Thursday, April 4, 2013

#497: Tom Bethell


While Kentucky governor Steve Beshear deserves honorable mention for his endorsement of the expansion of the Creation Museum, it may be hard to take it as evidence for lunacy rather than opportunism. No such doubts surround Tom Bethell.

Bethell is a senior editor at American Spectator and “media fellow” at the Hoover Institution (he is also originally British, but appears to work primarily in the US). Bethell is famous for endorsing virtually every brand of wingnut pseudoscience and every denialist position ever invented. That commitment is summed up in his magnum opus, the frighteningly well-known Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (reviewed here), in which he endorses them all: Intelligent design creationism (all the standard canards, including this, and most of these; some Bethell quotes on evolution are discussed here), AIDS denial, including denying that there is anything such as an AIDS epidemic in Africa (it is duly taken down here), that radiation is good for you, stem cell lies, anti-environmentalism – particularly, of course, global warming denialism (some Bethell quotes are discussed here), but also the DDT idiocy (he further popularized the Rachel Carson smear), and claiming that endangered species aren’t really endangered – and cancer quackery. It is truly an astonishing display of all and every crank fallacy and gambit there is, from the Galileo gambit to the Ham hightail, through “science was wrong before”, the “evil liberal science conspiracy”, science is a “secular religion”, and so on. Even the title should give you an idea that Bethell has fundamentally misunderstood something, and a good article on Bethell and fellow denialist John Tierney discussing their failure to distinguish science from politics can be found here (see also this). This one is also pertinent.

Of course, the overall theme of the book is that the the scientific establishment is constantly sidelining “politically incorrect” dissent in order for scientists to boost liberal ideology and take out mountains of grant money. Anyone who has ever known a scientist should see that there is something not entirely coherent about that picture. Bethell’s stance on general science policy is duly discussed here. A comment on his positive review of Expelled, which also highlights some of these problems, can be found here.

Bethell has subsequently published “Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary”, in which he plumps for relativity denial based mostly on the work of ├╝bercrank Petr Beckmann (this one is informative as well). Beckmann’s bullshit is, of course, complete nonsense and should serve merely to establish once and for all that Bethell does not have the faintest clue what he is talking about (as if more proof was needed).

Bethell is currently fellow-traveller with the Discovery Institute, and often publishes on their website. You can read Bethell trying to explain natural selection here. He doesn’t have the faintest clue.

Diagnosis: An absolute moron who takes denialism and confirmation bias to the extreme (as if that needed saying) – he is, in Myers’s words, a “gumbyesque crackpot” – who appears to try to promote wishful thinking as a valid form of inference (a rule that would of course be self-validating). His book remains relatively popular, and it is probably safe to say that Bethell is the epitome of what is wrong with the world.

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