Wednesday, April 1, 2015

#1332: David Awbrey


Back in 2005 David Awbrey was appointed the Kansas State Department of Education Director of Communications, and as such he was at least partially responsible for the following stages in Kansas’s long-lasting creationist kerfuffles (the Kansas Board of Education chair was Steve Abrams, a noted creationist as well, by the way). As a staunch science denialist Awbrey tried his best to insert creationist talking points into the curricula of Kansas public schools. In fact, Awbrey did claim to be a theistic evolutionist, but whatever the case may be his antiscience attitude was never in doubt. “Scientists and science educators bring to the classroom their ‘religion’ which holds that humans are meaningless cosmic accidents as opposed to being God’s creation,” complained Awbrey, and for evidence? “Anyone see the origin, anyone see the Big Bang, anyone see the dinosaurs? These are all metaphysical speculations by people who look at the same evidence and disagree with what they see.” He also claimed that the scientists refused to engage in democratic processes – after all, Awbrey stated, only “[a] 26% minority in one of the polls (the Pew Foundation, I believe) believe the darwinist version,” and scientists apparently don’t acknowledge that.

Of course, Awbrey was hired for his rightwing political connections rather than his expertise (by Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, who didn’t have any qualifications other than rightwing antiscience attitudes either), and after a couple of embarrassing episodes like the ones mentioned he thankfully resigned. He is, in other words, probably rather harmless at present, but not for lack of trying.

He later wrote a book, Finding Hope in the Age of Melancholy, where he apparently laments the progress of science at the expense of religion.

Diagnosis: A minor fish, probably neutralized and mostly forgotten by now. Still worth a mention, methinks. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

#1331: Dylan Avery


Dylan Avery is a filmmaker and, in particular, the creator of the Loose Change films (together with Korey Rowe and Jason Bermas), which have established his position as one of the movers and shakers of the troofer community. Through embarrassingly fallacious reasoning, selective use of evidence and numerous misunderstandings based largely on the producers’ lack of understanding of the relevant issues, the “documentary” attempts to “prove” that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a false flag operation carried out by high-ranking members of the Bush administration. The claims made in the movie have been falsified numerous times (a viewer’s guide is available here), and there have been several updates of the “documentary” in which various bogus claims have been removed; no matter how thoroughly debunked the claims may be it won’t affect the main hypothesis, however, since their method is emphatically not the scientific one of testing hypotheses against data, but the pseudoscientific one of selecting the data that fit the hypothesis and disregarding the rest.

Among its claims:
-       The World Trade Center towers did not fall because planes flew into them (they do admit that planes did fly into them, but not the Pentagon), but because explosives were placed in the towers causing them to fall.
-       The Pentagon was hit by a cruise missile, not an airplane.
-       United flight 93 did not crash in Pennsylvania, but landed in Ohio, where all the passengers were removed and disappeared (it is unclear why; if the government were going to kill all those passengers anyway, wouldn’t it have been easier to crash the plane?).

Apparently 9/11 was a set-up in order for the US to justify a war in Iraq, although it has no explanation for why the government would carry out such a ruse and not incorporate any connection to Iraq in it. Furthermore, the producers seem to think that if the towers had not fallen, people would not have supported a war, and to accomplish this the Republican party would risk their very existence by planting explosives in the buildings. Most of the claims are discussed in detail here, and many central claims are refuted here.

Oh well, like other conspiracy theories (and creationism, which really is a conspiracy theory as well, in fact), its proponents aren’t really prepared to seriously evaluate or test their own hypotheses; instead, the point is to try, with whatever desperate means available, to poke holes in their opponents’ views, apparently being under the delusion that any reason to doubt the opposing hypothesis is automatic evidence for their own views.

Diagnosis: Really as dense and deluded as they come, and his claims are laughable. It is unsurprising, but disconcerting, that his screeds have achieved the popularity they have achieved.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

#1330: Jeffry John Aufderheide


There is a substantial number of blogs and websites out there devoted to anti-vaccine promotion; many of them claim otherwise, but it is often easy to gauge from the very name that we are talking some hardcore science denialism. Sane Vax is one such. Their official mission is “to promote Safe, Affordable, Necessary & Effective vaccines and vaccination practices through education and information,” and the underlying premise is accordingly that vaccines of today are largely unsafe (or not sane, which does indeed emphasize the lunacy of the group).

Jeffry John Aufderheide blogs for Sane Vax, and does so by combining utter scientific ignorance with paranoia in a manner that rivals the worst. He also writes for – indeed, was the founder of – VacTruth.org, the name of which is equally revealing. His article “WWII Military Handbook Reveals Pesticide Chemicals Used In Infant Vaccines” made its rounds in the expected parts of the Internet, and described Aufderheide’s shock reaction to discovering that some vaccines contain Triton X-100, Tween 20, or Tween 80, which, he discovered in said handbook, were also “used as major components of spraying operations of DDT.” And now, readers, you probably already see what conclusions Aufderheide is going to draw, and also why they reveal such abysmal ignorance of anything remotely resembling anything having to do with science. A sample: “To minimize the above information, you may hear arguments about the chemicals being safe because they are in hand soaps, ice cream, and in our lungs (natural surfactant). For the record, I’ve never seen a mother feeding or injecting a newborn with soap or ice cream. My word of advice to mothers is follow your intuition and ask a lot of questions.” That is some hardcore ignorance going on.

A similar level of crazy can for instance be found in his “History shows polio caused by pesticide exposure, then was eradicated by decline in DDT use.” Yes, it claims that polio was really caused by pesticides, and that doctors have been wrong all along. Do you need to know what his argument is? Oh yes, there’s correlation; that’s enough for Aufderheide, who has apparently never heard of the distinction between correlation and causation. Of course, the correlation doesn’t exist either, which even he might probably have discovered if he’d bothered to look more closely (probably not) – the decline in polio preceded the decline in the use of DDT. But I guess that “close enough” sufficed for Aufderheide.

Diagnosis: Yet another one. I don’t really know how influential Aufderheide actually is, but his articles sometimes get picked up by others, and whatever the amount of influence is, it sure isn’t beneficial.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

#1329: Susanne Atanus


A candidate called “S. Atanus”? Seriously? But the name is not the only thing that makes Susanne Atanus sound like a cartoon villain.

Now, primaries in election seasons tend to bring out some rabid lunatics, and Susanne Atanus is a fine specimen. Atanus was a candidate in the 2014 Republican primary for the right to challenge incumbent Rep. Jan Schakowsky in Illinois’s 9th district. She ran on a fundamentalist wingnut platform, and has for instance said she believes God controls the weather and has put tornadoes and diseases such as autism and dementia on earth as punishment for gay rights and legalized abortions. ” (Yes, she is also a global warming denialist.) “God is angry,” said Atanus. “We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions. Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.” Atanus had previously claimed that the stock market crash of 1929 didn’t actually happen.

She consequently won that primary.

Diagnosis: Good grief. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

#1328: John Assaraf


John Assaraf is, according to himself, a serial entrepreneur, brain researcher, and CEO of PraxisNow, a brain-research company that creates some of the most powerful evidence-based brain retraining tools and programs in the world. Sounds impressive? (no, he doesn’t provide any evidence – he has anecdotes, though; his target group probably won’t know the differece). Today, John researches, writes and lectures extensively around the world on the neuroscience of success and achieving maximum performance,” might lead you to suspect that scientific research isn’t really the main goal here. And it does not appear that Assaraf has any education even remotely related to neuroscience or consciousness studies. But he is sure interested in ”brain research, quantum physics, spiritual growth, health, exercise, travel, cooking, family, great food, friends and philanthropy.”

Did the word “quantum” just pop up in there? Oh, yes, it did. And now you probably have an idea about what kind of “neuroscience research” Assaraf promotes. Here is Assaraf on quantum physics: “They have proven that thoughts are what put together and hold together this ever-changing energy field into the ‘objects’ that we see,” says Assaraf. Our perceptions of objects in our environment are just interpretations “solely based on the ‘internal map’ of reality that we have, and not the real truth. Our ‘map’ is a result of our personal life’s collective experiences.” Change that map, and you can get rich: “Your life becomes what you have imagined and believed in most. The world is literally your mirror, enabling you to experience in the physical plane what you hold as your truth … until you change it.”

Yes, it’s the Law of Attraction, mixed with something resembling neurolinguistic programming. (And no, science has not shown what Assaraf thinks; his claims constitue an unsophisticated, bastardized form of Berkeley-style empiricism with conceptual schemes, with the incoherent thought that you can change your scheme at will; it’s not science, it’s badly misunderstood intro-level philosophy). You can nevertheless learn about it in his videos “Money2 The Neuroscience of Financial Success,” the sequel to “How to Earn $1 million.” Assaraf was even featured in the movie adaptation of The Secret. No, Assaraf’s interest in the science here isn’t particularly profound. But he does produce self-help books, of the most vapid, fluffy kind, backed up with vague tales of wonder and sheer woo.

Diagnosis: It’s really, really hard to believe that Assaraf is acting in good faith. But if he is … well, entrepeneurs may hail him as a success story, but his claims to care about science don’t even survive the most superficial scrutiny. Loon.