Saturday, June 24, 2017

#1854: Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich is the former Congressman for Ohio’s 10th District, serving until 2012, and former presidential candidate from 2008 (he didn’t get very far). Famous for being among the progressive members of the House and for opposing the Iraq War from the beginning, he is also remembered for being a hardcore crackpot, New Age fundie and pseudoscience promoter. Part of his platform as a presidential candidate, for instance, was creating a moratorium on GMOs. He is currently a Fox News contributor, and was presumably not hired to make liberals look good.

Back in the 80s Kucinich lived with New Age woo-guru Shirley MacLaine, one of the more ridiculous creatures in the New Age circus (fierce competition notwithstanding). During that time he allegedly had an encounter with a UFO and honed his skills at unintentionally channeling a Chopra quote generator: “In our soul’s Magnificent, we become conscious of the cosmos within us. We hear the music of peace, we hear the music of cooperation, we hear music of love. In our soul’s forgetting, we become unconscious of our cosmic birthright, blighted with disharmony, disunity, torn asunder from the stars in a disaster.” If you think that sounds profound, you are probably stupid. And according to Kucinich “[t]he energy of the stars becomes us. We become the energy of the stars. Stardust and spirit unite and we begin: one with the universe, whole and holy. From one source, endless creative energy, bursting forth, kinetic, elemental; we, the earth, air, water and fire-source of nearly fifteen billion years of cosmic spiraling.” This is not correct.

In 2001, Kucinich introduced bill HR2977 to ban “extraterrestrial weapons” and exotic “radiation, electromagnetic, psychotronic, sonic, laser, or other energies ... for the purpose of information war, mood management, or mind control of such populations”, including “chemtrails” and HAARP. The mention of “chemtrails” in the bill has later been used as evidence for their existence; in reality, it just shows that Kucinich is silly but chemtrail conspiracy theorists tend to struggle with reality. To draft the bill Kucinich apparently relied on the expertise of Alfred Webre. The bill was, in fact, probably written by Webre and Carol Rosin, and one may wonder how carefully Kucinich read it, but he is still responsible for introducing it, and in 2005, when introducing a newer version of the bill (to ban space weapons), he did ask: “what is to happen when the United States takes nuclear fire up to the gates of heaven? ‘Such an offense against humanity could bring the wrath of God upon this nation.’” Since space is close to Heaven, of course.

During his career Kucinich managed to sponsor a grand total of three pieces of legislation that actually passed: allowing Ukrainian TV access to an American program, naming a Cleveland post office, and naming a dead man an honorary citizen of the US. As such, Kucinich may possibly be the least effective legislator of all time.

Diagnosis: Mostly a silly and harmless curiosity and at the very least more or less neutralized by now. Still.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

#1853: Dennis Kruse

Dennis Kruse, originally an auctioneer and founder of Kruse International, is currently an Indiana State Senator for the 14th District (State Representative from 1989 to 2004), chairman of the Education & Career Development Committee, and member of the Agriculture & Small Business, Pensions & Labor, and Utilities & Technology Committees. He is most famous for being one of the most ardent creationists in US state legislatures, and has for a long time pushed various bills to force religious fundamentalism to be taught in science classes at the expense of science – it’s unconstitutional, of course, but you know: Jesus.

In 1999, as a Representative, he pledged to introduce a law to remove evolution from the state’s science standards, and submitted bills challenging the teaching of evolution in 2000 and 2001 (both died in committee). In 2012, as a Senator, he introduced Senate Bill 89, which would – as if Edwards v. Aguillard never happened – amend the Indiana Code to provide that “[t]he governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.” Actually, Kruse was completely aware of Edwards v. Aguillard, but argued that “[t]his is a different Supreme Court; [t]his Supreme Court could rule differently.”

The bill did, in fact, pass the Senate, since the Indiana Senate is populated with dangerous loons, and went to the House, where its sponsors were Jeff Thompson (R-District 28) and Eric Turner (R-District 32), the house speaker pro tem. There it got shelved. Thompson was also cosponsor, together with blathering creationist Cindy Noe, of House Bill 1140, which would require teachers to discuss “commonly held competing views” on topics “that cannot be verified by scientific empirical evidence,” which, taken literally, would not include evolution and climate change, but you can only guess how the sponsors were thinking about the issues. (Thompson has filed other creationist bills, too). It’s worth pointing out that even the Discovery Institute voiced objections to Bill 89, since it included overtly religious language (you betcha their heart wasn’t in the objections, but they have a narrative about themselves they desperately need to uphold to the public about intelligent design creationism not being a religious doctrine, which it demonstrably is – besides, even the Discovery Institute probably realized the bill didn’t stand a chance in the courts.)

Kruse, who is nothing if not determined, vowed to try again with an Academic Freedom Bill drafted by the Discovery Institute, which would, according to Kruse, allow “students to challenge teachers on issues, forcing them to provide evidence to back up their lessons.” No one in their right mind would believe that this was the purpose of the bill. In 2013, instead of submitting a new creationist bill, he rather sought, according to himself, to give public schools the option of beginning each day with the Lord’s Prayer. The bill he submitted, though, would – ostensibly in the name of religious freedom – allow school districts to require the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. In 2014 he weighed in on the Ball State brouhaha, demanding answers about the university’s “intelligent design ban”, showing that, once again, he has no real understanding of what’s going on.

In 2015 he submitted yet another creationist bill, this time with Rep. Jeff Raatz, who said he doesn’t have a problem if teachers who don’t see eye to eye with the science curriculum in their classrooms deciding to turn the tables on what he considers any sort of “science with controversy,” including human cloning, climate change and evolution – which kind of misses the point about education. This time, the bill encouraged students to “develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to different conclusions and theories concerning subjects that have produced differing conclusions and theories on some topics; and (2) allow a teacher to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher.” Yup, a standard Discovery Institute Academic Freedom bill. How students in the process of learning the basic concepts in evolution are supposed to develop critical thinking skills in evaluating evidence they haven’t seen or have the background to assess, is not clear. Actually, it is clear: this has nothing to do with critical thinking (not that Kruse or Raatz would recognize critical thinking if their lives depended on it). And of course the “weaknesses” of evolution doesn’t refer to, you know, actual weaknesses from a scientific point of view. The whole point is to make room for introducing creationist denialism and anti-science talking points to students before they can properly learn the science. And, of course, fundies have a tendency to spill the beans: “Call it a back-door approach to failed attempts to chip away at state standards on teaching evolution and to bring creationism into the public school classroom, if you want,” said Raatz. That bill died, too.

Kruse isn’t only a creationist, however. He is a full-fledged paranoid, raving conspiracy nutter who thinks thatthe UN is going to take over the country through Agenda 21 (a common trope over at InfoWars) Indeed, Kruse and Rep. Tim Neese have submitted bills to ban the implementation of any initiatives tied to Agenda 21, which encourages (and does nothing more) every nations to make development more environmentally friendly and sustainable. To Kruse that is apparently a communist effort to replace freedom with in the US with Sharia law.

Diagnosis: One sometimes wonders how fundies defend their rank dishonesty (well, one really doesn’t). Kruse, of course, is a science denialist, religious fundamentalist and happy liar-for-Jesus. And the good people of Indiana keep electing both him and others of the same kind. Scary stuff.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#1852: Steve Kroschel

We’ve covered the Gerson therapy before. The Gerson therapy is a regimen that claims to be able to naturally cure even severe cases of cancer through a special diet, coffee enemas, and various supplements. It does no such thing, of course, but is pure pseudoscience responsible for parting desperate, often terminally ill people (at best with their money; that cancer patients often feel better when taken off the often powerful conventional treatments also allows them to provide positive testimonials for the therapy before they die (researchers interested in studying Charlotte Gerson’s clinic in Mexico quickly discovered that the clinic didn’t follow up or record what happened to patients after they left; an attempt some 30 years ago managed to locate 21 patients over a 5-year period through annual letters or phone calls: at the 5-year mark, only one was still alive, but not cancer-free). It has, however, managed to establish itself as one of the most popular (and dangerous) brands of cancer quackery available. (There’s a good assessment available here, with a FAQ here).

Steve Kroschel is one the most ardent advocates for the therapy, especially through his feature film “The Beautiful Truth”, (reviewed here and here; some more background here; Badger’s Law applies), which essentially claims that Gerson discovered the cure for cancer and several other diseases sixty years ago – a claim that is backed up by judiciously selected anecdotes (none of the testimonials give sufficient detail or evidence to allow any conclusions regarding the therapy to be drawn, of course) – but that the truth has been vigorously attacked and suppressed by the evil medical community and Big Science and Big Pharma, who’ll rather push toxins. The film appears to be modeled on Expelled in terms of layout, ideas and veracity, and mostly features cancer quackery through the explorations of Kroschel’s (then) fifteen-year-old son Garrett, to whom it was made it “abundantly clear that, contrary to the disinformation campaign spear-headed by the multi-billion dollar medical and pharmaceutical industry, a cure for virtually all cancers and chronic diseases does exist – and has existed for over 80 years!” It’s an interesting way of viewing your fellow humans: apparently every doctor must know or suspect that alternative therapies, like the Gerson therapy, will work, but wont reveal it – indeed, their solidarity in evil to the pharmaceutical industry is so strong that they themselves will rather die from cancer rather than let the truth out and become billionaires in the process.

Elsewhere (discussed here) Kroschel veers into anti-fluoridation conspiracies, complete with images of Hitler and his concentration camps, and claims that Hitler wanted use sodium fluoride in the water to supply to sterilize people and force them into submission, which makes no sense whatsoever. Since crankery is magnetic, it is little surprise that he also promotes full-fledged dental amalgam quackery (more here). Kroschel has even bought into some of the more ridiculous brands of food woo, and has been caught arguing that cooked food is “dead”: In one of his videos he shows two pictures, one of cooked and another of uncooked baby carrot, which the narrator analyzes with a Kirlian photography and says that “[t]he uncooked carrot has a startling line of strong energy” that the cooked carrot lacks, hence Pasteurized food is “dead”. It’s hard to argue with that claim. (The lesson is, apparently, that it is better to eat live food because only then will we be able to absorb its life energy, though the mechanisms are left undescribed).

In 2014, Kroschel released the documentary “Heal for Free”. We have not seen it, but feel qualified to dismiss it as conspiratorial nonsense; apparently it features earthing therapy (now, that’s some serious crackpottery).

Diagnosis: At least Kroschel seems to be a true believer – the gullibility runs deep with this one, but a conspiracy mindset is fertile ground for such nonsense and woo. His film does seem to have reached a certain audience, and has certainly done nothing good, despite the fact that the idiocy is pretty obvious to anyone with even minimal critical thinking skills.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

#1851: Dolores Krieger

Therapeutic touch (TT) is a brand of energy woo enjoying quite a bit of popularity, especially among nurses. TT involves a therapist moving his or her hands over the patient’s mythical “energy field”. Yes, it’s really a religious ritual, involving appeals to a postulated spiritual, non-physical “life energy field” extending beyond the body of the patient. In particular, someone’s wellness is apparently dependent on this energy field, which ostensibly can become unbalanced, misaligned, obstructed, or out of tune – all clinical descriptions are metaphorical, of course; no-one has really even attempted to explain what it means for an energy field to be “misaligned” rather than in balance (except by offering more metaphors). According to TT practitioners, though, this field can be manipulated by the right kinds of spell-casting gestures, i.e. making certain movements in the air above the surface of the patient’s body, whereby the healers may transfer some of their own life energy to the patient and thus restore harmony, allowing the body to heal itself (yes, it’s metaphors all the way down).

TT has no foundation in science, evidence or reality, of course (though it is based on familiar pre-scientific medicine), and even practitioners often admit that the energies in question cannot be detected by science – an admission that, of course, regularly forces them appeal to shortcomings of careful investigation and bias-controlled evidence assessment rather than shortcomings with their own convictions, which are not based on investigation and bias-controlled evidence assessment (practitioners cannot detect the purported energy field either; further evidence here). Of course, science usually detects energy by its effects, for instance effects on the health of  patients. Investigations of TT haven’t shown any effects on the health of patients either. Energy works in mysterious ways, apparently.

Despite being unmeasurable, some TT defenders claim it is scientific because it is based on quantum physics, since quantum physics to most New Agers means something roughly equivalent to “shamanic vibrations in the dolphin dimension”. TT is not based on quantum physics. The popularity of the technique among nurses (apparently more than 100,000 people have been trained in TT) has little to do with its purported scientific basis (or effects); presumably one of TT’s central proponents, Rebecca Witmer, accidently reveals much of the reason when she says that “[t]hose who practice Therapeutic Touch often report reaping benefits for themselves. For example, the ability of TT to reduce burnout in health care professionals has been well-documented.” Add to that communal reinforcement, appeals to secret powers that physicians don’t have, regression to the mean and some positive feedback and the popularity becomes quite understandable. (And for patients, there is real evidence that supportive therapy of breast cancer patients improves mood and pain control – but not longevity). A defense of TT by one Cynthia Hutchison is discussed here.

The technique was invented and popularized in the 1970s by nurse, New Thought proponent and a theosophist Dolores Krieger, a faculty member at NYU’s Division of Nursing and student of Dora Kunz, who is convinced that the palms are chakras that channel healing energy. This is false. Krieger is the author of Therapeutic Touch: How to Use Your Hands to Help and to Heal (1979) and several other books. She has no peer-reviewed scientific publications, but has claimed that serious, well-designed studies of TT nevertheless violate basic principles of scientific investigations (no further details as to how) on the simple grounds that they don’t give her the results she wants.

A good and detailed introduction here.

Diagnosis: TT is New Age fluff and nonsense with – demonstrably – no basis in reality; yet it remains rather amazingly popular, and though Krieger seems convinced of her own importance as a contributor to progress and happiness, she is simply a deluded old religious fundamentalist. It’s ultimately rather sad.

Hat-tip: Skepdic.