Respectful Insolence

Bill Maher and “anti-science”

Last week, I expressed my surprise and dismay that the Atheist Alliance International chose Bill Maher for the Richard Dawkins Award. I was dismayed because Maher has championed pseudoscience, including dangerous antivaccine nonsense, germ theory denialism complete with repeating myths about Louis Pasteur supposedly recanting on his deathbed, a hostility towards “Western medicine” and an affinity for “alternative medicine,” a history of sympathy to HIV/AIDS denialists, and the activities of PETA through his position on its board of directors, all facts that led me to liken his receiving the Richard Dawkins Award to giving an award for public health to Jenny McCarthy. I was not alone, either. Larry Moran, Matt D., and Skepacabra agreed with me.

When I wrote that post, I expected some pushback, and I hadn’t really expected to be writing any followup posts. After all, to my surprise P.Z. Myer’s defense of the decision was tepid at best, and the strongest he could come up with was to urge attendees to the AAI convention to “put Maher in the hot seat.” Then over the weekend I noticed that someone unexpected took me to task. Not just took me to task, but lambasted me. Normally, I don’t know if I would have bothered to respond or not, but this criticism came from someone I normally like and respect. Worse, the arguments were shockingly weak compared to his usual posts. Given that, I felt he deserved at least a brief reply (except that this is Orac we’re talking about and “brief” is not really in his vocabulary). I’m referring, of course, to Jason Rosenhouse, who thinks that Bill Maher is a a fine choice for the Richard Dawkins Award.

Basically, Jason argues that Maher isn’t primarily known for his pseudoscientific views on medicine and vaccines, which is mostly (but not completely) true. After all, Maher’s views on alternative medicine and vaccines are well known enough that it’s virtually inevitable whenever Maher is being interviewed by Larry King, David Letterman, and other hosts of talk shows that he will be asked at least one or two questions about these topics. Indeed, Larry King, ever since Maher’s first anti-vaccine tirade that I’m aware of in 2005, pretty much always asks Maher about the flu vaccine whenever he is on King’s show. Maher may not be primarily known for his views on “Western medicine,” but they are well known and he not infrequently spouts off about them on television to millions of people. In any case, Jason in essence does what other Maher apologists I’ve seen do and completely ignore the criteria of “who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge.” Jason also virtually concedes that Maher is not really an atheist, waving it away by saying:

The fact that he has some vague belief in a higher force in the universe hardly negates all of the good work that he is done in areas of relevance to the award. He has defintely raised awareness of the nontheist life stance through the media and the arts, and certainly helps teach acceptance of the nontheist lifestyle, just as the award describes.

Well, yes, but that’s only one criterion out of four, and fortunately Skeptico has already addressed this argument. In any case, Jason appears to be conceding that, at best, Maher meets only 2/4 criteria, with 1/4 (science) an EPIC FAIL and the other 1/4 questionable at best. If Jason thinks that’s the only criterion that matters and is willing to ignore the rest, I guess there isn’t much more to say other than that, personally, when an award is given, I prefer that the recipient actually meet all of the listed criteria. (I’m funny that way.) The recipient doesn’t have to meet all of them equally and could even be a little shaky on one or two of them. But miss any one of them by so much that he might as well be on another planet? I don’t think so. As I’ve pointed out before, Maher’s views on medicine and science would have made him a perfect “victim” of one of Richard Dawkins’ deconstructions in part 2 of his BBC documentary Enemies of Reason, right there with the homeopaths, crystal users, and various other woo believers.

I do find Jason’s defense rather interesting in that, in essence, it says that the criteria for the Richard Dawkins Award don’t really mean anything, which to me implies that the award itself doesn’t mean much of anything. Apparently it can be given to almost anyone, as long as he meets just one of the four criteria strongly enough, even if he gets an EPIC FAIL on at least one. He doesn’t even have to be anything resembling a rationalist! He can advocate whatever pseudoscience he wants, and as long as he “raises awareness of the nontheist life stance through the media and the arts” and “helps teach acceptance of the nontheist lifestyle” whatever woo he believes him is all good.

As long as it’s not God or religion, of course.

But that’s not what bothered me most about Jason’s post. This is:

While I’m at it, I’m really tired of people being described as “anti-science” when what is meant is that they do not accept the scientific consensus on some issue. Orac writes:

I know that some of this may seem a bit repetitive, but I want to emphasize just how anti-science Bill Maher is.

Oh please. Being wrong about a scientific question doesn’t make you anti-science. It might make you ignorant or misinformed or confused or various other bad things, but not anti-science. Maher isn’t running around saying that people need to think less and feel more, or that they shouldn’t worry about defending their beliefs with evidence, or that some ancient holy text trumps anything a scientist says.

Maybe, but if that’s the only criteria for “anti-science” that Jason recognizes, he has a very narrow view indeed of what constitutes being anti-science. In fact, I suspect that’s just the reason he could make such a jaw-droppingly misguided statement (that, and I also suspect that he really, really likes Bill Maher and was pissed off at me for criticizing him so harshly). I was also surprised that Jason would be so annoyed at my calling Maher “anti-science,” given that in the past he himself has not been shy about using the term to describe creationists. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Here’s a quote about Republicans:

The bottom line is that there is a stark, important difference between the parties on this issue. The Republican party is anti-evolution, and generally anti-science. The Democratic party is not. That the Republicans are sometimes supported by people who are pro-science does not change that simple fact.

Hmmm. I’m sure Maher would say he is pro-science, too, but he is profoundly anti-medical science in his stances. I also thought that Jason didn’t like labeling people who may just be “misguided” as “hostile to science.” I’m sure he’ll give many reasons why Republicans are not just misguided but actually anti-science, but let’s move on. Here’s an interesting quote that comes after a discussion of how saying that the Bible says how the world began and how life and humans came to be is profoundly anti-science:

Furthermore, there comes a time when the allegedly scientific arguments you are making are so weak and ignorant that you brand yourself as anti-science simply by offering them. Creationists love science and love what it can do? Then why do they persist in arguing that the second law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution? Why do they argue that natural selection is a meaningless tautology, or that the fossil record contains no transitional forms, or that elementary probability theory proves evolution is false, or that all of the hominid fossils paleontologists have collected are either fully ape or fully human? If you love science then you pause a moment to educate yourself about the basics of the subject. You try to understand what evolution actually asserts before producing countless books condemning it. You don’t routinely quote scientists out of context for the purpose of distorting what they believe.

Referring to creationists as anti-science is not meant as a description of how they see themselves. It is meant as a description of what they are.

And the same is true of Maher from my perspective.

Jason tries to explain away, for example, Maher’s rejection of germ theory:

I do not believe that Maher rejects the germ theory of disease. Yes, I’ve seen the quotes, but I think there are more charitable interpretations. There have been other places where he has said things that seem to accept the germ thoery.

But let’s suppose he does. That’s “anti-science” (as opposed to ignorant or misinformed or whatnot) only if you think science is primarily a list of facts to which you must give your assent. If we’re serious about science being an investigative method as opposed to a list of facts, then rejecting some consensus view does not make you anti-science.

Let me try recasting that for Jason:

I do not believe that Michael Behe rejects evolution. Yes, I’ve seen the quotes, but I think there are more charitable interpretations. There have been other places where he has said things that seem to accept evolution.

But let’s suppose he does. That’s “anti-science” (as opposed to ignorant or misinformed or whatnot) noly if you think science is primarily a list of facts to which you must give your assent. If we’re serious about science being an investigative method as opposed to a list of facts, then rejecting some consensus view does not make you anti-science.

Sounds a bit different, doesn’t it?

Moreover, germ theory is far more than just a “consensus” viewpoint in science. In fact, it is a theory (word choice intentional) every bit as central to medicine as evolution is to biology or relativity and quantum mechanics are to physics. As Skeptico pointed out, rejecting germ theory is as fundamentally a rejection of science as rejecting evolution, and it just as much involves the rejection of the scientific process that tells us that bacteria causes disease. I also can’t help but point out the parallel between Maher repeating a germ theory denialist myth that Louis Pasteur somehow “recanted” on his deathbed in favor of Louis Bechamps (who thought that bacteria were merely bystanders and not the true cause of infectious disease) and the not infrequent creationist refrain that Charles Darwin “recanted” on his deathbed.

Moreover, Maher’s support of germ theory and vaccines is very opportunistic. He denies germ theory when it comes to vaccines, in particular the flu vaccine, but supports vaccines when it comes to the HPV vaccine because it ticks off the fundamentalists. He claims that flu shots are a “scam” and uses evolution to justify why. He denies that “Western medicine” has much value and blames disease on “aggregate toxicity.”

Of course, far be it from me not to note that of late Jason seems to have changed his tune, for example:

Hostility toward evolution is not the result of some all-encompassing antipathy toward science. It is the result of certain very bad religious ideas that too often go unchallenged. Hostility toward global warming is not the result primarily of scientific ignorance. It is that there are powerful interests heavily invested in the status quo, coupled with the basic inertia that makes people reluctant to make major changes to their way of life.

Hostility toward vaccinations does stem largely from ignorance, but anti-vaccers are strongly aided in their views by an unscrupulous media (both traditional and new) that is willing to present uncritically the crassest sort of sensationalist quackery.

So maybe Jason’s thinking has “evolved” since he was last happily labeling creationists “anti-science.” Fair enough. However, from my perspective his thinking has evolved in the wrong direction. He was closer to reality before.

Jason also betrays a profound ignorance of the anti-vaccine movement. The parents who worry about vaccines (largely because of the propaganda of the anti-vaccine movement) could be described as Jason describes them, but the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, not so much. Just a bit of time on the anti-vaccine boards will demonstrate a profound suspicion of and extreme hostility towards medical science, mainly because it doesn’t tell the parents what they want to hear. As far as science as a process rather than just a collection of facts, you’ll also see a profound antipathy towards the scientific method itself in favor of anecdotal evidence and “mommy instinct.” Jenny McCarthy herself is an excellent example of this. She once said “Evan [her son] is my science” on The Oprah Winfrey Show and scoffed at all the science showing that vaccines do not cause autism because, well, she’s seen it herself. Meanwhile Generation Rescue and other anti-vaccine groups keep up a constant stream of propaganda attacking every scientific study that fails to find a link between vaccines and autism. Indeed, the same hostility towards the scientific method and the fruits of that method that form the basis of scientific medicine is evident in huge swaths of the “alternative medicine” movement, where anecdote is valued over controlled studies, correlation is confused with causation even after science fails to find evidence of causation, and “personal experience” matters more than clinical trials or basic science.

No, the anti-vaccine movement is profoundly anti-science at its very core, as is the alternative medicine movement, and Bill Maher gives every indication of buying into much of the philosophies of both.

I rather suspect I know why Jason reacted so negatively to my use of the term “anti-science” to describe Bill Maher (I’m sure he’ll tell me I’m wrong). Part of the reason, of course, is because my criticism of Maher ticked Jason off because he clearly likes and admires Bill Maher. Fair enough. No one likes to see their heros gored, even when deserved, and admiration of a person can lead one to circle the wagons when that person is criticized. Far more importantly, though, I suspect that it’s because Jason is much more interested in evolution and threats to evolution. He’s far more passionate about defending evolution against the anti-science forces that threaten it than he is about medical science or defending it against the anti-science forces that threaten it. He appears simply not to understand that the philosophical basis behind what Maher spouts when it comes to medicine is every bit as anti-science as anything put out by the Discovery Institute.

In fact, I’d argue that in one way Maher’s antivaccine nonsense and revulsion towards what he sneeringly calls “Western medicine” is even worse than creationism in that it has real, measurable health consequences. Even though I’ve fairly often written about creationism and the pseudoscience and religious belief trying unsuccessfully to masquerade as science that it is, because I’m a doctor and very much interested in quackery, Maher’s health claims bother me even more than creationist nonsense does. I react to it more vociferously. In other words, Jason cares most about evolution, and Maher supports evolution. I care about scientific medicine, and Maher is anti-scientific medicine. Perhaps that is why I get so worked up over Maher’s promotion of pseudoscience, antivaccinationism, and quackery and Jason, sadly, does not.

Comments

  1. #1 JohnV
    July 27, 2009

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who found referring to the germ theory of disease “some scientific consensus” troubling.

  2. #2 SLC
    July 27, 2009

    A very fine riposte to Prof. Rosenhouses’ poorly thought out arguments. It should be noted that the good professor has been much criticized, and justly so, in the comments on that thread. However, I don’t think it is quite fair to analogize Mr. Maher to Prof. Behe. Maher is not a scientist and AFAIK has no scientific education or expertise. Prof. Behe has a PhD in biochemistry from a respectable university and is a professor in that subject in a respectable university and thus should know better.

  3. #3 DPSisler
    July 27, 2009

    Being anti-science in evolution just makes you an idiot while being Anti-science in medicine makes you a potential murderer.

  4. #4 Basiorana
    July 27, 2009

    SLC: I will say this much– due to religious influence in this country the average individual does not really understand the complex theory of evolution until they have taken college classes in it, away from public school issues, while germ theory can and is taught to five-year-olds. I remember having a children’s book about Pasteur and germs as one of my early reading materials, and the idea of bacteria spreading causing disease made perfect sense to me; however, I leaned towards intelligent design until I took my first college biology class and FINALLY someone explained evolution without dancing around the subject.

    Thus, when one person rejects evolution despite having a college education that would have covered that subject, it could be considered willful ignorance equivalent to a layperson with no scientific education whatsoever rejecting germ theory.

    Seriously, there’s a reason it’s a barometer for true woo. It’s not that hard to grasp and it makes perfect sense to children.

  5. #5 James Sweet
    July 27, 2009

    Yeah, the “anti-science” thing is the most interesting part. The rest of the things you and Jason disagree on are basically just judgment calls (I for one fall somewhere in between on that, i.e. I am lukewarm on Maher as the award recipient)

    I suppose one could make a case that the fact that Maher is anti-vax does not necessarily mean he is anti-science (just deeply misinformed), but I think it is tougher to excuse Maher’s innate distrust of Western medicine. In many ways, that is a delusion that is quite comparable to religion: it is completely lacking in rationality, and makes no apologies for passing judgment based on doctrine rather than evidence.

    @DPSisler: That’s a good point, though I would argue that if anti-evolutionists ran rampant, it would also result in deaths. But you’re right, the threat from the anti-vaxers is much more clear and present than the threat from the Creationists.

  6. #6 epador
    July 27, 2009

    Now if we could only define politics as “anti-common sense” we might all have less acrimony from left and right.

  7. #7 Dangerous Bacon
    July 27, 2009

    “Events” of the past week (the flap over the Dawkins award and Orac’s Mystery Prominent Atheist e-mailer defending Jenny McCarthy) have demonstrated the following, disappointing fact:

    Being an atheist doesn’t automatically make you a rational, critical thinker. It just means you reject religion.

    Atheists (prominent or otherwise) should realize that embracing or excusing woo-promotion weakens their cause and allows their enemies to chortle at their hypocrisy.

  8. #8 Chris Zerhusen
    July 27, 2009

    And this is why the movement towards skepticism and applying critical thought to all aspects of life is more important than the atheist movement. Two people being atheists just means they agree on one point. Two people being skeptics mean they accept the same method for learning about the world.

  9. #9 IBY
    July 27, 2009

    Truly, even though I have read about such denialism all the time, it is truly bizarre in my mind that anyone would deny the germ theory of diseases. Especially because of the huge amount of benefits that our society has reaped from it. And yes, it seems like the appropriate thing to call Maher is anti science. Just like the creationists, cherry picking certain findings over others just because they don’t like some of the things science has to say.

  10. #10 Ramel
    July 27, 2009

    I really don’t understand germ theory denial, I mean creationism I have some idea where they’re getting their ideas and the religious for rejecting evoloution, but denying that bacteria and viruses can cause disease? Where the hell does that come from?

  11. #11 Orac
    July 27, 2009

    I think germ theory denialism stems from magical thinking whereby it is believed that, if only you live the right way, eat the right foods, do the right exercises, and take the right supplements, you will be healthy and nothing can infect or harm your body. (Bill Maher, for instance, has even outright said that he can’t catch the flu in an airplane.)

  12. #12 Ramel
    July 27, 2009

    But don’t many forms of woo believe that with germ theory? I was under the impresion that most claim to work by boosting the immune system?

  13. #13 Orac
    July 27, 2009

    The idea is that bacteria don’t cause disease in and of themselves. They only cause disease when the body’s “terrain” is somehow “toxic” or “weakened.” Of course, this is true in many cases, but germ theory denialists take it farther and claim that microbes don’t cause disease in healthy people because they are an opportunistic bystander in, not the cause of, disease.

  14. #14 Dave
    July 27, 2009

    The thing that is left out with this “boost the immune system” hoo-hah, however, is this: if germs don’t cause disease, why on earth do we even need an immune system?

  15. #15 LovleAnjel
    July 27, 2009

    I have a big, fat C-note for anyone willing to sneeze directly in Maher’s complementary beverage while he’s busy in the airplane potty.

  16. #16 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 27, 2009

    Orac –

    Congrtaulations on catching me in some incosistency regarding the use of the term “anti-science.” You are right that my views on the use of the term have changed, and I think that in the past I have been a bit too quick to use it.

    You are also right that I really, really like Bill Maher and do not like to see him criticized so harshly for what I take to be an annoying side note to an otherwise solid body of work. Perhaps this biases me in his favor. On the other hand, perhaps the fact that the issues on which he is bad are precisely the ones you care most about biases you against him.

    I think our biggest disagreement comes when you alter my comment to replace Bill Maher with Michael Behe. “Sounds a bit different?” you write. Actually, no it doesn’t. I think it is absurd to describe Behe as anti-science. There are all sorts of other epithets I am happy to hurl in his direction, but not that one. The man is a full professor of biology at a good university, who had established a solid research record before he sadly got involved with ID. If he is anti-science then he sure picked the wrong profession.

    The reason I make an issue of this is that I think you are doing exactly what creationists always accuse us of doing. You are turning science into an ideology, into a set of beliefs to which you must hold lest you be bounced out of the club. When creationists argue that they can not get a hearing for their views from scientists because there is a morbid bias against them, our side usually gets indignant. That’s not true, we say. There are no sacred cows in science, and you can criticize whatever you like. Now here you come to say that, actually, on certain issues merely believing the wrong thing is enough to make you anti-science. I do not accept that, even on things as unambiguous as evolution or germ theory.

    Back to Maher specifically, I think Maher satisfies all of the criteria for the award. I emphasized the ones I did in my post because those seemed to be the most relevant. Obviously he is getting the award primarily for making Religulous, and for his history of attacking religion on his show. But he has also been very good on a host of scientific issues, especially evolution, global warming, and the environment. That’s also why I emphasized that I think it’s absurd to call him anti-science just because he is wrong on a narrow range of issues. He was also relentlessly critical of the Bush administration’s genuinely anti-science policies and has been a big advocate of rational thought and evidence. This is not negated by the fact that sometimes he does not live up to his own standards.

    Does this mean I think the term “anti-science” has very limited uses? Yes, that’s what it means. Young-Earth creationists are genuinely anti-science. The centerpiece of their view of the world is that the Bible is a source of evidence that trumps anything a scientist might discover. That’s anti-science! The Republicans are a tougher call, but I think deliberately suppressing evidence because it would keep you from enacting the policies you like, as I take it the Bush administration did on numerous occasions, could fairly be called anti-science.

    On the other hand, if someone comes up to you and says, “I do not believe that an unguided process like natural selection can craft complex adaptations,” are you really comfortable consigning them to the ranks of anti-science? Seems rather harsh. They’re wrong on a specific question, not expressing hostility to a particular way of investigating nature.

    As I said in my post, I would feel differently if he were a leader of the anti-vac movement, but he is not. He is someone with an excellent body of work who has a few dopey opinions on certain things. I think he is a contrarian by nature and on these issues he has been too credulous in accepting some superficially plausible things from some unreliable people. I do not believe this fault rises to the level of negating his good work.

    In short, Maher made a very important film criticizing religion and has consistently used his show to promote a nontheistic view of the world. He has consistently been on the right side of many scientific issues and has used his various platforms to promote these issues relentlessly, and often in very creative and funny ways.

    Can you really not understand why an atheist group would want to honor him for that, even though he’s not perfect and occasionally gets it wrong?

  17. #17 James Sweet
    July 27, 2009

    @Jason: In comment #5 above, I said you could make a convincing argument (as you have done!) that being anti-vax does not equate with being anti-science, but that what is more troubling is Maher’s innate distrust of Western medicine. As you say, he is a contrarian by nature, and it appears to me that on the subject of medicine he has let this contrariness rise beyond the level of a general tendency, and into the realm of dogma. That, I think, is where one might legitimately say he is “anti-science”.

    Any thoughts on this?

  18. #18 catgirl
    July 27, 2009

    It seems pretty obvious to me that this award is more about atheism than science, and as Dangerous Bacon pointed out above, the two do not always go together.

  19. #19 JLT
    July 27, 2009

    Jason: “But he has also been very good on a host of scientific issues, especially evolution, global warming, and the environment. That’s also why I emphasized that I think it’s absurd to call him anti-science just because he is wrong on a narrow range of issues.”

    But how comes he’s right on evolution and global warming and wrong on the germ theory and vaccination? Maybe he just uncritically agrees with some new age types he really likes and doesn’t give a s**t about the science behind it? Really, being pro-environment, pro-PETA, anti-vax, anti Western medicine, believing in some “force” in the universe – that’s a best-of of new age beliefs and it sure doesn’t sound like someone who arrived at his opinion because he weighed the facts.
    I think that being an atheist is not enough. If there’s anything that most atheist can agree on than it’s the importance of skeptical thinking. In this regard, Maher fails. So, IMO, he doesn’t deserve an award from an atheist organisation.

  20. #20 Pablo
    July 27, 2009

    I agree with James Sweet. If we take “Western medicine” to be another way of saying, “science-based medicine” then being “distrustful” of Western-based medicine is being distrustful of science.

    Unless there is something else meant by calling it “Western medicine”? I contrast it to “Eastern medicine” aka “Chinese medicine” aka “made up spiritualism”

  21. #21 Jud
    July 27, 2009

    Jason wrote of Orac’s criticism of Bill Maher and Dr. Behe: You are turning science into an ideology, into a set of beliefs to which you must hold lest you be bounced out of the club.

    I’d politely disagree (not on Orac’s behalf, of course, but my own). Saying disbelief in germ theory or the theory of evolution is “anti-science” is not equivalent to turning science into a set of ideological beliefs, unless you consider methodological naturalism, an insistence on repeatable results, and reliance on data that long ago passed the test of any reasonable skepticism to be mere ideology. I haven’t seen any scientists saying new data can’t change or falsify aspects of germ or evolutionary theory – quite the contrary.

    Contrast Behe’s now infamous insistence during cross-examination that 50 peer-reviewed articles showing the immune response can work with fewer steps than it does in humans wasn’t sufficient to prove that proposition to him, or Maher’s invocation of a mythical Pasteur deathbed recantation. Now there’s ideological anti-science for you.

  22. #22 jre
    July 27, 2009

    Jason has done a good job of defending his position, and he’s clearly arguing in good faith. I have already piled on over at his place, so I’ll confine myself to this:

    Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them… Moreover, `fact’ does not mean `absolute certainty’…In science, `fact’ can only mean `confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold assent.’ … We can never prove absolutely, but we can falsify. A set of ideas that cannot, in principle, be falsified is not science.
    (Stephen Jay Gould, 1981, emphasis added).

    Sure, scientific knowledge is always contingent on confirmation — but some things are pretty damn well confirmed, and it is unscientific to deny them without an extremely good reason. Bill Maher does deny well-confirmed science without any reason at all, and for this reason deserves to be described as “anti-scientific.”

  23. #23 Whitecoat Tales
    July 27, 2009

    I think germ theory denialism stems from magical thinking whereby it is believed that, if only you live the right way, eat the right foods, do the right exercises, and take the right supplements, you will be healthy and nothing can infect or harm your body. (Bill Maher, for instance, has even outright said that he can’t catch the flu in an airplane.)

    I guess I’ve always seen the flip side of this idea. I’ve always thought of it as the “disease as punishment for sin” belief system.

    That is to say, if you do everything right you don’t get sick, but if you do anything wrong, then disease is you getting what you “deserve” for sinning against whatever woo deems a health lifestyle.

    I’m generally a Jason Rosenhouse fan, but on this particular issues my pro-medical-science bias is too strong to take his argument seriously.

    If I am talking to a patient and he tells me he can’t get the flu because he has such a good healthy lifestyle, and he’s highly suspicious of western medicine, I’m of the opinion that this means 1 of 3 things:
    1. Patient is generally unaware of enough medical science to know what he’s talking about.
    2. Patient is aware of what he’s talking about, and has detailed, naunced views that show an understanding, and disagreement with the scientific consensus (very rare).
    or
    3. Patient is aware, and actively anti-science.

    But when we’re talking about an advocate, who voices their views to millions of people, you don’t get to have ignorance as an excuse – understand what you’re talking about, or shut up.

    That leaves us with “understanding+nuanced view” and “anti-science.”

    I haven’t seen a quote from Maher that really shows he has a specific scientific problem with the medical sciences, just a bunch of comments decrying it as wrong. It always sounds like an ideological set of claims to me. I realise this is an assertion, so flame away if you must.

    So to me, that leaves anti-science.
    I think reasonable people can disagree on whether or not Bill Maher is truely anti-science, but does he really exemplify the principles of the Richard Dawkins award?

  24. #24 Marianne
    July 27, 2009

    If Maher’s film helped him get nominated for this award then Expelled should get Stein some kind of award. Maher and Stein have a grade school level knowledge of religion and science respectively. Both misquote, both satirize, both produce strawmen arguments, both leap from a premise based on ignorance to a conclusion not even related to their original unfounded premise, and both raise bullet-riddled debunked dead arguments to life, and shove these staggering rotting zombies onto the screen where they’ll gain more converts from those who are equally ignorant of the respective subjects.

    The one redeeming feature in Maher’s film is that it was meant to entertain and be funny and it was not to be taken seriously. Nor was it to be taken as a film showing what religion is all about any more than interviewing perpetual motion machine inventors would show what science is all about. Stein’s film on other hand did try to take itself seriously. However, regardless of motives, the end result is the same—people will be misled. I accuse both Maher and Stein of lying and trying to indoctrinate others with falsehoods.

    The ability to think critically is at the heart of science. Maher demonstrates he lacks this ability to think critically, and it shows in his film and in his comments on medicine. I’m sure neither Maher nor Stein consider themselves antiscience, but poor critical reasoning skills and coupled with their rejection of mainstream science makes them both antiscience. I think Maher will eventually embrace some new form of woo shortly in the future (crank magnetism effect).

    And giving Maher the atheist award provided the religious bloggers good fodder for ridiculing atheists. They highlight Maher’s religious ignorance, his misunderstandings, show how badly and childishly he got things wrong and then say something along the lines of “If Maher is considered worthy of this award then that demonstrates that atheism has indeed become intellectually bankrupt and is on its last legs….In other news, the village idiot receives the Nobel Peace Prize in physics…”

    You just had to go and give him the award, didn’t you? Thanks. One step forward, ten steps back.

  25. #25 kevinj
    July 27, 2009

    it does seem a poor choice

    I guess it depends on what the emphasis of the award is though. if it is purely around promoting atheism then it is harder to argue against since i would really hope there isnt an atheist doctrine being produced.

    Although that said i suspect i would have held the woo against him and given him some other award to make it clear he failed the other criteria.

  26. #26 Joel
    July 27, 2009

    One thing that might be add to this discussion is from Ian Musgrave’s recent post (on his blog and Panda’s Thumb):

    Fellows of the Discovery Institute seem to be over represented in fringe groups, Paul Nelson is a Young Earth Creationist, the Godfather of Intelligent Design Phillip Johnson and DI fellow Jonathan C. Wells have signed on to AIDS denial and Guillermo Gonzalez has signed on to a climate change denialist list.

    Denyse O’Leary has posted in support of certain AIDS-denialist talking points and Cornelius Hunter has used arguments against evolution which, if not for their flaws, whould be equally valid against any observational science.

    So with (these) ID proponents there is a trend towards denialism of multiple, unrelated branches of science, as opposed to denialism of specific fields (i.e. one of HIV/AIDS, or evolution, or climate change, or germ theory…). This is, I think, perhaps a worthwhile distinction to make.

  27. #27 Marcus Ranum
    July 27, 2009

    Dave ponders:
    The thing that is left out with this “boost the immune system” hoo-hah, however, is this: if germs don’t cause disease, why on earth do we even need an immune system?

    I think you just won the Internet. :D

  28. #28 Matthew Cline
    July 27, 2009

    @Ramel:

    I really don’t understand germ theory denial, I mean creationism I have some idea where they’re getting their ideas and the religious for rejecting evoloution, but denying that bacteria and viruses can cause disease? Where the hell does that come from?

    1) If you have a One True Cause of All Disease and/or a One True Cure For All Disease, then germ theory has got to go.

    2) If you view good health (and hence also ill health) as coming “from the inside” (lifestyle choices), then you might view infectious agents as being ill health which comes “from the outside”, something antithetical to your view of health.

    3) Some people who claim to reject the germ theory don’t actually do so (or at least they don’t reject all of it). Rather, they think that if you’re in optimal/perfect health that your immune system will be 100% effective at fighting off all infectious agents (including ones you’ve never been exposed to before), so for those in optimal/perfect health (which usually includes themselves and their children) vaccines are unnecessary. These people also tend to claim that, while vaccines that are given to people in developing and third world countries is effective, an even more effective way of reducing infectious diseases in those areas would be to take the money spent on vaccines and instead use that money to improve sanitation and diet.

  29. #29 Miedvied
    July 27, 2009

    May we please establish a specific definition for “anti-science” before this discussion proceeds any further? Jason’s comments especially clearly rely on a careful distinction of “antiscience” and “poor on science” (the latter my terminology), but while throwing out a couple of examples doesn’t actually draw the line.

    What do we mean by “anti-science”?

    As my lawyer friend says, we all know what the words in the contract mean … until we run into a problem.

    For me, “anti-science” is espousing a position which is antithetical to the scientific method, including disputing evidence-based findings in an ideaological rather than critical manner (i.e., instead of pointing out a valid alternative interpretation of the data due to a lack of certain type of control, just pointing out some deathbed recantation). You can see the emphasis is on the scientific method, but if you dispute it on dogma rather than evidence, you’re indirectly attacking the method itself!

    By my definition, Behe and Maher are both antiscience.

    I get the impression Rosenhouse’s definition of anti-science is actively crusading against the scientific method itself, explicitly, rather than manifestations of the scientific method and only harming it indirectly. I take issue with that, for under that umbrella nearly *any* position which erodes critical thinking and evidence-based practices is now science-neutral; there’s an absurdly rare number of people who actually think deeply enough about science to understand and target the sci-method directly. Generally, the anti-science cranks don’t understand science well enough to articulate the scientific method, much less attack it.

  30. #30 Whitecoat Tales
    July 27, 2009

    use that money to improve sanitation

    Although there is alot to be said for improved sanitation. Much of the improvement in rates of malaria in India have to do with improved sanitation, reduction in number of open sewers, and other opportunities for stagnant water etc.

    Such interventions have their place, they just don’t replace vaccines on diseases for which vaccination is an option.

  31. #31 Prometheus
    July 27, 2009

    From reading/hearing Bill Maher’s rantings (there’s no better word to describe them) about his concepts of “wellness”, it appears that he subscribes to magical beliefs about “ultimate health” that are not supported by data (or by known physiology). He seems to believe that if he eats “the right foods” and exercises “appropriately”, he is magically impervious to diseases (e.g. influenza).

    How is this different from “The Secret”? Maher believes that performing a simple set of activities will render him invulnerable to disease – it’s a bit more active than mere “positive thinking”, but not any more reality-based. And, like believers in “The Secret”, I suppose Mr. Maher would blame any “ill-health” (or would he call it “dis-ease”?) on a lapse in his “wellness regimen” rather than viruses, bacteria or genetics.

    I suppose that he can’t believe in the germ theory if he believes in this sort of….stuff – the two would be incompatible. That Dr. Rosenhouse could argue that this isn’t “anti-science” is incomprehensible to me.

    I saw Mr. Maher’s film, Religilous and was dismayed by his approach to the subject. I see all religion (or “spirituality”, if you like) as nothing more than magical thinking and nonsense, but I was put off by his baiting and ambushing of his subjects and the way he bent the facts to fit his theme. It was on par with Expelled in the way his antics made me wince (I can only hope that Religilous was more factually correct than Expelled). Even though I heartily agree that religion deserves – nay, calls out for – ridicule, I was very uncomfortable with the way Bill Maher did it.

    I suppose that, to the Atheist Alliance, “sticking it” to religion was more important than the anti-science positions Bill Maher espouses. After all, there haven’t been too many anti-religion films made, so they don’t have many chances to give an award to a “film-maker”. One benefit of Bill Maher’s award has been to expose the Atheist Alliance as a group more interested in bringing down religion than in elevating science and reason. It’s a good thing to know and I thank them for the information.

    As for Dr. Rosenhouse’s apologia for Mr. Maher, I think he “doth protest too much”. It would have been more believable for him to simply say, “Well, Bill Maher isn’t a very good model for scientific thought or reason, but he really pissed off the religious folks, so that’s why he got the award.” As it is, Dr. Rosenhouse has diminished his own credibility without raising Mr. Maher’s.

    Prometheus

  32. #32 Joseph C.
    July 27, 2009

    As it is, Dr. Rosenhouse has diminished his own credibility without raising Mr. Maher’s.

    It seems that Jason is willing to let some things slide because he enjoys Maher’s supposedly witty political commentary.

    Personally, I can’t stand Maher’s cocky adoration of his own less-than-brilliant remarks. Bush jokes just aren’t hard to do. Chris Hitchens did an excellent job of putting Maher in his place on his own show.

  33. #33 Orac
    July 27, 2009

    The reason I make an issue of this is that I think you are doing exactly what creationists always accuse us of doing. You are turning science into an ideology, into a set of beliefs to which you must hold lest you be bounced out of the club.

    Jason, you know I love ya and all, but you leave me no choice but to call bullshit. I didn’t want to do it, but there you go.

    Alternative medicine and anti-vaccine beliefs are by their very nature just as antithetical to the scientific method and science as any creationist belief. It’s not dogma that tells me this. It’s not because they do not believe the results of science. It’s because they elevate anecdote above controlled clinical trials, feelings over evidence, and “I know what I saw” over science. They utterly reject science and scientific methodology while sometimes paying it lip service. It’s the sine qua non of alternative medicine, and it fits in very well with Maher’s contempt for “Western medicine.” Here’s a hint: The term “Western medicine” is a code word for scientific medicine.

    But he has also been very good on a host of scientific issues, especially evolution, global warming, and the environment. That’s also why I emphasized that I think it’s absurd to call him anti-science just because he is wrong on a narrow range of issues.

    I think I get it now. You like Maher because you think he’s good on the science you consider important (evolution and global warming) and shares your politics. You apparently don’t consider quackery and the anti-vaccine movement as that important, relegating them to “a narrow range of issues.” I see it now. You don’t grasp that the scientific basis of medicine is not a “narrow range” of issues. It’s quote broad and has major policy implications. And Maher is wrong on virtually all of it, except when his dislike of fundamentalists trumps his dislike of vaccines, which leads him to champion Gardasil. There comes a point when being that wrong is anti-science, and Maher is that wrong.

    As I said in my post, I would feel differently if he were a leader of the anti-vac movement, but he is not. He is someone with an excellent body of work who has a few dopey opinions on certain things. I think he is a contrarian by nature and on these issues he has been too credulous in accepting some superficially plausible things from some unreliable people. I do not believe this fault rises to the level of negating his good work.

    I do. Moreover, Maher may not be a “leader” of the antivaccine movement, but he sure speaks out against vaccines, particularly the flu vaccine, enough. He calls them a “scam.” I recently browsed YouTube for videos of Bill Maher. There’s some stuff there that’s even more wingnutty about medicine than what I had known about, complete with rants about how big pharma is “poisoning” us and conspiracy theories about how it first poisons us and then gives us more “poisons” to treat the results of the original “poisoning,” not to mention more rants about how it is not the microbes that make us sick but what we put in our bodies. A good deconstruction of one such incident from February is here:

    http://healspiel.blogspot.com/2009/02/what-is-bill-mahers-religion.html

    Maher’s also very outspoken about his antipathy towards “Western medicine” (again, that’s code for scientific medicine). Often enough, as when he’s on Letterman, his audience is millions of people.

    Look at it this way, Jason: Do you consider PETA to be anti-science? After all, it’s unrelentingly hostile to animal research and has been caught giving funds to animal liberation groups that vandalize labs and interfere with animal research. When caught, inevitably Ingrid Newkirk claims it was “a mistake.” Guess what? Maher sits on PETA’s board of directors and has for at least four or five years now. He has a significant voice in its policies, which are antithetical to medical science.

    Given that animal research is essential to both medicine and biology, suddenly that narrow range of issues is getting less narrow.

    He has consistently been on the right side of many scientific issues and has used his various platforms to promote these issues relentlessly, and often in very creative and funny ways.

    Many scientific issues? Let’s hear ‘em. You’ve mentioned evolution and AGW (although I suspect that Maher only champions those causes because it pisses off the fundamentalists and conservatives, respectively). OK, what other scientific issues has Maher been on the right side of?

  34. #34 pbayer
    July 28, 2009

    GERM THEORY::: the arguement was between Beauchamp and Pastuer while Beauchamp held the idea that ‘terrain’ or health of the body (immune system) was the determining factor. Credibility could be given to Beauchamp for instance Vitamin D status greatly effects immune responses or magnesium-depleting stress (cortisol) will weaken the immune response. So in a way Beauchamp was right, but Pastuer was right as well.

  35. #35 Skeptico
    July 28, 2009

    Jason:

    You are also right that I really, really like Bill Maher and do not like to see him criticized so harshly for what I take to be an annoying side note to an otherwise solid body of work. Perhaps this biases me in his favor. On the other hand, perhaps the fact that the issues on which he is bad are precisely the ones you care most about biases you against him.

    Depends on your definition of “bias.” If you mean “a particular tendency … that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question”, then I would disagree. Speaking for myself, I used to think highly of Maher – I generally agree with his views of religion and I generally agree with his politics, and I also think he’s funny – but I came to revise my opinion of him at least in part, after I heard his ridiculous anti-scientific medicine views. So my opinion of him is not prejudiced – I formed them after I heard his views on medicine, not before. And I liked Religulous – gave it a good review.

    But let’s say you didn’t mean prejudice – perhaps you just meant that Orac opposes him because medicine is his area while it isn’t your own? So you don’t mind woo in medicine because that’s not your area? That seems a little parochial. Surely we should oppose unscientific views wherever we see them, not just in our own field? It’s this aspect I find so infuriating when I read your posts on this. You really don’t care about unscientific ideas as long as they don’t happen to be in your field?

    Does this mean I think the term “anti-science” has very limited uses? Yes, that’s what it means. Young-Earth creationists are genuinely anti-science. The centerpiece of their view of the world is that the Bible is a source of evidence that trumps anything a scientist might discover. That’s anti-science! The Republicans are a tougher call, but I think deliberately suppressing evidence because it would keep you from enacting the policies you like, as I take it the Bush administration did on numerous occasions, could fairly be called anti-science.

    When I call Maher anti-science, I’m referring to the fact that he doesn’t follow the scientific method when arriving at the many conclusions he arrives at about medicine. From your description above, it seems you think the same – you are opposed to the YECs because they base beliefs on the bible, not on evidence. Well, what method do you think Maher uses to arrive at his views on western medicine? The Whale.to website and the nut Hugh Fudenberg, to name just two. That is not using the methods of science to arrive at a conclusion. He just ridicules and demonizes scientific (or as he calls it, “western”) medicine and promotes woo that is not based on any evidence. How is that not anti-science.

    Can you really not understand why an atheist group would want to honor him for that, even though he’s not perfect and occasionally gets it wrong?

    What I can’t understand, and you haven’t responded to, is why an atheist organization would give its atheist of the year award to someone who has said clearly he is not an atheist. Worse than that, he misrepresents the atheist position – uses the same tired line that most of us have to refute on our blogs most weeks again and again. “No, atheism just implies no god belief- a-theist. It doesn’t imply certainty, there is no atheist credo, no dogma, atheism doesn’t require faith etc etc” over and over. He’s making the problem worse. Now, if they had just awarded his film “atheist film of the year” or something, I would have been OK with it. So no, I don’t for the life of me understand why they did this.

  36. #36 Skepacabra
    July 28, 2009

    Being cited by Orac is a badge of honor for us skeptical bloggers with smaller readerships, so thanks Orac!

    I’m getting the same kind of responses. Jason, we get that you like Bill Maher. Hell, I have to confess that I like Bill Maher. And up until Orac’s piece last week, I had been in denial over just how anti-medicine/anti-vaccine he was. But when faced with Maher’s own words on this subject, I have to accept the truth that while I happen to share similar views with Maher on many subjects, there are other important issues where he could not be more wrong.

    And with all this talk about how it’s only his atheist position that matters, I have to wonder if you’d feel the same way if Maher were a Global Warming Denier or a 9/11 Denier, etc.? Somehow I have a hard time believing Maher would be getting the award if he were a known Holocaust Denier. I just think the people defending him here just don’t view the anti-vaccine movement as a priority. It’s not your particular pet issue so you can write it off as no big deal. But it is a big deal. And while I can still like Maher sometimes and still consider Religulous one of my favorite films of last year, as an atheist AND a rationalist, I’m embarrassed that Maher is being recognized as a leader in the atheist “movement” (for lack of a better term) next to intellectual giants like Richard Dawkins.

  37. #37 Matthew Cline
    July 28, 2009

    @pbayer:

    GERM THEORY::: the arguement was between Beauchamp and Pastuer while Beauchamp held the idea that ‘terrain’ or health of the body (immune system) was the determining factor.

    That was Claude Bernard, who said “The terrain is everything; the germ is nothing”. Beauchamp held that bacteria arise from dead tissue and that the environment that bacteria live in can cause them to change from one bacterial species to another (or even turn into fungus). I’m not sure how much agreement or disagreement there is between Bernaud’s and Beauchamp’s theories, but each one is cited as the one Pasteur admitted was right on his (alleged) death-bed recantation.

  38. #38 pbayer
    July 28, 2009

    “The primary cause of disease is in us, always in us.”

    —Antoine Beauchamp, 1883

    Of course that could read 2 different ways

  39. #39 Heraclides
    July 28, 2009

    [off-topic]

    I just noticed that scienceblogs is still promoting woo and anti-science material.

    One advertisement above your blog read:

    “I cured my acid reflux”. 2 simple grocery items work miracle! Doctors and drug companies hate this!

    From the linked article: “There was one specific brand of apple that helped me completely wipe out my reflux!”

    The one above this page as I write is advertising for a Good News magazine featuring an article “Creation or Evolution”. (Can’t seem to access this link to check it out, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing…!)

    *Sigh*

  40. #40 Pablo
    July 28, 2009

    I propose that Bill Maher is actually “a-scientific.” He doesn’t care one wit about science in any way, and science has nothing to do with any of his positions. The fact that he is anti-creationist and pro-AGW is readily explained by his anti-right wing fanatacism. Meanwhile, while I wouldn’t claim that medical woo is the solely in the realm of democrats, I think it does lean more that way, especially when you get into the whole “natural cures” crap and new age mysticism. So Maher’s positions are more simply explained by his political leanings, taking no consideration of science into account. Notice that also accounts for why he can be anti-vaxx on the whole, but still supportive of Gardisal.

    He is completely ascientific. The problem we are having here is that, by viewing it from the lens of scientists, we see him as either supporting our cause or not. But he isn’t supporting science. He supports things scientists say that piss off republicans. He opposes things scientists say that go against his (for lack of a better description) Green Partyish leanings.

    It’s not science that matters, but political positions.

  41. #41 Militant Agnostic
    July 28, 2009

    Jason Rosenhouse said

    I think he is a contrarian by nature and on these issues he has been too credulous in accepting some superficially plausible things from some unreliable people. I do not believe this fault rises to the level of negating his good work.

    In other words, Jason admits that Maher is a crank who does not base his opinions on evidence. Maher is an atheist because most Americans (especially those on the political right) are Christians, not because he reasoned his way to that position.

    Orac is correct – Maher’s hostility to “Western” medicine is fundamentally anti-scientific. As his support for the HPV vaccine indicates, his position on issues such as AGW are solely based on pissing off conservatives. I think if someone had proposed to him that AGW was a hoax devised by the Nuclear industry before he was aware of big oil’s criticism of AGW, Maher would probably be an AGW denialist as well. If Maher gets something “right” it is only a coincidence.

  42. #42 Jillbryant
    July 28, 2009

    I agree with James Sweet. If we take “Western medicine” to be another way of saying, “science-based medicine” then being “distrustful” of Western-based medicine is being distrustful of science.

    You might take Western medicine to mean science-based medicine but I think (not wanting to put words in Maher’s mouth but from what little I’ve seen), he thinks of Western medicine as being big pharma – aka, profitable science being the most important. Maybe I’m putting words in his mouth? I’m not sure. I’m someone who is amazed at the incredible scientific options that are available to us as a species at this point in time and, again, amazed at the arrogance and greed that are walking right next to every breakthrough, so I have many issues with “Western medicine” that have NOTHING to do with the actual science and I am assuming that is a large part of his point of view.

    I also doubt if Maher doesn’t believe germs cause disease. I would assume he is saying he has a strong and healthy immune system (lifestyle and genetics), so he isn’t going to get sick under normal circumstances (including being on a plane). I would say that’s an arrogant take (but there’s enough arrogance to go around on all sides, wouldn’t you say?) and I would even venture to guess he has been sick at times and passed it off as being tired or some other excuse. But you’re saying he doesn’t wash his hands? That he would agree to be extraordinarily exposed to germs? I really doubt that, so in what way is that anti-science? In what way doesn’t he believe in the science itself? Again, maybe he doesn’t but I don’t really see that from the examples.

    As far as positive thinking being some kind of “woo” (what a lame term that is) like “The Secret,” doesn’t long-term stress like on-going health worries take a toll on your immune system? I thought that was scientifically proven. And, doesn’t the assumption of the negative bring with it a certain set of actions? Like being so tired from worry you don’t get up and exercise in the morning?

    From what I’ve seen (and I’m a limited Maher fan – mainly for his brave at-the-time political stance) he used to eat junk food and not exercise, then take OTC remedies for the indigestion, insomnia, etc., and then take more for any adverse reactions that caused. Then, he cleaned up his lifestyle act (except I guess he still smokes pot and, as far as I know, smoking is not that healthy – no matter what it is) and he felt better and became an over-the-top believer. Pretty typical and not at all shocking. It worked for him. I don’t get my medical advice from Maher and I would question anyone who does.

    As far as winning the Dawkins award, I agree that he might not be the best fit for the award as described – just look how upset you all are (although, controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I never heard of the award before this). I do think he does deserve some kind of award for “Religilous,” though. Perhaps a more specific, one time award. In a time when the religious extremists (from all religions, but as an American, I find it most frightening from the Christian Right) are demanding so much from our secular government; where boycotts are threatened against anyone who doesn’t spout their Christian beliefs (letting them go after one’s livelihood is something a lot of people wouldn’t do and Maher knows what can happen) – not to mention death threats from the crazies over who knows what…I think Maher was very brave in releasing “Religilous.” Someone didn’t like the way he handled people’s beliefs – no surprise there – but what other fairly well-known public figure has taken as strong a stance?

  43. #43 ChrisJ
    July 28, 2009

    One of Dawkins’ primary projects is consciousness raising about atheism. Maher has done this quite well on his show, Larry King, many other television shows, and in his movie “Religulous.” Surely, this much merits consideration for the award despite the fact that Maher is an idiot when it comes to medical issues.

  44. #44 mk
    July 28, 2009

    @ Chris J…

    Unless he’s changed his tune recently, Maher think atheists are no different (or maybe it’s just the other side of the same coin?) from religious fundamentalists.

    Has he really been raising the consciousness of people on his and King’s show about atheism? Atheism? I think I’ve missed that.

  45. #45 The Blind Watchmaker
    July 28, 2009

    Bill Maher knows so little, yet says so much.

  46. #46 anon
    July 28, 2009

    You’re getting very good at alienating people that are actually your allies. This is what happens when people try to control everything…

    What do they call an environment where one person is permitted to control another believes? I forget. And what happens when that backfires? I guess we’ll find out.

  47. #47 Pablo
    July 29, 2009

    You’re getting very good at alienating people that are actually your allies.

    Which “ally” are you referring to? Bill Maher? Definately NOT Orac’s “ally.” Jason Rosenhouse? Is he really “alienated”?

  48. #48 Tim Kreider
    July 29, 2009

    Rather than to Behe, I would compare Bill Maher to Ben Stein. Each is a comedian/commentator who spreads misinformation that appeals to part of his partisan fanbase. Fair?

    As fun as it is to pick on creationists, people tend not to die as a direct result of believing in intelligent design.

  49. #49 Arno
    July 30, 2009

    In this thread I’ve read several times something along the lines of “people do not die as a result of ID”. That does NOT hold true when it comes to denying evolution of germs and their subsequent immunity for antibiotics. Denying evolution here (while accepting the germ as cause for a disease) might lead to inadequate or incomplete treatment, potentially resulting in resistant strains of germs.

    I do agree that anti-vax has far more direct consequences but still, ID has good potential to kill as well.

  50. #50 Steven Novella
    July 30, 2009

    Pablo got it exactly right, in my opinion. Maher is a liberal atheist. Science seems to be irrelevant to his positions on any given issue.

    Therefore – he elevates ideology above science. He accepts science that is in line with his ideology, and rejects science that runs contrary to his ideology – even when it is as well-established as germ theory and vaccines.

    I don’t like to get caught up in semantic arguments – but it seems to me, that fits any reasonable definition of “anti-science”. Creationists reject evolution because of their religious ideology. Maher rejects germ theory because of his “new age” (for lack of a better term) ideology. Neither says they reject science per se, but they do when it conflicts with their ideology. The analogy is perfect, in my opinion, and makes Maher a hypocrite for his criticism of religious anti-scientific beliefs and acceptance of “new age” anti-scientific beliefs.

  51. #51 Orac
    July 30, 2009

    Rather than to Behe, I would compare Bill Maher to Ben Stein. Each is a comedian/commentator who spreads misinformation that appeals to part of his partisan fanbase. Fair?

    I’ll give you that that might have been a better comparison. However, I was going for someone about whom Jason could obviously say something like what he said about Maher, not someone who said something along the lines of (I paraphrase): “The last time my family saw scientists, they were being led to the gas chambers.”

  52. #52 Pablo
    July 30, 2009

    Pablo got it exactly right,

    Just had to quote that part…

    in my opinion. Maher is a liberal atheist.

    I don’t think you need to go that far. I don’t know that he is an atheist. He is a liberal. Hence, he is opposed to everything that he associates with the right, which would include christianity.

    I still contend that ascientific (“without science”) is a better description than anti-science (“against science”). It better accounts for his positions. And, in the context of the Dawkins award and Orac’s post, it still is a fail in terms of the “promoting scientific thought” or whatever that part is.

    Therefore – he elevates ideology above science. He accepts science that is in line with his ideology, and rejects science that runs contrary to his ideology – even when it is as well-established as germ theory and vaccines.

    Very apt description, but I’d take it a step further: he accepts _everything_ that is in line with his ideology, and rejects _everything_ that runs contrary to it.

  53. #53 Prometheus
    July 30, 2009

    Pablo has struck the nail squarely on the head! Bill Maher is neither atheist not anti-science – he is in thrall to his ideology and rejects everything that runs contrary to it.

    This explains his “comedy” as well as the content and tone of his movie Religilous. He is merciless (or strident) in his attacks on the people, beliefs, institutions and ideas that are held by opponents to his ideology and he is mindless in his support of the people, beliefs, institutions and ideas held by “his side”.

    Pardon me if I think this sounds a lot like a religion.

    You don’t need to pray to a saint, prophet, son-of-god, idol or priestly plate of pasta to be “religilous” – you just need an inflexible and non-rational dogma.

    Prometheus

  54. #54 Serdar
    July 31, 2009

    The only thing Bill Maher believes in, from what I can see, is contrarianism.

  55. #55 dave
    August 2, 2009

    I know Im late to the party, but if anyone is still reading this, Ill throw out the following food for thought:

    Very apt description, but I’d take it a step further: he accepts _everything_ that is in line with his ideology, and rejects _everything_ that runs contrary to it.

    But isn’t that approach itself rather anti-scientific? Couldn’t a creationist be described so as well? (In their case the ideology is biblical literalism.) Isn’t the essence of scientific thinking that evidence trumps all and ideology be damned? If so, why wouldn’t the reverse approach be described as anti-scientific?

  56. #56 Iced Borscht
    August 6, 2009

    The only thing Bill Maher believes in, from what I can see, is contrarianism.

    You’re giving him too much credit. Sure, in the 1990s, when POLITICALLY INCORRECT first aired, Maher was hitting on a lot of good contrarian notes. These days, he’s just another empty vessel in pop culture’s bloated sh*tscape. His tired shtick sends the anti-intellectual message that snarkiness and predictable punchlines trump fierce debate and sincere examination of a problem. If we truly want to move toward a “Brights” shift in thinking, then discriminating standards need to be set and competent “spokespersons” need to be chosen. This is a joke.

  57. #57 Cody
    May 10, 2011

    ” Being wrong about a scientific question doesn’t make you anti-science. It might make you ignorant or misinformed or confused or various other bad things, but not anti-science. Maher isn’t running around saying that people need to think less and feel more, or that they shouldn’t worry about defending their beliefs with evidence, or that some ancient holy text trumps anything a scientist says.”

    Sounds like Jason needs to familiarize himself with Maher’s Animal Rights religiosity and his subsequent view on animal-based research and testing.

  58. #58 orjin krem
    June 17, 2011

    I also doubt if Maher doesn’t believe germs cause disease. I would assume he is saying he has a strong and healthy immune system (lifestyle and genetics), so he isn’t going to get sick under normal circumstances (including being on a plane). I would say that’s an arrogant take (but there’s enough arrogance to go around on all sides, wouldn’t you say?) and I would even venture to guess he has been sick at times and passed it off as being tired or some other excuse. But you’re saying he doesn’t wash his hands? That he would agree to be extraordinarily exposed to germs? I really doubt that, so in what way is that anti-science? In what way doesn’t he believe in the science itself? Again, maybe he doesn’t but I don’t really see that from the examples.

  59. #59 Jarred C
    June 17, 2011

    I also doubt if Maher doesn’t believe germs cause disease.

    Maher invoked a classic germ-denialism quotation – that is, the alleged recanting of Pastuer on his deathbed that Beauchamp was right. This story was invented by a modern germ denialist, and is only told by germ denialists.

    See here: http://www.csicop.org/si/show/bill_maher_crank_and_comic/

    Also, necromancer?

  60. #60 Narad
    June 18, 2011

    Also, necromancer?

    This was Turkish spambot regurgitation of #42.

  61. #61 medyum
    August 29, 2011

    I saw Mr. Maher’s film, Religilous and was dismayed by his approach to the subject. I see all religion (or “spirituality”, if you like) as nothing more than magical thinking and nonsense, but I was put off by his baiting and ambushing of his subjects and the way he bent the facts to fit his theme. It was on par with Expelled in the way his antics made me wince (I can only hope that Religilous was more factually correct than Expelled). Even though I heartily agree that religion deserves – nay, calls out for – ridicule, I was very uncomfortable with the way Bill Maher did it.

    I suppose that, to the Atheist Alliance, “sticking it” to religion was more important than the anti-science positions Bill Maher espouses. After all, there haven’t been too many anti-religion films made, so they don’t have many chances to give an award to a “film-maker”. One benefit of Bill Maher’s award has been to expose the Atheist Alliance as a group more interested in bringing down religion than in elevating

  62. #62 müzik dinle
    August 30, 2011

    I also doubt if Maher doesn’t believe germs cause disease. I would assume he is saying he has a strong and healthy immune system (lifestyle and genetics), so he isn’t going to get sick under normal circumstances (including being on a plane). I would say that’s an arrogant take (but there’s enough arrogance to go around on all sides, wouldn’t you say?) and I would even venture to guess he has been sick at times and passed it off as being tired or some other excuse. But you’re saying he doesn’t wash his hands? That he would agree to be extraordinarily exposed to germs? I really doubt that, so in what way is that anti-science? In what way doesn’t he believe in the science itself? Again, maybe he doesn’t but I don’t really see that from the

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