Sunday, October 31, 2021

#2493: Ben Bailey

Though not, perhaps, a major figure on the televangelist horror clown circuit, Tennessee-based televangelist Ben Bailey, of the Central church of Christ in McMinnville, is certainly appropriately angry, hateful, fanatical and crazy for his profession. Condemningliberal society, Bailey advocates an ostensibly more Christian alternative, one that emphasizes that God commands Christians to stone gay people and prevent women from teaching. He also condemns Christians who go to churches with “relaxed and liberal views, i.e. Christians who fail to appreciate the central role of hate and bloodthirst in real Christianity – too many Christians (or wannabe Christians), according to Bailey, wantthings like women preaching, women leading in service, where homosexuals and gay marriage were accepted openly,” and “we need to make sure that such is not the idea or the mindset of God.”

One notable thing about Bailey, however, is how calmly and seemingly reasonably he is able to deliver his deranged messages of hate and oppression and his suggestions that good Christians should execute gays by stoning (stoning is “the mindset of God”, as Bailey sees it) and that women are inferior to men in the eyes of God.

Diagnosis: Evil, insane and bloodthirsty monster. The kind that inspires campfire horror tales and that kids fear is lurking under their beds. Terrifying.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

#2492: Alexis Baden-Mayer

Alexis Baden-Mayer is an anti-GMO activist and Political Director fo the Organic Consumers Association, an anti-GMO organization. Baden-Meyer is sufficiently influential in the movement to be considered a person to interview about policy suggestions and measures related to organic food and GMOs by mainstream media, i.e. as someone to be taken seriously. Alexis Baden-Mayer is not a person to take seriously, however. Alexis Baden-Mayer is a loon.


In addition to promoting anti-GMO conspiracy theories, Baden-Mayer promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and has in fact become a rather influential figure in the anti-vaccine movement – she was a speaker at the 2017 Washington anti-vaccine rally Revolution for Truth, for instance (and yes: that would be Badger’s Law at work).


Now, it’s hardly surprising that someone from the Organic Consumers Association is an anti-vaccine activist – after all, the OCA is a pseudoscience and conspiracy-theory group through and through, and frequently promotes everything from NaturalNews, Joseph Mercola and Alex Jones articles to anti-fluoridation nonsense, food irradiation conspiracies, homeopathy and even 9/11-truther nonsense (as well as antivaccine misinformation). They also tend to label their opponents as paid shills (Baden-Mayer is particularly fond of the popular Argumentum ad Monsantum gambit); they are at least open about their role being to represent and protect the interests of “several thousand businesses in the natural foods and organic marketplace” and that they themselves are funded by Big Organic corporations. 


Baden-Mayer’s blog (no link) consists mostly of posts accusing people of being paid shills for Monsanto and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and – in particular – Bill Gates; in fact, Baden-Mayer even suggests that Gates may be behind the pandemic, and in cahoots with Anthony Fauci, in order to profiteer on vaccines. It’s precisely as breathless, incoherent and paranoid as you’d imagine.


Diagnosis: Wild-eyed, intense and paranoid conspiracy theorist who seems hell-bent on trying to believe more or less every conspiracy theory she comes across. And she does have followers. Frightening stuff.


Addendum: The recipe for Baden-Mayer’s rants – and, indeed, most of the stuff coming out of OCA – is actually rather instructive, and illustrates the central position of ad hominem fallacies in much conspiracy reasoning. If there is a claim they don’t like, there is little engagement with the claim; rather, the go-to gambit is to try to question the integrity of the person or group presenting the claim. If Anthony Fauci says something about the coronavirus? Let’s dig up all the stuff we can about him, and see if we can find, however tenuous, some connection that, if you squint a lot, could be used to question whether his position is entirely and completely neutral and with no possible connection, at any degree of removal, to some industry. Then reject the claim in question without even bothering to address it.


Of course, in reality, most people wouldn’t dismiss, say, claims about whether a computer program works as intended made by someone who is employed by the developers of the program. And most people would presumably agree that in order to dismiss a mathematical result, you sort of have to find an error – that the person publishing the proof has a stake in the proof being correct isn’t really a good reason to reject it on its own. In order to legitimately dismiss a claim, you have to engage with in and find an error; it’s not enough to find some flaw with the person making it.


There is some apparent complexity to be added to this obvious point, however: We generally should dismiss claims made by non-experts about a field if the claim is in disagreement with what the experts on that field say, and the fact that the person is a non-expert is, on its own, relevant. Doing so may superficially look like the kind of ad hominem-fallacy mongering Baden-Mayer tends to engage in. But it isn’t – there is a crucial difference: In the case where you dismiss the non-expert’s claim, you aren’t dismissing it because the person is a non-expert: You are dismissing it because you do have independent reason to think the claim is wrong, namely that the people who know a lot about it says that it is wrong. You may not be able to spell out what the mistake is, but the fact that experts say that it is mistaken means that you have good, independent, reason for thinking that there is one.


In general, a good rule of good thinking is the following (we do not know from where we have it – if anyone has a reference, please tell us):


You are not allowed to try to explain why someone is wrong before you have shown that they are, in fact, wrong.


You are (rationally) allowed to speculate about why someone is wrong. You are even allowed to wonder whether there is foul play at work. But you can’t start with those speculations: first you have to do the work of determining whether there is actually anything there that merits an explanation. Starting by looking for foul play, however, before addressing any relevant claim, is one of the hallmark of conspiracy thinking.

Friday, October 22, 2021

#2491: Amanda Chantal Bacon

As has often been noted, diet and dietary advice have attained a peculiar status in modern Western societies. Instead of what it should be – a matter of non-mysterious and boring advice for meeting relatively well-defined needs – it has become something more akin to a thoroughly commodified pseudo-religious practice, complete with rituals, distinctions between the “clean” and the “unclean”, systems of creed resembling theology more than science, promises of salvation, detailed and minutely described codes of conduct, sins and absolutions, declarations of faith, evangelism, rituals of penitence and, of course, prophets. 


Such as Amanda Chantal Bacon, “founder and owner of Moon Juice – the Los Angeles destination that serves beautifying herbal powder blends, tonics, and treats to A-list fans like Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley”. Yes, name-dropping Gwyneth Paltrow sort of gives the game away. And if you want an example of “diet as a pseudo-religious practice”, Bacon’s eating habits for a typical day would be an excellent one. Bacon doesn’t do food because it tastes good and nourishes, but because it containssuper endocrine, brain, immunity, and libido- boosting powers, none of which makes any sense whatsoever if you happened to confuse what she is saying with anything connected to reality. And no, you don’t remotely need alkalizers, nor will a “morning chi drink”, “activated cashews” (whatever that means – they’re $25 a handful in Bacon’s store), “a shot of pressed turmeric root” or “three tablespoons of bee pollen” do anything beneficial to anything, except work as a strong marker of class, one that might create some envy among those who can’t afford to spend four-figure sums on rarefied nonsense products but want the lifestyle associated with it – which is, of course, the whole damn point of it all, don’t you think?


And of course it’s all about wellness, the self-centered, vague and fuzzy alternative to medicine marketed primarily by appeals to empowerment rather than evidence. And of course, there is a feeling of wellness associated with engaging in activities that effectively exclude people who have to take economy into consideration when shopping food, and the game is as transparent as similar exclusionary behavior was in high school.


Bacon’s herbal blends have no medicinal qualities, of course. That obviously doesn’t mean that she hasn’t seen the marketing opportunities of the coronavirus pandemic: In addition to silly and strangely nonsensical rituals (like “dry brushing to stimulate lymph flow”) and recommending high doses of Vitamin C (which – this really doesn’t need to be said – has absolutely zero beneficial effect on anything related to Covid), she recommends taking “SuperYou® [note the appeal to empowerment] daily to keep calm – elevated cortisol directly affects the immune system” – it most certainly do not, and at the very least not in a way you would like – and adding “Power Dust® and Spirit Dust® to my morning tonics – these adaptogenic blends are particularly supportive of the immune system” (they are, of course, not, but the claim is medically meaningless and as such not legally actionable). Mostly, though, the products – the result of Bacon’s “plant-based alchemy”, as it has aptly been called  are really expensive in her online shop. In that sense they are definitely empowering, we suppose.


The Moon Juice brand is indeed frequently recommended by Goop, and it is, in fact, a favorite of Hollywood celebrities. It is very much worth pointing out, as the New York Times Magazine did in a profile of Bacon, that many of the alternative-medicine ingredients in her products are soldwith very different branding, obviously – in Alex Jones’s Infowars store. The audience probably overlaps, too, e.g. for Bacon’s Brain Dust®, a nootropic allegedly boosting your cognitive powers and memory, aimed at boomers with lots of money and, well, cognitive problems (there is admittedly some default cleverness in the marketing here).


Diagnosis: Religious fundamentalism for a new age, and the preachers of the religions look nothing like the fire-and-brimstone monsters of the past – Bacon’s hippie-guru gimmick is a case in point. But the claims are strikingly similar – including the conspiracy theories, the anti-science and the appeals to an inner, empowered self that is able to continue to pursue nonsense even in the face of mockery and opposition from skeptics, scientists and other powers with nefarious motives.

Monday, October 18, 2021

#2490: Brandon Lee Babcock

Many CAM practitioners have a questionably understanding of human physiology, as reflected in the impressive range of silly diagnoses and treatments they sell – just think of craniosacral therapy or chiropractic neurology. Functional endocrinology is another one. One of the main promoter of functional endocrinology seems to be chiropractor Brandon Credeur, who’ll be up for a later post. Here we’ll focus on one of Credeur’s students, Utah-based chiropractor Brandon Lee Babcock.


Now, it isn’t entirely clear what functional endocrinology actually is, at least from Credeur’s presentations, which are notoriously heavy on misguided, conspiracy-mongering railing against mainstream, science-based medicine and rather vague about what his alternative is actually supposed to do, but there are pretty compelling clues that it’s more of a scam than anything else (some more details about what functional endocrinology is supposed to be here. The state of Utah, at least, seems to have been none to happy with the practices of Brandon Babcock, especially his financial practices targeting elderly people, but also his nonsense medical claims like his claim to be able to “reverse” diabetes – as the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which suspended Babcock’s license, put it, Babcock has designed a program that “tends to cheat, exploit and endanger both the physical and fiscal health of elderly patients who are already suffering from type II diabetes.” At least it seems he got his business license revoked, and although some chiropractic boards still seem to struggle to find it in them to condemn nonsense medical practices and false health claims, for, some would claim, obvious reasons, the felony charges brought against Babcock seem to have helped in his particular case. And for once, the villain did end up in jail. Good for Utah, and good for humanity.


Diagnosis: One might argue that “loon” is the wrong epithet here, but when it comes to some of these treatment regimes, probably including “functional endocrinology”, it becomes really hard to distinguish the true believers from the pure scammers – there is substantial overlap, to the extent that the latter might constitute a subset of the former. Babcock is hopefully neutralized, at least.

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.



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 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 (