Tuesday, December 31, 2013

#851: Michio Kushi

Michio Kushi is something of a grand old man in the domain of food and health woo, which he mixes with an unhealthy dash of spiritual development talk. He is responsible for introducing the idea of macrobiotics to the Western world. Macrobiotics is an arbitrary schema for breaking the foods consumed by human beings down into yin and yang foods, and subsequently proposing a balance scheme. Sticking to the scheme will then help you achieve significant life extension and prevent cancer (that particular idea is discussed here and here). According to the material issued by Kushi’s institute the macrobiotic way of life should include chewing food at least 50 times per mouthful (or until it becomes liquid), not wearing synthetic or woolen clothing next to the skin, avoiding long hot baths or showers, having large green plants in your house to enrich the oxygen content of the air, and singing a happy song every day.

Yes, it is complete bullshit, but his ideas have nevertheless achieved significant popularity. And no, it is not “ancient wisdom” (as if that would have made a difference). The idea was invented by Georges Ohsawa in the 1930s, who also proposed that the blue or gray smoke coming out the front of a cigarette is yin (cancer-causing) while the yellow or orange smoke coming out the back that the smoker breathes in is yang, and who subsequently died of smoking-related cancer. There is a discussion of the macrobiotics crackpottery here.

But food woo is big stuff, and Kushi has his own center in Massachusetts, where “health comes naturally.” According to Kushi, natural and macrobiotic medicine encompasses: (a) astrological diagnosis; (b) aura and vibrational diagnosis – allegedly based on the color, frequency, ‘heat,’ and intensity of a one's "radiating aura" and "vibrations"; (c) consciousness and thought diagnosis, a variation of mind reading; (d) environmental diagnosis, whose theory posits “celestial influences”; (e) meridian diagnosis, which purportedly reveals valuable information about "internal energy flow"; (f) pressure diagnosis, which supposedly reveals “stagnation of the streaming energy”; and (g) spiritual diagnosis, an apparent variation of aura analysis. Yep, absolutely everything is there.

Diagnosis: Hardcore crackpot and woo extremist. Kushi has long been, and remains, one of the most seriously influential pusher of questionable (well, completely delusional) regimes out there and must be considered extremely dangerous.

Monday, December 30, 2013

#850: Ray Kurzweil

The infamous Danie Krugel is South African and hence disqualified. That means that our next entry is Ray Kurzweil. Yes, Kurzweil. Now, Kurzweil has a large fan base, and that is not without reason. The guy is a genius and one of big pioneers of optical character recognition, computer-assisted reading and digital music synthesis. His technology optimism and view about the singularity, while often bordering on the ridiculous, is also probably more positive than negative for the development of society. At least he’ll get a pass on that one, even though he doesn’t really seem to understand nanotechnology, and doesn’t quite grasp the potentials and limits of nanobots.

Far more questionable sides of his efforts include his motivational courses at the Singularity University, as well as his failure to grasp that knowledge about computer science is not directly transferable to biology – he just doesn’t understand how the brain works and even less how the genome works: the genome does not work like a blueprint containing all the information needed to build a brain. It just doesn’t, and when he is promoting his singularity idea, Kurzweil doesn’t quite get that, much to the chagrin and exasperation of those who do.

Yet even that could be pardoned, and is surely not enough to qualify Kurzweil as a loon. What clinches the matter is his promotion of nutritional woo. Kurzweil is very fond of nutritional supplements and alkaline water. That he uses them himself is one thing. But Kurzweil also sells nutritional supplements for longevity on his website with Terry Grossman. The purported effects of the products are, of course, just as well backed up by evidence as such products are in general. These are products that “assist detoxification” and have “noticeable anti-ageing effects”. He also pushes anti-science news (such as pushing a particular anti-science spin on this story). That is unpardonable. It is pure quackery, backed up by conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.

Diagnosis: Seems to be evolving into a standard woo-meister. Kurzweil is a super-technologist, but too many factors suggest a profound lack of understanding of science and even critical thinking. His promotion of altmed quackery really settles it. Kurzweil is a loon. End of story.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

#849: Arthur Krigsman

Arthur Krigsman, MD, is a pediatrician and gastroenterologist best known for his controversial and widely-criticized research in which he attempts to prove that the MMR vaccine is the cause of diseases, especially autism. In fact, Krigsman may not be among the flashiest, but he is certainly among the most influential member of the antivaxx movement.

He has, in particular, written in support of the existence of autistic enterocolitis, which is, to put it mildly, not particularly widely accepted – Andrew Wakefield’s original study that tied the MMR vaccine to autism has of course been found to be fraudulent, and it was on the basis of this “research” that Wakefield coined the notion of “autistic enterocolitis”. In other words, Krigsman is fringe; but he still, to an extent, knows what he is talking about, which makes his contributions all the more insidious. In 2003, Krigsman reported similar findings as those of Wakefield, saying he found the intestines of 40 autistic children showed signs of inflammation, thus lending support to Wakefield’s ideas that MMR was related to autism and also to gastrointestinal disease. This information was, predictably enough, not formally published until 2010, and then in the pseudo-journal Autism Insights. The results were also obtained through failing to follow standard protocols and through questionable (or even scandalous) ethical behavior. Indeed, in 2004 Krigsman had to leave Lenox Hill hospital under “questionable circumstances,” and in 2005, he was fined by the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners for multiple violations, including failing to report previous regulatory sanctions by the Florida medical board, and for the disciplinary action by the Lenox Hill Hospital.

Krigsman later joined Wakefield at the antivaxx organization Thoughtful House (though left when Wakefield was forced to leave after his original study was shown to be fraudulent). He is currently a perennial expert witness in vaccine-related court cases. His participiation in these cases seem to regularly raise discussions regarding his CV and how he represents his publication list. In one case, the judge noted that he thinks Krigsman failed to be a “credible witness” and that the parents who brought the case were “misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment.” In another case, the judge noted of Krigsman’s qualification for identifying a new disease like “autistic enterocolitis”, being “unrecognized by other authorities in the field, were, even when inflated, sadly lacking” and that his testimony about its existence was “speculative and unsupported by the weight of the evidence.”

Diagnosis: Though his cause has taken some fairly serious damage Krigsman is still in the running, and must still be considered dangerous.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

#848: Lorie Kramer

A.k.a. Lo the Seektress

Lorie Kramer is among the most ardent critics of Alex Jones on the web. Unfortunately, her criticisms of Alex Jones come, shall we say, from a different angle than ours. Kramer runs the website The Alex Jones Machine, a website allegedly “created in self defense” in order to expose Alex Jones for who he is – a central part of the Zionist conspiracy to take over the world. Just like Glenn Beck and Fox News, Jones is in the hands of powerful Jewish bankers, and Kramer sets out to prove Alex and Kelly Jones’s connections to Bronfman. On the other hand, Jeff Rense is apparently a hero because he once called out Alex Jones and was promptly forced out of the Jones fold. The evidence is clear. At one point Kramer had to ask herself “who really runs the GNC network”, and given that Kramer is the person she is, the answer was more or less a given once that question was asked.

Currently she also runs seektress.com, where she panders conspiracies and various rants about spirituality, channeling, politics, UFOs, chemtrails, and Morgellons (which, according to authority Clifford E. Carnicom, is caused by chemtrails).

Diagnosis: In ardent combat with oppression and evil. It would have been an advantage if Kramer would spend her efforts in a manner that was informed by reality instead, but that’s apparently too much to ask for. Probably harmless.

#847: Robert J. Krakow

Robert Krakow is a lawyer affiliated with the antivaccine movement, whose main goal, it seems, is to get parents of children with vaccines to sue. Thus far, the court cases have been more or less failures, of course, but who knows what will happen next time? Krakow isn’t just a cynical opportunist, it seems, but an actual, true believer in the idea that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism, which – given the distance between that hypothesis and reality – doesn’t really help in court (or make is efforts relevantly less vile, for that matter).

With well-known anti-vaccine activists Mary Holland, Louis Conte, and Lisa Colin, he authored “Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury,” which attempted to bolster the case for a legal (and scientific) argument, an article that would have been hilarious for its fallacies were it not for the fact that it could potentially be the source of some real harm. It is discussed in some detail here. The same people were also behind an embarrassing “study” called “Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children,” which also committed all the fallacies associated with this particular brand of denialism, in addition to being ethically questionable.

Diagnosis: Crank lawyer whose primary move in the denialist movement is the predictable one: Since science doesn’t support our claim, let’s take it to the courts. Though wrong, Krakow is of course still dangerous. Stay away.