Friday, October 9, 2015

#1485: Nathan Coombs & Rhonda Morris

Coombs. We haven't
managed to find any picture
that we can verify is, in fact,
a picture of Morris.

If you really want to see an array of quackery in real life like you’ve never seen before you may seek out the anti-vaxx crowd’s annual quackfest Autism One, though you need to be discrete – they are pretty wary of letting in people who have a record of promoting science. Many of the talks and presentations there are devoted to alleged remedies for autism – none of them even remotely connected to reality or real research, of course, and there seems to be few restrictions on what level of insanity is considered acceptable. Take Nathan Coombs and Rhonda Morris’s contribution to the 2011 meeting. Coombs and Morris promote the use of medical cannabis for autism, which I suppose sounds sufficiently zeitgeisty to have the potential for a modicum of popularity. Evidence of efficacy? No, you see, the presentation “is a parent’s personal perspective on the use of medical cannabis on their children with autism, and its effectiveness on symptoms.” Evidence has got nothing to do with it.

Coombs and Morris represent the Autism and Compassionate Care Connection, an organization devoted to “offer individuals with autism and their families a holistic alternative,” meaning cannabis. According to their website they “are highly compassionate and educated professionals with many years of experience” … but none of them have any background in medicine or science. A “Bachelors degree in Spanish Linguistic” or “an Administrative Credential from California State University San Bernardino” isn’t really quite the same.

Diagnosis: Their influence seems to be pretty limited, but they sure give us a good example of the amazing range of quackery and crackpottery that prey on parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Complete shit.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#1484: Tara Cook-Littman

Tara Cook-Littman was a Democratic candidate for the Connecticut legislature in District 134, a career she embarked upon after having made a name for herself as an ardent promoter of denialism and anti-science. Indeed, Cook-Littman is a self-described “holistic health counselor”, and her zealous disregard for science, evidence or reality has been on ample display in her campaigns against genetically modified foods and for laws addressing the labeling of GMO foods.

Even more objectionably, Cook-Littman featured in the film “Bought”, a piece of shrill propaganda trying to argue, against all medical evidence, that vaccines are dangerous and lead to autism and that – once again without a shred of evidence and clearly as a feeble attempt to avoid having to engage with the actual science by appealing to conspiracy – that the pharmaceutical industry has “bought off” the government to make money selling vaccines. The film also discusses GMOs, suggesting – once again blatantly contradicting numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies to the contrary – that they, too, are dangerous, and that – but of course – the relatively small biotech industry has bought the government regulators.

Diagnosis: No, anti-science is not the exclusive domain of wingnuts; indeed, Cook-Littman’s attempts to support advicing adults not to vaccinate their children is arguably more dangerous and insane than what all but a very few wingnuts could come up with. A horrible person and a real threat to civilization.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

#1483: Louis Conte

Louis Conte is a Community Corrections officer (i.e. a parole or probation officer) and anti-vaccination activist who sometimes contributes to that pit of quackery and denialism Age of Autism. To a significant extent, it seems, Conte expresses his frustration that the world at large doesn’t seem to take him or his insane crankery seriously (so yes, he seems to be sort of aware of that, at least) and complains that it (reality) is out to get him.

Thus, when Seth Kalichman of Denying AIDS and Other Oddities received a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to “establish an internet-based global monitoring and rapid alert system for finding, analyzing, and counteracting misinformation communication campaigns regarding vaccines to support global immunization efforts,” Conte took it personally – in particular, Kalichstein’s failure to answer his (apparently numerous) emails – and concluded more or less that Bill Gates was out to get him (and give him some nebulous punishmet) after finding him guilty without due process. Yes, it is the reasoning of your stock conspiracy theorist, and quite illuminatingly: Kalichman is monitoring antivaccine activists not because he cares about the truth or about health, but because he serves (and is on the payroll of) some shady, undisclosed agenda. (And no, just to get that out of the way: Kalichstein’s program is not a threat to Conte’s free speech.) It is also telling that Conte is the author of The Autism War: A Novel, which is a novel about an autism coverup conspiracy.

We’ve actually met Louis Conte before, as a co-author with Mary Holland, Robert Krakow, and Lisa Colin on an absolutely abysmally horrible “analysis” of Vaccine Court claims that they tried (and failed) to represent as “proof” that the government has conceded that vaccines cause autism, using (among other things) an impressive array of misleading arguments and fallacies. Though of course, the purpose of the analysis was never to win on science, but to win law and policy makers over to the idea that there is, indeed, a serious issue here, which is the same strategy used by denialists and creationists everywhere. (There is also that novel, if you need further emphasis of that point.)

Otherwise, Conte seems to be a regular at anti-vaccine conferences and apparently a popular speaker (again, that novel – yeah, it’s fiction, but so is most of the other stuff peddled at those conferences).

Diagnosis: An interesting case; Conte seems to recognize that being a lunatic conspiracy theorist is sort of bad, but he doesn’t seem to be able to help it, and his writings are often blatant displays of the spirit of David Icke’s forums and InfoWars. That said, Conte has done quite a bit to perpetuate vaccine hysteria, and seems to have made some impact. Dangerous, in other words.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

#1482: Ed Conrad

Ed Conrad is a legendary internet kook particularly familiar from his, uh, contributions to the newsgroup. Without going into to much detail, Conrad claims to be the victim of a grand scientific conspiracy since he allegedly found human remains in a coal seam that dates to long before humans were around. Accordingly, the Darwinian Establishment wants to silence him, and will stop at nothing. Naturally, his contributions to debates are characterized by Conrad suspecting that any critic of his ramblings being part of the conspiracy; the result is … well, for the most part much fun. His website is here.

Much of the noise centers around Conrad’s skull-shaped object (a rock, in fact), which he says was found in the Carboniferous-dated anthracite region of Pennsylvania in June of 1981, and which was investigated (according to Conrad) by scientists at the Smithsonian, who determined that it was a concretion, a conclusion Conrad has … had a hard time accepting (he has later come up with a range of other, similar items, none particularly more impressive than his first ones) since it does, to Conrad, look so much like a skull. He is, however, somewhat more skeptical of other people’s claims (this one is hilarious). The spirit of Ed Conrad and his discoveries is well captured here.

At present he appears to be pushing 9/11 truther insanity and some half-garbled urban legends as proof of the existence of God, or something.

Diagnosis: Might be a bit unfair to include him here (he’s pretty harmless), but Ed Conrad has managed to become something of a legend in certain circles. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

#1481: Chris Connor & Francoise Adan

The money is apparently too tempting, and the result is that today even venerable, well-respected medical and academic institutions are experiencing the aggressive intrusion of woo, pseudoscience, fraud and quackery. Among those fallen to the temptation of incorporating medieval witchcraft alternative medicine and faith healing is the University Hospitals of Cleveland, which since 2011 has been offering reiki, acupuncture and reflexology to people in pain and distress. Reiki, of course, is faith healing, but with an orientalist rather than Western-medieval wrapping that makes it more palatable to urbane middle-class people with slightly racist attitudes toward people with Asian backgrounds. Reflexology, on the other hand, is the idea that one may be able to affect specific organs by linking them to where they are “mapped” on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands, based on the same noble and ancient principles as palm reading. Neither treatment is even remotely supported by any serious medical evidence, of course. But as Dr. Francoise Adan, medical director of UH’s new Connor Integrative Medicine Network, tried to explain, “[w]e are an academic center, so these are evidence-based therapies.” No, Dr. Adan. That’s not how it works.

And that last sentence gives you a hint about the identity of the “Connor” part of this entry as well. Chris Connor is the chairman and CEO of the Sherwin-Williams Co., and has been a board member at UH for more than 10 years. He and his wife Sara have apparently decided to spend some of their fortune to offer non-efficacious, fake medical treatments to people, and funded the program at UH in 2013 with a $1 million gift, “knowing that people would be more open to such therapies if they were offered through a medical center.” Indeed. None of the money was earmarked for the purpose of trying to boost the acceptance of such treatments through, you know, evidence. The real villains, of course, are the administration at the University Hospitals of Cleveland who lacked the integrity, spine and moral compass to decline the gift. And apparently more than 1,500 employees of UH have been treated with “integrative medicine” and, disconcertingly, 356 of them have undergone reiki 1 training.

Diagnosis: Some wealthy people do indeed spend part of their wealth to benefit humanity. Others spend it like Chris Connor. A serious threat to humanity and civilization.