Sunday, August 28, 2016

#1711: Larry Hart & Myron Ebell

Larry Hart is the Director of Government Relations for the American Conservative Union, a D.C.-based group that calls itself “the oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization in the nation” (they host the CPAC, for instance). We are sure Hart has plenty of crazy views and positions, but his hatred for science is particularly notable. An example: In 2013 a bill to create up to three U.S. Science Laureates was initially considered so non-controversial that it never even got a committee hearing; it nevertheless got squashed after raging wingnuts of various disinformation organizations, such as Hart and his groupd, got to hear about it. In a letter to other conservative organizations and House members, Hart argued that the bill would give President Barack Obama the opportunity to appoint someone “who will share his view that science should serve political ends, on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases” (a pretty breathtaking example of psychological projection; apparently Hart doesn’t own a mirror – he might be a vampire.) In other words, Hart warned that the science laureate might end up mentioning things like the overwhelming evidence that the earth is warming due to human activity, for instance, and talk about what science actually shows (that would have been sort of the point of the position), and since Hart disagrees with what science shows to be the case, he vehemently opposed giving scientists a platform like this.

Climate change denialist Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute didn’t like the bill either: “There’s no way to make [the bill] work,” said Ebell, since no matter what “[i]t would still give scientists an opportunity to pontificate, and we’re opposed to it.” That’s right, scientists must be prevented from speaking out since their research tend to make them draw other conclusions than the ones Ebell is comfortable with. Rather, Ebell – who has a long history of climate change denialism, conspiracy theory mongering and anti-environmentalism – argued that instead of listening to scientists the government needs to listen to big corporations when evaluating matters of science.

Diagnosis: In many ways, the example illustrates current political dynamics pretty well, where delusional extremists who – often without being entirely aware of it – specialize in misinformation manage to derail even the most obviously beneficial and innocuous (and even bipartisan – the bill in question was cosponsored by Lamar Smith, for crying out loud) political moves.

Friday, August 26, 2016

#1710: William Harris

Though he is probably not one of their most familiar characters, William Harris is one of the central strategists in the intelligent design creationist movement. Harris has a Ph.D in nutritional biochemistry from the University of Minnesota, and has apparently done some research on nutrition and heart disease. He nevertheless seems to have some struggle with quite getting into focus some of the more fundamental elements of science, such as the role of observations. More on that below.

Harris is managing director of the Intelligent Design network, which was really responsible for instigating the infamous Kansas Kangaroo Court a decade or so ago (they were behind the Minority Report submitted to the Kansas school board in defense of creationism). Harris himself – who seems to lean toward young earth creationism – testified, and you can read his testimony here (some notable concessions he made are discussed here). It’s interesting to see that one of his arguments against the “naturalistic philosophy” of Darwinism is that it is “a historical science. It doesn’t get much more historical than billions of years ago. Nobody was there to know what happened. Nobody watched it. We cannot say with any certainty how anything came to be.” That this guy fancies himself a scientist is actually rather shocking. Also, “you can’t test the evolutionary claim because there’s only one answer. In historical science you have to have at least two possible explanations for what you’re trying to explain.” Apparently he skipped the class where they went through how you test a hypothesis by deriving predictions from it and then testing them against the data.

The Intelligent Design Network is “a nonprofit organization that seeks institutional objectivity in origins science,” which is a nice way of saying that they want public schools to teach creationism and getting universities to pay attention by legislation; they are not interested in doing research or convincing fellow scientists by gathering, you know, evidence for their own hypotheses. Unsurprisingly, Harris is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

Harris is possibly most famous, however, for publishing a study that purportedly showed that prayer could help people suffering from heart disease a few years back. It was rather easily shown to be bunk, if anyone wondered. In the study Harris and his team had people pray for the recovery of some 500 cardiac patients, with a control group of 500. Even Harris admitted that “the time spent in the cardiac unit were no different for the two groups,” but he didn’t gave up so easily and went through the data again and again until he could find factors that could make it look as if the group receiving prayer did statistically significantly (if only minimally) better – as you would expect to find by pure chance if you could search far and wide enough among enough parameter. Calling it “junk science” is really not sufficiently descriptive. The “study” is discussed here (together with some other, equally questionable articles suggesting similar results).

Diagnosis: It would really be wrong to call this guy a “scientist”. He may have done some science at some point, but really has no idea how science works outside of his narrow field of expertise. He does plenty of pseudoscience and denialism, though. We’ll give him that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

#1709: Sean Harris

Yes, yet another deranged anti-gay pastor from North Carolina, this time Fayetteville, where Sean Harris is stationed at Fort Bragg. Harris is most famous for his pro-child-abuse stance, and claims for instance that beating the gay out of one’s kids is not only acceptable, but mandated by the Bible. In particular, Harris tells his congregation that if their sons should start to act the least bit effeminate or daughters the least bit “butch,” they should punch them and beat them until they understand proper gender roles. Harris later tried to argue that his claims were taken out of context by critics, which they weren’t. In fairness, Harris has later changed his tune a bit and doesn’t advocate hitting children anymore; he still thinks that gay marriage can cause Muslims to take over the US, though, so he is still abundantly qualified for an entry in our Encyclopedia.

In a local article on Harris, plenty of commenters supported him (no, don't read the comment sections), including one pastor Mark Rowden, who said that Harris “should be praised for his bold stance in scripture. People get so bent out of shape over things. If America don’t stop allowing such ungodliness to go unchallenged, we’ll find our nation like Sodom. We forget the Bible says ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’” (That’s not a quote from the Bible.)

Diagnosis: Oh, please.

Monday, August 22, 2016

#1708: Mark Harris

We’re getting a bit tired by local, angry, delusional, petty and bigoted anti-gay loons, but yes: Here is another one. Rev. Mark Harris, of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, helped organize (with Ron Baity) and finance the campaign to pass North Carolina’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions in 2012 (he was firmly opposed to the idea that gay people are “fine and dandy” or should be regarded as normal). Harris emphasized that the Amendment One campaign wasn’t just about marriage but about attacking the gay community, which he (his wife Beth, in fact) put in the same category as Nazis and eugenicists; people are moreover gay as a result of sexual abuse, and supporters of the “gay agenda” (like Oprah Winfrey and Katy Perry) are warping the minds of children. Harris is the kind of guy who laments the absence of true Christians (i.e. opponents of gay marriage) in the marriage equality debates, and complains that no one is speaking up, so he has called for his congregation to “come out of the closet” as Christians, even if they may face some persecution.

In 2013 he even made a US Senate run, because – but of course – Godhad told him to do it. Despite the support he claimed to have recruited he lost pretty badly.

Diagnosis: Delusional, deranged and bigoted; yeah, another one.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

#1707: Woody Harrelson

Yeah, it’s a celebrity loon. We’re generally not too interested in those, but many pseudoscience and conspiracy movements are spearheaded precisely by celebrities in lieu of managing to find any real experts to support the crazy – as such these celebrities do, sometimes, play important roles in perpetuating bullshit, and decided, accordingly, to give Woody Harrelson a mention. Harrelson is a raw foodist and organic food advocate – he’s been praised (and deserves praise) for his environmentalism, but it would be good if he focused on environmentalism rather than non-environment-friendly hipster pseudoscience – and even featured in the monumentally silly hackjob documentary “Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days”.

He is also a 9/11 Truther and was scheduled to appear in a 2012 Truther movie (“A Violation of Trust” or “Trickery and Treachery” or “September Morn”) that doesn’t seem to have materialized. Apparently he is a fan of David Ray Griffin’s The New Pearl Harbor, saying that “after reading this book I can’t doubt that our government was at least complicit in allowing 9/11 to happen. Get a copy and pass it to all your friends, the evidence is irrefutable.” The evidence is refuted here.

Indeed, Harrelson even seems to have been toying with Illuminati conspiracies, no less, and was the narrator for the deranged “documentary” Ethos in 2011.

Diagnosis: Celebrity nut and conspiracy theorist. Yeah, we know – but the thing is that popular and good movie actors tend to be able to attract audiences even to their forays into pseudoscience, silliness and the crazy, thus spreading the shit everywhere.