Monday, April 15, 2024

#2759: Robert De Niro

Celebrity loons! Robert De Niro is a sometime antivaccine activist and celebrity loon, and although it is a bit unclear exactly how committed he is to antivaxx delusions – concerns over marketing and image seem to weigh more than any intellectual commitments he might harbor – De Niro, who has an autistic son, does seem to think, at least intermittently, that vaccines are a cause of autism (they aren’t), and he has done more than his share of damage on behalf of the antivaccine movement.

 

His most obvious instance of antivaccine activism was greenlighting the screening of disgraced fraud Andrew Wakefield’s and conspiracy theorist Del Bigtree’s anti-vaccine conspiracy flick Vaxxed at the Tribeca Film Festival, which De Niro co-founded – indeed, De Niro admitted that he bypassed the festival’s regular selection process for documentaries and added the film to the festival’s roster. It was eventually pulled due to criticism from scientists and reasonable people (in fact: primarily from other documentary film makers who didn’t want to be associated with the tripe), something De Niro, the person who actually decided to pull the movie over concerns about his public image and market worth, seems to think is an example of “censorship. But De Niro didn’t really back down. He has later appeared at public events devoted to “vaccine safety” with e.g. anti-vaccine movement leader Robert Kennedy, jr., complete with fraudulent show-challenges to pro-vaccine advocates to prove them wrong (as judged by themselves).

 

According to himself, “I want to know the truth,” which, if correct, makes associating himself with Del Bigtree, Andrew Wakefield and Robert Kennedy, jr.’s antivaccine conspiracy theories and misinformation a notoriously poor strategy. About Vaxxed, De Niro claimed that “you must see it”, ostensibly because “There’s a lot of information about things that are happening with the CDC, the pharmaceutical companies [there is: it just isn’t accurate]; there’s a lot of things that are not said”, and yes: there are plenty of claims in Vaxxed that you won’t hear said by real scientists or medical doctors, for obvious reasons. He also recommended the conspiracy flick Trace Amounts. “I’m not anti-vaccine. I want safe vaccines,” added De Niro, regurgitating the oldest anti-vaccine line in the book.

 

But hey: He’s just asking questions: “Some people can’t get a certain kind of shot, and they can die from it, from penicillin. So why should that not be with vaccines?” asks De Niro, as if real scientists haven’t asked those questions, carefully investigated them and shown that vaccines are safe and effective. He is, like most people who are “just asking questions”, not just asking questions. Indeed, De Niro explicitly asserts that there “is a link” between vaccines and autism (there isn’t) and that both he and his wife, Grace Hightower, believe that vaccines were somehow part of the cause of his son’s autism (as opposed to e.g. father’s age, which does in fact correlate with autism). And as for the fact that science pretty conclusively shows that there is no such link? It’s “much more complicated than that,” proclaims De Niro, without explaining the complication since the complication is really just that he is wrong (and his wife is wrong) and it is hard for him to admit that he is wrong and his wife a crazy conspiracy loon. And yes, of course there is a conspiracy: The reason we don’t know about the vaccine-autism link isn’t that it doesn’t exist but that “it benefits the big drug companies.” Also, confronted with the fact that Wakefield is considered discredited because he demonstrably engaged in fraud and misinformation, De Niro countered: “but how was he discredited? By the medical establishment?” He was discredited by the facts, Bob – the facts, and his demonstrably fraudulent behavior. But hey: let’s poison the well with some JAQ-style allusions to grand conspiracies instead, shall we?

 

De Niro’s antivaccine rants received praise from Jim Carrey and Alicia Silverstone. And after the brouhaha with Vaxxed, De Niro quickly announced thatHarvey Weinstein and I are working on doing a documentary” on vaccines. It has yet to materialize and one suspects the project might have hit some snags along the way.

 

Diagnosis: A garbage person full of raging bullshit. And unfortunately, his soapbox is big enough for his bullshit to reach a lot of people, some of whom might, for some reason, think that this befuddled piece of mindrot has anything worthwhile to contribute to public debate.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

#2758: Bob DeMaria

A.k.a. “The Drugless Doctor

 

Bob DeMaria is a chiropractor marketing himself as “the Drugless Doctor”. DeMaria is not a medical doctor, however. That doesn’t prevent him from having views – silly views – on all sorts of medical topics, like vaccines. DeMaria thinks that natural immunity is better than “vaccine-induced” immunity, and he believes that there is a link between vaccinations and autism (there isn’t), presumably because vaccines, as DeMaria sees it, contains elemental mercury (they don’t, of course). Or to use DeMaria’s own formulation: “In the human body, when we have vaccines, or when we have antibodies that are made, it is made in our body to fight an organism and it’s permanent. When they vaccinate a human being today, they use particles and the real issue is what are they using as the base, part of this whole agar and all this growing substance, which is mercury and egg whites and all that, and aluminium, that can be quite toxic to the system.” No, Bob DeMaria doesn’t have the faintest clue about what he is talking about. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for humanity, neither do many of the people who cross his path.

 

DeMaria also thinks that girls who have the HPV vaccine become dirty sluts and that Coeliac disease is caused by vaccinations affecting glands in your neck (coeliac disease is of course an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine).

 

So what are his qualifications? DeMaria – or “Robert F. DeMaria DC, DABCO, FASBE, NHD” – can boast doctorates! One in “natural health from Clayton College of Natural Health, an unaccredited diploma mill that has also sold diplomas to people like Gillian McKeith and Robert Young, and one in Chiropractic from the National University of Health Science (NUHS), an alternative medicine school. As a NUHS graduate, DeMaria subscribes to the idea, invented by the founder of chiropractic, D.D. Palmer, that subluxation is the sole cause of all disease, an idea Palmer claimed to have learned from a deceased physician in a séance, which still today remains the idea’s sole evidence-base and embodies its complete relationship with reality. As DeMaria sees it, God gave Adam the ability to heal himself, and that is an ability we have all inherited as his descendants – we just have to ensure that a chiropractic (him) clicks our backs into place, and then God’s breath will take care of everything else.

 

Most of all, though, DeMaria is “the Drugless doctor, and he has plenty of promotional materials about why he “became drugless” and has been practicing drugless “for nearly 30 years,” Of course, since DeMaria is a chiropractor with diplomas from diploma mills and not a medical doctor, DeMaria has never had the authority to prescribe drugs in the first place, and his whole schtick is really an attempt to muddy the waters about his credentials to attract potential victims. Of course, he does push plenty of useless dietary supplements, and if they did work, which he claims they do (they don’t), it is unclear how he could market himself as “drugless”; DeMaria doesn’t even attempt to square that circle, insofar as his followers don’t seem not to notice.

 

Apparently, his daughter-in-law, Casen DeMaria, is also currently a Drugless Doctor and starring in youtube videos that give people health information like “lungs are important for breathing” and falsely claim that chiropractic adjustment can help with allergies and asthma and that thermography is effective in screening for breast cancer (it really, really isn’t).

 

DeMaria has views about other health-related issues, too. Indeed, in his youtube series “Ask Dr. Bob” on YouTube’s worst channel for health-related misinformation, iHealthTube , DiMaria answers questions from fans on a range of topics, and consistenly ends up recommending using products that – remarkably enough – are sold on his website. You can for instance use his product chlorella to protect yourself from the radioactivity of the radioactive clouds that the American government are secretly releasing into the environment to prevent rain. He also claims, without evidence, that GMOs are harmful and must be avoided because why not when your whole business model is based on being completely disentangled from reality anyways.

 

ADHD misinformation

A common topic in DeMaria’s videos is ADHD. DeMaria has many inaccurate and potentially dangerous ideas about ADHD and potential (alternative) “treatments” for ADHD, trying to sell struggling parents supplements that have been shown not to work as well as restrictive diets that have been shown not to provide any benefit for the symptoms of ADHD.

 

According to DeMaria, “docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) bathes the brain, and gives the brain information that just helps the brain function optimally” (which is entirely inaccurate, of course) but certain foods “sabotage” DHA somehow and that’s the cause of more or less every mental problem. So, DeMaria recommends various dietary restrictions based on gut feeling, thin air, and supplements he happens to sell, including DHA supplements in the form of fish oil, which demonstrably do not work to alleviate ADHD symptoms. In another video entitled “Causes of ADD and ADHD Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About!”, he claims, of course, that ADHD is caused by misalignment of the spine. There are obvious reasons why you doctor doesn’t know that. DeMaria doesn’t tell you those reasons.

 

He also claims, without evidence of course, that dairy products, sugar, and food dyes cause or worsen the symptoms of ADHD. Well, he’s got no evidence, but he’s got a gotcha question that’ll probably stump you: “I’m not tell am not telling anyone to stop dairy, but when is the last time you saw a cow eating cottage cheese, milk, or ice cream?” It stumped us. He also says that “milk contains arachidonic acid (ARA) which sabotages DHA”, a claim that is supported exclusively by his imagination, lack of understanding of (and lack of understanding of the significance to such claims of) physiology, biology or chemistry. Also, a woman whom he adviced to stop giving milk to her child allegedly “wrote a five star review on Amazon for me”. So there is that. DeMaria’s claims that sugar damages DHA have similar evidential support and coherence, but at least pays homage to the debunked suger-hyperactivity-link myth. Then there are food dyes and the insane piece of quackery that is the Feingold diet.

 

Of course, as the “drugless doctor”, DeMaria also peddles all the dangerous myths and conspiracy theories that exist about actual ADHD medication that demonstrably does help people with ADHD, including (but definitely not limited to) the egregious myth that children who take ADHD medications are at a higher risk for developing a substance abuse disorder. He also accuses, contrary to evidence, fact and decency, parents who give their children ADHD medication of child abuse, apparently in contrast with his own practice of making a living out of selling potentially dangerous and ineffective supplements and misinformation to parents and children in difficult situations. In reality, diet doesn’t make much difference to ADHD, which is mostly genetic … DeMaria, who apparently never misses an opportunity to heap abuse on anyone deciding to follow the path of reality, denies that obvious fact, and instead claims that “ADHD kids become ADHD adults. ADHD adults usually have ADHD kids, and the reason is: they eat from the same trough.

 

Transfat

Another alleged cause of ADHD is transfat. DeMaria has written a book about transfat, Dr. Bob’s Trans Fat Guide: Why No Fat, Low Fat, Trans Fat is Killing You. Now, there are good reasons to limit trans fats in the diet, so to that extent DeMaria’s conclusion isn’t wrong. But instead of reality, DeMaria supports it with an almost otherworldly array of pseudoscientific nonsense and made-up claims, and what is instructive is how much of an impact DeMaria’s nonsense actually seems to have had. Multiple websites have for instance promoted the myth that trans fats are metabolized very slowly and have a half-life of 51 days. As DeMaria presents the claim: “Do you remember in science class when your teacher talked about Madame Curie’s discovery of the half-life of uranium? Well, trans fat has a half life as well. Through research and experience, I have learned that the half-life of trans fat is fifty-one days.” That claim, of course, is bizarre nonsense and reveals, if more revelation is needed, DeMaria’s complete lack of appreciation for facts or coherence. But he goes undeterred on, with no more concern for accuracy, to blame trans fats for ADHD, depression, and Alzheimer’s. He is just making up blathering nonsense as he goes along.

 

Applying that principle has, of course, made DeMaria rather productive, and he has, in addition to the transfat one, written a number of books characterized by exactly zero concerns for reality, evidence, research or what harm his misinformation could possible cause. Titles include:

 

-       Dr. Bob’s Guide to Stop ADHD in 18 Days

-       Dr. Bob’s Guide to Optimal Health: A God-Inspired, Biblically-Based 12 Month Devotional to Natural Health Restoration

-       Dr. Bob’s Drugless Guide to Mental Health

-       Dr. Bob’s Guide to Prevent Surgery

-       Dr. Bob’s Drugless Guide to Balancing Female Hormones

 

Diagnosis: Completely devoid of any appreciation for reality, fact, accuracy or how things work – so much so that even in the few cases where his claims are actually supported by reality, his own explanations are a bizarre stream-of-consciousness mess of bullshit and falsehoods. He is a living, breathing embodiment of the principle of PIDOOMA. What you can be certain of, is that DeMaria’s claims – reality or not, harm or not – will end up aligning with his financial interests. In a reasonable society, there would be justice waiting for vile pieces of garbage like Bob DeMaria. In the actual world, he gets money.

 

Hat-tip: Myles Power; Braden MacBeth @Sciencebasedmedicine

Monday, April 8, 2024

#2757: Martha DeMarco

We’ve had ample opportunity to write about stem cell quackery (e.g. here), which has become a serious problem over the US the last fifteen years or so. In addition to those dubious clinics that market themselves as ‘experimental’ to prey on people in difficult situations with a glimmer of alleged hope in the form of treatment regimes unsupported by evidence, scienceor reason, the marketing potential of ‘stem cells’ has also been discovered by a large array frauds, quacks and promoters of alternative medicine

 

One such is Martha DeMarco. DeMarco is one among many promoters of dubious stem cell-related bullshit, and she offers it for a wide range of conditions including aging, musculoskeletal pain/injury, sexual enhancement, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, and cancer. DeMarco, however, is not a doctor, and she has no background in science, medicine or any related field whatsoever. Instead, DeMarco is a homeopath with an “education” in “professional homeopathy” from something called “the Teleosis Homeopathic Collaborative.” Indeed, DeMarco is, according to herself, “nationally certified in homeopathy,” whatever that means (it certainly doesn’t mean that any official or minimally sensible body has recognized her non-education in pseudoscience), and a “Registered Homeopath, North America”, a meaningless slip of paper handed out by the cargo cult-science cult the North American Society of Homeopaths. Apparently, she is herself on the Board of Directors of the Council for Homeopathic Certification and Secretary on its Executive Committee. Now, the joke in ‘homeopathic stem cell therapy’ writes itself and may at least indicate that what she offers is less obviously harmful than what is offered from some other quack purveyors of ‘stem cell therapies’. Still.

 

DeMarco also offers gemmotherapy, which is … plant stem cell remedies “made principally from the embryonic tissue of various trees and shrubs”. If you suspect that DeMarco really doesn’t have the faintest idea about how stem cell therapies – the stuff she is marketing to her victims – are supposed to work, even at the most foundational level, you are probably right. This has nothing to do with reality. Stem cells are, for people like DeMarco, magic props in some pseudo-religious ritual.

 

It is worth noting that DeMarco is the daughter of Roger Callahan, the inventor of the amazingly nonsensical pseudopsychological quackery known as thought field therapy. Indeed, DeMarco can herself boast the “credential TFT-Adv”.

 

Diagnosis: Insane religious fundie, really, and though the religious fundamentalism is expressed with something more akin to fluffy nonsense and affirmation rather than anger, it still has the potential to cause significant harm to real people.

Friday, April 5, 2024

#2756: Joseph Delimater

Minor and forgotten, perhaps, but worth a brief note: Joseph Delimater III is a resident of Anne Arundel and associate of gibberingly insane theocrat Michael Peroutka, the radical Christian Reconstructionist and southern secessionist 2004 presidential nominee for the U.S. Constitution Party and later county council member of Anne Arundel, Maryland, where he ran partially on the platform that the Maryland General Assembly is “no longer a valid legislative body” because it has passed laws that, according to Peroutka, is in violation of “God’s law.” (Peroutka, just to remind people, is also an ally of the League of the South and once donated a dinosaur fossil to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum to keep it out of the hands of zeh evolutionists.) Delimater, on his side, won the 2014 primary for county sheriff on the promise to resist implementation of any law that violates God’s law (in particular, of course, marriage equality-related stuff); according to Peroutka’s communication director, John “teaching children about MLK is child abuse” Lofton, Delimater “would evaluate each piece of legislation to be sure it was authorized by God in the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and the Anne Arundel County Charter.” Delimater himself claimed that his best quality as a candidate is “knowing what the law is,” having taken a twelve-week course on both the state and federal constitutions at Peroutka’s explicitly theocratic Institute of the Constitution.

 

Delimater didn’t win. Still.

 

Diagnosis: Obscure, perhaps, but nevertheless a wild-eyed ISIS sycophant and a genuine danger to his surroundings.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

#2755: Jennifer Delgado

Did you know that there is an “education onslaught” being carried out by LGBTQ activists in Texas public schools? Well, the Texas chapter of the vehement anti-LGBTQ group MassResistance claims so, and has arranged a variety of gatherings and events to warn people about the nefariousness of the gay agenda, including (for instance) a 2017 “Teens4Truth” conference in Dallas aimed at teaching teenagers and their parents stuff like “how to counter LGBT issues in your schools” and “how LGBT activists are influencing your children.” Joined by fellow activists Sharon Armke and Caryl Ayala, Jennifer Delgado warned that one of the ways LGBTQ activists are pushing their agenda is through nefarious gay-straight alliances, which are being used to “recruit” teens to gayness and who knows what: “Gay-straight alliances – you really have to watch out these because these are adult homosexuals coming into the schools to mentor kids and we know that there is a problem with adults preying on young teens, especially in the male homosexual community. It’s how they recruit them, and they’re doing it in the school through these gay-straight alliances.”

 

Diagnosis: No, she has no idea what’s going on, but won’t let that prevent her from fighting it with all she’s got. Utterly deluded, and like so many utterly deluded people, she is very, very angry.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

#2754: George Delgado et al.

Medical abortion is usually accomplished by taking two medications: mifepristone and then, later, misoprostol. If you want to know the exact mechanisms, look them up, but at least mifepristone works by blocking progesterone, which is needed to allow a fertilized egg to latch on and develop. Now, George Delgado has invented something he calls “Abortion Pill Reversal” based on the idea that a massive dose of progesterone taken after mifepristone (but before the misoprostol) could prevent contractions and reverse the first step of medical abortion. The procedure, known as “abortion reversal”, has no credible evidence to support it; Delgado claims that “our success rates with our most effective protocols are 65–70 percent survival”, but those figures are founded on a study (by Delgado and Mary Davenport) with six individuals and according to real medicine, mifepristone alone without misoprostol has no more than a 50–70 percent chance of terminating a pregnancy. Delgado’s study is, in other words, meaningless. And importantly, his procedure, large doses of progesterone, can have negative side effects.

 

But there is money in it! There is, since Delgado and his scheme have the backing of deranged and delusional wingnut fundie politicians. In Utah, for instance, state Representative Keven Stratton and state Senator Curt Bramble introduced a bill in 2016 mandating that doctors inform all women seeking abortion care of the procedure, despite the procedure’s worthlessness. Confronted with the lack of scientific backing, Stratton and Bramble admitted that they are not necessarily experts on the matter either. “We’re not doctors,” said Stratton. And no, you’re not: Shithead fundie loons are what you are. (Of course, as of 2023, state legislatures have other and more effective options for dissuading women from seeking abortions, though Utah has, at the time of writing, not managed to ban abortions outright.)

 

Diagnosis: Pure pseudoscience, and like so much pseudoscience, motivated by religious fundamentalism and ideology. Though not as scientifically bankrupt as, say, Theresa Deisher’s antivaccine nonsense, the similarities are there, and Delgado’s nonsense have the potential to cause real harm.

Monday, April 1, 2024

#2753: Heather Del Castillo

Heather Del Castillo is a Forida-based “holistic health coach” who at least used to run a health-coaching business called Constitution Nutrition. The business sold a personalized, six-month health and dietary program involving 13 in-home consulting sessions, priced at $95 each. Cynics would perhaps say that Del Castillo’s credentials were precisely suited for the kind of business she was running: a certificate from an unaccredited, for-profit online diploma mill called the Institution for Integrative Nutrition. Florida courts were not impressed, however, and used the Florida Dietetics and Nutrition Practice Act (DNPA), requiring that people offering such services needs to be qualified and licensed on order to protect against precisely the kind of potentially harmful bogus advice that business like Del Castillo’s are wont to offer, and ordered her to stop and to paya fine.

 

Del Castillo and her lawyers, on their hand, tried to invoke the First Amendment and argued that the DNPA’s requirement that people offering nutrition advice be qualified and licensed had the effect of giving qualified and licensed nutritionists a “monopoly”, or, to put it in the sort of terms people like Del Castillo tend to put it, that they are in a conspiracy to suppress the truth to keep people sick.

 

Diagnosis: So we haven’t actually managed to determine precisely what kind of advice Del Castillo was offering, but the fact that she did obtain a diploma from a diploma mill should be … disconcerting enough. So is the Dunning-Kruger dimension to failing to recognize that the topic on which you are offering advice, is one you have no knowledge about or insight into. She well deserves an entry her, and if she isn’t a loon, she is certainly someone to avoid.

Friday, March 29, 2024

#2752: Jon Del Arroz

Yes, we realize that we seem to have turned into something closer to an encyclopedia of antivaccine loons of late, but what can we say? American loons have a tendency to be antivaccine, and antivaccine people are loons. So here we go again:

 

Jon Del Arroz is a science fiction writer (“the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction”) and moron with ties to Vox Day. He is also – you guessed it – an antivaxxer, as well as a general rightwing fundie conspiracy theorist, groyper wannabe and asshole, who believes that vaccines are not only dangerous but a means for active population control. So when Rockland county declared a state of emergency after a measles outbreak in 2019 and banned infected children from public spaces, Del Arroz described it as Rockland County having “in effect declared Martial Law on its citizens” in a move “very similar to government overreach in New Zealand based on one shooting – they’re grabbing all of the populace’s guns”. Yeah, distinctions … how do they work? But there are also conspiracies afoot (“Something smells fishy here”). Why? Well, “First, if vaccines worked so well and they made us all immune, why should we be panicked about someone having it?” asks Del Arroz, rather oblivious to the fact that not everybody is vaccinated and no one has claimed the vaccine provides 100% immunity so that the efforts to prevent of outbreaks would really benefit from herd immunity. “The truth is [Del Arroz is really following an anti-vaccine script here], most outbreaks of measles and mumps happen to VACCINATED people,” claims Del Arroz, which is flatly false. But his utterly false premises and general paranoia lead Del Arroz to conclude “all the shutting down discussion on any vaccine topic by shaming anyone trying to discuss it seems to have a deeper purpose.” Oh yeah: “are these used for something else, like creating a populace who ARE chronically diseased all the time and further dependent on the government healthcare?” asks del Arroz, though he is quick to pivot to “the discussions need to be had” if anyone were to correctly identify him as a deranged conspiracy loon on the basis of his nonsense. Well, the discussions about vaccines and vacciny policy have been had. There are tons of scientific literature and discussion. Del Arroz is of course not interested in those discussions since those are based on facts, and facts, like distinctions, sit poorly with Jon Del Arroz. 

 

Our own president (http://americanloons.blogspot.com/2020/07/2356-donald-trump.html) said it: ‘Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!’ I’ve yet to see him be wrong,” says Del Arroz, which tells you a lot of his ability to and interest in even trying to look. Vaccines do not cause autism.

 

Del Arroz served as a consistent purveyor of antivaccine conspiracy nonsense throughout the COVID pandemic and was ultimately banned from Twitter. Before being banned, he posted a slew of conspiracy nonsense, including blaming a mythical increase in cancer rates among young people on injection of an “experimental mRNA editor”. He has also asserted that hat American Muslims should be “forcibly converted to Christianity” and complained that social media “suppress stories involved in QAnon” (no links provided).

 

Diagnosis: Blathering moron. But although it is not surprising that ignorance, paranoia and general bigotry would quickly lead you to conspiracy theories, the sheer number of people who have been led to conspiracy theories through ignorance, paranoia and general bigotry is a serious cause for concern.

 

Hat-tip: Pharyngula

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

#2751: Theresa Deisher

Antivaccine views have certainly gained populary in certain groups after Covid, but Theresa Deisher has been antivaccine for a long time, and remains as silly and nonsensical as ever to this day. Deisher is a proponent – perhaps the central popularizer (unless that’s Helen Ratajczak) – of the “aborted fetal DNA” gambit. Indeed, not only is aborted fetal DNA, which are not present in vaccines, immoral and toxic: it causes autism, as Deisher sees it. 

 

Yes, the explanation for what Deisher falsely thinks is an autism epidemic isn’t thimerosal (which was, after all, removed from childhood vaccines without a budge in autism numbers); it is that vaccines contain (they don’t) aborted fetal DNA. And what magical property of aborted fetal cells is it that gives them the power to cause autism, you may ask? “It creates the potential for autoimmune responses and/or inappropriate insertion into our own genomes through a process called recombination”. No it doesn’t, and although Deisher implicitly admits to having no actual evidence for the claim, she does refer to “groups researching the potential link between this DNA and autoimmune diseases”. Those groups would be ones affiliated with Deisher’s own organization, Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute (SCPI) (which “promote[s] consumer awareness about the widespread use of electively aborted fetal material in drug discovery, development, and commercialization”). Never mind that the hypothesis makes little sense from a biological and genetic point of view. But she does have a correlation, doesn’t she? Well, as she sees it, the switch to vaccines produced using aborted fetal cells correlates with what SCPI concludes are ”dramatic” increases in the rates of regressive autism in children. Since there is no autism epidemic, there is no correlation either, of course; rather, the correlation SCPI claims to see is, at best, a correlation with changes in diagnostic criteria (https://rationalcatholicblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/the-problems-with-deishers-study-part-i-the-numbers/) and diagnostization of autism (but there is, to emphasize, absolutely no correlation between introduction of the vaccines Deisher complains about and changes in diagnostic criteria either). In short, assuming falsely that there exists an autism epidemic, Deisher adds the old and demonstrably false antivaccine idea that vaccines cause autism but concludes, without evidence, that the real culprit is aborted fetal DNA, which aren’t present in vaccines and couldn’t have caused autism if they were.

 

Deisher herself claims to be an “internationally renowned expert in the field of adult stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine”. For an internationally renowned expert, her scientific output is, to put it mildly, meagre. But the stem cell connection is probably significant – Desiher has “17 years of practice in senior scientific and corporate leadership positions concerning research, discovery, production and commercialization of human therapeutics”. Moreover, her scaremongering about vaccines should probably be seen in light of Deisher’s position as research and development director for the AVM Biotechnology, which promised to “offer ethical alternatives to some of the vaccines that currently rely on the use of fetal tissue form abortions”, marketed at “pro-life people who have been reluctant to use some vaccines because their development came as a result of the destruction of unborn children”. How convenient for AVM (which stands for “Ave Maria”) that such vaccines also cause autism, based on no evidence whatsoever.

 

Well, Deisher did produce a study in 2014 (with Ngoc V. Doan, Angelica Omaiye, Kumiko Koyama and Sarah Bwabye), one that was widely circulated in antivaccine circles (and promptly made it onto this list). It is an absolutely bonkers “study” with absolutely astonishing methodological errors that are hard to explain without citing motivated reasoning, as well as reliance on mechanisms that are, to put it diplomatically, biologically implausible. The study is criticized in some detail here and here (“the claims are so biologically and immunologically wrong that the entire letter is just a condensed list of fake claims and fear mongering that can be dangerous when read by someone that does not understand biology”). Why did it take so long for the study to appear, given that Deisher had already decided what the conclusion was going to be? Well, one hint can be found in noting that she had some trouble getting it carried out: a 2013 petition to have access to Vaccine Safety Datalink files to look for a connection between receipt of the varicella vaccine and autism was promptly denied because real scientists “found her proposed study to be critically deficient”.

 

Now, Deisher’s silly claims about DNA should at least make you seriously worried about the stem cell therapeutics she has been heavily involved in commercializing. And Deisher actually does have a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Physiology. She should know better, but she doesn’t. Indeed, with some of the same coauthors as in 2014, Deisher has followed up her paper with a series of “studies” that are even worse, like the one discussed here, and has even tried to use them in court – the courts were, unsurprisingly, not impressed. A couple of other, abysmal efforts are discussed here. At some point, it is hard not to suspect rank dishonesty.

 

And it is not like Deisher doesn’t have a history of rank dishonesty. As a staunch opponent of Planned Parenthood, she has been more than willing to use subversion to discredit that organization. Deisher was for instance instrumental in David Daleiden’s dishonest undercover sting operation in 2015 targeting Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation programs.

 

More recently, Deisher has, like so many antivaxxers, thrown her lot in with the MAGA crowds, and has made appearances at wingnut happenings like AMPFEST20 together with a long list of QANON promoters.

 

Diagnosis: We recognize that her antivaccine efforts have presumably been boosted by personal tragedies, but those tragedies had nothing to do with vaccines, so interpreting them as having a connection is the result of already existing unjustified assumptions. And no amount of personal tragedy justifies the dishonesty and misuse of science to try to undermine public trust in one of the most important measures we have for preventing suffering and death.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

#2750: Katherine DeGraw

Demons are everywhere, and did you know that you may be worshipping and enabling them without even knowing? You do so e.g. by (perhaps unwittingly) participating in demonic rituals, such as celebrating Halloween. Oh, yes: if you thought dressing up to celebrate Halloween was harmless fun, think again: Halloween celebration is actually dangerous participation in demonic Satan worship. And incoherent fundies like Katherine DeGraw have taken it upon themselves to warn you.

 

DeGraw makes her case in her ebook Why Christians Shouldn’t Celebrate Halloween, heavily promoted by Charisma magazine, containing what DeGraw describes as nine “teachings” about Halloween based on the assumption that “[t]he demonic realm is alive and active”. Though people often recognize that “evil forces” drive actions like mass shootings, laments DeGraw, for some reason “when it comes to the pagan celebration of Halloween, we somehow do not see it as having the same demonic and evil impact as those other tragedies”. Part of the motivation for writing the book, seems accordingly to have been to try to sort out the mystery of how people could miss the obvious similarities between trick-and-treting and mass shootings when they’re virtually identical. “The effects of Halloween and human sacrifices are just as real. However, authorities – and the news media – simply don’t report them.” Did you see how elegantly she just threw “human sacrifices” into that sentence?

 

Meanwhile, Christians who see the holiday as harmless fun are “co-laboring with the works of darkness” and essentially supporting occult practices like having sex with demons and sacrificing babies to drink their blood. (Yes, the connection to QAnon is pretty direct.) Accordingly, DeGraw urges Christians to be on the “counteroffensive” against the “demonic realm”, which is conjuring up “curses, spells, vexes and other evil practices” in October to “destroy Christians, uproot prophetic destinies and come against the plans of God.” The most important step these fellow travelers could take is to repent for their past participation in Halloween the same way they’d repent for “pornography, masturbation, rape, stealing, or vulgar language.” “Why is Halloween any different?” It’s instructive to consider what types of ideas and assumptions you need to make to think that that is a good question.

 

Diagnosis: Dingbat insane, of course, and though we haven’t tried to trace DeGraw’s subsequent development, we wouldn’t be surprised if they led to the darkest corners of QAnon. Fortunately it’s hard to conceive of her rantings as having much impact on anything.

 

Hat-tip: Peter Montgomery @ rightwingwatch

Monday, March 18, 2024

#2749: Dusty Deevers

Dusty Deevers is a pastor, Christian nationalist, member of the Oklahoma Senate since December 2023 and a frontman and spokesperson for the ideology and principles of Gasht-e Ershad and the Taliban (he would use different terminology himself to obscure the relationship).

 

Deevers self-identifies as a “constitutional conservative” for marketing purposes, but doesn’t actually recognize the Constitution; instead, Deevers explicitly dismisses any notion of separation of church and state, has vowed to applythe word of God to every issue” and believes that the Bible “has prescribed governing and then He has also prescribed the means for our governing and that means is in accordance with His word. If we do otherwise, then we are essentially usurping the sovereign role of God through Christ, who has been seated above every power in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth.” Or, if it is still unclear: “Either you’re coming under the rule of God, your Creator […] you’re going to come under the rule of the serpent. So, it’s a serpentine theocracy or a rule of God, and there’s not a space in the middle.” Indeed, Deevers have emphasized, literally, his wish to take the US back to the 1600s, well before the Constitution and that liberty thing and those ideas of inalienable rights arrived to undermine good theocracy: “Why can’t I go back to a ‘Lex, Rex’ age [1644], or a ‘Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos’ age [1579]?asks Deevers.

 

Deevers also self-identifies as an “abortion abolitionist” and is the author (co-sponsored with Senator Warren Hamilton) of a bill classifying abortion as homicide, which would allow both doctors and mothers to be prosecuted and to potentially face the death penalty if charged with first-degree murder. The bill also allows for wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of fetuses. And for those who might be concerned about the relationship between anti-abortion measures and IVF, at least Deevers is clear: parents who use IVF are “waging an assault against God.” He also advocates ending no-fault divorce.

 

In 2024, Deevers also introduced a bill to ban all pornography, i.e. anything involving sexual acts, nudity, partial nudity, or any content that appeals to a sexual fetish, such as BDSM. According to the bill, anyone who buys, views, procures, or possesses porn would be punished by up to 20 years in prison, while anyone who poses for or otherwise assists or offers to assist in the production and distribution of such materials would be punished with a year in prison. Initially, he didn’t even bother to try to invoke the Constitution for that one, but instead lectured fellow lawmakers about how pornography is a tool of Satan and must be outlawed so people “can be set free” to give their lives to Jesus, and pointed out that anyone who views pornography knows that they are violating “the holy character of God”. This is spiritual warfare, said Deevers. But he also – perhaps dimly aware that someone who is a self-proclaimed “constitutional conservative” should pretend to care about the Constitution – eventually went on to claim thatOur Constitution says this very thing: We get our rights from God” (it most certainly says no such thing but “constitutional conservatives” are not the kind of people who care about distinguishing the Constitution from imprecise allusions to the Declaration of Independence), and that therefore God’s law, as Deevers interprets it, supersedes what the Constitution actually says. He has elsewhere proudly explained how the justification for bills he introduces is built entirely on provisions from the Bible.

 

As you might expect from someone like Deevers, he is also rabidly anti-vaccine and not afraid to deploy every anti-vaccine gambit and conspiracy theory in the book, no matter how silly. Deevers is particularly inclined to going Godwin, and he hasfor instance compared vaccine mandates to the Nuremberg laws. Before being elected senator, Deevers also claimed that governments were pushing the vaccine under the cover of utilitarianism, and “these were the same equations, the same moral principles that were used in the 19th and 20th centuries to immunize the society against becoming infected with bad genes, Jewish genes, low IQ genes” (it most certainly was not) – note also the presupposition that governments are intentionally using vaccines to kill people – before invoking the Nuremberg Code, which antivaxxers like doing but which Deevers seems to understand not much better than he understands vaccines: “You do understand what road this is heading down,” said Deevers. “If they can force you by utilitarianism to take a jab for a disease, they can force you to do it to protect you from people whose IQ is lower than yours or people whose skin color is different than yours,” just like governments being able mandate seatbelts (or restrict access to porn) means that they can also force you to commit genocide or put people in concentration camps, just like that. And they’ve done it over and over.”

 

Of course, Deever is not alone – indeed, the Oklahoma state legislature have been plagued by frothingly insane religious fundamentalist anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists for a while, such as governor Kevin Stitt, the aforementioned Warren Hamilton, state senator and creationism advocate Nathan Dahm and state senator Jake Merrick, former pastor at Tulsa’s Living Rivers Millennial Church (led by the militant anti-vaccine activist Paul Brady), all of whom, like Deevers, spent time others could have spent doing good in the legislature pushing for abortion bans and laws to block vaccine mandates.

 

Diagnosis: In fairness, Deevers is, as a senator, doing exactly what he promised he would do as a senator during his campaign. Unfortunately, what he promised to do was fighting for a kind of raw theocracy that would make hardened Taliban veterans blush. Completely insane.