Bill Maher is clearly skinning the cat in a unique fashion and telling some whopping lies

Posted November 16, 2009

I would like to note that my use of the word “belief” throughout this post is not meant to imply a faith-based understanding of the world. I define the term as “that which is currently held as true” and do not discriminate among methods used to acquire the knowledge.

The post I have been planning, which is about the price of skepticism (yes, I believe it has a price), will have to wait. Bill Maher is making a fool of himself and I cannot ignore it. What a disappointment.

Bill Maher has been widely criticized by the skeptic community in recent months because he preaches a set of contradictory beliefs, some of which are deadly. You see, in addition to promoting science, he trashes it.

Maher, with his anti-religion humor and ultra-liberal political views, should be popular among skeptics since a good deal of time and energy has been spent keeping religion out of science classrooms. Skeptics tend to be socially liberal and many are what could be considered ultra-liberal. However, when the Atheist Alliance announced that Maher was the recipient of this year’s Richard Dawkins Award, the skeptical blogosphere went a little nuts. Much of the discussion was prompted by Orac, who has criticized Maher for years. Even after the ceremony was over, the posts just kept on coming.

Bill Maher promotes science in order to criticize religion, but he trashes “western medicine”. He believes that “they have made no progress as far as cancer in this country”, which would surprise a lot of oncologists (and cancer survivors) were it true. He believes that the pharmaceutical companies have the government totally under control, which shows his ignorance of the influence of the much larger, nearly completely unregulated, multi-billion dollar CAM industry. He does not believe that the H1N1 virus poses a threat and even implied that a guest was lying when he said that a healthy man died from it in his hospital.

In mid-October, Michael Shermer wrote an Open Letter to Bill Maher in the Huffington Post. In this direct and concise plea for reason, Shermer sums up Bill’s problem in one sentence:

…I believe that when it comes to alternative medicine in general and vaccinations in particular you have fallen prey to the same cognitive biases and conspiratorial thinking that you have so astutely identified in others.

Well, that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? You see, holding a rational belief does not make one rational. There are many ways to arrive at a conclusion. If the conclusion is one which can come from reason, we tend to think that those who have drawn it are reasonable. We are then surprised when they “become” irrational in order to defend a sacred cow. However, consider the possibility that they were never rational to begin with. They arrived at that “rational” conclusion through other means. For example, I believe that humans face a serious threat of global climate change due mostly from man’s industrialization. My neighbor holds this same belief. I attended conferences, read peer-reviewed literature, and reviewed the consensus statements produced by meetings of scientists. My neighbor saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and believed every word of it. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Well, since Bill Maher is far from rational, my hopes that he would listen to and consider Michael Shermer’s words were never high. It is still disappointing to read his response to the criticism, which is clearly the moronic babbling of an arrogant, irrational, bat-guano crazy, nut job.

The British Medical Journal from August 25 says half the doctors and medical workers in the U.K. are not taking the flu shot — are they all crazy too?

Well, yes, Bill. They are. Well, no, they are not crazy. They are ignorant and arrogant, just like you.

Despite the fact that vaccinations work when taken in adequate numbers, scaremongers in the UK have managed to talk enough people out of vaccinations that measles is making a fast come-back. Thanks to people like Bill Maher, we are seeing new cases of measles and rubella in the U.S. again.

Bill’s post is full of “I’m just a comedian” excuses for his bad advice — advice that he must constantly back-pedal to defend.

…if your immune system is already compromised by, for example, eating a typical American diet, then a flu shot can make sense.

Just what is the “typical American diet”? No two friends of mine eat the same foods and with the myriad of choices, including an abundance of alternative markets, I am at a loss as to what he means. What’s more important, however, is his claim that such a diet compromises the immune system or why someone with a compromised immune system should get a flu shot, but someone with a healthy immune system might be harmed by it. Although he did not state that a healthy person would be harmed by the flu shot, he has implied this on several occasions in the past.

But someone needs to be representing the point of view that says the preferred way to handle flus is to have a strong immune system to begin with, and getting lots of vaccines might not be the best way to accomplish that over the long haul.

This makes no sense whatsoever, but it especially makes no sense given the manner in which vaccines work. It is also completely unsupported.

In addition, my audience is bright, they wouldn’t refuse a flu shot because they heard me talk about it, but if they looked into the subject a little more, how is that a bad thing?

This sounds a lot like the excuses given by Oprah in response to the scathing and brilliant Newsweek article last summer. The idea that viewers will look into a subject first-hand and that they will NOT be influenced by what people such as Bill Maher say is total fantasy. The number of people who get their health news from Dr. Oz might surprise you. Even if people look into it more, where are they looking? They will consult the websites and other resources of those they wish to believe and they will buy the propaganda that is sold to them.

If they went to the CDC Web site and saw what’s in the vaccine — the formaldehyde, the insect repellent, the mercury — shouldn’t they at least get to have the information for themselves?

Insect repellent???! How many people have the education to read the ingredient lists, understand the language, and know how the levels of these ingredients compare to safe levels, levels we are exposed to each day in the environment, levels manufactured by our own body’s biological processes? And how many, like you, Bill, will see something which looks dangerous and looks like something you said was in vaccines and allow what they read to solidify the baseless belief they acquired listening to you? How many will add information only to end up more ignorant than they began? People need accurate information and they need it given to them without your propaganda-laced commentary. They need information explained to them by people who understand it, not arrogant bozos who only think they know everything.

And if you have a compromised immune system and can’t boost it naturally, as in poor countries where the children are eating dirt, then a vaccine can be a white knight — bravo!

…?…. sphspt….. wha?

Does the polio vaccine have the power to prevent children from getting polio, and did it indeed do just that in the 1950s? I believe it does, and it did. But polio had diminished by over 50 percent in the thirty years before the vaccine — that’s a pretty big fact in the polio story that you don’t often hear and which merits debate.

That a pretty big LIE, so, no it doesn’t merit debate.

Most of the rest of his post is a simply series of self-contradictory statements — points he obviously thinks are valid, but demonstrate more ignorance and straw man arguments (including his complaint that his critics have built a straw man of him). However, I cannot ignore this statement:

I believe in science and I believe in studies to determine the truth.

This is exactly the same bit of BS that the Australian Vaccination Network and bimbos like Jenny McCarthy are spewing when they say, “I’m not anti-vax.” If you believe in science and the evidence produced by studies, then why do you continue to ignore the evidence in favor of your gut feelings?


Ms. Fisher said “If we want to create a society that is dependent on shots for immunity — the same way we are getting dependent on prescription drugs, antibiotics, and surgery — this is the path we should keep going down.”

I don’t think its “anti-science” to pause and consider that point of view.

No, it’s not anti-science to consider a point of view. In this case, it’s just stupid. We “depend” on these things in the same way that we “depend” on cars. We have experienced a greater quality of life and longer lives because of them, not in spite of them.

The alternative to medicine is NOT that we “naturally” thwart disease. The alternative is that we suffer and die from the diseases we could be treating with prescription drugs, antibiotics, and surgery. The alternative is that we suffer and die or live with disfigurement and disabilities after suffering from vaccine preventable illnesses.



thoughtcounts Z on November 16th, 2009 at 03:53:

Well said, Barbara… Now you’ve got me all riled up again, after I thought I had managed to move on. :)

Sean the Blogonaut on November 17th, 2009 at 06:50:

I still can’t fathom why he got that award. What measurable benefit did non-believers gain from his attack on believers. I can think of other more worthy recipients.

Liz Ditz on November 17th, 2009 at 10:42:
Roundup of bloggers critical of Maher’s article, including this post.

Maher is aligning himself with the “autism is vaccine injury” zealots.

Barbara Drescher on November 17th, 2009 at 12:41:

Thank you for the link, Liz!

Douglas Watts on November 18th, 2009 at 00:01:

Very well said, thank you.

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