Friday, August 30, 2013

#686: Todd Friel

I’m willing to give Manis Friedman a pass; he was reported as saying this in an interview with Moment Magazine, but claims to have been misquoted. No such excuses for Todd Friel, who is the host of daily radio show Way of the Master Radio (later “Wretched Radio”), the show where Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron frequently appeared as co-hosts between 2006 and 2008 (there is an excellent Way of the Master resource here). Friel shares their views. For instance, Friel is a young earth creationist who thinks evolution = random chance (no, trying to explain the obvious problem to him is futile; forget it) and insulting to our intelligence (how would he know?). He has said of evolution that “[e]ither the theory is wrong, or I’m just incredibly stupid,” which is at least somewhat insightful.

Friel likes to argue that those who do not believe in Jesus must therefore hate Jesus, which most others would think is not only a false dilemma but sort of a contradiction. He doesn’t like VeggieTales either.

Some notability were achieved for his belief that the people who died on September 11 deserved death – otherwise God would have saved them – and that having an abortion has never, ever saved a woman’s life (since God, in his grace, would not allow a pregnancy to threaten a woman’s life – even Todd Akin didn’t try that one). “Wait, what about the facts?” you may ask, but Friel is rather adamant not to let reality infer with his powers of intuition.

With regard to Islam, Friel has claimed that Muslims are the largest human traffickers today (and it was, by the way, evangelical Christians who started the abolitionist movement because the Bible strictly forbids slavery) and have primarily been helping the Nazi party.

There is a nice summary of Friel’s famous debate with Christopher Hitchens here (and a discussion here); his debate with Eddie Tabash here, and his debate with Dan Barker (as well as a review of Friel’s DVD “The Case fo Atheism – there isn’t one”) here. The general “debate” tactics employed by Friel and his fine fellows (in addition to Comfort and Cameron these would be Tony “Law Man” Miano, Emeal “EZ” Zwayne, and Trisha Ramos) are discussed here.

Diagnosis: It is hard to imagine anything denser than Todd Friel – when you think you’ve seen the ultimate dumbheadedness, Friel always manages to top it. It’s actually rather fascinating, but not in a good way.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

#685: Moshe Frenkel

Dr. Moshe A. Frenkel is the founder of the integrative oncology clinic at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and as such also responsible for their official blog Cancerwise. And to put it nicely: don’t go there for medical advice. They promote, as you’d expect, the whole gamut of woo and quackery, such as the Feldenkrais method and reflexology – woo that is so far out there that they might just as well promote astrology – as well as the usual suspects, including acupuncture. Their house expert on the latter appears to be one Lorenzo Cohen, who likes to tell things about the efficacy of acupuncture (which is, in essence, astrology with needles) that are, well, not entirely in line with what reality tells us and explains why research doesn’t show that acupuncture is efficacious by, well, pretty much saying that he disagrees with those results. Both Frenkel and Cohen are on the records attempting to defend homeopathy, no less, and through almost breathtaking abuses of science (for some real hilarity you may watch independent homeopath Patricia Maché try to defend the study in question here).

Currently Frenkel is the director of Integrative Oncology Associates, which is not a group anyone should trust for medical advice either.

Diagnosis: Hardcore woo-meister with credentials and a frightening amount of influence. Frenkel is indeed a non-negligible part of what’s wrong with the world, and should be exposed as such.

#684: David Freedman

David Freedman is a know-nothing altmed apologist who writes for The Atlantic. He is, of course, spectacularly wrong, and his primary tactics for getting things so wrong are – instead of reason and science – selective use of evidence (or “evidence”, since he doesn’t quite know how to distinguish evidence from anecdotes) and fallacious ad hominem attacks against altmed critics, trying to explain what’s griping such critics (hence blatantly violating the first rule of debate: you are not allowed to try to explain why someone is wrong before you have shown that they are, in fact, wrong). His efforts are also discussed here.

The next move, after the ad hominem, is of course to claim that altmed works by placebo. Freedman, of course, doesn’t really have any idea about what placebo effects are. Here is a nice primer on the placebo effect. The placebo effect is not like this (Robert Schiffman’s version, and – it seems – Freedman’s). Of course, if someone were to point out his lack of critical thinking skills Freedman does not hesitate to employ his arsenal of standard crank techniques: strawmen, bait-and-switch, and moving the goalposts (or perhaps rather taking the goalposts and walking home; also here).

It is thus rather exasperatingly ironic when Freedman himself attacks health journalism. “How personal-health journalism ignores the fundamental pitfalls baked into all scientific research and serves up a daily diet of unreliable information” – yes; that is the subtitle. Without a hint of irony. And if you need to read it (don’t; read this instead), note how Freedman uses “theory” in the creationist sense. And his latest book is called WRONG: Why experts keep failing us–and how to know when not to trust them. No, seriously; this guy has self-insight like a yogic flier.

Diagnosis: A slithery defender of wishful thinking and woo over reality, Freedman is, in fact, in a position to do quite a bit of harm. And no, he is not just another journalist played by the CAM monsters; he has become a convert and a proselytizer. Should be watched.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

#683: Trent Franks

Trent Franks is the U.S. Representative for Arizona's 8th (previously 2nd) congressional district since 2003 (to those who expected Georgia state representative and reconstructionist theocrat Bobby Franklin, perhaps most famous for this; he has unfortunately passed away before we reached this stage in the Encyclopedia). To set the stage for a proper characterization of Franks, one could perhaps start with what he said about Sarah Palin: “If every person in the world was like Sarah Palin, there probably wouldn't even be need for government because no one would be in danger of any kind. If every person were like Sarah Palin, this world would be a peaceful, beautiful world to live in.” Yes, Franks says stuff like that (and this), and seems to mean them. That’s presumably why he became the co-chair of Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign (he is also known to be a close ally of David Barton, Tony Perkins, Lou Engle, Clenard Childress, and Janet Porter).

He has argued that the courts are trying “inch by inch” to “take away our religious freedom,” and even argued that “if Mr. Obama appoints additional people to the Supreme Court that the Constitution itself will be fundamentally abrogated”, because this is the only way to explain why the Courts sometimes come to other conclusion than the seriously delusional Franks. In fact, he thinks Obama (“we need to realize he is an enemy of humanity”) is “one of the nation’s most dangerous enemies” because he (Obama) is a jihad-apologist who is engaged in a religious war against Christianity, and warned, in 2011, that national security is at risk if he (Obama) gets reelected.

He opposes same-sex marriage; marriage is a special right that straight Christians have (also here), and giving that right to gay people would be “a threat to the nation’s survival”. Apparently there are lots of threats to the nation’s survival that us ordinary sane mortals would have failed to realize were it not for people like Franks generously pointing them out to us. Abortion seems to be another. In a 2010 interview, Franks, while attempting to downplay the legacy of slavery and social factors in explaining problems among African-Americans, claimed that abortion was the main cause of contemporary social problems: “Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery,” an attempt at an explanation – more teenage parents and children that parents cannot take care of will solve social problems – that some researchers may suggest is slightly inaccurate.

Indeed, abortion as a threat to the survival of civilization is a mainstay of Franks’s political efforts (abortion rights will “send America over the brink”. He compares the anti-abortion movement with efforts to abolish slavery and end the holocaust; whereas abortion rights supporters, on the other hand, are on the “wrong side” of “history and eternity” – whatever that means, though at least abortion rights are backed by “evil forces” and doomed to “fall like the Soviet Union” because … well, that’s what Franks would like, so it must happen. He has also made claims strongly reminiscent of Todd Akin’s, but you never expected a reasonable dialogue based on rational processing of ideas from this source anyways (to boot). And if medical experts disagree with him Franks doesn’t hesitate to question their legitimacy (I mean, how could experts disagree with him?).

I guess no one will be surprised to find out that Franks is a global warming denialist, has seriously toyed with birtherism (he even considered a birther lawsuit), and is on the Board of Advisors for EMPACT America. Science and critical thinking be damned (facts? Well, the facts are sort of irrelevant here).

In 2009 Franks was among the  Representatives calling for the investigation of CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) over allegations of trying to plant “spies,” based on a CAIR memo indicating that they “will develop national initiatives such as Lobby Day, and placing Muslim interns in Congressional offices” (how paranoid does one have to be to see a conspiracy here?) Partially, he was influenced by Dave Gaubatz’s conspiracy theory novel Muslim Mafia (foreword by fellow Representative Sue “Terrorists may learn Spanish to pose as Illegal Immigrants” Myrick), which portrayed CAIR as a subversive organization allied with international terrorists. Of course, Franks has had no qualms about expressing his support of Muslim fundamentalists when it comes to issues of gay rights.

Diagnosis: Massively muddleheaded and vigorously bigoted extremist. Dangerous.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#682: Joseph W. Francis

Joseph W. Francis is a “Professor of Biological Sciences” at The Master’s College for Christ & Scripture. He is, as his position implies, a staunch and uncompromising young earth creationist, and has made his best efforts to turn as many students as possible away from the sinful way of science and evidence. He has, for instance, contributed (usually co-written with Georgia Purdom) several articles to Answer in Genesis’s house journal Answers.

To its first volume they edited the “Proceedings of the Microbe Forum,” which consisted of nine abstracts from a creationist conference or workshop (they didn’t publish the full papers, which is a little interesting). Most of the participants apart from Francis, whose contribution was “Creation Microbiology and the Origin of Disease”, were from the Creation Research Center (Kevin Anderson, Daniel Criswell, Frank Sherwin) or Liberty University (Alan L. Gillen), or similar institutions (Yingguang Liu, Purdom), though two were listed as “Independent Scholars” and were apparently using pseudonyms so as not to negatively impact their academic careers.

To the second volume Francis and Purdom contributed “More Abundant than Stars”, which dealt with the the fledgling field of “creation microbiology” (unclear relation to microbiology or science) and attempted to “organize the field of creation microbiology” by reviewing the literature combining creationist and scientific literature, and proposed to classify microbes according to baraminological concepts. No data, no experiments, no hypothesis tested, and overall an entirely predictable effort.

Diagnosis: There seems to be no end to this line of creationist jolterheads, and they keep doing a surprisingly large variety of things in order to avoid having to do any science whatsoever. Francis is merely one of many, but he certainly carries out his perceived duties with regard to spreading ignorance and untruth.