Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#1884: Sin Hang Lee

Sin Hang Lee is an MD and formerly pathologist at the Milford Hospital pathology laboratory (where he received the boot in 2010), who has gained a reputation for himself for scaremongering about the Gardasil vaccine (facts here). His ideas about HPV DNA are silly and have been widely discredited, but that matters less to the antivaxx crowd than his credentials and that he tells them what they like to hear, and he is currently one of the more sought-after antivaxx voices for various antivaxx events – he appears, together with an impressive array of other conspiracy theorists, for instance in the recent “documentary” The Truth About Vaccines.

Lee has been reasonably well-known in the conspiracy community for a while, but made a bit of a splash in 2011 when the conspiracy website SANE Vax claimed to find “Recombinant HPV DNA” in “multiple samples of Gardasil”. Lee, of course, was the guy (“well-known for using cutting-edge DNA sequencing for molecular diagnoses”) contacted to perform the analyses. Of course, we are not informed about how he got the results – there is no scientific article or report attached to the findings, and neither he nor SANE Vax would tell us because they need to “protect the proprietary processes and information utilized by our laboratory to test the samples.” That is one pretty enormous red flag, insofar as testing for DNA contamination is otherwise a pretty straightforward affair, at least if the amount of contamition is sufficient to be anything to conceivably worry about. Nor do SANE Vax tell us how much was detected, which is rather telling; it turns out that the quantities were so small that Lee had to use nested PCR to detect it, which means that they are close to homeopathic (if Lee really found anything at all). Moreover, one would need some serious pseudoscience to dream up a possible mechanism by which such DNA would be harmful, but at least Lee is perfectly willing to provide that:  the HPV DNA in Gardasil™ is not ‘natural’ DNA. It is a recombinant HPV DNA (rDNA) – genetically engineered – to be inserted into yeast cells for VLP (virus-like-particle) protein production. rDNA is known to behave differently from natural DNA. It may enter a human cell, especially in an inflammatory lesion caused by the effects of the aluminum adjuvant, via poorly understood mechanisms.” That is utter nonsense (but common nonsense in anti-vaxx groups), but we suspect that most of SANE Vax’s regular audience wouldn’t know, so claims like this probably do their tricks among the target audience. More details here.

So, basically Lee is the source of a fear mongering campaign derived from a nonexistent understanding of molecular biology, if not on his part then certainly on the part of his intended audience (what he is pushing is ultimately nothing but a version of the toxins gambit). And Lee has continued in the same vein, claiming that deaths not caused by the HPV vaccine were caused by the HPV vaccine and publishing case reports in what appears to be predatory journals based on laughable methodology (indeed, it becomes clear when looking at the report that Lee deliberately made poor methodological choices; one wonders why.)

His research has, of course, been endorsed by various antivaccine activists and pseudoscience groups, such as the deranged conspiracy theory and anti-science hate group (!) the American College of Pediatricians (not to be confused with the reputable American Academy of Pediatrics, though the ACP certainly revels in the confusion).

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientist and crackpot, who seems to have a penchant for choosing the methodology for investigation based on what is most likely to create fear and sensation rather than accuracy. Dangerous.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#1883: Richard Lee

Most people are aware of conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 or the JFK shootings, but it turns out to be difficult to find a major event in history that has not been subjected to conspiracy theory. There is a whole industry of conspiracies surrounding the suicide of Kurt Cobain, for instance, and Seattle public access TV presenter and independent journalist Richard Lee is probably its most famous promoter. According to Lee, Courtney Love collaborated with Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic – and probably many more whose motives and identities remain shrouded in shadows – to kill Cobain, and Lee will apparently stop at nothing to prove his hypotheses true, g the fact that they are obviously false and ridiculous notwithstanding.

To promote his ideas Lee produced a show called Now See It Person to Person: Was Kurt Cobain Murdered? (later the somewhat more assertive Now See It Person To Person: Kurt Cobain Was Murdered), which was running weekly for years (with some involuntary hiatuses) and might still be online for all we know; Lee is at least still pushing the conspiracy theories, and has over the years acquired a number of restraining orders for stalking people he thinks were involved or know something about Cobain’s death. There is a fine portrait of Lee here.

Over the years Lee has also tried to run for various political offices. He ran for Seattle City Council in 1999, but a judge ruled him ineligible because he reused old petition signatures to get on the ballot. In 2001, Lee ran for mayor of the city of Seattle, and used the opportunity to question other candidates about a supposed cover-up regarding the investigation of Cobain’s death.

Of course, Lee is not the only one to push Kurt Cobain murder conspiracy theories. Others include:

  • Tom Grant, a private investigator hired by Courtney Love to find Cobain after he went missing from a rehab facility, and then to investigate Cobain’s death. Grant came to believe that Cobain was murdered by Love.
  • Eldon “El Duce” Hoke of the band The Mentors, who claimed that Courtney Love offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain. Hoke’s later death in an accident only fuelled the conspiracy theorists.
  • Ian Halperin and Max Wallace, who wrote two books, Who Killed Kurt Cobain? and Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain (2004), the latter with help from Tom Grant.

Richard Lee the conspiracy theorist should be distinguished from Religious Right figure Richard Lee, editor of the American Patriot’s Bible and paranoid persecution myth promoter.

Diagnosis: Colorful, belligerent and probably mostly harmless (except for the harassment issues, which I suppose are serious enough), but also representative for a mindset that is not particularly harmless at the scale we are observing at present.

Friday, August 11, 2017

#1882: Dennis Lee (II)

Almost certainly not the same person as last entry’s Dennis Lee, this entry’s Dennis Lee is senior pastor of Living Waters Fellowship in Mesquite. Interestingly, “Living Waters” is also the name of Ray Comfort’s publishing company. This may or may not be a coincidence; we sort of suspect it’s not. In any case, Lee’s article “Discovering truth verses tolerance” (discussed here) gives you a fair idea about what he’s up to. It opens thusly: “I really don’t think there’s a single person that doesn’t think truth verses tolerance is an important topic for our day. That’s because it’s our society’s redefinition of tolerance that allows topics like abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, and evolution to become so accepted while Christianity has become so hated and practically outlawed.” And that is really enough from Dennis Lee (II).

Diagnosis: Fundie loon with a well-developed persecution complex. He’s not alone, and although Lee’s own influence is probably rather limited, this kind of delusional nonsense deserves to be covered extensively in places like this Encyclopedia.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

#1881: Dennis Lee (I)

A legend in pseudoscience circles, Dennis Lee is the head of Better World Technologies and United Community Services of America, a company that markets pretty much every piece of ridiculous nonsense technology or “technology” you can imagine, from healing devices that use zero-point energy to an over-unity motor. For the most part, Lee is seeking investors for his devices (examples of revival meetings where Lee promotes his products to potential “investors” are described here), which are supposed to provide us with infinite free electricity. Like the over-unity motor, the devices in question violate the laws of physics (details can be found here if you are interested), and although he’s been in the business a long time, Lee has never managed to demonstrate that any of them work – indeed, his energy products are for the most part “not quite ready”, but you are nevertheless offered to buy a franchise for somewhere between $30,000 and $100,000 and begin selling free energy devices yourself (note that in becoming a dealer, you waive your rights to legal recourse – Lee does, however, offer commissions to bring in new dealers and makes considerable effort to discourage dealers from communicating with one another). There’s a list of his excuses Lee has given for why he hasn’t shown that any of his devices work here.

As pseudoscientists and promoters of voodoo science are wont to do, Lee claims that Corporate America is doing everything in their power to suppress him – apparently the entire government and American industry is part of some huge international multi-generational conspiracy to suppress the truth he only can offer. Lee has also been indicted for fraud at least twice, and pleaded guilty to two felony counts of consumer fraud in California in 1990 in connection with the sale of an “energy-saving heat pump kit,” but those incidents presumably just show how afraid mainstream corporations are of competition – apparently Lee subsequently claimed to have invented the world’s most efficient heat pump, but that conspirators sabotaged his efforts, stole his company, and incarcerated him. So it goes.

According to Lee, all his instructions are dictated to him directly from God, and he has indeed created a following that, to the undiscerning eye, looks remarkably like a cult fuelled by religious fervor and paranoia (an interesting insider story about what it was like to work with Lee can be found here; this one is pretty telling, too). A nice illustration of Lee’s operations is Lee’s and his followers’ dismissal of critics, such as Eric Krieg (whose criticism of Lee is archived here): Lee’s wife called Krieg “CIA sponsored”, without a shred of evidence, and Lee’s followers have apparently been told that they are not allowed to even look at Krieg’s website.

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientific crackpot. We’ll just assume he’s a loon for present purposes. There are, of course, other interpretations of his behavior and his claims, but “pseudoscientific crackpot” would probably apply in any case.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#1880: Bill Ledbetter

Bill Ledbetter is the pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Oklahoma, wingnut, creationist and proponent of David Barton-style pseudohistory and Christian Nation nonsense. As such, he has for instance been invited to serve as the weekly chaplain for the Oklahoma legislature, and his 15-minute sermon there sums up his lunacy pretty well (discussion here and here and here; follow the links if you for some reason want to hear the original – it is gloriously insane): Ledbetter started off by claiming that “America is the only nation in history that’s been under one governing document her whole history,” which is false (the Articles of Confederation, anyone? Not that Ledbetter cares overly for accuracy or fact). Then he distorted the infamous Lutz study of references made by the Founding Fathers and passed on a fake Patrick Henry quote about the nation being founded on Christianity as evidence that the Constitution is based on the Bible (Henry, of course, was firmly opposed to the Constitution) and to argue against the separation of church and state (and in favor of mandatory prayers in public schools, which Ledbetter apparently believes is mandated by the Constitution), before rounding it all off with some creationist talking points and claiming that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on New Orleans for sin; also, 9/11 was God’s punishment for not instituting a theocracy: “We must have people in office or put people in office that will make law that corresponds with the word of god and the will of god. not political correctness. Not tolerance – it always brews intolerance.”

Here is his take on evolution: “If you throw God out, then you have to come up with some idea that you’re going to teach your kids about where they came from. And you have to teach that in school. And now all across our nations, kids are taught that they are advanced mutations of a baboon. They are taught that they came from a monkey. Let me tell you something. Evolution is not science – and I know that’s not politically correct … But what it is is an indoctrination to teach a godless worldview.” The problem with his opinion isn’t that it is politically incorrect. And apparently teaching evolution is also unconstitutional, since the Constitution tells us that the Bible should be the guideline for public school curricula: “It [evolution] defies our founding documents – our forefathers talked about the creator in the Declaration of Independence – read it!” Uh-huh. That the Origin of Species was published in 1856 is a problem but far from the main problem with that assertion.

That kind of guy.

Diagnosis: That kind of guy, indeed.