Thursday, June 22, 2017

#1853: Dennis Kruse

Dennis Kruse, originally an auctioneer and founder of Kruse International, is currently an Indiana State Senator for the 14th District (State Representative from 1989 to 2004), chairman of the Education & Career Development Committee, and member of the Agriculture & Small Business, Pensions & Labor, and Utilities & Technology Committees. He is most famous for being one of the most ardent creationists in US state legislatures, and has for a long time pushed various bills to force religious fundamentalism to be taught in science classes at the expense of science – it’s unconstitutional, of course, but you know: Jesus.

In 1999, as a Representative, he pledged to introduce a law to remove evolution from the state’s science standards, and submitted bills challenging the teaching of evolution in 2000 and 2001 (both died in committee). In 2012, as a Senator, he introduced Senate Bill 89, which would – as if Edwards v. Aguillard never happened – amend the Indiana Code to provide that “[t]he governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.” Actually, Kruse was completely aware of Edwards v. Aguillard, but argued that “[t]his is a different Supreme Court; [t]his Supreme Court could rule differently.”

The bill did, in fact, pass the Senate, since the Indiana Senate is populated with dangerous loons, and went to the House, where its sponsors were Jeff Thompson (R-District 28) and Eric Turner (R-District 32), the house speaker pro tem. There it got shelved. Thompson was also cosponsor, together with blathering creationist Cindy Noe, of House Bill 1140, which would require teachers to discuss “commonly held competing views” on topics “that cannot be verified by scientific empirical evidence,” which, taken literally, would not include evolution and climate change, but you can only guess how the sponsors were thinking about the issues. (Thompson has filed other creationist bills, too). It’s worth pointing out that even the Discovery Institute voiced objections to Bill 89, since it included overtly religious language (you betcha their heart wasn’t in the objections, but they have a narrative about themselves they desperately need to uphold to the public about intelligent design creationism not being a religious doctrine, which it demonstrably is – besides, even the Discovery Institute probably realized the bill didn’t stand a chance in the courts.)

Kruse, who is nothing if not determined, vowed to try again with an Academic Freedom Bill drafted by the Discovery Institute, which would, according to Kruse, allow “students to challenge teachers on issues, forcing them to provide evidence to back up their lessons.” No one in their right mind would believe that this was the purpose of the bill. In 2013, instead of submitting a new creationist bill, he rather sought, according to himself, to give public schools the option of beginning each day with the Lord’s Prayer. The bill he submitted, though, would – ostensibly in the name of religious freedom – allow school districts to require the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. In 2014 he weighed in on the Ball State brouhaha, demanding answers about the university’s “intelligent design ban”, showing that, once again, he has no real understanding of what’s going on.

In 2015 he submitted yet another creationist bill, this time with Rep. Jeff Raatz, who said he doesn’t have a problem if teachers who don’t see eye to eye with the science curriculum in their classrooms deciding to turn the tables on what he considers any sort of “science with controversy,” including human cloning, climate change and evolution – which kind of misses the point about education. This time, the bill encouraged students to “develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to different conclusions and theories concerning subjects that have produced differing conclusions and theories on some topics; and (2) allow a teacher to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher.” Yup, a standard Discovery Institute Academic Freedom bill. How students in the process of learning the basic concepts in evolution are supposed to develop critical thinking skills in evaluating evidence they haven’t seen or have the background to assess, is not clear. Actually, it is clear: this has nothing to do with critical thinking (not that Kruse or Raatz would recognize critical thinking if their lives depended on it). And of course the “weaknesses” of evolution doesn’t refer to, you know, actual weaknesses from a scientific point of view. The whole point is to make room for introducing creationist denialism and anti-science talking points to students before they can properly learn the science. And, of course, fundies have a tendency to spill the beans: “Call it a back-door approach to failed attempts to chip away at state standards on teaching evolution and to bring creationism into the public school classroom, if you want,” said Raatz. That bill died, too.

Kruse isn’t only a creationist, however. He is a full-fledged paranoid, raving conspiracy nutter who thinks thatthe UN is going to take over the country through Agenda 21 (a common trope over at InfoWars) Indeed, Kruse and Rep. Tim Neese have submitted bills to ban the implementation of any initiatives tied to Agenda 21, which encourages (and does nothing more) every nations to make development more environmentally friendly and sustainable. To Kruse that is apparently a communist effort to replace freedom with in the US with Sharia law.

Diagnosis: One sometimes wonders how fundies defend their rank dishonesty (well, one really doesn’t). Kruse, of course, is a science denialist, religious fundamentalist and happy liar-for-Jesus. And the good people of Indiana keep electing both him and others of the same kind. Scary stuff.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#1852: Steve Kroschel

We’ve covered the Gerson therapy before. The Gerson therapy is a regimen that claims to be able to naturally cure even severe cases of cancer through a special diet, coffee enemas, and various supplements. It does no such thing, of course, but is pure pseudoscience responsible for parting desperate, often terminally ill people (at best with their money; that cancer patients often feel better when taken off the often powerful conventional treatments also allows them to provide positive testimonials for the therapy before they die (researchers interested in studying Charlotte Gerson’s clinic in Mexico quickly discovered that the clinic didn’t follow up or record what happened to patients after they left; an attempt some 30 years ago managed to locate 21 patients over a 5-year period through annual letters or phone calls: at the 5-year mark, only one was still alive, but not cancer-free). It has, however, managed to establish itself as one of the most popular (and dangerous) brands of cancer quackery available. (There’s a good assessment available here, with a FAQ here).

Steve Kroschel is one the most ardent advocates for the therapy, especially through his feature film “The Beautiful Truth”, (reviewed here and here; some more background here; Badger’s Law applies), which essentially claims that Gerson discovered the cure for cancer and several other diseases sixty years ago – a claim that is backed up by judiciously selected anecdotes (none of the testimonials give sufficient detail or evidence to allow any conclusions regarding the therapy to be drawn, of course) – but that the truth has been vigorously attacked and suppressed by the evil medical community and Big Science and Big Pharma, who’ll rather push toxins. The film appears to be modeled on Expelled in terms of layout, ideas and veracity, and mostly features cancer quackery through the explorations of Kroschel’s (then) fifteen-year-old son Garrett, to whom it was made it “abundantly clear that, contrary to the disinformation campaign spear-headed by the multi-billion dollar medical and pharmaceutical industry, a cure for virtually all cancers and chronic diseases does exist – and has existed for over 80 years!” It’s an interesting way of viewing your fellow humans: apparently every doctor must know or suspect that alternative therapies, like the Gerson therapy, will work, but wont reveal it – indeed, their solidarity in evil to the pharmaceutical industry is so strong that they themselves will rather die from cancer rather than let the truth out and become billionaires in the process.

Elsewhere (discussed here) Kroschel veers into anti-fluoridation conspiracies, complete with images of Hitler and his concentration camps, and claims that Hitler wanted use sodium fluoride in the water to supply to sterilize people and force them into submission, which makes no sense whatsoever. Since crankery is magnetic, it is little surprise that he also promotes full-fledged dental amalgam quackery (more here). Kroschel has even bought into some of the more ridiculous brands of food woo, and has been caught arguing that cooked food is “dead”: In one of his videos he shows two pictures, one of cooked and another of uncooked baby carrot, which the narrator analyzes with a Kirlian photography and says that “[t]he uncooked carrot has a startling line of strong energy” that the cooked carrot lacks, hence Pasteurized food is “dead”. It’s hard to argue with that claim. (The lesson is, apparently, that it is better to eat live food because only then will we be able to absorb its life energy, though the mechanisms are left undescribed).

In 2014, Kroschel released the documentary “Heal for Free”. We have not seen it, but feel qualified to dismiss it as conspiratorial nonsense; apparently it features earthing therapy (now, that’s some serious crackpottery).

Diagnosis: At least Kroschel seems to be a true believer – the gullibility runs deep with this one, but a conspiracy mindset is fertile ground for such nonsense and woo. His film does seem to have reached a certain audience, and has certainly done nothing good, despite the fact that the idiocy is pretty obvious to anyone with even minimal critical thinking skills.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

#1851: Dolores Krieger

Therapeutic touch (TT) is a brand of energy woo enjoying quite a bit of popularity, especially among nurses. TT involves a therapist moving his or her hands over the patient’s mythical “energy field”. Yes, it’s really a religious ritual, involving appeals to a postulated spiritual, non-physical “life energy field” extending beyond the body of the patient. In particular, someone’s wellness is apparently dependent on this energy field, which ostensibly can become unbalanced, misaligned, obstructed, or out of tune – all clinical descriptions are metaphorical, of course; no-one has really even attempted to explain what it means for an energy field to be “misaligned” rather than in balance (except by offering more metaphors). According to TT practitioners, though, this field can be manipulated by the right kinds of spell-casting gestures, i.e. making certain movements in the air above the surface of the patient’s body, whereby the healers may transfer some of their own life energy to the patient and thus restore harmony, allowing the body to heal itself (yes, it’s metaphors all the way down).

TT has no foundation in science, evidence or reality, of course (though it is based on familiar pre-scientific medicine), and even practitioners often admit that the energies in question cannot be detected by science – an admission that, of course, regularly forces them appeal to shortcomings of careful investigation and bias-controlled evidence assessment rather than shortcomings with their own convictions, which are not based on investigation and bias-controlled evidence assessment (practitioners cannot detect the purported energy field either; further evidence here). Of course, science usually detects energy by its effects, for instance effects on the health of  patients. Investigations of TT haven’t shown any effects on the health of patients either. Energy works in mysterious ways, apparently.

Despite being unmeasurable, some TT defenders claim it is scientific because it is based on quantum physics, since quantum physics to most New Agers means something roughly equivalent to “shamanic vibrations in the dolphin dimension”. TT is not based on quantum physics. The popularity of the technique among nurses (apparently more than 100,000 people have been trained in TT) has little to do with its purported scientific basis (or effects); presumably one of TT’s central proponents, Rebecca Witmer, accidently reveals much of the reason when she says that “[t]hose who practice Therapeutic Touch often report reaping benefits for themselves. For example, the ability of TT to reduce burnout in health care professionals has been well-documented.” Add to that communal reinforcement, appeals to secret powers that physicians don’t have, regression to the mean and some positive feedback and the popularity becomes quite understandable. (And for patients, there is real evidence that supportive therapy of breast cancer patients improves mood and pain control – but not longevity). A defense of TT by one Cynthia Hutchison is discussed here.

The technique was invented and popularized in the 1970s by nurse, New Thought proponent and a theosophist Dolores Krieger, a faculty member at NYU’s Division of Nursing and student of Dora Kunz, who is convinced that the palms are chakras that channel healing energy. This is false. Krieger is the author of Therapeutic Touch: How to Use Your Hands to Help and to Heal (1979) and several other books. She has no peer-reviewed scientific publications, but has claimed that serious, well-designed studies of TT nevertheless violate basic principles of scientific investigations (no further details as to how) on the simple grounds that they don’t give her the results she wants.

A good and detailed introduction here.

Diagnosis: TT is New Age fluff and nonsense with – demonstrably – no basis in reality; yet it remains rather amazingly popular, and though Krieger seems convinced of her own importance as a contributor to progress and happiness, she is simply a deluded old religious fundamentalist. It’s ultimately rather sad.

Hat-tip: Skepdic.

Friday, June 16, 2017

#1850: John Kortum & Maureen McFadden

One persistent idea among the more ridiculous types of woo is the idea that organs in your body map to certain locations on another organ. It’s the guiding idea behind reflexology (feet) and – of course – traditional Chinese medicine’s tongue diagnosis. For iridologists, it’s the iris. There is also rumpology (oh, yes). Their claims are often backed up by appeal to subtle energies or qi – spirit juice, really – that connects the organs to the proposed markers, and the ideas are approximately as plausible as the claim that your organs map onto tea leaves, coffee grinds or celestial objects.

John Kortum, a “medical intuitive” from Indiana and developer of “the Kortum Technique”, says that most every indicator is perceived by aiming your blended vision at the human face. “The body has a symbolic language to indicate health imbalances within the different organ systems,” claims Kortum, and “[w]hen the imbalance reaches a certain point, it activates the symbolic language and becomes visible and accessible through the Kortum Technique,” which is dumb a religious claim critically relying on mystical gibberish, and, yeah, dumb. The Kortum Technique apparently has three stages: “During the first component, the technique is used to survey the indicators. Further discussion allows the patient to provide information on what they already know about their health compared to the indicator evaluation. The second component is dedicated to revealing what the body wants to communicate. The organs can describe past events in a person’s life. The third component will be the opportunity to consider what has been revealed in the session and how the patient can use this information to best support their recovery of health and vitality.” People apparently pay money for this.

Anyways, Kortum was brought to (some) people’s attention when featured on the South Bend local news station WNDU, in something called Maureen’s Medical Moment, run by one Maureen McFadden, a reporter who touts herself as an “Emmy Award winning News Anchor and Reporter at WNDU.” McFadden appears to be as credulous of New Age woo as they come, and bolstered the case for Kortum with anecdotes. In fact, she also claimed that researchers “put the Kortum technique to the test” in a study in 2001, conducted by Leonard Wisneski and Beth Renne, in which they took patients with documented diseases and had Kortum assess them, with a 93% accuracy rate. The study is not listed in PubMed.

Wisneski, though, is Chairman of the NIH Advisory Board on Frontier Sciences at the University of Connecticut, has served on the board of the American Holistic Medical Association (listed here) and been President of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (also listed here). Needless to say, he would be precisely the kind of “researcher” who could convince himself of Kortum’s abilities through tooth-fairy science and conducting a “trial” by violating all protocols and bias-controlling measures.

When the shoddiness of her reporting was pointed out to her, McFadden doubled down on her claims: “This comes from 12 years of research and is considered a huge breakthrough by many MD’s [sic],” … who shall apparently remain unnamed, and “[f]eel free to argue with the researchers and the FDA and the doctors using it.” We admit that we have not checked whether the Kortum technique has been approved by the FDA. Neither Wisneski nor Kortum is a researcher in any meaningful sense of the word. But yeah: McFadden actually fell for Kortum’s New Age nonsense and thinks his “skills” is a “medical breakthrough.” The sad part is that she is a journalist, and journalists with this kind of complete inability to realize they’ve been fooled are rather scary.

Diagnosis: Kortum is a relatively typical New Age crackpot with a product to sell and – it seems – the charisma and personal skills needed to sell it. McFadden, though, is something of a disgrace to journalism, and ultimately the greater danger to society and civilization.

Hat-tip: Respectful Insolence.