Sunday, September 21, 2014

#1159: Van Smith

Van Smith is a computer benchmarking expert, computer industry analyst and physicist who is well known enough to readers of various batshit insane fundie conspiracy sites. Smith’s obsession is the Georgia Guidestones, and he is pretty much convinced that the Guidestones express totalitarian messages and intentionally foreshadow the arrival of the Islamic Mahdi, i.e. the Antichrist. Because he is a loon, he also believes the Guidestons are linked through encoded numerological information to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The Burj Khalifa is of course, in Smith’s mind, a new Tower of Babel.. His “research” on these matters is discussed here. “I'm not a conspiracy lunatic who spends all my time researching Freemasonry and things like that,” said Smith, but added that “this evidence is extremely real, and it's disturbing.”

Diagnosis: Conspiracy lunatic who seems to spend far, far too much time researching Fremasonry and things like that. (This one was really too easy.)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

#1158: Robert Smith

There is more than one loon called “Robert Smith”. There is, for instance, a former editor and sysop at Conservapedia of that name (a member of the infamous Conservapedia Gang of Four, in fact). The Robert Smith we have in mind for this entry, however, is a professor of chemistry at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and signatory to the Discovery Institute’s petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. Given the, shal we say, subversive language of that petition, being a signatory does not on its own qualify for an entry in this Encyclopedia, and Smith has, as a matter of fact, not talked extensively about evolution in other contexts. What is noteworthy, however, is that Smith also figures on James Inhofe’s list of 650 scientists that supposedly dispute the consensus on AGW (taken apart e.g. here). Once again, being on that list isn’t evidence that you dispute the consensus on AGW – Inhofe included whoever he imagined had said things to dispute global warming – but Smith does indeed appear to be a science denialist when it comes to global warming.

Smith is, in fact, a real scientist, but he has indeed made something of a name for himself as a climate “contrarian” (and that he also appears on a list of evolution “contrarians” should kinda undermine his authority in fields he knows little about in general). And if you need more evidence that Smith is a loon, it’s worth point out that he has characterized Sarah Palin as a “rare politician … with brains”. His stance on climate is illuminatingly illustrated here.

Diagnosis: Apparently Smith seems to think that what makes his claims scientific is the fact that he has academic credentials in some field or other. It isn’t. But the attitude is a recipe for pseudoscience, and Smith falls right into it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

#1157: Jeffery Smith

Jeffery Smith is a former Iowa political candidate for the Natural Law Party. Smith has no discernible scientific or agricultural training, but he believes, very strongly, that eating GE crops causes infertility, organ damage and endocrine disruption. The scientific evidence for these claims is about as strong as for saying “that looking at carrots will give you brain tumors”. But there is no way Jeffery Smith is going to let actual evidence trump his intuitions based on what he feels is “natural” (or “evidence” such as this, which according to Smith “puts scientists to shame”), and he has managed to become something of a senior figure in a movement that looks strikingly similar to the anti-vaccine movement.

Smith, whose actual education consist of business studies at the rather spectacularly unaccredited Maharishi International University, founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and who has enjoyed a career advocating yogic flying, has even written two books on GMO foods, Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, which does not appear to be too careful about documentation (to put it diplomatically). He also runs a “think tank”, The Institute for Responsible Technology.

There is a useful resource on Smith’s claims here (“Smith has shown an amazing capacity to ignore the scientific literature on almost every topic he discusses”) and a thorough review of Genetic Roulette here. (Instead of a detailed list of the idiocy of Smith’s claims I’d rather direct readers to those resources.)

The problem is that people with real authority have actually taken Smith’s claims seriously. Famed British primatologist Jane Goodall, who has left any aspirations of respectability on these matters behind a while ago yet continues to enjoy some respect in certain circles, generously blurbed Smith’s book (“If you care about your health and that of your children, buy this book, become aware of the potential problems, and take action”) and cited Smith’s “research” extensively in her own Seeds of Hope (she also recommended a book on GM by Maharishi Institute executive vice president Steven M. Druker, who – surprisingly enough –has no scientific training either). Dr. Oz seems to be a fan as well despite being apparently aware of the problems with Smith’s claims; that is less surprising, but still sad. And these are not the only examples – even academic institutions seem to have fallen for Smith’s work on occasion. A good but scary example is here.

There is a useful intro to GMO foods here.

Diagnosis: Super-crank, denialist and conspiracy theorists, and probably one of the most dangerous ones in the US at present – the theme for his conspiracy theories has been trendy enough to endear him even to people who generally don’t fall for these kinds of things. A real and serious threat to civilization.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

#1156: Craig Smith

Craig Smith is an absolutely magnificently dense columnist for … well, for the WND, so you wouldn’t really set expectations too high when it comes to accuracy, reason and accountability. Indeed Smith is a long-time associate of none other than Jerome Corsi, and was for instance Corsi’s coauthor on Black Gold Stranglehold, one of the most insanely cranky books of pseudoscience ever to appear. The main tenet of the book was … abiotic oil – the idea that oil is not a fossil fuel but a renewable resource, and that the liberals are in a conspiracy to hide this information from the public. Neither Corsi nor Craig has any even remotely relevant expertise in any remotely related field, by the way, but lack of expertise, insight, knowledge or understanding has never been an obstacle for a delusional wingnut crackpot.

Otherwise his columns are of the kind you fear and expect. You can for instane try to find some sense of insight in his expression of shock at the atrocity that US is not enforcing prayer in public schools anymore, but you certainly won’t succee. But then, Smith has demonstrably not the faintest idea how government, or the separation of powers, actually works. And he wasn’t done. If this isn’t one of the stupidest screeds you will ever read, you must have found a well of lunacy I am not aware of.

Standard fare for Smith. Indeed, Smith claims that the goal of “secular progressives” is to eliminate Christianity and Judaism from the US and turn it into a godless society – a standard wingnut delusion, of course, but Smith is determined to win this one, so he claims that the reason secular progressives are doing this is to appease the terrorists. That’s the goal of secularism. Apparently it will succeed because there is nothing radical Muslims like better than secular progressives. He even has evidence. Apparently he has received a copy of a “secret plan” from George Soros (the right’s current boogey man du jour), John Kerry, Michael Moore and Howard Dean. It is a bit unclear whether he means that literally, but after his abysmal abiotic oil affair I’d say it’s a fair chance he does.

Diagnosis: Even for a raving wingnut lunatic Smith is in a class of his own. May he continue to make a fool of himself for a long time: His negative influence is probably negligible – people who listen to him are unlikely to be responsive to reality anyways – but he’s got to scare away at least some people initially attracted to wingnuttery.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#1155: Chuck Smith

Charles Ward “Chuck” Smith is the senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, which now includes thousands of congregations worldwide, some of which are among the largest churches in the United States. If ever he had used this kind of influence for good! Well, there is little danger of that, and Smith has instead opted for the “deranged fundamentalist moron” approach to things (John Todd used to claim that Smith was an Illuminati lord, but that is a different story). In his 1978 book End Times, for instance, Smith predicted that the generation of 1948 would be the last generation, and that the world would end by 1981 at the latest (though he also stated that he “could be wrong” although “it’s a deep conviction in my heart, and all my plans are predicated upon that belief,” although he somehow didn’t jeopardize his worldly wealth). Calvary Chapel did arrange a New Years Eve service in 1981 for their followers to wait for the end to occur in accordance with Smith's prediction, and lost some followers when it failed to pass.

But Smith didn’t give up, and he has continued to connect disasters, including 9/11, to divine wrath against homosexuality and abortion.

Calvary Chapel is best known as a central player in the Jesus freak movement (which also spawned e.g. Morris Cerullo, Russell Doughten and Mike Warnke), and rose to power largely by catering to hippies and alternative groups in the 60s. The movement is also partially responsible for inflicting Christian rock upon the world and – not the least – Ray Comfort, who started out as a Calvary minister.

Smith has also raised some controversy for buying influence at and sponsorship from government institutions, including army bases, to preach his hate and doom. That should have been a scandal, but somehow it hasn’t really been received as such.

Diagnosis: Evil, old lunatic who wields scary amounts of power but may, fortunately, be too deranged to be able to employ it to maximum effect. Still. 

Note: Chuck Smith passed away in October 2013, but I had written most of this entry before I noticed. I hence decided to post it anyways, even though Smith is strictly speaking disqualified.