Friday, October 30, 2020

#2401: S.D. Wells

A.k.a. Sean David Cohen (real name)

S.D. Wells is a Mike Adams minion who writes for the crank website NaturalNews, one of the craziest (and most popular) conspiracy websites on the Internet. Wells’s contributions are characterized by the website’s trademark instantiation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, paranoia, complete lack of understanding of science, and complete lack of comprehension of how evidence, confirmation and reasoning works.


Wells is, unsurprisingly, a hardcore antivaccine conspiracy theorist, who is unafraid to deploy any and of the classic antivaccine talking points and PRATTs, regardless of how silly or thoroughly refuted they are, with perhaps a particular fondness for variations on the toxins gambit. Indeed, Wells is responsible for what might be some of the most ludicrous versions of the toxins gambit ever used by the anti-vaccine movement, which is no small feat. One thing is easily refuted nonsense about Polysorbate 80 and aluminum, but did you know that the HPV vaccine might expose you to up to 10 mcg of sodium chloride, for instance? We suspect that Wells is not entirely aware of what sodium chloride is, and he is certainly not aware that the amount in question is 1/240,000 of recommended daily limit for sodium chloride intake (or at least he expects his readers not to be aware of this). Of course, Wells pretends to be (and might of course be) entirely unaware of all the large studies showing that the HPV vaccine is safe; in Wells’s fantasy world “not one single vaccine ever produced that is recommended by the CDC today has ever been proven safe or effective. Why? They dont have to prove it. All they have to do is scare the living hell out of everyone using propaganda, and its worked for 75 years.” For in Wells’s alternative fantasy world all the science, all the clinical trials and large studies, and all the epidemiological studies showing that vaccines are safe and effective just never happened. Wells even points out that, for MMRV, “they’ve added monosodium L-glutamate, neomycin, and MRC-5 cells.” It is almost as if Wells doesn’t know that the cells used to grow the virus aren’t actually put into the vaccine itself, but that confusion would be too silly to attribute even to him, wouldn’t it? 


Or what about recombinant human albumin? As Wells interprets it, “human albumin is the protein portion of blood from pooled human venous plasma and when injected causes fever, chills, hives, rash, headache, nausea, breathing difficulty, and rapid heart rate. Injecting ‘pooled blood’ can result in a loss of body cell mass and cause immunodeficiency virus infection, or contain SV40, AIDS, cancer or Hepatitis B from drug addicts.” It’s hard to make sense of the reasoning unless you interpret him as thinking that pooled human venous plasma or pooled blood is added to vaccines. Apparently the “recombinant” part went missing somewhere along the way, but that would certainly not be the only part undermining any claim by Wells to possess a minimum of intellect (or integrity, or honesty) in that passage.


Wells is also an anti-fluoridation conspiracy theorist. After all, “drinking chemicals” is (apparently) a cause of cancer, and “[m]ost tap water contains sodium fluoride (not the organic fluoride they want you to believe is in there). Sodium fluoride is a toxic by-product of the chemical industrial complex of China, and is exported to the USA to fuel the cancer industry.” And rest assured: “This is not a hypothesis or conspiracy theory. There are literally hundreds of videos” supporting his claim.


Here is Wells mongering conspiracy theories about the human genome project. As Wells sees it, the government spent over $3 billion and enormous efforts to sequence the human genome, only to bury the results to keep people from finding out about natural cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.


Diagnosis: Wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, scared shitless (or at least out to scare you shitless) by things he consistenly doesn’t even begin to comprehend or understand. Indeed, we can almost sympathize: imagine being so profoundly ignorant and confused about how the world around you works – we imagine it would be scary. And Wells’s lack of understanding of human physiology and medicine and – not the least – the language used to describe it, is striking even for wild-eyed conspiracy theorists – he really doesn’t have the faintest idea. Which, of course, is just as well when you’re writing for NaturalNews.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

#2400: John Weldon

John Weldon is a wild-eyed religious fundamentalist, best known for co-authoring numerous books with fellow deranged kook John Ankerberg – apparently Ankerberg hired Weldon as a “researcher” back in 1988. Their combined output encompasses a number of booklets, such as the 48-page The Facts on UFO’s and Other Supernatural Phenomena, which “alerts readers to the evil behind the seemingly harmless fascination with UFO’s and other supernatural phenomena.” (It is notoriously short on facts, of course.) It’s all about DEMONS, as Weldon and Ankerberg see things, partially because “the UFO phenomenon simply does not behave like extraterrestrial visitors.” Indeed. 

In some more detail: “[…] the issue of the actual existence or nonexistence of extraterrestrial life is not that germane to the subject of UFO’s. Obviously, if life does exist in outer space, then God created it. But due to the occult connection, traveling from that fact to the conclusion that modern UFO’s result from such life, involves a leap of faith of Herculean proportions.” Therefore, the best explanation, according to Weldon and Ankerberg, is that people who claim to be abductees are really being tricked by demons. 


Other booklets released in the (apparent) series – the Anker series – include The Facts on … 


-       … Angels, on “how angels can help God's people today;” but beware: “their demonic counterparts deceive people

-       … Halloween (with Dillon Burroughs), which seeks to answer for instance “what should Christians know if they choose to participate in this event?” (Hint: they certainly shouldn’t)

-       … the New Age Movement

-       … Homosexuality, subtitled “Scientific Research and Biblical Authority: Can Homosexuals Really Change?”, which promotes conversion therapy

-       … the Occult

-       … Life after Death

-       … Spirit Guides, which discusses “channeling”: “Channelers claim a spirit actually enters their body and speaks ‘guide’ through them,” but “The key issue is this: exactly who or what are these spirit guides?” No prize for guessing the Weldon & Ankerberg answer (“the demon theory cannot be ignored”)

-       … Psychic Readings


All of them include about as many facts as you would expect.


Weldon does seem to have a bit of a background on the crazier fringe of the UFO movement, though. Already in 1975, he published his Encounters with UFO’s, co-authored with Zola Levitt, which also concluded that UFOs are paranormal manifestations caused by demons. The book might even have been among the first in that particular genre of fundie ridiculousness. The follow-up book, UFO’s: What on Earth is Happening?The Coming Invasion further elaborates on how UFOs affect our conceptions of God, science, the origin of the universe and man, containing approximately as much sense as the first installment. 


Diagnosis: Batshit crazy fundie. Hopefully his impact is relatively limited, but his first book was apparently one of the early successes for the notorious Harvest House publishers. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

#2399: Dave Weldon

As you may be aware, Bill Posey is currently the main antivaxx enabler (and antivaxxer) in the House of Representatives. But he inherited the issue from his predecessor Dave Weldon, who represented Florida’s 15th congressional district from 1995–2009. Weldon, despite being an MD, did his best to raise doubts about the safety of vaccines, citing the (non-existent) autism epidemic and claiming, in spite of the evidence, that thimerosal could not be ruled out as a causative agent (it can). He dismissed the evidence of no link on the ground that many of the largest studies were not done on US populations and, really, any straw he could grasp at to keep the vaccine–autism hypothesis in play (he also toyed with the “too many too soon” gambit). Together with Carolyn Maloney, he sponsored The Vaccine Safety and Public Confidence Assurance Act of 2007 to remove most of the vaccine safety research from the CDC because they didn’t conclude the way Weldon wanted of conflicts of interest, and to continue to study the issue until he could get the result he wanted. Of course, Weldon vehemently denied being anti-vaccine; he was just pro-safe vaccines.

Weldon was also what we could perhaps term a “Terry-Schiavo-denialist”, introducing legislation to force review of the case by the federal government (i.e. people with political axes to grind rather than medical expertise). Weldon claimed, falsely and without evidence, that Schiavo was not in a vegetative state but “responds to verbal stimuli, she attempts to vocalize, she tracks with her eyes, she emotes, she attempts to kiss her father.”


Diagnosis: Long gone from the echelons of power, Weldon still deserves a bit of negative exposure; we wouldn’t be surprised to see him resurface on the antivaccine scene, especially given that he is an MD (which is, of course, not the same as being a medical researcher, but that distinction is lost on many).

Friday, October 23, 2020

#2398: Brian Weiss

Brian Leslie Weiss is a psychiatrist, hypnotherapist and author, and probably the most prominent promoter of New age psychotherapies alive today, in particular past life regression therapy. Now, Weiss does have real credentials, and was at one point Head of Psychiatry (mental health professions suffer from a well-recognized reluctance to ditch even the flakiest, pseudoscientific practices), Mount Sinai Medical Center, something that does lend an air of credibility to his forays into the silliest branches of pseudoscience imaginable, including reincarnation, past life regression and “future life progression”. Indeed, the popularity of past life regression, despite it being obviously incoherent nonsense, is due precisely to practitioners with real credentials, like Weiss, at least claiming to take it seriously. Apparently, Weiss likes to convey the impression that he is doing “research” on these issues, though what he is, in fact, doing, bears little resemblance to actual research – he states, very often, that it is important to be “objective” and “scientific”, and seems to assume that by stating it he has done his scientific duties. He does, however, arrange workshops and seminars across the US to talk about and “teach” self-regression mediation techniques, such as the Hay House I Can Do It one-day workshops and workshops at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in NY. His numerous books include  

-       Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives (1988)

-       Through Time into Healing: Discovering the Power of Regression Therapy to Erase Trauma and Transform Mind, Body and Relationships (1993).

-       Only Love Is Real: A Story of Soulmates Reunited (1997).

-       Messages From the Masters: Tapping into the Power of Love (2001).

-       Mirrors of Time: Using Regression for Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Healing (2002). 

-       Same Soul, Many Bodies: Discover the Healing Power of Future Lives through Progression Therapy (2005).

-       Miracles Happen: The Transformational Healing Power of Past Life Memories (2012) (with his daughter, Amy E. Weiss)


As the book titles suggest, there is a grift. And as the titles also suggest, there is no research there, nor much by way of actual content beneath pink fluff and rosy, vague optimism and joy. There are things that superficially look like anecdotes, of course, which only really count even as anecdotes if you assume that the past lives his subjects “remember” are actual past lives. 


His book Many Lives, Many Masters is brilliantly reviewed here. Quick summary: “Dr Weiss has conducted his research without scientific protocols or peer review, yet as a ‘scientist’, Dr Weiss should have the skills and resources necessary to have conducted his ‘investigation’ properly and scientifically. The fact that he chose not to has, I believe, discredited his book as a work of fairy tale-like fiction.” 


The core idea of Weiss’s practice as a therapist is hypnotic regression. Weiss claims, without any scientific support, that many phobias and ailments are rooted in past-life experiences whose acknowledgement by the patient can have a curative effect (also without evidential support). Much of his writing is, however, concerned with messages received from so-called “Masters”, or “super-evolved, nonphysical souls”, that Weiss claims to have communicated with through his subjects, and who reveal to him such deep insights as “Everything must be balanced. Nature is balanced. The beasts live in harmony. Humans have not learned to do that. They continue to destroy themselves.” If you find claims like that profound, then Weiss’s book might just be for you.


Diagnosis: Needless to say, if you actually need help and support, Brian Weiss is not a guy to turn to. He might in fact be a true believer, but given the deliberate lack of effort to subject his own claims to any semblance of scrutiny, it is very, very hard not to suspect otherwise. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

#2397: John Weeks

Dangerous lunatic, quack and antivaccine champion Larry Webster, of the Webster technique, has apparently passed away, disqualifying him from an entry he would otherwise have richly deserved. Remembering him nevertheless provides a useful backdrop for introducing this entry’s John Weeks, a writer, speaker and organizer and a relatively major figure in the long ongoing and disconcertingly often (though far from always) successful effort to raise the profile of quackery and pseudoscience under the title integrative health and medicine – “[w]hat was ... considered quackery or fraud [in 1989] ... is now being viewed as a normal part of doing business among insurers and others in the delivery side of medicine,” says Weeks of the movements’ successes, as if that was somehow progress. Weeks is founder/editor of The Integrator Blog News & Reports and editor-in-chief of the tooth-fairy science journal the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. He has also written for e.g. Huffington Post and is the founder of a number of organizations and consortia, including the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health, which he directed from 2007 to 2015. 

Weeks is a true believer in all things quackery, so at least he tends to be honest about his aims – if not his means. For instance, he explicitly explained his support for efforts to have a range of quacks and New Age practitioners officially recognized as “physicians” (so that it would be easier to confuse potential victims patients about what they are up to) by pointing out that “success in claiming the physician title, linked to privilege, status and particularly third party payment – some insurers will only cover certain services if provided by a “physician” – figured heavily in an October 2, 2009 mailing to members from the American Chiropractic Association.” At present, as Weeks sees it, MDs are viewed as kings and queens of the hill, while frauds and quacks and snakeoil salespeople are being oppressed; only a few noble mavericks like himself seem to be willing to fight for the ‘underdog’.


His organization Integrative Practitioner has even been able to offer Continuing Medical Education courses for credit by attaching itself to a medical school: In 2015, for instance, it teamed up with Mount Sinai/Beth Israel, to present the Integrative Healthcare Symposium Annual Conference, at which a physician could earn 17.75 CME credit hours by attending and be exposed to pro-woo propaganda and conspiracy theories.


The fact that someone like Weeks was appointed editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (JACM) is actually pretty telling – after all, JACM sometimes pretends to be a legitimate, properly ‘sciencey’ journal, though maintaining the pretension is obviously hard (articles and press releases like the brilliant example of Betteridge’s Law “Can Traditional Chinese Medicine Offer Treatments for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease?” or “Deepak Chopra’s Ayurvedic Retreat Program Yields Sustained Increases in Well-Being; that’s “well-being”, not “health, and the distinction matters even though JACM presumably don’t want you to notice) – appointing Weeks obviously doesn’t help in that respect. Weeks is, notably enough, neither a physician nor a scientist, and it would be strikingly remarkable for a scientific journal to have an editor-in-chief with no scientific background. Weeks does, however, have some promotional skills, and that’s presumably what matters for such journals (indeed, Weeks himself sometimes seems to struggle with the distinction between scientific studies and marketing). Under Weeks’s leadership, JACM has continued to push articles and special issues that makes a mockery of scientific integrity in a fashion that even Answers in Genesis’s own house journal would struggle to outdo, such as the special issue on integrative oncology discussed here; another example is an entire issue devoted to trying to show that naturopathy, no less, is science-based, discussed here – the attempt failed spectacularly, of course.


Weeks is, of course, no fan of criticism of alternative medicine: He likes to portray himself as being above the fray while engaging in self-righteous whining and name-calling, saying that “science-based medicine” should be referred to “polarization-based medicine” because some adherents of science-based medicine criticize and call out frauds, scams and crackpottery, something that Weeks thinks is very combative and non-nice – indeed, Weeks says that criticizing frauds, scams and crackpottery is as “hateful as the campaign for the presidency of Donald Trump” (comparing his critics to Trump is sort of a go-to ploy for Weeks). He also likens criticism of quackery to “racial profiling” and promoting birtherism, and claims that is “anti-science because he is aware that it sounds bad to be “anti-science” even though he has only a dim idea what science actually is or how it works. Indeed, Weeks also distinctly indicates that he thinks his critics are united, making science-based medicine a sort of conspiracy. And completely predictably: Nowhere does he even attempt to address the contents of the criticisms of alternative medicine, or the damning rebuttals of results of sloppy pseudostudies promoted by his journal and organizations. It’s all about tone, and what’s bad about the criticisms is the fact that they are critical, which is mean – not that the criticisms are wrong, which they aren’t. Edzard Ernst sums up Weeks’s rhetorical tactics well: “The principle is adorably simple and effective: 1) you are faced with some criticism, 2) you find it hard to argue against it, 3) therefore you elect to attack your critic personally, 4) you claim that the criticism is insulting, 5) you re-name any criticism ‘TRUMPISM’, and 6) all is forgiven! Weeks is not even original; others have used this method before him. In fact, advocates of alternative medicine thrive on ad hominem attacks, and without them they would go nowhere.”


Of course, Weeks also likes to promote many of the regular anti-medicine tropes, such as the false claim that medical errors are a leading cause of death and the nonsensical claim that science-based practitioners do not care about prevention. 


Diagnosis: One of the leaders of the effort to increase the perceived legitimacy of woo, without (of course) doing the footwork needed to justify legitimacy. Indeed, Weeks doesn’t seem to fully recognize that such justification is needed. His writings are often rhetorically effective, we’ll grant him that, but you’ll be hard pressed to find publications with a denser concentration of fallacies and with less appreciation of how scientific and rational investigations should actually work (while claiming that he’s very scientific) than the writings of John Weeks. Dangerous.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

#2396: Trevin Wax

We have had the opportunity to deal with several fundamentalist pastors who claim that pop and rock music are tools of Satan to lure young people into depravity and damnation. Trevin Wax’s position is really the exact opposite, yet he manages to be almost equally silly about the issue of popular music and Satan. According to Wax, Satan is going around killing popular singers because music is a gift from God, and if people like the music, there’s a huge chance they’ll trace it back to the God that gave the person in question the gift of being able to sing. The artists must therefore be eliminated. The deaths of Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston all have something in common, and it’s not the obvious factors but the evil hand of Satan, no less: The Evil One not only hates it when people find joy in God [but] … he also hates it when people find joy in God’s gifts,” says Wax, and Satan works hard to eliminate such “signposts that point us to the God who loves the world enough to shower us with gifts of common grace”, leading people to squander the good gifts from above.

Trevin Wax is otherwise a pastor and managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, as well ascontributing editor to Christianity Today. He has also written some books, including Counterfeit Gospels (which argues that misinterpretations of the gospel are an even bigger threat to the church than persecution and the rise of Islam) and Holy Subversion.


Wax is unsurprisingly critical of gay rights and sexual freedom, and his tortured reasoning is actually worth having a look at as an example of the ridiculous knots opponents of such things manage to tie themselves into in their attempts to come across as reasonable. According to Wax, gay rights is a threat to freedom: “There is no such thing as absolute freedom when it comes to sexuality,” says Wax, for “[t]he moment we celebrate or endorse certain behaviors, we curtail freedom in other areas. This is the nature of freedom.” This is not the nature of freedom. Wax’s illustration is that 100 years ago, it was OK for men to be openly affectionate toward other, whereas now it is not, apparently because gay marriage is legal and homosexual relationships have become more accepted. Yes, it’s just a desperate, random and contradictory association of thoughts. That seems to be how things usually go in Trevin Wax’s attempts at reasoning. 


He is, of course, also a creationist, and has written articles in which he is “exposing the fundamentalist narrowness of scientists, not creationists” and arguing that science is based on faith just as much as religion, and therefore the Biblical account of creation is just as good as the scientific story. 


Diagnosis: Relatively typical fundamentalist purveyor of nonsense and mindrot. That people able to open doors by themselves actually listen to him and think he has anything to offer, is flabbergasting. And no, your hateful message doesn’t get any less hateful if you smile while you deliver it. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

#2395: Anthony Watts

Willard Anthony Watts is a former radio and TV weatherman and one of the leading global warming (AGW) denialists in the US today. Watts is the owner of the blog Watts Up With That, and he has joined the denialist Heartland Institute as senior fellow for environment and climate. As is typical of media weathercasters, Watts has no academic training in the physics of climate or any related disciplines. He does, however, claim to have subscribed to AGW years ago before he turned around to became a denier; the data apparently didn’t gel with his intuitions, so he began to look for ways to deny or reinterpret them. His blog was the proud recipient of the 2008 Best Science Blog prize. The year before, that prize was given to Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit blog. The prize is, in other words, not exactly a measure of scientific credibility. 

As a matter of fact, Watts comes across as rather reasonable compared to many of the deniers you may meet the Internet, which presumably makes his denialist points all the more effective. The talking points, however, are for the most part just the tired old denialist PRATTs (a few examples are mentioned here), including using cherry-picked data to claim that “look, it’s cold somewhere”. 


Interestingly, however, Watts appears to have ultimately done more to strengthen the evidence for AGW than to disconfirm it. His Surface Stations Project was introduced to show that NOAA’s weather stations had collected unreliable data. Watts, through volunteers, collected quite a wealth of data, which were published by the Heartland Institute. Of course, Watts just assumed that the data showed that the data previously used exaggerated maximum temperatures, and didn’t bother to actually do any real statistical analysis. A later, real study that bothered to do the work (published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres) and analyze Watts’s data, found that they showed that the maximum temperatures had actually been underestimated. Watts’s own new “research” in 2011 came to essentially the same conclusion. Watts didn’t change his mind.


Perhaps the best illustration of the typical denialist mindset, as embodied by Anthony Watts, is his attitudes to the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study (BEST). The BEST study was an independent (of IPCC and governments) temperature record that was be constructed using over 39,000 unique stations. Watts stated that he was “prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong. I’m taking this bold step because the method has promise. So let’s not pay attention to the little yippers who want to tear it down before they even see the results.” Of course, since it was properly carried out, BEST’s results confirmed the reliability of preexisting surface temperature records. Did Watts accept the results? Of course not. By “accept whatever result they produce” Watts meant “accept whatever result they produce, as long as it confirms what I have already determined that the results should be.”


In 2018, Watts speculated that Hurricane Willa “may stop the migrant caravan as it slams into Mexico,” referring to the Honduran refugees then attempting to seek asylum in the United States. When it was pointed out that the migrants were far removed from the storm’s path, Watts clarified by claiming that the storm’s impacts on roads and bridges would impede the caravan, “even if Soros is busing them there.” He seems to have deteriorated under Trump.


There is a reasonably comprehensive biography of Watts here.


Diagnosis: Though Watts usually manages to appear reasonable and moderate, his denialism is nevertheless a good example of how denialism works: He starts out having decided on what the conclusion is going to be, and no facts or evidence – which are already overwhelming – could even in principle change Watts’ mind. Yes, it’s dogmatism, pure and simple, and as far removed from skepticism as you could come. Watts is nothing if not influential, however, and it certainly doesn’t hurt his image that the legislators, celebrities and pundits who refer to him usually come across as far more wild-eyed, loony and silly than he does.


Hat-tip: Rationalwiki, desmogblog

Monday, October 12, 2020

#2394: Brenda Watson

Brenda Watson is not a medical doctor, but an “N.D. [short for “not a doctor”], C.N.C.” (a certification given out by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, the organization that also gave a “certified professional membership” to science writer Ben Goldacre’s deceased cat Hettie for a $60 fee), and according to herself “among the foremost authorities on natural digestive care and nutrition” – “natural” being the key word, of course: you should not take her advice on actual digestive care and nutrition. Watson is a naturopath and a nutritional consultant, and proudly “holistic”. According to Watson, all health problems are related to nutrition, and treatable by detoxification and the kind of bullshit nutritional supplements she happens to sell you. 

Together with her husband Stan, Watson is the founder of ReNew Life Formulas, Inc., a company that manufactures and distributes “natural digestive care” products and “functional foods” with supplements normal people do not need. They also promote colonic irrigation, which is a strange way to get rid of some money without getting anything any reasonable person would want in return.


Her nonsense has been repeatedly promoted by the PBS, including the PBS special “Join Me on the Road to Perfect Health”, where she’s been given plenty of space to promote her products and detox nonsense. She has also written a number of books to promote the same.


Diagnosis: Just one of many, many promoters of questionable and idiotic health advice who adorn themselves with alphabet soups to convey some sort of authority to those who don’t bother to check, and who proceed entirely without concern for science, evidence or accountability. Watson, however, has been given plenty of room to promote herself by channels that really should know better (or have a bit more of a spine), and is hence worthy of an entry.


Hat-tip: Skepdic

Thursday, October 8, 2020

#2393: Paul Washer

Paul Washer is a wingnut, Taliban-style fundamentalist preacher, missionary – he is the founder of the HeartCry Missionary Society, which supports indigenous missionaries evangelizing to people of their own culture – and author. Though nominally an adherent of sola fide – salvation through faith alone – he likes to denounce activities and people and threaten them with hell for a range of activities and interests: you see, if you do not adhere to his strict rules for correct behavior, you are automatically not a “true” believer and thus not covered by the principle. He once stated that if his children were to die unsaved, he would applaud God as he cast them into Hell.

Washer is perhaps most famous for a 2002 sermon to some 5,000 kids entitled “Shocking Message!” where he warned against the evils of worldly entertainment, emphasized God’s capacity for hate, and claimed that a majority of his audience would spend eternity in hell. A recurring feature of his sermons is the idea that a woman is committing a sin if she wears clothes that shows the shape of her body at all – “I mean, that’s just logic,” said Washer, expressing a somewhat off understanding of the word “logic” – which is, of course, precisely why his intellectual allies in Afghanistan recommended burqas. 


One thing that distinguishes Washer from many fundies, however, is that he really claims that the US is the most wicked country on Earth because a large number of people who claim to be Evangelicals live a “worldly” lifestyle. Most preachers today are also too lenient and soft-minded about such issues and haven’t really taken the hate, anger and oppression that is at the core of Christianity sufficiently seriously – they are accordingly also to a large extent to blame for the moral decline of the world in general. 


Washer is of course a creationist, and has in his sermons bragged about how he is able to shut up genuine university students by bringing up punctuated equilibrium (he just mentions the expression – he doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea what it means, mistakenly thinking it refers to some sort of objection to the theory of evolution) and irreducible complexity. Yes, you are pardoned for suspecting a tall tale. Then Washer claims that acceptance of the theory of evolution is really motivated by hatred of God, his evidence being the apparent dumbfounded reaction to Washer mentioning “punctuated equilibrium” and “irreducible complexity”, and concludes that any disagreement between science and fundie-motivated denialism and pseudoscience is “not an intellectual matter as much as it is a moral matter of the will.” He has also promoted Ray Comfort’s books. 


Diagnosis: Fundie liars for Jesus are a dime a dozen, but Paul Washer is angrier and more extreme than most. He seems to have a bit of a following, too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

#2392: Wade Warren

Wade Warren is a creationist and the C.J. Cavanaugh Chair in Biology at Louisiana College, an alleged educational institution whose mission includes a commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible. Warren does not appear to be an active scientist. He is, however, very active in promoting creationism and in trying to undermine public education in Louisiana (and nationally) by weakening educational standards to allow teachers to teach science denialism as science when Warren doesn’t like the science. He is also affiliated with the Louisiana Family Forum, which works closely with groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

Warren is for instance notable for his role in promoting the creationist-friendly Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, and was one of three professors from his fundie college to testify on the bill. Creation-friendly senators then went on to use Warren’s testimony to claim that the theory of evolution is, despite statements from the scientists, controversial, because wild-eyed non-scientists teaching biology at fundamentalist institution are as much of an authority as actual scientists – which was, of course, the whole intention behind inviting Warren and his colleagues to testify in the first place. In 2016, Warren was appointed to the Louisiana’s Science Standards Review Panel, together for instance with John Oller. Fortunately, the panel doesn't ultimately seem to have listened to him, even if they offered him a token consolation prize.


Warren also testified before the Texas Board of Education during their 2009 evolution hearings where he claimed not to understand why anyone would get upset about the “strengths and weaknesses” language, a claim one suspects reflects the same level of dishonesty as that language itself does. Moreover, Warren is, unsurprisingly, a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s hilariously intellectually bankrupt petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.


Diagnosis: Fundie denialist, and that someone like Warren is, at least nominally, tasked with teaching science, including biology, at something pretending to be a real educational institution is a travesty – as is, of course, the fact that being a denialist is a means to political influence in the US, however much we might be used to those dynamics by now.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

#2391: Chris Wark

Chris Beat Cancer is an anti-chemotherapy website that has managed to establish itself a relatively significant and popular source of misinformation. It is run by Chris Wark, who claims that he cured his own bowel cancer by adopting a raw vegan diet. Now, Wark did, in fact, beat cancer; that’s not in doubt. Wark underwent surgery to remove the cancer from his abdomen. Surgery alone (without chemotherapy) has a roughly 60% chance of curing stage-III bowel cancer of Wark’s type. That probability would have increased to around 75% had he also received adjuvant chemotherapy, which he refused (and for the record: Wark really doesn’t understand the difference between adjuvant chemotherapy and chemotherapy administered with curative intent). Of course, instead of attributing his survival to procedures (surgery) that demonstrably works very well against his cancer, he attributes his success to those that demonstrably don’t, and takes his survival without using means (adjuvant chemotherapy) that would have increased his high chance of survival to a very high chance of survival, to show that those means (chemotherapy) don’t work. In short: Wark survived, but his survival is certainly not due to his unusual diet, and/or him worshiping a particular God – long-term, large-population studies have been carried out to determine the impact of going vegetarian after a cancer diagnosis (surprise: it doesn’t help) – contrary to what he himself is convinced of. There is a good discussion of Wark’s story here.

What’s scary, then, is that he uses his own story, which shows nothing that even remotely supports what he claims it supports, to try to convince others to refrain from using means that might actually save them, and instead to rely on a plethora of ridiculous woo that will not – Wark, not being an official caregiver for his audience (he is not a doctor, and his spokesperson Joanna Tackett will emphasize that he “does not provide medical advice”), will of course take no responsibility for the consequences. And people do listen to Wark’s nonsense, and they die from doing so.


The Chris Beat Cancer website promotes a range of quackery, for which Chris is paid commission, including quackery pushers like Cancer Tutor, the Cancer Control Society, Veronique Desaulniers, the American Anti-Cancer Institute, CancerCrackdown, “Best Answer For Cancer”, CANCERactive, “Yes To Life”, “HealingStrong™”, Mike Adams, Keith Scott-Mumby (a poor man’s version of Mike Adams), and Ty Bollinger – Wark also appeared in Bollinger’s straightforwardly insane conspiracy flick “The Truth About Cancer”. The long list of crackpottery promoted by Wark also includes earthing, solfeggio frequencies and the bogus RGCC test.


His website also repeats various conspiracy theories, such as the idea that cures for cancer are being suppressed (those cures would apparently include laetrile) and the endlessly idiotic and often-debunked falsehood that chemotherapy fails 97% of the time and that it even helps spread cancer instead of preventing it. Yes, Wark is, together with Bollinger, one of the leaders of the “chemotherapy doesn’t work” denialist movement, a movement that has aptly been described as the new anti-vaxxers. Other silly myths pushed by Chris Beats Cancer includes the ridiculous claim thatstage 1 breast cancer is a myth” and that all stage 1 breast cancer is really stage 4 (you may perhaps sense how that myth plays a rather significant role in his otherwise thoroughly nonsensical video “How April Healed Stage 4 Breast Cancer with Nutrition and Cannabis”); Wark’s source for the claim seems ultimately to be spam, repeated on other deranged conspiracy blogs before he got hold of it. Heck, Wark even repeats – on several occasions – the easily demonstrable falsehood that since there were fewer incidents of cancer before, cancer must be (primarily) caused by modern-era pollution, completely neglecting the rather obvious explanation for the observed increase, namely that we live vastly longer and no longer tend to die from all the things that used to kill people off before they reached 40 and that cancer has always been, and remains, primarily a set of diseases associated with age(obviously so, if one understood how cancer actually works, which he doesn’t). In fact, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Wark is deliberately misinforming his readers: In a video where he tries to argue that surgery and biopsies spread cancer and cannot treat it, he cites real research, but the conclusions stated in that research contradicts what he attributes to it so blatantly that it is hard to avoid concluding that there is rank lying going on. Here and here are discussions of similar examples, and here is another one that gloriously illustrates how Wark dishonestly and ignorantly spins real studies make them look like they say the opposite of what they say and spins real developments to make them look like setbacks, at least to people who really don’t understand how things work and cannot be bothered to check Wark’s sources.


Self-styled “Cancer Mastermind Chris Wark has of course also monetized his wisdom through his own-brand “healing cancer coaching program”, Square One. In terms of money, it will cost you $197 (or so: the price varies). If you actually suffer from cancer and use Wark’s advice and reject chemotherapy, it will likely cost you far more. He does offer a refund to dissatisfied customers – it used to be a 1-year warranty, but is currently 6 months, for rather obvious reasons. He has also got testimonials, but is rather selective about which of the testimonials you’ll hear: when people he interviews subsequently die of cancer he will delete the evidence from his channel and website. Indeed, Wark’s use of this common trick is well documented; here is a discussion of one good example (among several): Wark pushing a miracle story of someone allegedly curing herself of cancer by “natural” means, only for all traces of the story to miraculously disappear from Wark’s website when said person subsequently died from the putatively cured cancer. On the other hand, Wark is ready to seize on any story he thinks he can spin to make it look like it supports his narrative with sufficient editing, including stories of people dying of cancer, where he’ll lie about the story to claim that the patient didn’t die of cancer, but died from choosing conventional treatment instead of the kind of useless, often expensive, quackery he pushes (and which, remember, wasn’t the stuff that saved him when he battled cancer).


In any case, in his own program, you will receive recommendations for Essiac tea, “Dr. Hulda Clark’s parasite cleanse formula” (yes: that Hulda Clark), colloidal silver, “black-seed expert, Dr. Roby Mitchell” (the Texas medical board described Mitchell as a “threat to public welfare” when they suspended his license in 2004), Nicholas Gonzalez’s enzyme-therapy, The Navarro Urine Test, Richard Schulze’s “herbal detoxification program”, the Gerson therapy, alkaline diets, and Jason Winters anti-cancer tea. The program’s relatively restrained quackwatch entry is here.


Wark’s 2018 book Chris Beat Cancer: A Comprehensive Plan for Healing Naturally garnered over 200 five-star Amazon customer-reviews in ten days (note that fakespot’s AI concluded that the reviews were likely fraudulent, without being able to recognize that reviews by cranks, crackpots or “friends of the author” are unreliable). There is a thorough review of the book here. It contains more or less what you’d expect:


-       Claiming that cancer is a new disease caused by environmental factors: Wark provides a long list consisting mostly of things that are not carcinogens. And no: GMOs have not been shown to be harmful, much less to lead to cancer, and no: coffee enemas do not help.

-       Most of the book is an attempt to blame the victim for getting cancer and failure to be cured, which is an all-too-familiar ploy among quacks and a crucial escape hatch: If their recommendations didn’t work for you, you just didn’t try hard enough. The ploy is never more obvious than in Wark’s promotion of his “Beat Cancer Mindset: you really have to want to get well, and if you didn’t get well, you didn’t really want it hard enough.

-       Silly recommendations for how to avoid cancer. Wark is of course under the misapprehension that cell phones cause brain cancer (they really don’t), and that electromagnetic fields increase cancer risk.

-       Silly dietary advice, of course, including fasting (a bad idea) and Mark Simon’s wooful and useless NORI protocol.


There is a detailed fact check of some of the claims made on Wark’s website here.


In fairness, Wark is making good money of his business and his cancer program, including kickbacks when you follow links on his site. He is not particularly forthcoming about this part, however – a chapter in his book is even titled “It’s not like I need your business”. He does.


Diagnosis: Chris Wark is certainly a true believer, but his promotion of silly and dangerous nonsense, and the dishonestly and misinterpretations that go into that, is indistinguishable from fraud. People listen, and in particular people in desperate situations, and they die. As a loon, Wark is more vile and more dangerous than most loons we cover.


Hat-tip: Rationalwiki