Tuesday, August 31, 2010

#54: Fritjof Capra

The king himself of touchy-feely new age bullshit, Capra is the author of ”The Tao of Physics”, which captured the imaginations of the Dunning-Kruger baseline some decades back by exploring the similarities between quantum theory and Eastern philosophies. Capra is a physicist, systems theorist, and has aslo written ”The Turning Point”, ”Uncommon Wisdom”, ”The Web of Life”, and ”The Hidden Connections”. Dr. Capra is also a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, and the sort of guy that would be a demi-good of the clinically moronic David Brooks’s neural Buddhists. ”The Tao of Physics” claims that physics and metaphysics are both inexorably leading to the same knowledge, and proceeds by way of wishy-washy Zen Buddhism peppered with half-baked concepts from quantum theory in a thoroughly confused, pyramids and magnet stone kind of quasi-religious delusional gruel.

Using Thomas Kuhn's ”The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” as a stepping stone, he and the Benedictine monk Steindl-Rast also explored the parallels between new paradigm thinking in science and religion (yes, exactly – poor understanding of Thomas Kuhn is probably the greatest generator of fluffy woo in history) that together offer what the authors consider remarkably compatible view of the universe. Evidence is selectively used if anyone wondered.

His main fight is against reductionism (a concept he doesn’t understand, rest assured) and a mechanistic world-view, in favor of a holistic approach. The wikipedia article is informative, if sympathetic. The penchant such people have to rely on armchair confirmation bias rather than evidence is obvious from their bald assertions (probably they believe it themselves) that their direction is the one in which scientific consensus itself is moving. It isn’t. Capra and his ilk are loons and crackpots.

A soulmate of Deepak Chopra, some representative examples of his rosy-tinted woo is found here, here and here
(all sympathetic sources; he exaplains his disdain for Darwinism and Francis Bacon, among other things).

Diagnosis: Woo-meister and cranky dingbat. Enormously influential – if you’ve ever heard of ”the similarity between Zen Buddhism or [insert wooey Eastern ”philosophy”, preferably one you know little about, here], Capra is the instigator. One of the most important crackpots alive.

Monday, August 23, 2010

#53: Alan Cantwell

One of the most passionate (and lunatic) defenders of one of the greatest crackpots of the last century,Wilhelm Reich. Among Cantwell’s writings in defense of Reich is this nice article. For those who don’t know Reich’s views, orgone is supposed to be the life force, the material realization of Freud’s libido – pure pseudoscience with strong sexual undertones, and unsurprisingly popular (and taken to the extreme of quackery when combined with new age healing techniques, e.g. in the hands of Reich’s disciple Charles Kelly).

And of course Cantwell takes it a step further. In
this article he combines Reich’s orgone theory, rantings about microbiology, Blavatsky and cosmic energy to stunning heights.

And against this background, a grand theory of everything emerges. Why don’t we know about the stuff Cantwell has uncovered? Well, I won’t reveal it here, just direct you to his paper ”
The cancer conspiracy”, ”SARS, bioterrorism and the media” and his book on man-made AIDS, ”Queer Blood: The Secret AIDS Genocide Plot”, which is available through the New Dawn Book Service.

Cantwell, in other words, is in at the deep end. A selection of his articles can be found
here - according to the website, ”no links to these articles is allowed by the Wikipedia medical editors”. You do the math.
Diagnosis: Utter loon and megalomaniac whose approach to medicine is not science, but Cantwell’s law ”most physicians are wrong in their understanding of most diseases, most of the time” (and, tacitly understood, that Cantwell himself is correct). Influence is unknown – the orgonites are pretty common, but Cantwell is probably of the fringes of this fringe.

Monday, August 9, 2010

#52: Harold Camping

Harold Camping is a radio evangelist who runs the Family Radio network. Camping believes that the popular notion that the world will end in 2012 (in alleged accordance with the Mayan calendar) is ridiculous. Sounds reasonable, right?

The reason it is ridiculous, according to Camping, is that this date ”has not one stitch of biblical authority, it's like a fairy tale." No, the real date for the end of the world, according to Harold Camping, is May 21, 2011. Why? Well the reasoning is soundproof numerology.

The number 5, Camping concluded, equals "atonement." Ten is "completeness." Seventeen means "heaven." Camping patiently explained how he reached his conclusion for May 21, 2011.

"Christ hung on the cross April 1, 33 A.D.," he began. "Now go to April 1 of 2011 A.D., and that's 1,978 years." Camping then multiplied 1,978 by 365.2422 days - the number of days in each solar year, not to be confused with a calendar year. Next, Camping noted that April 1 to May 21 encompasses 51 days. Add 51 to the sum of previous multiplication total, and it equals 722,500. Camping realized that (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17) = 722,500. Or put into words: (Atonement x Completeness x Heaven), squared.

It isn’t his first stab. He won notoriety for predicting the return of Christ on September 6. 1994 as well. When reality failed to accommodate the map, he modified his "prophecy" to claim that that September 6 was the day that God removed his Holy Spirit from the earth and that nobody could be saved after this date and that God was calling all those already saved to exit the organized churches.

Mentioned here.

And here.

Diagnosis: A total whacko, Camping has taken confirmation bias and category mistakes to a level of clinical insanity. Should be non-influential, but this guy does own quite a lot of radio stations spewing forth his nonsense. Astonishing.

#51: John Angus Campbell

Campbell is a retired American Professor of Rhetoric and is a Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture (a branch of the Discovery Institute) and of the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design, a professional society dedicated to – you guessed it – the promotion of intelligent design (yes, its the Dembski rubbish, discussed here, here, here and in general here).

Together with Stephen C. Meyer (who is also a Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture) he edited “Darwinism, Design and Public Education”, a collection of articles from the journal Rhetoric and Public Affair (not science; click here to download Barbara Forrest’s criticism).

Campbell is also on the school board in North Mason County, Washington. How he got there splendidly illustrates the tactics of contemporary creationists (as laid down in the Wedge document, for that matter). He ran as ”John Campbell”, and during his campaign did not disclose his links to intelligent design. In an interview he stated that he would not be dealing with curricula, and that he is a "Darwinist" who considers that debating Darwin can engage the interest of students and improve their skills in critical thinking. He was quoted as saying "Rather than demonizing people that believe in ID, I think there are ways people could use their ideas to study Darwinism more closely.” He was subsequently elected. The story is discussed here, and here.

Diagnosis: Wormtongued weasel and crackpot. Dangerous.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

#50: Kirk Cameron

Formerly beloved former child star Kirk Cameron is currently a dysfunctional apologist for the ever moronic Ray Comfort (to be covered later). He claims to have been an atheist who later found Jesus (yes, that one again). Since “Growing Pains”, his most prominent roles have been in the “Left Behind” movies and “Fireproof”. So, yes – he is currently a religious fundamentalist touring with Ray Comfort, possibly the most ignorantly inane road show ever, prominently featuring Comfort’s banana argument and the crocoduck argument.

Vigorously opposed to evolution, and has – together with Comfort – designed a board game (here and here). His project to hand out copies of his and Comfort’s annotated version of “The origin of species” generated this response (among many others).

And of course there is a conspiracy theory here. Cameron is worried that we are currently experiencing a whole generation “brainwashed by atheistic evolution” (I don’t think “brainwashed” means what Cameron thinks it means).

Diagnosis: Among the most breathtakingly moronic bozos alive, Cameron manages to make Mel Gibson look moderately intelligent. The Comfort/Cameron superteam is, I suppose, not taken seriously as anything who could even begin to pose a threat. I suspect their popularity is more due to their breathtaking inanity.

#49: Roger J. Callahan & Gary Craig

The last decade or so certain psychologists and pseudo-psychologists have been claiming to be could cure any craving or phobia in minutes, sometimes even over the phone, by just a wee bit of tapping and some positive thinking to "rebalance [the body’s] natural energy system." Anything, really, from addiction to biscuits, alcohol, cigarettes to murdering homeopaths. The buzzword is "Thought Field Therapy” (TFT), a mish-mash of psychology, acupuncture, neuro-linguistic programming, hypnotherapy and what amounts to reiki and life force mysticism. It has absolutely no scientific foundation, and test results don’t exactly go in its favor. But woo apparently appeals.

Not only is there no evidence for its efficacy – it also relies on such quack myths as ”meridians”. In fact, the American Psyhological Association asserted that TFT "lacks a scientific basis" and removed support for it in 1999, stating that TFT "does not meet [our] definition of appropriate continuing-education curriculum for psychologists".

The technique was invented and is promoted by – you guessed it – Roger Callahan (pictured right), who terms his treatment "Thought Field Therapy" because he theorizes that when a person thinks about an experience or thought associated with an emotional problem, they are tuning in to a "thought field. and the evidence adduced in support of TFT by Callahan and other proponents comes from uncontrolled case reports that were not peer reviewed. In 2001, in an unprecedented move, the Editor of the Journal of Clinical Psychology agreed to publish, without peer review, five articles on TFT of Callahan’s choosing. Psychologist John Kline wrote that Callahan’s article “represents a disjointed series of unsubstantiated assertions, ill-defined neologisms, and far-fetched case reports that blur boundaries between farce and expository prose.” It has its roots in ancient Chinese medicine.

You can read about them here. And here. And here’s his website:

Dr. Callahan also brags about being endorsed by Kevin Trudeau (who will appear later, rest assured). Perhaps because both were in major trouble with the FTC in 1998).

For their importation of TFT into Africa to treat PTSD and Malaria, see here.

And here is an NPR interview where Callahan claimed TFT successfully treated malaria.

A balanced analysis can be found here.

(hat tip to Monica Pignotti for the last set of links)

Diagnosis: crackpot and charlatan (probably unconsciously). His influence is appallingly wide, and his crackpottery has been adopted by several serious practitioners and even received governmental endorsement.

Roger Callahan's disciple, Gary Craig (pictured left), invented a variant of TFT known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), applied kinesology and pure woo. His website is here.

Critically evaluated here.

EFT is apparently a procedure that ”borrows from the much-heralded discoveries of Albert Einstein”. How, you may think? Well, because ”everything, including your body, is composed of energy”. The residue is borrowed ”from the ancient wisdom of Chinese acupuncture.”

Diagnosis: Pure, delusional crackpot of the worst kind. Impact uncertain, but EFT is a spin-off of some frighteningly popular quackery.

#48: Bradley Byrne

GOP, Alabama-style fashion, launched the following astoundingly bizarre series of events about a month ago: First The True Republican PAC ran this ad in the Alabama gubernatorial race, attacking Bradley Byrne (R) because he supports the teaching of evolution in schools.

That drew some attention, but is perhaps to be expected from The True Republican PAC who are batshit unhinged fundamentalist uneducated loons of the worst sort anyway. The appalling turn came with Byrne’s response. The predictable godbottery apart, Byrne also pointed out the following:

“As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state.” (read more here)

I am not sure Byrne really knows what ”distorted, twisted and misrepresented” means, but notice that the True Republican PAC’s attack was not that Byrne favored teaching evolution (i.e. science) exclusively, but that he defended teaching evolution at all. For Byrne is, in fact, a proponent of teaching the “controversy” (manufactroversy), which he promptly pointed out. But as it turns out, maybe he isn't.

That’s not really the point, however. The appalling thing isn’t really Byrne’s views or non-views. The appalling thing is the situation – the lunacy of his putative voters – that makes offering this reply appear to be a necessary thing to do.

So this entry doesn’t really indict Byrne per se, but Byrne as a symbol for the unhinged lunacy that apparently runs rampant among Alabama’s GOP voters, voters who apparently support Byrne’s official statement or even the Republican PAC on this. The loon of the day is the State of Alabama.

Diagnosis: This is bad. Really, really scary.

#47: Arthur Butz

David Irving might be disqualified from an entry in the Encyclopedia by being British, but his views have its share of followers in the U.S. as well. Arthur Butz is one of the most prominent. Arthur Butz is actually a tenured Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Northwestern University, although his colleagues have exerted some pressure on him to retire. In 1976 Butz wrote the book ‘The Hoax of the 20th Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry’, which asserted that the Holocaust did not occur and has been deliberately contrived to justify the creation of the state of Israel. He has actively used his position as a tenured professor to give legitimacy to his views (without providing the administration at Northwestern any formal reason to get rid of him).

Butz remained quiet for a while after the book, but has returned to the spotlight the last 5 years for his defense (praise) of President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. In fact (in addition to a lot of long refuted claims), he called Ahmadinejad’s statements “formidable in their perspicacity” and that Ahmadinejad “understands the intellectual terror in the West” (said, apparently, without a hint of irony). Butz also pointed out that “Tony Blair made a routine pompous suggestion to Ahmadinejad: Visit the camps and see for yourself. Ahmadinejad replied: Good idea, I’ll bring a scientific team. He knows about the forensic issues too.” Yes, Butz, that reply surely establishes Ahmadinejad’s provenance as a razor sharp, non-biased critical thinker, in particular since Ahmadinejad seems to have no intention of actually following up on it. More here. Butz’s claims are thoroughly debunked here.

At least Butz clearly displays the ineptitude and ignorance of the deniers; when you praise Ahmadinejad’s unashamed anti-Semitic, zealous denialism for its rigor and good ideas, your own arguments cannot be particularly strong.

Diagnosis: Dangerous and cunning, perhaps, but a serious loon nonetheless. His influence might be limited, but its threat can hardly be exaggerated.