Monday, October 22, 2012

#361: S. Fred Singer

Siegfried Fred Singer is a physicist currently habitating the George Mason University, and a legend within all denialist movements. Thing is, Singer is the epitome of an expert for hire.

First of all, Singer’s credentials as a scientist are genuine. He graduated from Princeton and did much work in technology and engineering early on, such as mine detection technology, atmospheric physics, designing satellites, satellite instrumentation, and so on. He is also a recipient of the Flat Earth Award, which will raise his credentials among conspiracy theorists everywhere.

He first rose to general notability in the 80s when he presented himself as a cutting-edge researcher (false) on matters related to ozone layer depletion. In typical denialist vein, he published op-eds and testified before Congress, but avoided peer-review; he quote-mined the science and applied hardcore confirmation bias to come up with “no danger here, just a conspiracy”. Of course, he failed to mention that he was being paid large sums by the petroleum companies for his work, an observation that might have counted as ad hominem if Singer hadn’t avoided doing any real research on the topic, contradicted all evidence there was, lacked any expertise in the area, and been repeatedly caught lying and distorting the evidence. In those circumstances the observation is telling.

At the same time, he entered the second-hand smoke denial camp (an area not within his field of expertise) and quickly became a central figure in the movement denying the dangers of second-hand smoke. In typical denialist vein, he published op-eds and testified before Congress, but avoided peer-review; he quote-mined the science and applied hardcore confirmation bias (and blatant lying and ignorance) to come up with “no danger here, just a conspiracy”. Of course, he failed to mention that he was being paid by Philip Morris-backed groups for his work. See the previous paragraph.

Guess where he is now. Well, his think tank, The Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), is among the many think tanks out there denying AGW. Their money comes from oil interests and, for a while, the Moonies.

Since 1995 he has been an ardent advocate of cherry-picking data, misquoting and neglecting inconvenient data, and has claimed that the satellite data shows cooling. He has produced enormous amounts of crap, and has even set up his alternative to IPCC, the NIPCC (Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change) (yes, conspiracy theories galore, and the alleged conspiracies are notoriously without clear agendas, but hey; everyone knows the government is out to get you, so claiming a conspiracy is a surefire trick). The NIPCC and its hilariously (were it not so unfunny) over-the-top crackpottery reports (yes, you’ll find every denialist talking point in them, including this) was predictably endorsed by the Heartland Institute.

Singer is pretty good at utilizing every piece or rumor or every event he gets hold of to tweak out a denialist attack, and to get his voice picked up by mainstream media – not only Steve Milloy, who mistakes him for an expert (or Singer exploits the media’s hankering for false equivalencies). And Singer is, of course, a truly remorseless liar.

You can find an archive of some of his antics here, and a biography here.

As always, this one is pertinent.

Diagnosis: It is not entirely clear whether Singer actually believes the shit his spreading, or whether he just doesn’t care anymore. He is in any case the epitome of denialist dishonesty, and extremely dangerous.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

#360: Geoffrey Simmons

Simmons is an MD and BS of biology and a fellow at the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute. Simmons is famous for his missionary work abroad (he tried to bring “What Darwin didn’t know” to Spain). Apart from that he is the author of several books, mostly fiction. Well, exclusively fiction, really, including “What Darwin Didn't Know: A Doctor Dissects the Theory of Evolution” (a self-projection that really should have been called “what Simmons doesn’t know”; his knowledge of evolution is relatively shaky) and “Billions of Missing Links: A Rational Look at the Mysteries Evolution Can't Explain” (anyone seeing a God of the gaps argument screaming at you here?), which is written for children (“Nature contains only leaps, not links. Only the intelligence and purpose of an all-powerful Designer can explain the intricate creatures, connections, and ‘coincidences’ everywhere”) and marketed – of course – at homeschoolers. At the Discotute the difference between science and propaganda is apparently as blurry as it was for … never mind.

He is also well-known for appearing in debates, such as this one with PZ Myers (some standard dishonest creationist tactics were involved as well). Simmons was thoroughly skewered and roasted in this one, so he was later allowed to come back and debate the sympathetic moderator, without PZ Myers or any pesky evolutionary biologist present to rip apart his lies. He still lost, though the dishonesty and memory bias was staggering, even for a creationist.

In more recent times, Simmons has peddled creationism where it belongs, at George Noory’s Coast to Coast AM, in between the Sasquatch observations and the Illuminati vampire news (one thinks it must have been something of a defeat for the Discotute).

For a presentation of the case for intelligent design as part of the Mars Hill forum, sponsored by the University Christian Fellowship (with attorney Tom Alderman and chemistry professor Jim Long), see a sufficiently thorough takedown here (and more here).

Diagnosis: Godbotter and Liar for Jesus whose lack of intellectual honesty is only matched by his ignorance. Influential enough to be considered a threat.

#359: Bruce Simat

Bruce Simat is Associate Professor of Biology at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and signatory to the Discovery Institute's A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. He was also a participant in the Kansas Evolution Hearings, representing the anti-science crowd. What more do you need to know?

You can read his testimony at the hearings here. You can find a discussion of the fact that Simat is either deliberately misleading or incredibly ignorant here. He even has an entry here, which nicely lays out the confusions involved.

Here is a testimony by a former student of Simat’s.

Diagnosis: No, his position does not mean that he knows biology at all. Northwestern College is a small Bible College where Simat is allowed to preach creationist apologetics. Another small strand in the web of organized anti-science propaganda.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

#358: Bernie Siegel

Dr. Bernie Siegel is an MD from Cornell University Medical College and practitioner of general medicine and pediatric surgery until his retirement in 1989. He is also a hardcore apologetic for everything woo (“the spiritual”), and has, post-retirement, become an ardent speaker, lecturer, and author (“Love, Medicine, and Miracles” may be his biggest hit), while also featuring in videos such as “Hope and a Prayer”.

While boosting the hope and self-confidence of people with serious conditions may be a good thing (and Siegel probably has a knack for that positive thought thing, which could perhaps have been used for good things but which is emphatically not all its been claimed to be, and is unlikely to prolong survival), Siegel – as woo-meisters are wont to do – just has to confuse positive and wishful thinking), and reify the metaphors (and peddle falsities, such as this urban myth). When he says “There is no false hope in the individual who has an illness. It is real, it is physiologic, and I have no trouble giving it to people. Within the body is this incredible power. The body and mind communicate, so why not stimulate that?” he seems to mean it in some strong metaphysical sense. In fact, one of his main claims is that “happy people don’t get sick” (i.e. blame the victim). And how respectable could an author of “Meditations for Enhancing Your Immune System” be?

Well, it’s not only that. Siegel has made himself into a New Age guru by touting the superiority of his ECaPs (Exceptional Cancer Patients). His idea that optimism, love, and social support are life-enhancing is not really consistent with the actual data: a ten-year follow-up of the ECaPs program found no benefit (J Clin Oncology 1993;11:66-9) (more here). Doesn’t stop Bernie from touting his books so intensely that even quackwatch has taken an interest in him (see also here). He has also been featured on NaturalNews; guilt by association, perhaps, but still.

Diagnosis: Crackpot. It is unclear how much harm he actually does, but he does earn his money off of peddling false hope to people in desperate situations. That is not a nice thing to do.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

#357: John Shimkus

Those expecting Charlie Sheen to pop up here: forget it. We have standards, and Sheen has not qualified himself (pseudo-scientist Rupert Sheldrake, of morphic field fame, is British, as is the thoroughly despicable Jeremy Sherr).

Trust the Americans to come up with a monster of a religious loon instead. John Shimkus is a Republican congressman (Illinois' 19th congressional district) and Chairman of the Committee on Environment and the Economy. His extreme, anti-science, denialist, religious fundamentalist, and fully unsupported views on climate change have actually drawn some attention for their inanity, which is a feat for someone representing the same party as James Inhofe.

Shimkus has stated that Climate Change is nothing to worry about. His evidence? That God promised Noah that after the great flood, Earth would be fine (careful readers of the Bible may notice that even according to Bible God did not exactly say this). Therefore we need no regulation: “The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood". In addition to its inanely delusional qualities, this doesn’t really address the actual worries related to climate change. Shimkus is also concerned that, since Carbon Dioxide is plant food, attempts to cut down on it will actually be harmful to the world. Yes, Shimkus is that blissfully ignorant about science and reality.

For a brief comment on the Republican war on reality (with focus on Shimkus), you can go here.

Shimkus was originally set for leadership of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. That post instead went to Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who has falsely (probably willful lying) claimed that there is no scientific consensus regarding climate change and is so misinformed regarding Climategate that he advocated for congressional hearings. Upton beat denialist, überloon, and BP-apologist Joe “Wind is God’s way of balancing heat” Barton to the Committee post, by the way.

Diagnosis: Shimkus is “the loon's loon's loon's loon – four deep into loonery” [Ed Brayton] and a stunning example of Dunning-Kruger at work. With people like Shimkus running the show, we are really, truly screwed. Extremely dangerous.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

#356: John Sheehan

General John J. “Jack” Sheehan is a retired United States Marine Corps general. His final active duty commands, culminating 35 years of service in the Marine Corps, were as the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic for NATO and as Commander-in-Chief for the U.S. Atlantic Command.

In 2010 Sheehan testified to the US Congress that according to the chief of staff of the Dutch army at the time of the incident, the fall of Srebrenica was caused by lack of readiness related to the Dutch being more concerned with internal “socialization” of the military than fighting capacity (the Dutch chief of staff at the time of Srebrenica, Henk van den Breemen, denied ever saying this, though, claiming that Sheehan’s comments were “total nonsense”). Sheehan added that this was in part due to gays serving in the military. He also stated that gays weakened the army, while attraction between men and women in gender-integrated units would not, and also that gays were responsible for the Srebrenica massacre.

The allegations drew some criticisms, to put it nicely. The responses from the Dutch Minister of Defense and the Dutch Prime Minister were … terse.

Barry Farber at the WorldNetDaily defended him, of course, and even took the whole thing a couple of steps further. Sheehan himself didn’t come across as particularly prone to repentance, and has later appeared with garbledly insane rightwing fundamentalist monsters such as Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer and James Inhofe.

Diagnosis: Failing to distinguish fact and fiction generated by deepset bigotry (“absolute nonsense” according to the Dutch Defense Ministry), Sheehan entertains “the ridiculous convulsion of a loner” (The Dutch SHK). His views are “the bizarre private opinion of someone without an official function” (Dutch foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen), however one wonders how widespread his delusions are in the organizations that formerly employed him.

#355: C. Norman Shealy

There are reasons to regret excluding non-American loons from this Encyclopedia, especially when it turns out that someone like Roger Shawyer, the guy behind EmDrive, is British as well.

Fortunately there is no dearth of American crazies, and C. Norman Shealy is certainly behind some serious dingbattery. Shealy is apparently a Harvard-schooled MD, neurosurgeon and alternative medicine practitioner (not through Harvard, one presumes), and quite an authority in this murky quagmire of a pseudofield. He was one of the founders of the American Holistic Medical Association, the paragon umbrella organization of all things quackery, and is associated with the unaccredited “Holos University” (he was a mentor for, among others, Dawson Church and Charles Bates).

“Endorsed by C. Norman Shealy” is actually a pretty standard stamp of approval for woo-peddlers and should, to those who think claims medical should at least tangentially be related to reality, equal “endorsed by Joe Mercola.” For instance, Shealy (with Daniel Redwood) wrote that T. Colin & Thomas Campbell’s “The China Study” is different from most other popular nutrition books by offering strong evidence-based explanations for its claims (it isn’t). He also endorsed Michael Ledwith & Klaus Heinemann’s “The Orb Project” by pointing out that “Orbs may be to the atmosphere what crop circles are to the earth. Having seen orbs and had them photographed while I am speaking, it is great to know that we are receiving cosmic energetic communication.” He may be right that orbs may be to the atmosphere what crop circles are to the earth, but not in the way he would like. And he endorsed Stephen Co & Eric Robins’s “Your hands can heal you” (“eighty-five percent of illnesses are not optimally treatable with drugs or surgery. For those individuals, ‘Your Hands Can Heal You’ offers one of the best self-healing approaches I have seen”). And of course he endorsed Quantum Touch (“Quantum-Touch appears to be the first technique that may truly allow us all to become healers,” though it’s certainly not the first or last time that claim has been made).

Shealy is, apparently, a prolific speaker and author of bullcrap such as “Aids: Passageway to Transformation,” and “The Creation of Health: The Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Responses that Promote Health and Healing”, both coauthored with none other than Caroline Myss, and he is a leading authority in, yes, the “Quantum Healing Paradigm”. His most famous books, however, are probably “Life beyond 100 - Secrets of the Fountain of Youth”, using success formula such as “if you didn’t succeed you didn’t want it hard enough” and … “Your hands can heal you”.

Diagnosis: Remarkably versatile, prolific and respected crackpot, madman and woo-meister. Shealy wields a lot of power to ruin people’s lives and does not hesitate to use them. Extremely dangerous.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

#354: Ben Shapiro

Benjamin Aaron Shapiro is a new poster boy for the denialist Taliban right. He is a political commentator and author, among other things of “Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth in 2004,” in which he accused professors of being “totalitarian” because they promote “absolute sexual freedom” (including, according to Shapiro, pedophilia and statutory rape), and “indoctrination”, since they don’t generally focus exclusively on the Bible as the source of all truth. His subsequent books all deal with how the media and entertainment industry are in a liberal conspiracy to promote reckless sexual freedom and environmentalism, for instance exemplified by how Sesame Street indoctrinates children with left-wing propaganda. He has a particular hatred for Hollywood. You see, according to how Shapiro views the world, many Hollywood stars feel guilty about their prosperity since they are closet Marxist, so … well, who knows.

For instance, it is obvious that Obama is a militant atheist; according to Shapiro via Twitter: “Unreal that Obama doesn’t mention God in Thanksgiving message. Militant atheist. To whom does he think we are giving thanks?” How can you argue with evidence like this? He sure does not like Obama, as evidenced by this one. Of course, Shapiro once argued that we should prosecute anyone who criticizes the president and lock up anyone who disagreed with any war waged by the US, but that applies, obviously, only to critics of George W. Bush and his efforts. Obama is different. Obama is in a conspiracy with Iran to … well, it is not entirely clear.

Shapiro’s views on religion aren’t very much more coherent. According to Shapiro (this is best quoted in its entirety): “Human equality must spring from a Creator, because the presence of a soul is all that makes man human and equal. Biology suggests inherent inequality – who would call Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stephen Hawking equal in any way? Biology suggests the sort of Hegelian social Darwinism embraced by totalitarian dictators, not the principles of equality articulated by the Founding Fathers.”

Diagnosis: A dense, raging ball of persecution complex and confirmation bias, Shapiro seems to have gained some traction among the Taliban right, and must be considered moderately dangerous.