Tuesday, April 27, 2021

#2467: Kip Andersen & Keegan Kuhn


Kip Anderson
What the Health (WtH) is a 2017 Netflix “documentary” advertised as “The Health Film That Health Organizations Don’t Want You To See”, which advocates a plant-based diet and attempts to criticize the impact of meat and dairy products as well as the practices of leading health and pharmaceutical organizations. Of course, that description might make it sound reasonable – and some of its popularity presumably stems from it sounding reasonable on paper – but since sensationalism sells and reasonableness doesn’t, it turns out to be a cornucopia of woo, unfounded fearmongering, pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. It has been universally panned by those who actually know anything about the topics discussed in the movie (including vegans). The nonsense was written, produced, and directed by Kip Andersen (who “stars”) and Keegan Kuhn, and executive-produced by celebrity conspiracy-theorist Joaquin Phoenix. Apparently a companion book of the same name was released in 2017, authored by one Eunice Wong – we haven’t read it, but note the name of the author for future reference.


The documentary’s main idea is that all major diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many others) can be prevented and cured by eliminating meat and dairy from the diet, a common idea on the woo-&-conspiracy fringe circuit that has been repeatedly debunked but fails to go away because it is more akin to a religious view than anything based on evidence or reality. You can read more about why the WtH spin on that idea is stupid here. Basically WtH supports the idea with dubious but emotional testimonials and carefully cherry-picked (and egregiously misrepresented) studies, as well as – of course – a large-scale conspiracy theory to the effect that all major health organizations and government agencies have been “bought” by Big Food and Big Pharma and are conspiring to hide the truth – in particular by promoting the idea that some diseases are to a large extent genetic. On the way, we also get a couple of fallacious appeals to ancient wisdom (Hippokrates treated as an authority), toxins gambits, appeals to nature, confusions of correlation and causation, GMO fearmongering and, in particular, an impressive amount of doctor-bashing based on the familiar misunderstandings of how medicine and, well, things in general work common in the alternative medicine communities: so, according to WtH, medical doctors aren’t interested in prevention (idiotic nonsense), don’t consider the underlying causes of disease (of course they do, though the answers are not always amenable to the easy fixes some people desire), actively try to keep people sick so as to not lose patients (as if there is a shortage of patients – apparently MDs are ready to sacrifice their own health and even lives to keep up the charade), and don’t learn about nutrition – complete and utter nonsense, though by actually learning about nutrition, they tend not to come to the same conclusions people like Andersen come to through google, confirmation bias and selective reasoning.


And of course: the numbers cited in the “documentary” are bullshit. For instance, according to WtH, food is the cause of most diseases, and 70% of deaths are preventable with lifestyle changes. According to real studies, however, between 20% and 40% of the top five causes of death could be prevented by lifestyle changes – but that includes not only dietary changes: tobacco is still a significant cause of death, for instance; diet has a relatively low impact compared to other lifestyle factors. WtH, however, explicitly asserts that dietary factors are more important than smoking, which is demonstrably false, and that plant-based diets will stop and reverse heart disease and prevent breast cancer, which is not only nonsense, but dangerous misinformation. Among an almost endless row of other lies promoted by WtH are the claim that early exposure to dairy increases the risk of Type 1 diabetes (evidence suggests the opposite) and that the risk of prostate cancer is four times higher with a diet including chicken (demonstrably false), as well as some familiar, easily debunked fearmongering about hormones in cows’ milk.


Another line of evidence WtH uses, consists of Andersen calling up major health organizations to argue and promote conspiracy theories; when they understandably enough decline to engage, he concludes that they are stonewalling him and that we can’t trust them because they (like the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Associattion) are in the pockets of the meat industry and only out to make money off of ill people.


Andersen & Kuhn previously got some attention for their documentary Cowspiracy, billed as (of course) “The Film That Environmental Organizations Don’t Want You to See”, which is also significantly marred by numerous inaccuracies and distortions put to the service of sensationalism, in particular its central conspiracy theory that a 2009 study found that 51% of all greenhouse gases are produced by animal agriculture. That figure is, of course, wrong (and it doesn’t come from a published study but from some kind of opinion piece by an environmentalist organization based on glaring and obvious mistakes) but Andersen & Kuhn, rather than asking whether they got things even remotely right, concludes that since most major organizations don’t accept the figure, these organizations must be in some vast conspiracy.


Diagnosis: Can’t help but offer it as a general recommendation: Avoid documentaries. Documentaries are, in general, shit. It’s a perfect vehicle for cynical conspiracy theorists, pseudoscientists and dingbats, like Andersen and Kuhn, to create convincing infomercials for anything: you can cherry-pick, distort and twist the data any way you like, and it’s easier to polish, and harder to get caught, than in, say, a written article. Sensationalist garbage like WtH should really be all the illustration of the problem you need. And yes: documentaries can be – and have been – used for good. But usually they aren’t.


Hat-tip: Harriet Hall @ sciencebasedmedicine (and others)

Sunday, April 25, 2021

#2466: Joyce Anastasi

In our previous post, we discussed the phenomenon known as “quackademic medicine” – the inroads woo and quackery have made into medical education and its potentially insidious effects. Here’s more.


Joyce Anastasi is the Independence Foundation Professor of Nursing and founding director of the Special Studies in Symptom Management Program at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, and previously the Helen F. Pettit Endowed Professor at Columbia University and director of its Integrative Therapies in Primary Care Program and Center for AIDS Research. Yes, she’s got some impressive credentials. However, Anastasi is also a licensed acupuncturist (an example of legislative alchemy) who received a degree in Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture from the New York College of Wholistic Health, Education and Research, which is, shall we say, less impressive. Apparently, she also authored and developed the Herbs, Nutraceuticals and Dietary Supplements© graduate program funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration – yes, the program name is copyrighted, which should set off all your red flags and alarm bells. Anastasi’s focus is mainly on symptom alleviation and managed, and fits nicely with the concentrated efforts of quacks and altmed practitioners to co-opt the opioid crisis to tout their bullshit as nonpharmacological alternatives.


Acupuncture is theatrical placebo. Anastasi, however, points out that it has been “practiced for more than 2,000 years”, which might not even count as a fallacious appeal to authority insofar as the claim isn’t, in relevant ways, even true. In any case, acupuncture works, as Anastasi sees it, by magically affecting your qi: “The concept of Qi is the central focus of acupuncture. Qi is a vital life force that moves through energy pathways called channels” – yes, it is pseudo-religious vitalism, no different from European ideas about medicine in medieval times, and with just as much support in reality – and “[a]cupuncture points are selected for stimulation on the basis that when the flow of Qi is blocked, imbalance can result in pain and dysfunction. Thus acupuncture can restore the balanced flow of Qi and promote health.” In short, the proposed mechanism contradicts everything we know about how the body works (and acupuncture points do, of course, demonstrably not exist) – which is ultimately less relevant, of course, than the fact that the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from current research is that it doesn’t actually have any beneficial effects beyond placebo.


Before sticking needles in you, Anastasi will of course attempt to diagnose you: “As an acupuncturist, I assess the patient by making a tongue diagnosis, and pulse diagnosis. The tongue provides a geographic map of the organ systems and the pulse provides important information about specific organ networks as they relate to Chinese medicine. Specific information about each patients’ excess or deficiency condition(s) and areas of imbalance is identified.” In reality, of coruse, the diagnostic process used by TCM practitioners contradicts basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Pulse-taking, for instance, involves checking six pulses on each wrist that are claimed to correlate with body organs or body functions, which might then be used to determine which channels (“meridians”) are “deficient” in “Qi. Tongue diagnosis, on the other hand, posulates that body organs (some of which do not exist) correspond to locations on the tongue. It’s basically palmistry, though using the tongue instead of your palm. Through these processes, the pracititioners will end up with fanciful and nonsensical diagnosis with as much foundation in reality as if they’d used horoscopes to determine what demon you are possessed by. It’s fantastic nonsense. 


Anastasi also served on the advisory board for the Institute of Medicine’s 2005 report on The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the American Public,” whose role was to “develop conceptual frameworks to guide decision-making on these issues and questions” but without doing any attempt to “assess the efficacy or safety of CAM products” (a point they will conveniently forget whenever it suits them). Like most members of the group, Anastasi was a true believer in pseudoscientific bullshit, and like most of the other members she had economic interests in pushing it.


Diagnosis: Hardcore pseudoscientist and quack, Anastasi is in a position to do significant, lasting damage to public health. Extraordinarily dangerous.


Hat-tip: Quackwatch

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

#2465: Hakima Amri & Georgetown University’s Medical School

Quackademic medicine” is an expression used to describe the tendency of once ostensibly science-based medical schools and academic medical centers to embrace quackery, often as a result of marketing strategies developed at an administrative or board level, but also due to a reluctance to call out bullshit in the name of misguided tolerance and efforts by wealthy external forces such as the Bravewell collaborative and NCCAM. The currently preferred brand name is, for marketing purposes, “integrative medicine”, and a common recipe is the typical Trojan horse strategy of, first, rebranding some science-based modalities, in particular nutrition and exercise, as somehow beingalternative/integrative, then pointed out that some “alternative” techniques are – given the recategorization – uncontroversially science-based, and then using that observation to introduce outright quackery and woo. Acupuncture and reiki are particularly popular ingredients.


One of the most egregious examples, and apioneer when it comes to integrating quackery into its medical school curricula, is Georgetown University’s Medical School, which at present seems to have devolved into some kind of bastion of New Agepseudoscience – they even offer homeopathy, no less. What Georgetown does differently, is that they have tried to “take relevant CAM issues and modalities and weave them seamlessly into existing courses” instead of merely offering them as electives – already some two decades ago, Michael Lumpkin, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of physiology and biophysics, complained that few students would take those elective courses,and began to implement the obvious remedy of introducing pseudoscience everywhere, in all the classes.


One of the central characters in Georgetown’s stalwart effort to bring their medical school into the New Age of wellness and student satisfaction, and away from an old-fashioned focus on scientific evidence and accountability, is Hakima Amri, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology and currently Co-Director of the CAM Graduate Program. Together with Aviad Haramati, Amri founded Georgetown’s “complementary and alternative medicine” program, based an NIH grant to develop a curriculum to expose graduate students to quackery, putatively in a “critical and evidence based way.” Amri and Haramati seem of course to be notoriously unsuitable for the “critical and evidence-based” approach to pseudoscience, and evidently didn’t really care much about it – even though Amri likes to assertotherwise.


Under Amri and Haramati’s direction, Georgetown has teamed up with Bastyr University (more about Bastyr here), and from 2011, they have even been collaborating closely with the National University of Health Sciences (NUHS), another quack organization offering degrees in naturopathy to students taking classes in homeopathy, hydrotherapy, and similar woo. According to Haramati, the goal of the collaboration is to “break down the silos that that hold the disciplines apart”; which might sound very nice and forwardlooking until you remember Tim Minchin’s pithy observation: “you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine”. Yes, precisely: the boundary that keeps medicine apart from the stuff offered by places like NUHS, is reliance on evidence and commitment to accountability, and breaking down the border can accordingly not mean anything but relying less on evidence and caring less about accountability. Apparently, Haramati and Amri are exploring similar relationships with chiropractic schools and other health professions institutions”.


According to Amri, rather than being hamstrung by archaic boundaries between traditions, as scientists and academicians, as long as we have the evidence, and our statements are evidence-based, then that’s what we’re going to teach our students. Do you think she’s guided by the principles she claims to be guided by? As a scientist, Amri appears to have published extensively in various alternative medicine journals and pseudojournals, e.g. on ginkgo biloba, and yes, she teaches homeopathy: “I tell students that for the next few hours, put aside all they have learned in biochemistry, pharmacology and cell biology – empty their brains – because homeopathy is a completely different concept. Then I see big eyes on their faces!” Yes, homeopathy is in direct conflict with what we know about biology and biochemistry, as well as physics. It also demonstrably does not work for anything, so you have to forget any commitment you think you have to truth and evidence, too. To someone like Amri, however, that makes it just all the more exciting and open-minded: what more proof do you need that her lessons are valuable for her students’ education than the fact that she manages to boggle their minds? Her claims to care about evidence and negative studies sort of ring pretty hollow in light of her actions, don’t they?


Amri is not alone, of course – heck, Georgetown even has Wayne Jonas among their faculty. As a student at Georgetown, you may also be exposed to Ladan Eshkevari, Associate Professor in the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program and licensed acupuncturist, trying to teach you the pre-scientific nonsense of TCM pulse analysis, which can ostensibly be used diagnose the health of specific anatomical organs (it most certainly cannot), and the theatrical placebo that is acupuncture. “Western, allopathic physicians and nurse practitioners want to be able to point to the evidence, and see the research published in peer-reviewed journals,” says Eshkevari, more than suggesting that she doesn’t really see the point, but she has nevertheless dutifully done some studies on acupuncture, of precisely the type of garbage tooth-fairy-science to try to meet the need. You may also run into Steve Schwartz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine, and his Introduction to Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine – whereas most osteopaths have moved firmly away from osteopathy’s roots in vitalistic pseudoreligion, Schwartz appears to embrace it.


Diagnosis: At Georgetown, it seems to be all about being open-minded, daring and innovative, and not being weighed down by the constraints of evidence and accountability; and they do medicine that focuses on bubbly creative artistry, not narrow-minded science (although they like to try to claim otherwise, of course). Georgetown is really starting to look uncannily like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and a real threat to public health and well-being.


Hat-tip: Sciencebased Medicine

Monday, April 19, 2021

#2464: Frank Amedia

Touch Heaven Ministries is an Ohio-based ministry founded and run by televangelist Frank Amedia and his wife Lorilee. Amedia is best known for being Donald Trump’s “liaison for Christian policy”. He also runs the website POTUS Shield, a deranged and incoherent “shield and weapon of spiritual force”, and is a regular feature on various fundie TV shows, including the Daystar network and occasionally the Trinity Broadcasting Network, claiming for instance that God has been using Trump to sweep clean the federal judiciary. As you’d expect from a “Trump liaison for Christian policy”, Amedia has a history of involvement in shady business practices and bribery.


Amedia as a prophet, evangelist and miracle worker

Amedia claims to be able to control natural events by using his supernatural powers – i.e. to command God to perform the miracles Amedia wants performed. For instance, he claims to have single-handedly stopped a tsunami from striking an island in Hawaii using his apostolic powers: In 2011, when his daughter was in Hawaii and in imminent danger of being swept away by a tsunami, Amedia ostensibly jumped out of bed, turned in the general direction of Hawaii and declaredthat that tsunami stop, that it cannot touch [Hawaii], that is my inheritance, that is my child and as a prophet of God, I command you to stop now (For some reasons he cannot be bothered to use his magical powers to pray away other tornadoes or hurricanes). He also told his daughter to look into the ocean where she would “see an angel stirring in the waters.” Apparently his daughter also got it on video, though that video has yet to be released to the public. And importantly, according to Amedia, the fact that he stopped the tornado proves that he is “right about Trump!” The reasoning involved is in many ways instructive.


Amedia is also a faith healer, and claims to have cured cancer with the power of prayer, including healing a man with tongue cancer just by reciting some words on television (no medical records were shown to bolster the claim). In an undated broadcast on for Isaac TV, for instance, you can see him assisting people with jaw problems, bleeding teeth and gums, ringing in their ears, tongue cancer, and parched lips – none of those purportedly healed are actually seen on screen, but you wouldn’t doubt the testimony of a man who stopped a tsunami with the powers of prayer, would you? In March 2018, on the Christian television network TCT, he even claimed that he brought an ant back to life by talking to God; apparently, this was his “most incredible” feat ever, even more amazing than all those times he healed disease, regrew organs, controlled the weather or even resurrected people from the dead, those “[t]housands of wondrous records of miraculous testimonies of healings, deliverances, re-creative miracles, and physical gifts” that his website says “follow him wherever he goes.”


In 2010, Amedia and his ministry traveled to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, officially to assist in disaster recovery but really to proselytize and “foment religious discordand hate. In particular, Amedia’s presence led to some clashes since his group only wished to give aid to Christians (as defined by him); Amedia gave the locals an ultimatum: “We would give food to the needy in the short term, but if they refused to give up voodoo, I’m not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn’t want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.”


Trump shilling and political analysis

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Amedia served, as mentioned, as a volunteer “liaison for Christian policy for Trump, and was responsible for arranging meetings between Trump and various Christian Taliban leaders. Apparently God at some point told him that He (God) had selected Trump to run to pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ, which of course means that any criticism of Trump (or Amedia) or opposition to his efforts is part of a “demonic” plot of “murderous spirits” to prevent the return of Christ. As part of the presidential campaign, Amedia repeatedly claimed that Trump had been called by God to tear the walls down of division in the country, even calling on audiences to join him in a “Jericho shout. One is excused for having thought at this point that he must obviously have been some kind of poe.


After the election, and apparently as an extension of his effort to create a “shield of prayer” around Trump on his inauguration day (“It is our time to storm heaven for a New America, revival in our land, and to bring our country back to God! We are the redeemed of the Lord who are coming to raise up a shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit” – participants in the effort apparently included Darrell and Belinda Scott, Herman Martir, Rick Joyner, Lance Wallnau, Alveda King, Lou Engle, Mani Erfan, Cindy and Mike Jacobs, Mark Gonzales, Mosy Modugba, Anwar Fazal of Isaac News, and Jennifer LeClaire), he created POTUS Shield, an insane mess of a website, the goal of which seems to glorify Trump and try to put a fundie spin on his policy decisions. Here is one example of the group deploying the political tool of prayer. In fact, the name of the website doesn’t only refer to the President of the United States, according to Amedia, but also to the Prophetic Order of the United States that God is using the group to bring to fruition; according to Amedia and his supporters, Trump’s election would spark a spiritual revival that would make America a Christian nation and help, you know, bring about the return of Christ. In the meantime, the group would pray for God to “sweep away Supreme Court justices who might stand in their way they celebrated hard when Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.


According to the website, Trump’s election was a “divine mandate” that would proved “a shield and weapon of spiritual force.” Most of the stuff on the site is barely coherent, fundie extremist chaos and prayers to protect Trump from a “storm” of conspiracies driven by “evil forces” and “witches and warlocks.” It doesn’t seem to be updated with any regularity, but given the nature of its contents it probably doesn’t matter.


The website does, however, contain some instances of Amedia’s attempts at political analysis. An example of the style (January 2018): “I perceive that this timing is critical and strategic as I have been advising that I have received that February is a time of chaos in our nation politically, with flash points on the coasts and in the heartland, as well as the caution of the ‘ides of March’ looming which will try to swallow up the spiritual surge of progress and pierce the heart of our political and church reformation.” Yes, that kind of analysis. Unsurprisingly, Amedia’s political analyses have mostly been based on various prophecies and revelations he has received, ostensibly from God. Early in Trump’s presidency, for instance, he told Jim Bakker that he had heard from the source itself that God had given Trump a “breaker anointing” that had allowed him to break up the Republican and Democratic parties and the news media (so North Korea better watch out). He also suggested that Trump’s Twitter habits somehow reflected his God-given gift of “discernment”: “I believe he receives downloads that now he’s beginning to understand come from God,” said Amedia, who is evidently not the most qualified person to assess anyone else’s discernment skills.


To underscore the power and importance of his organization, Amedia credited POTUS Shield for stopping the string of deadly bombings that terrorized Austin, Texas, in March 2018. He also claimed that although his efforts have been repeatedly attacked by “one of the most difficult Soros groups” (he seems to have been referring to RightWingWatch), even that group has ostensibly admitted that “POTUS Shield is the most amazing, inexplicable prophetic move that they have ever seen in Christianity in all the years they have been covering it, that has an impact on the nation”, which RightWingWatch of course has never done, of course. When you don’t actually name the group – purportedly Amedia didn’t want to name it because he “didn’t want to glorify” them – you can of course freely accuse them of whatever you want. In 2018, God ostensibly also gave Amedia permission to reveal that Trump would win reelection in 2020. Now, prophets like Amedia obviously tend to be more accurate when they wait to reveal their prophetic visions they had until after the event in question has passed; Amedia, however, manages to get those “prophecies” completely wrong, too.


During and after the 2020 election between – apparently – Trump and the “spirit of Antichrist, Amedia commanded God to “surge specific senate candidates by shifting the polls in key races (what would God do without Amedia's guiding hand?) and urged Him to control Chris Wallace and mess with Biden: “we have the authority to pray confusion” on Biden, said Amedia, because Biden had blasphemed God when he said, in August, that there would be no miracle to save the United States from the COVID-19 pandemic, contrary to what Trump had suggested. He also warned voters that unless real Christians got out and voted, people would start having sex with cows. And in the wake of the election, he led prayer efforts to change the outcome. Now, Amedia did, prior to the election, indeed assert that his church would accept the election results “whatever they are,” but that was of course stated before they turned out to be different than he wanted them to be.


General hate

It is probably little surprise that Amedia is a virulent bigot staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage, and he has shared the stage with fundie wingnuts who claim that God is actively preventing the development of an AIDS cure and believe themselves to be in a battle with militant homo-fascism. According to Amedia, AIDS is caused by “unnatural sex.” Indeed,many of the diseases that we receive is because of exposure that we have to things that we should not be exposed to, lifestyles that are unhealthy – such as homosexuality. Apparently, homosexuality is being spread by demon hornets that have been sent by Satan to “sting with homosexuality, sting with abortion, sting with adultery” and inject people with a “putrid liquid” filled “with all the vile characteristics and the power of witchcraft and occult, of abortion and murder …” Amedia got this information in a dream.


When Obama had the White House lit up in rainbow colors after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Amedia apparently went berserk because he saw how much it hurt God’s feelings, and it was only through extensive praying that Amedia and likeminded fundies managed to prevent Him from really taking his rage out on us. Amedia’s God seems to be unusually petty, snowflakey, sensitive and hateful compared to normal humans.


He has also toyed with birtherism. As Trump’s “liaison for Christian policyhe claimed that it’s “so far above my pay grade” to say whether Obama was born in the US. He also brought up doubts about whether Obama was Christian, ‘diplomatically’ concluding that it was a matter “between him and God” – he did add (falsely) that Obama once admitted to being Muslim, though.


Here is Amedia weighing in on COVID-19. According to Amedia the Chinese government’s putatively intentional spread of COVID-19 was an “act of war”, but he did hope that God would decide to take care of the Chinese government Himself so that Trump wouldn’t have to. Apparently, the Chinese released the virus as a deliberate attack on Christianity.


There is a good Frank Amedia resource here.


Diagnosis: A sort of religious fundie version of Trump, including Trump’s penchant for post-truth rhetoric and conmanship. He even enjoyed some influence for a while. Dangerous.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

#2463: Harry Alsleben

Brief shoutout to Dave Allison of Heavens Corners church in Ohio for this one (note that the phrase that really qualifies him for being mentioned is “loving warning”), but it’s old and Allison is too minor to merit a full entry – besides, he’s already received plenty of roasting for his ridiculousness. Harry Alsleben is perhaps also yesterday’s news, but as opposed to Allison, Alsleben is not that minor and far less funny.


Alsleben is a versatile quack and pseudoscience promoter. At one point, at least, Alsleben ran his own correspondence school, the University of the Healing Arts, which offered pseudo-credentials in nutrition, including “Clinical Nutrimedicine and Biological Sciences,” “nutri-medical dentistry,” “nutri-medical eye and visual health care,” “nutri-medical homeopathy,” and “therapeutic nutrimedicine”, all based on ideas about nutrition and health pulled directly out of Alsleben’s own ass and unfettered by the constraints of evidence for efficacy or safety. Apparently Alsleben later partnered up and merged operations with legendary quack Kurt Donsbach, no less.


More recently, Alsleben has been running an MLM organization, Essentially Yours Industries, that, if you joined, would give you discounts on CALORAD (http://skepdic.com/refuge/essyours.html), a magic potion that would allegedly help you lose weight while you sleep. Apparently his MLM was not an ordinary MLM, but instead a “binary” sales organization with a “binary” compensation plan. Apart from the label, the set-up seemed to be the same as the set-up of other MLMs. Claims of efficacy were supported by testimonials and a distinct lack of substantive evidence. The product itself was at least marketed with a prominent Quack Miranda Warning.


Now, Alsleben himself was actually an MD once upon a time, though his California licence was suspended already in 1978 for “acts of gross negligence” and revoked two years later for failure to comply with the requirements of his probation. He hass enjoyed a long and variegated career in pseudoscience, woo and quackery since that time, including pushing pseudoscientific nonsense and conspiracy theories about Candida (a quackery fad in the 1990s), as well as a product called “Cellfood” (we don’t know, and don’t need to know).


Diagnosis: That he is running an MLM scheme should be sufficient for reasonable people to distrust his medical advice – it really is diagnosis enough – but the targets of Alsleben’s marketing are of course not reasonable people. Moderately dangerous (if he’s still in business).


Hat-tip: Skepdic

Monday, April 12, 2021

#2462: Jason Allen

Jason Allen is an N.D. affiliated with Bastyr University, an influential and rather powerful establishment that “educates” naturopaths and other quacks through courses in naturopathic medicine, covering a range of methods and treatments that lack compelling evidence for efficacy, such as homeopathy, herbalism, acupuncture, and Ayurvedic methods. There is a good resource for naturopathic and similar “educations” and “educational institutions” here and here.


Allen is probably most famous (if that’s the right word) for his promotion of “sauna detoxification” and has even done a study on it at Bastyr, funded by the NCCIH, despite the latter organization’s stated promise to try to do some science fora change. And yes, the rationale is the pseudoscientist/naturopath delusion that our environment is full of usually vaguely defined disease-causing toxins that we can rid ourselves of through various forms of usually rather expensive magic. Of course there is no evidence that detoxification regimes provide any benefit whatsoever for patients. Allen himself, together with coauthors like fellow Bastyr naturopath Wendy Weber, has even written a survey of naturopathic detoxification practices published in the cargo cult journal the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which was also funded by NCCIH and which tried to put a positive spin on detox practices by showing widespread use of such practices – the lack of evidence of benefit notwithstanding. The authors pointed out that environmental chemicals can have negative health effects, which is true enough but doesn’t even begin to justify their conclusion that “doxification therapies used by NDs may serve as an adequate means to reduce the body burden of synthetic chemicals found today in humans”; they did, very unwillingly, almost admit that there is no scientific support for the safety and efficacy of these therapies, however.


Concerning sauna detoxification, Allen believes that a few turns in the sauna would get rid of “toxins” by sweating them out, which is demonstrably false – indeed, sweating can actually impair the body’s natural detoxification systems (liver and kidneys). Now, in his proposed study, Allen set out to measure PCBs in the blood before and after sauna detox regimes; it is therefore worth emphasizing that a reduction in PCB would not be evidence for any beneficial health outcomes. Rather typical, isn’t it?


Diagnosis: There is a scary amount of money, labor and resources going into this kind of bullshit, with people like Allen wasting talents and lives on things that are not just meaningless bullshit but which may actually cause real harm to real people and will certainly not help them. Bastyr and the NCCIH, including Allen, is a staggering tragedy, no less.


Hat-tip: Jann Bellamy @ sciencebasedmedicine

Friday, April 9, 2021

#2461: David Alimi & Jacques Chelly

David Alimi
David Alimi (MD) and Jacques E. Chelly (MD, PhD, MBA) are both apparently (nominally) respectable medical doctors associated with the University of Pittsburgh. Despite possessing credentials that are impressive enough, Alimi and Chelly are also two of the most central defenders of the woo known as auricular acupuncture, or auriculotherapy. Acupuncture, of course, is theatrical placebo. Auricular acupuncture, however, is sillier by another order of magnitude. The fundamental idea behind auricular acupuncture is, apparently, that there is a homunculus of the human body on the ear (usually with the head near the earlobe and the feet near the upper part of the ear), and when the practitioner sticks needles into the ear, the locations of needles are determined in line with the homunculus to target the organ or body part that they wish to treat. It is an idea as silly and pseudoscientific as it sounds, vaguely corresponding to medieval superstitions and definitely rooted in medieval vitalism. Nevertheless, studies are being published by people like Alimi and Chelly, and those studies are textbook cases of tooth fairy science, painstakingly recording properties associated with a phenomenon they haven’t established actually exists, according to a protocol carefully designed to avoid having to take a stance on the latter, and sort of crucial question. Their article “A New Universal Nomenclature of Auriculotherapy” is a splendid example, discussed in detail here.
Alimi & Chelly even claim to have studied brain dissections and “proved the neurophysiological correlations existing between auricular displays and their brain correspondences”; indeed, they claim to have found that the middle of the corpus callosum is the “epicenter of the somatotopic organization of the brain homunculus.” We suppose real neuroscientists must be in some sort of conspiracy to hide those facts, though we suspect that Alimi & Chelly made the discovery based on loose association and poetic and metaphorical license. They do, admittedly, provide a new nomenclature for auriculotherapy, which is almost as impressive as providing a new nomenclature for a Dungeon & Dragons stats sheets. 
Apparently Chelly even has a clinical trial going, officially motivated by (piggybacking on) the currently popular movement to explore non-pharmacological techniques to treat post-operative pain in light of the opioid crisis. In the study, Chelly will be using a cryopuntor device, “which has been shown to produce the same effect as needles”. Of course, needles have no effect beyond placebo either, so showing that a technique has “the same effect as needles” would be textbook tooth fairy. Chelly is apparently into aromatherapy, too, which is arguably even more ridiculous than auriculotherapy.  
Despite (or rather: due to) it being what it is, Alimi’s and Chelly’s research has apparently managed to acquire a certain amount of influence among woo practitioners and pseudoscientists.  
Diagnosis: More nonsense from people who possess real credentials and, on the surface, look respectable enough (Chelly even has a Wikipedia article, which fails to mention his forays into pseudoscience), and who should really know better. The real tragedy, of course, is the massive amount of resources used to add to the pile of pseudoscientific junk instead of being used on projects that have at least some chance of providing real benefits to real people.  

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

#2460: Abdul Malik Ali

Amir Abdul Malik Ali is a former member of the Nation of Islam and currently head of the Oakland branch of As-Sabiqun, an Islamic fundamentalist organization founded by Imam Abdul Alim Musa. As-Sabiqun advocates for creating a global Islamic state that would abolish all “man-made” forms of governance and “reestablishing the system of governance known as Khilafah, or the Caliphate”, and an important part of their strategy to achieve the goal is to spread insane anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Now, although organization claims to have an organized national network, it seems to be based largely out of two mosques, in DC and Oakland, respectively, but even though the group appears to be relatively minor, its leaders are also continually provided with a platform to spread anti-Semitic (and other) conspiracy theories by various student groups across the US. There is a decent resource on the group here.


The Oakland and DC centers also appear to operate as the “Islamic Institute for Counter Zionist American Psychological Warfare,” which was established to “monitor Zionist and Israeli networks, circles, and clubs which deceitfully infiltrate Muslim and Black groups” (according to one of their newsletters) and to “analyze the Zionist grip on humanity established via the media and economics.” Malik Ali is often invited, in particular by the Muslim Student Union at the University of California, Irvine, to give anti-semitic speeches to Muslim student groups in California, where he has for instance described the U.S. government, the economy and the media as being part of a corrupt global plot controlled “Zionist Jews” to oppress Muslims, praised Hezbollah, Hamas and the Iranian regime, recommended martyrdom, and blamed Israel for the 9/11 terrorist attacks – 9/11 was ostensibly “staged to give an excuse to wage war against Muslims around the world.” He has also claimed that the 2009 attempt to blow up a passenger airline over Detroit and the 2010 failed Times Square car bombing were false-flag operations orchestrated by “social engineers”.


Diagnosis: Yes, they exist,and even though the threat they pose is probably vastly exaggerated by wingnuts, radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist-sympathizers are not without receptive audiences in the US.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

#2459: Ali Alexander

A.k.a. Ali Akbar (birth name)


Most famous for being one of the central organizers of Stop the Steal, a campaign to promote the conspiracy theory that widespread voter fraud led to Biden’s victory over Trump in the 2020 election, Ali Alexander is a wingnut activist, convicted felon (felony property theft and credit card abuse charges from 2007 and 2008), conspiracy theorist and social media personality. The goal of Stop the Steal was to try, by any means necessary – including violence – to prevent democratic processes from taking place when people voted for someone other than the candidate Alexander favored: Alexander and his team fought for instance to “force” battleground states to subvert the will of the people and send Republican electors to the electoral college​ to to cast votes for Trump, even if they hailed from states that were won by Biden.


Alexander founded the Stop the Steal campaign in 2020 to promote conspiracy theories, and has organized large rallies in D.C. to protest the results of the election, sometimes feuding with other organizers over who should be given credit for the efforts, and has solicited donations online to fund the events. (Despite Trump’s support for Alexanderand his efforts, “Stop the Steal” wasn’t officially part of the MAGA campaign, however, and the contributions solicited by Alexander’s website aren’t bound by nonprofit rules – at least initially, the contributions went straight to him.) Among his biggest “successes” was the November 2020 Million MAGA march, but Alexander was, importantly, also one of the people who encouraged dingbat Trump supporters to rally outside the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, naming that rally the “Wild Protest” and (reportedly) encouraging attendees not to wear masks. Already in December, Alexander wrote, in a Parler post, that “[i]f D.C. escalates ... so do we”, and he was, unsurprisingly, among the people active in inciting the crowd outside the Capitol, leading chants of “Victory or death” in front of a sign declaring “MARTIAL LAW NOW” and saying that Stop the Steal activists were starting “a rebellion against the Deep State” (i.e. against democratic processes and any checks on the powers of the president). In the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, Alexander desperately tried to backtrack, took down his website and went into hiding. Meanwhile, Twitter banned his personal account and a Stop the Steal account, and he was apparently also banned fromPayPal and Venmo. Being in hiding hasn’t prevented him from issuing pleas for contributions, e.g. to fund his security detail – apparently part of the cost is driven by him being targeted by the supernatural: “Witches and wiccans are putting hexes and curses on us,” claims Alexander.


Two weeks before the Capitol raid, Alexander had said that his group wasn’t violent – “yet”, and promptly went on to use “yet” as a code word for violence, for instance when he told a Phoenix audience of mostly mouth breathers and neo-nazi supporters that “we’re going to convince them to not certify the vote on January 6 by marching hundreds of thousands, if not millions of patriots, to sit their butts in D.C. and close that city down, right? And if we have to explore options after that…‘yet.’ Yet!” His cheering supporters also yelled threats like “noose!” and “nothing’s off the table!” Meanwhile, Alexander also received ample criticism from people who otherwise often agree with him when he encouraged voters to boycott the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff election.


Among the conspiracy theories that Alexander has promoted as part of the Stop the Steal campaign is the silly claim, dubbed “#Maidengate”, that people had used their maiden names to vote more than once.


Alexander were, however, noticed for his conspiracy theories (there are plenty) also prior to Stop the Steal. In 2019, for instance, he received some attention for his birther-inspired campaign against Kamala Harris, tweeting that Harris was “not an American Black” and that “I’m so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It’s disgusting”. (Donald Trump Jr. retweeted the claim, then deleted it.) The same year, he arranged for himself and fellow conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Laura Loomer to travel to Minneapolis to film an online documentary, Importing Ilhan, in which they purported to investigate the debunked conspiracy theory that Ilhan Omar had married her brother to grant him U.S. citizenship.


Alexander is frequently seen wearing orange clothes, because, according to himself, God has given him a message that the color had special significance for 2020: “God gave me the color orange in December 2019. He told me ‘orange would be the color of 2020.’ I've come to learn it means GOD’S POWER.” He has also declared that Stop the Steal is “a spiritual movement.”


Though we keep this entry relatively short, there is an excellent portrait of Alexander, his background and his connections and position on the right here. Strongly recommended.


Diagnosis: Silly conspiracy theorist, but also a demonstrably dangerous, committed fascist. Alexander has enjoyed a not-insignificant social media presence and a large number of followers, and he is certainly willing and able to whip such knuckle-draggers into paranoid, wild frenzies. Dangerous.