Nov 17 2009

Some Muddled Thinking from Bill Maher

Bill Maher has been getting a lot of heat lately and seems to be getting a bit defensive. He was particularly stung by Michael Shermer’s open letter in which Dr. Shermer thought it necessary to give Maher a basic lesson in germ theory.

Unfortunately, Maher has responded not by thoughtfully engaging his critics, but with a rambling defensive diatribe in which he simultaneously protests the criticism pointed his way while repeating and amplifying the pseudoscientific nonsense that garnered criticism in the first place.

Maher presents what we call a target rich environment for skepticism, so I don’t think I will be able to address every point, but I will hit the highlights.

Listeners of the SGU podcast are familiar with our “name that logical fallacy” segment. In his second paragraphs Maher offers up enough fallacies to supply this segment for a month. Take a crack at it yourselves:

I agree with my critics who say there are far more qualified people than me — its just that mainstream media rarely interviews doctors and scientists who present an alternative point of view. There is a movement to stop people from asking any questions about vaccines — they’re a miracle, that’s it, debate over. I don’t think its that simple, and neither do millions of other people. 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? Sixty-five percent of French people don’t want it. Maybe its not as simple as the medical establishment wants to paint it.

Maher is willing to admit that he is not an expert, but then he follows this statement with a long post in which he feels free to express his views on vaccines and medicine in general. He should have just stopped after that first sentence. He seems to be saying – I am not an expert, so don’t hold me accountable for anything I say, but I am going to say it anyway.

He then follows with a common claim for Maher – that the mainstream media (apparently he does not consider himself part of the mainstream media) rarely interviews experts with an alternate point of view. This is a bold assertion that strikes me as utter hogwash. I admit perception here is subjective, but it seems to me that the mainstream media gives disproportionate attention to fringe experts and minority opinions.

Look at Oprah, Larry King, just about every talk show and morning show, and Maher himself – the mainstream media loves the fringe. At best we get token skepticism. Who is Maher kidding? But everyone wants to portray themselves as the embattled minority.

Maher goes beyond that and borrows a page right out of the creationist playbook when he writes: “There is a movement to stop people from asking any questions about vaccines — they’re a miracle, that’s it, debate over.” Right – just like we want to dogmatically stop debate about Darwin, and the 9/11 truth movement, and the hollow earth – and every other crackpot claim out there.

Maher confuses concern over the quality of reporting and information with a desire to inhibit free speech. Calling nonsense what it is does NOT equal attempting to silence it. When we call Maher on his pseudoscientific rubbish, this is not some big mainstream conspiracy to shut down debate.

Also – his attitude assumes that there is a legitimate debate to be had – just like the creationists in all their whining about “teach the controversy” assume a controversy where there is none (not a scientific controversy, anyway).

There is no mainstream controversy over vaccines, not because of dogma but because the science is very solidly in one direction – vaccines are safe and effective. Repeating long-debunked misinformation does not create a genuine controversy.

It strikes many of us in the skeptical community that Maher is a picture of self-contradiction in this position. He criticizes 9/11 truthers and creationists, but then commits the identical logical fallacies in attacking vaccines and modern medicine.

Maher finishes off that paragraph with an argument from authority combined with an argument from popularity. Right  – and (depending upon which highly unreliable poll you want to listen to) a majority of Americans doubt evolution, and a third of the public thinks Bush had something to do with 9/11.

This is also a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy – the anti-vaccine movement scaremongers about vaccines, and then points out that there is a lot of fear of vaccines in the public, so there must be something there.

Along these lines, he gives us some more apologetics:

I’m just trying to represent an under-reported medical point of view in this country, I’m not telling a specific pregnant lady what to do.

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 is the same kind of lame excuse for intellectual sloppiness that Oprah gave – hey, my audience is smart enough not to listen to me. I’m just putting this out there, asking questions – what, do you want a fascist state that doesn’t allow people to ask questions?

The “I’m just asking questions” gambit is a particularly disingenuous one. I wonder what Maher thinks when Fox pulls this stunt.

The point Maher keeps missing is that he is making claims that have been debunked – they are not based on a fair reading of the science, and his logic is strained at best.

But let’s get to some specifics. He writes:

The point I am representing is: Is getting frequent vaccinations for any and all viruses consequence-free?

Nice straw man. I can see Maher wants to hit as many logical fallacies in one post as possible. Maybe he thinks it’s like shooting the moon in hearts – if you get them all, you win.

Who is recommending “frequent” vaccinations, or vaccines for “any and all virsues?” There are thousands of viruses out there, and vaccines for just a few. I wouldn’t mind a few more – HIV would be nice. And who is saying that vaccinations are “consequence free” – and what does that mean, exactly?

Scientists are careful to point out that vaccines are not risk free. They have side effects, and even rare serious adverse effects – like all medical interventions. They even go out of their way to report and catalogue all the side effects – that’s a standard part of science-based medicine.

If that’s your question, Maher, then the answer is no, but irrelevant. (A significant sign of intellectual sloppiness or naivete is not being able to ask the right question, or even cogent questions.)

The right question is – what is the risk-benefit ratio of vaccines? We have mountains of data on this question, and the answer is – there is significant benefit in excess of risk. So much so that vaccines are one of the best medical interventions invented by scientific medicine. Really – it doesn’t get much better than vaccines for benefit in excess of risk. But we won’t stop monitoring them, or asking the right questions anyway.

I can’t resist pointing out a bit of irony in his post. He writes:

But apparently it’s (Twitter) taken very seriously, because there was Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services what she thought about the fact that “Bill Maher told his viewers anyone who gets a flu shot is an idiot.”

Well, not quite. It was twittered, which I guess doesn’t make a huge difference, but as 60 Minutes is the last bastion of TV journalism, accuracy is appreciated.

So Maher is dinging 60 Minutes for an inconsequential factual error – viewers vs twitter followers. But then Maher writes:

Is it worth it to get vaccines for every bug that goes around? Injecting something into my bloodstream?

and

I would think vaccines containing many different dicey substances shot directly into the bloodstream have a slightly greater chance of secondary effects than a piece of fabric lying across your waist.

Maher has been corrected before on the fact that vaccines are intra-muscular injections – they are not injected “directly into the bloodstream.” And what “dicey substances” are we talking about, exactly? I guess it’s OK for Maher to play it loose with the facts as long as it is for the purpose of fear-mongering about an effective medical intervention.

While there is much to criticize in Maher’s style, his substance is worse. He writes:

What I’ve been saying is that Western medicine ignores too much the fact that the terrain in which bacteria can thrive is crucial and often controllable, which shouldn’t even be controversial.

One more style point though – “Western” medicine is a euphemism for “scientific” medicine and is only used by those with an anti-science agenda. It is meant to imply that science is not universal, but culturally Western.

Which part should not be controversial – that “the terrain” is important or that scientific medicine ignores this fact? What evidence does Maher have that modern medicine ignores the immune system? I believe there is an entire medical specialty dedicated to the immune system (several, actually). Infectious Disease specialists routinely consider the host in assessing the best course of action to take in preventing and treating infections.

But Maher wants to pretend he lives in a cartoon world where doctors treat everything simple-mindedly with drugs and surgery, and don’t consider the patient as a whole. It really is an annoyingly childish view of modern medicine – about as accurate as a creationist’s view of evolutionary biology. It is a product of propaganda from those hostile to science-based medicine. It also is profoundly arrogant – a product of the casual assumption of moral and intellectual superiority. Maher apparently has no problem assuming he has a more thoughtful approach to medicine than the entire medical profession.

On this point he also writes:

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

He is assuming that the American diet compromises the immune system. I would like to see a reference or twelve to support that claim. The American diet is far from optimal, but the evidence overwhelmingly shows its defects are in excess, not insufficiency. Americans are not malnourished, and their immune systems (in general, of course) are fine.

Maher has the true-belief that infections can be treated and prevented solely by “boosting” the immune system with diet and nutrition. This, however, is a fantasy of the supplement industry.

The fact is, perfectly healthy people can succumb to a bad infection. Maher also ignores the fact that the best way to protect those who are not perfectly healthy, or do have compromised immune systems, is through herd immunity – for healthy people to get vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease.

After some reluctant acknowledgment that vaccines maybe are not all bad, Maher writes:

But maybe the immune system doesn’t like being tricked so many times. Maybe we should be studying that instead of shouting down debate.

What? The “being tricked” thing was a metaphor Shermer used to explain vaccines a bit to Maher. The immune system responds to vaccines the same way it responds to getting exposed to viruses or bacteria from other sources – getting a cold, or just getting exposed even without mounting an infection. I sure hope my immune system “likes” responding over and over again to immunological challenge, because it is going to have to do just that on a daily basis for the rest of my life.

Maher perpetuates the anti-vaccine fiction that the immune system response to a vaccine is fundamentally different than the response to any infection or exposure to a germ. It’s not.

There is so much more nonsense in this post – it is so dense with logical fallacies and misinformation, that I just can’t hit it all. He goes on to conflate issues about overuse of antibiotics with vaccines. Yes, Maher – we are talking about the overuse of antibiotics. It is being studied to death, and we are trying to balance our duty to save individual patients with the long term effectiveness of our antibiotics.

Maher then states that the “experts” he looks to on this issue are Barbara Loe Fisher, Dr. Russell Blaylock, and Dr. Jay Gordon – anti-vaccine cranks all. That’s Maher’s problem – he might as well take an evolution lesson from Casey Luskin, Michael Behe, and Dr. Egnor.

In the end I think that might resolve part of the paradox that is Bill Maher. He demonstrates that someone who is generally intelligent, able to form rational opinions on many issues, and has been successful in a competitive profession, is also able to climb inside a bubble of pseudoscience on a particular issue.

It is easy for anyone to be overwhelmed by an organized campaign of misinformation. I know very bright people who were blown away by Loose Change when they first saw it. I know otherwise intelligent people who just cannot handle the systematic lies and distortions of the creationists – they don’t have the background and the volumes of information it would take to tackle each false claim and logical fallacy.

The same is true of the alternative medicine and anti-vaccine movement – they have a highly developed package of propaganda, misinformation, and subtle distortions  – wrapped in a feel-good and empowering philosophy, that can easily overwhelm even an intelligent person.

But Maher has now stepped into this controversy, even though he apparently doesn’t like it. I guess he only likes getting praise from his audience, and is chaffing under the harsh criticism some of his view have engendered (and I don’t mean from his ideological opponents – something we all enjoy).

Also – like it or not – he is a public personality and his views affect the public. If he is going to tackle medical issues, he needs to do a far better job of exposing himself openly to the “other ” side, by which I mean science-based medicine. He cannot hide behind the “I’m just a silly comedian, no ones takes me seriously, I’m just asking questions” gambit.

He should seriously consider the possibility that he is about as well informed on vaccines and other medical issues as creationists are on evolution. He should not dismiss his critics (while he is criticizing others for being dismissive) and he should take very seriously the fact that he is at odds with the scientific and skeptical community.

Otherwise the criticism will continue – not to shut him up, but to do damage control. Maher is contributing to the public misunderstanding of science in perhaps the most important area – medicine. That is very serious, and he needs to start taking it seriously.

________________________

Note: Orac has a go at Maher also.

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35 responses so far

35 Responses to “Some Muddled Thinking from Bill Maher”

  1. provaxmomon 17 Nov 2009 at 8:33 am

    I really dislike him. And every time he opens his mouth, I like him less and less. I hate that he is the self-appointed spokesperson for atheists, as he does not represent me. He feeds into the stereotypes that atheists are obnoxious, manner-less, crass, insulting boobs. On his tv show, he really is no better than Bill O’Reilly, just different points of view. He does the same O’Reilly thing-just talking louder over his guests when they are trying to express their points of view. Why invite someone on if you really don’t want to hear what they want to say?

    He’s just so completely ignorant. Between his tweet on the H1N1 vax, his comments about breastfeeding, and now his comments yesterday about people with Down’s being fuck ups or some such thing. At this point, I can’t believe he has legitimacy with any audience, he’s pretty much offended everyone.

  2. Cronanon 17 Nov 2009 at 9:36 am

    Maher also doesn’t allow open comments on his blog. Do you think he might be frightened of a little criticism?

  3. kelon 17 Nov 2009 at 11:14 am

    I think Bill Maher just got owned. Again.

    Great response Steve.

  4. banyanon 17 Nov 2009 at 11:18 am

    “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? Sixty-five percent of French people don’t want it. Maybe its not as simple as the medical establishment wants to paint it.”

    Is this true? If so, why?

  5. Skepticoon 17 Nov 2009 at 11:41 am

    Maher writes:

    What I’ve been saying is that Western medicine ignores too much the fact that the terrain in which bacteria can thrive is crucial…

    This is a reference to Maher’s denial of germ theory. In March 05 he said this (transcript in the comments at that link) on his show:

    I don’t believe in vaccination either. That’s a… well, that’s a… what? That’s another theory that I think is flawed, and that we go by the Louis Pasteur theory, even though Louis Pasteur renounced it on his own deathbed and said that Beauchamp was right: it’s not the invading germs, it’s the terrain. It’s not the mosquitoes, it’s the swamp that they are breeding in.

    He’s backing away from specific Pasteur renounced germ theory on his deathbed wording, but he shows that in actual fact he hasn’t backed away from the idea.

  6. Eternally Learningon 17 Nov 2009 at 12:14 pm

    “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? Sixty-five percent of French people don’t want it. Maybe its not as simple as the medical establishment wants to paint it.”

    From what I can find online at any rate, it seems like Maher is confusing his facts. The article I read at the BMJ website said that about half the health care workers in Hong Kong siad they would not be vaccinated for fear of side-effects. Unless he’s reading another article I missed, he completely messed that one up. Way to go Bill…

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/339/aug26_1/b3461

  7. Ashon 17 Nov 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I like your comparisons of Maher with a creationist – maybe if more people point out that he’s using the same arguments as they are it will start to sink in, given that they’re the one group he’d least want to be associated with.

  8. Oryctolaguson 17 Nov 2009 at 12:23 pm

    @Banyan and Eternally Learning:

    What Maher is referring to is an online poll from the Nursing Times of the UK, which was discussed in a BMJ editorial. He is at least mistaken about the polls “findings” and ignoring the insurmountable methodological issues surrounding online polling (specifically, the non-randomness with which they interrogate a population). And it is likewise false to imply that the BMJ endorsed these findings. Anyways, here’s the editorial: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/339/aug25_2/b3398.

  9. provaxmomon 17 Nov 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Dr. N wrote:
    “”The same is true of the alternative medicine and anti-vaccine movement – they have a highly developed package of propaganda, misinformation, and subtle distortions – wrapped in a feel-good and empowering philosophy, that can easily overwhelm even an intelligent person.”"

    It’s not just your intelligence that can be overwhelmed. If you were just told that your child is disabled or that you have cancer, it’s an extremely emotional time. That’s what makes me angry, that they prey on people’s emotional states. The year following my son’s diagnosis was horrible, you’re in such a fog, trying to adapt to a new way of life. The fact that they take advantage of this emotional state infuriates me. You’re not thinking rationally, it’s too much to comprehend.

  10. Mark Ion 17 Nov 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Good post. You might also be interesting in more of Maher’s shifting ground. He spoke about vaccinations on David Letterman recently:

    http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/cspanjunkie/id-see-obama-punch-someone-john-boehne

    The segment starts at about 5:40.

  11. xiniton 17 Nov 2009 at 1:01 pm

    One of my favourite comments on the Maher piece at HuffPo;

    “Now, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t want to be labeled the “anti-Bill Maher” guy, but I think it’s worth asking whether or not Bill Maher is the cause of the H1N1 virus. I want to be very clear. I’m not saying that watching Bill Maher on HBO is necessarily going to give a person swine flu – I certainly don’t have any evidence that is the case. However, neither my wife nor I have come down with swine flu and neither of us watch Bill Maher. Is there a connection? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor – I can just relate what works for me.”

  12. CHugheson 17 Nov 2009 at 1:04 pm

    It kills me to say anything that even remotely defends Maher, but to the layperson, formaldehyde, msg, aluminum, etc, do seem like “dicey substances”, even if they may not to medical professionals. I know they’re in small quantities, but it’s still unsettling to know that they’re being put into your or your child’s body, even though it’s for the best of reasons.

    What happens to a vaccine once it is administered? Not the antibodies forming and all, that’s straightforward enough. I mean the vaccine components. Where do they go in the body and how do they leave the body? Or do they leave the body? Would they stay lodged in the muscle? Tried Googling for reliable info but didn’t have any luck. Obviously Biology was not my strongest subject…

  13. TSSon 17 Nov 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I was shocked by Maher’s false sense of humility. Oh no! He doesn’t want to be the voice of the people on this topic! Who knew his twitter would carry so far? Etc. His whole career is based on promoting himself, and I found his reply very disingenuous overall.

    I was also disappointed by the quality of the writing. I thought his style to be very amateur, and I really didn’t expect that from someone so frequently in the public eye. And I do think he is intelligent, but I wonder if he had anyone read over his response before posting it? He certainly made SO many simple blunders that it does call his intelligence into question, for me.

  14. lizditzon 17 Nov 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Roundup of bloggers critical of Maher’s article, including this post.

    I’m tired of Maher’s smug stupidity. I wonder what Attilla the Mom would have to say to Maher. Her son has been on a ventilator since October 25. Complications from H1N1.

  15. Steven Novellaon 17 Nov 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Hughes,

    Simply referring to “dicey” substances in vaccines is what we call the “toxin gambit.” The fact is – every FDA approved drug is a “toxin.” Everything you put into your body contains “toxins” – the water you drink, the food you eat, the air you breathe.

    And this is not new since industrialization – nature is full of toxins. We live and evolved in a sea of toxins.

    But this needs to be put into perspective. We also evolved biological mechanisms to deal with the environment – to get rid of or neutralize harmful substances.

    Further, toxicity is always a matter of dose – the dose makes the toxin.

    So the real question always is – are there measurable toxic effects from any specific substance at the doses being exposed to. With regard to vaccines, the answer is well-established – any toxicity is minimal, and far less than the benefit of the vaccines.

    But it’s easy to scare people by just listing formaldehyde, without putting this into context. Formaldehyde is already in your body – it is a by product of normal cellular biochemistry. The amount in vaccines is negligible compared to what is already there. Same goes for squalene (the latest popular vaccine “toxin”). Aluminum has been studied also – I wrote about it here: http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=44

    Fearmongering is much easier than careful scientific analysis.

  16. sonicon 17 Nov 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Bill Maher is a comedian/satirist.
    He sounds like he knows what he is talking about when you agree with him.
    Who decided there was anything more to it than that?
    (You can take him down as much as you’d like- and you have done a wonderful job here- but he really is just a comic and entertainer that some people have taken too seriously)

  17. provaxmomon 17 Nov 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Yes, just like Jenny McCarthy used to pick her nose on MTV for laughs and show us her ta-tas in magazines. People still look to her for medical advice too. Celebrities are more interesting to us than scientists……but it’s frightening that people confuse the two. I think that’s the point of most of these blogs, to raise awareness so that people won’t take them so seriously.

  18. Steven Novellaon 17 Nov 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Also – Maher is just being a mouthpiece for the standard set of anti-vax propaganda – and by debunking Maher I am, by extension, taking down this body of propaganda.

  19. Eternally Learningon 17 Nov 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I wish that Bill try and make a movie like Religulous, but about vaccines or “western medicine” as a whole. He’s already trying to take the same stance as he did in the movie of, “I don’t know.” The power of the movie was that he did not do anything more than ask questions and let the people he talked to hang themselves, because he knew that they really don’t have any answers. If he really tried that with actual doctors about vaccines and pharmaceuticals maybe he would actually learn something.

    Of course that is probably too much to ask for that he would make an honest movie about his sacred cow, but I would hope that he would at least try to do a more honest job then Stein.

  20. halincohon 18 Nov 2009 at 12:03 am

    Simply and succinctly, this is one of your best posts ever. Thank you.

    As a partial aside, a friend and I were discussing perdiatric obesity and it’s future consequences not only for that individual, but for society at large, especially as the problem escalates. I suggested that although seasonal flu and H1N1 are very serious issues and need to be addressed very seriously, unlike pediatric obesity, they are, fortunately, just that – seasonal, not perennial and steamrolling like pediatric obesity. I also suggested that although the media covers this on occasion, it’s coverage is disproportional to the problem and deserves more media coverage to create more public inertia to direct politicians to support programs put forth by the American Diabetic Association and many other agencies.

    How does this relate to the topic? The media, whether we in medicine , the applied sciences, or research sciences, like it or not, highlight issues that the public devours. And since we are what we eat, IF the media feeds the public bad medical or bad scientific information or simply minimizes exposure to important issues, then we the science community must work that much harder to undo the damage. Maher, Oprah, Jenny, and many other agenda driven , fact disregarding, media leaders damage our society because they feed them junk. Again, if we are what we eat , then they are poisoning us . Because of people like them, people like you and so many other leaders in the skeptical movement must exist. Keep pumping our collective stomaches. Keep printing the antedote to their nonsense.

  21. slayersaves89on 18 Nov 2009 at 2:08 pm

    South Park did an episode on the “I’m just asking questions” gambit.
    http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/255329/?tab=featured
    They pretty much nailed it, they were talking about Glenn Beck, but it equally applies here.

  22. [...] I was thinking about some of the things I said a while ago”, said Maher, citing some various, recent, beatings showered upon him on the internet, and his own show. “And I hadn’t really [...]

  23. Calli Arcaleon 19 Nov 2009 at 4:44 pm

    CHughes:

    What happens to a vaccine once it is administered? Not the antibodies forming and all, that’s straightforward enough. I mean the vaccine components. Where do they go in the body and how do they leave the body? Or do they leave the body? Would they stay lodged in the muscle? Tried Googling for reliable info but didn’t have any luck. Obviously Biology was not my strongest subject…

    The body has ways of processing and eliminating toxins; it has to, since a) it makes toxins all over and b) a wild human could definitely expect to get poked and scraped and cut a few hundred times.

    Although it is isn’t an intravenous injection, there is blood and lymphatic supply to these areas. The toxins get picked up and carried to other parts of the body (kidneys and liver, mainly), which process them and excrete the remains. A study looking at intramuscular injections of Thimerosal (a preservative containing ethylmercury) found that the ethylmercury was excreted fairly quickly, with a half-life* of a couple of weeks. (Methylmercury, the kind found in fish, takes much longer to process. The EPA guidelines for mercury are based on methylmercury, as it is the most common form in the environment.) I don’t know the details for how the various substances are removed, but I know there are processes to do it. By and large, all of these toxins are stuff we encounter at varying concentrations in our day-to-day lives, so our bodies have evolved the capacity to cope with them as a matter of basic survival.

    *In this context, “half-life” means the amount of time before the concentration of the substance in your body is reduced by half, through metabolism or excretion. This is is very significant for estimating toxicities and estimating what dose of a medicine should be given and on what schedule.

  24. SimonWon 19 Nov 2009 at 6:07 pm

    The figure for UK health workers is probably from the Rapid Responses to this editorial in the BMJ.

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/339/aug25_2/b3398

    “We conducted a survey of hospital medical doctors, a group highly likely to be exposed to influenza in a pandemic, in the south west of England. Of the 133 doctors who responded only 44% would definitely want vaccination, 25% would decline it and 31 % were undecided. ….”

    Which you could read as 55% not intending to vaccinate, or 75% not opposed to vaccination.

    Some of the Rapid Responses are terribly badly informed. Harry Hill (a local to me, retired doctor) takes the biscuit for claiming we don’t know that the vaccine is effective. Clearly he must have retired before drug licensing required both “safe” and “effective”.

    Okay the placebo controlled(!) influenza challenge tests were done in other mammals (as were fetal safety tests), but getting volunteers and ethical approval for infecting people (especially the placebo group) with influenza is always going to be tricky.

  25. Atheist@largeon 20 Nov 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Bill Maher did say that if you are taking medical advice from him, you are a perfect idiot.

    What he did say was that our immune system has to work to stay tuned up, just as our bodies require physical exercise to maintain health. Thats his opinion and like it or not its valid. His point was that this simple truth is actively suppressed by the pill pushers behind the curtain.

    Apparently the Internet is a suitable medium for the opinionated multitude who shout back at the TV.

  26. Steven Novellaon 20 Nov 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Because you coyly say “you shouldn’t listen to me” that does not give you a free pass for factual error and shoddy logic. Sorry.

    How does our immune system need to be “tuned up”? Vague metaphors of not of much value in science or medicine. Our immune systems do need to be stimulated – they are more active and have better immunity if they are routinely exposed to antigens. That is why vaccines improve our immune system’s function – it exposed them to antigens they can mount a response against.

    Nothing is being actively suppressed by “pill pusher” – that is empty conspiracy mongering.

  27. weingon 20 Nov 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Maybe he thinks all pills are corticosteroids?

  28. provaxmomon 20 Nov 2009 at 7:15 pm

    atheist@large–

    Could you provide some evidence of a pharm company that has tried to hide the fact that it’s important to stay healthy? I have yet to ever see a pharm commercial or ad that says “exercise, shmexercise, nevermind. Not important.” If they wanted to “actively suppress” this, how do you even go about doing that? Because from what I see, from preschool on up, we are inundated with information about diet and exercise and health.

  29. CHugheson 21 Nov 2009 at 12:38 am

    Calli Arcale

    Thanks for your reply. Makes sense. I guess I was trying to figure out if everything ultimately passes through the liver.

  30. [...] I don’t need to debunk his antivax nonsense, given tangible doctors who have contribution at their fingertips do it so well, similar to in this harangue from Orac and in Steve Novella’s some-more totalled (but only as devastating) response. [...]

  31. Kerry Maxwellon 30 Nov 2009 at 12:30 am

    Top Ten Signs You Are a *F-wit* Who Has No Freakin’ Idea About Evolutionary Theory: #1: You self-identify as a “Darwinist”. Proof positive you are just a plain *F-Wit*: You present the “Hey, I’m just a comedian, but I’ve heard things” defense. I don’t understand people who still cling to the fantasy that Maher is part of the solution, when he is so clearly part of the problem.

  32. TV's Mr. Neilon 30 Nov 2009 at 10:45 am

    I think it’s time that we, as skeptics, stop giving Bill Maher a free pass. We often talk about the “good Bill Maher” and the “bad Bill Maher”. No, Bill Maher is just bad.

    I’m not going to put him on the roster of good skeptics just because he’s critical of religion and made a funny movie about it. Maher has gotten away with sacred cows for far too long, and it’s about time that we just throw him under the bus and stop pretending that this cherry-picker has any place among the skeptical community. We have you guys. We have Penn & Teller. We have Adam Savage. We don’t need Bill Maher.

  33. mschmidton 30 Nov 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I don’t necessarily think he needs to be ‘thrown under the bus.’ I mean, I wouldn’t even necessarily say he is a bad skeptic. He’s just wrong this time, and is refusing to logically analyze the evidence against his view point, which now that I read that is proof he’s a bad skeptic. But I guess I was trying to say that one shouldn’t be quick to dismiss someone due to their bad skepticism. Maher is a public figure and should be taken to task, I agree, but we must also remember that humans make a lot of mistakes. There is a chance he could come around in the future. Anyway I’m rambling.

    My real point is that I saw the show where he talked about vaccines and promoted the ‘it’s just about healthy living’ theory. If I remember correctly, he said that once he started ‘eating better’ and ‘exercising daily’ he hasn’t been sick once. This may be true, but like his entire anti-vaccine fantasy world he is ignoring some crucial likelihoods to him not getting diseases.

    I’d put a wager on his ‘healthy diet’ and frequent exercise routine came shortly after his financial success. It’s a lot easier to eat healthy and exercise when you don’t need to put in 40+ hours a week. More importantly, I am also willing to bet that a Hollywood star of his caliber has drastically less interactions with people. I don’t think Maher has been to the mall, or had to work in a confined building with several other people in ages.

    I just find it odd that it’s always these Hollywood stars backing anti-science theories. Even if the worse happens and they do get sick they have the financial stability to handle what may come while most people, the ones who benefit from herd immunity, can’t afford to pay the expensive damages that may arise if they get sick. Bill Maher can always get a guest to host his show whereas most people aren’t so lucky.

  34. TV's Mr. Neilon 06 Dec 2009 at 12:22 pm

    “Maher is a public figure and should be taken to task, I agree, but we must also remember that humans make a lot of mistakes.”

    This is true to a point. To err is human. I can relate to this.

    I used to believe that the moon landing was a hoax. I believed it because of the apparent anomalies that existed in the official account. On the other hand, I wasn’t committed to the conspiracy, and I was able to change my mind as each of the alleged anomalies were explained to me in ways that were not only reasonable but could ONLY make sense if we landed on the moon. I was happy to change my perspective, albeit a little embarrassed that I had fallen for something that is, as I see it now, pretty stupid.

    I’ve since accepted that conspiracy theories of this sort are, in general, complete lunacy. (Pun fully intended.)

    This is where I have a problem with Bill Maher, because he HAS been taken to task, and thus I don’t understand why he doesn’t just adjust his point-of-view to match what is readily apparent. I can only guess that it’s intensely embarrassing for him to admit that he’s wrong, but I don’t have much respect for that. He could be embarrassed to give up the ghost, so he’s going to continue lying to people about vaccines?

    Pardon my french, but “eff” that.

  35. mschmidton 09 Dec 2009 at 11:51 am

    Yeah I agree.

    I also don’t see what the big deal is. This is a bit cynical, but lets just say vaccines do cause autism. It is a terrible disorder, but at the same time parents with autistic kids can’t shut-up about how awesome their kid is which is great! So, despite it being very stressful and a bit disheartening due to a vaccine you still have a child that you love dearly. The person whose baby died due to a measles outbreak because of the failure of people getting vaccinated does not have that luxury. Even under the assumption that vaccines may cause autism, most children who are vaccinated do not become autistic. So even with the assumption that vaccines may cause problems it is still not worth not getting vaccinated. It really comes down to selfishness.

    And the fact that vaccines don’t cause autism.

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