Sunday, November 29, 2015

#1531: Gayle DeLong

Age of Autism is an antivaccine cesspool if there ever was one, and Gayle DeLong is zealous. DeLong is among those who refuse to let go of that most cherished and thoroughly refuted piece of nonsense, that vaccines are causally linked to autism. Originally, the idea was that mercury in vaccines was the culprit. The fact that thimerosal is safe, has been removed from all childhood vaccines since the conspiracy was first launched, and was never in the MMR vaccine anyways is not going to deter DeLong, for “although mercury has been removed from many vaccines, the remaining mercury as well as other culprits such as aluminum and live viruses may link vaccines to autism.” Heck, she has even published a study suggesting such a link in a low-tier journal. DeLong is not a scientist but a faculty member in the Department of Economics and Finance in the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College/City University of New York. Nor does she know much about science, and the study design of the study in question suggests complete incompetence – or perhaps an attempt to avoid a rigorous design out of a suspicion that a good study design would fail to give her the results she wanted (details here and here). That the referees for the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health failed to notice is good evidence that the journal is one you should not put a lot of trust in. One Margaret Dunkle nevertheless took the bait and used DeLong’s article as part of a hysterically idiotic antivaxx article for the Baltimore Sun.

Apparently DeLong also managed to get a commentary in some journal called Accountability in Research entitled “Conflicts of Interest in Vaccine Safety Research”. Oh, yes, there is a conspiracy, no less. Doctors who fail to find an association between vaccines and autism are scientists at research institution who know their stuff in the pocket of science Big Pharma – as opposed to Andrew Wakefield and concerned parents who torture data into arguing for such a link based on no understanding of the science whatsoever. She cannot cite a single instance of distortion of the data in the science she rejects, of course, but she blithely asserts that FDA is in on the game. The evidence is apparently that they deny a vaccine-autism connection, and since she thinks there is one there must be a cover-up. What other possible explanation could there be?

The important point, of course, is that it doesn’t matter what science or evidence says – DeLong and her merry band of antivaccinationists don’t need to try to engage with any of that, since all those scientists are tainted by conflicts of interests and collusions with BigPharma. Their theory is thus unfalsifiable. Therefore they must be correct.

DeLong does, however, have two daughters with autism; both “have benefited greatly from supplements, diet, chelation, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.” Right. She is also a former member of SafeMind’s research committee and has participated in various antivaxx rallies.

In 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which is, to emphasize, something we don’t wish on anyone. We still need to mention that she, rather tastelessly, referred to her condition as “autism-induced breast cancer”. You see, she blames it on having to deal with her autistic kids (and hence, ultimately, on vaccines). “There is virtually no cancer in my family, I eat organically, I exercise, I’m a good weight.” So, caring for children with autism is the only remaining possibility. Yes, even yours truly is left somewhat speechless both by the inference and the premises. But the core idea is actually pretty typical of pseudoscience: As long as you stay healthy and have the right attitude, you avoid cancer; so if you get cancer … well, never mind that the association between stress and cancer is at best “weak”. She also used the diagnosis to launch a pseudoscientific tirade against chemotherapy.

Diagnosis: A truly horrible person, unfortunately. We’re sure she means well, but it really doesn’t matter much when your premises are so detached from reality as DeLong’s pseudoscientific nonsense in fact is.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

#1530: Rick DeLano

Like intelligent design creationists there are plenty of groups of weird kooks on the Internet who lament the fact that their particular brand of alternatives to mainstream science (i.e. anti-science) isn’t taken seriously or e.g. given equal time in public schools. “Teach the controversy,” is the common battle cry, and for Rick DeLano, the really controversial idea is heliocentrism, which he rejects. He has even produced a documentary on the subject, “The Principle”, in which he interviewed several real scientists and clipped it to make it appear as if modern cosmology is in trouble and that his completely ridiculous delusion is somehow respectable and taken seriously even by people like Lawrence Krauss, who was interviewed but, uh, expressed dissatisfaction with the editing. DeLano also, famously, got Kate Mulgrew to narrate it, though according to her he was not particularly forthcoming with what claim the documentary was going to promote.

The documentary is based on the views of Robert Sungenis, and DeLano proudly admits to never having finished high school or had any relevant education – so he is certainly not corrupted by the status quo. Like all anti-science fanatics, DeLano readily admits that “I have great respect for science.” However, “[w]here I become offended is when people ignore the evidence,” which is an interesting statement given the approach he takes in his documentary. “They haven’t proven that something can come from nothing,” argues DeLano, which … isn’t particularly relevant to anything whatsoever. And science refuses to consider the evidence because science is an atheistic conspiracy to undermine the Bible. So much for loving it.

Some examples of DeLano’s understanding of science can be found here. NASA, by the way, has conspicuously removed material from their website that suggest geocentrism, it seems, so neither DeLano nor you will find any such material there – which is apparently evidence that there must be a conspiracy and that geocentrism is correct.

The WND promoted the “documentary”, of course (their review by Drew Zahn, who knows as little about science as DeLano, is discussed here).

Diagnosis: Village idiot. Even committed creationists seem very reluctant to take DeLano seriously (which tells you a bit about how radically fringe-idiotic the WND is, if you didn’t already know). Probably pretty harmless in the grand scheme of things.

Friday, November 27, 2015

#1529: Harold Delaney, Michael Kent & David Keller

Delaney (not a very good picture)
Though rare, there exist creationists with real positions at real universitites, and who make real efforts to save their students from reality and science. Harold Delaney is a Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico and a signatory to A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. Unlike many of those signatories, Delaney is a real scientist, but like almost all of them he has no background in the relevant fields. He did, however, receive a grant from the religious, anti-science Templeton Foundation in the 2000s, when the Foundation was still throwing money at creationists who also happened to be scientists (yes, the Templeton Foundation is anti-science; they have, at present, dropped the explicit anti-science part from their American projects in favor of just promoting religion, but look at what projects they are funding abroad!). Delaney is particularly notable for having taught an honors seminar in 2003 and 2004 on “Origins: Science, Faith and Philosophy” at his university, where he “presented both sides” of the evolution–creationism “debate”. Otherwise Delaney seems to think that creationism is an academic freedom issue, and that rejecting all the science should not be a matter given any weight when determining whether someone can get an academic position in biology. Oh, yes, academic freedom. Delaney’s course was originally classified as a science course, but when the university learned about its contents it was reclassified as a humanities course. Delaney claimed that this reclassification was a violation of his academic freedom.

The aforementioned course was co-taught with Michael Kent, a scientist affiliated with Sandia Laboratories. Kent is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute list. Kent’s PhD is in materials science, and he has accordingly no background in any relevant field. Funny that. Kent does, however, have a background in the New Mexico chapter of ID-net, and is on record trying to claim that the ID side has won the debate over the science standards in New Mexico public schools (absolutely, laughably false but effective as a PR stunt to make the creationist “strengths and weaknesses” strategy look reasonable).

Perhaps it was Delaney’s and Kent’s awareness of their lack of expertise in the fields in which they were misleading students that prompted them to invite David Keller to give a guest lecture. Keller is an associate professor of chemistry at the University of New Mexico. Why on earth would they invite a chemist rather than, you know, an expert in the field? You didn’t need to ask, did you? Keller is perhaps the most vocal creationist among the faculty at the University of New Mexico, and that, of course, was the qualification Delaney and Kent were looking for. Keller is on the editorial team of Bio-Complexity, the Discotute’s sad, creationist pseudojournal, and contributed an article (w. Jed Macosko) to the creationist anthology Darwin’s Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement”.

Diagnosis: Oh, the creationists and their blatantly subversive tactics for, well, leading young people to Jesus by whatever means necessary, including lies and subversion. But though their efforts may look merely pathetic to the rest of us who know a bit about the science (and the workings of the denialists), these people are actually dangerous.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

#1528: Roger DeHart

Roger DeHart is a young earth creationist who rose to some fame in 1997 after he, as a longtime biology teacher (apparently affiliated with the Discovery Institute) at Burlington-Edison High School in Washington, had been teaching intelligent design in his curriculum through excerpts of Of Pandas and People since 1986 (though he had done so rather quietly and subversively). DeHart later resigned and took a teaching job some at Christian school in California, where he had more leeway when it comes to preventing kids from learning about the parts of reality that may conflict with his fundamentalist religious views. In his notoriously anti-scientific book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, creationist Jonathan Wells portrayed DeHart as a religious martyr by blatantly distorting the facts of the case (while all the same trying feebly to claim that intelligent design is not about religion). The same as always.

Given his status as something of a celebrity in the creationist movement, DeHart was among the many called to testify during the Kansas evolution hearings. Taking a cue from the creationist textbook on rhetoric (see above), he fervently tried to portray himself as a martyr and claimed to have felt pressured to resign from his teaching job after trying to force his religious views on his students and just because he wished to replace the science that kids really ought to know with his personal religious beliefs. 

Diagnosis: Well, yet another religious fundamentalist that intelligent design promoters are trying to promote as a martyr for his efforts to replace reality, evidence and science with religious dogma and thereby to force his religious beliefs on others. No: His students were the victims here; he was the bad guy. DeHart himself seems to have sort of faded from view at this point, though.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#1527: Rose De Dan

Faith healing is silly. Giving it an orientalist flair and calling it “reiki” does not make it less silly. But Rose De Dan takes it and runs with it. De Dan bills herself as an “animal reiki shaman,” which basically means that her job consists of petting animals and wishing them well through “distance healing”. Of course, pet owners will soon discover that the practices don’t really make any difference to their pets’ health, but if the absence of any beneficial effect ever leads you to question your faith, you should turn to De Dan’s article “Reiki Does Not Always Heal the Way You Want” (yes, the title is technically true, though the word “Always” and phrase “the Way You Want” are superfluous). “Wait,” you may say; “the adherents continue to believe in the technique just as strongly even though it rather obviously has no beneficial effect? Isn’t that completely delusional?” Well, perhaps, but keep in mind that we are talking religion here – and pet owners who, in the name of religion, forgo the care that their pets need in favor of faith healing. According to De Dan reiki provides “other benefits” and the practitioner may not always be able to see what those benefits are. You can, however, send “reiki energy back in time to heal yourself.” De Dan suggests, once reiki has failed to heal your pet, that you send reiki energy back in time to heal yourself for your neglect sorrow and guilt. In other words, reiki is precisely what the practitioner wants it to be; it may not give you the results you specifically think you want, but when it doesn’t you can use it to convince yourself that the results you did get were the ones you really needed in any case.

In short, if you use reiki on your pet to cure it and the pet e.g. dies of neglect, that only means that the pet needed to die (since reiki always ensures that the victim patient gets what it needs), and that what you wanted on behalf of the pet (to get well) was in conflict with what it actually needed (to die). And then you use reiki to heal yourself of the misguided wishes (for your pet’s health) you had on your pet’s behalf.

You can see her explain in some more detail how to perform reiki on your pets here. “I would suggest asking your dog to help you practice your new skills. Approach the session by stating (to yourself), ‘I ask that this Reiki be offered for your highest healing good, and that if you do not wish to receive it, I respect your desire.’ This enlists his support, shifts focus from your need to his, and releases your focus on ‘fixing’ the issue. Next I would tell him the steps that you intend to take. Imagine yourself going through the steps in your mind, with your hands being still–this will give your dog information about what to expect and how he could cooperate.” Then you pet it. Also, you need to do some detoxification to purge your dog of evil spirits.

Diagnosis: Delusional religious fanatic.