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.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

#1480: Bill Connor

Though he didn’t get elected, Bill Connor was one of a colorful array of Tea Party candidates challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina’s 2014 Republican primary. He was admittedly overshadowed by Lee Bright in terms of media coverage, but Connor, an Army veteran and former lieutenant governor candidate, did receive some attention when the Tea Party Coalition arranged a lively debate between Bright, Connor and the two other Tea Party candidates, where Connor spent the whole event waving a pocket copy of the Constitution, which he has apparently never read particularly closely. During the debate Connor asserted (among other things) that the Europeans he fought alongside in Afghanistan were less hard-working and ingenious than American soldiers because “Europe had gone socialist” and “post-Christian”; that Congress should impeach President Obama over his executive order implementing part of the DREAM Act; that the separation of church and state has caused “atheism to be our national religion”; and that Congress should disband federal appeals courts that enforce church-state separation because “if you’re being biblical, you’re doing your job as a judge.”

When asked about climate change, Connor responded that it was “gobbledygook,” which he illustrated by asking everybody in the audience to take a deep breath, breath out, then telling them that “you’re putting carbon deposits in the air and you’re causing global warming.” Gobbledygook, indeed. No, he doesn’t really get the point, but neither did the other candidates (Nancy “a recent freeze disproved climate change” Mace and Richard “MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was about banning abortion” Cash).

Diagnosis: Look, Bill: Waving a copy of the Constitution is not magically going to make the theocratic nonsense that falls out of your mouth more in line with its contents. Though we admit that Connor might just be a prop in a deliberate strategy to make Lee Bright come across as less insane than he is. It didn’t work.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

#1479: Paul Connett

Paul Connett is the executive director of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), an anti-fluoridation activist group that has been somewhat successful in rallying doctors and dentists – people who look like they might have credentials (Connett himself, though, is a retired professor of chemistry) – together in his mission to destroy any attempt to add trace amounts of fluoride in water for the betterment of children.

Connett has been in the game for over 30 years, and his impressively large output has succeeded in scaring many local communities. A typical example is his pamphlet (created with the late John Yiamouyiannis) “A Lifesaver’s Guide to Fluoridation,” widely distributed to policy makers and concerned citizens (avoiding scientists, of course), which provided 250 references that supposedly backed up the claim that fluoridation is ineffective and dangerous. Though when a Ohio team traced the references, they found that almost half had no relevance to community water fluoridation and many others actually supported fluoridation but were selectively quoted and misrepresented. Which, of course, is how health scares and hysteria mongering work.

Connett’s masterpiece, 50 Reasons to Oppose Fluoridation, lays out his reasons for why the scientific consensus is mistaken. Predictably, the reasons range from the ridiculous to professional twisting of statistical data and denying the clear and substantive evidence in a manner worthy of the fringe of the global warming denialist movement. He even has, prominently on the front of his webpage, “3,209 Medical, Scientific, and Environmental Professionals Sign Statement Calling for End to Fluoridation Worldwide.” Oh, weee. A better indication of crankery you’ll struggle to find. Heck, Connett even admits that among the signatories there are 458 chiropractors and 138 naturopaths. Counting as “Medical, Scientific, and Environmental Professionals”. Seriously.

The sordid story of his book The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There, coauthored with James S. Beck and H. Spedding Micklem, is related here. At least he’s popular with Joe Mercola, Mike Adams, and Alex Jones, and he has been showing up at the antivaxx quackfest Autism One.

Diagnosis: Oh, yes; yet another example of the bullshit that feeds Alex Jones and And yes, it is pseudoscience, crackpottery and conspiracies through and through.