Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#1140: Frank Sherwin

Frank J. Sherwin III is a research associate, “Senior Lecturer” at, and “Science Writer” for the Institute for Creation Research, sometimes coauthoring with Brian Thomas for the ICR newsletter Acts and Facts. Apparently he has a master’s degree in zoology, which is not (apparently) quite sufficient to confer any authority on his rejection of virtually his whole area of expertise.

He has also published in Answers in Genesis’s house journal Answers, including “Louis Pasteur’s Views on Creation, Evolution, and the Genesis of Germs”, with Alan L. Gillen (which, one wonders, is supposed to show exactly what?) and “A Possible Function of Entamoeba histolytica in the Creation Model”, which contains absolutely no research (“the Scriptures teach” doesn’t count) but plenty of conjecturing concerning a micro-organism before and after the Fall. Sherwin is, however, perhaps most famous for taking the Cambrian explosion to be one of the “four irrefutable arguments” against evolution – not that he ever pauses to consider what biologists actually have to say about it.

According to his sister Elisabeth, Sherwin is a creationist because he is “irritated by the arrogance of evolutionists who claim to have all the answers,” which sounds like a pretty lame reason; also, “the world view of a person who thinks they came from bacteria is likely to be substantially different from the world view of someone who thinks they were created in God’s image,” which is not a particularly well-considered reason either.

Diagnosis: Pretty much your standard fare among creationists. Because of Despite the complete absence of actual research (or critical thinking) efforts, Sherwin nevertheless remains a figure of authority in the creationist movement.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

#1139: Daniel Shenton

Yes, there are still people believing that the earth is flat, and they do have an organization, founded by one Samuel Shenton in the 1950s. Daniel Shenton is the current president (and he is, curiously, apparently not even related to Samuel). According to Shenton, it is not gravity that pins us to the ground but the rapid upward motion of a disc-shaped planet (that Newtonian thing about constant motion seems to have escaped him), and you can indeed fall over the edges. He also uses a GPS when riding his motorcycle, apparently.

Of course, to accept a flat earth cosmology you have to accept some conspiracies, and Shenton is happy to grant for instance that the moonlandings were faked. Apparently the idea that motivates him is Zeteticism, which according to Shenton “emphasises experience and reason over the ‘trusting acceptance of dogma’,” and the earth feels flat to him. Actually, it doesn’t really, but whatever. Apparently the evidence that convinced him was Thomas Dolby’s 1984 album The Flat Earth.

In fact, Shenton comes across as a rather curious case. He has no problem with evolution, and he does think there is good evidence for man-made climate change; he was accordingly deeply offended when Obama compared global warming denialists to flat earthers.

Diagnosis: It is, to be honest, a bit unclear how deeply committed Shenton is to his idea, and it is hard to imagine his society having any lasting, detrimental effect on civilization. Indeed, one may compellingly argue that they provide a good and helpful illustration of how denialism works, and how silly it actually is.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

#1138: Bruce Shelton

Bruce Shelton is a physician (a real one). But he is also a former Arizona homeopathic board chairman and one of the most active (and worrying) lobbyists for gettingstate boards to recognize quackery. Remember the Arizona homeopathic board? Yes, they were the ones who exonerated Gabriel Cousens for malpractice in 2001 – anything to avoid doing harm to a cherished form of quackery, I suppose (people, on the other hand ...). Shelton is also a signatory to the International Medical Council on Vaccination’s list of, well, people who question the safety and efficacy of vaccines, since denialism, anti-science zeal, and lack of understanding of scientific methods or critical thinking rarely restrict themselves to isolated topics. He is currently affiliated with the Valley Integrative Physicians in Arizona.

Apparently Shelton thinks a good justification for believing in the efficacy of crazy woo such as homeopathy is that these have been practiced for a long time, often “hundreds of years”. Like alchemy. And bloodletting. Words fail.

Diagnosis: Not the loudest or most obviously incoherent promoter of woo out there, Shelton is nevertheless among the more influential. Seeing his name in any context should raise a red flag for anyone. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

#1137: Lou Sheldon

Being chairman of something called the Traditional Values Coalition is asking for an entry in any respectable encyclopedia of loons. And as chairman for this organization Louis P. Sheldon speaks and writes, as expected, primarily about social issues such as abortion, religious liberty, and public acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and does so with precisely the level of acumen, insight and humanity you would expect. The Traditional Values Coalition, which claims to be the largest non-denominational grassroots church lobby in America, is listed as a hate group by the SPLC, and Sheldon was an associate of Jack Abramoff, but he nevertheless manages to sustain an impressive media presence (despite creeping out even Tucker Carlson: “You want to know what the single biggest problem facing inner-city black neighborhoods is?” asked Sheldon: “Homosexuality,” he answered).

Insofar as Sheldon’s arguments and stances are so typical we won’t be bothered to cover them in too much detail, but for a representative sample you may for instance look at his attempt to argue that Glee is working to “desensitize Americans to the genuine risks of the homosexual agenda” (in an article called “The Plan for a Gay (Domi) Nation”) – indeed, America is in danger because gay people on television are portrayed as too nice; “Rome fell because of its immorality,” says Sheldon (completely untrue, of course), and likewise “moral anarchy will pull down any kind of a republican government, and that’s where we're headed if we don't turn things around.”

And predictably: The fact that he is sometimes rightfully criticized for his views is taken as proof not only that he is being persecuted, but that Christians are being persecuted in the US (gays, of course, cannot be Christians, according to Sheldon). A similar, illustrative example of his way of thinking is his organization’s (and other “pro-Family” organizations’, though only Sheldon himself showed up) efforts to overturn the Fair Education Act in California and his call to “take back our courts from the anti-God left” after the courts found that the Constitution doesn’t support making Sheldon’s hate-based opinions into law. There’s a good resource on Sheldon’s anti-gay views here.

Sheldon is also a hardcore creationist. In the 90s, for instance, he was heavily involved in campaigning for ruining public education in California, complaining about an “overemphasis on the study of evolution in the school curriculum, underplaying the role of religion in the formation of the U.S.,” paying “insufficient attention to the value of sexual abstinence” and “the glorification of gay lifestyles” in California schools. At least according to himself, his group was successful in persuading the state board to dilute references to evolution in state textbooks. “The important thing in our view is that the Earth was not created by evolution but by God,” said Sheldon. Apparently the existing evidence for evolution is persecution of Sheldon and those who agree with him.

He is apparently also a beneficiary of the philanthropic efforts of Howard Ahmanson, but James Hartline, interestingly, does not seem to be a fan. Sheldon also claims to have known that Ted Haggard was gay before the familiar scandal, but decided to cover it up because maintaining political momentum was more important than truth (yes, he actually said that, but will probably never realize that he did). And, not the least, he is the father of Andrea Lafferty.

Diagnosis: Sheldon is still one of the big religiously motivated haters and anti-civilization activists in the US. Batshit insane, and extremely dangerous.

Monday, August 4, 2014

#1136: Martin Sheen

A.k.a. Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez;

We’ve sort of refused to give an entry to Charlie Sheen, since he doesn’t appear to be the right kind of crazy. But his father, Martin Sheen, is a different matter. Martin’s crazy seems to be far more … systematic, for lack of a better word. Martin Sheen has a long career as an activist, having allegedly been arrested some 66 times for protesting and acts of civil disobedience, and seems, indeed, to be rather unselective in the kinds of causes to which he will lend his voice. In particular, Sheen has come out as a troofer; indeed, he was supposed to feature in the movie September Morn (together with e.g. Woody Harrelson and Ed Asner), a fictionalized account of 9/11 written by Howard Cohen and directed by BJ Davis, but the project seems to have run into some problems (apart from the obvious ones). According to Martin, he started “asking questions” about the official story after having discussed the matter with his son Charlie. No, seriously.

Diagnosis: Well, it’s really just another celebrity being dense – but since many are more than willing to give such celebrities a microphone to rant incoherently (mental acuity was not the reason they became celebrities in the first place) about matters on which they have no expertise or insight, someone like Sheen may actually have some influence.