Friday, December 30, 2016

#1768: Margaret Hunter

Creationists have, if nothing else, come up with some pretty amazing arguments, such as the banana argument, the peanut butter argument, pygmies+dwarfs and the evergreen “why are there still monkeys?” to mention a few. Margaret Hunter has an argument that, although it can’t perhaps quite compete with the aforementioned ones, is definitely in the same league.

Who is Hunter? Apparently she is a self-described mathematician (we haven’t verified her credentials) and the owner of Bible Charts and Maps in Duck, West Virginia. She also has a vanity press book. We haven’t read that one, but it came accompanied by a press release containing an argument that, if it is representative for the contents of the book, suggests that it is a unique experience. The press release was titled “Amazing Bible Timeline Highlights Math Supports Creationism,” and the argument concerns “the twelve events stated in the Biblical account of creation.” You see, “[s]cience has actually confirmed that these events are not only correct but they are stated in the correct order.” Naturally, Hunter wondered: “Without prior scientific knowledge, what are the chances Moses guessed the correct order of Earth’s evolution or creation when he wrote Genesis?” And she calculated that it must be “Less Than 1 Chance in 479 Million Moses Made Up The Creation Account.” Oh, yeah. Of course, she overlooked the fact that it’s not like it would have been a random guess (you don’t need to know much science to figure out that the Earth must be created before the plants, for instance). She also overlooked the fact that Moses didn’t get the chronology even remotely correct (light being created before the sun and the stars, plants being created before animals and so on). But you know. Details. Jesus.

Diagnosis: Astonishing crackpottery. It’s probably pretty harmless, though, and will hardly recruit many non-crazy people to the anti-science movement.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#1767: Stephen Humphrey

State legislatures again! This time it’s the Colorado House of Representatives (they’ve got Gordon Klingenschmitt, too), where Stephen Humphrey has been representing District 48 since 2013. Promptly after having been elected, Humphrey submitted House Bill 13-1089, an  Academic Freedom Act” for both K-12 public schools and institutes of higher education in the state of Colorado. Academic Freedom Acts are of course attempts to protect teaching creationism in public school classrooms, often padded with protections of other types of pseudoscience and denialism as well, usually modeled after the example of the Discovery Institute’s Model academic freedom statute on evolution. It has nothing to do with academic freedom, but “protecting academic freedom” sounds better than the more accurate “trying to get religion back into classrooms and removing scientific facts that fundamentalists find threatening to what they wish were true”.

Humphrey’s bill in particular would “direct teachers to create an environment that encourages students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning.” The bill also referred to those as “controversial issues”, where “controversial issues” means “issues where Humphrey doesn’t like the consensus position among scientists.” There is no scientific controversy over evolution or global warming. So, not only is Humphrey a creationist and global warming denialist; he also wants Colorado to ensure that his politically and religiously motivated denialism is what is taught in schools. According to Humphrey, his intention was not to add religious dogma to the curriculum, but his intention was, of course, precisely to add religious dogma to the curriculum. Even the most baldfaced lie is apparently acceptable as long as you do it for Jesus.

The cosponsors of the bill were Perry Buck (R-District 49), Justin Everett (R-District 22), Chris Holbert (R-District 44), Janak Joshi (R-District 16), Dan Nordberg (R-District 14), Lori Saine (R-District 63), and James D. Wilson (R-District 60), so you know who not to vote for if you have a vote in Colorado. The bill was apparently also introduced in the senate, where the sponsors were Scott Renfroe (R-District 13), an anti-gay activist and card-carrying member of ALEC, an organization devoted to this kind of legislation; Kevin Grantham (R-District 2); Ted Harvey (R-District 30); and Owen Hill (R-District 10).

The bill died in committee, as expected, but Humphrey is still in the Colorado House, and he is surely up to no good.

Last time Colorado saw a creationist bill was apparently in 2010, when state senator Dave Schultheis submitted his creationism andtheocracy bill (not Schultheis’s title).

Diagnosis: Another Taliban representative in a State legislature. He shouldn’t be there. Get him out.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

#1766: Jim Humble

Miracle Mineral Supplement (MMS) a solution of 28% sodium chlorite (NaClO2), a toxic industrial chemical known to cause fatal renal failure, in distilled water and prepared in a citric acid solution (thus forming chlorine dioxide, an oxidising agent used in water treatment and bleaching), named and promoted by former scientologist Jim Humble – especially in his 2006 self-published book The Miracle Mineral Solution of the 21st Century. MMS is promoted as a cure for HIV, malaria, viral hepatitis, the H1N1 flu virus, ebola, colds, acne, cancer and lots of other stuff (though on e.g. eBay it is generally sold as a water purifier to circumvent certain restrictions on pushing dangerous substances as medicine; at least one importer has been convicted in the UK). Of course, any remedy that is claimed to be effective against a wide range of unrelated diseases is bullshit (except to the extent that it might cause death, which sort of brings any other illness you might suffer from to an end and which MMS can, in fact, bring about), and Humble’s evidence is strictly limited to anecdotes, which are not supported by (and don’t support) anything. Even is skeptical, which is something to think about.

The treatment was first advertised to poor families in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as a low-cost solution to their medical needs, and though much of the marketing is targeted at religious cults or people in really desperate situations, MMS has recently been promoted as a “cure” for autistic children. Subjecting a child’s gastrointestinal system to industrial bleaching agents is child abuse, but MMS has nevertheless been promoted at the anti-vaccination movement’s annual quackfest Autism One, and seems to have gained some popularity due to credulous testimonials bandied around by people who don’t know how evidence and reason work. How it is supposed to work seems to be somewhat debated (on closed forums; report here) but apparently it is supposed to clear the body of mystery parasites known as “rope worms” and other pathogens that delusional users apparently believe cause autism (horror stories here; the most horrible part being, of course, how MMS fans, like the religious fanatics they are, take any (negative) effect of the treatment on the patient to be a good sign). The idea is, needless to say, one step up from autism-is-caused-by-evil-spirits and one notch below autism-is-caused-by-imbalance-of-the-humors, and has nothing to do with anything resembling science or minimal knowledge of how the body works. (And of course: the parasites are caused by vaccines – adopting one crazy delusion doesn’t mean that you have to give up the others; they all fit together in a grand unified system of depraved nonsense).

As a matter of fact, authorities have – for once – tended to take MMS seriously as the insanity it is both in Europe and the US (see here for a good summary, and here for fair and balanced coverage). Because of reports including nausea, vomiting, and dangerously low blood pressure as a result of dehydration following instructed use of Humble’s bleach product, the FDA has advised consumers to dispose of the product immediately, and (e.g.) Irish parents who have used MMS on their children are facing criminal investigations. In the US, Kerri Rivera – the main promoter of MMS as an autism cure – was subpoenaed in the wake of her presentation at the 2015 Autism One conference, and after proving (of course) to be unable to present anything resembling evidence for the benefit of MMS she was forced to sign an agreement barring her from further promoting it or appearing at conferences in the state of Illinois. There have been legal backfires as well. In 2015 Louis Daniel Smith was found guilty of selling industrial bleach as a miracle cure for various diseases including cancer, AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, lyme disease, asthma and colds (three of his alleged co-conspirators, Chris Olson, Tammy Olson and Karis DeLong, pleaded guilty to introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce before the trial). Rivera claims MMS is most most effective when doses are timed to cycles of the moon: “full moon because the parasites go into the gut during the full moon and the new moon and they mate,” says Rivera.

Jim Humble himself is the self-styled archbishop of The Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, and tends to present himself as some sort of messiah; a report from a secret meeting of his church is here. MMS is described as a “sacrament”, though that is probably mostly for legal purposes. Humble lists an impressive CV (hard to back up, of course), including having cured malaria (though of course the Red Cross is desperately trying to cover up the remarkable results for unclear reasons but a tendency toward conspiracy). As for evidence, well, he’s got some testimonials – e.g. from Lindsay “Bionic woman” Wagner –  and seems not to understand why anyone would ask for anything else. Among the more interesting details of his background is his claim to have been sent to earth from a “Planet of the Gods” in the Andromeda galaxy on a mining mission, which is also how he discovered the miracle cure. He also has plenty of stories of how he has been pushing his dangerous nonsense to poor areas of Africa as a cure for malaria, which is not funny. Humble seems to have had a particular success with cults (the CBC recently covered the trend among certain religious groups using MMS for healing purposes, for instance) – though I suppose most of his groups of fans may come close to fit that description in any case – where Humble can really emphasize the magic properties of his bleach product to audiences receptive to that kind of crazy. Humble’s “archbishop” Mark Grenon says that if you get breast cancer you brought it on yourself, and that women should rely on MMS, not mammograms, surgery, and chemotherapy.

Diagnosis: The mind boggles at the insanity of it all – and it attracts otherwise ordinary-looking people in a manner reminiscent of standard horror movie tropes about dark cults. Humble himself is either a very cynical liar or a complete idiot. Those are not mutually exclusive attributes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

#1765: Paul G. Humber

Paul G. Humber is the director of CR Ministries and author of things like 400+ Prophecies, Appearances, or Foreshadowings of Christ in the Tanakh and Evolution Exposed. Humber is, of course, a young-earth creationist, and has also penned articles for the Institute of Creation Research and Creation Matters, the newsletter of the Creation Research Society (both organization apparently put “Research” in their name since otherwise no one would ever have guessed that this is what they think they are doing).

Well, Humber’s writings on science contain the usual tropes, appeal to the Bible, obvious lack of expertise and rank denialism, and we’ll limit ourselves to an example: One obvious problem for young-earth creationists is radioactive decay, which rather clearly, uh, suggests that the Earth is somewhat older than they’d like to think. Their solution is of course to (completely out of the blue) assert that radioactive decay isn’t constant but happened much faster in the past. So here’s Humber:

[C]onsider Deuteronomy 32:22 – ‘For a fire is kindled by My anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of mountains.’ This verse may point us in the direction that radioactive decay is a physical manifestation of God’s anger against evil, affecting even biological life. Prior to the Noachian flood, mankind lived much longer. His lifespan has diminished substantially since the flood. Also, even though Noah might well have had some immature dinosaurs on the ark, their nearly total extinction following the flood seems obvious. This also holds with respect to many other animals that have become extinct.

Or put differently: radioactive decay can’t be used to measure the age of anything, but is instead a measure of how angry God is at any moment. It’s hard to express how mind-boggling it is that anyone above the age of 7 can write this with a straight face and expect to be taken seriously (it’s at the level of “rain is angels relieving themselves”), but at least it entails that God is much less angry these days and accordingly unlikely to be overly concerned with gay marriage, abortion or transgender people using their bathroom of choice.

Here is Humber on Nebraska Man, an incident that really shows science working the way it should, but which to Humber is, irrationally, a reason to dismiss science in general if it doesn’t fit with what he has already convinced himself that he wants to believe.

Diagnosis: Oh, you silly duck. All the facepalms in the world wouldn’t reflect how crazy and silly Humber’s pseudoscientific babbling is, yet he is apparently viewed as an authority in certain quarters.

Monday, December 19, 2016

#1764: Randy Hultgren

It’s truly depressing how many of these we need to cover, but Randy Hultgren is another US Representative, this time for Illinois’s 14th congressional district (since 2011; prior to that he sat in the Illinois General Assembly). According to some, Hultgren has gained a reputation as an ardent supporter of research and science education, and NBC Chicago claimed that he has “carved a reputation as a pro-science, pro-STEM education supporter.” He has even won some awards, and praise from various people in powerful administrative positions at major universities; Fermilab Director Pier Oddone, University of Illinois President Robert Easter and University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer even said that “Congressman Hultgren provides a strong voice for science in Congress,” which, I suppose, comes close to clinching a place in our Encyclopedia for all three of them.

Hultgren is a climate change denialist and, apparently, an intelligent design creationist who wants to allow school districts to teach this kind of pseudoscience. A pretty illustrative example of Hultgren’s scientific credentials is his claim that, unlike “dangerous” sex ed, abstinence-only programs have “incredible success records”. He has worked to get funds assigned accordingly. The evidence, which consistently shows the opposite, be damned.

Diagnosis: Anti-science extremist.