Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#1724: Jack Heinemann

A bit of a stretch, perhaps? Jack Heinemann is a Lecturer in Genetics and Chair of Teaching and Learning Committee at the University of Canterbury, NZ, but he has his whole education from the US and seems to be an American expat (that’s speculation, though). Heinemann is an anti-GMO activist who has been associated with pseudoscience organizations like the Safe Food Foundation & Institute (together e.g. with anti-GMO pseudoscientist and conspiracy theorist Judy Carman). Heinemann thinks for instance that GMOs produce silencing RNAs that not only survive transit through the gut, get into the bloodstream and thereby into the cells to inhibit the expression of specific genes: they even get passed down to the next generation to kill your children. “The findings are absolutely assured. There is no doubt that these matches exist,” said Heinemann. Which actually makes it sound like his evidence is pretty flimsy. Turns out it is as flimsy as you’d expect. Heinemann’s concern is that the siRNA that will be used to silence two genes in wheat called SEI and SEII, and he did an analysis based on the sequence of the SEI and SEII genes, compared them against the human genome and looking for matches, which he found. What he hasn’t shown is that the siRNA survives digestion, is absorbed into the bloodstream, enter other cells, and act on gene expression, and even if it did he hasn’t a shred of evidence that circulating microRNA can not only silence a gene in human cells but actually induce epigenetic changes (“speculative” isn’t quite the right word), or any reason that GM wheat siRNAs are any different or more dangerous than those from other plants. Nor did Heinemann know the actual siRNA sequences that were going to be used, which makes his analysis pointless even if he were correct about the other elements. In short, Heinemann’s report is a beautiful example of politically motivated pseudoscience, designed to spread fear and misinformation.

Diagnosis: Heinemann is a real scientist. That doesn’t meant that his fearmongering based on idle speculation concerning GMOs is remotely based on science. It isn’t. Unfortunately, Heinemann is also the kind of person who possesses some authority and influence, and it is truly sad that he uses his influence to spread fear that might ultimately have a real, negative impact on civilization.

Hat-tip for this entry: Respectful Insolence.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

#1723: Matthew Heimbach

A brief note on this unsavory figure should suffice. Matthew Heimbach is a white separatist and co-founder of the Traditionalist Youth Network (TYN). He attracted some attention in 2012, when he founded a “White Student Union” at Towson University, in 2014 when he was excommunicated by the Eastern Orthodox Church for promoting racism, and again in 2016 when he failed to behave during a Donald Trump rally. Heimbach advocates (under the slogan “Death To America”) that the US be divided up into mini-states along racial lines, one of which should be “Avalon”. TYN accordingly tries to get his followers to become knights of Avalon, which is pretty silly. They must apparently also be Roxy Music fans.

TYN is, of course, heavily into anti-Semitism, and Heimbach is convinced that the Jews are working diligently behind the scenes to eradicate the white race, faith and culture. His SPLC page (also covering TYN fellow Matt Parrott) is here.

Diagnosis: We can’t be bothered to spend too much effort on this type of shit, but it is shit.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

#1722: Eric Hedin

Ball State University is a real and pretty good university, but like many universities they will have at least one crank professor who offers their students garbage courses. At Ball State, you should probably avoid the courses offered by Eric Hedin, who seems to be pushing religion and creationism in what superficially looks like a genuine astronomy course (no, not biology, of course): In 2013 he offered an “honors” course called “Inquiries in the Physical Sciences,” which fulfills the science requirement for students as part of the University Core Curriculum (it is, or at least was, cross-listed in the Physics and Astronomy department as Astronomy 151: “The Universe and You”), but provides straight up religious apologetics and science denialism (Jerry Coyne’s response, in that link, is itself not entirely devoid of crankiness, however). Hedin is an intelligent design creationist, and appears to have few qualms about invoking ID creationist science denial to promote Jesus in his science classes – the syllabus for the aforementioned course is here, and includes a wide range of anti-science proponents: Stephen Meyer, Hugh Ross, Lee Spetner, Lee Strobel, Michael Behe, Bill Dembski and C.S. Lewis. In what is ostensibly a science course.

Of course, when questions about the course contents were raised, the Discovery Institute and various creationist legislators weighed in to shout out how persecuted Hedin was for being Christian (though the Discovery Institute backtracked a bit from that one once they remembered that their official position is that Intelligent Design is science, not religion). Hedin’s class seems to have ultimately been cancelled, but he seems to produced enough actual scientific results (not in areas related to evolution, presumably) to receive tenure, despite his obviously tenuous understanding of how science works. But Ball State also decided to hire pseudoscientist Guillermo Gonzalez. Why they did that is unclear; surely it was not to broaden their appeal to religious fundamentalists who hate science but still desire a science degree to give their anti-science a sheen of legitimacy?

Diagnosis: Crank denialist who is in a position to push his pseudoscience at a real university and carrying genuine, academic credentials. Be aware.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

#1721: Michael Heath

Michael Heath is a former Ron Paul campaign adviser, former director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, and bigot, best known for spearheading the efforts to ban gay marriage in Maine. According to Heath, when the state legalized gay marriage in 2009 (“officials overturned a law of nature, and in its place paid honor to evil and unnatural practices”) God punished Maine with rain and bad weather: “The potato crop is blighted, and corn and fruit fields wither,” and although “[f]ew people would be bold enough to suggest the cause of the endless rain and gloom,” it was pretty clear “that the moral climate in Maine has caused the sun to hide its face in shame.” Yeah, that kind of guy.

He redoubled his efforts in 2012 together with Paul Madore (a truly evil, rotten character), for instance with an effort to get people to use the term “sodomy based marriage” instead of “gay marriage” (Peter LaBarbera was apparently on board) and blaming marriage equality on “demonic force”. Heath also declared “war, promised “a dirty, nasty fight” and issued the ultimatum “I don’t want you near me unless you are prepared to sacrifice.” The efforts seem to have met with limited success. But you probably don’t need to go too near Mike Heath.

We have to grudgingly admit that we were a bit impressed when he later managed to crank the hysteria up even further. “In 2012 a slim majority of Mainers voted to end civil marriage,” argued Heath (since marriage equality negates the institution of marriage), and said that the gays were planning to conquer the universe. Oh, yes: “Since the developed governments of the world aspire to colonizing planets we have to prepare for the export of sodomy to other worlds – to the entire universe! I think it’s time for us Christians to flip open our communicators. Beam me up Scotty. It’s like satan, a rabid dog, sunk his fangs deep into the donkey flesh of our nation’s government. And now the deranged ass is infecting other nations. What can be done?” Well, you’ve got prayer, Mike. Let us suggest that you stick with the power of prayer and don’t do anything stupid.

More recently he formed the group “Equal Rights, not Special Rights,” with the goal of repealing marriage equality and making homosexuality a crime: “There is conduct that ought to be punished. And Christianity teaches –  has always taught and still does teach – that sodomy is such a behavior,” said Michael Heath. The group’s first goal is to repeal Maine’s nondiscrimination protections (since the right not to be discriminated against is a special right, not an equal right). Heath also affirmed his opposition to any public displays of same-sex affection, hoping a future referendum will force “a behavior that belongs in the closet back into the closet.” (Of course, it should be illegal in the closet as well.)

Diagnosis: Unhinged, hysterical, rabid, raving lunatic. A bit like a cartoon villain, but without the sophistication.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

#1720: Laura Hayes

Laura Hayes, who is a media editor for Age of Autism, is a bit unusual for an anti-vaxxer. As opposed to most anti-vaxxers Hayes has “no problem being called anti-vaccine,” because vaccination, according to Hayes is a “barbaric practice that is not founded on any sound science.” Of course, Hayes is almost remarkably unqualified to measure soundness in science (her CV summary on AoA lists her as a “mother”), as demonstrated for instance in her article “The Oxymoron of Safe Vaccines,” where she tells us that “it is of paramount importance for people to understand that the term ‘safe vaccines’ is an oxymoron, and therefore, I would argue that even those who might call themselves ‘pro-science’ would not agree that there is any ‘smart approach to vaccination’.” Why not? Since “[b]y their very nature, vaccines cannot be made safe, as they artificially and unnaturally stimulate the immune system (by injecting these toxic cocktails), versus inhaling or consuming them).” Yes, that’s right. Vaccines must be unsafe because they are unnatural (And no, she doesn’t really have any idea of how any of this actually works, despite attempts to parrot scientific language.) And according to Hayes, “vaccines have never been properly studied, either individually, or in the myriad combinations in which they are given, or as a complete whole over the first 18 years of a child’s life,” where “properly studied” apparently means “studied in a way that yields the conclusions I have already decided are the right one;” the tons of studies doing precisely what Hayes claims they are not doing do not give her the answer she wants. Also, Paul [sic] Thorsen, who peripherally worked on one big study, misused grant money to cover personal expenses; therefore all the results of big studies are invalid. Yeah, it’s the same as always (no, really).

Here is a discussion of her introduction to the antivaxx conspiracy film “Vaxxed”.

She also complains about “vaccine bullies”, who are apparently those who thinks that vaccines should be mandatory for school children. In her article “Dear Emily Willingham, Dorit Reiss, Christopher Hickie and other Vaccine Bullies” she rhetorically asks the question: “Do you believe anyone has the right to be exempt from vaccines? Does the Constitution protect the individual’s right to refuse a vaccine?” Of course, adults do have the right to refuse vaccines (apparently Hayes is a bit unclear on the distinction between “your children” and “your property”), and the Supreme Court has already ruled that philosophical and religious exemptions from vaccination for children are not required; it really doesn’t matter what Hayes believes. She proceeds to list 15 circumstances and asks the reader to consider these cases, most of which are misleading (no one is arguing against medical exemptions or exemptions in cases where there is a reasonable suspicion that an adverse reaction might occur, all things considered), where the really telling one is: “If a parent has independently researched vaccines, possibly to a level that exceeds that of any healthcare practitioner they might see, and is confident that they have reached the best decision for their family, would you be okay with that parent exempting their children from vaccines?” I assume the answer is supposed to be “yes”, for the same reason hospitals should consider replacing doctors with parents who have done their research. The implication that the knowledge she or other parents have obtained through google might rival that of experts is at least telling. That’s what the Dunning-Kruger effect is. Of course, she also repeats the myth that there have been no studies comparing the health of vaccinated v. unvaccinated children. As for evidence that supports her claims (to the contrary of science) she cites “informal surveys and assessments” such as an Internet survey by a German homeopath and a spectacularly incompetently administered phone survey commissioned by Age of Autism.

Courtesy of Refutations of
Antivaccine Memes
Now, it is common among anti-vaccine cranks to liken vaccines to the Holocaust, rape or brainwashing. Hayes has contributed to this collection of strained analogies by comparing vaccination with human trafficking. You may wonder how the analogy is supposed to go, but Hayes isn’t going to help you (she seems not to know what human trafficking is); she is still convinced, though, that “vaccine trafficking is a pharma-driven criminal industry that is based on the principle of ‘poison to profit’, with the goal being to ensure that every American is somewhere between sick and dead, for as long as possible.” Of course, she has compared vaccines to the Holocaust, too: “Please help stop this vaccine madness, this vaccine holocaust against our children,” says Hayes, and in the manner of your idea of a tinfoil hatter lays out, once again, how vaccines just is a means for Big Pharma to deliberately kill and injure as many children as possible.

Diagnosis: One wonders whether some of the less clinically insane AoA members sometimes stop up and ask themselves “wait, isn’t this article we’re promoting just hysterically crazy conspiracy theory?” Well, Hayes is not among that group, and yes: This is whale.to tinfoilhattery.