Saturday, May 30, 2015

#1379: Mayim Bialik

Perhaps better known as the character Amy Farrah Fowler on the – frankly rank anti-science – TV show The Big Bang Theory, Bialik is quickly rising to become one of the leading voices of pseudoscience and denialism in real life. Bialik does, indeed, have a degree in neuroscience, and, when combined with her character in the aforementioned TV show, that apparently lends her a bit of credibility as a spokesperson for various scientific issues, opportunities she uses to spread misinformation, quackery and evil, in particular anti-vaccine conspiracies and support for homeopathy. It should be a cause for concern that she was invited as the 2014 featured speaker at the National Science Teachers’ Association conference.

Bialik is, for instance, a celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network, an organization promoting “natural” parenting, where “natural” apparently means embracing every form of “natural” woo yet invented, sponsored by a range of quack institutions including Boiron (manufacturer of the homeopathic remedy for flu known as Oscillococcinum), the Center for Homeopathic Education, and the National Center for Homeopathy – heck, their advisory board include Lauren Feder, Barbara Loe Fisher, Peggy O’Mara, publisher of Mothering Magazine, “integrative” pediatrician Lawrence Rosen, and Sherri Tenpenny.

Most importantly of all, though, Bialik is anti-vaccine (though she has tried to deny it), primarily – it seems – because she views vaccines as “unnatural”. Somehow, though, she justifies not vaccinating her kids because it is, according to her, a “personal decision”, even though not vaccinating is a personal decision in the sense that texting while driving is a personal decision.

Diagnosis: A sad case for reason, science, and critical thinking. Apparently a real science education is no guarantee for understanding how reason or evidence works. Hysterically lunatic, and dangerous.

Friday, May 29, 2015

#1378: John Best

A minor but rather obnoxious conspiracy theorist, John Best is the guy behind the blog Hating Autism, in which he denies the existence of autism and argues that the condition can be cured through various types of woo. Best believes that autism is the same as mercury poisoning, which according to him became epidemic with the invention of thimerosal – in cases of autism where thimerosal-preserved vaccines were demonstrably not given, Best blames dental amalgam fillings, which is possibly even sillier (though not by much). The cure for mercury poisoning, according to Best, is chelation, which is not the case but according to Best has produced immediate (but non-verified) results. Accordingly, he seems to view the Geiers as heroes, even though Mark Geier lost his license to practice medicine in several states due to his chelation therapy. And that, for Best, is one entry to insane conspiracy-land.

According to Best, the “truth about autism” is being hidden. Best claims that there exists a record of a meeting in 1999 where Big Pharma agreed to continue to poison children with vaccines – and that all politicians around the world are aware of this but paid off. He has accordingly called for the arrest of politicians by the FBI. He also subscribes to Illuminati and Rothschild family conspiracy theories, to the extent that even the loons at Age of Autism have been somewhat wary of allying themselves to him – Best has accordingly accused them of supporting the continued poisoning of children by failing to act on his conspiracies.

After the Sandy Hook shootings, Best speculated that the perpetrator, Adam Lanza, had Asperger’s syndrome and subsequently that everyone with Asperger’s syndrome were potential “psycho killers” that should be forcibly cured via chelation. He also blamed the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and President Obama for the shootings because they don’t listen to him.

He has furthermore tried to ask his readers to vote for him as President of the US and for Senate, but unfortunately mainstream media is corrupt and won’t give him a voice.

Diagnosis: A minor but particularly vicious player on the nonsense side. His influence is probably limited.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

#1377: F. Kenton Beshore

F. Kenton Beshore is the senior pastor of Mariners Church, California – which appears to be something of a megachurch – and World Bible Society President. But most of all, Beshore is a hysterically insane, rabidly fuming, total fundamentalist. As certain types of fundies are wont to do, Beshore has predicted the endtimes. In particular, Beshore bases his prediction on Hal Lindsey’s suggestion that Jesus could return within one Biblical generation (40 years) of the founding of Israel in 1948, but has claimed – after 1988 came and went – that the definition of a Biblical generation was incorrect and should actually have been 70–80 years, placing the Second Coming of Jesus between 2018 and 2028, and the Rapture by 2021 the latest.

Seeing this as a great opportunity for evangelism, Beshore is particularly targeting Jewish people, hoping that they will read the books containing Biblical prophecies about Jesus’ first and second comings and become some of the “144,000 Billy Grahams” described in Revelation 7 that will lead billions to Christ during the Tribulation.

Diagnosis: Another Harold Camping-wannabe, it seems, and Beshore is just as old, stupid and fanatical. It’s pretty depressing that some people actually listen to the incoherent ramblings of this angry, deranged and confused old fop but it seems that at least some people do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

#1376: Mark Bertolini

Quackery has gradually been infecting teaching institutions and hospitals all across the US as a result of deliberate marketing strategies and wealthy donors, and the developments are a cause for concern. Now quackery has found an unexpected ally. Mark Bertolini is gushing over a range of dieatary woo, acupuncture, naturopathy and craniosacral therapy, and he’s got the usual anecdotes to back up his claims: “We know this stuff works. We believe in this, it’s just building the evidence base,” says Bertolini. That’s right. Even though the evidence is missing he knows what the correct conclusion is going to be; now the question is just one of shoehorning and carefully selecting the data into serving the dogma. How committed is he? Well, Bertolini is a true believer in naturopathy, to the extent that he was the keynote speaker at the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians’ annual conference.

Why does it matter? The thing, of course, is that Bertolini is CEO of Aetna. One wonders how his commitment to sheer pseudoscience will be treated by its stakeholder; health insurance companies have not exactly been rushing to cover magical cures based on medieval metaphysics. Let’s just say that if Bertolini is going to use his position to alter the policies of the major health insurance companies, he could have found a more praiseworthy target.

Diagnosis: I suppose Bertolini well represents the kind of conclusions people may draw if they have no understanding of science or critical thinking. But if you are going to use your powers as a CEO of a major health insurance company to improve the world I can hardly imagine a less worthy area of focus.

Monday, May 25, 2015

#1375: Sallie Bernard

SafeMinds is an advocacy group dedicated (to a large extent) to antivaxx lobbying and, in particular, to the utterly discredited hypothesis that mercury causes autism. And, for people with little aptitude for scientific evidence, little time for critical thinking, and a stake in the outcome, no study, however rigorous, is going to change their minds (as the name suggests, the group is entirely impervious to evidence).

Sallie Bernard is the executive director of SafeMinds, and a committed promoter of denialism and pseudoscience. A fine case in point is her comments on an article concerning a seven-year study of 1,047 children who received mercury-containing vaccines as infants funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention – which, of course, found no indication of developmental delays. As the authors of the study pointed out, “[a] majority of the selected families declined to participate or could not be located, and we were able to enroll only 30% of the subjects included for recruitment. Therefore, our findings may have been influenced by selection bias.” Bernard interpreted this as meaning that the study was biased and worthless. Of course, as the authors point out, the selection bias would almost certainly have biased the study in favor of harm, but Bernard missed that. And Bernard was, in fact, a consultant for the study and helped contribute to its design; but you know: when it nevertheless failed to show what she had already determined that it ought to show, what can she do?

Most of her errors are, however, even more obvious. When a major report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), entitled “Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality” showed that vaccines are safe, she went full Orwellian (including conspiracy mongering), once again demonstrating that no evidence, study or science will ever, no matter what, make her and her organization change their mind about the alleged causal links between mercury and autism. After all, Bernard herself published a rather infamous paper supporting a link in the pseudojournal (yes!) Medical Hypotheses back in 2001. And yes, her tactics are the same as always: conspiracies, shifting goalposts and pharma shill gambits abound. An illuminating discussion of her and SafeMinds’ techniques can be found here.

Diagnosis: A major player in the anti-vaccine movement, Bernard makes sure to employ all the familiar canards, all the obfuscation, and a complete lack of criticial thinking skills to dismiss any evidence (i.e. all evidence) against what she very zealously believes for reasons that have little to do with evidence. Dangerous mumpsimus.