Sunday, April 29, 2012

#324: Stuart Pivar

Stuart Pivar is without doubt a true crackpot, but his case is nevertheless interesting in illustrating what makes otherwise intelligent people crackpots. He achieved some infamy through his book “Lifecode: From egg to embryo by self-organization”. The idea promoted here is that the structure of living things is mainly determined by structural distortion/compression of an expanding body in a constrained space. Genes play a secondary role (a creature’s fundamental body plan is dictated by topological constraints). He backs it up with mathematics and testing that the mathematics works on plastic tubes (“the evolution of balloon animals” has subsequently become an idiom).

As Chu-Carrol points out, it is not a completely silly hypothesis, and Pivar does an intelligent job developing it. It’s main drawback is that it is wrong, and empirically obviously, evidently and unquestionable completely wrong.

What makes Pivar a crackpot is:

i) His relationship to evidence and testing; throughout “Lifecode” he simply asserts that his idea must be correct because it's just self-evident; he presents a multitude of sketches and models, but never a trace of testing them against reality; Pivar presents, in other words, a magnificent case of confusing a hypothesis with actual evidence for the hypothesis. In addition, he completely distorts the data already available, as true pseudo-science always does.

ii) How he deals with the fact that his hypothesis is demonstrably false.

iii) How he deals with criticism. He sent his book to PZ Myers and asked him to review it. Myers reviewed it as “flagrant crackpottery”, whereupon Pivar sued him and Seed for $ 15 million in one of the most frivolous lawsuits ever made.

That didn’t stop him from sending his next book to Myers for reviewing, however or Myers from reviewing it (same claims, same attitude toward that annoying detail of evidence) as well as other papers of his, or Pivar from getting … irate once again, or Pivar from suing other critics.

Susan Mazur is a fan, presumably because she read the press release for “Lifecode” and didn’t understand a thing.

Diagnosis: A pure and shining example of crackpottery as you’ll ever see; Pivar is an otherwise obviously intelligent guy who has become so stuck in confirmation bias that he thinks he can perceive the workings of reality by not even looking.

If the scope of this encyclopedia had been international, the entry on Pivar would have been followed by an entry on Ian Plimer, another perfect example of an otherwise intelligent and respectable scientist gone crackpot, in a different way but by many of the same mechanisms.

Friday, April 27, 2012

#323: Jim Pinkoski

Jim Pinkoski is a huge fan of the late Ron Wyatt, a sort of Indiana Jones wannabe who traveled around searching for relics of the major events of the Bible, such as Noah’s ark and the Ark of the Covenant – and claimed to have found them. Several times. Even Answers in Genesis are mildly skeptical (but some people apparently still fall for it). Pinkoski – a young earth creationist like Wyatt – currently travels around the States opening museums in Wyatt’s honor and attempts to argue that Wyatt really agreed with him on the important issues: for instance, on whether there were dinosaurs on the Ark. Pinkoski thinks he can prove that dinosaurs drowned during the flood: “The fossil remains of numerous dinosaurs have been found with their heads and necks arched upwards, as if in their death throes they were straining to to keep their heads above water!” This, you see, is – in Pinkoski’s eyes – scientific proof, no less, that the dinosaurs drowned.

Anyway, Pinkoski is immortalized for creating the fallacy known as “PYGMIES + DWARFS”. “PYGMIES + DWARFS” denotes a very simple inference and a wonderfully silly non sequitur which got its name by Pinkoski’s answer to “how do we know that there were biblical giants”: Because there are very short people (pygmies + dwarfs) nowadays. Discussed here. He is so fond of the argument that he has repeated it on numerous occasions. As an inference rule, “PYGMIES + DWARFS” resembles Prior’s “tonk” (an example - the original - is here). From “Science lies”, apply Pygmies+Dwarfs Introduction to get “you can’t prove that not X”; then apply Pygmies+Dwarfs Elimination to conclude “Bible is inerrant”. So, since Science lies (follows from any premise and Pygmies+Dwarfs Introduction), the Bible is inerrant.

Now, to be fair, few people rival Pinkoski for the ability to come up with and fervently defend stupid arguments. The following is an example. Pinkoski asks: “Nearly every major university in the world currently favors the theory of evolution, but the pendulum of truth is now swinging back to the Biblical story of creationism! Why is it taking so long? Why is it so difficult for people to ‘change their minds’ and accept this?? Perhaps there is one reason …” You know what the reason is, according to Pinkoski?

The reason is that humans only use 10% of their brains.


You can read about Pinkoski attempting to explain Trinity in comic book format here (his stuff, by the way, is published by BibleLand Studios). 

Pinkoski is, obviously, the founder of the pinkoskism - an argument to the falsity of evolution on grounds so stupid that even Ray Comfort may be uncomfortable with them. A collection of pinkoskisms can be found here.

Diagnosis: Addlejam and Dunning-Kruger galore. Rarely has the combination of fallacious reasoning and lack of knowledge been taken to similar levels of reverse brilliance. He is probably harmless.

#322: Srinivasan Pillay

The intolerably silly fluffmeister Pillay is in many ways Deepak Chopra’s even more severely critical thinking-challenged herald. Pillay is a self-billed certified master coach, psychiatrist, brain imaging researcher and speaker, and likes to demonstrate a profound inability to spot fallacies or evaluate science. He has actually cited Dean Radin's “research” as “evidence” for “distant healing”.

Although he likes to emphasize that many of his friends are rational and intelligent (though he wouldn’t be able to recognize rationality if his life depended on it) he himself displays a profound hatred for rational thought, science, evidence and, indeed, anything short of complete, unqualified gullibility. He is most famous for one of the most idiotic over-the-top appeals to nature arguments ever made, in his essay (Huffpo – where else) “Why rational thinking is not all it’s cracked up to be”, where he observes that people often don’t use rationality (but rather emotions) in their decision-making and, instead of concluding that people should perhaps be a little more careful, he concludes that since rationality isn’t rational, we should stop valuing it so dearly. Therefore science doesn’t work. Therefore quantum woo and Cartesian dualism. It is discussed here (it is excellent fodder for an Intro to Critical Thinking class). He has also promoted The Secret. Yes, that “The Secret”.

Pillay has some PubMed-registered publications that also display the same lack of rigor, methodological understanding or, heck, understanding of what evidence is and what it may show.

Diagnosis: Helplessly moronic crackpot. People hardly come more densely deluded than this, and Pillay’s spectacular failure to understand evidence or critical thinking impresses even those of us who’ve had to deal with Larry Dossey or Deepak Chopra. Still, it looks as if some people actually listen to him.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

#321: Carter Phipps

Phipps is executive director of EnlightenNext, a magazine devoted to spirituality, culture, and the integral movement, founded by Andrew Cohen (in virtually every issue you can read Cohen talk to the unhinged, garbled, postmodernism-on-speed-mixed-with-religion proponent Ken Wilber). The magazine is still being carried by all major bookstores and outlets. RupertSheldrake likes it. That should tell you something. One Roshi Bernard Glassman thinks “EnlightenNext is a must read for anyone interested in the conscious evolution of the planet.” Indeed. From this, the magazine’s publisher (Robert Heinzman) concludes “so as you can see, many of the world’s leading thinkers agree: ‘What Is Enlightenment?’ magazine is … one of the most important publications of our time,” which assumes that Wilber and Sheldrake are important thinkers and thus qualifies Heinzman as a serious loon.

Carter Phipps is one of those people who don’t quite understand evolution, is kinda fascinated with it anyways, and thinks it has something to do with Buddhism or Ramtha. This contribution of his to some pseudo-scientific seminar talk gives you the idea:

“Evolution Changes Everything: How the Discovery of Progress Is Transforming the Spiritual Path
… Once upon a time, there was only the cycle of birth, life, and death. Then God created Darwin, whose theory of evolution transformed a static wheel of existence into a great arc of change, with bacteria, beast, biosphere and even human consciousness caught up in the currents of an evolutionary universe [yes, there are some weird category mistakes there]. This still radical revelation poses a fundamental challenge to some of our most cherished spiritual beliefs. In this teleseminar, Carter Phipps will upend traditional concepts of enlightenment and spiritual awakening, showing how the latest insights in science, philosophy, and spirituality are destined to transform our relationship to life, God, and … well, everything!”

Look, he has absolutely no idea. The hilariously idiotic bullshittery of these claims didn’t prevent them from being copied and pasted as facts by award-winning (well, Templeton award-winning) journalist Douglas Todd. Tells you something about the status of science journalism.

Diagnosis: Moronic, completely delusional clown. Still, he seems to carry some influence.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

#320: Fred Phelps

I suppose this one needs no introduction; Fred Phelps runs the Westboro Baptis Church, which consists mainly of his family, and specializes in vitriolic hate. Being a near-Calvinist and taking the parts of Calvinism that even Calvinists don’t talk about that much at face value, Phelps’s other specialty is thanking God for natural disasters, child murders, deaths, 9/11, and pain. His obsession is of course homosexuality, and he hates everyone who hates gays less than he do (the WBC picketed Jerry Falwell’s funeral because Falwell didn’t unequivocally condone executing gays).

It is important to note that the WBC is not out to win converts. WBC’s expressed stance is that since who gets salvaged and who gets doomed is predetermined anyway, there would not be any point. They are of course generally repudiated by even the most hardcore fanatics and rightwingers.

You can read more about Fred here. You can read an interview with Fred’s estranged son Nate Phelps here (and you can hear his recent address to the Reason Rally here - it's good stuff).

One point worth mentioning: While the WBC is mostly a family-based cult, member Stephen Drain is not related to the Phelps clan by blood or marriage and was not born into it. Drain is the producer of the documentary “Hatemongers” about the WBC, but after making the documentary he decided to join the church with his family. He may currently look like Fred’s eventual successor.

Diagnosis: Possibly among the most hateful, vile persons currently alive in the US, but what distinguishes him from equally hateful people such as Bryan Fischer, Matt Staver, Tony Perkins and Scott Lively isn’t the amount of hate, but the rather honest absence of any attempt to hide it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

#319: Eric Jon Phelps

No, no relation to Fred – but Eric is certainly doing his best to outcrazy his more famous namesake. Eric Jon Phelps is a sort of unholy mix of Jack Chick and Alex Jones – no, strike that; Eric Jon Phelps is crazier than either. Yes, he is. His website is here. As you can garner from his site, Phelps is most famous for his book “Vatican Assassins”. I recommend searching the webpage, since it is quite simply not possible to sum up the level of crazy in a few words. The basic idea seems to be that the pope is the guy running the Illuminati, the Thirteen Families, and therefore the world (actually, there are two – a black pope and a white pope; the black pope is the most powerful). The Jesuits are behind pretty much everything, and … Ok, here are some headlines from his webpage to give you a taster:

- “Newt Gingrich: Prince Consort of the Knights of Malta, Spellman’s Killers of JFK”
- “Israel Seizes 50 Tons of Weapons from Iranian Ship to Supply Muslims in Gaza” (yup, read it again if you missed it) 
- “Satan and His Jesuit Superior General in Rome Make Plans for the 21st Century” (look at the evidence!)
- “Japan’s Domestic Disaster: God Using Satan’s Jesuit Vatican for Two Occult Reasons” (yes, the pope’s behind that one as well): “Caution must always be exercised when considering the reasons for what appears to be ‘natural disasters’” (… cause there might be a completely insane, supernatural one)
- “UFOs: Man-Made High Technology: Weapons Enforcing Pope’s Temporal Power” (you can’t fake this)
- “White Christian Author Exposes White Mormon Glenn Beck: New Age Heretic”. According to Phelps “White Glenn Beck is presently the most dangerous man in America” (yes, the emphasis is on “white”; Phelps has some, uh, less than politically correct views about race). Calling Beck the most dangerous man in America (the commentary was made in March 2011) may not be such a bad observation. Phelps’s reasons? Not so good.
- “Red Chinese Navy: 4,000-Ton Missile Frigate Now off the Coast of Libya” [this stems from the start of the unrest]: “As repeated by your Editor for the last ten years, America is to suffer a future Sino-Soviet-Muslim Invasion”. Don your tinfoil hats! To the Bat-zapper!
- “Majority Black Savagery Continues Unabated in Apostate Protestant White America”: Phelps “distinguishes between the Majority Savage Blacks and the Minority Civil Blacks—many of whom are my brethren in Christ Jesus,” (don’t ask) and laments the fact that when “a White man attempts to deal objectively [sic] with the topic of Majority Savage Black-on-White or Black-on-Hispanic crime, he runs the rise [sic] of being labeled a ‘hateful racist’”. Indeed. (Follow-up here)

Phelps also thinks everyone else in the looniverse, from Alex Jones to Leonard Horowitz to Jeff Rense are really Vatican agents. Daryl Bradford Smith and others, on the other hand, thinks Phelps is in on the “real” conspiracy, since he is a “Zionist promoter, Israeli diamond merchant, new ager and white separatist”. Goodness knows what would count as falsifying evidence for these people.

Phelps also defends a geocentric universe, sort of to top it all off. You can listen to Phelps debate Michael Collins Piper about who is really controlling the world here (not recommended); or read an interview with Rick Martin here (their discussion of Saddam concerns this)

Diagnosis: Time Cube insane. Eric Phelps seems to be trying to believe every false and crazy belief one could conceivably believe at the same time. This is certainly an interesting principle for building what amounts to an anti-coherent belief system. Reality be damned.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

#318: David J. Pesek (and the “Quantum University”)

David Pesek is a rather infamous woo practitioner who panders the most ridiculous treatments. He has a “clinical practice in nutrition, tissue cleansing programs and psychology utilizing iridology”, and is the director of the International Institute of Iridology, the president of the American College of Iridology, and board advisor for the InternationalCollege of Iridology. It is a little unclear what the difference between iridology and “holistic iridology” amounts to, but I suppose “psychology utilizing iridology” may give you a clue. It sounds not so much like phrenology as it does palm reading with the help of crystal balls:

“Over decades of clinical experience and research, I have come to the conclusion: ‘The iris, sclera and pupil of the eyes show the veil the soul has created, through consciousness (or forgetfulness), that reflects the illusion which prepares the soul for attaining the reality of full enlightenment.’ Simply stated, this means that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. And the eyes are windows that open into our personal growth along our spiritual journey.”

Strangely, he cited no peer reviewed papers produced by his “clinical research”. One suspects that he does not really think he knows what “clinical” means. Nor “research” (confirmation bias applied to anecdotal evidence does not count as research).

You can read more about his practice on the newconnexion website (the advertisements are themselves … interesting: when I last checked it, they recommended “clairvoyant readings for pets” by Shirley Scott; “phrophecies for the coming utopian age” by Susan B. Martinez; get “free Tibetan crystals” from Crystal Hearts books; “astromark astrology” by Mark Dodich; and to “sign up to receive FREE monthly astro-updates” from VirgoMagic, Emily Trinkaus).

If you pay shitloads of money, you can participate in an online course with Pesek offered by “Quantum University” (the name of said university being, obviously, an illustration of endless ignorance, stupidity, misleadingness and unintentional hilarity). In addition to Pesek, the university offers some pretty scary crackpottery, however, such as Louis Swartswalter’s course on ADD – yes, it involves “quantum biofeedback” (real Choprawoo) – and Gaetan Chevalier’s Quantum Biology course

Pesek is interestingly also faculty at the "University ofNatural Medicine”. It’s rather fitting that in addition to aromatherapy, homeopathy, herbal studies, and ayurvedic medicine, the “university” also offers a class dealing with “legal issues” by one Lawrence Wilson, based on his 15 years of experience as a holistic practitioner (he also teaches “tissue mineral & heavy metal hair analysis”, apparently).

Diagnosis: Quackwatch will certainly have enough to do for years to come, and so will those among the rest of us who take some responsibility for the future of humanity. Pesek and his ilk aren’t merely harmless fluffbunnies.

Monday, April 9, 2012

#317: Rick Perry

Since this entry’s hopeful candidate is sufficiently well known we’ll restrict ourselves to a few highlights. Perry is governor of Texas and was allegedly guided by God to be one of the contenders for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election - partially because Obama has no insight into how unemployed people are suffering because he was a child of privilege, and because Perry doesn’t like the fact that the US is ruled, in part, by the Constitution rather than his own personal ideas  – until he dropped out to endorse Newt Gingrich instead. Here is Perry, God’s choice for president, ending his campaign. Before his entry into the race he was most famous for his bloodlust, presiding over some very dubious executions (even going so far as to incur accusations of cover-ups of faults in the investigation). But for those who paid attention, Perry had already established himself as a weapons-grade loon.

Perry had by that time already emphasized that his favorite way of dealing with problems (i.e. Texas’s problems) was to attempt to pray them away. For the 2011 drought, for instance, Perry’s solution was to declare a three-day “Prayer for Rain”. The fact that it was an astounding failure didn’t deter him from continuing in the same manner (also here). When asked how he would go about fixing the nation's numerous problems if becoming president, for instance, he responded: “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this’” (which is curious, for to televangelist James Robison he claimed that the economic crisis is God’s will). Some people would still endorse him for president.

He also said that property rights are what makes America unique.

Perry has close ties to the dominionist group New Apostolic Reformation (which thinks Oprah Winfrey might be the Antichrist and wants to turn the US into a theocracy), along with other madmen, presented here. Before kicking off his campaign he attempted to set his main strategy (prayer) in motion by organizing the huge prayer event “The Response”, inviting David Barton and a couple of other rabid extremists to lend color to the event (see also here). The immediate aftermath was dominated by a massive stock market crash.

He tried to make up for it with the by now infamous video “Strong”, in which he claimed to be Christian and argued that the greatest challenge for the US today is the separation of church and state. He never discusses his faith, though. Here is Rick Perry not talking about his faith. When the polls started to go against him, he responded by cranking up the bigotry, and in an act of desperation even claimed that if became president he would re-invade Iraq immediately, presumably to reduce the national debt.

Perry has been closely associated with various Confederate groups, and has on at least two occasions claimed that Texas should secede (here, and here).

As you may have guessed he doesn’t like (or understand) science either. Perry is officially a staunch Intelligent Design Creationist, and he hand-picked the ragingly lunatic creationist Don McLeroy to serve on the Texas State Board of Education. When McLeroy was finally voted off Perry selected the hardcore fundie creationist Gail Lowe instead (who again appointed David Barton as an expert reviewer). Perry officially endorsed creationism during his presidential campaign as well: “(Evolution) is a theory that's out there and it's got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach creationism and evolution because I feel you're smart enough to figure out which one is right.” It is telling that it is, in fact, also falsethat Texas actually teaches creationism (at least officially), which says something about Perry’s care for factual accuracy; and yes – you can spot the “just a theory” gambit in there as well. He didn’t want to say anything about the age of the Earth, however.

He is also a staunch global warming denier, and subscribes to made up “facts” and conspiracy theories to support his denialism: “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects […] Yes our climate's changed, they've been changing ever since the earth was born. But I do not buy into a group of scientists who have in some cases found to be manipulating this information.” Perry’s spokesperson Ray Sullivan attempted to support his master’s claims by providing citations, but all he could do was to link to anecdotal crap, blogposts and hearsay. Under Perry’s administration the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality erased climate-related references in one of its reports (also here) but of course it only counts as censorship when scientists won’t say what Perry likes to hear, not when he (Perry) deletes the parts that it should be abundantly clear that he didn’t want to hear.

There’s a fine Rick Perry source here. You can see überloon Richard Land explain the key differences between Perry and Bush here (basically Perry is Bush without the education, compassion, intellect, or fancy East Coast-upbringing, which Land takes to be good things).

Diagnosis: Really? You can probably come up with one yourself.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

#316: Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins is the clinically insane, unhingedly despicable president of the Family Research Council (he was previously a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives), a conservative think tank dedicated to bigotry and denialism (see member Charmaine Yoest discuss evolution and the school curriculum here). He also runs the Christian audio streaming site, which – as such sites generally do – offer hateful bigotry in return for donations. He is a close associate of James Dobson (who founded the FRC) and Albert Mohler, and is also president of the Patriarchy Research Council (which does no research either).

Can you guess what he thinks of same sex marriage? In his own words: “The definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is rooted in the order of nature itself […] This union can only be protected through amending the United States Constitution. If it's not, activists will continue using the courts to sell a five-legged dog. But as we say where I'm from in Louisiana, 'that dog won't hunt.’” (Here’s a fundraising letter from FRC). His views are apparently shared by his former Louisiana legislative colleague, former state senator Heulette Fontenot, who secured passage of a bill to disallow domestic partnerships in Louisiana or to recognize such relationships approved in other states (relatedly).

Perkins has described the gay civil rights movement as “a movement dedicated to destroying marriage, free speech, public health, religious liberty, and (after the DADT repeal) national security”. His arguments against repealing DADT constitute a colorful lot. Here’s “if the ban is lifted, so many black and Hispanic soldiers will quit that we'll have to reintroduce the draft” (a claim which makes him a racist as well – “it is the blacks and latinos who hate gays, not I”): . Here’s “repealing DADT will provide terrible suffering for the military chaplains”.

He also pandered one of the most atrociously insane anti-gay arguments ever attempted (a sort of self-defeating naturalistic fallacy on meth): “There's no correlation between inacceptance of homosexuality and depression and suicide […] rather […] [t]hese young people who identify as gay or lesbian, we know from the social science that they have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict. Homosexuality is ‘abnormal’, and kids know it, which leads them to despair.” That’s the nice way of putting it, however – his explanation of how gays are really possessed by Satan is here (first comment wins the Internet).

In fact, he more or less explicitly advocates violence against gays, and locking them up. Hence, he was appointed to serve on Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana Commission on Family and Marriage. 

Perkins has called on Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox Jews not to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage, and other matters of the anti-life agenda that go against their religious consciences. Here’s Perkins claiming that the courts constitute a greater threat to America than the terrorists, and here is his claim that gays are committing terrorism against the legal system. And here, for that matter, is his claim that advocates of a separation between church and state are terrorists. He is also pathologically hypocritical and virulently opposed to environmentalism. 

In 2010, the Family Research Council was correctly and finally classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Perkins, whose full emotional range seems to span anything from hatred to detestation, dismissed the hate group designation as the result of a political attack by a “liberal organization” and “the left's smear campaign of conservatives”. Apparently quoting Perkins and his group, literally and in context, is “smearing”. That should have made Perkins think twice. Obviously it won’t.

Perkins is indeed another, and rather spectacular, example of the hysterical paranoia and batshit conspiracy mongering – fueled by a persecution complex of incomparable unhingedness – that people like Perkins suffer from. You sort of see the engine winding up: “The liberals disagree with me; therefore, the liberals criticize what I say; therefore the liberals are in a conspiracy and out to get me. This is just like the persecution of Christians in Ancient Rome. Therefore the liberals want to destroy me and ban Christianity. And they want to do the same to you".

You can see Perkins’s take on keeping it real here, and a fine example of what “family values” amount to here.

There’s a decent Perkins resource here.

Diagnosis: An abhorrent human being. Extremely dangerous