Tuesday, April 22, 2014

#1006: Mehmet Oz

A.k.a. “America’s Doctor”

Mehmet Oz is a TV doctor who first came to public notice through his appearances on Oprah. He currently hosts his own syndicated television talk show, “The Dr. Oz Show,” which is currently one of the saddest and most substantial threats to civilization imposed on the world through Television. The general format of the show consists of inviting many people who work in healthcare for the audience, go through some points that align with real medical science, and then ruin everything by promoting various altmed garbage (warning letters he receives from the FDA don’t carry the same weight with the public, who probably never gets to hear about them anyways). As a doctor, Oz is in fact one of the most accomplished cardiothoracic surgeons of his generation, which makes his journey to the dark side all the more tragic.

The show is currently filled with recommendations ranging from the dubious to the downright fraudulent, and Oz has even given time to batshit crazies such as Deepak Chopra and Joseph Mercola, the latter described as a “pioneer in alternative medicine” and “a man your doctor doesn’t want you to know.” Usually Oz stops short of explicitly endorsing charlatans (at least in the earlier seasons), but just giving them a platform at all borders on malfeasance and is definitely a violation of any Hippocratic Oath, as well as giving these cranks and quacks an opportunity to promote themselves with an “as seen on the Dr. Oz Show” tag. His interaction with Mercola, according to critics (who are right), marked the completion of his journey to the Dark Side. He sealed it further by embracing homeopathy publicly and promoting it on his show in a segment called The Homeopathy Starter Kit. And with his “15 Superfoods” segment he has entered something frighteningly reminiscent of Kevin Trudeau-land.

Oz has furthermore promoted faith healing, “energy medicine”, reiki, and appeared on ABC News to give legitimacy to the claims of Brazilian faith healer “John of God,” who uses old carnival tricks to solicit money from the seriously ill. He has hosted Ayurvedic (http://www.skepdic.com/ayurvedic.html) guru Yogi Cameron on his show to promote nonsense “tongue examination” as a way of diagnosing health problems, and in 2011 he more or less endorsed none other than John Edward (good portrait here) – Oz even suggested that bereaved families should visit psychic mediums to receive messages from their dead relatives as a form of grief counseling. The segment is discussed here. He has later followed that one up with a segment featuring Long Island medium Theresa Caputo, whom Oz promotes as somehow being able to help his viewers deal with anxiety by communicating with dead relatives on “the other side” – indeed, he even brought ultrapseudoscientist Daniel Amen to his show to argue that brainscans show that Caputo’s psychic powers are genuine (needless to say, the brainscans show no such thing). He has promoted Goodnighties sleepwear, which is said to be “impregnated with a substance that emits negative ions,” red palm oil, contributed to the distribution of the Açai scams, and featured an anti-vaccine-sympathetic episode on autism with Bob Sears as his guest. The list goes on. If you ever came to doubt that Oz is a quack, there is for instance this, or his speculation about a connection between cell phone use and cancer (no, there is no evidence of such, for crying out loud), or his support for grounding.

Why does he do it, one might ask, and I suspect a lot is revealed in his manifesto, a chilling combo of various postmodernist relativist bullshit: “Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean. You find the arguments that support your data, and it’s my fact versus your fact.” No, it isn’t – but the sentiment explains quite a bit about how woomeisters think.

One of his biggest controversies involved the chemical resveratrol. While pharmaceutical research on laboratory mice showed some potential as an anti-aging agent, Dr. Oz promoted it as some New Age miracle, pushing his own supplemental version of the chemical, despite a current lack of evidence of its benefits or risks for humans. In 2012 he also provided some false balance regarding reparative therapy, which suggested that this utterly discredited bullshit might have some merit (discussed here).

Dr Oz is the proud winner of the James Randi Educational Foundation's Pigasus Award (Media section) in both 2010 and 2011 for doing “such a disservice to his TV viewers by promoting quack medical practices that he is now the first person to win a Pigasus two years in a row.” The awards are discussed here.

There are some good discussions of his practices here, here, and here (though the latter is a bit mild).

Diagnosis: One of the most dangerous cranks alive. No less.

Monday, April 21, 2014

#1005: William Owens jr.

William Owens jr. is the founder and president of a tiny outfit that goes by the name of the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP). He is also National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) religious liaison, and as such just as unhingedly crazy as you’d imagine. Owens is a True Christian™. President Obama, on the other hand, is not a True Christian (but probably more of a Muslim thing), largely because Obama “is intent on ending capitalism with his communist policy of redistribution of wealth.” And that gives you an idea about where Williams Owens comes from, or at least where he has been standing in more recent years – he was once a civil rights leader in Nashville; not much left of that at present, though Owens doesn’t seem to be aware of his fall).

CAAP, a small, strange group, which exists solely for the purpose of attacking African-American leaders and organizations from the right, in particular on the topic of the relationship between democrats and gays. Indeed, the group – or project – is associated with NOM’s plan (according to internal planning documents) to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks.” Owens, on his side, thinks a man having sex with another man is like a man having sex with a dog and that homosexuality is a contagious disease caused by and spread through molestation, which of course makes him perfect for NOM’s morality agenda, and he does not hesitate to draw a connection to the Democratic party. Indeed, not only is Obama not a Christian according to Owens (I mean, he supports gay marriage – that should silence all doubts) but the Democratic Party is also a “demonic party” that must be stopped (some of his statements to that effect are discussed here). Apparently Obama wants a “dictatorial-style rule” (and “has rejected God”), which is, of course, synonymous for disagreeing with Owens and which makes Obama just like a white supremacist.

When marriage equality was on the Maryland ballot in the 2012 election Owens, never one to shy away from hyperbole, warned voters that if we “change God’s law” by legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption then “the whole gamut of the family is going to be destroyed and all areas of the social life will be destroyed from what has been for thousands of years.” Indeed, gay marriage will “deteriorate the black family more than anything else” (no further explanation given, but his wife, Deborah Owens, made a similar assertion in a Washington Times op-ed where she warned that the “homosexual agenda” will “erode the very foundation of our society”). Fortunately, Owens said, black voters are turning against Obama because of this issue.

To no one’s surprise Owens was deeply hurt by the DOMA decision; according to Owens the Supreme Court “neglected our most precious children who need a mother and a father united in marriage for healthy development,” and repeated his warnings about the erosion of society. He also called for anti-gay activists to launch a new Civil Rights Movement to fight and seek to repeal the civil rights of gay people (Owens wouldn’t have put it quite like that; indeed, Owens would say “think of the children”: “The adults are confused and they’re confusing the children,” Owens lamented, “how can two men rear a child? How can a man be a mother? Tell me that.” But that’s not quite how civil rights work.) In 2014 he seems to have been primarily devoted to pushing for the impeachment of Attorney General Eric Holder for “trampling the rule of law” by not defending DOMA, and therefore for trying “to coerce states to fall in line with the same-sex ‘marriage’ agenda;” indeed, according to Owens, Holder “shredded” the Constitution “in order to impose a radical homosexual agenda,” one that betrays “the black community and the values that we hold dear.” What? You miss reason and argument? Oh, but it was never about that for William Owens.

Diagnosis: It’s getting a bit tiresome, isn’t it? At least his impact appears to be limited.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

#1004: Tim O'Shea

A.k.a. The Doctor Within

Tim O’Shea might not be among the most famous altmed practitioners in the US, but he is surely one of the most consistently delusionally wrong (and has been awarded with a substantial presence at whale.to for his efforts). O’Shea is into, well, pretty much everything and anything. He is for instance a germ theory denialist. That’s right. Bacteria and viruses don’t cause disease. Evidence? We still get sick, and there are companies that earn money off of antibiotics – and, to make sure no one would think of him as anything but a loon, O’Shea also claims that Pasteur recanted his theory on his deathbed, and then Deepak Chopra has, according to O’Shea, also shown that there is little association between germs and disease. Actually conducting research couldn’t fit worse with O’Shea’s agenda, so you get none of that, of course.

Primarily, O’Shea is an anti-vaccinationist, Director of the World Association for Vaccine Education (WAVE), and author of Vaccination is Not Immunization (praised by David Ayoub). As you’d expect O’Shea holds vaccines responsible for all sorts of ills, from autism to peanut allergy (as well as measles), and as you’d also expect, he doesn’t have much idea about how to find or use evidence or research. Primarily, his “evidence” is his own use of his good common sense (that sense that also led him to germ theory denial), and various appeals to perceived but undocumented correlations.

The board of directors for WAVE – which is a significant player in the antivaxx movement – includes Boyd Haley, Sherri Tenpenny, HIV denialist Andrew Maniotis, Marc Girard (another whale.to mainstay), Dan N. Schultz, Eileen Nicole Simon, KP Stoller, and Mary Tocco (yet another whale.to hero).

Diagnosis: Absolutely astonishing madman, who is fully unable to distinguish evidence from his own powers of intuition – which seem to be calibrated toward giving him idiotic results.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

#1003: Alex Ortner

Food fads are a great source of woo, and among the stupider ones you’ll find rawfoodism. Alex Ortner is the executive producer of the “documentary” Simply Raw (primarily an infomercial for Doctor of Divinity Gabriel Cousens), and Chief Operating Officer for the Simply Raw website. The guiding idea is that the way to the light is through a raw vegan diet, and the main claim of the movie is that raw veganism can cure diabetes (indeed, the movie’s subtitle is “Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days”). The methodology is to interview six diabetes patients about their experiences at Cousens’s clinic (needless to say the long-term effects are left a bit in the dark). The anecdotes are then augmented with claims by what they judge to be qualified experts (including such luminaries as Michael Beckwith, Gary Null and Julian Whitaker).

If you watch the movie (which I hope you won’t) you’ll also encounter one Dr. Joel Fuhrman claiming that cooking somehow destroys living antioxidants, phytochemicals, and a variety of other compounds, without which the body can’t be healthy and “must break down.” Fuhrman describes processed food as “foods whose life has been taken out of them,” and makes the claim that, without these micronutrients cells accumulate “toxins” that need to be “detoxified,” while touting broccoli and various vegetables as having “incredible medicinal power.” Yes, it’s as complete bullshit as it sounds. Add to that Cousens talking about live cell analysis and Super Size Me star and delusional crackpot Morgan Spurlock failing desperately in an attempt to assess evidence, and you have a good mix of woo and silly.

The movie might not seem to be as crammed with woo as you’d expect (although it provides absolutely no evidence for any of its claims). If you go to the website, however, you’re in for something different. In his mailing list about the movie Ortner promotes “super immunity,” which is longevity and “detoxification” pseudoscience featuring Joe Mercola and David Wolfe; the tapping solution, allegedly a form of “meridian tapping;” or a variety of emotional freedom techniques
and “thought field therapy” – utter quackery claiming that finger tapping along meridians “releases the body’s energy flow” – and not the least Dr. Joe Vitale’s “blood pressure miracle,” which claims to be able to reverse hypertension “naturally” without drugs. Then there is the “seven day back pain cure,” which promises to cure your back pain without drugs, surgery, or much of anything else; and promotion of “holistic” doctor and homeopath Mark Stenger, who is push a method to “balance your hormones”, all naturally.

Diagnosis: Complete and utter bullshit, promoted with zeal and ignorance. As usual. Dangerous.

#1002: Ariel Torres Ortega

Another day, another delusionally insane gay marriage opponent. Rev. Ariel Torres Ortega is apparently involved in Radio Visión Cristiana. When New York started suggesting legalization of gay marriage in 2011, Ortega told the participants at an anti-gay rally in Bronx that those who practice anything but heterosexual sex within the confines of marriage “are worthy to death. […] God bless this earth. That is the word of God.” The focus of the rally was apparently the Christian message of “love”.

Diagnosis: Another moron who is blaming God for his own hatred and bigotry. Probably relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but deserves to be called out nonetheless.