Saturday, January 31, 2015

#1276: Vinstonas "Winston" Wu

Ok, so I am not entirely sure this one’s really worth covering, but here you go. Vinstonas “Winston” Wu is the guy behind the admittedly sporadically updated website The Scientific Committee Exposing Pseudo-Skeptical Cynicism of the Paranormal, or “SCEPCOP.” The website seems devoted to championing every crazy idea for which there is no evidence whatsoever, and seems to be loosely based on a rant Wu wrote in 2001 on why standard skeptical arguments against the paranormal are wrong. According to Wu, the document seems to be, as rationalwiki puts it, “the single greatest thing to happen to the anti-reality movement since hallucinogenic drugs.”

Wu, who according to himself “is considered by his fans to be the most freethinking Asian since Bruce Lee, and arguably of all-time as well” combats what he deems to be “pseudoskeptics”, which seems to be supposed to denote anyone who doesn’t take personal testimony, anecdotes, and idle speculation as proof of the paranormal, in particular James Randi. His website appears not to be particularly active, however, and part of the reason we had some qualms about giving Wu an entry here is this.

The website promotes several individuals as SCEPCOP committee members, though it is a bit unclear whether these have agreed to serve on the committee.  The individuals in question include (apparently Australian) Victor Zammit, a lawyer and fan of near-death experiences who has offered a “million dollar prize” to any skeptic who can refute his claimed evidence by convincing a committee of true believers apparently appointed by him that you have refuted the evidence “beyond any doubt” (he doesn’t seem to see the problem with that criterion), and Internet-famed homeopathy promoter John Benneth.

Diagnosis: Well, let’s be kind and just conclude that Wu’s arguments seem, at times, to be somewhat misguided, and that he lacks a clear understanding of the significance, value and nature of evidence.

Friday, January 30, 2015

#1275: Wendy Wright

Wendy Wright is a creationist, wingnut, conspiracy theorist, former president and CEO of Concerned Women for America (CWfA; good resource on them here), and currently vice president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. As such, Wright is an advocate for “legislation and international policies that are beneficial to women and families,” where “beneficial” means “in line with her choice of fundamentalist bigotry.” Indeed, her job at the CWfA was to “brief congressional and presidential staff on pro-family issues, and train grassroots activists.” Her new job is apparently to stop the girl scouts’ “radical, feminist, pro-abortion agenda”. (She previously argued that the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood were “working together to steal children’s innocence and make them vulnerable to the negative consequences of promiscuity thereby creating clients for their abortion and STD services,” a conspiracy theory so insane that I’m not sure even would have published it without hesitating.)

The CWfA (founded by Beverly LaHaye), which to those who didn’t know better would easily come across as a parody of the Anti-Sex League in George Orwell’s 1984, is predictably opposed to anything good, just, fair or right in a society, from the standpoint of objecting to what they – as wingnut fundie radicals – view as the “sex-saturated culture” of America. Their attacks are launhed against pretty much anyone who isn’t an American, Christian, heterosexual male, and in particular against freedom of choice, Muslims, homosexuals, and everything remotely resembling anything having to do with women’s rights, including equal pay, abortion, and maternity leave (women should instead leave the workforce permanently). The CWfA has stated that publicly funded HIV screening and publicly funded STD treatment are objectionable programs, because the results of such results may conceivably lead to people being able to skirt their just and horrible punishment for what the CWfA defines as promiscuous lifestyles.

And of course there are hidden agendas, especially those promoted by gay rights defenders, of course. According to Wright one of the greatest threats to America today is the power gay “bullies” have over the government. Take sex-ed classes. To Wright “they want to encourage [kids to choose to have sex] because they benefit when kids end up having sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies and then they lead them into having abortions, so you have to look at the financial motives behind those who are promoting comprehensive sex education.” Please read that at least twice. And yes, the standard of argumentation is fairly typical of Wendy Wright. Here, for instance, Wright and Chelsen Vicari denounce Jon Stewart’s hypocrisy – that is, they denounce the discrimination against Christians for which Stewart was responsible in a hypothetical scenario that they invented. Then they took this to be evidence of a systematic persecution of Christians by liberals. To get an idea of how ingrained is Wright’s persecution complex, note that she has, in addition to fictional examples, tried to use the Crusades as an example of anti-Christian persecution.

As for anti-gay activism, one of the main tools of the CWfA is myth-spreading, such as equating homosexuality with pedophilia, downplaying numbers of homophobic hate crimes and endorsing hoaxes (here is Iowa state director of CWfa, Tamara Scott, trying to argue that gay marriage is bad for the economy). Those efforts has resulted in them being correctly labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Indeed, when a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers, Wright rejected the results out of hand as “biased”, without actually discussing the results, and because the results “just def[y] common sense and reality” (thereby of course also splendidly revealing why Wright should be careful to talk about “bias”; not that she’ll ever notice). Her arguments against abortion – she has even testified before the UN – are similarly based on her imagination and “common sense”.

Another – very much related – mainstay for the CWfA is pushing religion and pseudoscience in public schools, including school prayer and Intelligent Design. Wright herself is a hardcore evolution denialist, claiming that evolution is based on a series of hoaxes and no evidence whatsoever – there are, for instance, no transitional fossils, according to Wright. That her arguments have been refuted a thousand times is apparently of little concern to her, and when their flaws are pointed out to her she tends to respond by accusing her critics of ad hominem attacks. That she has no expertise on any remotely related issues, or that those who do uniformly disagree with her, is of no concern to her. Indeed, Wright has argued that (apparently since she doesn’t like the results scientists arrive at) it shouldn’t only be scientists doing science; even the uneducated should be empowered to debate scientific facts and flatly deny evidence. Accordingly, Wright thinks that “evolutionists” are “oppressive” because “they won’t let other ideas through,” just because those other ideas fail to even remotely accord with the evidence.

Wright is also opposed to environmentalism, apparently viewing it as an anti-Christian conspiracy.

There is a good Wendy Wright resource here.

Diagnosis: Phyllis Schlafly and Beverly LaHaye appear almost reasonable by comparison. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

#1274: Katie Wright

Katie Wright is a particularly obtuse and fanatical anti-vaccine activist, who writes for the blog Age of Autism (not a place to go for reliable information, to put things diplomatically). As most members of the movement Wright is staunchly anti-science. She knows that vaccines are bad, and lead to autism, and no science, evidence, reason, truth or reality is going to tell her otherwise. Hence, for Wright, any studies that suggest that she is wrong (which would, in fact, be all properly done studies) are dismissed on ad hominem grounds (this one is pretty glaring) – since she doesn’t like the results, the scientists behind the study must be in a conspiracy against, well, it’s a bit unclear (she has no background, expertise or discernible understanding of any relevant field – reading Wright is really like reading a case study in Dunning-Kruger). Indeed, she’s even declared that whereas she used to think she would donate her child’s body to science if he were ever to die, she has changed her mind – since scientific studies may have results that contradict her deeply set beliefs.

When it is suggested that the media should abstain from giving equal time to the reality-free delusions of anti-vaccinationists, Wright is a bit miffed. That’s “censorship”. And when Kathleen Sebelius suggests it, it’s “like something that would happen in a communist dictatorship.” Just like the Discovery Institute complaints regarding evolution, in fact. Wright’s delusions are hers, and it’s everyone’s – especially the media’s – duty to take them as seriously as they take claims based on actual evidence, scientific rigor, and reality.

Wright is also a founding member of the CTI Science Foundation, together with Julie Obradovic and Jenny McCarthy’s “co-author”Jerry Kartzinel. The CTI Science Foundation is not about science-based treatments or support for the parents of autistic children, of course. It is about providing said parents with misinformation and quack treatments, such as Boyd Haley’s OSR#1, a toxic product with potential side effects – but it’s alternative; it’s natural, and it fits smoothly into the quack science mythology of the loons and denialists at Age of Autism and the CTI Science Foundation.

Diagnosis: Desperately delusional anti-science crank; unfortunately, some people actually seem to listen to her distortions, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings of the basic tenets of reasonable assessment of any subject matter.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#1273: Jonathan V. Wright

Jonathan V. Wright is the founder and medical director of Tahoma Clinic in Renton, Washington, where he also practices medicine (except for when he was suspended for 90 days beginning in the summer of 2013). Though he does have a medical education, Wrights’s current medical efforts are probably more accurately reflected by his honorary degree in naturopathy from Bastyr University (not an institution where you learn things about the world; Wright was on its board of directors for twelve years).

The Tahoma Clinic focuses on naturopathic treatment and “bioenergetic analysis” and Wright is associated with the Meridian Valley Lab, listed as a laboratory doing “nonstandard medical testing” by Quackwatch. In other words, Wright’s work is suffused with pseudoscience, woo, bullshit and crackpottery, and includes for instance the scientifically unsupported practice of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy and the triple-estrogen formula triest (based on a single, “most preliminary ofstudies” that tracked a small number of women for a short amount of time and contradicted previous research results). No obstacle for Wright, whose powers of intuition apparently trumps any scientific evidence (no follow-up studies were conducted to determine whether the formula was effective or safe.) Suzanne Somers, who has no medical education or any trace of medical understanding, was very enthusiastic about Wright’s unsupported bullshit in her book Knockout, which counts as pretty good evidence that said unsupported bullshit is, in fact, utter bullshit.

Wright is perhaps most famous for being the president and co-founder (with Roy Kupsinel, a “holistic” practitioner from Florida) of the American Quack Association, a forum for practitioners whose ideas are rejected by mainstream medicine, to provide emotional support, promote their practices and “[poke] fun at their critics.” The organization, which ceased operations in 1989, was of course so named to display a certain level of tongue-in-cheek, but the name was apparently a bit more apt than they intended. From 1993 to 1998 Wright also helped lead the National Health Federation, a group whose primary goal is to abolish government regulation of health-care activities, and which also promotes a range of conspiracy theories and other crazy.

Wright also promotes “natural” treatments of cardiovascular diseases, asthma, diabetes, the use of D-mannose for bladder infection, health benefits of Vitamin D unsupported by evidence, and is a member of a long row of crank and crackpot organizations and groups (including the American Academy of Environmental Medicine). His books have apparently achieved quite some popularity, and include the Book of Nutritional Therapy and Guide to Healing with Nutrition, Eating Clean For Dummies (with Linda Larsen) and Stay Young & Sexy with Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement: The Science Explained (with Lane Lenard), as well as the newsletter Nutrition and Healing. Sheer quackery, most of it.

Diagnosis: Insidious ultra-crackpot, and apparently one of the most dangerous in the US. Wright has enjoyed an uncanny level of success for advice that is either unsupported by the evidence or demonstrably bullshit, yet such is the powers of confirmation bias, regression to the mean and anecdotes that his fans may well never realize.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

#1272: John C. Wright

John C. Wright is apparently a fairly popular science fiction writer, as well as a conservative Catholic with an ax to grind. We are not here going to engage with his rather staggeringly dishonest or – if not dishonest – batshit crazy defenses of Vox Day or Orson Scott Card or his claims to be persecuted on their behalf (“When Mr Card is being punished for speaking out against homosex, he is being punished for being a true Christian”). That’s been dealt with elsewhere (also here). Let us instead have a look at his own take on the issues that originally led to criticisms of Day and Card. You see, Wright is a firm misogynist and staunch opponent of contraception. That combination has a tendency to produce some painfully stupid arguments, and boy, how Wright delivers. Says Wright:

In order to understand the perfect sexual experience, we first must say what sex is: […] The sex act is the act of sexual union in sexual reproduction. The sexes, however, are spiritual rather than physical: men are masculine in psychology and mind and soul, masculine in speech and deportment and nuance in all they do just as women are feminine. The sexual union is spiritual, ordered toward the end of reproduction.

The staggeringly fallacious appeal to nature doesn’t even begin characterize that mess of garbled stupidity, but it does provide some clues to how Wright is going to get to his conclusion, right?

Since sex is ordered toward reproduction, anything that hinders it is an imperfection. Prudence, if nothing else, would warn potential mother and potential fathers not to do the act which makes you a mother or a father until you have a household and loving union ready to rear children. If you are artificially sterile, or using contraception, you are holding back, you are not passionate about the sex, you are trying to use the sex rather than surrender to the sex.

Hence, contraception is wrong because … ? Oh, but he isn’t done. What, do you think, is the woman’s duty in all this?

For her part, she must vow to love and honor and obey. And if you do not understand about that obey part, you do not understand women. She wants a leader, an alpha male, a chief, a Christ, and you must be willing to die for her as Christ was willing to die for you, or she will not feel secure in your love. If she does not swear to obey, you are not a couple, not a dyad, not a unit, but are still two sovereigns dealing with each other at arm’s length, not intimate, and she cannot trust you fully, cannot love you fully, not with a divine and self-sacrificing love.

The best that can be said of the argument is that it gives us a fascinating glimpse into the workings of a mind unencumbered by reason, sanity or decency.

And furthermore, did you know that Christianity is the source of all decency? Without Christianity, there would be no compassion, love or virtue, but only shame, exploitation and darkness. Since compassion, love and virtue exist exclusively in Christian traditions and the extent to which others exhibit these virtues it is because of their Christian cultural heritage. And note that “pagan non-Christian” is synonymous with “Leftist”, which is – apparently – synonymous with “political activist”.

Wright is also a global warming denialist on the authority of John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel, who cited the Oregon Petition as evidence for a broad scientific consensus denying AGW. What about evolution? According to Wright: “Darwinism is not only correctly called a theory, it even more correctly called an unscientific theory, a philosophical theory, in that it is not open to disproof by normal scientific means of measurement, observation, experimentation; and it makes no testable predictions.” No, he doesn’t have the faintest clue, and to clinch it: “There is no such thing as ‘Darwin’s Law’ parallel to ‘Newton’s Law’ because Darwin makes no predictions of outcomes.” Uh, no, that’s not the distinction between a scientific theory and a scientific law. And did you know that “the discovery of genetics and the more careful study of the fossil record has demolished both the idea of gradual changes, and robbed the Darwinists of any understandable mechanism [no, he gives no details] whereby organisms gradually and naturally go from, for example, 48 chromosomes in an ape to 46 chromosomes in their alleged descendants, human beings”? No, Wright didn’t bother to consult the what scientists say about those chromosomes, but hey, what did you expect after his rant against contraception above.

Diagnosis: Flamboyantly crazy and comprehensive denialist as well as, frankly, a freak.