Monday, February 8, 2016

#1590: Willis Eschenbach

Willis Eschenbach is a climate change denialist kook blogging at Watts Up With That (WUWT), and cited by Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit. Eschenbach has a BA in psychology and a California Massage Certificate from Aames School of Massage, and he has experience as a construction manager. Now, climate change denialism comes in various versions; Eschenbach’s view is apparently that “the preponderance of evidence shows that humans are the main cause of the increase in atmospheric CO2 … I don’t think that the change in CO2 will make any meaningful difference to the temperature” (more here). A good discussion of his criticism of the BEST project can be found here. As you may remember, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project was a project funded by private groups (including the Koch brothers) to provide an independent evaluation of the data and even included known climate change skeptics on the team – turns out that their findings were in line with mainstream research, which caused some, uh, consternation among the denialists. And here is a discussion of Eschenbach’s claims to the effect that Greenland has only lost a fraction of its total ice mass and that it’s nothing to worry about. Here is a discussion of his own (unpublished except for on denialist blogs) hypothesis about global warming; needless to say, it’s not going to be included in the IPCC reports, and that’s not beause there’s a conspiracy (other than a rather official one of keeping pseudoscientific rubbish by delusional kooks out, if that counts).

How much of a crank is he? Unsurprisingly, Eschenbach is not above lying. And then there is this (do check that one out). And here is a discussion of his letter to the Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine lamenting the fact that they let science and evidence guide their coverage of climate change: “The problem is that you are extremely well educated, strong, strikingly good looking, and a wickedly-smart woman by all accounts … and while those are all good things, that’s a scary combination. One downside of that particular melange is that as a result, it’s very possible that people, particularly men, haven’t told you the unvarnished truth in years.” Wheee.

Diagnosis: That this guy has become something of a celebrity in the denialist movement should tell you quite a bit about the movement. (And him.)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

#1589: Tricia Erickson

Tricia Erickson is a former Mormon who achieved a little bit of notoriety during the 2012 presidential elections for her not-entirely-well-hinged criticisms of presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Erickson, who is President of Crisis Management, Inc. and Angel Pictures & Publicty [wait …. What?], basically claimed that if Romney were elected it would lead to the Mormon church taking over America. The thing, of course, is – according to Erickson – that as president Romney would still be controlled by the priesthood of the Mormon Church, just like any Catholic president would be under the mind control of the pope and every president is controlled by the Illuminati. The “goal of the Mormon Church, through the Mormon Kingdom of God,” according to Erickson, “is to bring the United States government, this is true, under the rule of the priesthood, the Mormon priesthood.” Shockingly, and completely unlike other religions, “Mormons believe that they are the only true church,” so therefore their “ultimate goal is better serve their agenda by being able to rule and govern before the millennium actually takes place and the Mormon Church and its corporate empire, assets and resources will be the chief element in the millennial overthrow of the United States government.” And so on, and so forth.

We “cannot afford a Mormon experiment,” said Erickson: “[I]f this man does not have the judgment to be able to discern fact from fiction on the most basic things like the horrifically false religion that he’s in […], then how do we trust the judgment of this man to put him at the head of our country with everything that’s going on?”

On other issues, Erickson tends to take the position you’d expect her to take. She doesn’t fancy homosexuals, and in response to the Supreme Court decision (you know which) penned an article “Supreme Court Defies Reason, Constitution and God by Declaring Homosexuality to be Marriage,” which doesn’t exactly suggest that kind of insight or intelligence that invites us to read beyond the headline. She also blamed the Charleston shootings on the “racially divisive” Obama, cause that’s totally reasonable. For the 2016 election she threw her support in for Trump since, as she described it in a WND (where else) column, he is a modern-day Nehemiah, anointed by God to protect America from the Muslims.

Diagnosis: You can figure this one out yourself, can’t you?

Friday, February 5, 2016

#1588: Norma Erickson

Norma Erickson is an anti-vaccine activist and the very founder SANE Vax, an anti-science organization we’ve had some opportunities to talk about before. The group is “dedicated to spreading misinformation about the HPV vaccine”, and their website employs most of the standard antivaccine PRATTS, though in the case of SANE Vax these are directed primarily at the HPV vaccine. Their goal is to promote only Safe, Affordable, Necessary & Effective vaccines, but despite requests they have not provided any examples of vaccines they think fulfill those criteria. The organization is, in other words, anti-vaccine through and through.

Erickson has been relatively vocal about perceived dangers of the HPV vaccine, even sending a letter to the FDA complaining that there is DNA in the vaccine: “SANE Vax Inc. contracted with an independent lab to test for contamination and found HPV recombinant DNA (rDNA) in 13 vaccine vials.” Curiously (or “curiously”), there is not a single scientific paper or report describing the methodology used and the specific tests used, apparently because of “the proprietary processes and information utilized by our laboratory to test the samples.” So, we’re talking about a “novel” test here, and FDA were not given the actual results or methodology behind the findings; in addition, even if their analyses were correct they would be extremely unlikely to be problematic (the quantities of HPV DNA involved were in any case many orders of magnitude smaller than they would need to be to have the faintest chance of getting into cells to make trouble). Nevertheless, SANE Vax demanded that the FDA take action, as well as “transparency” from FDA and Merck (not themselves – in their own case transparency was unfortunately made impossible by proprietary issues). Mostly, however, they tried to scare the public. The affair is discussed here. SANE Vax later tried to bolster their pseudoscience with some nonsense from one Dr. Hanan Polansky; that nonsense is discussed in some detail here.

Together with Catherine J Frompovich, who bills herself as a “Consumer Health Researcher & Author,” Erickson also wrote the article “A Parent’s Guide: What to do if your child dies after vaccination”. The main premise for the article is the fact that vaccine-related deaths are incredibly rare, which to Erickson and Frompovich means that there must be a conspiracy. By deliberately misunderstanding correlation and causation and misusing the VAERS database (no less), they managed to imagine their way to implying that the “true” number of vaccine-related deaths is somewhere between 2,170 and 21,700 a year; that is, it could be as much as 40% of all childhood deaths before age 19. Combined with their idea that the problem is increasing given the alleged skyrocketing number of vaccines given the last few decades, their figures are in direct contradiction with the steady decrease in child mortality rates over the last decades, but Erickson & Frompovich aren’t in the business of letting reality or truth interfere with their delusions. The punchline, though, is that “[p]arents should realize their gut instincts most often are correct, especially about their child whom they have been taking care of since birth.” Yup, mommy instincts trumps reality, truth, reason and painstaking records, at least “most often”. Parents should also be aware that if they experience the horrible event of a child dying, “the coroner is appointed by government authorities,” and is usually part of the conspiracy to keep vaccines free of blame. And coroners systematically fail to test for instance for the toxins found in vaccines.

Diagnosis: Crazy conspiracy theorists, and if you are normally reasonable and ever came across their webpage, that would be obvious. However, they somehow manage to get not only less reasonable people but also, on occasions, various journalists to take them seriously, and given their agenda they must accordingly be considered dangerous.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

#1587: Alex Epstein

With credentials like being the founder and President of the Center for Industrial Progress, a California for profit think tank, and former fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute, you may sort of suspect what’s coming. Alex Espstein is an “energy theorist” and “industrial policy expert” (no, he’s got no credentials to support either), as well as the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, which champions the use of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. That case is made easier by his climate change denialism, the case for which is primarily made on the grounds that it fits his political agenda more effortlessly than the truth. The book was heartily praised by the Heartland Institute (e.g. Jay Lehr) and has won him a place among the most prominent global warming denialists at present, and it is, once again, telling that he has no relevant expertise in any field related to climate science.

Epstein has argued that it is silly to ask if humans are behind climate change, because that assumes that “if man did change climate, it would be a bad thing.” As many climage change deniers, Epstein “concedes” that greenhouse gases might warm the planet “a little bit,” but tries to remind us that increased heat is “generally nice;” the “most important effect of fossil fuels” is to ensure that people like him can move to “the best climate we can” – in his case Southern California.

People who are concerned about climate change, on the other hand, are against development and ignore the benefits of industrial advances (yes, that staggering strawman again); indeed, if you are worried about man-made climate change, you are – according to Epstein – displaying “a prejudice against the man-made” or, as he likes to put it, “human racism.”

Diagnosis: Stock pseudoscientist. And like religious fanatics, the only evidence Epstein will ever consider is that which he can shoehorn into service for his ideology. He is pretty influential, however.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#1586: Gordon Epperly

There has been a number of birther lawsuits – all of them deranged – but Gordon Epperly of Alaska may have the distinction of filing the (two) craziest of them all (the ones filed in Alabama by Albert Hendershot and Harold Sorenson aren’t too far away, though; nor is the one by Christopher Earl Strunk, though we’ll return to that one at a later point). Before the 2012 election, Epperly filed an objection to Obama’s placement on the ballot, complaining that “[a]s Barack Hussein Obama II is of the ‘mulatto’ race, his status of citizenship is founded upon the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Before the [purported] ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the race of ‘Negro’ or ‘mulatto’ had no standing to be citizens of the United States under the United States Constitution.” Yes, the complaint assumes that Dred Scott is still the governing principle, no less, and that might not even be the most insane thing about it. The challenge was rejected, so he filed another one claiming that Obama is not a natural born citizen and that, by taking office, he has committed treason – and that Nancy Pelosi has no right to be hold public office because she’s a woman: “There are no provisions in the Constitution of the United States that grants Women ‘Political Rights’ of Suffrage to hold any Political Office of the United States Government,” said the lawsuit. It probably comes as little surprise that Epperly represented himself.

Diagnosis: Epperly serves as a useful reminder that, yes, people like this still exist. And that’s probably the best anyone can say of Gordon Epperly.