Category: Skepticism

Torment your children and maybe kill your neighbors in the name of “natural”

Yeah, that’s an inflammatory headline. And it’s true.

A “Naturopathic Doctor” named Heather Dexter didn’t get her children vaccinated and refused to treat them for pertussis (whooping cough) She originally bragged about this at her own blog at likemindedmamas.com, but has now deleted that article.

Read the above-linked article by Scott Gavura, or the one by Dr. David Gorski. This woman permitted her children to get a life-threatening illness, and refused to give them effective treatment even when both her husband (their father) and her own father were begging her. Instead she gave them worthless nostrums like Olive Leaf Extract and worthless therapies like enemas (!) and foot massages. That’s already enough to make me despise her.

Now consider two things:

  1. She sent her infected children out to play with other children! She home-schools, but her son went to gymnastics class and they all played at the school playground. Any child who has a weakened immune system (say, because of treatment with certain drugs) or was simply unlucky and wasn’t protected by vaccination, could get this terrible, painful, potentially fatal disease.
  2. Dexter is a “doula”. This word has no legal definition, but typically means a person who assists a mother during labor and childbirth in non-medical ways. This means that she was potentially exposing newborn infants, who can’t be vaccinated, to pertussis.

It’s clear from her writing that she doesn’t even acknowledge how bizarrely irresponsible she was being.

Regular readers of this blog will remember my previous posting about naturopathy, in which I criticized a naturopathic “doctor” I called Rick. Rick is at least two steps above Dexter. He most certainly would not leave pertussis untreated or risk its spread. And Rick has now stopped practicing naturopathy to take up the honorable profession of teaching. (If he’d stop calling himself doctor because of his wizard school degree, it would be better, but I give him credit for doing the right thing.)

As for Heather Dexter: she’s a horrifying potential killer who is so far in denial she doesn’t even know it. Disgusting.

Facilitated Communication leads to sexual assault

Let’s start with the key point: Facilitated Communication (FC) is nonsense. In FC, a person who can’t communicate by speech, use a keyboard even with mechanical or electronic help, or otherwise produce words, is helped (facilitated) by a person who holds his/her hand and moves it toward what is perceived to be a desired letter. It’s described here: http://www.asha.org/policy/TR1994-00139.htm#sec1.3. There are variations on the technique as I described it, but they all involve a facilitator sensing subtle muscle movements by the person they’re assisting and using that to pick letters or symbols.

Also, it is nonsense–did I mention that? Facilitated Communication is identical to Ouija Board readings or automatic writing. Psychology and neuroscience class them all as ideomotor response. It is the “facilitator” who is communicating, not the person ostensibly being assisted. This has been tested by (for instance) setting up experiments in which the facilitator knows something that the assistee does not. In all such (well-designed) experiments, the results of the test have the “speech” produced match the facilitator’s knowledge.

The facilitators do not appear to be consciously faking. Like Ouija Board users, they’re unconsciously moving the other person’s hand. And because this is an unconscious process, they can produce messages they would never consciously write in their own names. FC has led to charges and convictions of child abuse, for instance. Recently one Dr. Steven Laurys claimed that FC (by speech therapist Linda Wouters) demonstrated that a brain-damaged patient was fully conscious but couldn’t control his own body enough to communicate. To his credit, Laurys did further tests that did indeed demonstrate the the patient was not communicating at all.

Now for the latest bizarre tragedy caused by belief in FC. Dr. Anna Stubblefield, a professor of Philosophy at Rutgers, has just been convicted of sexually assaulting a man who has cerebral palsy. She claims that he is not mentally disabled and that they fell in love, despite his lack of speech, by communicating through FC. A jury has found that “D. J.” is mentally incompetent and cannot therefore give consent. D. J. is not paralyzed and can move his arms, although his condition makes him less dexterous. It isn’t clear from the story (and in fact isn’t clear in many FC cases) why he couldn’t simply point at an alphabet board, if he really was mentally capable of literacy.

Apparently Stubblefield had sex with him multiple times.

Realize that any messages Dr. Stubblefield received were from her own brain–just not the parts that normally are thought of as “the conscious mind.” In other words, she literally fell in love with herself (or more fairly, with the story she was telling herself) and then had sex with this disabled man.

She was the chair of a respected university’s philosophy department at the time, but somehow didn’t manage to learn the central lesson of science, and of the skeptical movement: doubt your own judgement. A true tragedy.

Peter Popoff: religious scammer still scamming decades after being caught


Waaay back in 1986, James Randi appeared on the Tonight Show and demonstrated that faith healer Peter Popoff had a source other than God’s word for his surprising insights into the lives of those healed. I strongly urge you to watch the video of Randi pulling back the curtain on Popoff’s blatant and despicable fraud. (Johnny Carson, the then-host of the Tonight Show, was a former magician like Randi and a like him an exposer of spiritual/religious scams, in the tradition of Houdini.)

After his exposure, Popoff lost most of his income and ended up declaring bankruptcy the following year.

He’s back. Unbelievably, he’s making money by the simple expedient of lying to people. Lots of money. He is literally raking in millions, again.

Recently, a video-maker got one of Reverend Popoff’s solicitation letters. He seems to have stolen a lot of his techniques from the late Oral Roberts and other colleagues in the field of promising miracles in a non-legally-actionable manner. Some of the things Randi documented in his classic book The Faith Healers:

  • Give the mark a cheap gift. This creates a sense of obligation to give something in return.
  • Offer miracles but only if a donation is made.
  • Suggest a minimum donation and imply that larger ones show more faith and get bigger miracles.
  • Write your letter as if you (the scammer) personally sat down and hand-typed it (with fake handwritten parts) and personally mailed it to the sucker, even though your organization sends out millions of them a week.

Popoff’s letter does all of these. There’s more. Watch the video. If you want to educate yourself about the subject, read Randi’s book.

Mike Jeavons made his video funny, but Popoff is just infuriating. He exists to suck the money out of vulnerable believers. He’s exactly what people hate about religious leaders, maybe part of one step short of Jim Jones.

Grocery Shopping With Obby

I’ve been reading The Devil’s Panties for years now. I’ve always enjoyed its slice-of-life humor. Since creator Jennie Breeden married Obby, there have been occasional position-taking strips. Obbie is listed as co-writer these days, maybe he’s more of an advocate. This one is very much to the point:

The Devil's Panties goes on a diet

The Devil’s Panties goes on a diet

I had the pleasure of meeting Jennie at Dragon Con in 2014. (Obby was away from their table when I went by.) Take a look at their comic, I think you’ll like it–and it will never, ever insult your intelligence or tell you to eat Free Range Kale.

Preying on Believers With Bad Critical Thinking Skills

It’s perfectly possible to be a religious believer, and still be smart and sane.

But that isn’t the target audience for the spam I just got.

Nativity Stones Mail

Screen Capture showing the spam I received

(Click the image to expand.)

Essentially they’re selling rocks from the “Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem”. The cave is part of the Church of the Nativity–the reader is meant to believe that the various Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox priests who administer that temple would let pebbles be taken from the cave and sold via email spam.

Interestingly, the links go to fundybuzz.com. The spammers obviously know that smart, knowledgeable people won’t fall for the scam, so they aren’t making any effort to hide their contempt from anyone who is awake.

Fox News Fails Chemistry

Fox News Fails Chemistry

This is astonishing. I used to be a chemistry teacher, and I would have been embarrassed to have a story this nonsensical turned in by one of my high-school students.

Oxidation is combining with oxygen? Combining with oxygen derived from iron oxide is somehow not oxidation? This reaction will somehow not produce carbon dioxide or any other “pollutant”? Really?

I happen to work for an energy company. There really is “clean coal,” at least in theory. It’s a combination of removing pollutants like sulfur dioxide from the byproducts of combustion (smoke, ash, etc.) with sequestering the produced carbon dioxide so it doesn’t add to the greenhouse effect. Problem is, I just explained it better than Fox’s whole article, in one sentence.

This is what happens when you stop having science journalists and make “general” reporters cover technical stories–they make no sense at all.

The scary thing is that Fox has actually published a worse story on clean energy.