Thursday, October 14, 2021

#2489: Bruce Baar

Naturopathy is bullshit, and since he has already jettisoned integrity and reason, naturopath Bruce Baar has decided to run the full course of woo. Baar is a promoter of vibrational medicine and – his most famous achievment, perhaps – the inventor of the Baar Wet Cell Battery System (the use of wet cell batteries in altmed stems back to psychic and self-declared prophet Edgar Cayce, by the way). The system “is designed to help enhance the body’s natural healing tendencies” by generating “a very, very low electrical flow in the body. Passing this current through various solutions enhances the benefits of the Baar Wet Cell Battery system. This system is said [by …?] to tap into the healing current vibrational medicine researchers [who …?] are discovering.” In other words, it is complete pseudoscientific nonsense.

 

One imagines, though, that it may generate some income for Baar – the Multiple Sclerosis kit goes for $500: “Vibrational solutions such as Gold, Silver, Camphor, etc. are purchased separately and will be determined by the information you are researching. If more than one solution (gold, silver, etc.) is indicated, then purchase an Additional Solution Jar Set (#141) for each. The system must be replenished with new chemicals every 30 days.” Suffice to say, there is no evidence that the concoction has any beneficial effect; indeed, there doesn’t even exist any hypothesis for how it is supposed to achieve any such effect – “introducing vibrations to your body” is a metaphor, and not really a hypothesis until it is cashed out, something that neither Baar nor anyone else has made the faintest attempt to do. Nor have “healing current” his electrical impulses are supposed to “tap into” (also an unexplained figure of speech) actually been discovered; rather, vibrational medicine researchers, whoever they are, are in the process of discovering” them. Yet Baar is somehow certain that when they do, it will all sort of fit together. One might have thought that, well, in the meantime, he should at least try to investigate whether the devices have any beneficial effects on health whatsoever, but he is of course not going to try to do that, and we all know why not.

 

Baar himself has a “Doctorate in Naturopathy”, and his website seems mostly focused on “Hair Care, Skin Care and Beauty Products [that] are created with unique, safe and effective ingredients” – as the website states, “[o]ur Mind/Body products are in a classification all their own.” Indeed. In fact, even his hair- and skin care and beauty products are promoted with labels like “Edgar Cayce hair care” and “Edgar Cayce skin care”, so we recommend some hesitancy.

 

The website’s healthcare products otherwise include products belonging to virtually any branch of quackery you can think of, from “alkalize” and detox” and aromatherapy to castor oil and homeopathy. (… and lawn care products. Whatever.)

 

Diagnosis: One of many people who invent amazing junk, prop it up with bizarre pseudoscience and magical thinking, and then push it onto people in difficult situations. Good lord. Baar is not unusually influential or anything, but such bullshit needs to be called out and mocked.

 

Hat-tip: Skepdic

Monday, October 11, 2021

#2488: Shiva Ayyadurai

Vellayappa Ayyadurai Shiva is an absolutely deranged engineer, politician (he ran for Senate for Massachusetts as an independent in 2018 and as a Republican in 2020), entrepreneur, possibly budding cult leader, as well as busy promoter of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and inane and insane medical claims. He is famous for his claim to have invented e-mail, which he certainly did not, insofar as e-mail had long been in common use when he allegedly “invented” it in 1979. Though false, he nevertheless describes himself as the “Inventor of Email” e.g. on the website for his email management software EchoMail.

 

After his e-mail claims had created some media controversy and been thoroughly scrutinized and demolished (it’s hard to sum up briefly how insane and silly Ayyadurai’s claims about the invention of e-mail were, but there is a decent account here), Ayyadurai alleged that his achievements – a code he created in 1979 that seems to have been generally unknown and apparently had no impact on anything or anyone – have been overlooked as a result of racism, and that mainstream media were conspiring to hide the truth because companies like Raytheon advertise in those media. Raytheon is the company of Ray Tomlinson, often cited as the most obvious choice for the title “inventor of e-mail” after sending the first user@domain e-mail on the Internet in 1971, eight years before Ayyadurai claims to have invented it; after Tomlinson’s death, Ayyadurai tweeted “I’m the low-caste, dark-skinned, Indian, who DID invent #email. Not Raytheon, who profits for war & death. Their mascot Tomlinson dies a liar”. Though he didn’t invent e-mail, Ayyadurai has indeed managed to make money off of the self-manufactured controversy by being extremely litigious and forcing critics into settlements.

 

COVID-19 conspiracies

Ayyadurai is currently most often mentioned in connection with his social media disinformation campaigns about the coronavirus, which has involved spreading conspiracy theories about the cause of the virus, promoting unfounded COVID-19 treatments, and campaigning to fire Anthony Fauci for allegedly being a so-called deep stateactor.

 

On the quackery and pseudoscience side, Ayyadurai has tried to define COVID-19 as “an overactive dysfunctional immune system that overreacts and that’s what causes damage to the body”, and has claimed that vitamin C could be used to treat it. It most definitely cannot, and it is worth emphasizing that Ayyadurai is not a medical doctor and has no medical qualifications. During his 2020 Senate campaign, too, one of his platform claims was that boosting your immune system will save your life (a claim that arguably doesn’t reach the level of meaningfulness required to be deemed properly false), and that social distancing and other public health measures were “fearmongering” promoted by Anthony Fauci for nefarious reasons. Social distancing and isolation, according to Ayyadurai, “affects immune properties on the cellular level. You actually hurt your immune system,” which is incoherent nonsense.

 

On the conspiracy side, Ayyadurai falsely claimed already back in January 2020, that the coronavirus was patented by the Pirbright Institute, and he is probably largely responsible for the popularization of that particular piece of nonsense. He has later claimed that it is spread by the mythical “deep state”, and have accused Anthony Fauci of being a “Deep State Plant hellbent on “forced and mandatory vaccines” to support “Big Pharma”. He has also called for Fauci to be fired – indeed, he must be considered one of the leaders of the #fireFauci movement (and yes: he is, of course, antivaccine). His supporters, meanwhile – not wanting to be outdone in terms of disconnect from anything resembling reality – lobbied for Fauci to be replaced by none other than Ayyadurai. QAnon activist DeAnna Lorraine, for instance, recommended that Ayyadurai be included in coronavirus discussions at Donald Trump’s White House, despite (really, because of) his painfully obvious lack of expertise, understanding, qualifications, honesty, integrity or reasoning skills.

 

Apparently the motivation behind the public health measures – the conspiracy led by Fauci – is a globalist attempt to shut down the economy and benefit Big Pharma and the government of China. “As an MIT PhD in biological engineering, its my view that the fear-mongering is really being used to suppress dissent, its being used to support mandated medicine, and its being really used to support crashing this economy,said Ayyadurai, and you are allowed to wonder what the relevance of citing his own credentials was supposed to be in that context (he is neither a medical doctor nor an economist). He also lambasted Fauci, an immunologist and director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for his poor educational background – Ayyadurai is, to repeat ourselves, not a medical doctor and has no expertise or knowledge of medicine – and accused Fauce of being a shill for the interests of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Clinton Foundation, and the government of China, all of which are ostensibly fronts for Big Pharma. Even the World Health Organization, which created a diagnostic code for COVID-19, ostensibly generates royalty revenues from companies that conduct diagnostic tests, according to Ayyadurai and no evidence or fact whatsoever.

 

In March 2020, he published an open letter to president Donald Trump where he wrote that a national lockdown was unnecessary, instead advocating for large doses of vitamins A, D, C and iodine to prevent and cure the disease. It is worth repeating that Ayyadurai is not a medical doctor, has no medical qualifications and rather obviously no understanding of the basics of medicine or physiology – or facts. Third-world countries” like Chad and Djibouti, he wrote, have had “ZERO deaths” from COVID-19, because they get food right out of the ground and are “out in the sun all day. It is worth pointing out that, in addition to the claims being false, the attitude expressed toward the pandemic is rather typical of fringe quacks and hucksters (a prime example would be Joe Mercola) that might best be summed up as public health denialism: broad public health measures (or overview) aren’t needed if personal health provisions, as determined by people themselves (and by extension: pseudoscience and whatever nonsense the various quacks can successfully market), are in place – the kind of attitude that largely drives anti-lockdown protests and coronavirus denialism in general. And Ayyadurai has indeed become a figure of some authority in the coronavirus denialist movement, railing against various instantiations of X in “FakeX” almost daily in a manner strikingly reminiscent of other, familiar social media figures.

 

Anti-GMO activism

Ayyadurai has a reasonably significant history as an anti-GMO activist and conspiracy theorist – though clearly deranged, his endorsement is of some significance to the anti-GMO movement given his degree in biological engineering; it’s not like the movement can be choosers when it comes to getting relevant scientific expertise onboard. In 2015, Ayyadurai published a paper in a pay-to-play journal that ostensibly applied systems biology to predict the chemical composition of genetically modified (GM) soybeans, claiming that GM soybeans have lower levels of the antioxidant glutathione and higher levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde. He promptly embarked on a promotional speaking tour of the US to promote his GMO conspiracy theories. Of course, Ayyadurai’s results were the result of pseudoscientific nonsense (as e.g. The European Food Safety Agency determined, “the author’s conclusions are not supported”): information about the input to the model was missing, the model was not validated, and Ayyadurai hadn’t even attempted to measure whether GM soy in fact contain elevated levels of formaldehyde. It doesn’t. Ayyadurai is not the kind of person who cares about such pesky details, however, and has continued to cite his model as evidence for lack of safety standards for GM foods, even betting Monsanto a $10 million building if they could prove that they were safe according to standards of proof set by Ayyadurai himself (GM foods do of course undergo safety assessments that are more rigorous and thorough than assessments of any other food crop in history). In 2016, Ayyadurai promised to donate $10 million to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign if she could disprove his research. Clinton failed to take up the offer, which is presumably proof that there is a conspiracy somewhere.

 

General anti-science

Ayyadurai is, of course, anti-vaccine, and a central component of his COVID-19 conspiracy theories concern vaccines: “Vaccines are highly profitable. So when I connect the dots, it is essentially about moving this entire [world], using sometimes fear mongering to move it, to mandated vaccines for everyone,” says Ayyadurai, who is not very good at connecting dots.

 

But Ayyadurai was an antivaxxer long before COVID-19, too, and even something of a rising star in the antivaxx movement, traveling around and giving anti-vaccine talks to concerned parents in yoga studies where he would repeat most of the standard antivaccine tropes and myths, even including suggesting that vaccines cause autism, which they do not, and a range of autoimmune disorders, despite the overwhelming evidence that there is zero link between vaccines and autoimmune disorders. He also, of course, claimed that vaccines haven’t been properly tested (utter nonsense), and even employed the well-known and thoroughly silly argumentum ad package insert. There is a good takedown of his antivaccine misconceptions here, as well as his strange misconceptions and conspiracy theories about how science and the peer review process works – things one would think that someone with several degrees from MIT would be familiar with. Of course, one motivation for going full conspiracy theorist, as he does, is that scientists and a full body of published research consistently disagree with his confused speculations, and people like Ayyadurai would never stop to ponder whether, when all the experts disagree with them, they might be the ones who are wrong.

 

According to Ayyadurai, “QuackAdemia is modern academia – spits out the best & retains weak reptilian, spineless lemmings who prostitute for grants, attack discourse & debate, bow to Climate Change hoax, the GMOs are Safe Hoax, the ‘Gun Violence’ is caused by guns Hoax, etc. What should be done?” Oh, yes: he is also a climate change denialist. And apparently the idea that guns are involved in gun violence is a hoax.

 

Indeed, Ayyadurai is even an HIV denialist, and has claimed that the idea that HIV causes AIDS is “fake science”, expressing instead admiration for infamous HIV denialist Peter Duesberg. He also rejects the treatment of HIV using antiretroviral drugs, which have turned what used to be a terminal condition into a chronic and manageable disease, advocating instead, like he does for the coronavirus, a handwavy “systems approach” which focuses on the immune system and is ostensibly very “complex”. Ayyadurai is, as we might have mentioned before, not a medical doctor.

 

Politics

In 2018, Ayyadurai ran for Senate against Elizabeth Warren on a platform of incoherent but strikingly Trumpian anti-elitism, including accusing Warren of being at the top of a U.S. “neo–caste system” composed of “academics, career politicians and lawyer/lobbyists”, a “spineless clan” who never expect to be challenged by down-to-earth, rich conspiracy theorists like himself. According to himself, he would take a science and engineering perspective on problem solving, though given his understanding of science it is somewhat open what that would imply (at least he did say that Warren’s criticism of Trump and of Republican healthcare plans are signs of mental unbalance). During his campaigns, which were propped up by fake Facebook accounts, he repeatedly accused the “establishment” of wanting to block attendance to his rallies (e.g. “free speech” rallies organized by the Proud Boys) by using the nefarious and oppressive weapon of criticism, and to seek a “Race War to divide us” just because he was promoting white supremacists and palled around with white supremacist trolls like Matthew Colligan. (Ayyadurai described Colligan as “one of our greatest supporters”.) Among his campaign merchandise were even pins featuring “Groyper”, an icon popular with white nationalists but otherwise pretty obscure. He also made frequent appearances on InfoWars to promote himself. He might have tried to appeal to non-white voters with his claim thatwe are all n*** on the White Liberal Deep State Reservation!” (he spelled the word out), but it wasn’t particularly successful. (He lost.)

 

He ran again for the Republican nomination in the 2020 U.S. Senate election. When his primary campaign was unsuccessful, he promptly declared fraud, falsely alleging that over one million ballots had been destroyed and that the state committed election fraud, presumably because that’s what people on his team do when they lose an election.

 

During his campaigns, he spread QANON conspiracy theories using the “WWG1WGA” moniker, a familiar abbreviation of the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all”. Yes, the alleged inidividualism of these freedom lovers has some notable drone qualities.

 

Diagnosis: At least he has managed to synthesize virtually all the major forms of woo, denialism and conspiracy theories, from climate change denialism through Qanon to immune system boosting and anti-GMO conspiracies, which have traditionally been associated with very different positions on the political spectrum. As such, Shiva Ayyadurai has emerged as something of a voice of contemporary neo-wingnuttery. Given the current mindrot that is the American right, we expect to see far more of him in the future.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

#2487: Josh Axe

Joshua Lee Axe is not a medical doctor, but a celebrity quack who practices chiropractic and naturopathy in Tennessee. He has, for what it’s worth, degrees in both fields (though his chiropractic license might have expired), but that doesn’t exactly make him a worthwhile source of advice about medical issues. People seem to listen to him, however, and to visit his website to be exposed to discredited and unproven cancer treatments as well as a cornucopia of other woo and quackery, particularly related to diet – Axe is apparently a “Certified Nutrition Specialist”, which is not anything to be proud of. Josh Axe is not a medical doctor.

 

As for dietary advice, Axe is currently a fan and promoter of low-carb diets and the ketogenic diet, and he sells a range of ridiculous and ridiculously expensive nutritional supplements that aren’t going to have any beneficial effect for anyone. He has even written a book, Eat Dirt, whose title is apparently intended to be taken literally: yes, he promotes geophagia, no less, and his supplement selection includes for instance a “Soil and Plant based probiotic and prebiotic blend” supposed to facilitate bacterial growth. Now, the familiar toxins gambit is an important part of Axe’s marketing schemes, and he warns his customers – seemingly reasonably – against consuming heavy metals; he nevertheless pushes bentonite clay, a quack-treatment that contains potentially hazardous levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium and lead. There is a good takedown of his tortured inconsistencies here – ostensibly, his clay is supposed to remove toxic metals from your body, though he struggles mightily with trying to explain how, ending up with magic (specifically, he ends up referencing “positively charged electrons”, which would be … antimatter). His struggles, of course, stem from the fact that Axe earns money by pushing things like bentonite clay through commissions: you’ll see it if you look at the hidden, encoded Amazon.com affiliate link; he does of course not tell you that – legally, a good doctor is supposed to clearly disclose affiliations when directing you to buy anything, but Axe is not a doctor. And note that Axe’s nonsense is sufficiently popular for him to be invited on the Dr. Oz show to promote his nonsense.

 

Axe is also a proponent of curing leaky gut syndrome, which he describes as a rapidly growing condition that millions of people are struggling with and don’t even know it.” That is, unsurprisingly, false; leaky gut syndrome is not a recognized medical condition but a pseudo-religious myth pushed in alternative medicine circles: fake diagnoses are an important feature of the quack industry, insofar it is easier for quacks to push nonsense for fake diagnoses they have convinced their victims that they suffer from (e.g. through fake diagnostic tests) than to push nonsense for real medical issues, which would be somewhat easier to detect and might lead to complaints – the more complex and far-reaching the lie, the harder it is to unpack. The NHS has stated that there is currently little evidence to support the theory that a porous bowel is the direct cause of any significant, widespread problems.” People visiting Josh Axe’s website are unlikely to be aware of that.

 

Among the impressive array of “natural” health products Axe pushes (as stated in small print on his website, he receives commission from pushing you to other vendors for products he doesn’t sell himself), you’ll also, of course, find a number of the usual suspects, including apple cider vinegar, Himalayan pink salt and colloidal silver. He also, unsurprisingly, promotes coffee enemas, which have no medical benefit but are associated with numerous risks (burning, rectal perforation, infection and electrolyte imbalance). His essential oil program, meanwhile, is a steal at a mere $197 – according to Axe, essential oils are apparently useful for everything from healing broken bones to preventing brain tumors; he even claims that there is scientific evidence for his claims, since anyone can claim whatever they want (he has a Quack Miranda Warning, though he has apparently tried to hide it as well as it is possible to hide it without inviting legal trouble). There isn’t.

 

Some of the brands quackery he endorses are more disconcerting, including dangerous and unproven alternative cancer treatments such as the Gerson therapy. He also recommends chelation as a treatment for autism, which has been decisevly shown not to work but, equally decisively, to be hazardous to the patient.

 

Of course, Axe’s understanding of science leaves a lot to be desired – not that he seems to care when deciding what nonsense to push. For instance, he doesn’t understand the difference between ionizing radiation from a nuclear reactor and non-ionizing radio waves from a microwave oven – yes, of course Axe claims that cellphones and microwave ovens cause cancer, and based precisely on the kinds of fundamental misunderstandings just mentioned. Cellphones and microwave ovens do not cause cancer. But then, he also states that he is a creationist (“I personally am a creationist”), something that is presumably useful to endear him to segments of the population that don’t really like evidence anyways.

 

There is a short, balanced and fair discussion of Josh Axe and his advice here.

 

Diagnosis: The pseudoscience, nonsense and conspiracy theories pushed by Josh Axe rivals NaturalNews, but is more obviously a grift. We have no doubts that Axe is a true believer, though. It’s insane, and scary.

 

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

 

Addendum: We’ll offer an honorable mention to actor and celebrity loon Dan Aykroyd for his nonsense alien claims. They won’t qualify him for a full entry, though.

Friday, October 1, 2021

#2486: Laurel Austin

Few versions of quackery is quackier – or more dangerous – than the insane nonsense of using bleach products to try to “cure” anything whatsoever, be it COVID-19 or autism. Yet the toxic bleach product MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution), or Chlorine Dioxide, has long been peddled precisely for autism – as well as for AIDS, cancer and more or less every otherdisease known to humanity. And, particularly due to the efforts of Kerri Rivera, delusional and moronic parents of autistic children continue to fall for it – and yes: we stand by the use of “delusional” and “moronic”. We understand how ordinary, intelligent people in desperate situations can fall prey to scams and woo tailored toward people in their situations, but falling for MMS really does require poor cognitive skills.

 

To be clear: According to MMS charlatans, parents ought poison their Autistic children with their type of bleach both orally and by way of an enema, which both are forms of torture: Side effects include vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, seizures, breathing problems, rashes, boils, hair loss, liver and kidney damage, changes in blood pressure, digestive issues and more. Enemas cause shedding of intestinal tissue, bleeding, bowel prolapse, internal bleeding. Deaths have occurred. The regime has no beneficial effects.

 

Though we prefer to cover the peddlers rather than the parents here, we need to mention Laurel Austin. Austin is a mother to six children, four of which are diagnosed as autistic. She has been giving at least two of them MMS bleach. Austin is also antivaccine, and still claiming that vaccines are responsible for her children’s autism, which they demonstrably are not, and she has exposed her children to a range of unproven and dangerous quack treatments. In short, Laurel Austin is a horrible lunatic piece of garbage, and completely unsuited as a parent or for being in any sort of authority or care relation to any other person. The primary justification for covering her here, however, is that she is a pretty active proponent of this kind of quackery on social media, even giving “advice” to other parents. She has also co-hosted and appeared on various anti-vaccine radio programs and videos, often with Kerri Rivera herself. Oh, and Austin is even a flat-earther (no, really) who attends annual conferences with other enthusiasts of that, well, idea.

 

She made a bit of a name for herself by being exposed by NBC. Not particularly fancying the attention, she set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money to defend her decision to continue to torture her children with dangerous quackery against people and institutions challenging her (including legal challenges).

 

Another horrifying detail: Apparently a real doctor signed off on Austin’s bleach protocol – one Sarita Singh, who, as of 2019, worked at Kansas University Medical Center. It is worth noting that the KU Medical Center is already an institution you should be hesitant about contacting if you need real medical advice – after all, it’s the home institution of Jeanne Drisko, whom the Medical Center apparently even honored in 2017, despite her long history of anti-science antics and conspiracy mongering. Singh, meanwhile, seems to have her own family medicine practice. We recommend maintaining a safe distance. This person is dangerous and literally responsible for the continued torture of children – we’re in some serious cartoon villain territory here.

 

Diagnosis: Already given above: a horrible lunatic piece of garbage, completely unsuited as a parent or for being in any sort of authority or care relation to any other person.

 

Hat-tip: Fiona O’Leary (https://fionaolearyblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/21/meet-the-mother-who-feeds-bleach-and-other-quackery-to-her-autistic-children/)

Monday, September 27, 2021

#2485: Lynne August

MD is a professional degree, and although medical school will equip their students with plenty of knowledge and skill to diagnose and treat various conditions, it is not an education in scientific or critical thinking. People with medical degrees are not necessarily particularly immune to pseudoscientific nonsense, and sometimes they go over to the dark side of woo and quackery, where their degree will be a particularly effective marketing tool. Lynne August, for instance, completed medical school in 1973, but currently runs the website Health Equations, which offers a range of supplements, woo and bogus tests, such as an “inflammation calculator” that will “measure and monitor hidden inflammation to prevent or manage modern disease and aging”, many of which are ostensibly caused by toxins. Right. At least her website has a Quack Miranda warning (and plenty of testimonials). Her Blood Test Evaluation was at least nonsense enough to make this list.

 

According to her bio, August “began her pursuit of nutritional, environmental and energy medicine” right after medschool, and later integrated the infamously insane quackery known as orthomolecular medicine, as well as “terrain analysis, whole food nutrition, Ayurveda and sensory integration”, in her “holistic practice” that seeks to “cultivat[e] health according to nature” (take a moment to ponder how dangerous “health according to nature” really sounds). August is, however, best known as a promoter of the nonsense of the legendary pseudoscientist and quack Emanuel Revici – August apparently studied under him and calls him a “world-renowned researcher in the quantum forces of lipids”; he certainly and emphatically was not. Now, Revici was mostly engaged in cancer quackery, and August has taken it upon her to develop his ideas further, in particular to “prevent and treat all chronic and degenerative disease”, areas in which it is somewhat easier to avoid accountability (Revici himself received at least some slaps on his hands). According to August, her ideas “can transform 21st century medicine”. Let’s hope not.

 

Apparently, August’s Health Equations Research, Inc. is a “nonprofit organization dedicated to research in therapeutic lipids and public and professional education about lipids and dietary fats”. To non-specialists that description might of course sound sciencey on the surface; after all, deranged pseudoscience sort of depends on sounding that way to have any chance of being successfully monetized, and what August is doing is nothing more than a mockery of science, although, as a good cargo cult science practitioner, her pseudoscience has its own venues for dissemination, unhampered by accountability or potential critical evaluations – August “offers her interpretations and applications of Dr. Revici’s profound research at DrRevici.com and the Revici Journal.”

 

Diagnosis: What a waste of energy, effort and life. That itself is tragic, of course, but August’s pseudoscientific nonsense runs the risk of pulling other people under as well. Simply terrible.

Monday, September 20, 2021

#2484: Andrew Auernheimer

A.k.a. weev

 

We can’t stomach writing more than a brief note about this unsavory piece of tripe, but Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer, best known by his pseudonym “weev”, is a hacker and an altright, cybersexist, self-avowed internet troll. Auernheimer has apparently been acting as webmaster for the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, and SPLC describes him as “a neo-Nazi white supremacist” known for “extremely violent rhetoric advocating genocide of non-whites”. It is, of course, worth emphasizing out that the point of many of his more incendiary remarks and ploys – calling Timothy McVeigh one of “the greatest patriots of our generation” and saying that “Hitler did nothing wrong”, for instance – is culture jamming (other examples include expressions of gratitude to Dylann Roof: “I am thank thankful [sic] for his personal sacrifice of his life and future for white children” and praise for Anders Breivik: “He is a hero of his people, and I cannot wait for his liberation from captivity at the hands of swine”), but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t support genocide. He does. And his frequent death threats (e.g. here) are worth taking seriously. Moreover, Auernheimer is surprisingly well connected.

 

Diagnosis: He really is a sad piece of garbage. Unfortunately, there are lots of other sad, pieces of troll garbage who follow his lead like drones while thinking they’re doing something worthwhile and edgy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

#2483: Perry Atkinson

Perry Atkinson is a wingnut fundie and host of the TheDove TV/radio programs “Mornings on theDove”, “Afternoons on theDove” and “Focus Today”, and the kind of guy whose outlook on the world is nicely encapsulated by his complaint (with wingnut fundie extremist Sam Rohrer) that  the lack of respect” being shown toward (then-)President Trump was a sign of lawlessness and thus a precursor to the rise of the Antichrist. By contrast, according to Atkinson, Obama was “the most offensive attack against Christianity in the history of the United States”.

 

Atkinson is probably most notable for providing a microphone for a variety of delusional fundies and extremists, such as – in addition to Rohrer (repeatedly) – Josh Bernstein, Jerome Corsi (here), Alex McFarland (here), Star Parker (here) and David Kupelian (here). Atkinson, however, usually manages to insert his own nuggets of bigotry, hate and delusion in his conversations with these people, such as when he expressed doubt, while talking to John Guandolo, that Representative Ilhan Omar can “ever really be an American” given that Omar is “a Muslim in favor of Sharia law” and America is founded on everyone observing the principles of Christianity, as enshrined in the Constitution (according to Guandolo; meanwhile, it’s apparently a problem that Muslims have these negative stereotypes of Christians and Jewish people, which should disqualify all Muslims from holding government positions, given that having such negative views and stereotypes are in conflict with the Constitution). Here is Atkinson with Laurie Cardoza-Moore, founder of the Christian Zionist group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, on how Mueller’s testimony during the first impeachment of Trump failed to harm Trump because God protected him for being such a staunch supporter of Israel. And here is Atkinson, together with Meeke Addison of the American Family Association, on Pete Buttigieg’s 2019 campaign, with Atkinson expressing shock and disgust that Americans let an openly gay man run for anything whatsoever (and Addison accusing him of engaging in “violent sexual acts”).

 

Diagnosis: Yet another bigoted clown on the wingnut extremist circuit – nothing new, and although he often manages to look almost reasonable in comparison to the characters he invites on his show, he is not, by any standard, reasonable.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

#2482: John Astin

John Astin is not among the more flamboyant loons in our Encyclopedia. Rather, Astin – a songwriter, “spiritual teacher” and health psychologist affiliated with Santa Clara and Notre Dame de Namur Universities – has been relatively non-flamboyantly been pushing altmed, in particular mind-body medicine, and built himself a pretty substantial reputation in altmed circles through papers and studies that at least exhibit a surface veneer of scientific respectability, for instance about what makes people resistant to scams and quackery integrative medical procedures. Much, perhaps most, of his output belongs squarely in the category tooth fairy science. He has also written a number of New Agey, mindfulness-inspired books of poetic pseudo-phenomenology praised by people like Deepak Chopra.

 

Astin is perhaps most famous, at least among woo-sympathetic research, for developing various questionnaires and scales that, typical of tooth fairy science, seem designed to give the “researchers” answers that fit what they wish to be true. A good example is the Nondual Embodiment Thematic Inventory (NETI), developed by Astin and David Butlein, which is supposed to assess things likecompassion, resilience, propensity to surrender, interest in truth, defensiveness, capacity to tolerate cognitive dissonance and/or emotional discomfort, gratitude, frequency of nondual experience, anxiety level, motivational paradigm, authenticity, level of disidentification from the mind, and humility” – the categories are generally not operationalized in any meaningful way, however, and the inventory gives you items like “Understanding that there is ultimately no separation between what I call my ‘self’ and the whole of existence (Please choose only one of the following: Never; Rarely; Sometimes; Most of the time; All of the time)” and “Conscious awareness of my nonseparation from (essential oneness with) a transcendent reality, source, higher power, spirit, god, etc.” and “A sense of the flawlessness and beauty of everything and everyone, just as they are” (same scale on both). The scale seems never to have been validated for anything, least of all “nondual” awareness, which seems to be some woo jargon for “being at one with the universe” (yes, it is metaphors all the way down – trying to cash them out is so … reductionist). To use the scale to measure change after some treatment and then claiming that the treatment had any effect would, in other words, be a rather strikingly clear example of tooth fairy science. And people do seem to use it, and they publish their results in venues like John Weeks’s Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

 

Another example of Astin’s research: Back in 2000, Astin published a paper analyzing 23 clinical studies involving prayer, therapeutic touch, and some other “unconventional forms of spiritual intervention” and found that 57 percent of the studies showed a positive impact on the patients, a figure that, according to him, is “highly significant” and “far more than one would expect to see by chance alone” (even though he admitted that the “heterogeneity of the studies precluded a formal meta-analysis”). Well, but that depends on the studies included, doesn’t it? Astin claimed that they “were chosen for the scientific quality of the research” but although we haven’t tried to look at them all, at least one of the studies included was this one. Suffice to say: if that passes Astin’s criteria for scientific quality, it would be bizarrely interesting to see some examples of studies that failed them. But at least it is safe to conclude that Astin’s results are worthless – and that’s even before considering the problems associated with drawing conclusions by tallying positive studies given familiar phenomena like publication bias and p hacking.

 

Diagnosis: Far from an obviously crazy nonsense-monger, Astin has worked himself into something of a position of authority in the tooth fairy science movement, and one of those who give their claims a thin veneer of scientific respectability, unless you look at all close at what’s going on. He’s been pretty hard working, and the two examples we mention here are just examples – they should, however, be damning enough.

Monday, September 6, 2021

#2481: Julia Assante

Julia Assante is an author, medium and spiritualist who claims to have been a medium and psychic since 1977. She also appears to be somewhat successful – her fees are steep – presumably, in part, because she also happens to possess a doctorate in Archaeology and Art History of the Ancient Near East from Columbia University, something that shouldn’t give any credence to her inane rants but does make some people think she is smart. She has also given lectures on a variety of silly crackpot paranormal topics, including remote viewing and energy healing.
 
Among Assante’s books are The Last Frontier: Exploring the Afterlife and Transforming Our Fear of Death, well known for its thick and obtuse layers of quantum woo and endorsement of various fraud “psychics” who have claimed to have scientifically proven the afterlife. The book claims for instance that the infamous Helen Duncan and her ectoplasmspirits” were the real thing (they were really made from cheesecloth – this is not really a matter of controversy), as was the Irish medium Eileen Garrett, who purportedly channeled information from deceased persons from the R101 airship disaster, something that has has been thoroughly refuted. Assante doesn’t engage with the refutations. She also claims that reincarnation has been scientifically proven.
 
But then, she has also said thatI don’t care about delineating imagination from reality, because for me reality’s a pretty slippery thing too.” Indeed.
 
Assante is also involved with past life therapy, and believes such therapy can cure many ills. Needless to say, it cannot.
 
Diagnosis: Yup: Riding the postmodernist train straight into Alex Jones country with the clown flag proudly flying. Yet people actually listen to her (probably mostly because she is ready to confirm, in an authoritative voice, whatever nonsense they wish were true.)
 
Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Monday, August 30, 2021

#2480: Dave Asprey

The bulletproof diet is a version of the “Paleo” diet constructed and promoted by web-marketer and blogger Dave Asprey. The basic idea is that you should eat the way you intuit how they ate back in the stone ages, when everyone – as consistently shown by the remains discovered – were malnourished but didn’t get cancer because they usually didn’t live long enough to develop cancer. In particular – and that’s presumably the claim Asprey is particularly known for – you should drink (his) buttered coffee. His 2014 book The Bulletproof Diet did not particularly impress the experts: “Although the book tends to cite references accurately, it fared poorly in scientific accuracy due to dietary recommendations that are not well supported by the bulk of the scientific literature. It does not present convincing evidence that fungal toxins impact cognitive performance, and this seems unlikely due to the extremely small amounts found in typical foods and beverages.” 

In general, Asprey’s recommendations are characterized by cherry picking, a tendency to cite studies that don’t really claim what he thinks they claim (or that they suggests, as when he conveniently fails to mention that the studies are performed on mice but not humans), or that he mischaracterizes partially because he doesn’t know enough about the rest of the field nutrition to determine the significance of the findings – Asprey has no credentials in any field relevant to the issues he talks about. 

His fans are more impressed than the experts, given that the scientific establishment must be corrupt since they, who have no financial stakes in the issues, are critical of the advice of Asprey, who does. So it goes. He’s got plenty of celebrity endorsements as well. In fairness, many of his recommendations are unlikely to harm and may even help (though not necessarily for the reason he gives), though some are ridiculous rubbish, such as his opposition to sucralose and his endorsement of raw milk

The bulletproof diet’s trademark selling point, however, is promotion of consuming large amounts of stimulants, specifically caffeine and the prescription drug Modafinil. Indeed, Asprey recommends replacing breakfast with substantial amounts of “Bulletproof Upgraded Coffee” (mixed with a spoonful of “Bulletproof Upgraded MCT Oil” and fat – his diet tends to forego proteins in favor of fat) because it is purportedly low in fungal toxins, something Asprey falsely claims is bad for cognitive performance. He also claims that most people are “[s]uffering from a Modafinil Deficiency”, which is false and gels poorly with his general appeal to cavemen given that Modanifil is a synthetic drug. Asprey claims to have been on a 300mg daily dose of the stimulant for more or less a decade, together with synthetic hormones (“testosterone replacement therapy”). He also suggests injecting your own urine into yourself to relieve allergy symptoms. Which is, hopefully needless to say, not a very good idea. Science writer Julia Beluz characterized Asprey’s bullshit aptly: “The Bulletproof Diet is like a caricature of a bad fad-diet book. If you took everything that’s wrong with eating in America, put it in a Vitamix, and shaped the result into a book, you’d get the Bulletproof Diet.” There are other, reasonable critiques of his bullshit here, here and here

Asprey managed to throw himself into the limelight again in 2020 when he decided tohack coronavirus” (“biohacking” remains his favorite term) and endorsed a long list of products that aren’t going to help you, including andrographis, probiotics, vitamins, coenzyme Q10, omega fatty acids, black cumin seed oil, hydroxytyrosol, sulforaphane and l-glutamine, and directed readers to his own products for sale. The fun lasted until The Federal Trade Commission asked him to stop because he could provide no evidence for the efficacy or safety of his advice. 

Diagnosis: Yes, he is indeed everything that is wrong with America rolled up into one, perhaps apart from fundie wingnuttery. His products do not work, his advice is shit, and he is, for all practical purposes, a conman, even though he probably does believe his own claims. 

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki, Julia Beluz

Friday, August 20, 2021

#2479: Frank Arguello

Frank Arguello is a cancer researcher, MD and author, most famous for his promotion of “atavistic oncology” and “atavistic chemotherapy”, which is silly pseudoscience based on misunderstanding evolution and summed up in his book a book Atavistic Metamorphosis: A New and Logical Explanation for the Origin and Biological Nature of Cancer, which also resulted in his Atavistic Chemotherapy Clinical Trial™ (yes, that’s a trademark), a website and – possibly – an apparently ongoing (since 2011) “clinical trial” hosted in Mexico. He seems to have once been a real researcher, but doesn’t seem to have published anything serious for the last 20 years – that is, since before he started pushing his own, home-made, grand unified theory of cancer.

 

The fundamental idea behind Arguello’s hypothesis is that cancer is a reversion to a primordial cell type. That idea was promoted by a couple of physicists who did not realize that it was already acentury old, and just as silly now as it was a century ago, but which even if it had been true would not have provided any support for Arguello’s nonsense. Of course, Arguello can’t show much by way of other evidence for his thoughts, either, though he has … you guessed it: cherry-picked testimonials (and as is common with these kinds of quackery, we are of course not told what treatments the patients producing the testimonials actually did receive).

 

Going through the details of Arguello’s claims would require a bit of stage-setting; fortunately, it is done in detail for us here. Suffice to say, if atavistic chemotherapy worked as well as Arguello claims, it would be easy to demonstrate it with a few relatively small clinical trials for different tumor types – apparently, however, his treatments are so obviously effective that he doesn’t really recognize the need. That he instead offers vague testimonials and tours Canada and the US looking for patients (without revealing what his protocols are) should really tell you everything you need to know. And no, his results are not published in any peer-reviewed journals – ostensibly because he has no peers.

 

But of course there is a conspiracy: In his own eyes, Arguello is a brave maverick doctor standing strong against the forces of disinformation and darkness, and the reason atavistic chemotherapy hasn’t caught on isn’t that it’s bullshit contradicting well-established principles of biology and evolution based on 150 years of evidence, or because the hypothesis really provides no useful predictive power for treatment; no, it is due to the nebulous and nefarious workings of Big Pharma to suppress information, and the armies of shills they employ to try to discredit him. Following a familiar trick among pseudoscientists, Arguello even offers to face a “public challenge” by conventional oncologists to demonstrate the efficacy of his methods by treating a patient with stage IV breast cancer, based on criteria that are, in practice, impossible to meet (for instance because it requires the participants to be a reputable academic cancer center and the set-up of the challenge has no chance of passing anything that an ethical review board any such center would be bound to obey). Employing another familiar trick from pseudoscientists, Arguello does not respond well to science-based criticism.

 

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientific crank – really, Frank Arguello is a nice case study in the workings of pseudoscience and some typical pseudoscience tricks, threats and gambits. His antics might seem almost funny until you realize that he targets some of the most vulnerable and desperate among us.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

#2478: Julaine Appling

The Wisconsin Family Council (WFC) is, as the name suggests, an extremist Taliban satelite group that advocates and lobbies for Christian fundamentalist policy, notably advocating for corporal punishment in religious schools and opposing laws granting rights to children, sex education, gay marriage, and laws designed to punish sexual abuse in churches. The WFC is, formally, a Family Policy Council, i.e. an organization affiliated with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

 

The WFC was founded by Marvin Munyon in 1986 (who, according to many of his former students, himself has a long history of violence against children, which is relevant to explaining some of WFC’s policy positions), but the current CEO (2021) is Julaine Appling. Appling is, as you’d expect, vehemently anti-gay and opposed to same-sex marriage. Back in 2009, when Wisconsin started allowing domestic partnerships, Appling and the WFC filed a lawsuit to stop them, with Appling calling the law “an assault on the people, the state constitution, the democratic process, and the institution of marriage” and complaining that government officials “are pandering to a marginal group of people and we’re challenging that in court,” because protecting minorities is apparently unconstitutional. The lawsuit received national attention, partly because Scott Walker, who took over as governor of Wisconsin during the trial and was thus named defendant, agreed with the lunatics and tried to stop the case. The courts did not agree with the plaintiffs. Appling also wanted Wisconsin to throw gay people who got married outside of Wisconsin in jail.

 

Part of the problem with gay marriage, as Appling sees it, is that it “ensnares” people in “sexual sin”, which “kind of wraps its cords around you until you become completely identified by it” and makes you “no longer able to distinguish between right and wrong and good and bad.” We recommend taking a few seconds to appreciate the sheer insanity of that piece of reasoning. Appling also claimed that recognizing same-sex marriage will pave the way foradult–child” marriages, because she is utterly unable to draw distinctions.

 

Appling is also anti-divorce and has lobbied to make it more difficult for (heterosexual) couples to get a divorce: “marriage is indeed under attack and no-fault divorce is one of those attacks,” said Appling. In 2010, WFC even attempted to criminally prosecute teachers for teaching state-mandated comprehensive sex education, and in 2017 WFC notably opposed legislation that would make it easier to prosecute clergy members who molest children and sue religious organizations for failing to deal with abusers in the wake of the abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Milwaukee. Family values, you know.

 

Other (2021) members of the WFC’s board of directors, noted for future reference, include:

 

-       Jack Hoogendyk, Michigan politician

-       Randy Melchert, former President of the Civil Rights Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin

-       Lee Webster, representative on the Wausau School District school board

-       Jo Egelhoff, Appleton politician

 

Diagnosis: Complete mindrot, and the putrid mess that is the ugly mind of Julaine Appling is, unsurprisingly, fuelled by hatred, anger and paranoia. She has certainly lost some important battles in the culture wars, but she remains a non-negligible adversary for anyone who cares about reason, truth, decency and autonomy.