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 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