Wednesday, May 20, 2015

#1372: Becky Berger

You remember the Texas Board of Education, of course. In their creationist heydays, various nationally famous denialists and local lunatics would both launch attacks on biology, physics and history in manners that would draw national and even international attention, but the side of science generally won out in the end. When the State Board of Education‘s public hearing on new science textbooks for Texas public schools finally began in 2013, the creationists were unable to mount any serious attacks anymore. So all looked well for a while – until it became clear that oil and gas industry interests had instead decided to attack the only environmental science textbook up for adoption by the state board.

So during the hearings Becky Berger, who identified herself a geologist and oil and gas professional, tried to argue that high schools shouldn’t teach environmental science classes at all. And during the hearings she launched a rabid attack on the environmental science textbook under consideration, claiming that it is filled with factual errors on topics like pollution potentially caused by fracking and the problem of carbon emissions. The attack was somewhat weakened by the fact that she provided no actual written documentation to back up her claims, and failed to even produce a list of the alleged errors so that the publisher could respond to her claims. Her attacks are discussed in some detail here.

The state’s official review teams had not identified any factual errors in the textbook. Nevertheless, some board members thought that Berger (who had not been part of the review process) was more credible. Of course, Berger somehow didn’t remember to tell the board that she is a Republican candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, information that would have been strangely relevant.

She wasn’t alone. Throughout the day of the hearings, various wingnut activists and websites had been urging “grassroots” to call on the state board to reject the science textbooks up for adoption, especially the environmental science textbook. Honorable mention to Alice Linahan of the for-profit political outfit Voices Empower, who argued that the textbooks were a threat to Texas’ oil/natural gas industry.

Diagnosis: Denialist wingnut. Yes, another one, and Berger is not afraid to use subversion and trickery to get her way. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#1371: Jonathan Benson

What is the link between polio, pesticides and cell phone radiation? You may think “none”, and you’d be right. Unfortunately, no one told Jonathan Benson (well, they probably did, but if you tell Benson anything he doesn’t already believe, he seems to conclude that you’re part of the conspiracy). Benson is a staff writer at NaturalNews, and though he doesn’t have the flair for hysterical commitment to glaring fallacies exhibited by Mike Adams, he is no less a champion of lunatic pseudoscience, denialism and conspiracy theories. The question above reflects the contents of Benson’s piece “History shows polio caused by pesticide exposure, then was eradicated by decline in DDT use.” It sure wasn’t vaccines, since vaccines don’t work and is part of a conspiracy; no, what caused polio was DDT, but for some reason the powers that be are trying to hide this for nefarious reasons. How does he get to the conclusion? Well, there is a correlation between the decline of polio and the decline in the use of DDT, therefore causation. Well, there is, in fact, not a correlation either, especially not when looking at what happened before the 1950s, but Benson is only interested in the parts that he can force to fit, not the ones that don’t.

NaturalNews has over the last few years, made some valiant attempts to expose the ADHD conspiracy with misunderstandings, incompetence, fallacies and threats of lizard people. Yes, according to NaturalNews, ADHD is a scam of Big Pharma and psychiatry (Jonathan Landsman), caused (according to Ethan Huff) by mercury from vaccines (which isn’t there, but you know – conspiracy), pesticides (Sharon Heller), and anesthesia (Peter Smith). Benson has, in that regard, helpfully provided us with a discussion of how it can be treated: homeopathic cures (“work better than Ritalin” according to JB Bardot) and eating organic food. Evidence? Hah, NaturalNews saw through and rejected the Big Pharma brainwashing mantra “back up your claims by evidence” right away, and they haven’t looked back.

Diagnosis: Idiot

Sunday, May 17, 2015

#1370: Ken Bennett

Like many US states, Arizona has no inhibitions when it comes to electing crazies to positions of power. Take Ken Bennett, for instance. Bennett is the former president of the Arizona Senate, and was Secretary of State until 2015. He is also a hardcore birther. In 2012 he announced that although “I’m not a birther,” he was not convinced Barack Obama was really born in the United States, which makes one wonder what he thinks being a birther might involve (yes, we are pretending that he wasn't just lying and pandering). Since Bennett was in charge of running Arizona’s elections at that point he also threatened to keep the president off the ballot in the November election. How did he come to his birtherism? Well, apparently Bennett was following the lead of the state’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had ordered an investigation into the president’s birth certificate in 2011 that concluded that the document released by the White House is a forgery (based on the fact that he had already built his fringe career on the firm conclusion that it was, of course). Yes, that Joe Arpaio. Apparently Arizona’s Secretary of State lent his ear to Joe Arpaio. No shit.

After dimly realizing that he was being perceived as an embarrassment to his state by the rest of the world, Bennett feebly tried to back down.

Diagnosis: It may of course be that he was just trying to endear himself to Arizona’s substantial birther population. Still, he actually went there, and next time we may perhaps suggest he look into the possibility that political candidates may be disguised extraterrestrial reptilians, a view suggested by other independent researchers who are at least no crazier than Arpaio.

#1369: Yosef Ben-Jochannan

A.k.a. Dr. Ben

Yes, another one of those. Dr. Ben is considered one of the more notable – read that as “notorious” – Afrocentric scholars, one of those who take an Afrocentric perspective on history (which in itself is not silly, mind) to justify all sorts of desperate pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Dr. Ben began teaching Egyptology at Malcolm King College in the 70s, and subsequently at City College in New York City and as an adjunct professor at Cornell. He is the author of numerous books, primarily on ancient Nile Valley civilizations and their perceived impacts on Western cultures, where he argues that the original Jews were from Ethiopia and were Black Africans (Moses was black, for instance), while the white Jews later stole the Jewish faith and its customs. Evidence? Primarily existence of a conspiracy to suppress the truth about black supremacy, it seems.

To give an example of his “scholarship”: When European classics professor Mary Lefkowitz publicly confronted Ben-Jochannan about e.g. his claims that Aristotle stole his ideas from the Library of Alexandria, which black Africans used to collect their philosophical works: “how would that have been possible, when the library was not built until after his death?” Ben-Jochannan by telling those present that “they could and should believe what black instructors told them,” the audience accused Lefkowitz of racism, and concluded “that although they might think that Jews were all ‘hook-nosed and sallow faced,’ there were other Jews [back then] who looked like himself.” His works are riddled with inaccuracies, confusions and made-up stories like these, primarily because Dr. Ben doesn’t care about the facts as long as they serve his narrative.

Diagnosis: The pseudoscience that is promulgated under the heading of  “afrocentrism” by people like Dr. Ben is rather disconcerting – and unfortunate (Molefi Kete Asante’s original point of reclaiming the narrative in his 1980 book is not silly, for instance). Yet, Dr. Ben’s myths and silliness seem, sadly, to have had quite a bit of impact.

Update: He actually passed away March this year.

Friday, May 15, 2015

#1368: Joel Belz

Joel Belz is the founder of God’s World Publications, which includes the World Journalism Institute and WORLD Magazine, a biweekly fundamentalist tract. He is also a signatory to the Manhattan Declaration, and otherwise disconcertingly influential on the religious right.

To outsiders, the WORLD Magazine is most famous for its virulent anti-gay stance, and Belz himself has claimed that the “homosexual agenda” is “an extreme in-your-face challenge to God’s order.” When WORLD named ex-gay activist Alan Chambers the “2011 Daniel of the Year” (that was before Chambers disavowed reparative therapy), Belz accused supporters of marriage equality of being “forces of anarchy” who are “undefining the family.” “If heterosexual immorality is like driving 85 mph in a 35 mph zone,” said Belz, “then homosexual immorality is like going 85 mph the wrong way on a one-way street,” which is a good quote but oh, so wrong-headed.

Belz is, of course, also a creationist. Indeed, Belz has lamented how “the rise of Darwinism led step by step, discipline by discipline, cultural corner by cultural corner, to the exclusion of God from public discussion.” But it’s not only Darwin: “Darwin did it successfully in the field of science, Marx in economic theory, Freud in psychology and the social sciences, Dewey in education, and then almost everyone in politics.” Indeed, it seems, all of modern science is really a conspiracy against Jesus! Which shows that Freud, Marx and Darwin are really just three sides of the same coin. Now, Belz says that the huge disparity between what the public thinks about evolution and what the scientific community says is part of a larger problem, which is correct, but Belz suggests that the discrepancy means that scientists are therefore wrong because … well, conspiracy, mostly. In fact, evolution, according to Belz, is one of the “seven Big Lies we are all subjected to virtually all the time” by the media (which is part of the conspiracy against Jesus). Other lies include global warming, where, once again, the media just appeals to experts “instead of serious two-way arguments” with the public who tend (in Belz’s mind at least) to disagree with them. (The other items on his list of “lies” are homosexuality (he cites Richard Cohen’s
“research”), stem-cell research, Islam and pluralism.)

Diagnosis: We’ve seen a lot of fundamentalist denialists, but few people we have covered are so thoroughly and staunchly and zealously anti-science as Joe Belz. We should perhaps not exaggerate his influence, but it is certainly not negligible.