Oct 12 2009

Bill Maher Followup

If you peruse skeptical blogs you are probably familiar with the recent controversy over giving the Richard Dawkins award to Bill Maher by the Atheist Alliance International (AAI). To summarize, the AAI decided to recognize Bill Maher with their award named after Dr. Dawkins. The award is for:

The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.

The part that caused controversy was the bit about “advocates increased scientific knowledge.” A number of skeptics (Orac, I think, was most verbose) had a problem with this because Bill Maher is an advocate for medical pseudoscience. He does not believe in vaccines, he denigrates “western medicine” as a scam, and he has a problem with germ theory.

On RichardDawkins.net Josh Timonen gave was appears to be the official defense of the decision:

Whilst Richard was not involved in the decision, he is nevertheless happy to go along with it. Just as he worked with Bishop Harries to protest against creationist schools in the UK, and just as he regularly recommends Kenneth Miller’s books on evolution to religious people, he understands that it is not a prerequisite to agree with a person on all issues in order to unite in support of a common objective. Richard and Christopher Hitchens don’t see eye to eye on all political matters, but that doesn’t stop them from working together against the dangers of religion. Honoring the creation of ‘Religulous’ does not imply endorsement of all of Bill Maher’s other views, and does not preclude Richard’s arguing against them on future occasions. It is simply showing proper appreciation of his brilliant film.

This misses the point, in my opinion. If the award were solely for Religulous, and that were clear, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it. But the award specifically cites “science” as a necessary criterion for the award. Giving the Richard Dawkins Award to Maher was the equivalent of giving a prominent advocate of creationism and intelligent design a science award because of their opposition to the 911 truther movement. I suspect that such a decision would not sit well with Richard Dawkins and some others who were perceived to be soft on AAI’s decision. The analogies to Miller and Hitchens are not apt – Maher is so far outside the scientific mainstream on medicine that it is incongruous to give him any science award.

I did not attend the AAI conference, but reports from those who did say that Dawkins, in introducing Maher, took care to criticize his views on medicine. PZ Myers writes:

The good news for all the critics of this choice is that Dawkins pulled no punches. In his introduction, he praised Religulous and thanked Maher for his contributions to freethought, but he also very clearly and unambiguously stated that some of his beliefs about medicine were simply crazy. He did a good job of walking a difficult tightrope; he made it clear that the award was granted for some specific worthy matters, his humorous approach to religion, while carefully dissociating the AAI from any endorsement of crackpot medicine. It won’t be enough, I know, but the effort was made, and talking to Dawkins afterwards there was no question but that Maher’s quackery was highly objectionable. I also got the impression that he felt the critics of the award were making good and reasonable points, and that he felt the awkwardness of the decision.

This can be seen as recognition by Dawkins that there were problems with the award. I can only assume that this was specifically in response to criticism about giving Maher the award, since when Dawkins was first asked about the decision he simply said that he was not aware of Maher’s views on medicine.

In the final analysis, the problem that many of us have with Maher getting the award is that the totality of his views clearly indicates that Maher is not a rationalist. Because his religious views happen to coincide with those of the AAI does not mean that his views stem from a rational or scientific worldview. In my opinion, AAI simply got snookered. They focused on one aspect of Maher’s opinions, ignored the big picture, and in the end gave a science award to a pseudoscientist.

We will get past this, but it is a sore spot that will continue to ache, because Maher is not going away. Every time he spouts his nonsense about medicine it will cut a little deeper. He is still at it – take a look at this recent interview with Bill Frist.

Frist is a doctor who has apparently kept up with the literature, and he seems to know what he is talking about. Although I have criticized Frist in the past for putting his own ideology ahead of science on the Terry Schiavo case, in this interview, Frist was the side of reason. Maher repeated his denigration of “western” medicine.

He also gets his facts wrong – he quotes Jonas Salk about the risks of live virus vaccines, without pointing out that the flu vaccine injections he is referring to are dead virus vaccines. Maher further argues that the flu vaccine does not work, when the data say otherwise. Here is an excellent review by Mark Crislip. The bottom line is that the flu vaccine works, but it is not perfect, and the primary problem (which Maher did get right sort of – it seems he can know the facts when it suits him) is that the flu strains are constantly evolving.

Maher also downplays the risks of the H1N1 pandemic. Here he is simply wrong – while H1N1 is not any more risky overall than the regular seasonal flu (which kills 36,000 people a year in the US alone), it kills more young healthy adults and pregnant women. Maher was telling pregnant women not to get vaccinated – Maher’s advice kills.

And that leads us back to the specific reason why many of us had a problem with the AAI award – it adds to the reputation of a medical crank who is using his celebrity to harm the public health (not intentionally, but that is irrelevant). There is direct harm in Maher’s medical views, and to me that trumps any other view he might have.

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33 responses so far

33 Responses to “Bill Maher Followup”

  1. Graniaon 12 Oct 2009 at 8:47 am

    I agree with you that the choice of Bill Maher was an exceedingly poor one, and one that will come back to haunt them in the end; but I suspect that the committee (or whoever gets to do the selecting of the candidate) don’t always use science as a necessary criterion for selecting the recipient.

    If you look at past recipients, not all of them can be argued to have increased scientific knowledge – Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Julia Sweeney come to mind. Both were fine candidates nonetheless in my opinion. As such though, the award seems to emphasize promoting public understanding of nontheism rather than science.

    However Bill Maher’s candidacy ought to have been excluded because his very public rants are so overtly anti-science. That makes his ignorant pronouncements on medicine highly irresponsible and potentially dangerous in the way that Oprah’s are.

  2. titmouseon 12 Oct 2009 at 9:43 am

    Non-scientists can promote science to the public by recognizing that a consensus of independent, expert researchers in the relevant field is generally a better basis for one’s opinions than Oprah, Larry King, or maverick crackpots with a political agenda or vitamin business on the side.

    I believe Ayan Hirsi Ali and Julia Sweeny would agree with the above. Bill Maher ND, not so much.

  3. titmouseon 12 Oct 2009 at 9:49 am

    My opinion of Bill Frist has shifted from “partisan hack” to “genuine physician.”

    If I weren’t so busy and lazy, I might send Frist a letter of thanks. It’s quite possible that a number of pregnant women and young children just had their lives saved, thanks to Frist’s emphatic response to Maher’s fear mongering, self-congratulatory bullshit.

  4. Karl Withakayon 12 Oct 2009 at 10:55 am

    “If you look at past recipients, not all of them can be argued to have increased scientific knowledge – Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Julia Sweeney come to mind. Both were fine candidates nonetheless in my opinion. As such though, the award seems to emphasize promoting public understanding of nontheism rather than science.”

    Yes, but there’s a difference between a recipient that is not a proponent for science and one that is actively anti-science.

    If I have an award that lists 5 criteria for consideration for the award, the chosen recipient may not have to meet all 5 criteria, but they should not be in direct opposition to any of the criteria.

    Also consider, how would the AAI have felt if Maher had been a holocaust denier? The AAI really wanted to celebrate Maher’s film Religious, and wanted to do it with their most prestigious tool available, the Richard Dawkins Award. The let this desire blind them to other important considerations. In other words, they liked what he did with Religious so much, they ignored other factors that made him an overall poor candidate for the award.

    There are times when an individual might meet every criteria for an award, but you might decide that person is an individual you do not want associated with your organization in any way, irrespective of the enumerated criteria for the award. Don’t think for a minute that most organizations don’t weigh these unlisted intangibles in their choices for recognition awards.

  5. Draalon 12 Oct 2009 at 12:34 pm

    I can’t speak for the awardees but it’s apparent they are impressed by Bill Maher’s atheist views.

    Giving the Richard Dawkins Award to Maher was the equivalent of giving a prominent advocate of creationism and intelligent design a science award because of their opposition to the 911 truther movement.

    I don’t agree with this analogy as being the most apt. Bill Maher is not first-most an anti-science proponent; He is a comedian and political satirist first and foremost. His job allows him to express his views about the government’s influence over the US health care when it becomes news worthy. If it wasn’t headline news, he would not be discussing his perspective on it. I listen to the Real Time with Bill Maher and his athiest view are quite prevalent while his anti-medicine rants are far fewer. I feel the R. Dawkins awardees made a “risk-to-benefit” assessment and felt that Bill Maher promotion of atheism outshawdows his additional personal views. (like a medicine could make a few sick but the overall benefit is worth the risk)

    People are going to nit-pick about the original intentions of any award. Take the Nobel Peace Prize. According to Nobel’s will, (and wikipedia) the Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who:

    during the preceding year [...] shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses

    Did Al Gore’s work on climate change fit this description to a “T”? nooo… Was Obama president the proceeding year? no… (has he ended the Iraq war, Afganistan war, Isreali/Palistinian conflict, stopped Iran’s nuclear ambitions, N. Korea’s missile testing and nuclear program, ect.? Just putting it out there but I’m not going to debate it)
    My point is that the original intentions of an award are not followed precisely as some people would wish. get over it.

  6. Eternally Learningon 12 Oct 2009 at 12:45 pm

    To play devils advocate; Maher could be said to be advocating increased scientific knowledge through the diminishing of religion. One could argue that the most available alternative to religion is science, so by advocating the abandonment of religion, he could be seen as advocating science, even if he doesn’t say it outright. That being said, I think that his blatent anti-science advocacy in other areas should override any by-product of a movie that was not created directly to advance science. As for the other criterion, I’m not sure if he even meets that, because there seems to be some uncertainty as to what it is he actually believes in. He has clarified on many occasions that he does not say that there is no god. He has made it fairly clear that his problem is with religion alone and not a god concept.

  7. Steven Novellaon 12 Oct 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Draal – that Maher is a comedian first is irrelevant – it also is first to his atheism then – so be consistent. He uses his fame and venue to attack religion and to promote antiscientific medical nonsense. His anti-medicine rants have been quite prominent, especially recently.

    This is not nitpicking, nor is it holding to some purist view of the award. And the analogy to giving a science award to a creationist is completely apt – the point is, not that any awardee has to be perfect or that you have to agree with them on every issue. Rather, you should look at the whole package and see if they are appropriate to the essence of the award. Maher is not appropriate to any award for promoting science.

    I do agree that the AAI likely did a risk benefit analysis. Their decision reflects all too well their attitude that being anti-religion is more important than being pro-science. I would have no problem with that if they simply took the science criterion out of their award description.

    Dawkins is both pro-science and anti-religion – he should have had more of a problem with Maher, in my opinion.

    And finally – I have nothing to get over. My only purpose in discussing this is to do damage control. Maher is contributing significantly to anti-scientific medical attitudes which has a body count, and I want to diminish that as much as possible.

  8. Draalon 12 Oct 2009 at 3:01 pm

    If the issue is to highlight Bill Maher’s body count, then focus on that. Your using the AAI award as a backdoor and the message you want to express has been muddled. The AAI clearly wants to focus on Atheism and award a prominent Atheist, Bill Maher (be that that statement can “technically” wrong to some-It’s apparent that some Atheist feel that the Atheist label is synonymous with rational thinking.).
    As for consistency, being an Atheist foremost is nearly impossible since, as far as i know, it’s not a fulltime job (unless being the head of the AAI is a fulltime job); being a Creationist capable of leading a congregation is, for the most part, being paid for expressing those views every day. A direct comparison between a Creationist and an Atheist is, in my opinion, is not a proper comparison in regards to my “first and foremost” statement; you can get paid to be a fulltime Creationist but not an Atheist so I did not call Bill Maher an Atheist first and foremost. I understand what you are getting at but I don’t agree it’s an apples to apples analogy (it’s not far off but I just didn’t completely like the analogy.) You and I disagree as how we view the “whole package” that is Bill Maher. I think the scales tip to him being an Atheist being more prevalent than his anti-science views. I like his comedy too. Bill Maher’s body count should be a stand alone topic and criticizing the AAI’s decision another.

    The “get over it” comment was meant to be tongue in check as I was attempting to use the {!-more–} tag to hide it (http://codex.wordpress.org/Writing_Posts). Basically, I feel that the AAI can award whoever they want as I personally could care less. It obviously failed (my apologies), but there is no edit button, and I wish there were emoticons on this blog to better convey non-verbal communication.

    A side point about invited speakers… Speakers and the venue have contracts they agree upon which often stipulate that the speaker gets paid X amount of money, even if their invitation is revoked. The AAI could have not done their homework thoroughly and after the inked dried, it was too late when they saw the poop storm coming. They were out of that money either way and possibly could not afford to book an alternative headliner.

    And on a completely irreverent topic, I just about yelled at the ipod on my drive to work while listening to the latest SGU episode. A ribosome is not an organelle. (8:03 min into #220) so just delete this paragraph.

  9. Eternally Learningon 12 Oct 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Draal,

    I agree with Steve that it is in no way nit-picking to say that the recipient of an award did not meet all of the criteria laid out in order to win it. There are two very clearly stated criterion for what it takes to win this award and it’s clear that he only meets one of them. I also don’t think that it is nit-picking to say that the President didn’t earn the Nobel Peace Prize. How could he have? It’s funny that you chose that as an example, because I think that it completely shows the danger in the AAI awarding this to Maher.

    I don’t think that there is much debate that awarding the President the Nobel Peace Prize was nothing more than a statement. The Nobel Foundation decided that they wanted to use this award as a political tool to encourage what they want to happen in the world. My fear, and it sounds like Steve’s as well, is that giving the Richard Dawkins award to Bill Maher is going to do the same thing, albeit unintentionally. This award sends the message that the AAI approves of the way that Bill views science as well as the way he views religion. I’m not quite sure what type, if any, of risk/benefit analysis the AAI did, but I completely disagree with their conclusions. If awarding Bill Maher guides thousands of people away from religion, but guides just one person to die a preventable death, it’s a loss in my view.

  10. HHCon 12 Oct 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Was this really a comedic roast? If anyone can handle disingenuity its Bill Maher.

  11. Karl Withakayon 12 Oct 2009 at 4:06 pm

    @Draal,

    “The AAI clearly wants to focus on Atheism and award a prominent Atheist, Bill Maher (be that that statement can “technically” wrong to some-It’s apparent that some Atheist feel that the Atheist label is synonymous with rational thinking.).”

    Apparently the AAI is more interested in being anti-religious than it is about being atheistic, much like Maher is. I think it is very questionable, based on the bulk of his statements on the subject, to say Bill Maher is an atheist, and that opinion has nothing to do with his apparent lack of rationalism.

    “A side point about invited speakers… Speakers and the venue have contracts they agree upon which often stipulate that the speaker gets paid X amount of money, even if their invitation is revoked. The AAI could have not done their homework thoroughly and after the inked dried, it was too late when they saw the poop storm coming. They were out of that money either way and possibly could not afford to book an alternative headliner.”

    That is a non-sequitor. Even assuming a contract with fee was agreed upon and signed with no provisions for termination, that is irrelevant; sometimes you have to have the conviction to walk away from a bad decision regardless of the financial ramifications. If Maher had been charged and convicted of statutory sodomy (for instance) between the signing of the agreement and the ceremony, you can bet Maher would not have been honored.

    I could be wrong, but I bet they could have found an honoree willing to waive any fees, or they could have awarded it to anyone they chose and said, “We are sorry but the recipient we chose to honor was unable to attend tonight, but he graciously recorded this acceptance speech for us.”, and live with the dissatisfaction rather than give Maher the award.

  12. artfulDon 12 Oct 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Who among Maher’s critics has actually made an anti-religiosity film that the public then went to see and actually approved of? A film that may have reached and affected more people as a positive criticism of their inherent fundamentalism than all of the recent and various books on the subject put together.
    So he’s a bit of a nut when it comes to the medical sciences. Is his situation there hopeless and unredemptive? Should he have been required to correct his views in that area as a condition for making his film? Would we all have been better off if those conditions weren’t met and the film project was abandoned?

    More to the point, are we not all the better off, at least for the moment, as a result of that film than we are better off as a result of all the books that not only didn’t require the authors to pass a comprehensive “political correctness” type of test in advance, but that for the most part will amount to a collective exercise in the intellectual gathering of dust?

  13. Karl Withakayon 12 Oct 2009 at 5:33 pm

    @artfulD,
    your comment is largely a strawman, since although there has been a small amount of criticism here of Maher’s film as no better or objective than Stein’s Expelled, most of the criticism here and over at Respectful Insolence has been over the AAI’s choosing Maher as the recipient of the 2009 Richard Dawkins Award, given “to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.”

    Nobody has said he didn’t have the right to make his film or that he needed to correct his other views before making his anti-religious film. Many critics ‘t feel he should not be given an award that lists “advocates increased scientific knowledge” as a possible, but not required criterion since not only does he not meet the criterion, he is in direct, active opposition to it.

    I also question your assertion that his film “may have reached and affected more people as a positive criticism of their inherent fundamentalism than all of the recent and various books on the subject put together.” I don’t think Religious was any more effective in reaching anyone not already “there’ than Expelled was. Of course, your qualification with the word “may” is a pretty safe hedge. The film may have convinced many viewers to convert to Catholicism, but probably not. What it may have done doesn’t necessarily correlate to what it actually did.

  14. Draalon 12 Oct 2009 at 5:38 pm

    “That is a non-sequitor.” If the AAI was contracted to pay Bill Maher $25-50k, you bet they are going not to un-invite him. That kind of fee is not irrelevant. And he hasn’t sodomized any children yet. He’s a big name and you won’t get someone with as big of a celebrity status for free. And I doubt the AAI board have strict principles that they’d follow uncompromisingly and boot Bill Maher.

    And I agree with Artie. :)

  15. Karl Withakayon 12 Oct 2009 at 5:38 pm

    “Who among Maher’s critics has actually made an anti-religiosity film that the public then went to see and actually approved of?”

    You’re not seriously saying that any complaints are invalid unless we have made a successful anti-religion move, are you?

    As a side note, how do you define “public” in regards to your implied claim that said public approved of Religious? I would guess that Expelled garnered as much public approval as Religious.

    ——
    “More to the point, are we not all the better off, at least for the moment, as a result of that film than we are better off as a result of all the books that not only didn’t require the authors to pass a comprehensive “political correctness” type of test in advance, but that for the most part will amount to a collective exercise in the intellectual gathering of dust?”

    Actually, that’s more off the point again, since the point generally being discussed is the award and not the movie.

  16. Eternally Learningon 12 Oct 2009 at 5:41 pm

    artfulD,

    I think that you have completely missed the point. This is not a jab at Bill Maher so much as it is a concern that in endorsing the man with an award for advancing scientific knowledge as well as the non-theistic lifestyle, while he is blatantly anti-science in some areas is dangerous. That is why Steve is saying that if the award was solely for advancing the non-theistic life stance, there would be no contention. Religulous was a good movie, and raised the consciousness of people in our nation about the problems with religion. I actually like Bill Maher in a lot of ways, and try to catch Real Time whenever possible, but his views on medicine are inherently deplorable and dangerous, much more so than believing in an imaginary god. If I believe in a god that doesn’t exist, I may do good or bad things depending on the type of person I am. If I believe that western medicine is evil and dangerous, and that CAM holds the answers then I will likely do harm to myself or others many times over and to many different degrees. Look at Steve’s blog entry titled “Homeopathy Kills” to see how an ignorant view of medicine causes suffering. As I said in my previous comment, the danger here is in appearing to endorse his unscientific and dangerous views of medicine.

  17. Karl Withakayon 12 Oct 2009 at 5:50 pm

    ““That is a non-sequitor.” If the AAI was contracted to pay Bill Maher $25-50k, you bet they are going not to un-invite him. That kind of fee is not irrelevant. And he hasn’t sodomized any children yet. He’s a big name and you won’t get someone with as big of a celebrity status for free. And I doubt the AAI board have strict principles that they’d follow uncompromisingly and boot Bill Maher.”

    It’s not a non-sequitor. It’s a valid hypothetical counter to your point that essentially said that it was impossible to uninvite Maher due to your not unreasonable speculation that they had made an irrevocable financial commitment to him. I provided an example of a context under which the AAI would likely uninvite Maher, even if it meant loosing the money, thus illustrating that it was not impossible to uninvite Maher, merely undesirable.

    You also provided support to my speculation that the AAI did not do the followup homework either because they either felt their principles were not at odds with Maher being chosen or that any money involved was more important those principles. There may be other possibilities, but I don’t see them.

  18. Draalon 12 Oct 2009 at 6:52 pm

    I never said impossible. I’m pointing out that if they wanted to rescind the invitation, given the very likely scenario of a contract, it would be impracticable. I assume that the main revenue source of the AAI are memberships and convention fees; I’m assuming it’s a limited resource. Inviting Bill Maher costs money, and to right off that could very well be a bad business move. If they don’t have headliners, who’s going to notice a convention in Montreal, Canada and be willing to travel to it? The AAI is grabbing attention by honoring a celebrity that has name recognition and is popular. I’d like and example of another speaker that equals Bill Maher celebrity status, is an atheist, and is willing to work for free.

  19. artfulDon 12 Oct 2009 at 6:55 pm

    I didn’t “miss” the alleged points so much as I found those particular ones pointless. The award was for its relative effectiveness, and well deserved on that basis. Maher has a platform from which he speaks almost daily, and his popularity is important. He attracts a large and diverse audience and a fairly sophisticated one, compared to those simple minded members of the choir who would be impressed by Stein’s garbage.
    But unless you think he’s uneducable, my all means let’s try to educate him about the aspects of science where he has a lot to learn – not that there isn’t a lot more to be learned by some of you lot here as well.

    Somebody also said, “Actually, that’s more off the point again, since the point generally being discussed is the award and not the movie.”
    And here I thought the initial point was that because it was for the movie alone, rather then for proper consideration of his full “body of work,” that the award was mistakenly given. Surely I must henceforth go forth and figure.

  20. tmac57on 12 Oct 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I don’t see “political correctness” as being the issue here. Maher is ‘scientifically’ incorrect in the eyes of his detractors as regards his beliefs in medicine ( a not insignificant distinction). The resulting brouhaha that arose may serve to educate Maher and give the AAI a reason to think a little deeper with their next choice.

  21. KristinMHon 12 Oct 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Uh, Draal, 2 things:

    - Montreal, while it may be in Canada, is a big city (3x the size of Boston!) and popular tourist destination;

    - the point is moot anyway, since the 2009 convention that Maher spoke at was actually in Vegas – it’s the 2010 convention that’ll be in Montreal. Oo, I might actually be able to go.

  22. artfulDon 12 Oct 2009 at 8:50 pm

    I used the term “political correctness” as a metaphor that represents painting someone with too broad (or too narrow) a brush for the coloration required for a particular task. (Oops, maybe a metaphor or two too many there.)

  23. Draalon 12 Oct 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Kristin- Opps. thanks for the correction.

    Bill Maher believes in Jesus!
    “# Just got Richard Dawkins award from the man himself – thank u Jesus!10:39 PM Oct 2nd from TwitterBerry “

  24. artfulDon 12 Oct 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Jesus is his Tijuana naturopath.

  25. Clavainon 13 Oct 2009 at 5:07 am

    Draal said “I just about yelled at the ipod on my drive to work while listening to the latest SGU episode. A ribosome is not an organelle. (8:03 min into #220)”

    Now this does seem quite nit picky and seems like a red hearing or even Poisoning the well

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribosome

    ” Ribosomes are sometimes referred to as organelles, but the use of the term organelle is often restricted to describing sub-cellular components that include a phospholipid membrane, which ribosomes, being entirely particulate, do not. For this reason, ribosomes may sometimes be described as “non-membranous organelles” “

  26. SteveAon 13 Oct 2009 at 7:21 am

    Are ‘good’ atheists so hard to find that they had to give an award to ‘Mayher’? Who gets it next year, a posthumous award to Chairman Mao?

    I think Dr Steve hits it on the head when he points out that many of Mayher’s views (perhaps even his atheism) are not founded on reason. Perhaps this is not so important to the AAI, but it should be to Richard Dawkins. I’m astonished that he agreed to this.

    Although I am an atheist I never use the term as I don’t like being defined in such a narrow way. If anyone asks me I say I’m rational (because I don’t believe in leprechauns either). A Rational Alliance International wouldn’t have given Mayher anything, apart from the bum’s rush.

  27. weingon 13 Oct 2009 at 11:24 am

    Frankly, I am only concerned with anti-science. Whether it comes from atheists or theists is irrelevant.

  28. Draalon 13 Oct 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Just listened to the Real Time with Bill Maher interviewing Prof. Richard Dawkins (10/10-09). At no time was the AAI award mentioned or Bill Maher’s anti-scientific views brought up. So does Richard Dawkins really have a problem with Bill Maher?

  29. artfulDon 13 Oct 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Draal,
    Good point. And check out this article that may be more aligned with Maher’s views than some here would like – at least those who are quick to label any question of today’s medical science orthodoxy as antipathetic.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200911/brownlee-h1n1

  30. Mueroon 13 Oct 2009 at 5:21 pm

    One thing that baffles me about Maher is his support of healthcare reform to make sure everyone has health insurance. Why would he want everyone to have access to “evil” Western medicine? He also says he doesn’t trust the government with his health, which seems antithetical to his pro-Obama-healthcare rants.

  31. Draalon 13 Oct 2009 at 5:51 pm

    ArtfulD,
    Holy crap, there really isn’t a double-blind flu vaccine study on the decrease of mortality rates!
    Rather, everyone cites this paper:
    THE EFFICACY OF INFLUENZA VACCINE IN ELDERLY PERSONS – A METAANALYSIS AND REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
    Author(s): GROSS PA, HERMOGENES AW, SACKS HS, et al.
    Source: ANNALS OF INTERNAL MEDICINE Volume: 123 Issue: 7 Pages: 518-527 Published: OCT 1 1995

    And only ONE double blind study (in Holland) reporting the efficacy of the flu vaccine (by measuring the presence of antibodies in the blood, and the actual symptoms); get this, 2% of the vaccinated group (n=~900, so about 18 people) had flu symptoms and 3% of unvaccinated group (n=~900, so about 27 people) got the flu. Wow! A 50% decrease! Way to play the number game.:
    THE EFFICACY OF INFLUENZA VACCINATION IN ELDERLY INDIVIDUALS – A RANDOMIZED DOUBLE-BLIND PLACEBO-CONTROLLED TRIAL
    Author(s): GOVAERT TME, THIJS CTMCN, MASUREL N, et al.
    Source: JAMA-JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Volume: 272 Issue: 21 Pages: 1661-1665 Published: DEC 7 1994

    (FYI, it’s illegal to do a double blind study on the elderly using the flu vaccine in the US. so we just won’t ever know now will we?)

    There is no doubt that the vaccines induces an antibody response, in mice, rats, primates, chickens and humans. But is that enough to prevent the flu?

    But at least someone is attempting a small double blind study for the swine flu vaccine: http://apps.isiknowledge.com/summary.do?product=WOS&search_mode=CitingArticles&qid=5&SID=2FO4H17pCPLh8lE1I7o&page=4

  32. RBHon 15 Oct 2009 at 3:03 pm

    ArtfulD wrote

    So he’s [Maher] a bit of a nut when it comes to the medical sciences.

    That’s true if (“a bit” = “some people will die if they adopt his views of medicine”). Not too many, I suppose, so that’s just a bit of lethality. Unless, of course, enough people take his advice so that herd immunity is reduced below the point at which diseases preventable by mass vaccination are epidemic.

    I don’t give a flying f*ck about antivaxxers not getting themselves vaccinated. I don’t care if they die of some preventable disease: think of it as natural selection in action. I do care about the risk they impose on other people who don’t share their looniness, especially including their own children. And Maher is an active contributor to the looniness that sickens and in some cases kills other people.

  33. artfulDon 15 Oct 2009 at 4:38 pm

    “A bit of a nut” is how some of us use understatement to point out the obvious – which in this case would be that his nuttiness is clearly more than a bit. That said, I’ve not seen any evidence that he’s effectively campaigning against mass vaccination any more than the authors of the Atlantic article cited above should be accused of being.
    I could cite a number of analogous instances to illustrate the silliness of holding someone to unrealistic standards of all around judgement, but this may be the aptest:
    Linus Pauling if you recall was a bit of a nut when it came to taking vitamin C to cure colds, arguably causing thousands to overdose themselves with it. Yet no-one made any serious move to take away his Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

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