Monday, June 24, 2024

#2786: Ralph Drollinger

Ralph Kim Drollinger is a wild-eyed fundie extremist, Christian nationalist, former professional basketball player, president of the organization Capitol Ministries (which aims to “evangelize elected officials and lead them toward maturity in Christ”) and leader of the White House Bible Study Group during Trump’s presidency. The WHBSG was an insane Taliban offshoot group that was sponsored by people like Mike Pence, Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos and which held weekly meetings with the Trump administration. Though Drollinger nominally accepts what he calls an “institutionalseparation of Church and State, he believes that the Church should still “influence” the State, or in other words: Drollinger rejects the separation of church and state. It is, however, crucial that the church exerting influence on the state is the right type of church; Drollinger has denounced Catholicism as “one of the primary false religions of the world”; stated that the Social Gospel, a major strain of 20th century American Christianity, is a “perversion” or “corruption” of the Bible and “not Christianity whatsoever”; claimed that Islam is “enemy territory, spiritually speaking”; and emphasized that God only hears the prayers of “righteous” Christians (indeed, he has explicitly said that prayers from Jewish people are “worthless and go unheard”). And it is, according to Drollinger, crucial for righteous Christians to work to ensure that people in power – be it government, Congress or the judiciary – are “righteous”; i.e. shares his (Drollinger’s) faith (elections are a “spiritual battle), and that those in power have an obligation to hire only “righteous” employees, so as not to “compromise biblical absolutes in his policies or interactions with others.” Here is a commentary on one of his ‘guides’ to lawmakers.


He is also, like so many fundies, on record as anti-LGBTQ, anti-women's rights and anti-immigration. As for women, Drollinger is an advocate for the Separate Spheres ideology and is in particular opposed to women preachers: “There is a prohibition of female leadership in marriage, and female leadership in the church. And those are clear in Scripture… it doesn't mean, in an egalitarian sense, that a woman is of lesser importance”.


Gay people, on the other hand, are “illegitimate; “Homosexuality and same-sex ceremonies are illegitimate in God’s eyes”; and “not only is homosexuality and same sex marriage voided by God in His Word, but biology as well castigates homosexuality and same sex marriage: The ultimate outcome is the discontinuation of the species since homosexuals cannot procreate. For sure one cannot be a homosexual and an evolutionist at the same time.” Drollinger, of course, is a creationist, and as such pathologically unable to distinguish a descriptive scientific theory of how things are from a normative moral theory of how we should act. In general, though, there really isn’t, as Drollinger sees it, any debate to be had over marriage equality, and no arguments are necessary: scripture “crushes the same-sex marriage debate” and pro-LGBTQ Christian leaders are “Satan’s pawns.” Elected officials should accordingly not debate marriage based on “personal happiness” [or reason or ethics, we presume, but reason and ethics don’t really ever figure anywhere in Drollinger’s mind] but on “theology.”


As for scientific issues other than biological ones, Drollinger is a staunch climate change denier, as anything else would be somewhat trickier to integrate with his political views – according to Drollinger, “God is a capitalist” and as such opposed to environmental regulations that have had the consequence that “the economic benefits God intends from private property ownership have been greatly diminished” (God is opposed to economic relief provisions, too). More importantly, it is unbiblical to “think that man can alter the Earth’s ecosystem – when God remains omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent in the current affairs of mankind” (yep, God both can and will protect us from the environmental consequences of our actions, just like He has consistently done in the past): Because the Bible promises that God would not again destroy the Earth in a great flood, says Drollinger (more local droughts, hurricanes, floods or forest fires are … well, it’s unclear), “we can all rest assured and wholly rely on God’s aforementioned promises pertaining to His ability and willingness to sustain our world’s ecosystem”. Moreover, “to allow fish to govern the construction of dams, endangered species to govern power plants, flies to govern hospitals, or kangaroo rats, homes, is to miss the clear proclamation of God in Genesis.” Drollinger was also influential in warning Scott Pruitt of the danger of the shift from Christianity to the false religion of Radical Environmentalism.”


Indeed, according to Drollinger, “environmentalists” and other people with “depraved minds” are igniting "God’s wrath." So in March 2020, for instance, Drollinger linked the COVID-19 pandemic with God’s wrath over such groups, including, of course, those who have “a proclivity toward lesbianism and homosexuality” (so much for man’s inability to cause damage, we suppose). When that didn’t go over particularly well with the public, he backtracked; i.e. claimed that he was misinterpreted: when it comes to God, Drollinger imagined, there is a “panoply of wraths”, so although homosexuality causes one type of Godly wrath (wrath of abandonment), it’s a different type than that which gave rise to the coronavirus (sowing and reaping wrath). Drollinger’s theological stances seem eminently malleable (not surprising given that they are nothing more than depraved nonsense used to channel his own hate and anger), insofar as in the original post, he stated thatthose individuals who are rebuked by God’s forsaking wrath are largely responsible for God’s consequential wrath on our nation” and those susceptible to “forsaking wrath” are explicitly gays and lesbians, who are “given over” by God to “degrading passions”, as well as environmentalists, since “clearly indicative of God’s forsaking wrath is when the abandoned serve the creature rather than the creator”.


And it’s not like it was the first time Drollinger linked gay people to God’s wrath; he has earlier proclaimed thatOUR NATION’S OBEDIENCE OR DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD’S LAWS IN TERMS OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE REPRESENTS A TIPPING POINT WITH ENORMOUS, ENORMOUS CONSEQUENCES”, although he was careful to add that he didn’t advocate executing gay men by stoning (if you feel that you need to point that out, you should probably take the hint).


But for being such a drooling madman, Drollinger’s influence is immense. Not only did the vice president and a number of member’s of Trump’s cabinet attend his weekly meetings to listen to his deranged theocratic rants, those cabinet members would also actively provide support for his organizations: for instance, in February 2018, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and several members of Congress appeared as featured speakers at a fundraising dinner for Capitol Ministries, and a slew of representatives and senators have endorsed or sponsored the organization or even actively helped it expand. His groups also have international branches and projects (often targeting LGBT rights) in e.g. (but not limited to) Romania, Ukraine, Nicaragua and Honduras.


Diagnosis: Raging, hateful fundie. Extremely influential, and extremely dangerous.

Friday, June 21, 2024

#2785: Rick Driver

Rick Driver is a wingnut conspiracy theorist and talk show host for the Anderson, South Carolina, talk station WAIM-AM’s Rick Driver Show. Yeah, Driver’s reach is probably rather limited, and there isn’t really much to distinguish him from a very large group of similar deranged wingnut conspiracy theorists, but here you go. So when several explosive devices sent to Democratic Party figures and people who had criticized then-President Donald Trump in 2018, Driver was quick to conclude thatthese bombs” are “nothing more than false flag” and that “folks on the left are extremely desperate -- anything to disrupt the ship. Anything to get rid of the president. Anything” because that’s the conclusion that sat best with how he likes to view the world; it had nothing to do with facts or evidence or such parameters, of course, but Driver isn’t big on facts and evidence. He was similarly quick to dismiss Covid-19 when it first hit South Carolina in 2020: “It’s a hoax," said Driver, before trying to modify himself a little (“The hoax isn’t the virus itself – it’s real – but those people trying to build this thing up as something it isn’t is, I believe, the hoax”)


Diagnosis: Yeah, you know the kind. Relatively minor, but there is a lot of these conspiracy drones on American airwaves.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

#2784: Sylvia Driskell

Sylvia Driskell is a Nebraska-based self-declared ambassador of “God, And His, Son Jesus Christ [sic]” who received some attention back in 2015 when she sued every gay person on Earth, asking a federal judge to rule on whether homosexuality is a sin. In Driskell v. Homosexuals (yes, that’s the name), Driskell served as her own lawyer, and although her seven-page petition (written entirely in cursive) – officially against “Homosexuals, Their Given Name Homosexuals Their Alis Gay [sic]” – failed to reference any relevant or irrelevant case laws, it liberally quoted the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary. The goal was to make the District Court in Omaha decide, once and for all, whether being gay is a sin: “Why are judges passing laws, so sinners can break religious, and moral laws,” stated the complaint, and “[w]ill all the judges of this Nation, judge God to be a lier [sic]”? Given her role as ambassador, Driskell saw it as her responsibility to take on the case,  and to “start standing up for the moral principles on which our great nation, our great states, and our great cities were founded on.” The District court promptly refused to take a stance on Driskell’s theological hypotheses and tossed the case.


I never thought that I would see a day in which our great nation or our own great state of Nebraska would become so compliant to the complicity of some people[’s] lewd behavior,” explained Driskell in the complaint, before emphasizing “that homosexuality is a sin and that they the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality. Why else would they have been hiding in the closet.” Why indeed. And although “homosexuals say that it’s not a sin to be homosexual, and they have the right to marry, to be parents,” children raised by these “liars, deceivers, and thieves” will necessarily “grow up to be one of the three, or all three.”


Diagnosis: A local clown, and the immediate response to her antics is of course hilarity. But it is also somewhat important not to forget how much hate, anger and fear are driving people like Driskell. And although Driskell is dumb and powerless, others with similar views might not be.

Monday, June 17, 2024

#2783: Roger Dowdell

Before MAGA, there was the Tea Party (there’s plenty of overlap), and like so many MAGA loons, many Tea Party-affiliated bozos had bizarre and scary ideas about how states and governments work, partially due to militia or sovereign citizen influence. One such recurring, bizarre idea is the deranged notion that a group of citizens can decide to join up for a grand jury and indict people – anyone they disagree with, but the focus is usually on government officials – for whatever they, through typical conspiracy thinking, are convinced that these people have done wrong (both the alleged facts of the case and the standards by which the actions are wrong are usually imagination-based), and then convict them and hand down punishment outside of the judicial system. A particularly deranged feature of that kind of thinking is the delusion these people tend to entertain that someone other than themselves would take any conclusion they arrive at more seriously than the clown show it is.


In 2015, for instance, a group of sovereign citizen loons on the Sarasota county’s Charter Review Board suggested putting a “people’s common law grand jury” (typical nomenclature among sovereign citizen loons) to vote by the electorate, in direct conflict with local, state and federal law, which they don’t tend recognize. The purpose of the common law grand jury was to allow everyday citizens (i.e. themselves) to, on their own, indict government officials for corruption, without official assistance, oversight, or nuisances like due process concerns. The suggestion is, of course, completely outside of the general mandate of the Charter Review Board, but the board had at this point been usurped by morons who tried to spend as much time as possible promoting sovereign citizen stuff instead of doing their job. The idea was primarily pushed by two local village idiot members, Pat Wayman and Steven R. Fields, and the explicit goal was to arrest and possibly execute then-president Obama. “Take a look at the French Revolution and what took place there,” said Mike Bolam, a local clown who attended charter review board meetings to support the creation common law grand juries. Wayman, the charter board member, also had a history of posting Facebook posts calling for the arrest of then-president Obama on murder and treason charges and promoting the III Percent group, as well as videos claiming that the Sandy Hook shootings were staged false flag operations and warnings against UN takeover of the US through its non-binding Agenda 21 agreement.


The architect behind the grand jury idea, the guy whose proposal the Sarasota crazies were intending to implement, were developed by Tea Party activist Rodger Dowdell, who denied being a sovereign citizen but did claim thatGrand jury powers come from God,” not the state or the Constitution, and – importantly – that the rulings of such a grand jury would be kept out of reach of presidential and even U.S. Supreme Court authority. Dowdell is, in other words, a sovereign citizen activist who don’t like the ‘sovereign citizen’ label, presumably because it is tricky to market that label beyond groups of local village idiots. “A people's common law grand jury can, without any probable cause, go into any nook or cranny of government – local, state or federal – research anything that's going on and root out corruption,” continued Dowdell. He also claimed a common law grand jury was already operating in Manatee County, Florida (which seems to be where Dowdell himself lives), but offered no evidence of that: “I can’t talk about it. Everything is secret. In order to keep innocents who may be investigated from being damaged, whatever a grand jury does is secret;” or in other words: a grand jury’s work are rulings are not bound by any Constitution or law, nor by principles of accountability or transparency, nor does it in any way involve the people beyond a couple of conspiracy theorists and their followers. The freedom for which a system like this is a recipe (Dowdell is also affiliated with something called The Liberty Restoration Society) is a strange kind of freedom.


Dowdell is otherwise state coordinator of the wingnut National Liberty Alliance. It is unclear what size or influence that group has, but Dowdell is also active in a range of other groups with similar goals, such as We the People of Colorado, which was formed in part upon the realization that the U.S. government is illegitimate: “When they figured this out, they said ‘how will we get the government to the way it was founded. They did the deep research  … and put an ad in the paper and asked people to come to a meeting,” said Dowdell in 2017 after a group of We the People of Colorado-affiliates got arrested for threatening, intimidating and filing fraudulent liens against dozens of public officials in relation to another Citizens Grand Jury they set up (we’ll just name those defendants for potential future reference: Brian Baylog, Steven Byfield, Stephen Nalty, Harlan Smith, Bruce Doucette [whom we have encountered before], Laurence Goodman, David Coffelt, Janis Blease). Dowdell also runs a website – which is hard to load partially due to its chaotic combinations of fonts and colors – where he issues pseudolegal documents, accusation,s and threats, interleaved with conspiracy theoris and seemingly random Bible verses.


The Sarasota proposal failed, by the way, due to a tie vote (4–4)!


Diagnosis: It’s easy to dismiss people like Rodger Dowdell as loner clowns with internet access and cognitive shortcomings, but his ideas actually have some traction among similarly cognitively challenged wingnuts (of which there are many, even in local governments), and they have caused real, tangible harm to communities across the US. Dangerous.

Friday, June 14, 2024

#2782: Gary Douglas

Access Conciousness is a pseudoscience and quasi-religious organization – potentially a cult and often described as a “Scientology knockoff” – founded in 1995 by Gary M. Douglas. The group offers a plethora of books, videos and physical classes, with memberships and accessories that will help you achieve non-specific benefits, including wakefulness and weight loss, in particular through a set of special head massages that will ostensibly achieve electromagnetic activation of chakra-like “bar points”. A central part of the underlying pseudo-theology is the assumption that there are 16 (or possibly 32) bars in your head that correspond to different parts of your life, and which Access Consciousness’s products will help you target. But it’s not enough to be a mere human to achieve the promised enlightenment; you have to be so conscious that you’ve become a humanoid, which is apparently a more conscious, free, non-sheeple-like version of human. The general ideas behing Access Consciousness are obviously influenced by concepts and ideas related to acupressure and chakra nonsense, as well as by Scientology. There is a detailed evaluation of the group here.


Apparently, you, too, can dismantle the implants that restrict you to being a mere human, for instance by repeating a set of nonsense mantras or “clearing statements” likeWhat stupidity are you using to create the old thinking you are choosing? Everything that is, times a godzillion – will you destroy and uncreate it all? Right and wrong, good and bad, pod and poc, all nine, shorts, boys and beyonds.” Currently, the Access True Knowledge Foundation is working to establish a series of Access Schools, “after-school programs or schools that educate kids in a more expansive and dynamic way.” Some such after-school programs already exist.


Fortunately, their webpage has a section labeled "how does it work?" related to the aforementioned access bars. Unfortunately, the section contains absolutely no indication of how it works and absolutely nothing resembling scientific ideas behind the procedures, though if you ask for the scientific basis of their claims, you are obviously not in the target group here. They do, like woo and quackery advocates often do, suggest that you must be receptive for the procedures to work; criticism from skeptics can accordingly be conveniently and summarily dismissed. Besides, “humans” who ask too many questions are just “evil little fucks” or “demon bitches from hell” anyways and not worth the time of True humanoid followers.


And you can of course choose your level of receptivity. In fact, according to Access Consciousness, everything is apparently a choice, and as “infinite beings” we always have a choice. As Access-acolyte Sarah Blumenfeld explains it: “For instance, my [late] husband had cancer. Well, I could judge that as wrong, but that’s what he chose and so ... the concept of everything-in-our-life-is-a-choice upsets a lot of people.” If you’re still unsure, she has an analogy: “If I had said that someone ate peas when they didn’t want to, to prevent someone else from having to eat peas who didn’t want to even more, then you would be okay with that, probably. It’s the same kind of a concept, but to such a greater degree that it makes you uncomfortable, and maybe you can't grasp that, and that's okay.” So, there. Commentators have been worried that, given its increase in popularity and followers, Access Consciousness is on the verge of turning into a sex cult.


The founder of Access Consciousness, Gary Douglas, used to be in the real estate business until legal conflicts with (mere “humans” in) collection agencies, the IRS, and the Department of Justice drove him to bankruptcy in 1993. After his bankruptcy, he conveniently discovered his channeling powers, and for a while, he apparently channeled a number of historical persons and entities, including Rasputin and extraterrestrials, to people willing to pay for such dross. The information he gained from these channelling sessions provided the foundations for Access Consciousness (i.e. Douglas discovered what level of shit some people were willing to believe), and the organization was developed with the help of connections provided him by his first first wife, a Scientology recruiter, and his second wife, a former Scientologist. The group remained obscure until its teachings were endorsed ex-NFL player Ricky Williams, possibly because Williams was too stupid even for Scientology – or perhaps because Williams perceived it as easier to milk a smaller organization for influence and money. There is a brief comment on Douglas’s participation at the MindBodyWallet Festival in Perth in 2006 here.


Like Scientology, Access Consciousness is largely a commercial enterprise, and they have a substantial online shop pushing books, classes, memberships, and certifications for opening new branches. And everything is expensive: it’ll cost you 130 dollars a month (2012 figures), for instance, to obtain a “creative edge” membership that allows you to see a telecast, “unpredictable surprises from anywhere at any time” and “a one-hour call every month” with Douglas or one of his associates Dain Heer, a former chiropractor and Douglas’s number two man; Simone Milasas, an “Advanced Facilitator and Business Development Coordinator” for the foundation; or Brendon Watt.


Diagnosis: You’d think that, at some level, Douglas is aware that what he is doing is trying to run a cult based on exploitative nonsense. But we admit that he really does seem to struggle to distinguish reality from his everchanging imagination – having an army of droning acolytes affirming anything you say may tend to obscure that distinction for you. It is rather unbelievable that this sort of bullshit should be able to sustain any kind of popularity, but then again, even Scientology seems to have been a successful venture for a while.


Hat-tip: rationalwiki

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

#2781: Diane Douglas

Diane Douglas served as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2015 to 2019, a position she used to try to do as much damage to public education as possible. She was generally recognized as being completely incompetent and unqualified even at the time she was elected in 2014, and immediately faced a recall effort by voters who accurately judged her to be not qualified for the position.


Of course, one of the issues Douglas had with public schools was that they teach evolution. Douglas is a creationist. So in 2018, she tapped local young-earth creationist Joseph Kezele, who is convinced that the Earth is just 6000 years old and that dinosaurs were present on Noah’s Ark (“plenty of space on the Ark for dinosaurs – no problem”), to review the proposed new standards on how to teach evolution. Douglas’s chief of staff, Michael Bradley (surely not this Michael Bradley, though that Michael Bradley has views on evolution, too), defended the appointment by falsely claiming that[w]e wanted to include a wide variety of views so that we’d get the best product possible,” adding, as if relevant, that Christian religious beliefs are widely held by a broad segment of Americans.


Also pior to appointing Kezele, Douglas had worked hard for some time to get public education more in line with her brand of religious fundamentalism; she had already for instance taken a red pen to the proposed science standards to strike or qualify the word ‘evolution’ wherever it occurred, and in a candidate forum in 2017, she explitly called for creationism to be taught along with evolution. One of her justifications was that school children should be aware that evolution is – wait for it – just a theory; it is very “theoretical” and not “proven, according to Douglas. In particular, she challenged scientists toshow me where any scientist has proven or replicated that life came from non-living matter [which has nothing to do with evolution] or that, in the example we see in the museums, that man evolved from an ape. There’s no proof to that.


Oh, and Douglas did not restrict herself to deleting mentions of evolution; references to climate change in the high school earth and space science standards were deleted as well. But of course.


Indeed, Douglas ultimately suggested that Arizona adopt heavily Bible-centered charter school standards crafted by Hillsdale College, a private Christian school, for all public schools in the state, calling them the “gold standard for K-12 academics.”


Her efforts were, fortunately – and despite support from the Discovery Instituteunsuccessful.


Diagnosis: How someone with such a fundamental lack of understanding of science could end up in a position to have power over the science standards in public education should have been a serious mystery but isn’t. A complete moron who, as so many people do, fill the gaping holes in her knowledge and understanding with fervent religious fundamentalism and denialism. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

#2780: Michelle Dossett

Michelle Dossett is a real MD and Massachusetts General Hospital internist. She is also a quack who uses her position of authority to promote pseudoscientific drivel and woo. Dossett “specializes” in quackery falling under the loose category of ‘mind-body medicine’, but seems to be open to virtually any brand of woo that comes her way: In support of the Massachusetts licensing bill for naturopaths in 2017, for instance – where naturopaths successfully achieved a sheen of respectability through legislative alchemy (a common ploy since science, research and evidence won’t provide them with anything) – Dossett said that naturopaths often do a better job than physicians at “using lifestyle-based approaches to prevent and help to manage chronic disease.” That claim is at best disingenuous: what characterizes naturopathic practice – and what the licensing bill explicitly allows naturopaths to do – is, in addition to providing substandard treatment of real diseases, to use pseudoscientific diagnostic tools (or gut feelings) to diagnose people with fake diseases (like Wilson’s temperature syndrome, chronic candidiasis, adrenal fatigue, the pseudoscientific version of hypothyroidism or conditions you don’t have (like diabetes, infertility, allergies, cancer) for which they subsequently prescribe expensive supplements and other nonsense; and of course it is successful: after treatment you won’t have the condition you were diagnosed with anymore since you never had it in the first place. 


Now, Dossett is a true believer in all things woo, and we mean all: including homeopathy. Together with familiar promoters of woo and quackery Roger B. Davis, Ted J. Kaptchuk and Gloria Y. Yeh, Dossett published an article in the American Journal of Public Health titled “Homeopathy Use by US Adults: Results of a National Survey”. Now, given how idiotic and obviously ineffective homeopathy is, it is worthwhile to research how widespread the use of it actually is, but the authors, being what they are, went in with the basic presupposition that homeopathic quackery is effective, and quickly went off the hinges. So when users of homeopathy views homeopathic remedies as ‘effective’ because of confirmation bias, wishful thinking and regression to the mean, Dossett et al. suggests that it might be due to “a more individualized and effective homeopathic prescription by the provider”. Indeed, the article even opens with asserting that “Recent reports suggest potential public health benefits [of using homeopathy] such as reductions in unnecessary antibiotic use [based on a Boiron-funded survey of patient recall of symptom resolution that nowhere suggests that prescribed antibiotics were “unnecessary”], reductions in costs to treat certain respiratory diseases [a reference to a paper in the pseudo-journal Homeopathy; besides, cheaper does not indicate effective], improvements in peri-menopausal depression [a reference to a shit article with no control group], improved health outcomes in chronically ill individuals [reference to another recall survey that explicitly did not to test the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments], and control of a Leptospirosis epidemic in Cuba [a laughable garbage study]”. Nowhere, of course, does Dossett et al.’s article mention any of the overwhelming evidence that homeopathy is bullshit. Heck, the article even describes homeopathy as “a system of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) with a resurgence of public interest in recent decades”, which is downright false: homeopathy is water claimed to have the memory of having been exposed to duck liver (but not containing any duck liver) marketed to treat influenza based on the false assumptions that “like cures like”, that duck liver resembles flu symptoms (no, really) and that the person preparing the remedy has used the right magic spell.


And Dossett has published studies on homeopathy before. With Kaptchuk and insane dingbat Iris Bell, she also published “Patient-Provider Interactions Affect Symptoms in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, A Pilot Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” which studied the homeopathic product Acidil, a product from Boiron, one of the most profitable scam ventures in the US. Since the study itself was decently carried out, it showed that Acidil was no better than placebo – a finding that led the authors to suggest, rather than the obvious and correct conclusion that the product is bullshit, that “the study was not adequately powered to detect an effect” and “did not individualize based on subjects’ symptoms according to standard homeopathic methodology


Diagnosis: Dangerous idiot.


Hat-tip: Jann Bellamy @ sciencebased medicine

Thursday, June 6, 2024

#2779: Peter Doshi

Peter Doshi is a professional crank and denialist, senior editor of the BMJ, and largely responsible – together with antivaxxer and conspiracy theorist Paul Thacker – for the fall of the BMJ from being a leading medical journal to one that is at least not consistenly trustworthy. Doshi has been senior editor for a while, to the delight of the anti-vaccination movement as well as of various pseudoscience, denialist and conspiracy theory groups; in particular, Doshi seems to enjoy distributing misinformation, speculation and conspiracy theories about epidemiology. Doshi is an anthropologist, and has no background or expertise in epidemiology (or medicine more generally).


Doshi on the flu shot

An early foray into denialism and conspiracy theories was his 2005 claim, in the BMJ, that flu death estimates were heavily flawed: “Are US flu death figures more PR than science?” asked Doshi, and followed up with an article for the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) and for Harper's Magazine, in which he – possibly wilfully – failed to “understand the system or the basis for the estimates. Moreover if one really counted [non-respiratory] flu-associated deaths the figure could easily be a gross underestimate.” Doshi, however, undeterred by his failure to understand the topic, went on (in 2008) to publish a paper questioning the risk of pandemic influenza in the American Journal of Public Health, where he suggested that falling flu mortality rates in the decades after 1919 is not “the result of influenza vaccination” but of “improvement in living conditions or naturally acquired immunity.” He was invited to and spoke at a 2009 conference (discussed here) arranged by the Joseph Mercola-funded anti-vaccine organization the National Vaccine Information Center together with Andrew Wakefield.


Doshi's flu nonsense has, if anything, become even crankier in later years. In a JAMA Internal Medicine opinion paper (not a research paper!) from 2013, Doshi questioned, based on no evidence, the idea that influenza is a “major public health threat for which the annual vaccine offers a safe and effective solution”. His main gambit was a nirvana fallacy (because flu vaccines aren’t 100% effective they are worthless, even if they still save thousands of lives), but he also toyed with germ theory denialism, claiming, against all facts and evidence, that “influenza viruses appear to be a minor contributor” to flu. The piece followed another nonsense opinion piece in The BMJ that played up potential dangers of flu shots and questioned their efficacy, and which was widely celebrated by anti-vaccine groups. Again, it is important to note that Doshi is not an epidemiologist but an anthropologist who has “completed a fellowship in comparative effectiveness research” but no research into influenza or vaccines. Given that the antivaxx group tended to respond with claims like “Johns Hopkins Scientist Reveals Shocking Report on Flu Vaccines”, even Johns Hopkins had to intervene to point out that Doshi “has no scientific affiliation with Johns Hopkins, nor is he employed by any of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions”. Because of his lack of actual expertise in real vaccine research (but the potential to try to distort the image to make it look like he has such expertise), Doshi was an “expert witness” for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine group Children’s Health Defense.



Doshi was quick to go denialist on COVID-19 vaccines, too; even before the initial vaccine trials had finished, Doshi went on to suggest that the trials couldn’t show that COVID-19 vaccines prevent severe cases. Real virologists were not impressed with Doshi’s errors and misinformation, in particular his inept and deranged nonsense about methodological issues (Doshi claimed that the trials should not have excluded people who had flu-like symptoms but not COVID – and for whom the COVID vaccine obviously didn’t have much benefit – from the “have COVID” group). Anti-vaccine groups and anti-vaccine legislators like Ron Johnson were impressed, however, and Doshi was promptly invited to testify before a government panel, where he claimed that most COVID-19 hospitalizations were among vaccinated people, based on a report error that swapped the word “vaccinated” with “unvaccinated” – easily corrected, of course, unless you’ve already committed yourself to a conclusion. Doshi also claimed that mRNA vaccines are not really vaccines.


In 2022, Doshi managed to publish (together with a number of other anti-vaccine-adjacent conspiracy theorists like Joseph Fraiman, Sander Greenland and Patrick Whelan) a worthless exercise in p-hacking (to bias its results “in favor of the conclusion that the risk of serious adverse [vaccine-related] events are greater than the risk of serious COVID-19 outcomes”) in the BMJ itself, which went viral among anti-vaccine groups and is debunked e.g. here, here and here. In the paper, Doshi also treated the VAERS database as if it were a robust source, which it doesn’t even try to be, so even without the p-hacking it would have been stunningly worthless. (A hilariously inept defense of the paper by Norman Fenton, Professor of Risk Information Management at Queen Mary University of London, must be seen to be believed.)


For the New York Times, Doshi also co-authored a piece with antivaccine activist and Goop promoter Jennifer Block on COVID vaccine rollout problems, which the piece described as “needlessly divisive to use pressure, shame or mandates to get people vaccinated.”



Back in the days, Doshi also signed a letter supporting the HIV/AIDS denialist group Rethinking AIDS, which aimed to counter what they perceived as the false narrative pushed by “the AIDS industry and media” that “only a handful of scientists who doubt the HIV-AIDS hypothesis”. Actual HIV-denying scientists with relevant credentials don’t amount to even what can reasonably be called “a handful”, and Doshi has later repudiated the association; his name is still on the list, however.


Here is a decent illustration of Doshi’s proclivity to see nefarious conspiracy theories all around him.


Diagnosis: Denialist and hack who likes to pontificate on issues outside of his areas of expertise – a common enough type of character trait in denialist circles, but Doshi has, somehow, managed to hold onto a position as editor of the BMJ. He is, accordingly, in a position to cause immense harm with misinformation and conspiracy theories. The broader question, however, is of course: What the hell is wrong with the BMJ?


Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

Monday, June 3, 2024

#2778: Bobby Doscher

Bobby Doscher is an Oklahoma City-based chiropractor (the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Children’s Chiropractic Center “Oklahaven”), and apparently something of an authority in the chiropractic community – at least she is a somewhat sought-after teacher and practitioner ready to hold seminars and talks to introduce people to the magic of chiropractic, in particular chiropractic targeting children: “With gentle realignments of the spine, the life force – or the vibrations that hold every cell in the body together – flows freely into the tissue, which has been so tight for these children for so long, restoring life,” says Doscher. In chiropractic practice, this life force is known as “innate intelligence,” according to Doscher, “but it has many other names including the Holy Spirit and Chi.” And if anyone were ever to think that chiropractic – at least its core parts, those that go beyond standard physiotherapy, such as subluxation theory – was anything but New Age pseudoreligion, or that it had anything to do with, say, science or reality, they can easily put those confusions to rest. (And even if you were sympathetic to such stuff, we suspect you’d be hard pressed to explain what it means and how its beneficial for your body for ‘vibrations to flow freely into your tissue’).


Doscher, though, seems to think otherwise: “Chiropractic Based on Scientific Fact”, declares Doscher in an explicit endorsement of the pseudoscientific nonsense known as subluxation theory. The vision of her organization, Oklahaven, is accordingly “making chiropractic the first resort for health for the children.” And according to herself and her folio of subjectively validated anecdotes, Oklahaven has experienced great results treating a range of conditions, including “learning disabilities, developmentally delayed, dyslexia ADD, ADHD, autism, and cerebral palsy.”


In fact, Doscher is not only a “D.C.” but also an N.D.”, and she is affiliated with something called the Gemstone Therapy Institute, which introduces people to the rites and tenets of the insane religious nonsense of New Age gemstone magic. She is also a fan of sacred geometry.


Diagnosis: Doscher has some influence, and she specifically targets children and parents, especially those finding themselves in challenging situations. She’s no doubt sincere in her beliefs, which seem to be unfettered by reality. And as Edzard Ernst points out, sincerity makes a quack more dangerous, not less.