Senator Patrick Colbeck’s embrace of pseudoscience goes farther than I thought

I’ve written before about my state senator, Patrick Colbeck, before. I sometimes think, despite my agnosticism, that somebody up there is laughing at me, because I would have to have an antivaccine-leaning nutter as my state senator. I first took note of his antivaccine proclivities three years ago, when he announced that he was going to attend a screening of an antivaccine film at a theater in his district. Last year, he co-sponsored legislation that, had it passed, not only would have made it easier for parents to claim nonmedical “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates but would also have made it more difficult for local health officials to keep unvaccinated children out of school in the event of a breakout. As I said, it was almost as though Sen. Colbeck were trying to make measles great again in Michigan. More recently, Colbeck went nearly full-on antivaccine in an op-ed published in a local newspaper. He even trotted out the “aborted fetal tissuegambit. He’s also an anti-LGBTQ bigot.

On general principles, I’ve always opposed term limits, but, believe me, having Patrick Colbeck as my state senator has tested that belief more than any other politician. Let’s just say that I’m very happy that, as of January 1, 2019, he will no longer be my state senator. Unfortunately, he is running for governor. The only good thing is that he’s a major underdog, whose chances of winning are not very good at all.

Yesterday, I found out that he’s also heavily into other pseudoscience. Let’s just put it this way. Patrick Colbeck was featured in a post by John Stone on everybody’s favorite wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery, Age of Autism. Specifically, Stone was happy about this video of Colbeck giving a speech:

Mr. Stone was particularly interested in this excerpt from Sen. Colbeck’s speech:

Article 4 section 51 of the Michigan Constitution States: ‘the public health and the general welfare of the people of the state are hereby declared to be a matter of primary public concern. The legislature shall pass suitable laws for the protection and promotion of public health.’ Despite the convenience and the enormous economic growth potential associated with the Internet of Things our primary concern as legislator is not convenience, noe economic growth. As much as I love technology as per our Michigan constitution the public health and general welfare of the people of our state are supposed our primary concern…This convenience comes at a price and it comes at the price to the health of many of our citizens most notably children babies in the womb and even adults who suffer from hyper sensitivity to wireless transitions”.

“A few weeks ago I distributed sample data to each of you from scientific studies…complied by bioinitiative,org. ..the adverse health effects are very serious.”

“Many of us are rightly concerned about the hazards of cigarattes, lead levels..and other harmful substances…but I regreat to inform you that we need to add electromagnetic radiaiton from wireless technology to this list.”

Wifi woo. Colbeck is into wifi pseudoscience. It figures. Well, why not? He’s borderline antivaccine, if not outright antivaccine, and, although I can’t find any good quotes right now, I recall Colbeck expressing “doubt” about the current theory of evolution and support for teaching intelligent design creationism in comments he left on his Facebook page a few years ago. He also supports teaching a version of history in which the US can do no wrong, and he spouts positions on medicine that are very much aligned with the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the same fringe group that former HHS Secretary Tom Price belonged to. You get the idea.

I’ve written about the pseudoscience that is “electromagnetic hypersensitivity<” before. Specifically, I wrote about it in the context of the tragic suicide of a teenaged girl in England that her parents blamed on her having a “hypersensitivity” to electromagnetic radiation in the form of her school’s wifi network. Before that, I took note of a particularly off-the-wall attempt by some all too-nearby teachers to call for an end to the new wifi system being installed in their schools.

Out of curiosity, I went to the site being cited by my state senator, namely Bioinitiative 2012, which sells itself as “a rationale for biologically-based exposure standards for low-intensity.” Perusing it, I’m surprised that I never encountered it before. Perusing it, I realize that this one single website, this one single report could provide me with weeks worth of blogging material.

For instance, I zeroed in on a section on wifi and breast cancer. For example, my skeptical antennae start twitching when I read passages like this:

The subject of breast cancer and studies of melatonin has a long and rich history replete with destroyed scientific reputations and career-ending charges of misconduct of scientists who have contributed stellar scientific work that has proved extremely inconvenient for governmental agencies and military and industrial interests (Liburdy).

See what I mean? Whenever I see passages like this, in which scientific findings are portrayed as “inconvenient” for various interests (or, as I like to put it, to “them”), I find it a pretty good indication that I’m dealing with grade-A, pure bullshit, particularly when followed up by passages like this:

Evidence which supports a possible mechanism for ELF-EMF and breast cancer is the consistent finding (in five separate labs) that environmental levels of ELF-EMF can act at the cellular level to enhance breast cancer proliferation by blocking melatonin’s natural oncostatic action in MCF- 7 cells (Liburdy, 1993; Luben et al, 1996; Morris et al, 1998; Blackman et al, 2001; Ishido, et al, 2001). ELF-EMF levels between 0.6 and 1.2 μT have been shown to consistently block the protective effects of melatonin.

The series of papers reporting increased breast cancer cell proliferation when ELF-EMF at environmental levels negatively affects the oncostatic actions of melatonin in MCF-7 cells should warrant new public exposure guidelines or planning target limits for the public, and for various susceptible segments of the population.

As I’ve pointed out more times than I can remember, the energy in the radiowaves used for wifi (and, of course, cell phones) is too low to break chemical bonds. Be that as it may, the Bioinitiative Report is a whole lot of cherry picking, as has been discussed on multiple occasions, my favorite being this one by Kenneth R. Foster and Lorne Trottier, which characterizes the Bioinitiative Report thusly:

And here is where the cherry picking comes in. The table only includes lists of studies reporting effects, some at vanishingly small exposure levels. Studies that did not report effects, or which could not confirm studies that earlier had reported effects, are conspicuously missing.

For example, one of the effects at the lowest exposure levels was reported in 2000 by David de Pomerai (University of Nottingham) and colleagues2 (see p. 106 of the PDF). In that study, exposure to low-level microwave radiation caused nematodes (a kind of worm) to express heat shock proteins. (Heat shock proteins are “expressed” or produced by the body as a way of adapting to temperature changes, an effect that can be observed at even slight temperature increases). Not mentioned is the fact that de Pomerai retracted the paper in 2006 after he had discovered that the earlier results were an artifact due to inadequately controlled temperature.3

The BIR also fails to discuss the high quality follow up studies (including one by de Pomerai and colleagues4) that found that RF exposure levels far above those used in the earlier studies did not induce heat shock proteins in a different nematode. Health agencies in their reviews have paid little attention to the expression (or non-expression) of heat shock proteins induced by RF exposure, in part because of lack of a robust and repeatable effect and in part because of the difficulty in separating the effects of simple temperature change from any specific effect of RF. Also, one might question the relevance of a small biological effect reported in nematodes in response to mild heating to human health.

Amusingly, Foster and Trottier point out the failure to replicate most of the cherry picked studies cited in the Bioinitiative Report and, amusingly, also take note of the report’s disingenuous dismissal of this lack of consistency in which it claims that ““some experts keep saying that all studies have to be consistent (turn out the same way every time) before they are comfortable saying an effect exists.” Of course, this is nonsense. Real scientists know that in biological and epidemiological studies, absolute consistency is impossible. What critics of the Bioinitiative Report are saying is that when study results are so inconsistent and not replicable the most likely explanation is that there is no effect. In other words, you have to look at the preponderance of evidence in the peer-reviewed literature. Let’s just put it this way. You can find seemingly “positive” individual studies of homeopathy, The One Quackery To Rule Them All, but if you look at the totality of evidence you’ll find that homeopathy has no effects distinguishable from placebo. For instance, contrary to the Bioinitiative Report’s assessment that electromagnetic fields like those in wifi and cell phone emissions can cause genotoxic damage, a large meta-analysis found just the opposite.

It’s depressing to have a state senator so ignorant about science. Patrick Colbeck should know better, given that he is an engineer and prominently boasts of this background in his campaign. His campaign logo for governor even plays on his background as an aeronautical engineer. Here’s hoping he ends up nowhere near the Michigan governor’s mansion.