Saturday, May 23, 2015

#1373: Jerry Bergevin

Jerry Bergevin enjoyed a brief stint in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 2010 to 2012, and although he managed to do only a limited amount of actual damage, he sure tried to present himself as the dumbest wingnut in any state house in the US. In 2011, for instance, he submitted to the NH legislature what may very well be the dumbest piece of legislation submitted the last 50 years; the proposed bill adds the following to the state law:

Theory of Evolution. Require evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.

The language is illuminating in quite a number of ways. First, Bergevin apparently think of it as some kind of gotcha, for in Bergevin’s mind biology is all about theology, and evolution = atheism. And Marxism. And probably radical Islam as well. Second, and this is a standard cognitive obstacle, wingnut (and moonbat) ideologists are often unable to perceive the difference between science and politics – acceptance of scientific theories and rejections of others is not a matter of evidence but tribalism, and which scientific theories should be included in science education should be determined in part by the scientists’ views on economy and social issues. Third, and relatedly, people like Bergevin have a tendency to view science as a leftist plot – especially when they don’t like the conclusions; and since they fail to understand the significance of evidence, the science can equally be dismissed on political grounds.

Indeed, Bergevin emphasized that he didn’t get it: “I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless,” said Bergevin, and blamed the acceptance of evolution for the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the 1999 Columbine shooting.

He wasn’t alone in the NH legislature; another creationist bill, inspired by the Academic Freedom strategy and barely coherent, was introduced by Gary Hopper and John Burt, and is described here and here. “My taxpayer dollars pay science teachers to teach science, not philosophy. Let’s hope lawmakers don’t try to get in the way,” said the good New Hampshire legislators. Fortunately neither bill was successful.

In 2012 Bergevin introduced a bill that would mandate the teaching of the Bible in public schools. He didn’t appreciate the NH legislature’s approval of marriage equality either, declaring that they “just legalized the rectum as a sexual organ” (yes, you ought to think about how silly that statement is for a second) and warning “Christian citizens of the United States” that “Opposition to the Homosexual/Lesbian Political Agenda will be met with every and all conceivable actions be it criminal or even out and out murder to accomplish the complete suppression of your rights in our new world order. (P.S. Armageddon is the cure for the Homosexual/Lesbian pathology including every other vice & sin. – & may God bring it on‼!”

There’s gotta be something in the water in New Hampshire – their state legislature consistently appears to be (possibly) the most batshit crazy in the US, and that takes some effort.

Diagnosis: This will continue as long as certain people (apparently) view mindrot as a positive quality in the people they elect to legislative bodies. Bergevin never got a second term, but at least he used what he did get to show everyone his lack of reasoning abilities, critical thinking skills and aptitude for facts and evidence. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

#1372: Becky Berger

You remember the Texas Board of Education, of course. In their creationist heydays, various nationally famous denialists and local lunatics would both launch attacks on biology, physics and history in manners that would draw national and even international attention, but the side of science generally won out in the end. When the State Board of Education‘s public hearing on new science textbooks for Texas public schools finally began in 2013, the creationists were unable to mount any serious attacks anymore. So all looked well for a while – until it became clear that oil and gas industry interests had instead decided to attack the only environmental science textbook up for adoption by the state board.

So during the hearings Becky Berger, who identified herself a geologist and oil and gas professional, tried to argue that high schools shouldn’t teach environmental science classes at all. And during the hearings she launched a rabid attack on the environmental science textbook under consideration, claiming that it is filled with factual errors on topics like pollution potentially caused by fracking and the problem of carbon emissions. The attack was somewhat weakened by the fact that she provided no actual written documentation to back up her claims, and failed to even produce a list of the alleged errors so that the publisher could respond to her claims. Her attacks are discussed in some detail here.

The state’s official review teams had not identified any factual errors in the textbook. Nevertheless, some board members thought that Berger (who had not been part of the review process) was more credible. Of course, Berger somehow didn’t remember to tell the board that she is a Republican candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, information that would have been strangely relevant.

She wasn’t alone. Throughout the day of the hearings, various wingnut activists and websites had been urging “grassroots” to call on the state board to reject the science textbooks up for adoption, especially the environmental science textbook. Honorable mention to Alice Linahan of the for-profit political outfit Voices Empower, who argued that the textbooks were a threat to Texas’ oil/natural gas industry.

Diagnosis: Denialist wingnut. Yes, another one, and Berger is not afraid to use subversion and trickery to get her way. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#1371: Jonathan Benson

What is the link between polio, pesticides and cell phone radiation? You may think “none”, and you’d be right. Unfortunately, no one told Jonathan Benson (well, they probably did, but if you tell Benson anything he doesn’t already believe, he seems to conclude that you’re part of the conspiracy). Benson is a staff writer at NaturalNews, and though he doesn’t have the flair for hysterical commitment to glaring fallacies exhibited by Mike Adams, he is no less a champion of lunatic pseudoscience, denialism and conspiracy theories. The question above reflects the contents of Benson’s piece “History shows polio caused by pesticide exposure, then was eradicated by decline in DDT use.” It sure wasn’t vaccines, since vaccines don’t work and is part of a conspiracy; no, what caused polio was DDT, but for some reason the powers that be are trying to hide this for nefarious reasons. How does he get to the conclusion? Well, there is a correlation between the decline of polio and the decline in the use of DDT, therefore causation. Well, there is, in fact, not a correlation either, especially not when looking at what happened before the 1950s, but Benson is only interested in the parts that he can force to fit, not the ones that don’t.

NaturalNews has over the last few years, made some valiant attempts to expose the ADHD conspiracy with misunderstandings, incompetence, fallacies and threats of lizard people. Yes, according to NaturalNews, ADHD is a scam of Big Pharma and psychiatry (Jonathan Landsman), caused (according to Ethan Huff) by mercury from vaccines (which isn’t there, but you know – conspiracy), pesticides (Sharon Heller), and anesthesia (Peter Smith). Benson has, in that regard, helpfully provided us with a discussion of how it can be treated: homeopathic cures (“work better than Ritalin” according to JB Bardot) and eating organic food. Evidence? Hah, NaturalNews saw through and rejected the Big Pharma brainwashing mantra “back up your claims by evidence” right away, and they haven’t looked back.

Diagnosis: Idiot

Sunday, May 17, 2015

#1370: Ken Bennett

Like many US states, Arizona has no inhibitions when it comes to electing crazies to positions of power. Take Ken Bennett, for instance. Bennett is the former president of the Arizona Senate, and was Secretary of State until 2015. He is also a hardcore birther. In 2012 he announced that although “I’m not a birther,” he was not convinced Barack Obama was really born in the United States, which makes one wonder what he thinks being a birther might involve (yes, we are pretending that he wasn't just lying and pandering). Since Bennett was in charge of running Arizona’s elections at that point he also threatened to keep the president off the ballot in the November election. How did he come to his birtherism? Well, apparently Bennett was following the lead of the state’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had ordered an investigation into the president’s birth certificate in 2011 that concluded that the document released by the White House is a forgery (based on the fact that he had already built his fringe career on the firm conclusion that it was, of course). Yes, that Joe Arpaio. Apparently Arizona’s Secretary of State lent his ear to Joe Arpaio. No shit.

After dimly realizing that he was being perceived as an embarrassment to his state by the rest of the world, Bennett feebly tried to back down.

Diagnosis: It may of course be that he was just trying to endear himself to Arizona’s substantial birther population. Still, he actually went there, and next time we may perhaps suggest he look into the possibility that political candidates may be disguised extraterrestrial reptilians, a view suggested by other independent researchers who are at least no crazier than Arpaio.

#1369: Yosef Ben-Jochannan

A.k.a. Dr. Ben

Yes, another one of those. Dr. Ben is considered one of the more notable – read that as “notorious” – Afrocentric scholars, one of those who take an Afrocentric perspective on history (which in itself is not silly, mind) to justify all sorts of desperate pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Dr. Ben began teaching Egyptology at Malcolm King College in the 70s, and subsequently at City College in New York City and as an adjunct professor at Cornell. He is the author of numerous books, primarily on ancient Nile Valley civilizations and their perceived impacts on Western cultures, where he argues that the original Jews were from Ethiopia and were Black Africans (Moses was black, for instance), while the white Jews later stole the Jewish faith and its customs. Evidence? Primarily existence of a conspiracy to suppress the truth about black supremacy, it seems.

To give an example of his “scholarship”: When European classics professor Mary Lefkowitz publicly confronted Ben-Jochannan about e.g. his claims that Aristotle stole his ideas from the Library of Alexandria, which black Africans used to collect their philosophical works: “how would that have been possible, when the library was not built until after his death?” Ben-Jochannan by telling those present that “they could and should believe what black instructors told them,” the audience accused Lefkowitz of racism, and concluded “that although they might think that Jews were all ‘hook-nosed and sallow faced,’ there were other Jews [back then] who looked like himself.” His works are riddled with inaccuracies, confusions and made-up stories like these, primarily because Dr. Ben doesn’t care about the facts as long as they serve his narrative.

Diagnosis: The pseudoscience that is promulgated under the heading of  “afrocentrism” by people like Dr. Ben is rather disconcerting – and unfortunate (Molefi Kete Asante’s original point of reclaiming the narrative in his 1980 book is not silly, for instance). Yet, Dr. Ben’s myths and silliness seem, sadly, to have had quite a bit of impact.

Update: He actually passed away March this year.