WORLD Magazine associate publisher, vice president of mission advancement for The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and raging fundamentalist, whose columns for WORLD are also run by the American Family Association.

In 2012 Smith created a bit of a stir when he published a column pledging not to vote for Romney because a Romney presidency would be a boost for Mormonism: Romney’s beliefs matter, since “[i]f the beliefs are false, then the behavior will eventually – but inevitably – be warped.” Then, to undermine a point that could have been seriously defended (cf. W. Clifford), he invoked the Mormon doctrine of “continuing revelation” to explain Romney’s history of flip-flops and warned that a Romney presidency would “normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over” and draw people into the LDS church to the detriment of fundamentalist Christianity. Smith doesn’t really have a very good grasp of the truth/falsehood distinction.

Smith is also a creationist, and has called it “unscientific” that scientists don’t invite creationists to conferences dealing with matters of science (his magazine really, really doesn’t like BioLogos since they advocate that Christians should accept evolution). It’s telling, but hardly surprising, that Smith fails to see the difference between scientific debates and feeding manufactroversies (this commentary is also pretty good). 

Fervently anti-gay, though usually able to dress his bigotry up in milquetoast colors, Smith has not given up the fight against marriage equality: “it is not over. And I’ve read the last chapter of the book, and guess what? God wins,” which should give anti-gay activists some comfort: “we should be happy warriors in this process, knowing that […] God is indeed on our side.” Yes, it’s a common enough idea, but that doesn’t make it any less ludicrous to default-interpret those who disagree with you as being in some kind of divine spiritual fight with you. 

Diagnosis: Standard fare, though Smith does, despite his raging fundamentalist, admittedly have a good pastor’s knack for coming across as patient, mild-mannered and reasonable – the contents of his utternaces is a different matter. Moderately influential and dangerous.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

#2270: Robert Smith II

Smith in a not-quite-recent
We’ve encountered one Robert Smith before. The current entry’s Bob Smith, however, is perhaps the most high-profile loon of that name covered thus far: Robert Clinton Smith served as a member of the United States House of Representatives for New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district from 1985 to 1990, and the whole state in the US Senate from 1990 to 2003 (nominally a Republican, Smith has also had a long involvement with the Constitution Party); he even tried his hand at the presidential election in 2000, but withdrew his candidacy before the primaries began. During his Senate tenure, Smith was best known for his strident opposition to gay rights: he voted to keep anti-gay employment discrimination legal, opposed hate crimes protections, and refused to even institute a non-discrimination policy for his own employees. Notably, with Jesse Helms, he introduced a 1994 amendment denying federal funding to schools that “encourage homosexuality” by teaching about LGBT families in an inclusive way (it passed) – Smith called such messages “trash”. Smith and Helms also proposed special protections for the Boy Scouts’ right to discriminate; “Rome died from a lot less than this,” said Smith, adding that “when you dilute your moral code to this extent, and if this keeps up, the obituary for America is going to be written.” With regard to confirmation of LGBT nominees, Smith said that sending Ambassador James Hormel to Luxembourg was “like sending Louis Farrakhan to Israel,” and that confirming Roberta Achtenberg as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could lead to America becoming “a society cast off from our moral underpinnings and set adrift.”

His long list of wingnuttery also includes asserting that the National Endowment for the Arts is unconstitutional and consistently advocating for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education, supporting school vouchers instead. Part of the reasoning for the latter was of course based on Smith’s desire to get more religion into public education; Smith has otherwise also co-sponsored a suggested constitutional amendment to mandate school prayers. 

Diagnosis: A deranged pile of rot fueled by bigotry. He might be considered more of a village idiot or curiosity at present, but the level of lunacy involved doesn’t exactly set him much apart from many of the loons currently in positions of power.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

#2269: Lamar Smith

US representative for Texas’s 21st congressional district for 16 terms until 2019, and for several years the head of the House Science Committee, Lamar Seeligson Smith was for several years perhaps the most dangerous loon in the US (in part because he was far from the only loon on said committee). A notable climate change denialist, Smith received ample funding from oil and gas companies (and built his own fortune partially on oil and understood nothing of the science he criticized and rejected. Before joining the science committee in 2013, Smith was chair of the House Judiciary Committee, where he for instance proposed the 2011 Stop Online Piracy Act (which did not go particularly well for him). Smith has also had a career e.g. as contributor to Breitbart and as a business and financial writer at The Christian Science Monitor. He has no science background.

Perhaps Smith’s main goal during his tenure on the Science Committee was to put all climate research on ice, e.g. by slashing NASA’s budget for earth sciences, subjecting grant reviews at the National Science Foundation to “extra scrutiny” and trying to rewrite the funding standards to replace peer review with a set of funding criteria chosen by Congress, and railing against environmentalists and the media for buying into the “climate-change religion” (a Christian Science follower himself, Smith might not have exactly been disposed to grasp the distinction). 

His strategy as head of the science committee was nicely laid out at a Heartland Institute conference in 2017: “Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.” Of course, by “scientific method”, Smith didn’t mean scientific method. Smith doesn’t have the faintest grasp of scientific methodology. He meant my politically motivated conclusions. A key element of his strategy, however, has obviously been to try to redefine common scientific terms to rig the rhetorical game for public opinion. He also supported writing legislation that would punish scientific journals publishing research that doesn’t adhere to standards of peer review, which might sound reasonable until you realize that the standards in question would be those crafted by Smith and his committee. It might be instructive, in that regard, to note that Smith has claimed that the journal Science is “not known as an objective” journal. His favored sources for science-related talking points, on the other hand, are primarily misguided criticisms of science from climate change denialists and conspiracy theorists that are notably not, at present, published in peer-reviewed journals – clearly, then, there is something wrong with peer review.

As an illustration of his strategies as head of the Science Committee: In 2015, Smith accused federal scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of colluding to doctor data in a global warming study that refuted the long-held denialist misconception – “myth” is probably more accurate – that the planet’s warming had “paused” on the grounds that he didn’t like the answers. In particular, Smith accused the scientists of tampering historical global temperature data to advance Obama’s “extreme climate agenda” and promptly subpoenaed the scientists and other NOAA staff, demanding that they turn over the data as well as internal emails related to their research in a rather explicit attempt at bullying and intimidation; neither Smith nor his crew would of course have the expertise to review the data, all of which were already publicly available to review anyways, making it rather abundantly clear that his efforts never had anything to do with the data or the analysis of them. And yes, it really is the head of the science committee engaging in InfoWars-style delusional and baseless conspiracy theories, though we admit that the fact that the administration engages in such may not strike people as that surprising anymore. (The documents, needless to say, contained no support whatsoever for Smith’s allegations.) To see how ridiculous this particular conspiracy theory actually is, this one might be helpful. 

And with regard to Smith’s publicly funded political witchhunt of scientists: as chair of the House Committee Smith issued more subpoenas in his first three years than the committee had done for its entire 54-year history – the NOAA case was certainly not an isolated one; no organization supporting research into climate change would apparently be safe if they didn’t come up with the answers Smith likes. To justify his practice, Smith cited the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s as valid legal precedent for his investigation, no less. And of course, Smith continued to use the talking point that the “global warming has stopped” as if that and other studies soundly refuting the claim had never happened. 

Other favored tricks include lying, misconstruing scientific studies and cherrypicking, and under Smith’s leadership the House Science committee held hearings that featured the views of prominent climate change deniers in an attempt to provide false balance. In response to the 2014 release of the fifth version of the IPCC assessment, Smith apparently tried to play bored, saying that the report “says nothing new,” which, if true, is somewhat difficult to construe as a criticism. Perhaps more tellingly, he also said that “[s]imilar to previous reports, the latest findings appear more political than scientific” – telling, because it actually does illustrate Smith’s inability to tell the difference. He also said that “it’s time to stop fear mongering and focus on an honest dialogue about real options.” It is safe to say that Smith wasn’t really interested in an honest dialogue.

In 2016 Smith hosted an event where noted climate expert Sarah Palin was invited to promote the denialist film “Climate Hustle,” which dismisses global warming as part of a conspiracy to help government takeover and claims that rising carbon emissions are, in fact, beneficial. 

In 2017, after praising the physical and mental powers of president Trump, Smith encouraged people to get their “unvarnished” news directly from the president, not from the media. Smith has long been worried about “liberal media bias, accusing Google of blocking “references to Jesus, Chick-fil-A, and the Catholic religion” and thanking Fox News for being “the only balanced coverage out there.” It’s instructive that balance is the core value here rather than truth and accuracy, but then, as his Google accusation amply shows, Smith has little time for such old-fashioned virtues; he is hip and post-truth. Otherwise, Smith has expressed deep concern for the free speech of spambots.

Diagnosis: For a while Smith was possibly the most dangerous man in the US. Though officially retired, he still wields plenty of influence, and the standards he set – conspiracy mongering and post-truth – seem to remain firmly in place. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

#2268: J.C. Smith

J.C. Smith (right) being interviewed.
The appreciation of science, evidence and medicine among chiropractors varies. Chiropractor J.C. Smith represents the non-appreciating faction. According to Smith, science and scientists, biased as they are toward truth, evidence and reality, are waging a war against chiropractors, especially those who, like Smith, find themselves on the more overtly pseudoscientific end of things, and in 2011 he (self-)published his magnum opus The Medical War Against Chiropractors: The Untold Story from Persecution to Vindication detailing the battle in an exposé comparable, in his view, to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s exposé of slavery. According to Smith, the American Medical Association has waged a dirty war on perceived competition, and the motive is primarily money – though not only that: according to Smith, real MDs are apparently attacking chiropractic because it is based on a vitalistic philosophy, which doctors and scientists oppose because they are mostly atheists. The fight for the legitimacy of chiropractic is according a “religious war to keep the heretics out of the medical den of iniquity.” It is, apparently, also an attack on academic freedom and comparably to the bigotry in America before Civil Rights, when desegregation led to resentment and deadly attacks. The book-burning mindset of scientists and medical doctors will, as Smith sees it, go down in the annals of history alongside Joseph Goebbels’s book-burning policy. Indeed, Smith’s book contains a remarkable amount of references to Nazis and racial prejudice in addition to its more predictable half-truths, falsehood and general crackpottery. 

The general narrative of the book is approximately as follows: Before chiropractic licensure was approved chiropractors occasionally got themselves in legal trouble for practicing medicine without a license, and as Smith sees things, this was apparently a bogus charge, but one that forced noble chiropractors to hide like Anne Frank or escaped slaves; chiropractors persevered despite AMAs aggressive efforts to combat quackery, however, and finally got their long-awaited licensures. AMA is, throughout the book, compared to the KGB, Gestapo and CIA, and he even mentions the showers of Auschwitz; medical doctors are like storm troopers, and criticizing chiropractic is like making Rosa Parks sit in the back of the bus. Suffice to say, the book probably did not do chiropractors who want to be taken seriously any service. There is a good and reasonably comprehensive critique of the book here.

His book. It is published
by Tate Publishing.
Apparently there is a sequel,
too: To Kill a Chiropractor:
The Media War against
As for his claims on behalf of the efficacy of chiropactic, Smith decides to go all D.D. Palmer. Deep into subluxation woo, Smith is very concerned about the proper flow of nerve energy, claiming that spinal dysfunctions disrupt the flow and cause heart attacks and visceral disorders like dysmenorrhea, asthma, enuresis, and infantile colic. Indeed, spine dysfunctions can even cause brain damage and premature aging. And manipulation is, of course, effective for all these disorders. As evidence for his nonsense, Smith relies for instance on the 1979 New Zealand Chiropractic Report developed by a panel consisting of a barrister, a chemistry professor, and a retired headmistress of a girls’ school (and comprehensively discussed here); the NZ report relied primarily on selected testimonials, draws conclusions in direct conflict with all current evidence obtained by using actual scientific methods, and nevertheless concluded that chiropractors should be strictly monitored, not present themselves as doctors, not encourage patients to consult a chiropractor in preference to a medical doctor for any condition, and not mislead the public into believing that chiropractic is an alternative to medicine. To bolster his case, Smith has arguments from popularity and patient satisfaction, and even arguments from antiquity: according to Smith, Hippocrates and Imhotep wrote about chiropractic (they did not). He also quotes Gary Null and Dana Ullman, and dismisses critics as being in cahoots with the AMA.

Smith also runs a website called Chiropractors for Fair Journalism, where he attacks critics of woo for oppression and for engaging in mafia tactics (The Institute for Science in Medicine, for instance, is referred to as “The Medical GoodFellas”), and accuses anyone who points out the pseudoscience and quackery that underlie chiropractic of “bigotry”, like: “His [Morris Fishbein, MD] intolerant quasi-KKK attitude about all non-allopathic CAM professions set the tone for the Jim Crow, MD, bias we see in many members in the medical profession today.” Likewise, efforts to inform the public of medical science and medical evidence that Smith doesn’t like is “fear-mongering and slander”. The main problem, though, with organizations like the ISM, which offers medical information and criticize pseudoscience, is apparently that they seek to “alone determine[…] what qualifies one method as ‘pseudo-scientific practices’ and the others as ‘scientific’,” and that “it is not its role to act as watchdogs since this is a governmental issue within each state. No one has endowed ISM to act as such, but the AMA has never subjected its power to any governmental agency in its quest to remain the medical monopoly.” Not indicative of a particularly well-developed ability to draw obvious distinctions or avoid massive strawmen, is it? 

Diagnosis: A shining illustration of the all-too common failure to distinguish criticism from oppression and facts from opinion. At least his efforts are probably unlikely to do quacks any favors.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

#2267: E. Norbert Smith

One of Smith's books labelled
"non-fiction". Smith does of
course not want you to
consider the evidence - he
wants you to consider the
fragments of evidence
he carefully selects and
interprets for you.
A.k.a. Doc Gator

E. Norbert Smith is a near-infamous mainstay of creationist organizations and fundie anti-science efforts. The reason is, of course, that Smith is one of those rare specimens among creationists who does indeed possess a Ph.D. in Zoology, from Texas Tech University. Smith is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s idiotic petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism (his dissent being not even remotely scientific, of course), as well as the CMI list of scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation. He seems to be currently affiliated with the website (previously with, and was formerly on the board of directors for the Creation Research Society. He has also taught courses for various fundie extremist mockeries of educational institutions, including a “graduate course” for the Institute for Creation Research as well as an online course in Creation for Liberty University.

Now, Smith might, in fact, have written some real research articles back in the 70s and 80s. For the last 30 years or so, however, he has focused on writing articles for the Journal of Creation, children’s books (of course: this was never about science, truth or evidence, but cult recruitment) – including a number of books about Al-the-gator under the pseudonym Doc Gator – and various anti-science books with titles like Evolution Has Failed and Battleground University. In the latter his main complaint seems to be that universities teach critical thinking to students, something that often gets in the way of accepting his denialist talking points on pure faith. Smith does not appear to have any current academic affiliation, however, and is surely not a working scientist by any stretch of the imagination.

And if you ever wondered whether his creationist research had any scientific merit, you can read about his pitiful forays into creation hydrology here. The measures taken to avoid actually testing the core hypothesis are rather striking.  

Diagnosis: A mainstay of creation science, which stands to science like pretend gold stands to gold. We cannot let real scientific testing or evidence get in the way of good dogma, can we?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

#2266: David E. Smith

The Illinois Family Institute, a state affiliate of the American Family Association, is, not surprisingly, an anti-marriage-equality organization and its executive director, David E. Smith, a fundamentalist bigot (Smith succeeded Peter LaBarbera in the position; Laurie Higgins is their director of school advocacy). The IFI is also a vociferous opponent of abortion, the separation of church and state, “activist judges”, gambling and drugs, and was correctly designated a hate group by the SPLC.

In spring 2013, when a law legalizing same-sex marriage was postponed by the Illinois legislature, Smith was ready to explain why: “The Body of Christ here in Illinois has risen up and has really made a noise and made a really concerted effort to make sure that our state lawmakers know without a doubt that we object to the idea of them redefining marriage,” Smith said: “They do not have the moral authority to redefine marriage as God created it.” This was not the reason for postponement. Moreover, neither Smith nor his fellows at the Illionis Family Institute have the power to raise zombie Jesus, even though they probably wouldn’t be prevented from doing so by alignment restrictions. 

Later Smith sent out a fundraising appeal where he warned that if activists failed to stop marriage equality legislation in Illinois, “America will collapse” like Sodom and Gomorrah, and compared his fight against the evil agenda” of gay rights to that of American soldiers in WW2: “We should be inspired to defend marriage with the same courage, conviction, tenacity, and sacrifice that the greatest generation fought to defend American principles and to honor their fallen. If we don’t stop the enemy from achieving his goal of destroying the family, there won’t be any monuments to visit.” Yes, it’s always the end of everything; only apostates would ask for evidence or reasons.

In 2012, IFI called for parents to remove their children from classrooms led by teachers who support LGBT-related instruction; in particular, in their document “Challenge Teachers, Not Books” they encouraged parents to “object to teachers rather than texts”, and offered suggestions for parents who are “fed up with the subtle and not so subtle messages that activist teachers of a liberal bent work into their classroom teaching through their classroom comments, curricular materials ... and even their desks and classroom displays.” The IFI has also for a long time advocated teaching creationism in public schools, ostensibly as a way to present “both sides of an argument” (they aren’t really interested in both sides, even if there were two sides, which there aren’t), and have made recommendations to Illinois educators to keep explicit references to evolution out of public school classrooms in Illinois.

Diagnosis: Fundie loons, and though they have probably lost the war people like Smith are still trying their best to cause as much harm as possible. A real, if relatively minor, threat to civilization.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

#2265: Daniel Smith

Alternative medicine isn’t medicine, but at least most woo is in itself probably as harmless as it is useless (the conspiracy theories and falsehoods involved in marketing them less so). MMS, or Miracle Mineral Supplement, is different. MMS an aqueous solution of 28% sodium chlorite, an industrial chemical that, when prepared in a citric acid solution, forms chlorine dioxide. Yes, we are talking industrial-strength bleach, and its effects on the body are what you’d expect from that. MMS is nevertheless promoted as a cure for HIV, malaria, viral hepatitis, the H1N1 flu virus, common colds, acne, cancer and much more. Its inventor, Jim Humble, has no evidence for any of his medical claims, of course; instead, he claims to be a billion-year-old God from the Andromeda galaxy. 

In recent years, MMS has in particular been promoted as a “cure” for autistic children, in particular by deranged lunatic Kerri Rivera. But there are several other promoters of MMS around as well. Louis Daniel Smith is hopefully not anymore, though: In 2015 he was found guilty of selling industrial bleach as a miracle cure for numerous diseases and illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, lyme disease, asthma and the common cold through a business called “Project GreenLife”, and sentenced to 51 months in prison. In particular, the jury convicted him of one count of conspiracy to commit multiple crimes, three counts of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead, and one count of fraudulently smuggling merchandise into the United States. Before the trial, three of Smith’s alleged co-conspirators – Chris Olson, Tammy Olson and Karis DeLong, Smith’s wife – pleaded guilty to introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. The most scary part, however, is that Smith was part of a network of at least 1,700 people selling MMR around the world; stopping him was, in other words, likely to make only minimal difference to the worldwide distribution of MMS. Smith’s numerous fans and followers were of course quick to yell “conspiracy” and “oppression” and “health freedom”.

According to the instructions for use that Smith provided, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting were all signs that the miracle cure was working, and, despite a risk of possible brain damage, they suggested that the product might still be appropriate for pregnant women or infants who were seriously ill. Officially, however, the sodium chlorite was imported for use in wastewater treatment facilities, conveniently sold in 4-ounce bottles for $20 apiece. It is, in that light, only a remarkable coincidene that Project GreenLife also happened to sell citric acid, the other component of MMS, and provided information about use “for your safety and convenience”.

There is a good discussion of MMS here.

Diagnosis: We don’t generally cover ordinary criminals, but have to make an exception here. Hopefully he learned a lesson, but we are not really very optimistic, and there are many more like him. An extremely dangerous fellow – crazy, stupid and completely without scruples – so we recommend maintaining a safe distance.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Friday, November 8, 2019

#2264: Brad Smith et al.

In 2013 a group of pagans planned and arranged a festival to celebrate the summer solstice in Pahokee, Florida. It is probably little surprise that the event was not exactly welcomed by the area’s resident Talibanists, who packed a city commission meeting and demanded that the city prevent the festival from taking place because pagans, devil worshippers. We suspect many of them would be firm defenders of religious freedom but also be baffled if told that religious freedom means that people who hold religious views different from yours also have the right to have and express them. 

Among the protestors were Brad Smith, a funeral director and apparently the Florida Director of Kids for Christ, who called the event “an abomination”; “I just found out about this today. I am disappointed in the city of Pahokee for allowing this group to come,” he said, under the delusion that the city has the power to deny groups that Smith doesn’t like the ability to exercise their fundamental constitutional rights. Evangelist Lillian Brown, of Saints on the Move, pointed out that “God cannot heal our land if we have witches and warlocks violating our community,” which is a fine example of fractal wrongness. At least if you ever wondered how witch burnings could go on for centuries back in the days despite the patent ridiculousness of the charges, people like Lillian Brown should give you some indication. Rev. Raul Rodriguez, of Church of God Door of Jesus Christ, just pointed out that “we don’t need this in our town. Not now. Not ever”, even though whether Raul Rodriguez needs the event or not seems to be strikingly irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Daniel Mondragon, however, warned that by hosting the event “we are opening ourselves up to things we should not, like belly dancing and magic spells;” belly dancing and magic spells are almost equally bad, and the former could potentially even take place: “We do not welcome these things. This is the first annual event, and it should be the last.” Dire warnings also from Bishop Jared Hines of New Destiny Community Church: “This event is not only detrimental to our city but to our county. What goes on at that lake will affect us all; it will move from the dike and into our homes.” Pastor Eugene Babb of Harlem Church of God, meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to top the others, asserted that “we cannot expect our city to survive and prosper if we allow these things.”

When their attempts to prevent the event from taking place by legal means failed, they resorted to their most powerful weapon: prayer. Pastor Jorge Chivara of the Hispanic Nazarene Church led the effort: “We want to begin praying about what’s taking place before the event, during the event, and after the event,” Chivara said.

Diagnosis: Yes, they are theocrats, plain and simple. It is a very telling illustration of what many fundies think religious freedom amounts to, at least. Though the delusional nitwits described here – they really give Sir Bedivere’s audience a run for their money – are local nitwits with negligible influence on civilization considered individually, their actions and responses also seem to be pretty standard fare many places in the US.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

#2263: Patricia Slusher

Chronic Lyme disease is (almost certainly) a non-existent condition, but the diagnosis remains popular in woo-minded and (largely overlapping) conspiracy-minded groups. There is, accordingly, a thriving market for people who “diagnose” and “treat” chronic lyme disease, and they are often termed LLMDs, or “Lyme Literate” doctors. Some of these are spineless or deluded MDs; many are not. Patricia Slusher is not. Slusher is an “ND” – a naturopath, or not a doctor – and a “CN”, i.e. “certified nutritionist”. That certification means nothing, of course: Ben Goldacre once got his cat, which had been dead for years, registered as a certified member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants – Slusher presumably got her certification from something called the American Health Science University, which you can read about here. She is, however, treating patients for “chronic Lyme disease”.

According to one of her patients, “[f]or the first 3 weeks my Lyme protocol consist of taking 3 supplements from Percision [sic] Herbs, LLC; LYX, Spirex and Puricell and spending 30 minutes 2X a week getting a Quad Zapper treatment.” The Quad zapper is a Hulda Clark device, no less. So, Slusher treats her patients with Hulda Clark devices and worthless supplements, as well as with homeopathy. It’s fortunate that chronic lyme is not a real disease. That, however, doesn’t clear Slusher of wrongdoing – her patients are clearly suffering, and taking their money is not likely to make things better. 

Consultations with Slusher start out with “Quantum Reflex Analysis”, which is applied kinesiology with “quantum” added on (Slusher likes quantum mumbo jumbo), and an examination of the patient’s tongue, nails, and face. Then you can sign up for:

-       The Zyto Biocommunication Health Evaluation, a bogus electrodermal diagnostic process using a biofeedback machine hooked up to a computer.
-       Avalon Photonic Light Therapy (equally nonsensical).
-       Distance Consultation and Testing: you don’t actually need to come to her office; sending a photo or handwriting sample will do. 
-       Saliva Hormone Testing. Yeah; no.
-       “Detoxification” treatments with ionic foot baths, no less.
-       Chromatherapy Light Goggles, because “God designed people to be exposed to full spectrum sunlight several hours a day”, with color pairings for various organ systems.
-       Electronic acupressure
-       A chi modulator.
-       Meridian therapy.

Slusher, who describes herself as an energy medicine “doctor”, obtained her naturopathic “degree” from the Trinity College of Natural Health; now, accreditations by the official naturopathic college organization, the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Colleges, really shouldn’t convey any sort of authority either, but it is worth pointing out that even they don’t recognize Trinity.

Diagnosis: You probably have to be stupid or desperate to fall for any of this, but those are precisely the characteristics of the victims Slusher targets. Complete and utter bollocks.

Hat-tip: Harriet Hall @ Sciencebased medicine

Monday, November 4, 2019

#2262: Sharon Slater

Family Watch International (FWI) is a hate organization that lobbies the United Nations for pro-life and anti-gay causes, including the imprisonment of gay people around the world. Sharon Slater, its president, is apparently opposed to the death penalty for gay people, but she is fine with imprisonment. The FWI for instance arranges an annual, invitation-only global policy forum for UN delegates to promote their policy objectives, where Slater has particularly emphasized ex-gay messages, including “the personal testimony of a patient who is successfully reorienting from homosexuality to heterosexuality” and a speech from an alleged expert Slater conspicuously refused to name. According to FWI literature, “so-called ‘homosexual rights’ are driving much of the current worldwide assault on marriage, the family and family related issues.” There is a good, if old, portrait of Slater, the FWI, and their efforts here.

Like many anti-gay groups, Slater and the FWI focus much of their attention on Africa. After all, their ideas for how to treat gay people probably won’t fly in the US anymore (not that they’ve entirely stopped trying), but fanatic bigots still have some clout in certain African nations that makes it possible to turn their bigotry into policy; by claiming that the West is imposing its corrupt, “anti-family” values on the rest of the world, and that the “developing world” is the last holdout against the “homosexual agenda” (Slater is no stranger to lying, of course), these groups often do find favor with people who otherwise find themselves struggling under the weight of a global economy designed to exploit and indebt. 

And as long as gay people get to suffer, these organizations – FWI included – are not above creating alliances e.g. with Islamist extremists, for instance in developing a UN “Declaration on the Rights of Children and Their Families”, which is basically an anti-marriage-equality statement: It calls upon the UN to recognize a “family with a married mother and father” as the preferred family organization, and “call upon States Parties and the United Nations system to discourage sexual relations and childbearing outside of the marital bond”. The effort was at least in part set in motion by Slater’s and the FWI’s “Protect the Family” petition, which is not really about protecting families but attacking families organized in ways different from the one Slater fancies (i.e. those led by grandparents, single parents, same-sex parents, and countless other configurations of people caring for people – Slater is, in fact, explicit about this goal – family values™ are not about family values). Slater is also a frequent participant and keynote speaker at the World Congress of Families, which is not about families either.

FWI has been deeply involved in promoting abstinence-and fidelity-only initiatives in Uganda, and has praised Nigeria – where same-sex couples can face up to 14 years in prison or stoning at the hands of Sharia courts – as “a strong role model” for other regional governments “on how to hold on to their family values despite intense international pressure.”

As mentioned, Slater and the FWI are also opposed to sex education: “It’s destructive. It’s pornographic. It’s designed to change all the sexual and gender norms of society by sexualizing children everywhere. It’s probably one of the most insidious attacks on the health and innocence of children ever imagined,” says Slater. In a radio interview, she also said that sex education is a plot by Planned Parenthood to turn your kids into sexual deviants so they can make more money on condoms, STD tests and abortions. There is, Slater asserted, “an intentional, targeted effort to get to your children and change the way they think about sexuality, to encourage them to engage in sexual activity, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual or self-stimulation, because if they can recruit children into this worldview and this sexual ideology, then they’ll have the future, if they can train up the next generation in all these radical ideas. And that’s what they’re after. In fact, even Hitler said, ‘He who owns the minds of the children owns the future.’” Because whenever organizations or people disagree with you, it is always because they are in a greed-motivated nefarious conspiracy against you, the US and Jesus.

Diagnosis: Deranged bigot. But Slater and her organization are not mere fringe lunatics with Internet access – their power and influence is frighteningly real, if mostly realized abroad: Slater is genuinely knowledgeable of the workings of the UN, and possesses enough political skills to exploit that knowledge; few loons covered in our Encyclopedia rival Slater and her organization for harm and suffering caused.