Monday, July 27, 2015

#1423: Kevin Brooks (and more or less the entire Tennessee House of Representatives)


Yes, yes, the state legislatures. This time its Tennessee, which is saddled with Kevin Brooks (24th district). Brooks is a Tea Party candidate and a conspiracy theorist. For instance, Brooks sponsored a resolution condemning Agenda 21, a UN environmental plan and a common target for unhinged conspiracy theories, as a “destructive and insidious” effort to advance a communist agenda through the guise of community planning. The plan called on members of the UN to adopt sustainable development principles to alleviate poverty and combat global warming. According to Tennessee lawmakers, however, it is as a plan for the “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth” through energy conservation policies, zoning restrictions and forced abortions. “It reads well. It has nice words like sustainability and helping the poor,” said state Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, “[b]ut what these people want to do is they want to cap the number of people this planet can have. … So ladies and gentlemen, if that doesn’t bother you, if those words don’t scare you, we’ve got to talk.” Yes, I do think you need to talk to someone, Casada. What is particularly interesting about the bill is that it used a language almost identical to a John Birch Society model bill.

The resolution passed 72-23, so Brooks is hardly the only lunatic in the Tennessee House of Representatives. But we knew that. Brooks was also one of the representatives at the House General Subcommittee of Education meeting on March 16, 2011, who voted for Tennessee’s infamous “teach the controversy” bill. The others – they all deserve mentioning – were Harry Brooks (R-District 19), Joe Carr (R-District 48), John J. DeBerry Jr. (D-District 90), the bill’s sponsor Bill Dunn (R-District 16), Joey Hensley (R-District 70), Ron Lollar (R-District 99), Debra Young Maggar (R-District 45), and Richard Montgomery (R-District 12)

Diagnosis: Tennessee: wtf is wrong with you? Wingnuttery or no, this is lizard-people, whale.to-level lunacy at the House level. You have a House of Representatives filled with weapons-grade tinfoil hatters!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

#1422: Kelly Brogan


Dr. Kelly Brogan was educated at Cornell and MIT, so one would think she ought to know a thing or two about methods for aligning beliefs to reality. Well, clearly Cornell and MIT need to do something somewhat differently, for Brogan has managed to delude herself into a pretty impressive array of ridiculous denialist and pseudoscienfic beliefs and conspiracy theories, and she has shown a remarkable inability to read scientific literature or evaluate hypotheses. You can read her articles on Sayer Ji’s abysmally insane website GreenMedInfo, as well as on her own website, where she claims to be practicing “holistic women’s health psychiatry,” for some examples. Oh, yes, Brogan has embraced a whole range of woo, including homeopathy, acupuncture, antivaccine views, anti-GMO views, functional medicine and pretty much every kind of medical nonsense you’ll ever encounter.

Given that she has some (nominal) background in topics related to science, she is dimly aware of the value of using scientific studies to support her views. But managing to find a single scientific study that could be twisted into looking like it supports your view isn’t enough to make those views respectable, and Brogan’s writings constitute some spectacular examples of how a professional denialist can dishonestly twist and distort and cherrypick real (as well as less respectable) studies to seem to support her cherished, otherwise non-evidence based views. What she does to an extent know how to do, is to mask her own unscientific rants in the format of something resembling real, serious writing (to those who don’t know better). Take a look, for instance, at her writings about the HPV vaccine (or here).

What is clear, is that Brogan is a hardcore antivaccine conspiracy theorist, who has managed to become a rather influential figure in the antivaccine movement, and she has been caught touting even the most egregious examples of inane pseudoscience published in profoundly disgraced pseudojournals to “support” her own insane ideas, such as the idea that vaccines are a likely cause of SIDS. She even appeared in the whale.to-level conspiracy flick “Bought” (oh yes, Brogan is a frequently cited “authority” over at whale.to, which is something that should make anyone with an even minimal wish to appear respectable stop up and wonder what they’re doing with their lives). The premise of “Bought” is the pharma shill gambit, one of Brogan’s own favorite tricks. Of course, the fact that she herself is constantly trying to sell stuff – speeches and suchlike – while she bashes Big Pharma is an irony lost on both her and her followers. (Here, for instance, if you buy the Depression Summit, you get the Sexyback summit Free!)

Much of her writings seem to boil down to fallacious appeals to nature, which are often also based on false premises. For instance, Brogan characterizes vaccines as working by “bypass[ing] natural immunity and provoke inflammatory response.” Vaccines do not bypass natural immunity, however; they induce immunity completely naturally. But that’s how Brogan starts off when discussing the HPV vaccine. It is hardly surprising that the results of her line of reasoning are absolute nonsense as well. It does, however, seems to suggest that Brogan really doesn’t understand even basic stuff about the topics about which she more than willingly shares her unsupported opinions. She is not above rank dishonesty either, as long as it can look like it lends support to views she has already convinced herself are true based on no good evidence or reason whatsoever.

She’s even been toying HIV denialism (oh, yes). Of the idea that HIV causes AIDS she has pointed out that AIDS is “a syndrome of 25 illnesses that does not satisfy Koch’s postulates of infectious disease” (Koch’s postulates date from 1890 and have been obsolete since then), and in the process positioned herself dangerously close to germ theory denialism – she probably doesn’t notice, though, since she doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea what she’s talking about. At least she rejects the effect of antiretroviral drugs on the mortality associated with this disease: “That drug toxicity associated with AIDS treatment may very well be what accounts for the majority of deaths,” says Brogan. “may very well” means there is no evidence or plausibility behind this claim I pulled out of my ass concerning topics I do not understand but you dear reader – since you are reading my bullshit – probably don’t know that. A collaboration of 12 prospective studies that included more than 62,000 HIV infected individuals found, contrary to what Brogan believes, that mortality was halved in the treated groups. We also know that in South Africa there were an estimated 3.8 million person-years lost between 2000 and 2005 because of delays in implementing treatment programs in part because central figures in the government had been convinced by pseudoscientists that HIV was not the cause of AIDS and that the drugs were not useful. We leave it to the reader to evaluate how, in light of that, Brogan’s recommendation should be used to judge her as a member of humanity.

Diagnosis: Raging pseudoscientific conspiracy theorist, who has managed to make something of a name for herself among conspiracy-minded “natural” healing gohmerts. One of those who, on balance, has made the world a worse place to live, and she appears to be just getting started. Dangerous.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

#1421: Felicia Briones-Colman


Felicia Briones-Colman is another MD who has turned to the dark side, yet again reminding us that MDs are not scientists, and are not necessarily trained in anything remotely resembling evidence assessment or proper methodology. Briones-Colman is, in fact, so extreme in her rejection of evidence, facts, and science in recommending healthcare strategies that she has contributed to NaturalNews. Yes, that NaturalNews.

As she will point out, Briones-Colman is not only an MD; she is “board certified in both Internal Medicine and the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine,” the latter of which is nothing to be proud of. Nonetheless, she recommends that you should “[c]hoose a doctor certified by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine” when you need holistic medical help. We don’t want to share the market, do we (it’s not like the board in question bases the certification process on evidence and reality in any case)? According to her, “[t]he practice of Integrative Medicine i[…] requires knowledge about alternative therapies that are scientifically proven to be effective and which can cause harm,” which is inaccurate in that any treatment that is “scientifically proven to be effective” is by definition not an alternative therapy, and seeing a board certified alternative practitioner rather than a non-certified is advisable to make sure that you receive the most efficacious woo and avoid harmful practices; “… a doctor who is board certified provides assurance of excellence,” says Briones-Colman, a claim so stupid and crazy it easily justifies an entry in our Encyclopedia.

Diagnosis: A useful reminder that a proper appeal to expertise on the efficacy of medical treatments is not the same as an appeal to your local MD. That’s the best I can manage to say about her.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

#1420: Joel Brind


Joel Brind is a professor of human biology and endocrinology at Baruch College, CUNY, a pro-lifer and a by now famous pseudoscientist. He is best known for his association with the discredited link between abortion and breast cancer; it was Brind’s 1996 meta-analysis that popularized the idea (and got him famous). That study, which despite Brind’s strongly worded conclusions showed a barely statistically significant increase, was not particularly professionally done, and the results were quickly discredited (summaries here, here and here). What makes Brind a pseudoscientist is not the initial claim – the hypothesis really wasn’t that far-fetched given the available information – but that he has continued to push the link after it has been thoroughly refuted (yet another study discussed here). At present he is primarily pushing it through his organization “The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute”. He has been active in the anti-abortion movement (e.g. through Christ’s Bride Ministries) for several decades.

Though his original analysis appeared in a respectable journal, his later papers on the same theme (presumably because they didn’t manage to overcome the refutations using proper methodology) was published in places like the pseudojournal JPANDS, the house journal of the crank organization Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Brind, on his side, remains contemptuous of mainstream medical professional organizations and journals, accusing them of conducting a deliberate cover-up with the goal of “protecting the abortion industry”, asserting in print that the National Cancer Institute “… is just another corrupt federal agency like the IRS and the NSA.” Ah, yes, but of course; that’s the proper reaction when everyone else refutes your claims. Conspriacy mongering is, of course, as much a staple fare among this particular group of science denialists as it is among other groups promoting similarly refuted ideas.

To further cement his reputation as a pseudoscientist, Brind is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s anti-evolution petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

Diagnosis: Though he has credentials, Brind is not reluctant to let any commitment to truth, evidence or sound methodology fly when truth, evidence or sound methodology doesn’t serve his ideologically driven purposes.

Monday, July 20, 2015

#1419: Peter Brimelow


Peter Brimelow was born in Britain, but is currently American. He used to have a career as a writer and editor for various more or less respectable magazines (no, he really did have a quite substantial influence on American and Canadian politics), until he doubled down and founded the webzine VDARE, a platform for Brimelow’s anti-immigration views, white nationalism and “racial realism” (other topics covered seem to be just so much window dressing, though they do seem to want to take credit for popularizing the idea of a War on Christmas). VDARE takes it name from Virginia Dare, the original anchor baby (a point that seems to be lost on them), and is designated as a hate group by the SPLC – Brimelow’s response was to call the SPLC “the notorious Treason Group.”

Brimelow’s main target is, unsurprisingly, multiculturalism, and as he put it in his talk “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the pursuit of diversity is weakening the American Identity” at the 2012 CPAC (oh, yes), diversity is the greatest threat we are facing and “immigration is polluting America.” The host of the session, Robert Vandervoort, former leader of the White Nationalist group Chicagoland Friends of the American Renaissance, thanked CPAC for hosting the panel despite the work of “leftist thugs” trying to “shut down freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” since not giving people a platform to speak is obviously a violation of their constitutional rights.

As expected, Brimelow is a fierce critic of “Obama’s racial-socialist coup,” and fears that the U.S. is doomed to face a “minority occupation government.” In fact, according to Brimelow, the Democrats’ supposed support of an “invasion” and “colonization” of the US by non-white immigrants is treason because it reduces the percentage of the white population. Accordingly, he called on the Republican Party to start focusing on becoming the party of white voters by attacking “ethnic lobbies,” affirmative action, bilingual education and “taxpayer subsidies to illegal aliens.”

And the connection to the War on Christmas? In his book Alien Nation, Brimelow wrote that “weird aliens with dubious habits” were damaging the “ethnic core” of white Christian America and were part of a “multicultural struggle to abolish America;” seeing the trend toward saying “happy holidays” as part of this sinister movement, he decided to do something about it: an annual competition in the magazine for the “the most egregious attempt to suppress Christmas.” It should be mentioned that the idea had already been promoted by the John Birch Society for years.

In 2015 Brimelow, in a Martin Luther King day speech, argued that states must secede to protect “white rights” (i.e. the right not to have to see black people). Instead of promoting unity, Brimelow said, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day “has just turned into anti-white indoctrination.” And unless “cultural Marxists” who are behind “political correctness” and “the war on Christmas” are resisted, he claimed, the U.S. will collapse. Again. With regard to the Ferguson protests, he argued that force is needed to counter the inherent “criminality in the American underclass”.

Steve King is a positively giddy fan of Brimelow’s.

Diagnosis: Dude, this guy’s views on immigration are too extreme for the WND. He nevertheless maintains quite a bit of influence.