Friday, July 31, 2020

#2366: Anjum Usman

The Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) protocol was a project established by the Autism Research Institute, a quack organization, to promote a series of unproven and dangerous treatments for autism based largely on the scientifically discredited idea that autism is some form of “vaccine injury” or “toxicity” and/or food intolerance, and that dangerous detox therapies can help “cure” people with autism. There is a decent exposé of the project here. The project was formally closed down in 2011, but the DAN! practitioner network was continued by Dan Rossignol, who is apparently into more or less every type of autism quackery there is, and his Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS); by 2015, the organization’s online clinician directory listed 49 members in the United States, of which 33 were medical or osteopathic physicians. Interestingly, most of the latter (67%) have been subject to government actions for a variety reasons, but at least seven of them for reasons related to practices that are central to the DAN! approach, primarily administering, causing harm and even killing children with chelation therapy:

-       Roy E. Kerry, MD, whom we have met before
-       Richard E. Layton, MD
-       Seshagiri Rao, MD, for nontherapeutic prescribing, failure to secure informed consent, and fraudulent billing related to mismanagement of five children with autism or autism spectrum disorder
-       Alan Schwartz, MD, who lost his medical license due to incompetence, gross and repeated negligence, unprofessional conduct, and violating a previous probationary order
-       Stephen L. Smith, MD, charged with using unreliable diagnostic tests and failing to provide or refer patients for appropriate treatment
-       Anjum Usman, MD

As a group, these are not practitioners you’d want anywhere near your children, but the focus of this entry is the last one on that list.

Anjum I. Usman, a self-proclaimed “autism specialist”, operates the True Health Medical Center in Naperville, Illinois, and is “board certified in family practice and in integrative and holistic medicine”. She also owns of the Pure Compounding Pharmacy, and has been the target of at least two complaints. The first complaint was for offering care that “demonstrated extreme departure from rational judgment” – settled with a consent agreement under which Usman (without admitting or denying fault) was fined $10,000 and placed on indefinite probation for a minimum of one year. The second complaint was accompanied by a civil suit, and the details of that suit might give you an impression of the kind of pseudoscience-based quackery you might encounter if you use her services, perhaps in particular her commitment to the scientifically unsupportable, deranged and dangerous quackery that is chelation therapy as a treatment for autism. Now, if you take chelation therapy and add a lot of useless vitamin supplements and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, at least you’ll have a reasonably effective recipe for making lots of cash off of the troubles of patients and caregivers, and Usman seems to have been pretty successful for a while. As a result of the complaint, she was also put under supervision, but given that the supervisor (Robert Charles Dumont) is a witch doctor an acupuncturist and member of the faculty of the Integrative Medicine Department of Northwestern University School of Medicine, one might be excused for entertaining some serious doubt about the quality of that supervision. Usman was also involved in Roy Kerry’ treatment of Tariq Nadama, being the one to diagnose the boy with high aluminum levels and referring him to Kerry.

Usman is regular presenter at Autism One ( annual gathering of vendors, providers and quasi-researchers to push various grifts and quackery on desperate parents, appearing for instance with a talk on biomed quackery in 2015. She also participated in the relatively high-profile antivaccine autism summit in Dallas in 2016, and even serves on the board of Generation Rescue.

Diagnosis: Monster. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

#2365: David Usher

A wingnut’s wingnut, David Usher is president of the Center for Marriage Policy, a deranged fundie group founded in 2011 with the blessings of Phyllis Schlafly.

As the name of his organization indicates, Usher is not happy about marriage equality. Now, arguments against marriage equality are often silly, but Usher arguably takes silliness to a new level, as illustrated for instance by a column in which he argues that marriage equality is unconstitutional because same-sex marriage is tantamount to polygamy, with the third partner being the government. Supporters of marriage equality, meanwhile, are trying to use marriage equality to “to convert marriage into a feminist-controlled government enterprise and subordinate the rest of America to entitle it.” Of course, polygamy isn’t unconstitutional either (rather, laws banning polygamy have been found to be constitutional, which is an entirely different thing), but if you are disposed to offer the kind of argument Usher offers here, such details probably wouldn’t really matter to you anyway. (It might be that it is feminism that Usher thinks is unconstitutional). In particular, Usher claims that by legalizing same-sex marriage, women – regardless of their sexual orientation – will marry other women in order to collect government benefits in an “arrangement of government-sponsored economic polygyny,” and that, as Usher sees it, places an “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory” social and economic burden on men: “Sexual orientation does not matter when two women marry and become ‘married room-mates. They can still have as many boyfriends as they want, and capture the richest ones for baby-daddies by ‘forgetting’ to use their invisible forms of birth control.” It is, admittedly, somewhat tricky to unravel the deranged knots in Usher’s mind to precisely identify precisely what he has fundamentally misunderstood here (other than the Constitution), but part of it seems to be that same-sex marriage is dangerous because women are spineless thugs who, without men to restrain them and control their access to sperm, wouldn’t think twice about using same-sex marriage as a means to oppress men (controlling access to sperm seems to be assumed to be men’s primary means to keep women from overthrowing and ruining everything). Here is (a report on) Usher expanding on his point and explaining how feminists came up with the concept of gay marriage” as a ploy to collect welfare from the government

Apparently the idea has become something of an idée fixe for him, complete with a definition of “feminist marriage as “a marriage between any two women and the welfare state,” deranged projections and conspiracy theories. In 2013, he lamented that the Defense of Marriage Act wasn’t properly defended at the Supreme Court because it was “never argued that gay marriage is unequal and unconstitutional” with the use of his claims and arguments. He also warned that with legalized same-sex marriage discrimination against men” will operate “similarly to pre-civil-rights racism and that since gay men and lesbian women will be having a bunch of kids, “schools will be aggressively promoting lifestyles that kill or disable children and infect innocent women and babies with HIV,” and – not the least – lead to an increase in violent crime. Perhaps the best part of that rant was the beginning, where Usher stated that the way to win the fight for his side is with good arguments. 

Part of the problem, though, is that  “alligator feminists” had (and still has) a stranglehold on national policy, mostly as a result of Obama’s Council on Women and GirlsWhen he announced the office, he took every ranking NOW lesbian and put them on that committee,” said Usherso you have all of the worst, nastiest lesbians in the whole country in the White House.”

But Usher has engaged in other political debates, too. An ardent supporter of Donald Trump, Usher declared in October 2016 that Trump’s candidacy for the presidency “represents America’s third War of Independence.” Not only that, but “Trump’s War of Independence is far more complex than anything before it,” declared Usher, and stated that Trump is waging a fight against the globalists who seek world domination.

Diagnosis: Raving madman, but pretty representative for the standards of thought on the wingnut anti-equality circuit, where neither he nor his organization seems to be among the more significant players.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

#2364: John Upledger

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a type of alternative therapy that uses touch to palpate the synarthrodial joints of the cranium. It is often promoted as a cure for all sorts of health conditions, but is, of course, complete nonsense based on fundamental misconceptions about the physiology of the human skull. It was invented in the 1970s, following a familiar pattern, by John Upledger, an osteopathic physician, though it has its roots in an older form of pseudoscience, cranial osteopathy.

CST is, of course, pure pseudoscience. Medical research – like here – has found no good evidence that either CST or cranial osteopathy has any health benefit, and it may be harmful, particularly if used on children or infantsMoreover, it is founded on basic assumptions that are demonstrably false; to say that the core idea of CST, that there is a craniosacral rhythm, cannot be scientifically supported is an understatement – tests show that CST practitioners cannot in fact identify the purported craniosacral pulse – and practitioners notably produce conflicting and mutually exclusive diagnoses of the same patient. Like other alternative and new-age-inspired therapies, CST draws heavily on indefinable, pseudoreligious concepts such as energy (in the new-age sense), harmony, balance, rhythm, and flow – typical vitalistic nomenclature that in their application bears striking resemblances to medical ideas and practices in medieval Europe, even if practitioners often try to describe the characteristics as “non-Western”. Subjective validation is a powerful tool for CST practitioners, however: Who needs evidence, accuracy and facts when you’ve got anecdotes? (Yes, there have been some tooth fairy science-studies sympathetic to CST carried out, but even these fail to find anything to recommend the technique). There is a good, short introduction here, and even the Wikipedia article on CST is fairly decent.

Upledger himself, however, has become something of a celebrity in alternative medicine circles, and versions of CST have become popular among certain groups of chiropractors and “alternative”-sympathetic dentists (among the latter, CST has been particularly promoted by one Viola Frymann). According to Upledger, CST “works with natural and unique rhythms of our different body systems to pinpoint and correct source problems,” which is incorrect, but the basis for his apparently somewhat successful Upledger Institute of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. According to the institute website, CST complements “the body’s natural healing processes” and can cure almost anything, from autism to learning disorders to colic and neurovascular or immune disorders. It can even, predictably, boost your immune system. Indeed, CST for colic has apparently been a thing in the UK, where parents pay £30–£50 per treatment (you may need up to three) for osteopaths to lightly tickle their babies heads. Despite the simplicity of the technique you absolutely cannot do it yourself – the touches are very soft and have to be applied to very specific points. And the touching ostensibly make permanent changes, but not to the shape of the skull itself because that would be measurable (and bad).

Of course, CST was only the first stop on Upledger’s journey in the world of quackery, and he quickly moved on to things like energy cysts, sound healing, healing energy that could be transmitted from one hand to the other through the patient’s body, and dolphin therapy (dolphins touch the therapist and the therapist touches the patient). His books CranoSacral Therapy: Touchstone of Natural Healing and Your Inner Physician and You: CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release (reviewed here) go far beyond CST, with one of their most striking ideas being the not-entirely-coherent ideas of patients’ “Inner Physician” that Upledger can communicate with to help treat you. One such inner physician apparently appeared to a patient in the form of a seagull and asked to be introduced as “Mermaid.” In another case, Upledger was caring for a four-month-old French baby who was “as floppy as a rag doll”; although the baby had never been exposed to English, Upledger decided to see if  the baby’s “Inner Physician” would communicate with him via the craniosacral system in English, and it did: “I requested aloud in English that the craniosacral rhythm stop if the answer to a question was ‘yes’ and not stop if the answer was ‘no.’ The rhythm stopped for about ten seconds [remember that he is unable to measure it]. I took this as an indication that I was being understood. I then asked if it was possible during this session for the rhythm to stop only in response to my question and not for other reasons, such as body position, etc., The rhythm stopped again. I was feeling more confident. I proceeded.” Eventually he determined that the baby was exposed to toxins, but he nevertheless managed to heal it of toxins through consultation with the baby’s “Inner Physicians”. Yes, it’s … mediumship, but we like to think that even hardened loons who think they talk to the dead would be somewhat concerned about Upledger’s application of their ideas.

The connection between CST and dolphin therapy has been further developed, by one Rebecca Goff, into AquaCranial therapy, which is a good candidate for constituting the zenith of New Age nonsense.

Diagnosis: Garbled insanity, but apparently it’s possible to package it in a manner that makes it appealing to certain groups of people. Upledger is a true believer, surfing the pink, fluffy clouds of the astral plane, powered by subtle energies according to the Law of Attraction. He does have significant influence in the alternative movement, though, and his recommendations have had darker consequences than just parting people with their money for nothing. 

UPDATE: Upledger seems, possibly, to have passed away.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

#2363: Bob Unruh

Being a journalist for the WND is – as we have had ample opportunities to demonstrate – not exactly a sign of intellectual or epistemic virtues, but Bob Unruh is one. As you’d expect, Unruch is also a religious fundamentalist, conspiracy theorist and all-purpose science denialist. Since he doesn’t know or understand anything and doesn’t care (here is a commentary on Unruh’s coverage of the David Coppedge trial as an illustration of his standards), he is also rather versatile in his journalistic efforts. All his efforts are characterized by his trademark level of demagoguery and dishonesty, however.

Unruh is, for instance, an indefatigable apologist for creationism. An illustrative example of his work on behalf of creationism is his 2016 article, reported on here, on how Ark-Park and Creation Museum host Ken Ham mopped the floor with scientist Bill Nye in the debates between them, with Nye coming across to Unruh as a close-minded nihilist with an agenda compared to the humble and agenda-less Ham. Unruh has also brought Ham onboard as an expert witness for instance to comment on some 2015 Congressional “Darwin day” proposal (it is unclear which); Democrats ostensibly make such proposals “because they’re intolerant of Christianity and want to replace it with their own religion,” and “the resolution is a sign of the nation’s current move to suppress Christianity and promote beliefs such as evolution. While America was built on the Judeo-Christian ethic and worldview, secularists are becoming more and more intolerant.” Yes, we are aware that those are quotes from Ken Ham. Unruh is just unbiasedly reporting them. Come on. 

Another authority Unruh has appealed to is Ray Comfort; writing about Comfort’s remarkably silly introduction to his (Comfort’s) own edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species entitled “Nothing Created Everything”, Unruh claims that Comfort “debunks evolution” – indeed, the very subtitle of his article is: “Failure of natural selection logic documented in ‘Nothing Created Everything’.” But then, as Unruh “understands” it, the theory of evolution is the theory that life “randomly erupted from a puddle of sludge on some prehistoric landscape.” This is, hopefully needless to say, not the theory of evolution. (By contrast, according to Unruh, intelligent design is “the theory that the universe and life are too complex to have randomly erupted.” This is, hopefully needless to say, not an intelligent design theory – indeed, it isn’t a theory at all but just a denial of evolution.)

Unruh is also a global warming denialist, of the kind who thinks that short periods of cold weather and snow are devastating evidence against global warming. After all, why wouldn’t he think that, given his general level of understanding of facts, evidence and science amply illustrated above? 

Otherwise, Unruh is also central in the Clinton body count conspiracy movement, tirelessly connecting imaginary dots in incoherent ways (no, we won’t directly link to any of his many articles on the topic). He is also a birther.

And how surprised would you be if you are told that Unruh is vehemently opposed to marriage equality? He has, among other things (more detailed, though older, tally here):

-       Complained that dictionaries often include the word “homophobia” but never the word “homofascism”
-       Promoted the work and ideas of Scott Lively
-       Lied about Lively’s involvement in developing Uganda’s anti-gay laws, saying that Lively was merely doing “biblical preaching ... against homosexual behavior.” He has, for the WND, extensively mischaracterized other people’s criticism of Lively’s involvement, tellingly neglecting to link to what the people he criticizes were actually saying to ensure that you wouldn’t check.
-       Attributed fake quotes to Houston’s mayor after a Houston anti-discrimination ordinance was passed in 2014. 

Diagnosis: Liar for Jesus, propagandist and conspiracy theorist masquerading as a journalist. Insofar as we are talking about a journalist for the WND, it is unlikely that he will fool anyone but those already far down the rabbit hole. Still. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

#2362: R. Emmett Tyrrell

A wingnut’s wingnut, Robert Emmett Tyrrell, jr. is the founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator, a wingnut magazine published by Regnery publishing and part of Richard Mellon Scaife’s loosely-tied-together empire of conspiracy-pushing media outlets. Tyrrell has also written for Washington Examiner.

Tyrrell does not like liberals. Therefore, he blames them for virtually any ill befalling America, including for instance the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting, saying (in an interview on Bryan Fischer’s show – attending Fischer’s show merits inclusion in this Encyclopedia on its own) that “a country that is being forced to turn away from God because of the liberals gets things like the Colorado massacre in abundance.” He went on to describe liberals as “bloodless,” “cold-blooded” and “brain dead” (he didn’t actually expand on mechanisms tying liberals to the shooting, since people who listen to Tyrrell won’t need more than name-calling anyways), themes he ostensibly expands on (not much, apparently) in his 2011 book The Death of Liberalism, in which he “came to the conclusion that [liberals] are dead –they are brain dead – they simply can’t look at anything that contravenes their value system, they turn their back on it.” Sounds like a fearsome display of perception and intellect, that book.

Tyrrell is of course also a global warming denialist, which is par from the course when you get your facts from your tribalist instincts and simply can’t look at anything that contravenes your value system.

As for the aforementioned 2011 book, the main claim seems to have been that liberalism was dead in the water, never to rise again. So in 2012, Tyrrell argued that the conclusion remained valid despite the election results on the grounds that President Obama is not a liberal but rather a socialist. Insofar as he can dismiss any recalcitrant data as “not liberalism”, his conclusion is of course firmly unfalsifiable. We would not be surprised if R. Emmett Tyrrell, jr. thought of that as a strength of the hypothesis. (After all, Tyrrell does have a notable tendency to call any random Democrat “marxist”, so there are, by Tyrrell’s lights, preciously few liberals in the Democratic party, and they won’t ever falsify his hypothesis.) 

Diagnosis: Yet another wingnut moron who doesn’t understand basic linguistic expressions and therefore concludes that they mean whatever he wants them to mean to ensure that he is always right. It is not intellectually very impressive. That said, Tyrrell is not a nobody on the wingnut talkshow guest circuit, and we wouldn’t be very surprised if that was because he was, indeed, one of their best.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

#2361: Gina Tyler

Gina Tyler is a California-based healer and classical homeopath (a “DHom”, as if that should lend her some authority on matters related to reality). Now, many proponents of alternative medicine view their quackery as complementary – indeed, it’s a serious marketing ploy: add my bullshit to your reality-based medicine, it can’t hurt, and might even lead you to believe that my bullshit had any causative effect on your improvement. Tyler’s strategy is refreshingly different: her recommendations are intended as “an alternative to toxic prescription drugs used by allopathic medical doctors”. You see, as Tyler sees it, scientific evidence is really a tool of oppression used by Big Pharma to suppress people like here, who’d rather base her recommendations (explicitly) on anecdotes, intuition and incoherent, pseudo-metaphysical speculations; she does recommend, though, that those who have a genuine problem seek out a “professional homeopath” so that they and not she can be saddled with the responsibility for neglect and malpractice concerns when their bullshit fails to address and rather worsen any actual, real condition people may suffer from.
Hat-tip: I fucking hate pseudoscience
As Tyler sees it, causes of health problems include “stress, trauma (emotional as well as physical trauma), chemical toxins, suppressive allopathic medications and the over-use of pain-pills and other factors,” and the “problems can all be addressed by the use of herbs, homeopathy and a drastic change of eating/drinking habits.” As for real medicine, “excessive use of allopathic medication can cause major imbalances sometimes thought as a secondary illness” (one may or may not have liked to hear her explain how those “imbalances” are identified and measured – she consistently refers to “imbalances” when talking about medical conditions), which doctors will then go on to treat with more medications, and off you go: Real, science-based medicine is just a scam. Tyler’s recommendations, on the other hand, are all gloriously free from the oppressive constraints of evidence and accountability. Curiously, she refers to science-based medicine as “western” medicine, as if homeopathy was somehow less, well, German. She also alludes to the old, ridiculously nonsensical gambit, beloved by quacks everywhere, that real medicine only addresses the symptoms and not the underlying cause of an illness. And as opposed to real medical doctors in the clutches of Big Pharma, Tyler solemnly declares that she is free from conflicts of interest: “I do not advocate a particular product or product company. I have nothing to gain by your use of a certain brand of herb or homeopathic remedy.” Her consultation fees are $410 for chronic problems and $130 for a brief, acute consultation (without assuming responsibility and accountability for any consequences, of course).

Hat-tip: Dawkins foundation
We haven’t bothered (because the link on her webpage doesn’t take us to those writings but instead to another homeopathy webpage) to check out her writings on “miasms” – ostensibly “the roots of disease” in classical homeopathy, but really an escape hatch Hahnemann invented to explain why his remedies didn’t work; anyone entertaining the notion that medicine has made some progress since the 1300s might anyways see some red flags at the mention of “miasma”. Tyler is, of course, also hardcore antivaccine (what did you expect?), and has apparently written about how homeopathy can help treat vaccinosis. Apparently she also does reflexology and aromatherapy, since once you have embraced the silliest nonsense out there (homeopathy) there is little reason not to embrace the rest as well – practice drift is a well known feature of quackery. 

Diagnosis: Dangerous bullshit. And no: although most of the claims are so silly they could be great fun, Tyler is a genuine threat to the health and well-being of genuine people in difficult situations.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

#2360: Bob Tuskin

Bob Tuskin is a versatile conspiracy theorists whose views about various matters are somewhat regularly picked up by a variety conspiracy outlets – the type of conspiracy outlets you’d instantly recognize as such from their design and prolific use of “truth” and “liberty” in their titles and urls – and in particular promoted on the “nationally syndicated Bob Tuskin Show”. According to himself, Tuskin is an “organic gardener, a radio show host and activist,” who “seeks a higher form of wisdom” – he certainly has little aptitude for regular types of wisdom – who “often speaks in front of city commissions, the environmental protection agency and others”, in particular in his dogged search for “911 justice” and to promote awareness of geo-engineeringHe is also one of the co-hosts and organizers of something called the Free Your Mind Conference, which is all about freeing one’s mind from the chains and constraints of truth, reason and rationality (yes, that was a cheap one) to intuit, rant and free-associate about “all aspects of human consciousness, mind control, the occult, human freedom, spirituality and all points in between.” His show, too, has featured and promoted the work of an impressive array of colorful characters.

Yes, Tuskin is of course a 9/11 truther. Primarily, however, he seems to be what he calls a “health freedom researcher”, a title that makes little sense if you read it with an eye for the kind of accuracy and precision Tuskin himself certainly does not care much about. He has probably received most attention for his promotion of HIV/AIDS denialism. Tuskin is among those who doubt that the virus even exists, and he claims that all reports of deaths due to AIDS are propaganda started when people in the homosexual community in the 1980s who had “multiple partners penetrating their immune systems, stared to die from complications with their immune systems” and therefore “wanted to blame this on something else besides their own hazardous behavior.” Apparently you are challenged to prove him wrong. 

In 2012 he announced that he was going to run for his local sheriff’s office, though we haven’t heard anything more about that project.

Diagnosis: Total mindrot, of course. Tuskin’s influence may not be comparable to, say, the influence of Alex Jones or Mike Adams, but he seems to be playing a not-entirely-insignificant role in the alternative media circus industry of tinfoil hatters promoting and supporting each others’ deranged ideas and ravings.  

Sunday, July 12, 2020

#2359: David Tucker (and anyone affiliated with the AllergiCare Relief Centers)

AllergiCare Relief Centers are a chain of franchises founded by one David Tucker. Tucker does not appear to have any medical or scientific background, but his centers offer diagnosis of allergies using biofeedback, as well treatment of allergies by laser acupuncture – none of which is remotely based on reality, evidence or science, something the centers actually admit: They claim that what they are doing does not count as medical treatment, but has instead “been developed from an entirely different field of therapeutics using the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the study of human physiology and an in-depth knowledge of allergens.” Though the diagnoises and treatments are bullshit from beginning to end (and the last two claims in their disclaimer obviously false), Tucker and his centers seem to have enjoyed some success, and they have received ample free advertisement from gullible journalists.

Their main device is something called the BAX3000, which according to their website “is the first and only FDA cleared, US patented system for eliminating allergies” – this is, in fact, quite untrue, insofar as the device is a biofeedback machine approved only for biofeedback by the FDA. In reality, of course, the BAX3000 is merely yet another one of an impressive array of quack electronic diagnostic and treatment devices (EAVs), the history of which goes at least back to the 1950s, making various claims based on (basically) measuring galvanic skin conductance – in the current case claiming that they are measuring what patients are allergic to. The treatment, then, is apparently to return the frequencies measured back to the acupuncture points – “homeopathic frequency magic with machines and electricity” might not be too inaccurate a description. 

As you might have expected, virtually anything is a sign of allergies according to the AllergiCare Relief Centers. If you use their “allergy symptom checker” on their website to enter your own symptoms (or, apparently, anything whatsoever), they will invariably find an allergy that they pretend to be able to treat in exchange for a few hundred bucks (the striking exception seeming to be anaphylaxis, something that might of course land them in real trouble if they pretended to be able to handle). There are some examples of “diagnoses” offered by AllergiCare here.

And although they have no systematic studies to back up their claims, they claim to know that their treatments work by anecdotal reports of improvement – i.e. people being exposed to the alleged allergen without an allergic reaction after undergoing AllergiCare’s suggested regime – which shouldn’t be too hard to achieve insofar as the victims patients were never even remotely allergic to the things AllergiCare diagnosed them as allergic to. 

Diagnosis: According to Stephen Barrett, practitioners who use EAVs “are either delusional, dishonest, or both,” which seems more or less accurate.

Friday, July 10, 2020

#2358: Heather Ann Tucci-Jarraf

The One People’s Public Trust is a (sort of) organization mixing freeman-on-the-land ideas and pseudolaw nonsense with smatterings of New Age fluff and conspiracy theories. Apparently, the OPPT is founded on the belief that the trust has managed to terminate and foreclose all governments in the world, leaving its belief system (and its leadership, of course) the sole legitimate legal authority, at least until it seems to have fallen apart itself sometime in 2013 – offshoots persisted, however, such as the short-lived One People Community formed in Aouchtam, Morocco. The founder of the group, Heather Ann Tucci-Jarraf, currently spends her time in federal prison. 

The Trust does not consider itself an organization. Rather, “The One People’s Public Trust itself consists of every person on the planet, the planet itself and the Creator,” and their actions excellently reflect the delusions that must have gone into formulating that statement. In 2012 the trust registered a series of “declarationsclaiming to foreclose on “all governments, major corporations, including banks.” The process seems to have consisted of registering UCC-1 financing statements at the Washington DC Recorder of Deeds, and when their paperwork was promptly ignored, they declared victory, issuing a mass of press releases. Minimally reasonable people would perhaps be able to sense looming legal troubles on the horizon, but Tucci-Jarraf and her fellow trustees, such as Caleb Paul Skinner and Hollis Randall Hillner, did not. The OPPT also claimed to have made an alternative to the currency systems in place around the world; however, “although there are negotiations going on continuously at the highest level, the news of the existence of the Trust is being deliberately kept out of the main stream media by the alleged corporate System to deceive the one people of this planet as it has always done.” 

The timeline of the trust’s antics is filled out in some detail here, and is fascinating stuff. A short version: After foreclosing all the world’s governments in 2012, the OPPT promised its followers $10 billion in gold and silver. When said followers started wondering where the money was, Tucci-Jarraf – who was actually a prosecutor before throwing her lot in with the sovereign citizen movement – invented courtesy notices that her followers could send to various companies and collection agencies according to the premise that a non-response from the receiving agency meant that their claims were valid. Tucci-Jarraf would even distribute documents that her followers could take to banks to deposit a fraction of their “intrinsic value” and convert it to actual currency. Needless to say, the scheme didn’t work out as OPPT had predicted (one Kiri Campbell was arrested after attempting to deposit $15 million of her “value” into her bank account as well as writing $60,000 in bad checks and was promptly sentenced to 200 hours community service). Then, in October 2013, the principal promoters of OPPT in alternative media, Brian Kelly, Bob Wright and Lisa Harrison, launched something called “the OPAL tour” to promote the OPPT, begging for donations to buy RVs; Kelly declared that said RVs would be powered by engines that run on water and that the tour would also spread news about the new free energy technology (while also asking for donations to buy gas). The OPAL tour was, needless to say, only a qualified success, and Kelly and Tucci-Jarraf subsequently moved to Morocco to (unsuccessfully) start a community and develop their free energy technology, from where Tucci-Jarraf would submit updates back to her followers in the US in her typical style (“THE WILL OF I AM: NOW, ALL I AM, BE AND DO I AM!!! THE WORK OF I AM: I AM!!”). In 2017, Tucci-Jarraf had returned to the US where she, after a round of antics including typical sovereign citizen-ploys to obtain money from the government, was finally found guilty of money laundering by a Federal jury in 2018 (together with one Randall Beane). Tucci-Jarraf’s defense consisted to a large extent of denying the jurisdiction of the judge (“I have not received any documented evidence, sworn, validated, and verified by you that you exist,” claimed Tucci-Jarraf), as well as liberal use of terms like “collusion” and “foreign actors”, in addition citing convoluted legal documents.

Bill “Terran Cognito” Ferguson seems to be a close ally.

The rest of us are, of course, left scratching our heads at the whole thing. We admit that among all conspiracy theories, the sovereign citizen movement may be the hardest one to fully wrap one's heads around: Their ideas are crazy and wrong, of course, but they seem to consistently fail to realize that whether their beliefs about the state and the law are correct or not, is ultimately not really particularly relevant to their agendas: What matters is whether the courts and government institutions will accept their claims, and given their own views about the courts and government it should be painfully obvious to them that the courts cannot and won't accept those ideas, even if those ideas were, in fact, correct (which they aren't).

Diagnosis: Sad and hilarious at the same time. The sovereign citizen movement is an endless source of amusement, and few more so than Heather Ann Tucci-Jarraf, but one really shouldn’t forget that real people’s lives are actually ruined by their antics. 

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

#2357: Alex Tsakiris

Skeptiko – Science at the Tipping Point is a podcast devoted to deep-rabbit-hole-style pseudoscience, including quantum woo, parapsychology and evolutionary teleology. Alex Tsakiris, who produces the podcast, is of course as far from being a skeptic as you’ll get – he’ll readily endorse anything that seems to support his preferred position without much thought – but he is certainly pseudoskeptic and denialist. The “tipping point” in the subtitle is supposed to express the idea that science is on the verge of an (always imminent) paradigm shift away from materialism. Tsakiris has apparently also written a book, Why Science Is Wrong ... About Almost Everything, which is mostly a defense of psi and the use of psychic detectives and a criticism of what Tsakiris takes to be the materialism of contemporary science – “materialism” is of course nebulously defined, and it is even less clear what Tsakiris suggests replacing it with. There is a good takedown of some of the book’s errors, lies and confusions here. A central source of the problems with the book is that Tsakiris has no idea how science works, how a scientific experiment is conducted, or how data are interpreted, and he seems to be utterly unable to recognize that he doesn’t know this or that other people do. 

Now, Tsakiris has in fact interviewed a number of respectable people on his podcast, though one suspects part of the reason respectable people agreed to participate was that the interviewees were fooled by the podcast’s name: the podcast has no affiliation whatsoever with the respectable Skeptico blog. The interviews themselves are characterized by relatively typical pseudoscientist tricks, such as suddenly changing plans for topics just before recording the talks so as to avoid any preparation the guests might have made about the material, and post-editing interviews with voiceovers when things are not going the way Tsakiris wished they would go. Also in the transcripts of the interviews Tsakiris will readily edit the guests’ words to push his views (such as changing every instance Jerry Coyne said “Newtonian” to “quantum”) and make up entire sentences that he attributes to them. There is a telling account – and an apt characterization of Tsakiris – from a guest on one of his podcasts here.

The Skeptiko forum is itself worth a mention. Previously known as the Mind-Energy forum, it describes itself as “parapsychology and alternative medicine forums,” and heavily promotes the Skeptiko podcasts. The forum posts cover more or less every branch of imaginable nonsense, from angels and levitation to intelligent design creationism, unified by a general disdain for science and its purported “materialism”. Laird Shaw was a former administrator, and the forum’s current co-admin is psychic Andrew Paquette.

A huge fan of Rupert Sheldrake (though it is not entirely clear to what extent even Sheldrake would agree with some of Tsakiris’s interpretations), Tsakiris and Annalisa Ventola were also the founders of the (apparently defunct) website Open Source Science to promote their work on Sheldrake’s psychic pet studies, including completing some ineptly done “experiments” to show that dogs know that their owners are coming home by psychic means. Having an independent, unaffiliated area to carry out such work is of course a necessity due to the vast skeptical conspiracy that is currently persecuting parapsychology fans by asking for evidence or requiring methodological rigor before accepting their claims. 

Diagnosis: Either a con artist or a deeply affected victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect – these are, of course, not mutually exclusive options. Tsakiris must surely be aware of the dishonest tricks and editing he uses on his guests to try to establish the conclusions he wishes to establish? 

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki.

Addendum: As so many others, Tsakiris is very hung up on the “materialism” of science. And in fairness, it is not only pseudoscientists who misunderstand how science works and its relationship to materialism: Claiming that science is committed to some kind of methodological naturalism – that it has to assume that all causes are natural causes and that any phenomena to be studied have natural explanations (whatever that means) – is really a ploy used by defenders of non-overlapping magisteria or other people with a pseudoscientific or religious pet theory to try to ensure that their pet ideas won’t be falsified by scientific investigations. However, the idea has sometimes even been accepted by confused skeptics or scientists themselves. 

But of course science makes no such assumptions. If you have a non-materialist theory of mind, you are entirely free to develop your hypotheses and derive some testable consequences from it. If your theory offers better predictions and explanations than current theories, you’ll have won. What theories we currently accept, is a matter of the evidence we have for our current theories, and the fact that no defender of non-materialist theories have bothered to develop their alternatives in testable detail is telling – and the onus is on them, for instance, to define materialism in any reasonable precise way and then carefully and accurately lay out their alternative; handwavy appeals to spirits or New Age energy just aren’t going to yield any testable consequences and are therefore not taken seriously (not because they are non-materialist, but because they are nebulously handwavy and don't explain or predict anything). Non-materialist theory of mind aren’t taken seriously at present simply because no serious non-materialist alternative has been put on the table that provides any kind of testable predictions

Of course, the lie that science assumes materialism or methodological naturalism is useful for defenders of non-overlapping magisteria or religiously motivated ideas because the defenders of such idea can then claim that they are talking about other ways of knowledge that simply fall outside of the domain of science and are untestable and unfalsifiable by scientific means by fiat (in fairness: this is not what Alex Tsakiris claims, since he thinks that science is wrong, not just incomplete). In reality, what scares these defenders of non-overlapping magisteria is really that a lot of their claims, based on mere dogma, are ultimately testable, and the last thing they want is for science to come in and ruin their cherished beliefs.