We are now in a race for the dumbest pandemic advice

Florida takes an early lead, with a Republican lawmaker suggesting we aim a hair dryer up our nose to treat COVID-10.

Florida Okeechobee County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper (R) referenced a program he said he saw on One American News Network on how to combat the coronavirus, the Lake Okeechobee News reports.

Said Culpepper: “One of the things that was pointed out in this interview with one of the foremost doctors who has studied the coronavirus said that the nasal passages and the nasal membranes are the coolest part of the body. That’s why the virus tends to go there until it then becomes healthy enough to go into the lungs.”

He added: “This sound really goofy, and it did to me too, but it works. Once the temperature reaches 136 degrees Fahrenheit, the virus falls apart, it disintegrates. I said how would you get the temperature up to 136 degrees? The answer was you use a blow dryer. You hold a blow dryer up to your face and you inhale through your nose and it kills all the viruses in your nose.”

Do I need to explain that that wouldn’t work at all, and would probably be deleterious to your sinuses?

By the way, One America News Network is a conspiracy-peddling, far right paranoid network that promotes nothing but pro-Trump bullshit. Don’t trust it.

The depth of CFI’s commitment to free speech can only be measured with an atomic force microscope

I have to share this public post by Kavin Senapathy because, by the time I got to the fourth paragraph, I’d facepalmed myself into an angry stupor and was feeling really pissed off at CFI. How can Robyn Blumner and CFI kick themselves in their own asses so hard? It ought to be anatomically impossible, but there they go.

I have an update about how the Center for Inquiry and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry have reacted to my recent Undark essay (https://undark.org/2020/02/20/center-for-inquiry-race-pseudoscience/) in which I criticize their indifference to matters of race, racist pseudoscience, and the white supremacy among their ranks.

Wait for it …

Within days, they removed all of my Skeptical Inquirer articles and my Point of Inquiry episodes from their website.

That’s right, my writing on things like quack autism “cures,” spurious birth practices including lotus birth, the “breast is best” mantra, pesticides, alternative medicine, mom guilt, and more have been unpublished. My podcast interviews with people like Carl Zimmer, Angela Saini, Massimo Pigliucci, Paul Offit, Adam Conover, Alison Bernstein, Iida Ruishalme, Claire Klingenberg, Sarah Taber, Susan Gerbic, Jen Gunter, and more on everything from MSG to OCD to the alarming resurgence of race science have also been removed from their website in apparent retaliation.

I’m not angry about this. I am bewildered, especially because CFI CEO Robyn Blumner is a self-styled “free-speech purist.”

Still, I’m not surprised— erasure and hypocrisy are among the most tried and true tools of white supremacy. As I wrote in my essay, “The most insidious white supremacy doesn’t carry tiki torches of festering hatred. It comes from well-meaning people who nevertheless uphold power structures with whiteness at the top.”

Skeptics: To those without the power to stand up to this as loudly as you’d like to— I see you and I respect you. To those with the power to stand up to this, I encourage you to do so. I also trust that, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you know which camp you belong in.

A particularly telling part of this is that Blumner has been sending emails in which she attempts to disparage me using, of all examples, an excerpt from this post (https://www.facebook.com/kavin.senapathy/posts/10156420934416875):

“My atheist role models growing up were my parents and my uncle. Today, my non-religious role model is, above all others, me. I also have a gaggle of deeply good non-religious friends who, amazingly, found their way to a non-religious belief system without ever reading a sentence by one ridiculous man whose name rhymes with Shmichard Schmawkins or his esteemed colleagues.

Honestly, none of these celebrated mediocre old white atheists are actually necessary. They’re not enlightened. They’re washed the fuck up. Yes, many people *have* found their way out of religion due to their work. But if you think that other brilliant non-religious thinkers who meet and surpass the abilities of these dudes don’t exist, then you live under a racist rock.”

I stand behind this statement.

I’m not sure what part is so particularly offensive, Robyn. My use of the word “white” isn’t the problem— it’s the racist, colonialism-tinged drivel that spews forth from Dawkins’ bigoted mouth and social media accounts.

It’s hard to see the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer reduced to a mere shell of the former pillars of skepticism that once inspired the formation of skeptical organizations stateside and around the world. It appears that certain individuals have infected CSI with their denialism and reductionist Newtonian worldview— a worldview in which “science and reason” can be neatly compartmentalized and isolated from sociopolitical forces. It’s cringeworthy and painful to witness. As one friend and ally put it, it seems that they’re afflicted with a terminal sclerosis.

All of that said, most of the responses to the Undark essay have been overwhelmingly positive. For instance, one award-winning science writer and woman of color who was invited to speak at CSIcon 2020 has informed CFI that she can’t make it this time, but “I would be happy to consider coming to speak at another time in the future if you would consider reinstating Kavin Senapathy, and also appointing more people of color to your board at the Center for Inquiry. Indeed, I’d be happy to join the board myself!”

This person is easily among those I most respect in the entire world and would make a fantastic addition to CFI’s Board. To see her email was a balm for my heart—I don’t want to be reinstated, but I do care, and ultimately still have hope that CFI’s skeptical soul isn’t beyond reviving.

I want to profusely thank all of the individuals and organizations that have shown support to me in the wake of all of this— for one, the Board of the European Council of Skeptical Organizations has stepped up to host all of the articles that have been removed. I appreciate it so very much and plan to take them up on it shortly.

To those still doing the hard work to try and change CFI, both from the inside and outside, you have all of my support. And to those still doing the hard work outside of CFI, you also have all of my support. Don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s something I could do to help; I’m extremely accessible.

We have work to do.

As I wrote, “Tackling these issues of race, diversity, and inclusion is hard, but worthwhile. And if legacy organizations like CFI refuse to confront these issues — both outwardly and within their own ranks — it’s reassuring to know that there’s a growing global community of skeptics who have shown willingness to heed the call. For the sake of the longevity of the skeptic’s movement, it is crucial that they — that we — succeed.”

I’ll sign off with a nod to *all* of the people who take a skeptical approach to their work on the front lines during this pandemic. I’m fairly certain that most who do skepticism well— that is, those who seek the bald-faced truth and strive to abide by it— call themselves things like “teacher,” “nurse,” “journalist,” “scientist,” “student,” “parent,” “Target cashier,” “delivery driver,” “friend,” and much more, and only some of them identify as skeptics. I truly believe that those who claim the badge of “skeptic” must tip our hats to all of the badasses out there who view science not just as a method, but as an integral part of the way they carry themselves in the world.

Oh, well. At least I bailed out of CFI and the skeptic movement 7 years ago. I haven’t regretted it since, it’s become a major shit-show.

A closure we can all be grateful for

Yay! The Creation “museum” and Ark Park are closed as of today, and they’re keeping them closed until 2 April (they’re optimistic, I think they’re going to be closed a lot longer. My university is closed until at least May). There’ll be a little less miseducation going on for a short while.

I do wonder if Dennis Prager will accuse them of “panic”.

Why does Dennis Prager still have a Twitter and YouTube account?

I keep hearing that the various social media services were going to start cracking down on disinformation. If that’s the case, why is Dennis Prager still around? His latest “fireside chat” is just an old ignorant man sitting around lying about the coronavirus.

It’s both sad and horrible. I lasted about ten minutes, roughly half of which is Prager talking about his dog. In the remainder, he made 3 stupid points.

  1. He’s a rational person and he hates irrationality, and those libs are all panicking and closing schools. He can’t stand panic.

    The thing is, though, nobody is panicking. Saying they are is about as convincing as saying you’re rational on your god-soaked propaganda channel. My university is closed, but no one was in a panic; this was a calmly made, rational decision based on the best available evidence. In centers of the epidemic, medical services are overwhelmed and people are dying, and since we aren’t particularly keen on seeing our students die, or bringing an infectious disease home to their more fragile grandparents, we decided to do the reasonable, responsible thing and minimize contact.
    Carl Zimmer posted some vivid data that illustrates why a timely response is necessary. In this graph of cumulative cases in Italy, Lodi was hit first and quickly shut down the city; Bergamo had its first case shortly afterwards, and waited two weeks before shutting down. Now the difference is dramatic. Bergamo has a rising number of cases, while Lodi effectively flattened the curve.

  2. Carl Zimmer: Here is a new, real-world demonstration of how social distancing and other measures can flatten the Covid-19 curve. The city of Lodi had the first Covid-19 case in Italy, and implemented a shutdown on Feb 23. Bergamo waited until March 8. From Oxford University, https://osf.io/fd4rh/?view_only=c2f00dfe3677493faa421fc2ea38e295

    That’s the kind of data officials looked at before making a calm decision. There was no panic. Prager is lying and misrepresenting the situation.

  3. The kids are only lightly affected, so why shut down schools? Yeah, that’s the kind of dumb-ass thing a Prager would say. Young people are less severely affected (but they aren’t immune — there have been deaths at all ages, just many more in older people), but they can carry and communicate the disease. The concern is that children will mill around with each other at school, come home, and next thing you know, white-haired avuncular 71 year old grandpa with the nice dog he loves so much is in the hospital with respiratory failure. And so are all the other older people in his family, and there aren’t enough respirators to go around, and the health care workers are all falling sick and told not to come in, and people are dying because little Billy gave pop-pop an affectionate kiss on the cheek.

    You deserve it, you lying fuck, but it’s not fair to put that guilt on Billy’s shoulders.

  4. Tens of thousands of people die of the regular flu everywhere without panicking. I might panic if I or my wife came down with the regular flu. But instead what we do is the rational thing: we get our flu shot every year, we stay home if we’re sick, and if we’re feeling the symptoms, we don’t head out for crowds to shake hands and hug people. That’s something only an insensitive, uncaring asshole like Dennis Prager would do, which he proudly declares that he is doing.

    The difference is that we have vaccines for the influenza that minimize its effects, and keeps the load on hospitals to a manageable level. We do not have a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2. We know that it is more severe in its effects than influenza, is going to have a higher death count, and spreads rapidly. In both cases, we are making a rational, non-panicked decision about how to respond.

    If you accidentally set a piece of paper on fire in your home, you calmly put it out. If you accidentally start a grease fire in the kitchen, the curtains and your sleeve are on fire, the smoke alarm is frantically beeping, you don’t walk away, pet the dog, and make a video about how you set a piece of paper on fire and how clever you were to pat it out, and all the fire trucks and the doctors treating the deep burns on your arm are over-reacting.

Prager has billionaires backing him, though, and he can be as stupid and dangerous as he wants, and YouTube will continue to take his money.

Anyone want to debate a creationist in Minnesota?

I got a phone call from Eric Hovind — he’s looking for someone to debate John Sanford and Danny Faulkner someplace in Minnesota next October. I turned him down flat.

Even if, in your worldview, you think you’ll make fools of them?

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re already fools.”

And that was that. Although he did ask if I’d ask around and see if anyone was interested in taking my place.

OK, so I’m asking around. I don’t recommend anyone taking him up on the offer, but if you must, contact me and I can let Hovind know how to get in touch with you.

You are here

It’s amazing. This is the universal comic, it applies to everything right now.

Except spiders and cephalopods, that is. They’re looking better and better.

A golden opportunity for quacks

The threat of a pandemic creates so many ways for parasites to prosper. Take Stefanie Kelley Haines, of Eastern Oregon, who is, surprisingly, the director of clinical services for Harney District Hospital.

Stefanie Haines is director of clinical services for Harney District Hospital in Burns. Like many rural health care workers, she plays more than one role in the region’s isolated health care system. Haines owns the only fitness center in a town, which isn’t just a gym. It’s also an affiliate of The Wellness Way, a chiropractic company selling pricey lab tests to diagnose all kinds of ailments. The program also markets treatment plans like the “vaccine detox.”

On her personal Facebook page, Haines advances conspiracy theories about the debunked dangers of vaccinations, while promoting services available through the fitness center. Through memes, articles and her own words, Haines has vilified immunizations that protect millions of people from communicable diseases like measles, influenza and polio.

Before people in the U.S. started dying from the new COVID-19 disease, for which there is no vaccine, Haines told friends and followers, “the flu shot increases susceptibility to Coronavirus.”

Don’t worry about Ms Haines, though. The hospital is distancing itself from her views, but isn’t doing anything about their employee spreading misinformation.

Great. There is always a line of frauds ready to take advantage of people’s fears.

If they’re all going to die anyway, why not get it all over with at once?

This guy is seriously suggesting that we simply infect everyone with the coronavirus right now and get it over with, because drawing it all out is hurting his pwecious stock market.

Even if you play it with the sound off, he looks deranged. How dare we hurt his money?

I have a few objections to his plan. One is that part of the problem with a pandemic is that it overwhelms the capacity of clinics and hospitals to properly treat patients. His solution maximizes chaos and thereby maximizes the amount of death and suffering. These viruses mutate every year, like the flu, so slamming the population now doesn’t mean we won’t get a repeat next year. And finally, and least, if he thinks the stock market is hurting now, imagine what it would look like in a month in which 10 million Americans died and far more are flattened with illness and grief.

That bozo is Rick Santelli, a business editor for CNBC. He’s not a doctor. He is evidence that a business degree tends to inflate the ego but not the knowledge of its recipients.

Harvard employs fools and bigots, too

I’ve lost a lot of respect for Harvard over the years, and for professors in general. They’re just people, and there are ignorant people in every discipline and locale, like this guy, Adrian C. Vermeule.

…when [Harvard Law professor] Vermeule took dead aim at atheists, the critics were silent. In defense of state laws that forbid atheists from holding public office or serving on juries, he tweeted that they are “sensible” because atheists “can’t be trusted to keep an oath.” This wasn’t an inadvertent insult, like his tweet about “camps” may have been; Vermeule demeaned atheists intentionally. The critics were silent because bigots enjoy far greater freedom to slander atheists than any other minority group.

I’d argue that trans and gay folk are more freely slandered than atheists, for example, but the point is that this guy Vermeule said something appallingly stupid, and apparently really believes that Christians are intrinsically more moral and trustworthy than atheists.

All I can say is that we can look at professed Christian Donald Trump and professional rat-fucker with a Nixon tattoo on his back, Roger Stone, has “found Jesus”.

“I feel pretty good because I’ve taken Jesus Christ as my personal savior,” Stone said in his first on-camera interview since his sentencing. “And it’s given me enormous strength and solace, because he knows what’s in my heart.”

Do you trust Roger Stone to keep an oath?

I blew it

I missed my chance. Yesterday was the deadline to apply for the Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design in Seattle.

The Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design are coming to Seattle for 9 days, July 10 to 18, 2020. It’s an entirely free opportunity for undergrad and graduate students to study ID with the stars of the field: Meyer, Axe, Nelson, Wells, Gauger, Sternberg, West, and more.

An excuse to spend a week or two in Seattle would have been welcome — it’s like home, I love that city — but the fact I’d have to spend it with that list of pompous chuckleheads left me more interested in finding a different excuse.

Did you know there’s a Spider Lake in the Olympic National Forest? I should check out whether there are actually significant numbers of spiders there. That would be a far more productive summer break.