The Triumph Of Quackery

We are seeing what happens when the “fringe” goes mainstream. (Well, perhaps not mainstream as in “mainstream American society” but mainstream as in “takes over a President and his political party.” Mainstream Republican, in other words.)

When belief in science threatens the bottom line, when those pesky things called “facts” are politically inconvenient, when the complexity of modern life requires an acknowledgement of uncertainty–people who are profoundly uncomfortable with those realities retreat to the conspiracy theories and bright lines that have long characterized beliefs of people we might refer to as “untethered to reality.”

As Richard Wolffe recently asked about one such “untethered” person in the Guardian, “What kind of buffoon brags about taking a drug that could kill him?”

Wolffe acknowledges that–among the many ailments Donald Trump has inflicted on his own country – there is one worse than hydroxycholoroquine, unsafe and ineffective as the FDA says it is for this use.

But it’s even worse that he is a one-man delivery vehicle for a dunce cult that denies science.He represents the nadir of a long tradition of conspiracy-loving wingnuts who used to populate the fringes of the American conservative movement. Over the last half-century they have moved steadily into the mainstream of the Republican party, where their fact-free fairytales about the evil establishment have found a natural home in the cranium of the 45th president.

In this age of hyper-connected ignorance, there are no independent experts and there are no true facts. Your scientific theories are equal to my Twitter theories, just as your FBI investigation into Russia is equal to Rudy’s supposed investigation into Ukraine. All opinions are equal, but some are more equal than others.

As Wolffe notes, slap a respectable-sounding name on groups espousing bizarre theories, and watch the desperate-to-be-believers lap it up: the staid-sounding Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, for example, has denied that HIV causes Aids (citing “official reports and the peer-reviewed literature”) and revealed that Barack Obama was using “mass hypnosis to bamboozle voters with his fancy speeches,” among other “scientific” discoveries.

According to recent surveys, most Republicans want scientists out of the policy process. Before the pandemic, just 43% of Republicans thought scientists should play an active role in policy debates, compared with 73% of Democrats. This at a time when so many policy issues–from auto emission standards to public health standards–require an understanding of what credible science tells us.

Even fewer Republicans – 34% – think scientists are any better at making decisions about science policy than you or me.

These opinions did not crawl out of the primordial soup on their own. They have evolved over time in a warm bath of fringe conspiracy groups that have spent decades fighting against the teaching of evolution, among other social evils. One of those groups was Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, which worked to push evolution out of the classroom, almost as doggedly as Mrs America fought against women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.

So it’s no surprise to find her son Andrew named as general counsel to the AAPS. Among other projects, Andrew Schlafly founded a conservative alternative to Wikipedia, to correct its “liberal bias” on things like evolution.

Fringe beliefs aren’t new. Stupidity isn’t new (although I doubt we’ve ever had a President as monumentally stupid as Trump, who recently responded to a question about per capita comparisons with Germany and Japan by saying “You know, when you say ‘per capita’ there’s many per capitas. It’s, like, per capita relative to what? But you can look at just about any category, and we’re really at the top, meaning positive on a per-capita basis too.”)

What is new is the Internet and especially social media. What is new is the chutzpah of a President complaining that fact-checking his obvious lie on Twitter somehow deprives him of “free speech.” What is new is our ability to occupy information bubbles of our own choosing–bubbles that reinforce our bigotries and reassure us that Q is real and the pointy-headed intellectuals who trust science are part of the “deep state.”

What is new–and most definitely not improved– is the devolution of an entire political party into an adolescent, anti-science, anti-evidence, anti-fact cult of quackery.


  1. “What is new–and most definitely not improved– is the devolution of an entire political party into an adolescent, anti-science, anti-evidence, anti-fact cult of quackery.”

    It must be me. I don’t see anything new. It’s just the result of attempting to implant a neo-Nazi movement, not against less than 1% of the population, but against between 30 or 40% of the population.

    What else should we expect other than UTTER RUIN, as most of us and the rest of the world are now observing?

  2. Why should Trump stop when he knows we won’t do a damn thing other than WORTHLESS TALK to stop him? Who is the real FOOL in this continuing saga? I don’t think it’s him.

  3. What we’re witnessing is nothing more than a DOMESTIC VERSION of the BATTLE OF THE BULGE, except in the W.W. II version, the”good guys” won.

  4. Good article Sheila!

    It has been unfortunate in the past that scientists had been their own worst enemy!

    In efforts to prove themselves correct, certain bad actors have been involved in fraud!

    Of course, scientists and their personalities are just a microcosm of general society, and, you have those will engage in honest and truthful research, and others that pursue their own agenda looking for aggrandizement.

    And, it is no different than those religious groups which claim, falsely so, that the earth was “Created” in a literal week!

    Just like those religious groups that handle snakes and drink strychnine, basically using Mark 16:17, 18! And the reasoning was that Christian should be able to ingest poison or be bitten by snakes and not die! Unfortunately, this particular Scripture was added much later, by an unknown author, and not written by the Apostle Mark. This is where scriptural knowledge weeds out falsehoods. Because, when you read Luke 24:13-35, the 11 apostles refused to believe that Christ was resurrected, one of those was Mark! They didn’t believe someone could be resurrected after dying. So then why would Mark all of a sudden claimed that you could be bitten by poison snakes or drink poison and not die at all. The writing style is different, and the original versions, the original transcripts of that Scripture, stop at Mark 16:8. Even the Catholic encyclopedia lists Mark 16:8 the ending of that chapter, and listing 9 through 18 of dubious character.

    An incident in Acts 28:3-6 talks about the apostle Paul being bitten by a snake while he was visiting the island of Malta. It was mixed in with some sticks he was throwing on fire, when he was bitten, he shook the snake off into the fire. He suffered no ill effects from the snake. But, Scripture does not discuss the snake was poisonous or not, and, Did Not, as snake handlers do now, pass the snake around to his associates Warming by the fire, he threw it in the fire! So, there’s that!

    So, that being said, fraud is fraud! As in the case of the Piltdown man! With the mixture of a modern mans skull and the jaw of an orangutan. Sir Arthur Keith president of the Royal College of surgeons was one of the elite scientists “Duped” another was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! Martin AC Hinton the Dir. and curator of zoology at London’s natural history Museum was the one that perpetrated the hoax because of perceived slights financially.

    So, this is just a couple of examples, I’ve found many many many more! So, excuse me if I myself and others who have the same opinions are not duped by either side! An agenda is a potent reason to manipulate anything!

    One thing I do know, the earth is billions of years old, there were many time periods in Earth’s history that lasted tens or hundreds of millions of years, and yes there probably is other life in the universe, because when you look at the universe, and the billions of galaxies, we would be remiss to deny other forms of life.

    Was all of this by accident? Or was there some sort of intelligent design? Several theoretical physicists have recently come to the conclusion, all physics our local, that what is known physics in this region may be completely opposite and other areas of this galaxy and the universe! Some of the observable properties have lent itself to that being true.

    Mankind is definitely changing this planet for the worst, he is destroying the only home we live in or have! Too bad we can’t eat and breathe money, because if there’s no food or air air to breathe, Money won’t mean diddly squat! At that point, gold or diamonds or anything, won’t be any more precious than a handful of sand, or a sandwich for that matter! Remember, 70 CE and the sacking of Jerusalem, neighbors traded their children because they couldn’t eat their own, money didn’t matter! And they were all slaughtered by the Romans eventually.

    So, I believe what mankind truly knows about anything could fit on the head of a needle, and what he doesn’t know could fill a vast ocean or universe for that matter!

    And for those who feel that they have a firm grasp on entrenched opinions and ideals, well, it’s 2 sides of the same coin!

  5. “What’s old is new again.” It must be difficult to maintain balance and stability while lock-stepping backwards and claiming progress as the result. These Flat Earth Society Republicans can’t march themselves backward fast enough to suit me to fall over the edge of the earth like those swine Christ herded into the abyss so long ago!

    “What is new is the Internet and especially social media. What is new is the chutzpah of a President complaining that fact-checking his obvious lie on Twitter somehow deprives him of “free speech.”

    Early morning report on CNN Newsroom this morning; last night Trump beat his own Tweeting record of 140 in one night by sending 200+ Tweets about our/his current situation behind his new wall around the fenced in White House. Quackery, thy name is Trump!

    “What is new–and most definitely not improved– is the devolution of an entire political party into an adolescent, anti-science, anti-evidence, anti-fact cult of quackery.”

    I do not believe for one second that the reigning Republicans under Trump and McConnell do NOT believe in science; there is simply much less money to be made by facts.

  6. At the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans, dressed in uniforms of captured American soldiers, took over the direction of traffic at strategic locations behind our lines, no different in my opinion, than the activities of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center covering up the activities of the ill-fated modus vivendi between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Anti-Defamation League, which has DIRECTLY led to the massive, deadly, anti-Semitism and racism in the minds of the millions of Trump’s evangelical followers.

    The German breakthrough was halted only after the allies recognized the deceptive tactics of their enemy.

  7. How can you expect to prevail when your most important INTELLIGENCE NGO has been compromised? Only the biggest FOOLS on Planet Earth would continue to support this PERFIDY after becoming aware of the massive deceit.

  8. Scientists are human, too. That’s why there is some fakery and some data manipulation by a few of them. On the whole, our systems discourage those practices through peer review processes and the requirement that new discoveries must be independently replicable. The greatest challenge is privately funded research that picks and chooses what to publish or not publish. That has been addressed imperfectly by the major journals by requiring disclosure of possible conflicts of interest. We still have a ways to go in solving that issue.

    The question of who is better at making policy decisions about science is very different from who do we trust to give us the facts. Very few “experts” are capable of seeing the whole picture on any issue. We need a broad range of people with a variety of expertise to make policy decisions, which in a perfect world would be based in and driven by facts.

  9. Peggy,

    “We need a broad range of people with a variety of expertise to make policy decisions, which in a perfect world would be based in and driven by facts.”


  10. At this late point in the game, our only chance for an acceptable future is to find a FACT DRIVEN ALTERNATIVE to the SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER before all is lost.

    But I doubt that will ever happen. It appears that we’re too weak to accomplish that difficult task.

  11. Who knew a humble real estate developer and sometime television game show host could be such a brilliant polymath, such a savant in so many diverse fields? Medicine, climate science, economics, public health, international relations, and more. He should be recognized, and so I nominate him for an Ig Nobel Prize. The committee can pick whatever category it wants, maybe all of them, or create a special new category that attempts to reflect his genius.

    Of course, if we can’t arrange for the Ig Nobel, a RICO indictment will do.

    At my age, I hate to wish for time to pass in the blink of an eye, but November 3rd can’t come any too soon. Hopefully, we’ll have ourselves together enough to deal with one problem then. As for the rest of his know-nothing, take-us-back-to-the-Dark-Ages cult, I’m beginning to think the solution probably isn’t going to be funded by George Soros and administered by chem-trails. At this point, I think we should just give them a couple of states and let them secede.

  12. Patrick,

    “At this point, I think we should just give them a couple of states and let them secede.”

    The most practical alternative contributed so far. Although, it’ll probably take, at least, all the original Confederate States in the deal, but peace is better than war. Right?

  13. Amongst myriad troubling aspects to this essay, one is, to me, “most troubling.” Seventy-three percent of Democrat’s think scientist are important in policy making? So, twenty-seven percent disagree? Seems there are a sufficient amount of idiots among Republicans. Democrats should not add to the looney side of the universe.

  14. We need to drop the descriptor, “conservative” from the Republican Party. That no longer is a relevant adjective. They applaud Big Government as long as it benefits them and those causes they approve like Fascism and the Police State along with bail-outs and Fed monies going to the 1% and financial sector.

    I don’t see any opposition in Washington to the greed above or misuse of the federal government.

    As progressives have suggested, we need to combat the problem with a well-funded education sector, which obliterates the previous chapter controlled by large teacher unions and publishers. It should also be free through college. I’m seeing posts from our younger folks who are learning more about slavery and the civil rights movement during these marches the past several weeks than their entire schooling, including college.

    That’s a problem!

    And just like that, Howard Zinn is relevant again!

    I even reposted a seven-year-old article I wrote about Mitch Daniels’ treatment of Howard Zinn as he leaped from the governor’s mansion to the helm at Purdue University.

    For those recommending that we allow the ignorant to secede into individual states, that sorting has already been taking place across the country. It’s why our Electoral College is outdated and irrelevant. And it also sucks that Indiana has lost to the uneducated fools.

    We still have the right to choose where we live for now. However, I can see that freedom evaporating as we move through the collapse of capitalism.

  15. Marv,
    Given the fact that most of the old Confederate states are takers from the northern states as far as assistance from the federal government, those Confederate states as you say would not last very long as their own country.

  16. Peggy,
    You are correct concerning peer reviews and such, and, I don’t think the GOP wing is suitable to control anything anymore because of the false delusional edicts that they’ve put out and they themselves believe. They believe it because they become willfully ignorant, they wish there to be a different reality, so they delude themselves into believing an alternate reality that is not there. This is not so different from religion and that’s why it’s so intertwined.

    That being said, if liberals want to have the moral High ground, because that’s the superior tack, there has to be refrain from embellishing or exacerbating wrong thinking.

    Just like this recent hydroxychloroquine clinical study that was pulled because of some shenanigans, scientists are not perfect, and peer review does work, but there are plenty of things that slip through the cracks! So, I suppose everything needs to be investigated before it’s repeated as a fact, or dogma, or whatever!

    As I mentioned before, I have cousins who will post stuff that eviscerate Trump in a way, and then post stuff that support him! They would drown themselves for Donald Trump! But, because things are put up by people that they follow, they forward them off like mindless robots! The stupidity of it all is astounding!

  17. Scientists come in a whole spectrum of good to bad, competent to incompetent, skilled to bumbling just like all people do. What they all profess to know is science and that is simply the most reliable means found by humans to know the reality that we are one with. However nobody is born knowing science, either the process by which we discover new facts about reality or the body of knowledge of those previously uncovered. There’s no magic, just hard work and challenging learning which some excel at and others just squeeze by.

    What we can say about all fields of human knowledge including science is that the accumulated knowledge from centuries of pursuing it is beyond the capacity of single brains to encompass so very often multiple brains have to collaborate to know enough to solve complex problems.

    All professions know this about themselves but not all humans have professions many have skills instead. It seems that when I was growing up the distinction between those two things was well understood and part of the culture both served. People chose between and among them and made livings based on their accomplishments in their choice. That worked for everyone.

    What we evolved to since then works well for fewer and fewer people and many are left behind without really knowing why a few end up with all of the marbles and so, so many are left struggling despite what seems like equal effort on the part of the vast majority.

    Perhaps the connections between our decisions and our efforts and our interests and abilities aren’t what is rewarded with wealth.

    What if what is more likely to lead to high on the wealth hog are other things than what we learned they were? What if getting a supersized piece of the pie was like winning a lottery, pure luck of place and time.

    Boy that would collapse our whole world.

  18. Seems odd to still be dealing with the likes of Phyllis Schlafly types and beliefs nearly 50 years after being confronted with it and her as an audience member on the Phil Donahue show in Dayton, Ohio in 1972-73.

  19. Todd good comment especially the so-called Conservative GOP. They also push constantly for a bigger defense budget which of course makes Wall Street Happy Campers. Unfortunately, we have some Democrats who are also fellow travelers in lavishing new weapons on the military.

    At least from what I read on Facebook, my reactionary Right-wing “friends” have welded to together a conspiracy of George Soros, Pelosi, Obama, Bill Gates, The Squad, antifa, et. al. Soros is even labeled a Nazi even though he is of Jewish origin. Adding to the Reactionary Right-wing confusion Soros is at times labeled a communist, even though capitalism made him a wealthy man.

  20. There may be better disciplines within which to understand reality than science, but that is the best arena we have today in the search for truth. Some, however, are less interested in truth than making money or fanning the flames of their preconceived prejudices. Perhaps the Know Nothing Party of the past should be rejuvenated so that those who reject science can have a friendly confine in which to congregate and argue two and two are five.

    Yes, we have rogue scientists in the act, and someone tell me any arenas in which humans are involved that do not have their share of rogues. Perhaps unfortunately, and unlike Sir Isaac Newton and Einstein, we non-scientists are dealing with politics and economics, both social rather than physical sciences, and since such social science need be neither peer-reviewed nor replicable to gain an audience, the results can always be argued. We know, for instance, that water seeks its own level and that photosynthesis and gravity exist, but how can we in confidence say that a specific tax cut will lead to prosperity for all (since historically some such cuts have and some have not).

    Perhaps we need a different yardstick for measuring the two “sciences’ in our quest for truth (assuming our quest is for truth and not due to greed and/or to reinforce preexisting biases). Perhaps.

  21. Sheila: I posted a short post on Facebook this morning in which I lamented how much I miss hugging and shaking hands with my friends. I expressed my hope that we would be able to return to hugging, and I asked if others shared my agony.

    I had an immediate response. Dozens of my friends commented how much they hated not being able to hug one another or shake hands. The response was gratifying.

    However, I had one response from someone who I knew to be a Fox News viewer. She expressed disdain at my post and stated that the social distancing was all a plot fueled by “the Chinese controlled WHO.” In her view we should be hugging and not worry about it.

    Just this week I lost a 62 year old attorney friend to COVID-19. His obituary is in the paper today.
    I cannot understand how these folks can deny the scientific proof of the existence of COVID and the benefits of social distancing….

  22. Marv, I met another man who has a grudge against the Southern Poverty Law Center, a powerful entity having a mission of opposing violations of civil rights. His complaint was that it preferred to fight for African American civil rights at the price of ignoring antisemitism. And that the SPLC has gotten rich at the expense of some entity he seemed reluctant to define.

    What’s your complaint?

  23. Larry,

    “Marv….And that the SPLC has gotten rich at the expense of some entity he seemed reluctant to define. What’s your complaint?

    My complaint is probably the same as the man you met. He was probably talking about Rabbi Michael Lerner the Publisher of Tikkun magazine.

    In the early ’90s, the SPLC joined together with the ADL which effectively minimized the influence of Rabbi Lerner. He is the voice of the strongest progressive movement within American Jewry, but since that time, he has been forced to act outside the ORGANIZED Jewish community, which has greatly minimized his fundraising ability.

  24. “Why should Trump stop when he knows we won’t do a damn thing other than WORTHLESS TALK to stop him? Who is the real FOOL in this continuing saga? I don’t think it’s him.” I agree w/ you Marv. There is one thing I have learned that goes against what I was taught in Civics class in the 80’s–it is not true that the only power the President has is the power of Veto. During this administration I have learned Congress has zero power–the President can ignore subpoena’s, oversight, can fire at will and too much of our gov’t processes are based on behavioral norms and that is not acceptable.

    There are so many loop holes this Asshole and his minions have discovered it will take decades to close them up.

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