Thursday, April 24, 2014

#1010: Larry Palevsky

Lawrence Palevsky is a pediatrician – “wholistic pediatrician”, according to himself – who has made a name for himself in the antivaccine underground. Apparently, Palevsky has a real medical degree, but he cannot have learned much about vaccines, since he clearly doesn’t know much about how they work – and, even more clearly, has no idea about how scientific testing works. That lack of understanding, combined with pseudoscience and a bit of conspiracy mongering earned him the prestigious “Visionary Award” from Barbara Loe Fisher’s antivaccine group the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC).

It also landed him a major role in the antivaccine movement’s propaganda movie – really their answer to the Intelligent Design movement’s Expelled – The Greater Good, which made its rounds on various film festivals back in 2011. In the movie, Palevsky manages to put in an impressive array of anti-vaccine pseudoscientific gambits, including the “toxins” gambit, conspiracy mongering about pharmaceutical companies, and claims that vaccines aren’t adequately tested. He even claims that because mortality from various infectious diseases was falling before vaccines for those diseases were introduced it must mean that vaccines are useless, one of the most intellectually dishonest arguments the movement has yet to come up with. In fact, Palevsky is even shown speaking (to parents!) about how amazed he was to discover that there was mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde, antibiotics, and preservatives in vaccines, a point that proves once and for all that Palevsky is utterly incompetent at what he claims to be doing as a profession.

We won’t link to his website, but if you happened upon it you will encounter a plethora of woo, anecdotes and appeals to nature to rival any pseudoscientist. Indeed, according to his website, “[i]n using his “whole child” wellness philosophy, Dr. Palevsky recommends and incorporates the teachings and therapies of nutritional science, acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, chiropractic, osteopathy, cranial-sacral therapy, environmental medicine, homeopathy, and essential oils, along with natural healing modalities such as aromatherapy, yoga, Reiki, meditation, reflexology, and mindfulness.” Indeed. He also writes articles for the NVIC.

At least Rob Schneider is a fan. That is not an endorsement indicative of quality. More insidiously, Greg Marvel, president of the school board in San Ramon Valley, California, seems to be a fan as well.

Diagnosis: Ignorant denialist, who unfortunately possesses the formal credentials to lend some authority to his bullshit. Those credentials are apparently formal only.

#1009: Michael Pakaluk

Yet another anti-gay fanatic. Michael Pakaluk is a former philosophy professor at Clark University in Worcester, and writes columns for the Catholic newspaper The Pilot. He is most famous for a 2010 piece defending the decision by a Hingham priest to rescind the acceptance of a child of a lesbian couple to a local parochial school. In the piece (described here) Pakaluk argued that one reason the children of gay parents should not be admitted to Catholic schools is the “real danger” that they would bring pornography to school. The danger is real, because pornographic items “go along with the same-sex lifestyle, which – as not being related to procreation – is inherently eroticized and pornographic.” He added that gay parents should not be called “parents” unless they are biologically related to their children.

The Pilot issued a classic not-pology: “we apologize if anyone felt offended by it.” Apologizing for people’s reactions to the shit they write is not apologizing.

Diagnosis: Dunghead. Probably of negligible importance.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

#1008: Boyd Packer

Boyd K. Packer is a Mormon leader and president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is, needless to say, considered something of an authority within the Mormon church – indeed, he is currently the second most senior apostle among its ranks. He is also, as such, among the big architects behind the Church’s official positions on various matters.

As a religious fanatic, Packer is predictably obsessed with sex – that is, other people’s sex lives – and his views on homosexuality, though exactly what you’d expect, are abominable.

A more personal style is revealed in his claims about history (on which he has no expertise), having advocated that LDS historians should refrain from discussing history that does not promote faith – i.e., censor out whatever doesn’t fit with Packer’s predetermined ideas about what contributes to his particular version of the Mormon faith. In a 1981 speech to educators in the LDS Church Educational System, he cautioned that “[t]here is a temptation for the writer or teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not […] some things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy.” Thus, with regard to all historians who are members of the LDS Church, he stated that “[o]ne who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for ‘advanced history,’ is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants and will be held accountable.” Yes, that’s how fundies do “science” – in the service of dogma. Intellectual honesty isn’t even on the radar. Of course, his statements drew some criticism – LDS member and historian Michael Quinn pointed out the obvious problems. It is not as obvious that LDS member C. Robert Mesle’s criticism – that Packer created what Mesle views as a false dichotomy “between the integrity of faith and the integrity of inquiry” – is much less loony when you think about what he’s actually trying to say. Packer’s views on art aren’t much different from his views on history, by the way.

Diagnosis: Probably in his nineties by now, but has – rather obviously – lost none of his reasoning powers, and retains a position of quite a bit of authority and power. A dangerous, evil old crank. 

#1007: Charles L. Pack

Insofar as he is still going strong (no really updated information located) Charles L. Pack must be pretty old. And, of course, and more notably, pretty dingbat insane. Pack is the founder, conference director and president of Thy Kingdom Come, Inc., author of multiple booklets on Bible prophecy, publisher of the bi-monthly Spirit of Prophecy newspaper, and one of the heroes of the RaptureReady site. Yes, one more of those.

The stuff he promotes is thus the expected ravings, but among his more personal touches is the promotion of The Hallelujah Diet®, consisting mainly of raw fruits and vegetables, as well as Barleygreen, a natural barley grass. After all, it cured him! At one point in his life, Pack apparently suffered from a delibitating disease that conventional medicine was unable to stop, and enter the Hallelujah Diet (®). As a result of his experiences, Pack founded the website Be In Health to provide answers to questions about his medical problems and their cure (biographer Nicole Balnius interestingly calls him “Dr. Pack” when talking about the promotion of woo – Pack has diploma in divinity), as well as questions about a host of other people whose physical ailments have been helped by diet, nutrition, and the use of natural products.

Aside from promoting “natural” treatments, Pack preaches about endtimes, hell and the end of the world – indeed, the “end-time events could happen within the span of the calendar hanging on your wall.”

Diagnosis: There is always something fascinating with interdisciplinary cranks, but apart from that Pack is probably pretty harmless.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

#1006: Mehmet Oz

A.k.a. “America’s Doctor”

Mehmet Oz is a TV doctor who first came to public notice through his appearances on Oprah. He currently hosts his own syndicated television talk show, “The Dr. Oz Show,” which is currently one of the saddest and most substantial threats to civilization imposed on the world through Television. The general format of the show consists of inviting many people who work in healthcare for the audience, go through some points that align with real medical science, and then ruin everything by promoting various altmed garbage (warning letters he receives from the FDA don’t carry the same weight with the public, who probably never gets to hear about them anyways). As a doctor, Oz is in fact one of the most accomplished cardiothoracic surgeons of his generation, which makes his journey to the dark side all the more tragic.

The show is currently filled with recommendations ranging from the dubious to the downright fraudulent, and Oz has even given time to batshit crazies such as Deepak Chopra and Joseph Mercola, the latter described as a “pioneer in alternative medicine” and “a man your doctor doesn’t want you to know.” Usually Oz stops short of explicitly endorsing charlatans (at least in the earlier seasons), but just giving them a platform at all borders on malfeasance and is definitely a violation of any Hippocratic Oath, as well as giving these cranks and quacks an opportunity to promote themselves with an “as seen on the Dr. Oz Show” tag. His interaction with Mercola, according to critics (who are right), marked the completion of his journey to the Dark Side. He sealed it further by embracing homeopathy publicly and promoting it on his show in a segment called The Homeopathy Starter Kit. And with his “15 Superfoods” segment he has entered something frighteningly reminiscent of Kevin Trudeau-land.

Oz has furthermore promoted faith healing, “energy medicine”, reiki, and appeared on ABC News to give legitimacy to the claims of Brazilian faith healer “John of God,” who uses old carnival tricks to solicit money from the seriously ill. He has hosted Ayurvedic ( guru Yogi Cameron on his show to promote nonsense “tongue examination” as a way of diagnosing health problems, and in 2011 he more or less endorsed none other than John Edward (good portrait here) – Oz even suggested that bereaved families should visit psychic mediums to receive messages from their dead relatives as a form of grief counseling. The segment is discussed here. He has later followed that one up with a segment featuring Long Island medium Theresa Caputo, whom Oz promotes as somehow being able to help his viewers deal with anxiety by communicating with dead relatives on “the other side” – indeed, he even brought ultrapseudoscientist Daniel Amen to his show to argue that brainscans show that Caputo’s psychic powers are genuine (needless to say, the brainscans show no such thing). He has promoted Goodnighties sleepwear, which is said to be “impregnated with a substance that emits negative ions,” red palm oil, contributed to the distribution of the A├žai scams, and featured an anti-vaccine-sympathetic episode on autism with Bob Sears as his guest. The list goes on. If you ever came to doubt that Oz is a quack, there is for instance this, or his speculation about a connection between cell phone use and cancer (no, there is no evidence of such, for crying out loud), or his support for grounding.

Why does he do it, one might ask, and I suspect a lot is revealed in his manifesto, a chilling combo of various postmodernist relativist bullshit: “Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean. You find the arguments that support your data, and it’s my fact versus your fact.” No, it isn’t – but the sentiment explains quite a bit about how woomeisters think.

One of his biggest controversies involved the chemical resveratrol. While pharmaceutical research on laboratory mice showed some potential as an anti-aging agent, Dr. Oz promoted it as some New Age miracle, pushing his own supplemental version of the chemical, despite a current lack of evidence of its benefits or risks for humans. In 2012 he also provided some false balance regarding reparative therapy, which suggested that this utterly discredited bullshit might have some merit (discussed here).

Dr Oz is the proud winner of the James Randi Educational Foundation's Pigasus Award (Media section) in both 2010 and 2011 for doing “such a disservice to his TV viewers by promoting quack medical practices that he is now the first person to win a Pigasus two years in a row.” The awards are discussed here.

There are some good discussions of his practices here, here, and here (though the latter is a bit mild).

Diagnosis: One of the most dangerous cranks alive. No less.