Sunday, May 3, 2015

#1357: Joe Bast

We have to include a short entry on this one. Joe Bast is the founder of the Heartland Institute which in many ways is environmental science’s Discovery Institute. The Heartland Institute is one of the primary promoters of climate change denialism in the US, and funds other deniers, anti-scientists and pseudoscientists, including “independent” deniers such as Anthony Watts.

Their strategy regarding climate change are based on the two related tactics of i) sowing doubt, and ii) trying to discredit the science. To the latter probably belongs their infamous 2012 billboard campaign, and the accompanying press release stating that “[s]cientific, political, and public support for the theory of man-made global warming is collapsing. Most scientists [yeah, right] and 60 percent of the general public (in the U.S.) do not believe man-made global warming is a problem. The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” (Since the lies were so baldfaced the campaign did backfire a bit.)

In 2012 some of their budget documents were leaked. Though more cunningly devised than the DiscoTute’s Wedge Document, it still reveals their anti-science campaign with little ambiguity (for instance the decision to invest at least $100,000 in 2012 to produce and distribute a curriculum laying out their climate change denial message constructed by David Wojick, who has no relevant scientific background, with the purpose of sowing doubt), and efforts to sow doubt among the public and politicians. The document is described here.

As Bast himself described it in an interview: “We’ve won the public opinion debate, and we’ve won the political debate as well. But the scientific debate is a source of enormous frustration.” Part of their campaign to sow doubt is their support for the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a small group of skeptics who have set themselves up as a counterweight to the IPCC by ignoring the evidence and concocting a story of how rising carbon dioxide concentrations are entirely beneficial. Bast himself actually acknowledges hand-picking data to support his position – he just tries to argue that scientists on the other side do the same thing when they are building a case for global warming (he probably doesn’t really believe that, but it works with the public). He has also said it is only natural that a libertarian like him would decide to question the scientific foundation for climate change – which is a pretty clear admission that whether something is accepted as evidence depends on whether it supports his political views rather than vice versa. The delusional part of it is the common opinion among victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect that science works that way, too.

Diagnosis: Cynical opportunist more than anything, but there is little doubt that Bast’s political commitments have led him deeply into anti-science, lunacy and conspiracy theories – whatever is needed, really, to bolster the political views he has arrived at for independent reasons. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

#1356: Robert W. Bass

Apparently Robert W. Bass enjoys a Ph.D. Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University. Those are credentials that could, apparently, usefully be lent to any kind of pseudoscience to add a fake sheen of respectability. And apparently that’s what Bass uses his degree for. Indeed, Bass used to be a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Brigham Young University, but the days when he would be involved in anything resembling science are apparently long gone.

Currently Bass is a fan of Velikovsky’s egregious bullshit, and involved in the Velikovsky cargo cult producing “research” carried out in the Velikovskian tradition. Bass is even on the staff of Kronos, the infamous journal of all things Velikovsky.

The sorts of dispositions and judgment failures that lead you to Velikovsky are of course excellent crank magnets, so Bass has been observed for instance attending seminars on cold fusion as well. (Here is his own summary for the Infinite Energy Magazine, which is hardly a scientific publication; his summary isn’t … critical, to put it mildly – though when you read sections like the one starting with “one of my life’s greatest regrets”, one wonders whether he is just fooling around). He is also a creationist of sorts; he is a signatory to the Discovery Instititute’s feeble petition A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, and has called Stephen Meyer’s book The Signature in the Cell the “most important book in two centuries.” It … isn’t, of course, but for people like Bass, with an agenda but no competence, one can perhaps understand why it would seem that way.

Oh, and Bass is also a signatory to Rethinking AIDS, a list of HIV “skeptics”.

Diagnosis: Not the loudest voice of pseudoscience or bullshit on the Internet, Bass’s credentials would nevertheless be used to lend credibility to a range of stupid. As such, his work and legacy cannot be said to be particularly beneficial to the human project.

Ed note: Robert Bass passed away in 2013.

Friday, May 1, 2015

#1355: Ellen Bass & Laura Davis

Ellen Bass
Ellen Bass is a poet who suddenly achieved tremendous success with the self-help book The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse in 1988, coauthored with Laura Davis, which has sold over a million copies and been translated into several languages. Yes, recovery from child sexual abuse is a serious topic. Unfortunately, Bass and Davis – neither of whom have any expertise in any relevant topic (they are poets and creative writing teachers) though they do still view themselves as experts – ain’t helping.

Laura Davis
The authors claim that individuals (mainly women) with a general set of symptoms are assumed to have been abused, but that the memories have been repressed – in reality there is little to no evidence for the claim that memories of childhood sexual abuse are unconsciously repressed. And in response, they propose a variety of techniques to overcome these symptoms, including confronting their alleged abusers, adopting an identity as a “survivor”, overcoming the associated trauma and in cases where there is no memory of any abuse, recovering the memories. In reality (again), there is no evidence that recovering repressed memories of abuse leads to improvement in psychological health – indeed, the evidence strongly suggests the exact opposite. There is a significant amount of other scientific errors in the book as well (that have not been corrected in subsequent editions).

The techniques are, however, an excellent means for constructing false memories of abuse in children, and Bass & Davis are to a large extent responsible for creating an industry which has isolated and separated family members despite having no positive evidence that the abuse actually occurred, and for destructively replacing individual identities with that of a “survivor” (though the fact that the book caught on is to a large extent due to the number of sheerly incompetent therapists out there – indeed, Paul R. McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and an expert in the field of memory describes the book as the “bible of incompetent therapists”).

It’s rather obvious that no good can come from this particular type of bullshit, and Bass and Davis are morally responsible for ruining many people’s lives – a report for the Australian branch of the False Memory SyndromeFoundation found the book was linked to nearly 50% of the cases in which a false allegation of child sexual abuse was made based on recovered memories.

The book has been deemed “the most harmful work of slander, ignorance, and lies since The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; aptly so, since its techniques are the same – appeals to suspicion, conspiracy, and paranoia by teaching women to blame all problems on repressed memories of abuse, “thereby triggering an epidemic of false accusations and shattered lives, this time aimed at mothers, fathers, brothers, uncles, and grandparents instead of Jews or ‘witches’.”

Of course, Bass & Davis are not alone. Similar ideas have been espoused in the works of self-proclaimed experts like Beverly Engel, E. Sue Blume, Wendy Maltz, Beverly Holman, and Mary Jan Williams, for instance. It is also notable that some of the case studies in their book were taken from now discredited reports of Satanic ritual abuse such as the autobiography Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith.

Diagnosis: Rubbish, and Bass and Davis have the dubious honor of probably being among the pseudoscientists who have managed to cause the most amount of harm over the last decades. Horrible, horrible people.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#1354: Shiva Barton

Shiva Barton is an ND. Indeed, Barton was the 2011 “Physician of the Year” of the American Associationof Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). Of course, Barton is not a physician under any reasonable definition. But he sure is into all things woo and shiny and pseudoscience.

Barton is, for instance, a big fan of homeopathy, despite the fact that homeopathy demonstrably has no beneficial health effects. Now, Barton is, indeed, very unhappy about how homeopathy is used by most naturopaths, and how it is taught at cargo cult universities specializing in pseudoscience such as Bastyr University, but hardly for the right reasons. The problem, according to Barton, is that it’s too complicated. That’s right. Bastyr’s curriculum on homeopathy is too difficult for students (in the above-linked article he mentions in particular his discussions with a newly educated ND, Laura Chan, who raised the complaint – note that name as someone you’d want to avoid at all costs if you have health issues), and Barton’s solution is simple: “throw out the homeo philosophy books (really!) and stick to the basics: match the remedy to the person with the symptoms.” But then, I suppose, since homeopathy is targeted at the patient’s “vital force” in any case, it doesn’t really matter. Barton’s advice is, indeed, and if taken literally and in isolation, sound. Unfortunately, what Barton is driving at is surely not anywhere close to being reasonably.

Despite his lack of legitimate credentials and total absence of any insight into or understanding of science, medicine, or reality, Barton has also received some attention through the PBS show “Curious George”. In a section of the show, the featured kids visited Barton, who taught them that oregano cures infections, about various pressure points that correspond to energy lines, and that taping magnets to these points is really effective (transcript here).

Diagnosis: Utterly deluded pseudo-scientist who thinks he is helping people. Which is profoundly sad. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

#1353: Jay Bartlett

A.k.a. “Rescuer”

Jay “Rescuer” Bartlett is a member of the deliverance ministry movement, and maintains the website

Among his main target groups are people who clearly suffer from mental illnesses, whom Bartlett can convince are in need exorcisms (rather than professional help); that is, Bartlett does apply terminology associated with dissociative identity disorder, but interprets these in light of the Bible and claims that “broken pieces can be demonized and locked up by the enemy” and can also “possess animal spirits” (for references, go here). That’s the framework for some very strange, and very scary ideas and actions.

Bartlett has, according to himself, met people who have cursed objects “within their body nature” due to the workings of Satanic cults (“this ancient practice of infusing individuals with cursed objects is becoming more common in recent years;” decline of America, remember). In an exorcism he apparently performed on a woman who “possessed, within her body nature, two literal animals – parts of animals that the cult spiritually surgically placed within her belly. One was a part of a lizard, it’s tail, scales, and fragements of it's skin. These pieces of the lizard were cursed and placed inside of her. There was another animal part within her also, a rabbit's foot, that had been cursed and placed within her stomach area.” Yes, he is talking about objects being literally implanted in people’s bodies, albeit through magical means: “The animals were literal animal parts – I even saw them being expelled out via the mouth.” he says. Objects he has allegedly removed during spiritual surgery include a small motor, a fetus, detection devices, and live “demon-animal hybrids.”

Apparently he is currently being threatened and followed by cults, drug cartels and pornography rings for sharing this information. His bizarre involvement with someone named “Tina” is described here, and may be of interest to the authorities.

Diagnosis: Needs help. Quickly.