Respectful Insolence

Although I often don’t agree with him and have cooled on him lately, I still rather like–even admire–Richard Dawkins. While it’s true I’ve taken him to task for having a tin ear for bioethics, lamented his walking blindly right into charges of anti-Semitism (no, I don’t think he’s an anti-Semite), and half-defended/half-criticized him for seeming to endorsing eugenics. What’s really irritated me about him in the past, though, is his use of the “Neville Chamber atheist” gambit that I so detest, so much so that I once featured Dawkins in a Hitler Zombie episode (albeit not as the victim). On the other hand, I loved Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason, particularly Dawkins’ demolition of Deepak Chopra and other woo-meisters. Indeed, his explanation of the ridiculousness of the pseudoscience that is homeopathy was about as clear and visually compelling as any I’ve ever seen, and I loved how he and P.Z. Myers totally pwned the producers of Expelled! last year.

Through it all, even though I don’t always agree with Richard Dawkins mostly on matters of religion versus atheism and how to advocate for reason, I have never doubted that he is a force for reason to be reckoned with. I’ve even briefly met him, although I highly doubt that he’d remember me, my being one of dozens of people who shook his hand that day nearly two years ago in New York. There’s even an award named after him, the Richard Dawkins Award, which the Atheist Alliance awards to one person every year based on these criteria::

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.

Past recipients have included James Randi, Ann Druyan, Penn and Teller, Julia Sweeney, Daniel Dennett, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, all worthy recipients.

So the other day I was rather shocked to see who the 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award will be. If you read Pharyngula, you knew the answer a couple of days ago.

Bill Maher.

When I found this out, all I could think was: WTF?

Let’s backtrack a minute. Longtime readers of this blog know that I do not think much of Bill Maher. Oh, sure, I find him occasionally somewhat amusing. For example, his New Rules segment is sometimes pretty funny. However I can’t really watch Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO, mainly because Maher’s smugness irritates the crap out of me. But none of that has anything to do with why I find his receiving the Richard Dawkins Award to be about as inappropriate as giving Jenny McCarthy a public health award–and for much the same reasons. After all, Bill Maher is a woo-meister supreme and, like Jenny McCarthy, an anti-vaccine crank, as I’ve documented time and time again on this very blog. He’s also a big time PETA supporter and a germ theory denialist.

None of this strikes me as “advocating increased scientific knowledge.” True, it’s only one criteria out of three, but Maher violates it by not just a little. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Let’s go back to the very first time, nearly four and a half years ago, when I noted that Bill Maher is an anti-vaccine wingnut. Let’s take a look at what he said:

I don’t believe in vaccination either. That’s a… well, that’s a… what? That’s another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur theory, even though Louis Pasteur renounced it on his own deathbed and said that Beauchamp(s) 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.

In a word, no. This is a germ theory denialist lie, as Australian skeptic Peter Bowditch pointed out in a nicely researched essay.

Next Maher nuttiness:

You’re in denial, about I think is a key fact, which is it is the at… people get sick because of an aggregate toxicity, because their body has so much poison in it, from the air, the water…

I wonder if Maher is into chelation therapy, colon cleanses, and liver flushes to get rid of that “aggregate toxicity.”

I know that some of this may seem a bit repetitive, but I want to emphasize just how ant-science Bill Maher is. So let’s go back to the second time I noticed that Bill Maher is an anti-vaccine loon and look at a couple of things he said:

  1. “I’m not into western medicine. That to me is a complete scare tactic.”
  2. “A flu shot is the worst thing you can do.”
  3. “Well, I hate to tell you…but if you have a flu shot for more than five years in a row, there’s ten times the likelihood that you’ll get Alzheimer’s disease.” (Note, as I described, this is a lie hawked by antivaccine macher Hugh Fudenberg.)
  4. “A flu shot just compromises your immune system.”

Then there was the time he told David Letterman this, referring to pharmaceuticals:

Letterman: Are you interested in medical journals and that sort of thing?

Maher: Not western medicine, I think we’re being poisoned…I would love for you to investigate the possibility that your health issues might have arisen from the fact that you’re being poisoned by America.

Maher was referring to Letterman’s heart disease, which required multiple coronary artery bypass operation a few years ago. Indeed, Maher went on in essence to encourage Letterman to ditch his heart medications. In case the above wasn’t clear enough, before they got off the topic of the evils of big pharma, Maher told Letterman “Please get off of the meds.” Now that’s a great way for Letterman to end up dead. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Maher also laid this gem down:

Why is there mucus?…It’s because your body is toxic and it’s trying to create a river to get rid of these toxins.

After that quote, I expected some woo-meister somewhere to come up with a treatment designed to provoke a “river of mucus” in order to flush out all those “toxins,” but I was sorely disappointed. Oh, well, maybe next time. In the meantime, Maher continues to make claims that he “never gets the flu on an airplane,” to which an exasperated Bob Costas once responded, “Oh, come on, Superman!” It was at this point that Maher had a rare moment of self-awareness when he noted that Costas and the others on the show were looking at him as though he was crazy.

And let’s not forget that Maher is a big-time supporter of PETA, the group of antimal rights extremists who try to argue that animal research is all but useless, that eating meat is a “Holocaust on your plate,” parroting the dubious idea that gluten-free diets relieve autistic symptoms, while writing letters to Ben and Jerry’s suggesting that they use human milk instead of cow’s milk for their ice cream.

I think I’ve made my point in my usual inimitable style, in which too much is never enough and wretched excess is the order of the day.

So what if Maher is a wingnut when it comes to medicine and animal research? After all, say some of his defenders, being an atheist doesn’t necessarily mean rationale. All it means is that atheists are prone to a different set of delusions than the religious. So what does it matter? He did a movie bashing religion; so it’s all good. Right? He’s an atheist who routinely shows the nonsense of religion on his show and in his act, right?

Wrong:

We did a show last night about God and religion with Dave Foley, who I love, and we were arguing against this one woman who had a book called I Like Being Catholic. Someone said, “Oh, boy, a lot of atheists on this panel.” I said, “I’m not an atheist. There’s a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn’t believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don’t need. But I’m not an atheist, no.” I believe there’s some force. If you want to call it God… I don’t believe God is a single parent who writes books. I think that the people who think God wrote a book called The Bible are just childish. Religion is so childish. What they’re fighting about in the Middle East, it’s so childish. These myths, these silly little stories that they believe in fundamentally, that they take over this little space in Jerusalem where one guy flew up to heaven–no, no, this guy performed a sacrifice here a thousand million years ago. It’s like, “Who cares? What does that have to do with spirituality, where you’re really trying to get, as a human being and as a soul moving in the universe?” But I do believe in a God, yes.

On the other hand, that quote was from 2002. Maybe he’s changed since then. More recently, he’s sounded more agnostic. So maybe he meets the criteria of being an atheist. Barely. Maybe being anti-religious is enough, no matter how much of a wingnut you are otherwise. I have to wonder what the committee who picked Bill Maher for the Richard Dawkins Award was smoking when they picked him. If I could smoke anything without collapsing into a fit of hacking coughs, I’d want some of it. Maybe they baked it into brownies. In the meantime, Richard Dawkins weighed in over at P.Z.’s blog thusly:

The Richard Dawkins Award (RDA) has no connection with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS). The RDA was instituted by the Atheist Alliance International (AAI) several years before RDFRS was founded, or even thought of. This year, the committee of AAI took the decision to give the RDA to Bill Maher. They asked me, as an individual, if I approved, and I was delighted to do so because I find him, and especially Religulous, very funny. I know nothing of any stance he may have taken on medical questions.

Don’t you think you’d better find out about the stances he’s taken on medical questions, Professor Dawkins? After all, Bill Maher is going to be given an award with your name on it, but his level of rationality when it comes to science is more appropriate for the homeopath and alternative medicine mavens you interviewed in part 2 of Enemies of Reason than for the recipient of an award that bears your name. Heck, his level of rationality when it comes to medicine is more appropriate for Deepak Chopra (whom you also interviewed in Enemies of Reason) than it is for a recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award. No, I’m not exaggerating, either. There’s a very good reason why a number of people are ticked off at Maher’s receiving this award.

Maybe some of the people attending the Atheist Alliance International Convention can educate Professor Dawkins about just what an anti-science loon is being given an award, part of the criteria for which is to champion science and reason. Not that I think it would make any difference. Bill Maher is famous; he’s a comedian. Apparently his celebrity trumps standards when it comes to getting the Richard Dawkins Award, as long as he attacks religion. PZ has given him a pass, and Richard Dawkins has pleaded ignorance. It may be true that Maher may said this:

You can’t be a rational person six days a week…and on one day of the week, go to a building, and think you’re drinking the blood of a two thousand year old space god

But in reality the religious described by Maher actually have one thing on him. According to Maher, they’re only irrational once a week; Maher’s irrational a hell of a lot more of the time.

Comments

  1. #1 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 23, 2009

    Yeah I was disappointed when I read that at PZ’s. I was even more disappointed by Prof. Dawkins’ deflection when he showed up in the comments.

  2. #2 Militant Agnostic
    July 23, 2009

    But in reality the religious described by Maher actually have one thing on him. According to Maher, they’re only irrational once a week; he’s irrational a hell of a lot more of the time.

    Basically, they gave the Richard Dawkins Award to someone who is rational one day a week and irrational six days a week. They consider it OK to be a dangerously stupid asshole as long as that person shares their beliefs – how christian of them.

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    July 23, 2009

    As I said at Pharyngula, the fact that they’re giving Maher anything other than a smack to the head with an immunology textbook has rather soured me on the AAI. If I had any money to spare, they wouldn’t be getting it.

    (I’ve criticized Dawkins on some counts and defended him on others. I thought The Enemies of Reason was great, particularly the second half, while The Genius of Charles Darwin was mediocre. The most galling part was that it could have been so much better with so little effort — basically all of the things which really irritated me could have been fixed with a different voice-over. When I finally got around to reading The God Delusion, I found it better-written than I had anticipated. I noticed several places where it could have been improved had the author run it by a physicist and a historian, but even had he done so, I doubt the book would have been any more successful at doing what it did, or gone over any better with the Courtier’s Reply crowd. I thought The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing was a pretty good anthology, though of course I had my bones to pick with it. . . .)

  4. #4 Paul Browne
    July 23, 2009

    “But none of that has anything to do with why I find his receiving the Richard Dawkins Award to be about as inappropriate as giving Jenny McCarthy a public health award–and for much the same reasons. After all, Bill Maher is a woo-meister supreme and, like Jenny McCarthy, an anti-vaccine crank, as I’ve documented time and time again on this very blog. He’s also a big time PETA supporter and a germ theory denialist.”

    Yikes! That’s a pretty strong crank magnet sitting in Bill Maher’s head. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually throws HIV/AIDS denialism into the mix…oh wait, looking at one of Orac’s previous posts he already has.

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/01/bill_maher_on_christine_maggiores_book.php

    I know that the AAI has four criteria for the award, but it would have been nice if the recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award had at least to reach pass grade on all four.

  5. #5 jake
    July 23, 2009

    From watching his show, I think it’s clear that Maher has come around since his comment about not believing in vaccination. I have repeatedly heard him use the exact phrase “germ theory” in the context of ‘crazy people also don’t believe in X and germ theory…’ on Realtime. They’re tough to find, but here are a couple supporting clips, one where he promotes the HPV vaccine, and another where he explains swine flu (both are more recent than his 2005 comments): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxzr6qpL0aQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjPdT8RIbPU&feature=response_watch

  6. #6 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 23, 2009

    Respectful insolence FTW!
    Thank you for addressing this, Orac. There has been a tendency at other blogs where the choice of Maher has been commented on to ignore the issue, maybe in hopes that it will go away. Kind of like the crazy uncle no one talks about.
    As I commented at Pharyngula – they wanted a headline speaker who is:

    – an entertainer
    – an anti-science loon
    – not an atheist

    so they chose Bill Maher. Did Ben Stein have a prior engagement?

  7. #7 Denice Walter
    July 23, 2009

    I also used to think he was pretty funny but the woo got in the way.While I won’t excuse his descent into pseudo-science I can perhaps explain some of his “toxin-phobia”. Maher and I come from the same area, Bergen County(NE NJ), and we’re close in age. The area is a mix of suburbs and small cities near industrial areas and NYC.We grew up in an era of extreme environmental concerns,many of which were remedied with a lot of help from the federal and state government (funding and laws).Nearly everyday, the TV or newspaper would be highlighting a toxic property or river pollution : some of it was definitely scare-mongering to sell papers or news shows.I often really wondered about how these various forms of pollution would affect our health in the long term.But then, I was 15! I think that Maher, like many others in the entertainment arena,mistakes his creativity and verbal ability for intelligence and expertise in matters beyond the stage.

  8. #8 Orac
    July 23, 2009

    Yikes! That’s a pretty strong crank magnet sitting in Bill Maher’s head. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually throws HIV/AIDS denialism into the mix…oh wait, looking at one of Orac’s previous posts he already has.

    D’oh! I was going to mention his HIV/AIDS denialism and praise of Christine Maggiore’s book, and I forgot. That’s the most despicable woo of all that he believes in.

  9. #9 Orac
    July 23, 2009

    They’re tough to find, but here are a couple supporting clips, one where he promotes the HPV vaccine

    You realize, of course, that the reason Maher has to support the HPV vaccine is more likely than not because of his anti-religious stance his general opposition to the religious loons who oppose it because it “encourages” promiscuity. When two woos go to war, his antireligious woo beats his antivaccine woo.

  10. #10 Rev Matt
    July 23, 2009

    @Jake: I don’t think he’s improved on vaccines at all. Several times this season, including on the most recent episode (7/17) he again disparages vaccines and specifically “Western medicine” which is a term that infuriates me. There is no “Western” or “Eastern” medicine. If it works it’s just plain medicine, if it doesn’t it’s bullshit.

    I find Maher funny and informative on political and social issues but I no longer recommend his show to anyone because of the anti-science perspective he has.

  11. #11 Northernskeptic
    July 23, 2009

    while I still consider myself a rather outspoken atheist I find the push to validate anti-science wackaloons just because they are also anti-religious makes it hard to get behind many openly atheist organizations

  12. #12 Agoraphobic Kleptomaniac
    July 23, 2009

    Maher is only decent because of new rules (which vary greatly on their quality), and because he puts guests on that rarely get long form public discussion forums anywhere else. Naomi Klein, Dan Savage, Jeremy Scahill, and other progressive journalists.

    Maher often gets in the way and derails good conversations that occur to make bad jokes and failed comedy bits, and whenever science comes up, I just have to Groaaaan.

    On top of all this, he’s very uneven in his religious criticisms. To him, muslims are teh evils, and christians are just quirky and believe silly things. For example, about 4-6 months back, he had an extremist christian on to talk about the muslim husband who beheaded his wife, and got many many muslim slurs into the conversation, and bill just agreed with every word.

    This was the problem of Religulous too, “oh these silly christians and their jesus theme park.. but those Muslims will slaughter your children!!!”

  13. #13 jake
    July 23, 2009

    Those are good points. I can only say that I don’t personally believe that Maher would do a 180 on whether germ theory is true or not in order to rail against the religious.

  14. #14 Wes
    July 23, 2009

    Let’s be fair, though. Some of those other recipients have also endorsed some kooky/dangerous/obviously false positions as well.

    Penn and Teller, on their show, have promulgated a lot of bunk from the global warming denialists, and even repeated long discredited myths about second hand smoke. Ann Druyan was into Marxism for a while, and Dan Dennett’s “meme” theory of the origin of religion is pure speculation that is not taken seriously by other academics who study the evolution of religion.

    None of this is in defense of Maher’s views or the AAI. I just wanted to point out that no one is flawless, and no matter who gets the award, you can probably find some kooky belief or theory they’ve endorsed at some point.

  15. #15 Orac
    July 23, 2009

    I’ll give you Penn & Teller; I almost mentioned the Libertarian wingnuttery they used to lay down. However, at TAM7, it appeared to me that Penn had moved more towards accepting AGW. True, he did it with a lot of caveats that told me that he didn’t want to admit that he had probably been wrong. He also retreated to the “I just don’t know” defense, but that’s a lot better than the nonsense he used to lay down before. On another occasion a couple of years ago, P&T also admitted that they had previously gotten the whole secondhand smoke issue wrong when they denied that it caused health problems. In other words, they admit their mistakes. Grudgingly and slowly, perhaps, but contrast that to Maher, who never admits he’s totally wrong about vaccines, Pasteur, alternative medicine, and HIV. His wingnut flag remains undisturbed by any breeze of science.

    Be that as it may, though, Maher still goes at least two or three orders of magnitude beyond anything you’ve mentioned. As I said before, Maher would not been out of place as one of the kooks Dawkins interviewed in Enemies of Reason. Worse, Maher didn’t endorse these things in the past and come to reason. He continues to endorse them now. As was pointed out earlier, even on his most recent show he was ranting against “Western medicine” and spouting the same ignorant, anti-scientific nonsense. He’s an example of crank magnetism: alt-med; anti-vaccine; HIV/AIDS denialism; germ theory denialism. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that defense, especially not given whom the award is named after and especially not after reading the description of the award.

  16. #16 Sb Admin
    July 23, 2009

    This is a test.

  17. #17 mk
    July 23, 2009

    Maher is not an atheist and he thinks atheists are just the other side of the “fundamentalist” coin. I believe (I’ll have to look it up again) but I believe he even criticized Dawkins himself for this very (bogus) reason!

    He’s thoroughly undeserving.

  18. #18 James Sweet
    July 23, 2009

    I’ll just reiterate a comment I made over at PZ’s blog: Maher is indubitably a tool… but I found Religiulous very inspiring, particularly the closing monologue. IMO, for all its flaws, it was an important movie.

    I’m not crazy about him as a choice for the RD Award recipient, but I’m not incensed either. He’s a so-so choice who has one shining accomplishment in the past year amongst a less than stellar track record.

  19. #19 mattand
    July 23, 2009

    @Orac 15:

    I couldn’t agree more about Maher. There seems to be this attitude of “Well, he’s the best we can do” when people try to justify this decision.

    I actually do find Maher funny and listen to “Real Time” on podcast. However, I do have to walk away from the show every so often due to his alt med views.

    I didn’t see him in Atlantic City or watch for “Religulous” because I can’t justify spending money on a guy so out there when it comes to science-based medicine.

  20. #20 Albion Tourgee
    July 23, 2009

    Great post. Mahre always seemed to me to be a not very funny pop comedian so I hadn’t tracked all his absurd and harmful views as you catalog. With Mahre increasingly popular it seems, worth knowing what nonsense is infecting our pop culture.

    I did waste some time seeing Religulous which mainly made me think Mahre is interested in only one thing — Mahre. Myself pretty antithetic to most religions, I had hoped to see an amusing and pointed attack on stupid beliefs and rituals, but instead I saw a gigantic ego dwelling on the obvious and setting people up to make himself look smarter than them. I left feeling more sympathetic to the people Mahre made fun of, since he was quite unfair to them and had zero original or interesting to say. I don’t think the movie furthered the cause of atheism, that’s for sure.

  21. #21 Curious Wavefunction
    July 23, 2009

    All I can say is that, irrespective of other stuff, much of Maher’s invective against Bush and religion was hilarious and smack on. I always enjoyed that on “Real Time” especially when Bush was president.

  22. #22 Blake Stacey
    July 23, 2009

    It might have been better had the AAI given Religulous a “movie of the year” award, if they liked it so much, rather than lauding Maher himself.

  23. #23 Lifer
    July 23, 2009

    “In case the above wasn’t clear enough, before they got off the topic of the evils of big pharma, Maher told Letterman “Please get off of the meds.” Now that’s a great way for Letterman to end up dead.”

    What is your opinion of successful nutritional/dietary approaches to removing constant medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes/heart disease from peoples lives? What if these approaches are well documented in case studies and peer reviewed journals?

    Do you deny that medications are toxic?

    What do you think of the current system of treating disease after the fact instead of focusing on prevention and healthy living before a tragedy strikes?

    I only ask because I’ve encountered a lot of ‘pharmaceuticals are good’ from prominent science blogs without questioning the entire process of a persons decline into preventable diseases of affluence. I don’t see people questioning the Western diet or even mentioning it when talking about diseases that run rampant due to overconsumption and processed foods compared to parts of the world where the same diseases are virtually non-existent due to different dietary styles.

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    July 23, 2009

    And Orac spake:

    I’ll give you Penn & Teller; I almost mentioned the Libertarian wingnuttery they used to lay down. However, at TAM7, it appeared to me that Penn had moved more towards accepting AGW. True, he did it with a lot of caveats that told me that he didn’t want to admit that he had probably been wrong.

    Nailed it.

    Last summer, when he started his spiel by saying that his bullshit detector went off every time Al Gore spoke, I thought, “Yeah, and so what? Al Gore is just what you are: a cheerleader for science. Do you want people to believe in ghosts because they think you’re fat?”

    And that was the same Q&A session when he suggested disbanding the public schools, wasn’t it. . . .

  25. #25 Blake Stacey
    July 23, 2009

    What do you think of the current system of treating disease after the fact instead of focusing on prevention and healthy living before a tragedy strikes?

    Diet and exercise belong to “alternative” medicine, now do they?

    I don’t see people questioning the Western diet or even mentioning it when talking about diseases that run rampant due to overconsumption and processed foods compared to parts of the world where the same diseases are virtually non-existent due to different dietary styles.

    You don’t actually read ScienceBlogs, do you?

  26. #26 Orac
    July 23, 2009

    What is your opinion of successful nutritional/dietary approaches to removing constant medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes/heart disease from peoples lives? What if these approaches are well documented in case studies and peer reviewed journals?

    Do you deny that medications are toxic?

    What do you think of the current system of treating disease after the fact instead of focusing on prevention and healthy living before a tragedy strikes?

    You aren’t a regular reader of this blog, are you? If you were, you’d know the answers to a lot of those questions already.

  27. #27 Lifer
    July 23, 2009

    No, I’m not. Thanks for.. nothing, I guess. Should I leave?

  28. #28 Autismnostrum
    July 23, 2009

    If the lesson we’re supposed to be learning is that belief or lack thereof in religion/God has nothing to do with your capacity for reason (or ability to do a little background Googling on someone before you hand them an award,) then bravo! Job well done. Keep up the good work.

    Next year’s award goes to Theodore Beale.

  29. #29 Jim Lippard
    July 23, 2009

    #24: Blake: No, Orac’s talking about what Penn said about AGW at TAM7, not TAM6. The public schools comment was at TAM6.

  30. #30 James Sweet
    July 23, 2009

    It might have been better had the AAI given Religulous a “movie of the year” award, if they liked it so much, rather than lauding Maher himself.

    I heartily agree with this. I think Religulous was an important movie — even if you didn’t care for it, it’s hard to deny the significance of its penetration into the mainstream — but honoring Maher is not a good way of recognizing that.

  31. #31 Lifer
    July 23, 2009

    “Diet and exercise belong to “alternative” medicine, now do they?”

    I never said that but thanks for the input nonetheless.

  32. #32 Blake Stacey
    July 23, 2009

    I was thinking back to TAM6, which is where I heard him make the “Al Gore pegs my bullshit meter in the red” remark (or whatever his exact words were). I only crashed TAM7 to attend Rebecca Watson’s wedding, so I didn’t hear anything Penn said this year.

  33. #33 mk
    July 23, 2009

    Lifer said: “Should I leave?”

    No… just take advantage of the search function before you ask such elementary questions.

  34. #34 Laser Potato
    July 23, 2009

    “Do you deny that medications are toxic?”
    Methinks you should get aquainted with the term “the dose makes the poison.” There are infinitesimal trace amounts of mercury in the milk you pour on your cornflakes every day.

  35. #35 Autismnostrum
    July 23, 2009

    That’s good to hear about Penn & Teller. Maybe they’ll do a followup episode with all the things the show got wrong. I have to admit, even when I think Penn’s being a total asshole on a subject, I still like the guy.

  36. #36 Chris
    July 23, 2009

    Lifer:

    No, I’m not. Thanks for.. nothing, I guess. Should I leave?

    Absolutely not!

    Just go back and read more of what has been posted on this blog and the other Scienceblogs. It is usually wiser to lurk on a blog or forum for a while before commenting. That way you get to know what the general “culture” is, and you do not make comments that are nonsense.

    For instance, if you had lurked a while you would realize that pharmaceuticals get criticized on this blog and other Scieneblogs. You would also find there are several posts of lifestyle changes being encouraged (check out the White Coat Underground blog).

    So, please, hang around. You might learn something.

  37. #37 the bug guy
    July 23, 2009

    lifer,
    To answer your questions.

    Treating type II diabetes and heart disease with diet and exercise is not “alternative”, it’s medicine. I’m a good example. When I was diagnosed with type II diabetes 3 years ago, the first thing my PCP did was schedule an appointment with a diabetes specialists to learn what I need to know about living with and monitoring diabetes, and an appointment with a diabetes nutritionist to develop a healthy meal plan. My diabetes has been controlled since then (last month’s A1c was 5.7). Because diabetics often go heavy on fats, I watch those and my lipid profile is also well within healthy parameters. Nothing alternative, simply good medicine. However, my PCP commented that he wished more patients would follow directions like I did.

    Yes, medicines can be toxic, that’s why the toxicological limits of each are determined. In addition, biologically active materials can cause side effects, that’s why they are evaluated and noted on medicine labels.

    I’ve yet to meet a PCP physician that didn’t stress healthy lifestyle choices to prevent illness and disease.

    Now, please read a little more of this blog to understand what’s going on.

  38. #38 Lifer
    July 23, 2009

    I never said it was alternative. Jesus christ, you’d think you’d encourage questions around here. Fuck sakes. If this was a ‘jump down your throat’ competition I’d rather not participate.

    In the meantime, if you want to use me as a punching bag to make yourself feel good, by all means. I understand some people may come here with woo or touting alternative therapies or whatnot but try not to be so forthright with your superiority. We’re all apes right?

    I drink almond milk and I certainly don’t patron Kellogg’s. I enjoy an organic 90% plant-based, whole foods diet with no dairy or meat so I hope it doesn’t have mercury in it. Sorry for any inconvenience my inquiries have caused.

  39. #39 Ranson
    July 23, 2009

    Should I leave?

    Not at all. In fact, we’d probably like you to stick around for a while, if you like discussion. However, I can tell you why you got the reaction you did.

    The points you raised have several things in common. First, they have been repeatedly discussed here by both the blog author and in the comments. Some searching using the tool in the lefthand column should bring up several options. Asking the questions of the author without bothering to look for what he has previously covered on those subjects can come off a bit rude, and many people here despair of answering the same questions over and over; however, they usually will, both to work on their own discussion skills and to educate those honestly interested in learning the answers.

    A further problem you ran into is that the way your questions were asked pushed them very close to several forms of bad argumentation that we see from cranks and quacks. For example,

    Do you deny that medications are toxic?

    smacks of someone who is deliberately ignoring the nuances of pharmachological medicine, rather than someone who is interested on getting the perspectives of the person they asked. Your other questions come off in a similar manner, because no science-based medical professional denies that diet, prevention, and general health can play a role. To be a bit rude, every doctor I’ve been to in the last thirty years has had something to say about it, for fuck’s sake. Hell, my own father was a diet-controlled diabetic — no meds for decades until the last few years when his sugar started gettting really out of whack. He still relies on diet, though it isn’t a cure — he just prefers iron will to taking insulin. He still has diabetes, though.

    If you really want answers, stick around. Just realize that there are people here who take apart bad arguments for fun, and damn near all of them can cite published studies and/or other relevant data at the drop of a hat. You can learn a lot, if you’re interested, but even sympathetic folk here get chewed up and spit out on occasion. It comes with the territory.

  40. #40 Ovy
    July 23, 2009

    I’m pretty shocked to find this information out about Bill Maher. I am open to the possibility though that he has since come to his senses on a lot of these issues. I recall a few years go him conceding the existence of some higher power on his show (Real Time), but he has since moved away from that to a much stronger, atheist position on that same show, outright mocking any notion of a God.

    Around the time the swine flu broke out, he also took the opportunity to point out that germ mutation is an example of micro-evolution and that the religious should take heed. This seems to run contrary to his alleged anti-germ stance.

    I know it is a shame that he ever espoused such anti-scientific views, but that never means one should be forever condemned. As Bertrand Russell once said when he was asked why he changes his mind so often, “What do you do when you’re wrong?”

    Still, though, this atheist organization should really research their recipients more thoroughly. And perhaps rename their award for someone who’s actually dead and who’s legacy has withstood the test of time. Always seems in poor taste to name something after a living person.

  41. #41 Scott
    July 23, 2009

    What is your opinion of successful nutritional/dietary approaches to removing constant medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes/heart disease from peoples lives? What if these approaches are well documented in case studies and peer reviewed journals?

    When they’re actually backed by solid evidence, great. But very often, such things are garbage backed up by nothing.

    Do you deny that medications are toxic?

    Everything is toxic in sufficient doses. Water and oxygen, even. The question is therefore meaningless.

    What do you think of the current system of treating disease after the fact instead of focusing on prevention and healthy living before a tragedy strikes?

    It doesn’t exist. Mainstream MDs pay a great deal of attention to prevention, diet, and exercise.

    I don’t see people questioning the Western diet or even mentioning it when talking about diseases that run rampant due to overconsumption and processed foods compared to parts of the world where the same diseases are virtually non-existent due to different dietary styles.

    As mentioned, that’s in large part because you haven’t looked. But it’s also because many such claims are grossly overblown. (If you’d stuck with overconsumption, you’d have a much better case. Blaming processed foods is generally not backed by anything meaningful.)

  42. #42 Jami
    July 23, 2009

    I think I love you .. While I enjoy Bill’s ascerbic persona I get personally irritated at his views on vaccination , medicine and most importantly, to me, religion. While I agree with Bill that no one should force their religion down other peoples throat , I think my belief in God ( R.C. is how I choose to worchip him) is far more logical than his anti-God stance ; if I’m wrong how exactly will I suffer after my dirt nap ?

    As far as the medications and vaccines ( especially the Flu and H1N1 hysteria of late) . If diet/environmental exposure , vaccinations and medications are the problem than how , pray tell, did so many people manage to die during the Spanish Flu outbreak ? You will NEVER have an immune system hunting vermin in the backyard if it’s not genetically predisposed to do so . I don’t care how many foods you avoid or consume , none of them will change your genetic makeup. Sure you can take steps to strengthen and train your immune system , but , eventually the germs will get us all ! The MOST we can do is jab a needle in our arm and hope for the best.

  43. #43 Lifer
    July 23, 2009

    Sorry if my questions came across as argumentative because that isn’t what I intended. I’m a layman, obviously, but a curious layman. I’ll slap this into my RSS feeds.

    On topic: The music and imagery at the end of Religulous is hilarious.

  44. #44 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 23, 2009

    What is your opinion of successful nutritional/dietary approaches to removing constant medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes/heart disease from peoples lives? What if these approaches are well documented in case studies and peer reviewed journals?

    I thought they were very good approaches 30 years ago when I was a primary care physician. I still do.

    Do you deny that medications are toxic?

    I don’t deny it. An overdose is bad.
    Do you deny that Vitamin A is toxic (to use an example)? An overdose is bad, as well.

    What do you think of the current system of treating disease after the fact instead of focusing on prevention and healthy living before a tragedy strikes?

    Was that the same system I practiced in 30 years ago, when I told my patients to quit smoking, eat less processed food, and get out walking?

    Like other commenters have said, don’t leave. Go to the archives, read, absorb.

  45. #45 Orac
    July 23, 2009

    I’m pretty shocked to find this information out about Bill Maher. I am open to the possibility though that he has since come to his senses on a lot of these issues…Around the time the swine flu broke out, he also took the opportunity to point out that germ mutation is an example of micro-evolution and that the religious should take heed. This seems to run contrary to his alleged anti-germ stance.

    I know it is a shame that he ever espoused such anti-scientific views, but that never means one should be forever condemned. As Bertrand Russell once said when he was asked why he changes his mind so often, “What do you do when you’re wrong?”

    Show me the evidence that Maher has changed his views. Some of the quotes I cited were from 2008, and it was pointed out elsewhere in the comments that he’s continued his rants against “Western medicine” as recently as his show from last week.

    No, I do not think Maher has changed his views on vaccines and medicine. I do think, however, that his thinking is so muddled that he doesn’t even recognize the contradictions between his using the H1N1 virus as evidence for evolution while denying that flu vaccines can prevent flu and parroting the long-abandoned Bechamps idea that microbes don’t cause disease, their presence is secondary–or when he says “I don’t believe in vaccination” but then champions the HPV vaccine.

  46. #46 kronchev
    July 23, 2009

    I really like Dawkins, but I really kind of cock my head and ask “why?” when he’s voicing support for Maher.

    I would expect someone so educated to know to take a look at the person’s views instead of the person’s livelihood before giving his blessings on an award bearing one’s name.

    I always thought something seemed very off in Bill Maher and I never could like him, even though I know people who really like what he says. Now I can actually say, this guy has so many misguided and insane beliefs, you might as well be watching a televangelist.

  47. #47 mattand
    July 23, 2009

    IMHO, the only reason Maher is championing the HPV vax is because all of the funides are ah-gin it.

  48. #48 Andyo
    July 23, 2009

    Orac, are you going to be there at the atheist-fest? I’m thinking of attending, and it will be awesome if you asked a couple of questions to Maher, if that is allowed, after he speaks.

  49. #49 Pablo
    July 23, 2009

    I think my belief in God ( R.C. is how I choose to worchip him) is far more logical than his anti-God stance ; if I’m wrong how exactly will I suffer after my dirt nap ?

    You claim that belief in God is logical, but then give us Pascal’s Wager?

  50. #50 Laser Potato
    July 23, 2009

    “I enjoy an organic 90% plant-based, whole foods diet with no dairy or meat so I hope it doesn’t have mercury in it.”
    Ordinary rainwater contains up to a nanogram of mercury per liter. What do you freakin’ *think?!*

  51. #51 Chris
    July 23, 2009

    Just noticing that Laser Potato quoted “90% plant-based, whole foods diet with no dairy or meat so I hope it doesn’t have mercury in it.”

    Fish is the biggest source of mercury in food.

  52. #52 Pablo
    July 23, 2009

    I don’t deny it. An overdose is bad.
    Do you deny that Vitamin A is toxic (to use an example)? An overdose is bad, as well.

    Wasn’t it the alchemist Paracelsus who says that the poison is in the dosage? Here it is

    “All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”

    Wikipedia claims he died of natural causes, but I have a book from the 1870s that claims he died of alcohol abuse. Apparently, he was among the alchemists who thought that alcohol was the true elixer.

    I just love the irony of the toxicologist who recognizes that everything is poisonous in the wrong amount drinking himself to death.

  53. #53 Jack R
    July 23, 2009

    I don’t know. I think if you put Maher directly on the spot and asked him if vaccine X was effective against disease Y, he wouldn’t specifically deny it. I think his larger point, while pretty clumsy and misinformed, is that we’ve become a culture of gluttonous medicine whores. We focus on curing instead of preventing. Not that I’m against picking his arguments apart (he does spew a bit of nonsense) but I think his important gist is being missed, which is that we could obviously prevent a whole lot of hospital visits if we simply improved our miserable diets and moved our bodies a little more.

  54. #54 Pablo
    July 23, 2009

    We focus on curing instead of preventing.

    You say this in a post about vaccines?

  55. #55 Wes
    July 23, 2009

    I’ll give you Penn & Teller; I almost mentioned the Libertarian wingnuttery they used to lay down. However, at TAM7, it appeared to me that Penn had moved more towards accepting AGW. True, he did it with a lot of caveats that told me that he didn’t want to admit that he had probably been wrong. He also retreated to the “I just don’t know” defense, but that’s a lot better than the nonsense he used to lay down before. On another occasion a couple of years ago, P&T also admitted that they had previously gotten the whole secondhand smoke issue wrong when they denied that it caused health problems. In other words, they admit their mistakes. Grudgingly and slowly, perhaps, but contrast that to Maher, who never admits he’s totally wrong about vaccines, Pasteur, alternative medicine, and HIV. His wingnut flag remains undisturbed by any breeze of science.

    Be that as it may, though, Maher still goes at least two or three orders of magnitude beyond anything you’ve mentioned. As I said before, Maher would not been out of place as one of the kooks Dawkins interviewed in Enemies of Reason. Worse, Maher didn’t endorse these things in the past and come to reason. He continues to endorse them now. As was pointed out earlier, even on his most recent show he was ranting against “Western medicine” and spouting the same ignorant, anti-scientific nonsense. He’s an example of crank magnetism: alt-med; anti-vaccine; HIV/AIDS denialism; germ theory denialism. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that defense, especially not given whom the award is named after and especially not after reading the description of the award.

    Posted by: Orac | July 23, 2009 1:16 PM

    That’s good to hear about Penn & Teller. Maybe they’ll do a followup episode with all the things the show got wrong. I have to admit, even when I think Penn’s being a total asshole on a subject, I still like the guy.

    Posted by: Autismnostrum | July 23, 2009 2:29 PM

    I was unaware of his comments at TAM7. It’s good to here. The Bullshit! episodes on global warming and second hand smoke were so awful I found it hard to believe they came from the same people who did all the other episodes (which are usually pretty good). I mean, the AGW episode had a bunch of talking heads from the frickin’ CATO and Heartland institutes, for crying out loud. Where are the scientists?

    I’d also like to see a “Bullshit! Bullshit!” episode where they own up to some of their own bullshit and correct past mistakes. Penn’s ego might not allow for it, but it would be good for the show to go back and say, “Yeah…We got blabbermouths from right wing think tanks rather than real scientists for the AGW and second hand smoke episodes…..sorry.”

  56. #56 Wes
    July 23, 2009

    Oops! Typo! That should be “hear”, not “here” above.

  57. #57 toth
    July 23, 2009

    Re: Penn & Teller: Yeah, I love Bullshit! but was sorely disappointed in their global warming episode–they had no scientists (or at most one or two). I find it extremely hard to believe they were unable to find a scientist willing to defend global warming, so I suspect they didn’t even try. It puzzles me that they simply say “I don’t know” (which, admittedly, is better than “I deny it”), but I think the scientific consensus is almost as strong for global warming as for evolution (correct me if I’m wrong), which P & T defend.

  58. #58 Scientizzle
    July 23, 2009

    Welcome to RI, Lifer. Stick around.

    What is your opinion of successful nutritional/dietary approaches to removing constant medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes/heart disease from peoples lives? What if these approaches are well documented in case studies and peer reviewed journals?

    There is ample support in the medical literature for the effects of diet and exercise on the prognosis of a wide variety of conditions (and you’ll get almost 15,000 hits for “diet and exercise” in PubMed). For many conditions, improved diet and exercise are generally associated with greater positive outcomes. The evidence tends to be more sparse and/or inconsistent when it comes to various specific diet fads or particular nutritional supplementation interventions.

    Generally, though, I think you’ll find that the science-based medicine crowd will give its most substantial weight to well-performed scientific research in the formation of their respective opinions. This is precisely because the scientific method, though imperfect in implementation, is a self-correcting process that consistently produces descriptions of the real world that more close approximate reality than “other forms of knowing” (i.e., intuition, anecdote) by reducing the effects of cognitive biases found in everyone.

    Do you deny that medications are toxic?

    As noted many time above, *everything* is toxic at *some* dose. Certainly some pharmaceuticals have rather high toxicity risks. However, use of any medication must be done in a cost-benefit analysis. The real question to ask: are the probable risks of a medication (such as toxicity) too great to justify the probable benefits of that medication?

    Ask your question another way: is the disease more “toxic” than the medicine? Chemotherapy, for example, is *designed* to be toxic to cells (particularly cancer cells), but untreated cancer often has a very high “toxicity” (mortality) rate. A chemotherapeutic drug that also happened to have mild analgesia properties probably would not be used to treat simple headaches in a non-cancer patient based on the relative cost-benefit analysis.

    What do you think of the current system of treating disease after the fact instead of focusing on prevention and healthy living before a tragedy strikes?

    Preventative medicine is an important part of evidence-based medical practices and there are several levels of prevention to consider. Primary prevention, to avoid the development of a disease, includes wildly-successful vaccination programs and the common population-based health promotion pleas to improve diet and exercise practices. Secondary prevention, early disease detection, is aimed at limiting disease progression (often prior to manifested symptoms) thus improving the likelihood of positive outcomes [Note: in the Recent Post panel on the left, you’ll find a recent Orac article on mammographic screening programs]. Tertiary prevention involves reducing disease-related complications of an already-established disease.

    I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to locate a physician who wouldn’t like to see greater emphasis on, and success in, primary and secondary prevention. However, it might be easy to find one frustrated by health care bureaucracy and patient apathy that inhibits ideal prevention.

    I hope you stick around this and other ScienceBlogs: they’re a fantastic place to discuss topics like these.

  59. #59 Jon
    July 23, 2009

    I never really liked Maher either, he’s funny and all but a hypocrite when he talks about irrationality.

    I’d love if someone confronted him on medicine at the meeting and to hear of the results.

  60. #60 LinzeeBinzee
    July 23, 2009

    I was so disappointed when I first found out that Maher is such a woo believer because he’s actually the reason I’m a skeptic today. Religulous is what first convinced me that it’s ok to question my beliefs, and eventually led me to atheism, which in turn led me to skepticism.

    I can’t believe Dawkins would give Maher this award…it’s also kind of weird to me that Maher would accept an award from Dawkins because Dawkins has dismantled many of the irrational beliefs that Maher holds so dear in his documentary…I believe it’s called the Root of all Evil but I might be thinking of something else.

  61. #61 Wes
    July 23, 2009

    I can’t believe Dawkins would give Maher this award…it’s also kind of weird to me that Maher would accept an award from Dawkins because Dawkins has dismantled many of the irrational beliefs that Maher holds so dear in his documentary…I believe it’s called the Root of all Evil but I might be thinking of something else.

    Posted by: LinzeeBinzee | July 23, 2009 5:13 PM

    Dawkins doesn’t give out the award. It’s merely named after him. He has no say in who gets it, and does not head the organization that hands it out.

  62. #62 Paul S
    July 23, 2009

    The award isn’t for his whole life, it’s just for doing the movie. I suspect that Maher’s movie reached a lot more people than the atheist blogs on the internet. LinzeeBinzee’s comment above supports this

  63. #63 Fitz
    July 23, 2009

    While I agree with what you are saying about Maher I think he fufills 3 out of the 4 criteria listed here for the award. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheist_Alliance_International#Richard_Dawkins_Award
    I can understand why they did it even while wishing they didn’t since he promotes an anti-science message. Still there’ll hopefully be plenty of sceptics there to ask pointed questions.

    I don’t understand the discussion of Richard Dawkins at the start. Does he get a say in who gets the award?

    I’ve heard a few interviews with Michael Goudeau (writer/producer on Bullshit) and they’ve discussed the need to do a “Bullshit of Bullshit” episode at the end of their run. It’d be good if it happened.

  64. #64 Elsie
    July 23, 2009

    @ Wes et al.:

    I’d also like to see a “Bullshit! Bullshit!” episode where they own up to some of their own bullshit and correct past mistakes. Penn’s ego might not allow for it, but it would be good for the show to go back and say, “Yeah…We got blabbermouths from right wing think tanks rather than real scientists for the AGW and second hand smoke episodes…..sorry.”

    Agreed. Teller (who speaks occasionally) did an interview during TAM with The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe and discussed doing a bullshit of “Bullshit” as the last episode. No idea if they’d address AGW specifically but at least they appear to have the intention of correcting some issues. (Teller’s interview appears about 2/3 of the way through the episode.)

  65. #65 Fitz
    July 23, 2009

    Sorry I seem to have skipped most of the blog entry somehow (I think the drink might have something to do with it).

    Please just ignore my first two paragraphs.

  66. #66 1984
    July 23, 2009

    Would Neil deGrasse Tyson be a better candidate?

  67. #67 ckitching
    July 23, 2009

    I enjoy an organic 90% plant-based, whole foods diet with no dairy or meat so I hope it doesn’t have mercury in it.

    Where do you think the mercury in meat comes from? :-)

  68. #68 MikeTheInfidel
    July 23, 2009

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think Lifer is a troll…

  69. #69 Jack R
    July 24, 2009

    Pablo, I know what you’re slamming me on and I’m aware what a vaccine is. I still think my comment is relevant to the current discussion. Maher spends more time attacking drugs like Zoloft, Zantac, and Cialis than vaccines. To pretend he’s a total nutjob is disingenuous.

    I’d still be happy to debate you on prevention. Yes, there are ways to mitigate the spread of certain infections other than diet, such as improving the conditions of our food production systems, for instance. That’s perfectly fitting in a post about vaccines.

  70. #70 Militant Agnostic
    July 24, 2009

    Maher’s endorsement of the HPV vaccine because it pisses off religious fundamentalists confirms what I suspected – he is just a contrarian crank. If America was predominantly atheist, he would probably be a religious fundamentalist.

    OT – The Government of Alberta has just announced that the provincial health care plan will cover flu vaccines for everybody (usually it is free only for at risk groups like the elderly, people with breathing problems etc.). They see it as a cost saving and say that vaccinating the low risk population will help to prevent them from spreading it to more vulnerable relatives etc.

  71. #71 Chris
    July 24, 2009

    Jack R:

    Yes, there are ways to mitigate the spread of certain infections other than diet, such as improving the conditions of our food production systems, for instance.

    Well, do tell! I was unaware that many of the vaccine preventable diseases were food related. I was under the impression that pertussis, measles, mumps, polio, tetanus, diphtheria and several of the meningitis diseases have nothing to do with food.

    In the past year the USA has had several outbreaks of measles, the deaths from pertussis have increased (from a dozen to two dozen), and there are reports of deaths from Hib… please tell us what part of the food production system could have prevented those diseases. Be sure to point to real medical journal papers.

  72. #72 Damian
    July 24, 2009

    I’ll probably get clobbered for saying this, but I get the feeling the Orac doth protest a little too much about Dawkins, at times, which is why he comes down quite hard on him for even minor transgressions. In other words, I suspect that he admires him more than he would be prepared to admit. Or not, as I will surely find out. :)

    Richard Dawkins, like myself, is not an American, obviously. Bill Maher is almost entirely unknown in the UK, outside of a few people that have seen his film, and perhaps come across him on the internet. But even those people likely won’t know that much about him, and certainly not all of his views. He isn’t an international star, by any means.

    It is entirely possible that the first time that Dawkins had any idea that Maher was an anti-vaccination nut was after reading that post at Pharyngula (which doesn’t mention it), and then perhaps reading the first dozen (of 200, at the time) or so comments (which does). He then gave a reaction that, to those who actually understand what Bill Maher believes, looks rather pathetic, careless, and dismissive.

    Should he have done more to educate himself before making that comment? To anyone that understands the full extent of Bill Maher’s “beliefs” about medicine, of course he should, but then they would think that, would they not? But I have seen too much evidence to suggest that Dawkins is far from an unreasonable man, and that, once properly informed, he is perfectly willing to retract a prior statement and alter his stance.

    So, why do people so often rush to criticize (based on a blog comment), rather than send him an e-mail explaining why they think that he ought to do a little research and ultimately change his mind? I just think that that would be the fair thing to do, personally.

  73. #73 Richard Eis
    July 24, 2009

    Maher it seems, is a ‘stopped clock’.

    Still if it’s made clear that the award is only for the movie, i have no issues. I will wait and see. It also appears that people are going to seriously question him when he gets the award.

  74. #74 Ovy
    July 24, 2009

    @Orac

    I’m not attempting to start some argument to defend Bill Maher. All the information you’ve posted here is new to me so I am by no means equipped to continue further. I am merely open to the possiblity that Maher has corrected himself through the use of reason, given his statements on the swine flu. It’s certainly possible that his ideas remain inconsistent, but it’s also possible that he’s changed his mind similarly to how he has concenring God. If you want the ‘evidence’, well, start watching his show (you did admit after all that you don’t usually, and so, you may not actually be up to speed on his current stances). I can’t give you any firm evidence other than what I have already suggested, of course, similar to how you can’t give me any firm evidence on the rationalization that he is so ‘confused’ that that is why he said what he said about swine flu. The only way to get to the bottom of this is for him to come clean, which isn’t likely since I doubt he’ll ever post here.

    The main intent of my post, though, is to open up to the possibility of correction. Too often do we identify a person by his beliefs, and make it permanent…worse, too often are people so stubborn or prideful as to not correct their views even in the face of overwhelming evidence. We should be wary of shunning people who are brave enough to change, and we set the stage for such things by always being open to the possibility thereof. If Bill Maher still retains these anti-scientific beliefs, I hope tomorrow he will think differently.

    Nonetheless, the award is unwarranted, if only beacuse the presenters failed to fully research the recipient, acting only on a whim. I hope in the long run Bill Maher rises up to the standard it should represent by admitting he was wrong.

  75. #75 Dire Lobo
    July 24, 2009

    Like Prof. Dawkins, I was unaware of Maher’s stance on animal testing, vaccines and other nutty stances. I assume PZ was not either – yes?

    IMO this puts things in a different light, if he still holds these views.

    I have watched Maher’s show on and off for several years and have heard him rant about the toxins in our produced food (a valid point) and anti-hormones in beef (a mildly annoying stance but hardly wingnut) but nothing more outrageous as described in this article!

    I think he makes a poor choice for the Dawkins award considering these past stamenets.

    I’ll continue to watch his show with a sharp eye for this kind of irrationality – as the previous commenter said, he may have upgraded his view on these issues. I’ll give him a chance and see where he goes. On balance, I think he is a positive force as long as his view on religeon get more attention then his views on other anti-science positions he may hold. He could become a liability real fast though if the media decided to pick on him for one of his nutty statements. We’ll see.

  76. #76 Orac
    July 24, 2009

    Like Prof. Dawkins, I was unaware of Maher’s stance on animal testing, vaccines and other nutty stances. I assume PZ was not either – yes?

    Oh, PZ was definitely aware of Maher’s stance on all this nuttiness. He’s been made aware of it by commenters, me, and others.

    As for Maher recanting his antivaccine views, how about this? Is February 2009 recent enough for you for him to have been spouting nonsense about the flu vaccine being a “scam”?

    See: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0902/15/lkl.01.html

    Excerpt:

    KING: Do you get a flu shot?

    MAHER: Never. Never.

    KING: It’s a vaccine against the flu?

    MAHER: First of all, that’s a huge scam. Even if it worked, and I don’t believe it does, by the time the actual flu came around, it would have mutated from whatever they shot into you. That is a good example of the corruption…

  77. #77 Lifer
    July 24, 2009

    Thanks for the response Scientizzle. Definitely not a troll.. I just spoke too soon as a first timer to this blog. I’ve been properly chastized.

  78. #78 Marcus Ranum
    July 24, 2009

    At what point does it become a litmus test of ideological correctness? In order to be a good atheist, does one also have to be {pick your favorite issue} as well?

    Ultimately, part of the nice thing about being an atheist is that you’re forming your views a la carte – ideally based on a rational process – but not necessarily. Are we going to say you can only be a true atheist if you achieved those views rationally? (I admit it will almost always be the case, but consider it a thought experiment)…

    The bottom line is that Maher made a movie that makes fun of religion, and that was a good and effective counter-punch to “expelled!” I got a few chuckles out of it. Maybe his making fun of dumb beliefs will encourage a bit of skepticism. So, he has a few dumb beliefs of his own? Poke them. But I think we can give credit where it’s due: he did stand up and laugh loudly at religion, and wasn’t afraid to mock them fairly even-handedly.

    Given that he won the award for the movie, why not judge him on those grounds, as whoever chose him for the award clearly did?

    In my opinion you cannot be a rational atheist without also being a nihilist, accepting that “free will” is an illusion, adopting a phyrronian skepticism toward epistemology, and accepting that we’re just dumb helpless meat robots. In my world view very few self-described atheists are “real” atheists, they’re just faithful who have discarded a few of the more obviously stupid ideas out there. Would it be appropriate for me to judge all other self-described “atheists” by my standards? For example, Dawkins talks about “memes” – things that are invisible and undetectable. In my world-view he could just as easily be talking about “demons.” That doesn’t discredit him, however, as a powerful voice on other agendas that I agree with. Nor do I discredit Maher simply because he’s an idiot about a few things and right on the money about others.

    Show me one person who isn’t an idiot about something or other. Obviously, the thing to do, Orac, is to invite Maher to re-assess his views and see how he reacts. But let him have his well-deserved plaudits for a good piece of entertainment.

  79. #79 Marcus Ranum
    July 24, 2009

    Maher’s endorsement of the HPV vaccine because it pisses off religious fundamentalists confirms what I suspected – he is just a contrarian crank.

    He’s. An. ENTERTAINER. He’s not an educator, a scientist, or even a journalist. He has a BA in English/History. He is a COMEDIAN. I suspect that if he measures himself on any gauge it’s whether or not he makes people laugh and/or gets good ratings.

    He’s also a big time PETA supporter

    He’s on the board of directors.

    He has some wingnut views. I dislike that part. He also made a (not very good) movie making fun of religion. I like that part. He’s on PETA’s board of directors. I dislike that part. Like most human beings, there are things about him that I like and things that I dislike.

    Going around saying that atheism awards should only be given to people who are 100% ideologically correct is just stupid. Unless it’s YOUR award or you’re on the committee.

  80. #80 Sparrowhawk
    July 24, 2009

    I dunno, I think a quick perusal of the award criteria disqualify Maher.

    to honor an outstanding atheist

    Bill Maher is not an outstanding atheist. Go find any random interview where he talks about god/atheism etc and it will become quickly apparent to you that he is of the touch-feely deist side of things, thinks atheists have faith, etc. I would say someone who doesn’t even seem to grasp the consensus on what an atheist IS is hardly an “outstanding atheist”.

    whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance

    I don’t think he meets this one either. All indications are that Bill is actually a deist. And his film, while hilarious and well-made, does not do anything to promote awareness of any kind of “stance”. It’s a film that is critical of religion. And besides…I’m a little bothered by the the use of the term “nontheist life stance” in the criteria for the award to begin with. I wasn’t aware that there was an atheist life stance.

  81. #81 Orac
    July 24, 2009

    Going around saying that atheism awards should only be given to people who are 100% ideologically correct is just stupid.

    The term “pyromaniac in a field of straw men” comes to mind. Either that, or what we have here is a massive Burning Man made of straw.

    No one here–and I mean no one–ever said that atheism awards should be given to people who are 100% ideologically correct. That includes me. What I did say is that an award, one of whose major criteria is that the winner ” through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge,” should not be given to an anti-vaccine loon who parrots the lies of germ theory denialists while praising HIV/AIDS denialist books and sitting on the board of directors of an anti-science organization like PETA.

    Personally, I think that someone receiving an award should meet at least the minimum for each of the criteria listed for receiving the award. He doesn’t have to excel in all of the criteria (in the case of the Richard Dawkins Award that’s four criteria). On the other hand, he shouldn’t receive a grade of EPIC FAIL in any of the four.

    But maybe that’s just me. I’m funny that way. I think that award criteria should actually matter in selecting an award recipient.

  82. #82 Marcus Ranum
    July 24, 2009

    I wasn’t deliberately trying to create straw men, but your accusation is fair. Nobody said he needed to be 100% ideologically correct. You’re right. As I said, there’s a lot of things I disagree with about him (mostly, I don’t think he’s very funny and he comes off like the stereotypical kid who always got beaten up after class).

    …award, one of whose major criteria is that the winner ” through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge,” should not be given to an anti-vaccine loon who parrots the lies of germ theory denialists while praising HIV/AIDS denialist books and sitting on the board of directors of an anti-science organization like PETA.

    He does advocate increased scientific knowledge, even if he appears to ignore his own advice. I turned the volume down at the end of the movie because it was so darned preachy but getting out a message like:
    “Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do.” “The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certainty of religion – but Doubt.” Etc. (Like I said: preachy)
    Again, he doesn’t seem to apply his own advice consistently. But that’s a pretty decent message to get out in front of a lot of people.

    Would it be OK if he believed in acupuncture, water birth, and reiki? Where do you draw the line on “too much irrational content” in a person?

    As I said earlier: board of directors of PETA – don’t like. Makes movies making fun of religion – do like.

  83. #83 Epimetheus' Smarter Brother
    July 24, 2009

    I have to say I am with Orac on this one. PZ and Dawkins are dropping filters because they find Bill Maher “funny”?!?!?

    Maher invests in magical thinking and encourages others to do so.

    Dawkins devoted an entire series to opposing the crap Maher promulgates and describing it as potentially worse for human culture than organized religion.

    And yea, I get that he is a comedian and an entertainer and what the hell does that have to do with anything. Maher getting this award for an “uncompromising nontheist life stance” is like establishing the “Fatty Arbuckle Rape Crisis Center”.

  84. #84 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 24, 2009

    Would it be OK if he believed in acupuncture, water birth, and reiki?
    I would consider this silly, but not a significant flaw. There are arguments that can be made in favour of each of these beliefs, and they are harmless, as far as I can tell.

    Where do you draw the line on “too much irrational content” in a person?
    When it becomes destructive. Maher not only believes his bullshit, but he expounds on it like he’s some kind of authority. Anti-Vax, HIV denialism, PETA activism is harmful to medical science and harmful to our health.

  85. #85 Gingerbaker
    July 24, 2009

    Orac, which would you prefer?

    1) That the AAI award went to a more deserving recipient whose influence is likely to be almost completely restricted to preaching to the atheistic choir, and “Religulous” was never made

    or

    2) That at least one organization in the atheist community gave public accolades for an imperfect science spokesman who nevertheless produced the first movie since “The Life of Brian” popular enough to move the Overton window about the public perception of religion in the U.S.?

    Your critique of Maher is spot on. He is toxic to science education. But he starred in, wrote and produced what looks to be be the most successful anti religion documentary of all time. That was a risky business venture for Maher and it took guts. The AAI evidently thinks that is enough. Perhaps they are right.

  86. #86 Irene Delse
    July 24, 2009

    I like very much the suggestion Blake Stacey posted on Pharyngula: the AAI should start rewarding achievements instead of people. So, Bill Maher made an important film: ok, give the Richard Dawkins Award to the film, not to the person!

    Maybe the AAI could rewrite the name of the award to prevent a similar gaffe next year. Something like the “Richard Dawkins Award for Best Achievement in Raising Public Awareness of Atheism, Rationalism and/or Free-Thinking”.

    Note the “and/or”… Obviously, Bill Maher’s Religulous was important in raising awareness about free-thinking and rejection of organized religion. But his record in promoting all kinds of irrationality and pseudo-science makes him a poor choice as someone who “advocates increased scientific knowledge”.

    It’s embarrassing to see Richard Dawkins and the atheist community associated with that kind of absurdity.

  87. #87 Jennifer B. Phillips (aka Danio)
    July 24, 2009

    The more I think about this the more it pisses me off. ‘Religulous’ is Maher’s ticket into the circle of organized Atheists, arguably an extremely heterogeneous group in its own right–no central dogma, yeah, yeah, but look who the leading lights are: Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Coyne, Myers, Scott, etc. Not ‘just’ atheists, but advocates of reason, science, and naturalism. Doesn’t it matter to them, or to any of the other pro-reality attendants that they are building a fellowship with folks with fairly nutty beliefs on everything OTHER than gods? Is it just to be able to say ‘look how many people are rejecting organized religion’? Maybe I’m missing the point of the convention–admittedly I’ve never been, but it doesn’t seem like a particularly productive strategy to me.

    Moreover: the film itself, the subject and success of which has seemingly eclipsed all the irrational tendencies Maher has repeatedly displayed, was made using similar deceptive tactics to those that were used by the makers of ‘Expelled!’–tactics which Richard and PZ both, justifiably, railed against. So yes, I’m sure its very entertaining to watch some ambushed apologists flounder and flap during their ‘Religulous’ interviews, just as I’m sure it was very entertaining for the hundred or so viewers in church basements to see Dawkins getting his pancake #5 applied in ‘Expelled’. How are these situations different? How can so many atheists (or other advocates of reason) send a veritable blizzard of objection letters to the University of Vermont protesting Ben Stein’s invitation to speak and yet be this tolerant of Maher receiving the Richard Freakin’ Dawkins award at the AAI convention? Isn’t this lauding of Maher, solely for his (dodgily crafted) ridicule of religion, basically playing right into the ‘New Atheist’ caricature that Mooney & Kirschbaum have sketched?

  88. #88 Oisin
    July 26, 2009

    So Bill Maher’s view are evidence that even prominent atheists can have strange/wrong/unscientific views about matters other than the existence of God. Uncritical reaction by prominent atheist scientists suggests that their allegiance to atheism outweighs their interest in defending scientific method, reason and scientific knowledge generally. Makes them seem like just another tribe/sect/cult that looks after its own.

  89. #89 Andrew Njeru
    July 30, 2009

    After reading the Richard Dawkins’ Book, ‘God Delusion’ I have concluded that atheists are having as much delusions certainly much more intensely than the theists would be suffering from.
    One title of a topic shocked me,’ why God is ALMOST certainly not there’ I strongly believe that Dawkins MUST have changed the title that he had in his manuscripts which must have read ‘Why God is certainly not there!’ The power of Reason could not allow such a title!, But He had to write the book anayway
    In fact this book is just a protest note to the catholic church, the muslims, and partly to God who Dawkins struggles to comprehend.
    Look, We cannot comprehend the nature within i.e. ourselves!, How should we dare claim with certainly that we can understand the nature without,i.e. the Universe, its workings and its origin?.

    I have a question for the atheists; If you crushed your child’s toy intentionally, does that change the fact that you are the parent?
    If your mum killed your brother, does that change that He is your mum?
    If God is not there does that change the fact that nature will keep on haunting us with natural disasters, untreatable diseases?
    Wars are just a manifestation of the human greed and corruption. Religion is a tool to bring people together to fight for the politicians’ cause. With or without religion, wars will be fought and when people are confronted with the inevitable, they almost always hold on to religion to explain the unexplainable, Death; I still don’t understand why death should be is bad to the atheist: I would want to believe that atheists don’t cry st the funeral.
    In fact we probably don’t die at all. death could be transporting us to the eventual evolutionally bliss.

    Dawkins did a magnificent thing to document his ignorance, arrogance and stupidity. Too bad I had to part with $15 to feed one ignorant and arrogant atheist by the name of Richard.
    I am a happy theist.

  90. #90 Chris
    July 30, 2009

    Andrew Njeru:

    Too bad I had to part with $15 to feed one ignorant and arrogant atheist by the name of Richard.

    It must be awful to live in a town without a public library. I would go broke if I bought every book I read.

    You ask some strange questions that have absolutely nothing to do with the Maher’s anti-science. And the bit about “that He is your mum” is very confusing.

  91. #91 Andrew Njeru
    July 30, 2009

    Chris,

    It appears that atheism has now been relegated to an analysis of language, just its sisters, theology ,law and philosophy. The substance and reason have been thrown out of the window.
    In fact Richard Dawkins thinks just like you, He picks petty issues to degenerate the religious.
    Richard complains that to say that the questions of why should be left to religion and theology is nonsense because in his words some why questions can also be answered by science and atheists like… ‘does it mean that even the question of ‘why’ your mother beat you when you pissed on your bed’ should be left to religion?

    I guess these are the kind of ‘Why’ questions that should be left to atheists and science. SCIENCE IS INCOMPETENT ABOUT ANSWERING EVEN HOW QUESTIONS;
    Statistically ( a branch of science), we should not be existing based on probability, but here we are. Even the seemingly improbable is possible, regardless of whether there is evidence or not.

  92. #92 Chris
    July 30, 2009

    Your questions make no sense. I was dismissing you as ignorant because you make no sense, it has nothing to do with religion.

    Also, in most normal stable families mothers do not beat children for urinating in bed, and it has nothing to do with religion. Actually, that is why there are mattress covers, because children (especially when they are sick) will have accidents. I’m sorry to hear that you had the misfortune of having brutal parents. That may explain some things.

    The subject of this blog posting was the anti-science of Mahar, something you share with him.

    Statistics is a branch of mathematics. It is used as a tool in science. Plus your interpretation of whether or not should exist indicates you neither understand science, nor basic math.

    You really need to move to a community with a library and perhaps a community college to learn more about these subjects. You should start with a basic statistics course and then a beginning biology class. Good luck.

  93. #93 Thomathy
    September 28, 2009

    Bill Maher is a hack and clearly anti-health science. He doesn’t deserve an award with criterion including advancing science. He denounces vaccines and refers to western medicine as a scam meant to keep people sick. It’s insane, factually incorrect and completely contrary to the award. It will be incredibly disappointing if he gets this award. It is unbelievable that he could be chosen for this award considering his inane beliefs.

  94. #94 eric
    May 1, 2011

    your blog sucks. just thought you should know.

  95. #95 AnthonyK
    May 1, 2011

    eric, you’re a moron, just so you know.
    This is a 21/2 year old post. Why don’t you come and say it…meh. You’ll be stupid all your life, No point in wasting electrons on you.

  96. #96 Chris
    May 2, 2011

    eric, the Mahar fan boy, must be a very slow reader.

  97. #97 Andy Wellsby
    May 10, 2011

    What is worse that the award for Maher is Dawkins’ website selling Pat Condell videos. Pat Condell supports UKIP whose climate change spokesman is Lord monckton,a charlatan with zero scientific credentials or understanding.
    It seems that Dawkins will support anyone with athiestic leanings, even if they are antiscience.

  98. #98 Joel
    September 15, 2011

    When something like this happens, it’s important to remember that academia is not a guarantee of rationality; it merely makes it more likely. This is not one of those instances.

  99. #99 Chris
    September 16, 2011

    Joel:

    When something like this happens, it’s important to remember that academia

    Please tell us what part of academia that includes Bill Maher? And why did it take you three years to think of a comment?

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