Monday, September 26, 2011

#249: Christopher Maloney

Christopher Maloney is a Maine-based naturopath who provides medical recommendations like this: “Parents waiting for vaccinations can provide their children with black elderberry, which blocks the H1N1 virus. A single garlic capsule daily cuts in half the incidence and the severity of a flu episode for children". Pure, medieval magic, in other words - completely out of touch with anything resembling science or evidence. Maloney combines his "alternative" advice, in a typical manner, with a solid dose of martyr complex.

Unlike most medical mavericks, Christopher doesn’t usually attempt to bully critics into silence. Rather, he gets his lawyer wife Maeghan to do so. In fact, über-crank Andreas Moritz (who will be covered later) seems to have assumed responsibility for bullying Maloney’s critics, at least on certain occasions.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Christopher seems to be pretty bent on taking his leaks against the wind.

Diagnosis: To avoid the possibility of any tiresome legal issues we’ll avoid explicitly calling him a “quack”, which has a clear legal definition.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

#248: Bruce Malone

We had some hesitation over Michelle Malkin. Vileness doesn’t qualify you for an entry by itself, and is Malkin a loon? Well, the incident where she saw an ad Rachel Ray did for Dunkin' Donuts and decided that the black-and-white paisley scarf Ray was wearing was a sly sign of support for the Palestinian Liberation Organization gets her very close (here is her own screed).

But to avoid accusations political bias, we’ll move to a very clear case: Bruce Malone. Malone is – you guessed it – a young earth creationist who travels around the country (at least Minnesota) giving talks on issues he knows nothing whatsoever about to audiences who generally know nothing about the issues either. Standard fare. For a summary of his talk “Astounding Evidence for a Young Earth”, you can look here. His argument that Genesis must be read literally (“days” meaning “24-hour days” rather than being a metaphor for millions of years) goes like this: “If God made the entire Universe and all in six days and rested on the seventh, it's 24 hours. If ‘days’ equals ‘millions of years’ then you could not rest on the seventh ‘day’ because it would be millions of years.” Yes, that’s the quality of his evidence. That, and conspiracy theory: the reason scientists don’t accept his (Malone’s) theories is because they don’t want to lose their jobs.

Diagnosis: A sad figure; he is not particularly original, but he is apparently a rather tireless peddler of silliness and nonsense.

#247: Bill Maher

Never let it be said that we don't pick on liberals here. Maher may have said some clever things in his life, even as a political commentator (he runs the HBO show Politically Incorrect), and he has gained notoriety as a critic of religion (for a focus on Maher’s positive contribution, see this). Then again, David Berlinski wrote an excellent introduction to calculus. Being smart, and being right on certain topics, doesn’t guarantee that you are not a loon. Bill Maher is a first-class loon.

For one, he is associated with PETA, which is at least borderline. After all, PETA has decided that fish should now be known as "sea kittens" (to stop global overfishing) and they have sent demands and cash offers to towns requesting that they change their names, including Hamburg, Fishkill and Rodeo. Their alternative for Hamburg was Veggieburg. The suggestion was serious. They also had a campaign against eating meat called “The Holocaust on your Plate".

In any case, Maher is an anti-vaccinationist and a germ theory denialist, which means that he belongs to the looniest of the kooks of there. He has even made the tired but stupendously idiotic (and false) claim that Pasteur recanted germ theory on his deathbed, which is as idiotic as the strangely parallel, idiotic and false claim about Darwin. Predictably, Maher’s anti-vaccinationist rants are the typical straw man and conspiracy theory mongering. To get an idea of the depth of Maher’s ignorance and idiocy, look at the dialogue reported here.

Some severely mentally ill person at thinks Maher is a Satanist, but then almost everyone else are apparently Satanists according to the site.

Diagnosis: Sorry, Maher is a total moron, and as cranky and anti-science as they come. He may not primarily be known for his anti-science lunacy, but he has enough followers to be worth paying attention to. A potential threat to reason and truth.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

#246: Casey Luskin

a.k.a. the Baghdad Bob of creationism

Casey Luskin is a lawyer (and not a scientist, although he seems to be a little confused about what such credentials do or don't mean) and one of the primary spokespeople for the Discovery Institute. Mr. Luskin obtained a Bachelor of Science and a Masters Degree in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, and has as a lawyer published “Intelligent Design Will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover”, and “Alternative Viewpoints about Biological Origins as Taught in Public Schools” (published in the Journal of Church and State). His work illustrates well the actual goal of the Discovery Institute – to get religion, in the form of intelligent design creationism, into public school curricula (not to do any actual scientific research).

Luskin is by far most notorious for his ability to distort scientific evidence to suggest conclusions completely opposite to what the evidence suggests (and curiously always to fit his preconceived notions of what it ought to show), such as here. An even better example of the distortions and quote mining (to put it mildly) he usually reverts to is perhaps this one (or this one). And if you are feeling particularly sadistic, you can watch Luskin getting completely eviscerated here.

The problem with Luskin and his ilk is that they're ignorant of a topic about which they believe they're experts (see The Dunning-Kruger Effect). Luskin appears to believe he’s an expert with absolute confidence and pride, but to anyone with even a cursory understanding of the fields in question his failings are miserably obvious (see also this). In fact, his misunderstandings of science – and his lack of awareness of his own lack of understanding – often reach epic proportions.

Luskin is also interestingly paranoid, going so far as to claim that published articles on evolution contain “veiled threats” against the creationists and that Nature, for instance, has launched a propaganda war on creationism. Of course, science itself is a threat to creationism; what Luskin fails to grasp is the fact that science is concerned with evidence, not argument and polemics. By failing to see the difference (and furthermore failing to distinguish criticism from personal attacks) he comes to equate scientific evidence against his dogmatic beliefs with personal attacks from the scientists who have discovered the evidence (for more on Luskin’s lack of understanding of how science works, see this).

A good assignment in an introductory critical thinking class is to identify some of the mistakes Luskin makes here (I have used it myself).

Diagnosis: Staggeringly cranky illustration of where Dunning-Kruger, confirmation bias and complete lack of understanding of science can lead you. He is very productive and vociferous, and must be considered rather dangerous to a rationality-based, modern civilization.

#245: Nancy Luft

Nancy Luft may lack notability, but makes up for it in unhinged craziness bred of paranoia and complete detachment from reality. They are out to get us, you see. It is a little unclear who and how, but it seems to be the government or the Russians (Luft claims to receive ESP messages from “The Special Sputnik Forces” of the Russian military). It has something to do with Mount St. Helens as well (which the Russians blew up with sputniks), and among her warnings to the general public is this: “Washington DC is trying to copy Russian sputniks with gamma ray, x ray, lasers that already exist which might cause the Russians to annihilate US!” It sounds scary, but I fail to see exactly what Luft thinks the threat is, and I’ve read the warning a couple of times.

At least she gives us some pertinent political analysis:

“Democracy leads to socialism, which lead so communism, fact of life! That is why Rockefellers' Rich Man's Mafia overthrow our democracy, our government, our constitution! Right wing is the dominant male primate ruling the pack (or a tiny group of the ruling the pack). Homo sapiens are primates, so that means royalty, popes, tribal chiefs, tiny group of rich with their political puppets, tyrants, dictators, etc., ruling the pack or masses or The People.”

Again, it sounds scary, but it is hard to see what exactly the threat is supposed to be. Apparently the Sputnik forces killed Michael Jackson, however.

You can find more of her insane rants here.

Among other things, Luft also chimed in on the Elizabeth Smart disappearance. While there were plenty of insane kooks weighing in here (this one is hilarious), Luft’s must have been the most deranged: She claimed to receive an ESP messages (from “The Special Sputnik Forces”) that a “man in a golf hat” had abducted Elizabeth. That’s not worse than many of the others, but Luft, who advocates the poor killing the rich (Smart was from a relatively well-off family), couldn’t help adding that the kidnapper was “my beloved” and that she hoped he tortured the girl before he killed her.

Luft, who claims to be a disciple of Jeane Dixon, came to our attention via this fabulous site. Do check it out.

Diagnosis: In serious need of help to find her way back to a semblance of reality. Her influence may be limited but she has achieved some notoriety on the web (not generally by people sympathetic to her insane rants, however). Here's a link to ratbags' 'where is Nancy Luft' quest.

(ed note: I couldn't locate a photo of Luft, so instead you get a nice photo of Sputnik; rather fitting, I think)

#244: Marvin Lubenow

Lubenow is a young earth creationist most famous for his work on explaining (away) the fossils of early hominids such as homo erectus. In line with the usual creationist approach, the early hominids have to be explained away as either humans (perhaps as races that disappeared in the Flood – or, as according to Kurt Wise, Babel; see here or here) or as apes. It has generated a lot of ridiculous controversy within the creationism movement, and Lubenow disagrees, for instance, with Answers in Genesis’s A.W. Mehlert on the classification of homo habilis as probably human (for more on the various, completely arbitrary creationist positions, see here (dealing with Lubenow in particular) and here).

While he appears (to the uninitiated) to have some grasp of the language of the relevant sciences, Lubenow just doesn’t understand it (he has a master in theology, and an M.S. with a major in anthropology, but no relevant education in the relevant fields – though he has a honorary degree from Christian Heritage College, Tim LaHaye’s institution). The lack of understanding is cruelly laid bare in his confused rantings about Lucy. A main claim seems to be that evilutionists have tampered with the evidence. Lubenow’s claim seems to have made some impact among the most radical kooks, such as one Nick Lally, who is behind this exasperatingly ignorant rant. The conspiracy gambit is of course common when creationists are dealing with the interpretation of fossil finds; see, for instance, the hilariously ignorant quote by one Thomas Kendall here.

The most famous of Lubenov’s amazing claims are provided in his book “Bones of Contention” from 1992. A good discussion of it can be found here; another one is here.

Diagnosis: Utterly ignorant crackpot with an unrevisable premise and enough confirmation bias (and sufficient lack of critical thinking skills) to twist anything into evidence for/against anything. Complete boulderbrain, but he enjoys some respect among his peers.

Monday, September 5, 2011

#243: Sue Lowden (and her opponent during the nominations)

Suzanne Parkinson "Sue" Pluskoski Lowden is the former Chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party and former State Senator in Nevada. She lost the Republican nomination in the 2010 United States Senate election in Nevada to the incomparably stupid bigot Sharron Angle, who rose to fame after “A” had been dealt with in this Encyclopedia, who subsequently lost to Harry Reid because she was too obtuse, paranoid, incompetent and ignorant even for many rightwingers. (Ok fine you got us - we gave Lowden an entry primarily so we could write about Sharron Angle).

Lowden’s fifteen minutes of national fame arose as a consequence of her response to the healthcare reform. While discussing her preference for consumer-focused reforms and her support of Health savings accounts paired with a High-deductible health plan, Lowden (who had made some pretty stupid comments before) suggested that patients could pay cash and barter with their doctors for payment in order to reduce costs: “[B]efore we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor, they would say I’ll paint your house, they would do... that’s the old days of what people would do to get health care with their doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system.” In spite of the apparent brilliance of the idea, she did receive some flak for what become known as the “bring a chicken to the doctor” suggestion.

Diagnosis: First and foremostly, Lowden is perfectly incompetent, to the extent that she (as opposed to blathering idiots like Bachmann) actually would manage to accidentally run over herself with a truck. As such, her presence has at least thus far unintentionally benefited rationality and sanity (as opposed to Angle, she might actually have beaten Reid if she hadn’t run herself over).