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.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

#2477: Vasken Aposhian

Hurair Vasken Aposhian is a toxicologist and emeritus professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Arizona, and although he has legitimate credentials, Aposhian is a somewhat infamous promoter of pseudoscience and a wide range of crazy ideas about mercury. As some sources laconically puts it, his “views about mercury in vaccines and in dental amalgams go against the consensus of the medical community and are controversial”.


Aposhian has advocated for the false idea that thimerosal-containing vaccines cause autism, and testified for instance before the Institute of Medicine in 2004 before they issued a review concluding that the evidence favors rejecting a vaccine–autism link. (According to apparent sycophants on his Wikipedia article – it is unclear why he has one – Aposhian’s position on thiomersal is in line with the WHO, which “are adamant in their view that thimerosal (aka thiomersal) is a serious threat to human health and are pushing for a worldwide ban”: that is a blatant lie, easily checked by actually looking at WHO’s position statement: “WHO supports continued use of thiomersal as an inactivating agent and preservative for vaccines”). He is most famous, however, for his participation as an “expert” on the side of wrong and spectacular pseudoscience in the Autism Omnibus trials in 2007, where he claimed that the autism of Michelle, the plaintiffs’ daughter, was caused by “mercury efflux disorder.” Aposhian was apparently pushing the novel idea that the thiomersal in one vaccine damaged Michelle’s immune system to the point that the MMR vaccine (which never contained thiomersal) penetrated the GI tract and attacked the brain; indeed, the theory is so novel that he testified, on the stand, that he had elaborated it “about three or four weeks ago” based on journal articles from other scientists (i.e. he just made up a story out of nothing right before he was supposed to testify in court). He was slaughtered on cross examination and forced to admit that there was no record of any child becoming autistic as a result of mercury exposures.


Aposhian is also a long-standing promoter of the false idea that mercury in dental amalgam fillings are unsafe, claiming for instance that “these fillings continuously emit mercury vapor, which will go to the brain and is converted to mercuric mercury” where it “will damage nerve and it will damage brain tissues.” The claims are ostensibly backed up by his own “research” based on subjects given the widely discredited “provoked testing” chelating agent 2,3-dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid.


Aposhian is, unsurprisingly, also affiliated with quack organizations like the American Board of ChelationTherapy (ABCMT) (well, at least he was a decade or so ago), a small conspiracy theory group chaired by Rashid Buttar that offers bogus “board-certification” for grifters and quacks willing to attend a weekend course, score 65% on an examination in which 60% of the questions are True/False, and administering 1000 unsupervised disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid (Na2EDTA) infusions. You should stay well away from anyone who bothered to get that board certification. Other advisors to the group were Robert Rowen and Robban Sica.


Diagnosis: Yes, there are quacks and pseudoscientists with real credentials, and there is certainly a career to be made by going over to the dark side. The fact that it’s the same names that show up every time quacks need “legitimate” experts (like in court cases, where their local naturopath or conspiracy theorist with a webpage won’t do) is notable. Aposhian is old, strange and looney. Don’t listen to him on anything whatsoever.


Hat-tip: rationalwiki