Friday, February 12, 2016

#1594: Bruce Evans

We’ve covered a couple of the signatories to the Discovery Institute’s petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism before – the true believers; not those who were hoodwinked into signing. The thing is: The US has a lot of questionable educational institutions that hire a lot of faculty with questionable levels of competence (but formal degrees), so it isn’t much surprise that the Discovery Institute are able to find a handful of fundamentalists willing to sign whatever anti-science petition they put in front of them.

Bruce Evans is a good example. Evans has a PhD in neurobiology and published some papers in fields unrelated to evolution back in the days. Currently, Evans is a professor of biology and department chair at Huntington University, a Christian liberal arts college, the faculty of which subscribe to a fundamentalist statement of faith (“[w]e believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God”), and which apparently happily allowed Evans to teach an EXCEL class on the Origins of Life. Evans is a committed creationist (and Sunday school teacher), and was even on the board of reviewers for Explore Evolution. According to the, uh, educational institution’s website, Evans’ “primary interests are in the areas of intelligent design, cognitive neuroscience and dinosaurs.” Dinosaurs? What are his credentials? Oh, he “has spent time with paleontologists at fossil sites in Colorado, Utah, Texas, and Indiana,” which is … not exactly the same as having a research background. More insidiously, though, he “helps to educate local elementary students about dinosaurs.” He has also given presentations at Intelligent Design conferences and “led discussions on these topics in colleges and churches in Indiana and Ohio.” That should count for something, shouldn’t it?

What is interesting in this context is that Evans is also on the list Rethinking AIDS, an HIV denialist petition. We’ve found no further elaboration of his views on this matter, however.

Diagnosis: Fundamentalist pseudo-scientist. “Anti-scientist” is probably more accurate, given his outreach efforts. Not one of the big fish, to be sure, but he seems to have influence enough to be considered very dangerous.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

#1593: Andre Evans

Complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) is more or less code for bullshit, but though medical bullshit comes in a variety of forms, some utterly idiotic underlying principles tend to show up rather frequently. One of these is vitalism. Another is most explicitly formulated as the Law of Attraction, the idea that if you really wish something hard enough it will come true. One reason why this idea is so popular in altmed is, of course, that it paves the way for victim-blaming: If you tried something and didn’t get well, it’s because you didn’t really adopt the right mindset and didn’t really try hard enough. And the idea that “it only works if you really believe that it will” provides not only room for blaming the victim, but an excellent means for facilitating motivated reasoning in one’s victims.

That doesn’t mean that the practitioners in question don’t really believe their own bullshit. Andre Evans, for instance, even has a “Proof that Your Own Thoughts and Beliefs Can Cause Self-Healing” over at a website called Natural Society (no, you don’t get a link). It’s basically an article crammed with dubiously coherent pseudoscience, anonymous anecdotes and the placebo effects as “evidence” that, if you just think about it hard enough, you can “heal yourself” of virtually anything (no, Evans has not the faintest idea what the placebo effect really is; hint: it’s not that believing that you get well will help make you well).

Says Evans: “The power of the mind is immense. Its influence can literally bend reality to match its perspective […] If you believe something to be true, you will conform the world around you to match this expectation.” At least it will sometimes look that way; it’s called “subjective validation”. And “If you believe that your treatment is helping you, you could actually cause massive self-healing to occur. Assuming a disposition will automatically prejudice your mind, and therefore cause your body to react either positively or negatively.” And that, readers, is a stellar example of appeal to magical thinking.

I admit that I have found no other information about Evans – we’re probably not talking a central figure in the delusion-movement here – but the idea he defends is common and stupid enough to merit him an entry.

Diagnosis: I do suspect, though, that Evans is not alone in thinking that the placebo effect really works that way. It doesn’t. This is amazing bullshit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

#1592: Lee Euler

I think this is him, but it is a little hard
to identify him among the stock
photos of people in lab coats
("doctors") and "happy patients".
Lee Euler is the editor of the online newsletter Cancer Defeated, where he promotes articles like “Natural miracle prevents up to 99.4% of tumors” (how do you test for prevention at such a degree of exactitude, you might wonder but you know the answer) and “Cancer Clinics No One Will Tell You About” (no one, in fact), as well as books like “How to Cure Almost Any Cancer at home for $5.15 a Day”, “Breast Cancer Cover-Up” and “The Missing Ingredient” (about some ingredient in your diet that will cure most of your problems – you have to buy the book to find out what it is; even altmed-susceptible reviewers on amazon were less than impressed). It really isn’t necessary to go on, is it? The quack Miranda warning is at least reasonably prominently displayed on his website. Apart from that he’s got anecdotes, platitudes and conspiracies. This is spam.

Diagnosis: Who on Earth takes these things seriously, you might ask? Well, presumably only people who are scared or desperate. Lee Euler has chosen his prey wisely.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#1591: William Estrada

William Estrada is the former director of the fundamentalist organization Generation Joshua – founded by Mike Smith (current president) and Michael Farris – and the Home School Legal Defense Association. As a homeschooling activist Estrada has been tirelessly campaigning against Common Core and any other measures he claims take away “parental control” over children’s education. Of course, his organization was created to train children to be activists for rightwing candidates who are pushing conservative platforms – indeed, to “reclaim America for the glory of the Christian god” (i.e. not parental freedom; that’s just a handy phrase for political campaigning). More than that, though, they are trying to impose upon homeschoolers a certain narrative: As you remember, in the Old Testament, the Egyptians held the Israelites in captivity until Moses was chosen to lead them out of captivity and into the Promised Land, and for the people of Generation Joshua, Christians in the US are in the same situation now as the Israelites were in Egypt: Whereas the U.S. was, according to them, founded as a Christian nation, the forces of secularism have held Christians in captivity as the U.S. progressed, and homeschooling is their means for leading America back to its Christian roots by training children to be new, fanatic, religious warriors. To achieve this, all aspects of the children’s lives will need to be monitored, of course, and the organization has introduced an impressive apparatus to prevent children from growing up disagreeing with the agenda: they have books, videos, seminars, and camps dedicated to ensuring that kids stay in line with the ideology – a favored tactic is scaring parents with statistics showing how many kids relinquish their parents’ fundamentalism and bigotry once they go to college, thereby motivating them to push even harder. 

Curriculum-wise, they offer courses such as Introduction to Constitutional Law, Democracy in America, Campaign School: Successful Cam­paigning, Founding Fathers I & II, and Revolutionary War Era Sermons (targeting parents as much as children), and they have a close contact with David Barton and, of course, Mike Farris, who president of Patrick Henry College – indeed due to a Templeton grant (!), Generation Joshua has been awarding $80,000 worth of scholarships to its members so that they can attend Patrick Henry College.

Estrada himself appears to be under the illusion that he/they are winning the culture wars. In 2011, for instance, he argued that young, homeschooled people had been organizing in order to fight marriage equality, and that they seemed to be doing so successfully – you almost feel some pity for him.

Diagnosis: Raging, raving fundamentalist madman. This is scary shit.

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.)