Respectful Insolence

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I promised last week in a post in which I described Bill Maher’s latest pro-quackery remarks (this time, supporting cancer quackery), today is the day that I’m going to ask you, my readers, for some help. As I complained a while back, Bill Maher, who is anything but a rationalist or a booster of science (at least when it comes to medicine) is being awarded the Richard Dawkins Award by the Atheist Alliance International at its convention this weekend in Los Angeles.

As I said before, given that (1) the award lists “advocates increased scientific knowledge” as one of its criteria; (2) that Maher is an anti-vaccine crank, sympathetic to HIV/AIDS denialism, a booster of PETA, and believer in cancer quackery; and (3) that Richard Dawkin’s response to the criticism of Maher’s pseudoscientific medical beliefs was tepid at best, today I’m requesting from my readers suggestions for questions to ask both Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins at the AAI about Bill Maher’s beliefs in quackery and woo. Then, on Thursday (the day before the AAI conference begins), I will post a list of these questions in a handy-dandy one-stop-shop blog post for any readers who might be attendees, assuming I end up with a sufficient number of good questions.

As I said before, yeah, I’m trying to make trouble, and I don’t apologize for it. I might fail, fall flat on my face, and end up looking like an idiot given that no one else seems to be agitated enough by this to make much of a sustained complaint about it, but I’m going for it anyway. If I end up looking like an idiot, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time and it won’t be the last. Look at it this way: I’m just doing what P. Z. Myers suggested, and helping to give those of you who are as disgusted with Maher as I am ammunition to help put him in the hot seat. I also don’t want you to forget Dawkins. Remember Dawkins’ reaction to learning about the controversy over the selection of Maher for the award bearing his name:

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.

Well, here’s a list of posts by me and others to educate Professor Dawkins and fill in this rather glaring hole in his knowledge base:

And, now, my request. Please list in the comments suggested questions to ask of Bill Maher and of Richard Dawkins. Please mention before each question to whom it is addressed.

I’ll start, with a couple for each.

To Bill Maher:

  • Mr. Maher, you’re on record numerous times saying that flu vaccines don’t work, that they “compromise” the immune system, that healthy eating and getting rid of the “toxins” will protect you from the flu, yet you have also been very much in favor of HPV vaccination (i.e., Gardasil). Both are vaccinations. How do you reconcile your belief that the flu vaccine is harmful and compromises the immune system with your advocacy of HPV vaccination? Why is it that the flu vaccine “compromises the immune system” and apparently the HPV vaccine does not?
  • Could you please name some of these “numerous” American people with cancer who were given a “death sentence” by their conventional doctors but went to clinics in Mexico or other countries for “alternative” medicine and beat their cancers?
  • You said that “Western medicine” has not made any strides in treating cancer in 50 years. Tell us, what was the ten year survival rate for most cancers in 1959? What is it now?

To Richard Dawkins:

  • Professor Dawkins, you stated that you were unaware of Bill Maher’s views about medicine. Fair enough, but why is it that, upon people complaining about his views, you showed absolutely no interest in finding out what Maher’s medical views were and why they upset your admirers? Given that Maher is being given an award bearing your name and that his medical beliefs are far better suited to one of the hapless quacks you skewered in the second half of your The Enemies of Reason documentary, don’t you think finding out what it is about Maher’s views that upsets advocates of science-based medicine would be important?
  • Would it matter to you if the Richard Dawkins Award were given to a creationist? If it would (as I assume it would), then why doesn’t it apparently bother you that the RDA is being given to an advocate of a different, but equally fallacious and pernicious, form of pseudoscience, namely cancer quackery and anti-vaccine views every bit as loopy as those of Andrew Wakefield?

Your turn, loyal readers. Please put your suggested questions for both Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins in the comments below and then come back here for a compilation and summation of them on Thursday.

Finally, for those of you, if there ultimately are any, who actually do get a chance to ask any of these questions of Maher or Dawkins, don’t forget to tell ‘em Orac sent you. And be polite. Polite but insistent.

Comments

  1. #1 Todd W.
    September 28, 2009

    To AAI:

    One of the criteria for the Richard Dawkins Award is that the person “advocates increased scientific knowledge”. Will this criterion be dropped in light of the award going to an active promoter of pseudoscience?

  2. #2 the bug guy
    September 28, 2009

    To Bill Maher:
    Do you really believe that Louis Pasteur recanted germ theory on his deathbed, as you have previously claimed? If so, why do you think that this invalidates all of the evidence supporting germ theory?

    To Richard Dawkins:
    One of the strengths of science is the capacity to change interpretations as new information becomes available. With all that has been presented about Mr. Maher’s views of medical science, has your opinion of the appropriateness of giving him the Richard Dawkins Award changed?

  3. #3 T. Bruce McNeely
    September 28, 2009

    To Dr. Dawkins:
    Since the Richard Dawkins Award, with your approval, is being given to a person who promotes Magical Thinking, why should we not consider you an “accommodationist”?

  4. #4 Liz
    September 28, 2009

    Science hasn’t proved there is no God, just that this “God” thing – IF it exists – is not what a bunch of people with an old book think it is. Therefore Dawkins isn’t all that smart. It is easy to poke holes in Religions – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. So why all the “brilliance”??

    Secondly Maher is just another loud-mouthed dude with strong opinions and a quippy anecdote or two, when you get down to brass tacks.

    It seems that this retarded award is for a bunch of opinionated jerks patting themselves on the back. Oh how brave and brilliant that you discredit religions! – That’s like getting praise for beating up the cripple in middle school. And if this Dawkins guy is so hellbent on “science” – like Orac implied – science doesn’t stop at Evolution v Creationism. But he’s not into science – he’s into his own pompous persona.

    And the more we celebrate people with big mouths, the more people like Suzanne Sommers and Jenny MacCarthy gain credibility. So that’s the question: How do you get the message to the masses that these people – no matter how many awards they bestow upon themselves – are just people? They are NOT scientists. Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins really should be no more credible than your ‘pseudo-intellectual’ uncle or college professor.

  5. #5 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    For Dawkins:

    You have implied that you are willing to overlook Maher’s stance on other issues because of the contribution he made with the movie Religulous. In the past, you have made common cause with those on who you disagree on certain issues (e.g. working with clergy in promoting the teaching of evolution), however, you have always been quite clear and explicit about the points over which you disagree with these sometimes-allies. Will you now clearly and unequivocally state that you do not share Maher’s views on vaccines, modern cancer treatment, and germ theory?

    (side note: I have mentioned before I am not hugely bothered by this, though I admit I would have preferred someone else got the award. However, I totally support your plan to put pressure on Maher and Dawkins about these issues. Getting Dawkins and/or the AAI to explicitly denounce Maher’s wacky medical beliefs would IMO be a very valuable thing, and go a long way to satisfying my reservations over him receiving the reward solely for Religulous)

  6. #6 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    Science hasn’t proved there is no God, just that this “God” thing – IF it exists – is not what a bunch of people with an old book think it is. Therefore Dawkins isn’t all that smart. It is easy to poke holes in Religions – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Liz — I think you misunderstand what atheism is all about. I’m not sure exactly what you mean when you say “science hasn’t prove there is no God”, since that all depends on your definition. Dawkins is quite explicit that the idea he is attempting to debunk is the concept of God in common usage.

    Oh how brave and brilliant that you discredit religions! – That’s like getting praise for beating up the cripple in middle school.

    Um…. really? Maybe if that cripple is so politically powerful that no person can be elected to major office in the United States unless they agree with him…

    I just do not understand the folks who try to act like us atheists are picking on the weak when we rail against religious institutions. Are you effin’ serious?!? Take a look around at the world we actually live in, and you’ll see why some of us feel the need to speak out.

  7. #7 Calli Arcale
    September 28, 2009

    James, her point isn’t that religions are not powerful. Her point is that they’re easy targets for criticism, so it doesn’t take much “genius” to do it.

  8. #8 Joseph
    September 28, 2009

    So why all the “brilliance”??

    Have you read “The Selfish Gene”? I highly recommend it.

  9. #9 Berner
    September 28, 2009

    @#4

    Liz, if Religion can’t hold up in the marketplace of ideas, why shouldn’t it be subject to criticism?

  10. #10 Gene Doctor
    September 28, 2009

    @ Liz
    You are a jackass.

    Question for Maher:
    You continually deride religious people for their faith in an unproven supreme being, a stance on which I agree with you wholeheartedly. Why then do you have faith in alternative medicine without any proof? The studies that have made it through an IRB (Insitutional Review Board) and been completed on any alternative medicine have come up as being as good or worse than no therapy at all, or as only having a placebo effect. Where is the scientific evidence? Big pharma can not control the scientific method – if there was proof of efficacy, that therapy would be adopted as quickly as possible. And the people responsible for discovering it would be well compensated as well as famous (to paraphrase Patrick Swayze).

  11. #11 Liz
    September 28, 2009

    James Sweet – In an intellectual discussion, yes – debunking religion is VERY easy to do, is all I’m saying. Atheists, are not really politically put upon. Go whine to the people in other countries who get stoned, tortured, slaughtered, etc.

    I agree Religion has no place in politics, except for people’s freedom to believe and practice what they want w/o causing harm. But get a grip, James. We’ve got enough drums beating in the world right now and most of them are much more urgent.

    My point was not to upset Atheists. My point was to say that these two guys are not scientists, they are opinionated people, seeing as science has not actually disproved a deity (believe it or not) and Mr Maher has a sketchy record of vaccination backing/not backing.

  12. #12 Madhu
    September 28, 2009

    For Richard Dawkins:
    People often charge you with being ideological in your militant atheism and accuse you of stepping outside the bounds of scientific evidence to promote atheism. How can you refute that charge, sir, if you allow a prominent promoter of anti-science woo to be given an award in your name for atheism? Doesn’t this reinforce the impression your critics have that you put atheism ahead of scientific rationality?

    For Bill Maher:
    You are admired for your courage in standing up to conventional wisdom on a number of issues, and for being unafraid to face criticism. Yet you carry on endorsing all this unscientific quackery touting alternative medicines and railing against vaccines. How about inviting a proper scientist on your show so you can educate yourself about the real science behind the “mainstream” medicine you so despise?

  13. #13 Liz
    September 28, 2009

    @Gene Doctor – mmmm… no. B*tch, sometimes, wrong sometimes, definitely not higher-educated, but jackass? nope.

    But I guess I should expect that from an apostle of Dawkins. Gee, you guys are a touchy bunch.

  14. #14 Orac
    September 28, 2009

    My point was not to upset Atheists. My point was to say that these two guys are not scientists, they are opinionated people, seeing as science has not actually disproved a deity (believe it or not) and Mr Maher has a sketchy record of vaccination backing/not backing.

    Dawkins? Not a scientist? I wrote these criticisms and taken some flak for doing so, and yet I do not question that Dawkins is a scientist. Upon what do you base your characterization?

  15. #15 Dr Benway
    September 28, 2009

    Mr. Maher, you’ve argued that alternative cancer therapies are justified because mainstream treatments aren’t good enough. I sympathize with your disappointment, as I also would love to live in a world where doctors can make all cancers go away. But what I want and what you want aren’t particularly relevant to good science.

    I have two questions for you:
    1. Firstly, have you considered the possibility that promoters of alternative therapies aren’t really on to anything, but are simply finding the rules of evidence used in science rather inconvenient?

    2. Secondly, do you really think medical scientists would ignore a promising cancer therapy simply because it’s not backed by a large pharmaceutical company? Aren’t ego and achievement pretty powerful reasons for a scientist to go after whatever seems to work no matter the source?

  16. #16 Joseph C.
    September 28, 2009

    Dawkins? Not a scientist? I wrote these criticisms and taken some flak for doing so, and yet I do not question that Dawkins is a scientist. Upon what do you base your characterization?

    That one has me scratching my head as well. I’m all up for some Dawkins bashing, but he is clearly one of the great science educators of our time. This is why this Maher thing is so disappointing. Dawkins appears to only care about attacks on his little corner of science.

  17. #17 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    Go whine to the people in other countries who get stoned, tortured, slaughtered, etc.

    Um…. exactly? It’s generally not atheists doing the stoning, torturing, slaughtering, etc. The special deference and respect afforded to religion, and the incredible amount of power that religious institutions have amassed, is exactly what enables all of this stoning, torturing, and slaughtering. So I’m going to keep speaking out against it, thank you very much.

    My point was to say that these two guys are not scientists

    Well, Dawkins is a scientist, though obviously it’s not because of his advocacy for nontheism, which regardless of what you think about it is a completely separate thing. His writing has been hugely influential in the field of evolutionary biology. Even if you want to reject every single thing he has said about God or theism (and FWIW, I actually think The God Delusion is overrated) there’s still a whole lot of meaningful scientific contributions.

    I admire Dawkins for his advocacy and activism, and for his writing style, not because he has come up with some brilliant disproof of religion. As you point out, debunking religion in a rational discussion is like shooting fish in a barrel. But in the world we live, very few discussions are rational, so activism still matters. And even in the case of rational argumentation, style matters. I think this leaves plenty of room to admire Dawkins aside from “proving there is no God”.

    I really don’t think anyone is calling Dawkins a genius solely because he “disproved religion”. That’s a strawman.

  18. #18 Joseph
    September 28, 2009

    My point was to say that these two guys are not scientists, they are opinionated people

    Maher is not a scientist.

    How could Dawkins not be a scientist? Let me put it this way. He invented the term “meme.” List of publications.

  19. #19 El cos
    September 28, 2009

    Mr. Maher:

    Do you believe in using rational based inquiry in all areas of knowledge? If so, how can you reconcile your advocacy of dubious alternative medicine treatments and constant flagellation of rationally driven western medicine along with continuous promotion of conspiracy theories(ex pharma out to get us) with your rejection of theism. Either you have not used skepticism to discount the latter or you reserve your rationality for specific areas of knowledge. Which one is it?

  20. #20 Becca Stareyes
    September 28, 2009

    @Liz

    Which two guys are not scientists? Last time I checked, Dr. Dawkins was indeed a biologist. (Bill Maher is not a scientist, true.)

    Also, I’d say just because a group is not killed or tortured does not mean that they do not need political advocacy. For example, I myself am somewhat active in the GLBT rights movement. While you do get hate crimes against GLBT folks, personally, even if those stopped, and even if we got some of the legal rights we’ve been agitating for, I would still be doing things to work for helping GLBT folks be accepted, and that open and hidden bigotry against GLBT folks be pushed to a fringe position.

  21. #21 Neill Raper
    September 28, 2009

    For Bill Maher
    The questions that you have are all good. Stick to the specific scientific claims he makes. Don’t just say that there is a scientific consensus on something and move on or he will just dismiss it as big pharma fudging the results. Stick him on specific issues that you have specific knowledge of, and force him to give specific answers, or to (more likely) wither in the face of criticism and fail to answer the question.

    For Richard Dawkins.
    I wouldn’t just say that he should have looked up Maher’s medical views and move on. Really rub his nose in the extent of his quackery. Give several examples of claims that he makes. Don’t give him the opportunity to simply repeat his earlier dismissal. As sad as it is that you will be having to do his homework for him I think it is the best way to get him to face the facts about Bill Maher.

  22. #22 Pablo
    September 28, 2009

    Come on, people, let’s start at the beginning:

    Dr Dawkins:

    Do you believe that vaccination is a safe and advisable approach for preventing diseases, and that people should be vaccinated according to international health organization guidelines?

    Establish the foundation before sniggling over details. Nothing is sacred!

  23. #23 El cos
    September 28, 2009

    To Dawkins:

    Is this specific instance in which Maher’s views were not made available in a timely matter or do you plan to continue to play the ignorance card while allowing awards to be bestowed upon individuals who clearly do not fulfill the criteria for recognition. How wod you feel if an award representing fair minded skepticism in medical practises was given to a creationists. Perhaps then you would require rationality in all areas of knowledge?

  24. #24 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    But I guess I should expect that from an apostle of Dawkins.

    I should add that while I do admire Dawkins for reasons I touched on briefly in #17, I am by no means an “apostle” of Dawkins. Some points:

    As I said in #17, I think The God Delusion is overrated… there are some really choice quotes in it, but overall it got a little tiresome. (I actually preferred god is Not Great — even though Hitchens is way full of shit a lot of the time, and much of that book was not particularly fair, it was at least damn entertaining)

    I share your frustration that you expressed in your initial post at #3 that Dawkins seems to have a bit of tunnel vision at times in his focus on evolution vs. creationism — understandable from an evolutionary biologist, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

    While I enjoy his writing a lot, his interviews occasionally make me cringe. 90% of the time he speaks with the sharp wit and eloquence that come across in his books, but the 10% of the time when he falters can be pretty bad. Sometimes he misses an obvious counter-argument; other times he says things that just come across as stupid, or even as hateful.. Orac had a blog post from awhile back where Dawkins fumbled in an interview and wound up saying something downright anti-semitic. I’m sure he didn’t mean it how it sounded, but still — OUCH.

    And, as I think my initial comment at #5 made clear, I am highly disappointed that Dawkins has not explicitly distanced himself from Maher’s insane medical beliefs. I’m ambivalent towards Maher getting this award — he hardly embodies the ideals that the reward is supposed to honor, but at the same time, I found Religulous extremely entertaining and I think it is an important movie — but Dawkins’ response to the criticisms has been disappointing to say the least.

    So there you have it. me != Dawkins “apostle”. I admire him for some things, but there are definitely criticisms to be made as well — as with all people, I imagine… Except Jesus, right? ;)

  25. #25 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    I second Pablo’s suggestion at #22. Hell, maybe Dawkins has drank the anti-vax Cool-Aid himself, for all we know!

  26. #26 Sara E.M.
    September 28, 2009

    To Bill Maher:

    1) Why do you advocate the use of science and reason when dealing with religious beliefs, but do not apply the same type of critical thinking to your beliefs about alternative medicine?

    2) Would you consider reevaluating your alternative medicine beliefs, using science and reason, in the same way atheists like yourself may wish to see religious proponents rationally reevaluate their religious beliefs?

    Maher or Dawkins:
    3) Alternative medicine beliefs do not use the scientific method, exempt themselves from scientific evaluation, and rely on the supernatural in their claims. How does Bill Maher’s/your faith-based medical beliefs differ from faith-based religious beliefs?

    Bill Maher is an atheist, but not a skeptic. I think the fact that this is an atheist convention may be a sort of defense for him–but this is exactly why I prefer to promote skepticism and critical thinking, rather than just atheism–you can be an atheist but still have faith-based beliefs (alt-med, ufos, dowsing, 911 truthers, etc.), but it’s hard to be a good skeptic without being an atheist.

    I think if there IS a way to turn Bill Maher from an atheist, to a skeptic, it will be to get him to see the parallels between religious beliefs and new age/alt-med beliefs. Maher is probably used to people using the ‘in your face’ approach–I don’t think ‘tough’ questions will work. Somehow, using calm reason, someone needs to make him see that skeptics feel the same sort of frustration when it comes to alt-med beliefs, as he does concerning religious ones.

    Alt-med beliefs are still faith-based; I think this is the point that needs to be stressed.

  27. #27 Liz
    September 28, 2009

    Okay – I already said it : “Wrong sometimes? YES.” Dawkins is a scientist. Forgive me. You’re right – all I know of him is the book & his followers ranting & now this award.

    Moving on… I still stand by giving Bill Maher any kind of scientific award is “you’re an Atheist? Me too!” Back-slapping. That was my original point. Bill Maher does not deserve a science award. A film award? perhaps, if you’re into that kind of thing. But not a bona-fide scientific achievement award. Same w/ Dawkins – if he has made amazing biological discoveries, wonderful. But he is NOT a genius for disproving God.

    That’s like giving ME an award. I had an opinion which riled people. Some of my opinion was wrong, and some of it isn’t – or, can’t be proven at this time. Where’s my trophy & dinner?

    Becca – Gays and Atheists are two categories. Atheists are allowed to marry, serve openly in the military and not fear getting beaten up because of their orientation. James Sweet was talking about Atheists in America – sorry, not so marginalized.

    Again, I agree to separate church & state, I am not religious. I guess atheists are starting to sound a lot like bible-beaters. And that’s all we need – another group of ‘my way or the highway’ types.

    In closing, sorry Orac – didn’t think I’d hijack the discussion, seriously. I agree with you, just chose the wrong way to say it. I enjoy your blog and trolling was not my intent. Guess I forgot how jumpy folks on the internet are.

    Now, everyone – back to the questions –

  28. #28 Dr Benway
    September 28, 2009

    Professor Dawkins,

    You’ve accused moderate religionists of providing cover to the extremists because they offer no rational argument for differentiating good religion from bad religion.

    Similarly, alternative medicine proponents offer no rational standard for separating good alternative medicine from crazy alternative medicine. Once a doctor leaves behind the rules of evidence medical scientists normally use, once he skip independent peer review, controlled studies, and the constraint of prior plausibility, he’s entered the realm of faith based healthcare where all manner of harmful quackery becomes possible.

    I wonder how you reconcile your opposition to faith based arguments concerning the creation of the universe and life’s evolution with your approval of Mr. Maher as an appropriate recipient of the Richard Dawkins award, knowing how he frequently promotes faith based medicine?

  29. #29 Madhu
    September 28, 2009

    Re Joseph at #18:

    That link to Dawkins’ publication record gives me some pause. He is a great science communicator, no doubt – and that is recognized in his current academic position as well. His publication record, though, is relatively thin on peer-reviewed science, especially since the 1980s – i.e., post “The Selfish Gene”. No coincidence there, obviously, for he clearly devoted his energies into his science communicator role after that bestseller. Of course that doesn’t make not a scientist, but I doubt I’m alone in thinking that his contribution to peer-reviewed science is a bit dated.

    (should I be ducking at this point, from any of those “apostles” of Dawkins?!)

  30. #30 Madhu
    September 28, 2009

    Re Joseph at #18:

    That link to Dawkins’ publication record gives me some pause. He is a great science communicator, no doubt – and that is recognized in his current academic position as well. His publication record, though, is relatively thin on peer-reviewed science, especially since the 1980s – i.e., post “The Selfish Gene”. No coincidence there, obviously, for he clearly devoted his energies into his science communicator role after that bestseller. Of course that doesn’t make him a non-scientist, but I doubt I’m alone in thinking that his contribution to peer-reviewed science is a bit dated.

    (…ducks, in case any of those “apostles” of Dawkins are about!!)

  31. #31 Madhu
    September 28, 2009

    And sorry about the comment duplication – glitch during submission, and no way for me to delete one of them!

  32. #32 Dr Benway
    September 28, 2009

    Mr. Maher,

    You’ve said that people who get the swine flu vaccine are idiots. Can you please explain the CDC’s position regarding this vaccination and their rationale for recommending it to certain populations?

    ____
    I’m guessing that asking Maher to explain himself will go nowhere. But asking him to explain the current scientific consensus could be entertaining.

  33. #33 Kismet
    September 28, 2009

    No, questions for now, but I am so looking forward to this event if people really are going to ask those unwelcome questions.
    Maybe someone should drop PZ an e-mail so he links to your post, assuming that more people who go to the conference read PZ’s blog than yours…

  34. #34 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    James Sweet was talking about Atheists in America – sorry, not so marginalized.

    Depends on what part of the country, really. There are places where “coming out” will cost you your job. Not where I live, thankfully, but still…

    And anyway, I would hate for you to dismiss everything I said because the first example of the harm done by undue deference to religion was one that, while it hits close to home for me, is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. Please, if it bothers you that much, ignore the fact that I said that.

    Imagine instead that I was talking about the theistic slaughtering going on in other countries. Or, that I was criticizing the fact that people who are supposedly liberal are encouraged to look the other way at the subjugation of Muslim women (yes, even in America) in the name of religious tolerance.

    My point is that one does not have to look far to see that religion, far from being “like a [handicapped kid]“, is a quite successful and prolific bully. I do not think one can fairly characterize Dawkins’ atheist activism as “shooting fish in a barrel.”

    Madhu:

    (…ducks, in case any of those “apostles” of Dawkins are about!!)

    As an accused “apostle” of Dawkins, I can say that I did not disagree at all with anything you said at #30. :)

  35. #35 llewelly
    September 28, 2009

    Thank you, Orac, for pursing this important issue.
    In addition to the questions for Maher and Dawkins, I would like to see some questions for AAI.

  36. #36 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    Again, I agree to separate church & state, I am not religious. I guess atheists are starting to sound a lot like bible-beaters. And that’s all we need – another group of ‘my way or the highway’ types.

    For my thoughts on why “strident” atheists are a good thing (in 2009, maybe not in the future) please see this post.

    In short, when you have a group that is as disrespected as atheists — and you, Liz, are a prime example of the problem, as even though you are not religious, you are clearly anti-atheist! — it is both expected and desirable that some members of the group will be “loud and proud”.

  37. #37 DoctorAtlantis
    September 28, 2009

    To Maher:
    I enjoyed your anti-religion movie. It was funny. Will you be doing an anti-vax movie soon? Can’t wait. To throw up in my mouth.

  38. #38 Sili
    September 28, 2009

    Best of luck! It’s good to see that not everyone is afraid of stirring the pot. I sincerely hope you (plural) give both of them a good – respectful and evidencebased – heckling.

  39. #39 Dr Benway
    September 28, 2009

    Math teachers know that students sometimes put down the right answer as a lucky guess or by copying someone else. That’s why they insist that students show their work.

    Professor Dawkins, shouldn’t you ask to see Mr. Maher’s work before awarding points for his “no God” answer? Given his credulous promotion of alternative medicine, it seems he doesn’t really get the scientific method. So I suspect he copied that “no God” answer from someone smarter who happened to be sitting near him.

  40. #40 Sundeep Peswani
    September 28, 2009

    To Dawkins:

    As many know, Simon Singh, a respected educator of the sciences, is currently facing legal battles in the UK from quacks. The scientific and rationalist societies rallied around him and launched a campaign against the bogus lawsuit. You, yourself, spoke in support of Simon calling him a “courageous hero” a few days ago ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/20/richard-dawkins-libel-laws ). Do you feel, then, it is appropriate to give the RDA to another staunch quack?

  41. #41 Jay Lee
    September 28, 2009

    You’re living in the blogger’s realm of hypocrisy. I read your blog because it is so refreshing. However, your ideas about Bill Maher show the same biases he does. If he takes the low road (any George Bush joke) and makes jokes about politics with which you happen to agree, you’re fine with him. Anything negative about George Bush, is a gushable moment for you. You love that emptyheaded social critique. When he talks woo he’s justifiably an idiot. Your blindness to your politics are as much characture as are Maher’s woo about medicine.

    Of course, he’s wrong about everything. (You aren’t.) His ideas about religion are wimpy and wishy-washy, his politics are are poorly thought through as yours but even weaker, and his woo-factor astronomical to the point that you can’t stand him any more than I can.

    Your blog is great by the way. I read the feeds a couple of times a day and look forward to the news AND your very informed perspective. Best.

  42. #42 Orac
    September 28, 2009

    Sundeep,

    Oh, geez. I wish I’d thought of that one!

  43. #43 Pablo
    September 28, 2009

    @James Sweet

    I second Pablo’s suggestion at #22. Hell, maybe Dawkins has drank the anti-vax Cool-Aid himself, for all we know!

    Or maybe he doesn’t consider himself anti-vaccine, but he just has “concerns,” a la Bob Sears?

    I admit that I have not read any of Dawkins’s writing aside from the occasional comment he posts on PZ Myers’s blog. Therefore, I am in a place of ignorance. However, what I do know is that he has not disassociated himself from, and in fact, appears to embrace, a blatent anti-vaxxer, even after having been informed of the persons anti-vax views. In the absence of any other information, that’s not a good start.

    Perhaps one of the apostles can shed some light onto the subject. Has he ever in his writing explicitly stated vaccine support and/or spoken out against the anti-vax movement? I don’t mean generic “he supports science” comments, but direct comments on vaccination. Because I gotta say Bob Sears and Jay Gordon fancy themselves scientific, too.

    I’d like to believe he’s perfectly on board, and I actually suspect it is true. However, I think we need to hear it explicitly.

    Nothing is sacred.

  44. #44 Orac
    September 28, 2009

    However, your ideas about Bill Maher show the same biases he does. If he takes the low road (any George Bush joke) and makes jokes about politics with which you happen to agree, you’re fine with him. Anything negative about George Bush, is a gushable moment for you.

    Really? Got a concrete example from this blog where I’ve done that with Maher? I’ll wait.

    {crickets chirping…}

    Didn’t think so.

  45. #45 Dr Benway
    September 28, 2009

    If Maher gets asked to explain something like the CDC’s position on swine flu vaccination, he’ll likely dodge. He’ll say something about the CDC being a political body or in thrall to drug companies, etc.

    I think it would be important for the questioner to say, “I notice you didn’t answer my question, probably because you can’t,” before stepping away from the mic.

  46. #46 Dr Benway
    September 28, 2009

    Pablo, I like your idea about asking Dawkins if he favors mass vaccination to prevent disease. “Enemies of Reason” seemed to put Dawkins on our side of the fence. And you’d think the inventer of the meme would have a firm grasp of infection and immunity. But you never know. People can compartmentalize.

  47. #47 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    Perhaps one of the apostles can shed some light onto the subject. Has [Dawkins] ever in his writing explicitly stated vaccine support and/or spoken out against the anti-vax movement? ….
    I’d like to believe he’s perfectly on board, and I actually suspect it is true. However, I think we need to hear it explicitly.

    I am not aware of Dawkins ever commenting directly on vaccines, no. I suspect that if challenged, he is ultimately “on our side”, but I absolutely agree that, after his failure to call Maher out, we do need to hear it explicitly.

    Or maybe he doesn’t consider himself anti-vaccine, but he just has “concerns,” a la Bob Sears?

    This may actually be fairly likely. I myself, while I was always pro-vaccine, used to think it was plausible that vaccines increased the likelihood of autism (though clearly the cost-benefit to society would still be way in vaccines’ favor, but I digress)… anyway, I thought that because my only education on the topic had been from the news, and while I did get the impression that MMR-autism link was looking less and less likely, I had no idea just how thoroughly it had been debunked, nor did I know about the abject quackery being preached by the anti-vax movement.

    What got me educated real quick, ironically, was when my wife got some bad information and decided she wanted to do a delayed schedule for our son. I initially responded with a strained shrug and said I was fine with it as long as he eventually got all his shots. But she was insistent that I do some of my own research and help her craft the schedule… and well, as soon as I did, my opinion on the whole anti-vax thing got real strong real fast :)

    It is quite possible — perhaps even likely — that Dawkins simply doesn’t know enough about this issue and has adopted a default “agnostic” position on it as a result. Which is fine — except that I would really hope he’d educate himself at this point, now that people have brought the debate, and Maher’s place in it, to his attention.

    We shall see, hopefully…

  48. #48 Sundeep Peswani
    September 28, 2009

    Orac,

    Thanks. I hope it gets asked. I’ll make a donation to Sense About Science if it does.

  49. #49 bobh
    September 28, 2009

    A comment on your question 3:
    “You said that “Western medicine” has not made any strides in treating cancer in 50 years. Tell us, what was the ten year survival rate for most cancers in 1959? What is it now?”

    Too easy to evade.

    A better question is:
    “You said that “Western medicine” has not made any strides in treating cancer in 50 years. The ten year survival rate for most cancers in 1959 was xxx? Based on the latest data in 200y it is zzz? Can you explain how your statement can possibly be consistent with those facts?”

  50. #50 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    Hmmm… richarddawkins.net features an anti-anti-vax article (i.e. the good guys).

    Not that that says anything, as I’m pretty sure Josh Timonen actually vets what articles are featured there, not Dawkins himself. But it’s a data point, I suppose…

  51. #51 Denice Walter
    September 28, 2009

    For Maher:(my original question from an earlier comment)Where are all of the people who were cured of serious illnesses by alternative medecine? Why aren’t they all requesting a Congressional inquiry into the “suppression” of highly effective alternative cures? Why not massive class action suits?

  52. #52 James Sweet
    September 28, 2009

    Oh geez, I never saw Enemies of Reason, but apparently the second episode specifically talked about vaccine rates declining because of MMR-autism hysteria. So there ya go.

    When Orac referred to the strange contradiction between Dawkins’ work with Enemies of Reason vs. his non-denouncement of Maher, I assumed Orac was referring to general principles, not to a specific contradiction in stated position. Well well. That’s even more disappointing.

    I’m now going to shock everyone by partially agreeing with Liz:

    I still stand by giving Bill Maher any kind of scientific award is “you’re an Atheist? Me too!” Back-slapping.

    It’s seeming that way, isn’t it? Or at least, Dawkins’ failure to distance himself from Maher’s medical views looks like he is giving special deference to vocal atheists in a manner not to different from how you caricatured it.

  53. #53 natural cynic
    September 28, 2009

    To Maher:
    You have claimed that Pasteur recanted his germ theory on his deathbed. Doesn’t this seem to sound like the falsified claim by Lady Hope that Darwin recanted on his deathbed? do deathbed recantations even mean anything? Are you sure that you won’t have a “Come to Jesus” moment when you are on your deathbed?

  54. #54 rc_moore
    September 28, 2009

    I will be at the AAI convention this week.

    I have extracted all the questions so far, and will ask as many of them of Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and the AAI board as much as possible.

    If I get a response, I will post it here, or otherwise, at Orac’s direction.

    (I am the founder of the skeptic’s side of the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics. We are an AAI affiliate).

  55. #55 Sundeep Peswani
    September 28, 2009

    Could you please name some of these “numerous” American people with cancer who were given a “death sentence” by their conventional doctors but went to clinics in Mexico or other countries for “alternative” medicine and beat their cancers?

    One person not amongst those numerous Americans was Coretta Scott King, who had ovarian cancer, and underwent homeopathic treatment in her last days at the Hospital Santa Monica in Playa de Rosarito in Mexico. The owner plead guilty to tax evasion and smuggling. Yolanda, her daughter, said about the “hospital”:

    “We were shocked. We had done quite a bit of information-gathering. We spoke to people who were extremely ill who had been at the clinic and are here to tell about it. We were stunned. It came highly recommended.”

    I just discovered this tidbit through the What’s the harm site. I’d bet that Maher would blame King for going to Mexico too late to make a difference.

  56. #56 Mariah
    September 28, 2009

    What I’ve never been able to get straight from an anti-vaxxer is this: what data, and from what source, would it take for you to accept the safety data?

  57. #57 Pablo
    September 28, 2009

    PZ Myers says

    And yet another problem: people are barking at Richard Dawkins. Dawkins does not support quackery. This isn’t an issue on which he’ll disagree with any of you, but he’s also there to talk about his exciting new book, not about fake cancer cures. I suspect he’s not looking forward to a lot of time-wasting headaches over this issue, and if it sounds like it’s going to eat up all of his time with the public, he’ll probably do the rational thing and cut back on spending time with the public. This is not to be encouraged.

    Apparently, accomodationists are only bad when it comes to religion.

    Sorry, PZ, nothing’s sacred. Not even Dawkins.

    BTW, what is the registration that I need to have in order to comment over there these days?

  58. #58 Orac
    September 28, 2009

    PZ Myers says:

    And yet another problem: people are barking at Richard Dawkins. Dawkins does not support quackery. This isn’t an issue on which he’ll disagree with any of you, but he’s also there to talk about his exciting new book, not about fake cancer cures. I suspect he’s not looking forward to a lot of time-wasting headaches over this issue, and if it sounds like it’s going to eat up all of his time with the public, he’ll probably do the rational thing and cut back on spending time with the public. This is not to be encouraged.

    Then Professor Dawkins should have thought of that problem before he so blithely dismissed people’s concerns about Maher’s anti-scientific views about medicine, shouldn’t he have?

    Believe it or not, I actually like and respect–admire, even–Dawkins for the most part. However, unfortunately the AAI and Dawkins really laid a turd here and need to be called out on it. Dawkins is part of this too. The award bears his name. I’m sorry if PZ doesn’t like it, but Dawkins needs to be called out almost as much as Maher does–again, politely but insistently. So does the leadership of the AAI, come to think of it.

  59. #59 rc_moore
    September 28, 2009

    Apparently, accomodationists are only bad when it comes to religion.

    Sorry, PZ, nothing’s sacred. Not even Dawkins.

    Well, there is a time an place for everything. I don’t recommend asking these questions by shouting like a Health-Care Townhall Teabagger.

    But in the right conversational setting, I think this topic is fair game.

  60. #60 Uncle Dave
    September 28, 2009

    Maher;
    You have stated that, “Merely suggesting alternative medicine for cancer treatment can get an individual arrested in this country.”

    To date there are countless websites and companies that market and sell alternative based treatments specifically targeted towards individuals with cancer (Natural supplements, vitamins etc.). Can you cite any cases where suggestion of alternative treatments have actaully put people in legal jeopardy?

    I enjoy Mahers humour and views on religion and politics, but his perspectives on medicine is quite preposterous.

  61. #61 Pablo
    September 28, 2009

    Well, there is a time an place for everything. I don’t recommend asking these questions by shouting like a Health-Care Townhall Teabagger.

    But in the right conversational setting, I think this topic is fair game.

    I’m not sure when anyone is advocating chasing after him and shouting him down. Then again, who gets to define “the right conversational setting”? Apparently, Myers is concerned that any such questions might make him so uncomfortable that he runs away, or something.

    As Orac says, if these types of questions make him uncomfortable, then it is only because he has exposed himself to them. He could end it easily with a strong stand, but so far, has not done so.

  62. #62 Pablo
    September 28, 2009

    Sorry for the double post – I don’t know how it happened

  63. #63 'Tis Himself
    September 28, 2009

    Mr. Maher,

    1. Smallpox was eradicated worldwide through the use of vaccines. It is entirely possible that polio could be similarly eradicated. Should polio be allowed to flourish because you are anti-vaccine?

    2. On Larry King Live (source linked from “Science-Based Medicine”) you claimed that influenza vaccines increased the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s ten fold. The only source for this claim is Dr. Hugh Fudenberg. Are you aware that in November 1995, the South Carolina Medical Board concluded that Fudenberg was “guilty of engaging in dishonorable, unethical, or unprofessional conduct,” and he was fined $10,000, ordered to surrender his license to prescribe controlled substances (narcotic drugs) and his medical license was placed on suspension. Since that time, Fudenberg’s medical license has lapsed. Do you still think Fudenberg is a reputable source for the claim about flu vaccines and Alzheimer’s?

  64. #64 stinger
    September 28, 2009

    Since Dawkins doesn’t select the recipients of the award named for him, maybe he doesn’t see the point of making a public fuss about an unworthy nominee. Courtesy would indicate that any public opinion he expresses be quietly supportive of the choice, and Dr. Dawkins is an extremely courteous person. I suggest he be given a break.

  65. #65 rc_moore
    September 28, 2009

    Believe it or not, I actually like and respect Dawkins for the most part, but the AAI and he really laid a turd here and need to be called out on it. He’s part of this too. The award bears his name. I’m sorry if PZ doesn’t like it, but Dawkins needs to be called out almost as much as Maher does–again, politely but insistently. So does the leadership of the AAI, come to think of it.

    Holding AAI’s feet to the fire is more difficult here. They are an Atheist organization, which I have learned the hard was has little to do with skepticism or rational, scientific thought. It is mostly about support for those damaged by religion.

    Dawkins is a an atheist and a skeptic, but many members of AAI are not. Perhaps he should refuse to speak at all atheist-sponsored venues until they are all on board with skepticism and science? Good luck with that.

    Perhaps Dawkins should do a Kayne West, grab the microphone away from Bill Maher, and declare him unworthy? Would a public disavowal at this point on RichardDawkins.net amount to the same thing?

    But still, something should be done. The questions seem like a good idea, politely asked, in the the correct context.

  66. #66 Karl withakay
    September 28, 2009

    So far Orac’s question about Maher’s apparently contradictory views HPV vaccination and all other vaccinations is the best, but nobody has addressed the elephant in the room yet.

    To Bill Maher:

    Are you an atheist; do you not believe in a god of any kind, yes or no?

    Did you say the following words and do they accurately reflect your views today?

    “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.”

    Are you perhaps, an agnostic, a deist, &/or simply anti-religious? If you are any thing other than an atheist, (that is someone who does not believe in any god, deity, supreme being, or supernatural power of any kind) please explain what your beliefs are.

  67. #67 rc_moore
    September 28, 2009

    I’m not sure when anyone is advocating chasing after him and shouting him down. Then again, who gets to define “the right conversational setting”? Apparently, Myers is concerned that any such questions might make him so uncomfortable that he runs away, or something.

    Good question. My expertise lies in asking skeptical questions in the “wrong” conversational setting, if past experience is an indicator.

    Being a skeptic gets you uninvited to more parties than being an atheist does.

  68. #68 Joseph
    September 28, 2009

    His publication record, though, is relatively thin on peer-reviewed science,

    You can tell Dawkins is more of a pioneer of sorts. “The Selfish Gene” was pretty revolutionary, and he’s responsible for the whole field of memetics. He might not work out in the field all that much, but what he’s done is part of science too, and his contribution has been significant.

  69. #69 Dr Benway
    September 28, 2009

    Who has advocated for abuse or disruption of the meeting? I haven’t read that anywhere. Perhaps that’s just a fear and there actually have been no credible threats.

    Dawkins and Maher are not fragile flowers. Both thrive on controversy and debate.

    Hard questions are hard questions, nothing more.

  70. #70 Mick
    September 28, 2009

    Doesn’t Maher deny even being an atheist?

  71. #71 mariana
    September 28, 2009

    (@40) Great question, Sundeep!! If Dr. D is only taking one question, I think this is the question to ask.

  72. #72 Michael
    September 28, 2009

    For Maher:

    I’ve heard that you are anti-vaccination. Is that true?

    If yes, what would you do if you were bitten by a rabid animal?

    If get a rabies shot/vaccine – isn’t that a little hypocritical? Picking and choosing which vaccines you think are helpful and which are not? The whole purpose of vaccinations is that an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  73. #73 Omar
    September 28, 2009

    Bill Maher also went after the surgeon general for being “fat”. His views about obesity are as unscientific as his views about vaccines…only in this case too many people IN science share the same careless notions.

  74. #74 Sastra
    September 28, 2009

    The Dawkins Award this year is inscribed:

    “for outstanding contribution to freethought
    in
    Religulous
    and many insightful criticisms of religion
    presented to Bill Maher
    by Atheist Alliance International
    Oct 2, 2009.”

    Thus, it’s specifically targeted at Maher’s outspoken criticism, and mockery, of religion. It’s not for his stance on alt med, or his scientific expertise: he’s an entertainer. He’s helping to ‘break the spell’ which says we must say only good things about faith.

    I mentioned this in the “Is Bill that ignorant” thread, but it may have been missed.

  75. #75 Orac
    September 28, 2009

    So the AAI changed the criteria to suit Maher? At least it sounds that way, because the criteria as listed elsewhere did mention science. In any case, your point brings up a question for the AAI:

    Was what is inscribed on the award the only criteria for the award all along, or did you change the criteria after the uproar over the choice of a quackery booster like Maher for the award?

    Inquiring minds want to know. :-)

  76. #76 mk
    September 28, 2009

    Bill Maher thinks atheism is the mirror image of religious fundamentalism… or some such nonsense. It’s at the very beginning of the clip.

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-september-30-2008/bill-maher-pt–2

    How’s Richard and AAI feel about that?

  77. #77 Karl Withakay
    September 28, 2009

    “for outstanding contribution to freethought
    in Religulous
    and many insightful criticisms of religion
    presented to Bill Maher
    by Atheist Alliance International
    Oct 2, 2009.”

    OK, WTF?? There are probably a good number of theistic clergy members who could qualify under those terms.

  78. #78 mk
    September 28, 2009

    Man! This guys really is all over the place!

    How can he say what he says about vaccines but also hold this view?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpQwtI5JHYM

    Yeah, I know he talks about Tamiflu and not a specific flu vaccine but still. He seems to be in the midst of finding himself. Which is fine, but man watching it all unfold live is pretty weird!

  79. #79 Aunrd
    September 28, 2009

    I agree that some of Maher’s message is loopy. Ok, I get that. But as someone who works for Big Pharma, I also appreciate anyone who is willing to put a thumb in the eye of Big Pharma. They really do suck. So although, I agree that unfounded speculation doesn’t really help, bullshit rabble rousing isn’t completely without merit. I’ll let y’all hash out the details.

  80. #80 Marc Abian
    September 28, 2009

    I still stand by giving Bill Maher any kind of scientific award is “you’re an Atheist? Me too!” Back-slapping. That was my original point. Bill Maher does not deserve a science award.

    He’s not getting a science award. The award is for people promoting atheism in the public sphere.

  81. #81 Todd
    September 28, 2009

    If we’re going to cause trouble, why are we only picking on Maher and Dawkins, neither of which had any input on the award designation. I say go to the source and grill AAI on its views of medical quackery. They’re the ones who started this.

  82. #82 Marcus J. Ranum
    September 28, 2009

    Holding AAI’s feet to the fire is more difficult here. They are an Atheist organization, which I have learned the hard was has little to do with skepticism or rational, scientific thought. It is mostly about support for those damaged by religion.

    Then they have no reason to care whether Maher is a drooling imbecile, as long as he’s banging the drum to the correct beat. If that’s their agenda, then they’re consistent with it and so be it. If it was just the “AAI prize” would we still be having this discussion?

    I’m guessing that Dawkins is rather pained over this whole thing, and is probably wishing that he hadn’t let his name get attached to a prize whose reciept he didn’t control. He’s pretty smart; I bet this won’t happen again. Unlike Maher, Dawkins appears to learn quickly.

  83. #83 Marcus J. Ranum
    September 28, 2009

    grill AAI on its views of medical quackery

    AAI is an atheist organization; it probably doesn’t HAVE a view on quackery – there’s probably the usual range from rational to batshit insane, with, possibly, a skew toward the rational. It shouldn’t be news to anyone here but there are plenty of atheists that are woo-woos.

    If the criteria for the award, and the award declaration, don’t say anything about science, promoting science, rationalism, or rationalism, it looks like the whole kerfluffle just evaporates. Evaporates leaving a nasty smell.

  84. #84 rc-moore.myopenid.com
    September 28, 2009

    I’m guessing that Dawkins is rather pained over this whole thing, and is probably wishing that he hadn’t let his name get attached to a prize whose reciept he didn’t control. He’s pretty smart; I bet this won’t happen again. Unlike Maher, Dawkins appears to learn quickly.

    I would guess that Dawkins only “pain” over this is the inability of some to separate out the media awards, meant to boost an organizations public awareness, from the core mission of the group.

    To steal from Mark Twain — “everyone’s always complaining about the weather, but nobody seems to do anything about it”, if you are unhappy with the award, join an atheist or skeptic group, become an AAI affiliate and contribute in a meaningful way.

    Then maybe these egregious compromises of principles will become fewer. But as it stands, AAI is fighting for its life and looking for any boost it can get.

  85. #85 Joseph C.
    September 28, 2009

    To steal from Mark Twain — “everyone’s always complaining about the weather, but nobody seems to do anything about it”, if you are unhappy with the award, join an atheist or skeptic group, become an AAI affiliate and contribute in a meaningful way.

    Why would I want to associate myself with a group that gave Bill Maher an award?

  86. #86 Sastra
    September 28, 2009

    Orac #76 wrote:

    Was what is inscribed on the award the only criteria for the award all along, or did you change the criteria after the uproar over the choice of a quackery booster like Maher for the award?

    I don’t personally know, but the Dawkins Award has rather broad criteria, and the emphasis varies, depending on the recipient and their strengths. I think it has to, because people and causes are complex, and seldom pure and perfect. Bottom line, Bill Maher is not a doctor, or official spokesperson for alt med — he’s an entertainer whose talk show and mainstream-ed movie helped to “raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance.” That’s what got big attention this year.

    For each recipient, the inscription says something different.

  87. #87 Woof
    September 28, 2009

    Atheists are allowed to … serve openly in the military and not fear getting beaten up because of their orientation.

    Really? From http://ffrf.org/fttoday/2008/dec/jeremyhall.php :

    Jeremy is a young Foundation member who first contacted the Foundation office about a year and a half ago–calling from his base in Iraq and wondering if the Foundation could spare some of its literature, because he wanted to form a freethought meeting on his base and he wanted something that he and his other atheist in foxhole buddies could enjoy. He went through the proper channels but his first freethought meeting was disrupted and he was threatened with reprisal, and those threats have only grown as Jeremy, with the help of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has sued the military for discrimination against freethinkers.

    Threats of fragging, forced the military to inaugurate around the clock security on his Iraq base, and then to send him to Ft. Riley, Kansas, shortly after the lawsuit began a year ago last fall.

    THREATS OF FRAGGING? You know, sometimes I’m really proud of my country. And then there’s right now.

    You might also want to look into the last months of former Pentagon Poster-Boy Pat Tillman. Turns out that he was (gasp!) AGNOSTIC, something that didn’t exactly sit well with his fellow Christian Soldiers. Too bad he was lost to “enemy action”… with no enemy in sight and a triple-tap to the head from an M16 at an estimated range of 10 meters. Surely a massive coincidence.

    Excuse me; I have to go punch a wall now.

  88. #88 rc-moore.myopenid.com
    September 28, 2009

    Why would I want to associate myself with a group that gave Bill Maher an award?

    Good question, I will ask that of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Lawrence Krauss, etc. this week at the convention, it I get a chance.

    “Mr. _______, could you explain why, someone as intelligent, successful in their field, and committed to their principles, such as yourself, would associate with a group such as AAI, when they would participate in awarding Mr. Bill Maher for his service to atheism, in light of the fact his scientific knowledge or lack of leads him to false conclusions about the nature of reality?”

    I anticipate the response:

    “Because I am an adult, not a child, insisting that everything must go their way, all the time, even when bigger issues are at stake.”

  89. #89 Woof
    September 28, 2009

    The quote in my last (currently #88) was from Liz, and the rest of it was directed to her. My bad for not including that at the top.

  90. #90 Cath the Canberra Cook
    September 28, 2009

    I’m a Dawkins fan, and I don’t think Dawkins does class as a scientist any more. Formerly he was a scientist, currently he’s a science educator and writer. I also don’t think that matters in the slightest.

    I am disturbed about this award and I hope that Dawkins can do something about getting his name off it.

  91. #91 Joseph C.
    September 28, 2009

    “Because I am an adult, not a child, insisting that everything must go their way, all the time, even when bigger issues are at stake.”

    So, public health is not a big issue? Sorry, but you guys are DEAD WRONG on this Maher thing. You should stop trying to polish the turd.

  92. #92 Linda Rosa
    September 28, 2009

    Forgive me if these are duplicate ideas. I haven’t time to read all the above right now.

    My questions are for AAI and Dawkins, because they are the ones responsible for this lamentable situation:

    The Richard Dawkins Award is given to one who “advocates increased scientific knowledge.” On what efforts, in the furtherance of science, did the selection committee base this award to Bill Maher?

    This Award is suppose to go to an “outstanding ATHEIST” who “mirrors the UNCOMPROMISING nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.” Yet Bill Maher has gone on record that he is not an atheist. Please explain how this award is not compromising.

    Who was on the selection committee?

    For Dawkins:

    What will be your position should Mr. Maher defend his anti-vax position in the future by referring to his prestigious science award, given to him by none other than Richard Dawkins?

  93. #93 Linda Rosa
    September 28, 2009

    From the AAI Website —

    http://www.atheistalliance.org/Latest/AAI-Announces-Site-of-2009-Convention.html

    “We are also pleased to announce that Bill Maher, effervescent host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and host and co-producer of the 2008 documentary movie Religulous, will be in attendance Friday evening to receive the 2009 AAI Richard Dawkins Award for his efforts to further the values science and reason in the world.”

  94. #94 Neill Raper
    September 28, 2009

    Regarding PZ Myers Comment.

    I don’t think the issue is whether Dawkins accepts alt med bullshit. Clearly he does not and PZ rightly told everyone to avoid questions about specific alt med claims. The issue is that Dawkins does not seem to really care about the extent and depth of Bill Mahers dogmatism when it comes to medical issue.

    True, atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in God(s). The modern “atheist movement” is about more than that however. It is also about the ability of reason and science, when properly wielded, to improve the human condition. This is something that I know Dawkins understands on principle because I have heard him say as much. The question then is why he is willing to ignore the blatant undermining of medical science just because the person doing it raised the profile of atheism, especially considering medical science is one of the best examples of an area where science and reason have immeasurably improved the human condition.

    Either Dawkins does not realize the extent of Mahers idiocy on this issue, in which case he should be educated, or he does not care, in which case he should be argued with.

    I’m all for asking Dawkins plenty of interesting questions about his new book but that does not mean that someone should not ask him about Maher.

    Like PZ said though, don’t ask him if he supports alt med. Just watch “The Enemies of Reason” for your answer to that one.

  95. #95 rc-moore.myopenid.com
    September 28, 2009

    So, public health is not a big issue? Sorry, but you guys are DEAD WRONG on this Maher thing. You should stop trying to polish the turd.

    If you can find some evidence that Bill Maher, in any significant way, has any influence on anything in the public health arena, please present it.

    Otherwise, quit using your personal self-righteousness as an excuse for your inability to leave your mother’s basement and join the real world.

  96. #96 Paul Murray
    September 28, 2009

    “It seems that this retarded award is for a bunch of opinionated jerks patting themselves on the back. Oh how brave and brilliant that you discredit religions! – That’s like getting praise for beating up the cripple in middle school.”

    A cripple that is responsible for a history of wars, that has tortured thousands and would still be doing it today if it weren’t illegal, a cripple that kills children by persuading their parents to pray rather than go see a doctor, a cripple that denies information about contraception to millions of impoverished women all over te world.

    Feh. In case you haven’t noticed, religion is no cripple. It’s a “roaring lion, that goes about seeking whom it may devour”.

  97. #97 Joseph C.
    September 28, 2009

    If you can find some evidence that Bill Maher, in any significant way, has any influence on anything in the public health arena, please present it.

    You don’t see a problem with him vigorously and persistently presenting his anti-medicine views on national TV?

    Why don’t you just admit you just don’t care about this issue at all? As long as he bashes the fundies, he’s cool.

  98. #98 Neill Raper
    September 28, 2009

    Oh and as for all this “Bill Maher is not an atheist” horseshit. Come on, thats just a stupid rhetorical tool that Maher uses. I don’t like it at all, I think he is being dishonest and just trying to win openmindedness points. According to any reasonable definition of atheist however, Bill Maher is an atheist. That is to say that Bill Maher lacks a belief in God. He is on record time and time again stating quite clearly that he does not have a belief in God.

    Please, please, please, just drop this “Maher is not an atheist” thing.

    I could go around telling people I was not a human until I was blue in the face and that would not to anything change the fact that I obviously am.

  99. #99 redfish123
    September 28, 2009

    Apparently, accomodationists are only bad when it comes to religion

    Word.

    It sort of makes a mockery of your own award, something that is suppose to go (in the words of the RDA award itself) to someone who “advocates increased scientific knowledge” to someone like Bill Maher. It seem as though their atheism may blinded them to some of their honouree’s faults.

    I’m not saying that people should shout this point out at Dawkins or Maher, but why is it out of bounds to at least question what’s going on? Dawkin’s no sacred cow (anyway, if he ever came upon one, his instincts would be to tip it over).

  100. #100 Jennifer B. Phillips
    September 28, 2009

    In PZ’s defense, I think the excerpted para in 57/58 loses a bit when taken out of context. I’d encourage everyone to read the whole post, after which I think it will be obvious that PZ is very much in support of asking these questions and seeking accountability, including specific suggestions for how to do this effectively.

    rc-moore, cool your jets and quit whining. You’re not winning any hearts and minds to the AAI cause with your derisive responses her or at Pharyngula.

    If you can find some evidence that Bill Maher, in any significant way, has any influence on anything in the public health arena, please present it.

    Yeah, this pretty much sealed the deal for me. If AAI is full of inane apologist tripe like this, you can keep it.

    Maher has been an extremely vocal proponent of AltMed for years. He shares his opinions on this topic every chance he gets. He is a woomeister extraordinaire, and he has millions of fans who hate ‘the Man’ as much as he does, and thus who sit up and take notice when he rails against the monolithic ‘Western Medicine’, etc. I’m not arguing for a minute that he shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever the hell he wants, but he should be held accountable for it and challenged on his loonier ideas. Instead, you guys are giving him the Richard Frakking Dawkins award and telling us we should all just get along and this is the real world, gosh darn it, not a the comforting womb of the internet echo chamber where everyone thinks exactly like we do. Get over yourself, asshat. Maher is a horrible choice. Own it.

  101. #101 mk
    September 28, 2009

    For Neill…

    http://www.slashfilm.com/article.php/20060607231237533

    “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.”

    Also see this:
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-september-30-2008/bill-maher-pt–2

  102. #102 Paul J.
    September 28, 2009

    What makes this all the more tricky is the fact, as someone pointed out earlier, that Maher seems to switch back and forth from this quackery as it suits him.

    If embracing viruses and vaccines can help him score a point against Bush, he does it in a second.

    What the heck are his views anyway?

  103. #103 Hume's Razor
    September 28, 2009

    By all means, urge Dawkins to distance himself from Maher’s appaling antisciense, but let’s not waste any time on casting spurious doubts about his general attitude toward medical pseudoscience.

  104. #104 DLC
    September 28, 2009

    For some reason I can’t help but think of Wallace and Grommit and the Wrong Trousers.

  105. #105 Neill Raper
    September 28, 2009

    mk: Again, I am not disputing that Bill Maher has claimed to not be an atheist. That quote where he says he believes in God is old as hell. He has stated several times that he does not have any belief in God. When he interviews atheists he is in complete agreement with them (almost to a fault).

    Some Examples.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3pExZs9IJA&feature=player_embedded#t=16

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tRpbkpNpgw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqNKD_nmXqM

    For the last time. Bill Maher has indeed said repeatedly that he is “not an atheist”. This is either a rhetorical strategy for making himself seem open minded or just a byproduct of a misunderstanding he has about what being an atheist actually is. In either case he is in fact an atheist. He used to believe in God, now he does not.

  106. #106 rb
    September 28, 2009

    I think Dawkins and PZ’s hypocrisy is showing BIG TIME. Forgive maher’s “sins” because he produced a crappy movie against religion, yet always call out “accomidationists” who do more to promote science than PZ ever has (Dawkins has done good science promotion).

  107. #107 mrcreosote
    September 28, 2009

    @Bill Maher
    Robin Warren and Barry Marshall have conclusively shown that Helicobacter Pylori is responsible for most cases of gastritis and recurring duodenal and gastric ulcers, and is easily treated by conventional antibiotics – work for which they both received the Nobel Prize in 2005. Given your dismissal of ‘germ theory’ what is your alternative explanation for their results? Also, if you are confident that H.Pylori is not responsible for causing gastritis, would you be willing to replicate Barry Marshall’s experiment, and ingest a beaker of H.Pylori?

  108. #108 bob
    September 28, 2009

    That Pharyngula post was the pussyfootiest thing I’ve ever seen PZ write. He’s certainly not being as ridiculous and asinine as some of the people leaving comments defending the award here and elsewhere, but his lack of palpable anger is stark. This is frankly embarrassing, and that ought to be explicitly pointed out.

    Atheism isn’t something unto itself, as the term itself implies. If atheists don’t realize this, they’re going to turn into the ridiculous South Park parody of atheism.

  109. #109 Tyler DiPietro
    September 28, 2009

    Forgive maher’s “sins”…

    I don’t see anyone being particularly forgiving of Maher’s transgressions against all that is reasonable and scientific, but simply noting that he has made arguably positive contributions to the goal of mainstreaming secularism.

    I don’t actually advocate that position, but I can appreciate its consistency. You can simultaneously admire Ken Miller’s public advocacy of good science and science education while not pulling punches on his more sloppy views on the compatibility of science and faith. In the same way you can denounce Bill Maher for his promotion of quackery while applauding his promotion of secularism.

    Lest there be any ambiguity about my own position on this, here it is: Maher should absolutely not be given any award for which promoting scientific thinking is a criterion.

  110. #110 Snout
    September 28, 2009

    To RD:

    How can atheism claim to be a cogent position if it is not founded in respect for reason and evidence? How can giving an award in your name to someone who is widely and publicly known for treating evidence-based medical science with contempt do anything other than undermine the credibility of atheism?

  111. #111 rc-moore.myopenid.com
    September 28, 2009

    rc-moore, cool your jets and quit whining. You’re not winning any hearts and minds to the AAI cause with your derisive responses her or at Pharyngula.

    I protested Bill Maher from the beginning. I lost. I am an adult and moved on.

    Calling those who don’t just post comments, but bring this fight directly to the religious who would like a theocracy in the US “asshats” is certainly is working for the betterment of the cause.

    I guess we could all just stop, and leave it up to all the blog site commenters. I am sure it is much more effective.

  112. #112 rbarber
    September 28, 2009

    Memetics is about as much of science as is evolutionary psychology when applied to humans. It is more of a philosophy or psychoanalysis because it is subject to the biases of interpretation of the author. It is founded on controversial premises, like that all human learning is imitation and non-creative. You shouldn’t cite creating the “meme” as scientific cred for Dawkins.

  113. #113 Skepacabra
    September 29, 2009

    To Dawkins:
    On a scale of 1 to 2, how excited are you to have your name attached to someone who feels vaccines are among the greatest weapons of mass destruction man has ever created?

    To Maher:
    Vaccines: great weapon of mass destruction or greatest weapon of mass destruction?

  114. #114 Dr Benway
    September 29, 2009

    It is founded on controversial premises, like that all human learning is imitation and non-creative.

    Ah, no. Memetics requires some method for meme initialization, selection, and reproduction. The method doesn’t have to reside within a human brain. Genetic algorithms, for example, happen within a software environment.

    Gene replication is really just a special case of meme replication.

  115. #115 Dr Benway
    September 29, 2009

    Professor Dawkins:

    What do you imagine John Diamond might say to Mr. Maher if he were alive today?

    John Diamond was never going to go gentle into that good night. When he did go it was with guns blazing, for the splendidly polemical chapters of Snake Oil occupied him right up to the end, working against not so much the clock as time’s wingèd chariot itself. He does not rage against the dying of the light, nor against his wicked cancer, nor against cruel fate. What would be the point, for what would they care? His targets are capable of wincing when hit. They are targets that deserve to be hit hard, targets whose neutralisation would leave the world a better place: cynical charlatans (or honestly foolish dreamers) who prey on gullible unfortunates. And the best part is that although this gallant man is dead, his guns are not silenced. He left a strong emplacement. This posthumous book launches his broadside. Open fire, and don’t stop.

  116. #116 Aj
    September 29, 2009

    To Bill,
    Have you ever seen Professor Dawkins’ documentary series “The Enemies of Reason”?

    To Professor Dawkins,
    Have you ever seen your documentary series “The Enemies of Reason”?

  117. #117 Snggle
    September 29, 2009

    Oh, ho! Woo medicine: The creation-science of the left.

    It’s funny to watch atheistic liberals writhe in pain over the lack of “intellectual purity” of the majority of the left’s voters. I mean, going after Dawkins, just because he doesn’t demand Maher’s head on a platter? Who says atheists can’t be fundies?

    Be careful, if you alienate the woophiles, you’ll never be able to elect another D again!

    Look what happened to McSame when he realized too late that the RR was his only ticket to the oval office. Some voters actually have long memories…

  118. #118 Hume's Razor
    September 29, 2009

    Perhaps one of the apostles can shed some light onto the subject. Has he ever in his writing explicitly stated vaccine support and/or spoken out against the anti-vax movement?

    The following quote from part 2 of Enemies of Reason should settle that matter:

    …inn 1998 the publicising of one survey of twelve children that wrongly linked MMR vaccines with autism prompted hundreds of thousands of parents to opt their children out of entirely sensible innoculations. A hyped-up insinuation that the government and the medical establishment were conspiring to sacrifice our next generation to autism has left up to a fifth of our children entirely unprotected agains rubella, mumps and measles, a disease with complications such as brain-injury and deafness. There have now been epidemics in Kent and Yorkshire and the first death from measles in 14 years. It’s an accute example of the danger of devaluing evidence.

    The question here is not what side Dawkins is on – He is clearly on the side of science and skepticism – but whether or not Maher’s criticism of religion earns him a free ticket to endorse dangerous nonsense in other areas – it clearly doesn’t.

  119. #119 Treppenwitz
    September 29, 2009

    To Professor Dawkins,
    Have you ever seen your documentary series “The Enemies of Reason”?

    This is my favorite.

  120. #120 Sam C
    September 29, 2009
    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.

    Well, here’s a list of posts by me and others to educate Professor Dawkins and fill in this rather glaring hole in his knowledge base

    Maybe Richard Dawkins – a Brit – doesn’t feel that it’s part of his life’s work to keep up to date with every American loudmouth? Bill Maher is not known at all on the eastern side of the pond. I don’t know if Religulous had a UK release, but it wouldn’t be of much interest in the UK.

    And maybe Dawkins(perhaps unwisely) assumed that AAI would have done their own “background checks” before deciding to make the award? I don’t understand why you blame Dawkins rather than those who chose to make the award!

  121. #121 Treppenwitz
    September 29, 2009

    And maybe Dawkins(perhaps unwisely) assumed that AAI would have done their own “background checks” before deciding to make the award? I don’t understand why you blame Dawkins rather than those who chose to make the award!

    Well, he saw and liked Religulous, so he was at least aware of Maher’s existence. His post on Pharyngula about giving the award to Maher was made over two months ago, so he’s had ample time to, say, click on any of the many links flying around ScienceBlogs regarding Maher’s nonsense.

  122. #122 Tom
    September 29, 2009

    @121
    Because his name is on the award and he is handing it out?

    How can the maker of the documentary “Enemies of Reason” agree to and hand out an award to someone who would be a great punch ball in that very program (which would be a nice questions to ask Dawkins, by the way)?

    While Dawkins did not make the selection, he could have distanced himself from it or refused to hand it out. He did neither, so part of the blame goes to him.

  123. #123 rb
    September 29, 2009

    sorry tyler, but we are being asked to “forgive” his sins. simply because he is outspoken against religion. has he ever even made a decent argument in this regard, NO! he just rants. I could probably find a rant that Bill O’reily, Glenn Beck or any of the nutjobs on the right have done that athiests would agree with, should we give them a Dawkins?

  124. #124 rb
    September 29, 2009

    oh, one more thing. It is largely due to the fact that Maher had such a hard on for Ann Coulter that she gained such pop status. Her PR folks knew how to milk a horny, middle aged, failing comedian to get her lots of air time in her short miniskirts when he had the late night ABC TV show.

    Bill Maher= Fail

  125. #125 mk
    September 29, 2009

    Neill,

    “That quote is old as hell…” ? If by old as hell you mean about two years ago… Um, OK. Whatever.

    As with everything else the man seems to be all over the place. However, it seems very important to you that he fall in the atheist camp. Can’t figure why.

    In those videos I just sat through he not once says he’s an atheist. Yes, he’s appears sympathetic to each interviewee, but that’s about it.

    You state very strongly that he is in fact an atheist and that he does not believe in god. Where does that come from? I’ve posted at least two occasions where he criticizes atheists and claims to believe in god. And by the way, it was April of 2008 when he was yucking it up with Dawkins and just 5 months later he was on The Daily Show claiming atheism was the mirror image of religious fundamentalism.

    Like I said before, he looks as if he’s still trying to find himself (in his mid fifties!?)… fine. But to me he just looks like a fool.

  126. #126 Kismet
    September 29, 2009

    @rb, yes, it does seem hypocritical to me too. But claiming that Myers has not done a lot to promote science is friggin ridiculous.

  127. #127 SLC
    September 29, 2009

    Re tb

    Bill Maher had the hots for Ms. (Mr.) Ann Coulter? That alone should call into question any and all of his views.

  128. #128 Bill
    September 29, 2009

    For Bill Maher:
    Mr. Maher, one of the dangers that I have always believed that organized religion poses for people is that it promotes praying when one is sick as a plea for being cured. There is, of course, no evidence that people that pray when sick have any greater a chance of being cured than those of us that don’t. Don’t you beleive than, that anything that is promoted as a cure for ANY disease or sickness should be held to a high level of factual scrutiny and scientific study so that people are not taken advantage of like those that are told to pray for a cure? Do you have such evidence to support the claims that alternative treatments for cancer have a higher rate of cure than conventional medicine treatments?

  129. #129 Tom M
    September 29, 2009

    Maher’s positions on alternative medicine reflect in part those of the people he hangs around with. He’s great friends with Arianna Huffrington, one of the looser cannons when it comes to alternative medicine as well as any number of other Hollywood types who are eager to lap up bullshit like that because it makes them so counter-cultural.
    They’re all extremely rich, or are hoping to be, and, like any circle of friends and dinner companions, their conversations tend to be self-reinforcing.
    But, hey, lots of liberals just love Arianna now, although back in 1999/2000 she did her best to stab Al Gore with the “he’s phony” label.

  130. #130 J. J. Ramsey
    September 29, 2009

    Sastra:

    The Dawkins Award this year is inscribed:
    “for outstanding contribution to freethought
    in Religulous
    and many insightful criticisms of religion
    presented to Bill Maher
    by Atheist Alliance International
    Oct 2, 2009.”

    Outstanding contribution? As I pointed out about a year back, ‘Maher credulously repeats the quote mine of John Adams saying “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.’ The stuff about the parallels between Jesus and pagan deities looks like it was from Acharya S, or the Internet urban legends spawned by her. I know at the very least that everything he said about Mithras was bogus, and the claim that Horus was born of a virgin is a downright howler.” Religulous isn’t all bad, but I can’t see how a movie that uncritically repeats common canards can be considered outstanding.

  131. #131 J. J. Ramsey
    September 29, 2009

    Sorry, the link in the last post should be http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2008/10/religulous.php#comment-1153239

  132. #132 redfish123
    September 29, 2009

    That Pharyngula post was the pussyfootiest thing I’ve ever seen PZ write.

    Yeah. This part got me.

    PZ Myers:

    If you find yourself with a chance to ask Richard Dawkins questions, though, please stick to issues that interest him. If you ask him about acupuncture, he’s going to be as dismissive as all of us other skeptics, so there really isn’t much point to going on about it. Don’t waste an opportunity to converse with Dawkins on a bunch of annoying noise. OK?

    Not that I think people should brandish pitchforks and torches, but why the comment to stick to “issues that interest him?” What sort of conversation of dialogue worth having is one-side?

    This also has nothing to do with whether Dawkins believes in woo, but why he thinks it’s appropriate for someone who does to get an award that is suppose to go to someone who “advocates increased scientific knowledge.” Nice dodge Myers.

    I respect Dawkins’ work, but it’s one of those situations where grandpa’s got his pants around his ankles at dinner time, but we’re all suppose to look away and pretend it’s not happening.

  133. #133 procyon
    September 29, 2009

    From PZ’s blog a few days ago regarding medical quackery…”I can’t call it good news, but at least it’s a small measure of justice. Thomas and Manju Sam have been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison between them. Now if only we could punish all the other peddlers of quack nostrums who contribute to human suffering…”…. unless of course they’re being honored buy Richard Dawkins.

  134. #134 Andreas Johansson
    September 29, 2009

    @Bill Maher:

    Mr Maher, you’ve repeatedly denied being an atheist. Why, then, are you accepting this award?

  135. #135 Antaeus Feldspar
    September 29, 2009

    it’s hard to be a good skeptic without being an atheist.

    I would say that not only is this claim untrue but promulgating it is damaging to the skeptical community. There are many of us out here who believe in God in a spiritual sense and do not expect to see God in a tangible form in the world. We pray to God that he will give us peace in our hearts, courage when we are weak, strength to make it through the dark places of our lives, and we fight against those who want to teach in the schools that God must have designed the banana or that only a selected list of sexual practices are acceptable to God.

    And yet too many so-called “skeptics” will leap joyfully to make enemies out of those who could be allies. “Haha! You don’t absolutely and automatically reject God in any form whatsoever! That means I’m automatically smarter than you, you loser!” Not even a month ago, I was at a convention with a sizable skeptic track. A lot of it sounded interesting, so why did I stay away? Because too much of it was coming from people who not only assumed that skeptics were automatically atheists but that to be an atheist was itself to be a skeptic (a tenet that the counter-example of Maher effectively refutes.)

  136. #136 Irene Delse
    September 29, 2009

    PZ’s Monday post on the award “the pussyfootest” thing he ever wrote? We don’t seem to have read the same article, then.

    Maher made a provocative movie about religion this year, Religulous, and that’s the kind of thing we want to acknowledge and encourage, but at the same time… Maher is as loopy as they come on medical matters. He’s a conspiracy theorist who blames Big Pharma for controlling health care, thinks modern medicine is a failure, and promotes ‘alternative’ therapies that don’t work. It is a serious embarrassment.

    I think it is an excellent idea to ask difficult questions and put Maher on the spot, as Orac has proposed, and the last thing any skeptic or rationalist should do is ask critics to be silent.”

    If that is “pussyfooting”, excuse me while I miaow! ;-)

  137. #137 Pablo
    September 29, 2009

    Prof Dawkins

    PZ Myers has suggested that we should avoid confronting you about your reluctance to distance yourself from Bill Maher’s anti-vaccination position, and stick to topics that interest you. Can you confirm Prof. Myers’s implication that you are not interested in fighting against those epouse an anti-scientific approach when it comes to medicine?

  138. #138 JohnV
    September 29, 2009

    @rc-moore:

    “I am an adult and moved on.”

    “Otherwise, quit using your personal self-righteousness as an excuse for your inability to leave your mother’s basement and join the real world. ”

    That’s verrrrrrrrrry adult of you :p

  139. #139 Antaeus Feldspar
    September 29, 2009

    quit using your personal self-righteousness as an excuse for your inability to leave your mother’s basement

    Someone who is trying to chastise others for their supposed “childishness” should know better than to stoop to this kind of ad hominem assault.

  140. #140 Orac
    September 29, 2009

    Indeed. I laughed when I saw that whole “mother’s basement” bit. The guy could at least come up with something even a wee bit more original than that.

    Oh wait. Apparently he can’t. Apparently to him that’s rapier wit.

  141. #141 rb
    September 29, 2009

    Kismet,

    PZ had the BEST science blog, now its just another hack. He let himself get sidetracked. Thats fine if he wishes, he is an interesting outspoken evangelist for atheism, but he has let the science slide. Its still there, but not front and center. His choice. I find that folks like ORAC are doing more for promoting science in a critically important area. PZ not so much anymore. thats my two cents. I’ll await his book.

    Religulous=Expelled. Both crappy. I can think of many more people fighting the honest atheist fight in public than Maher. He is simply the showiest and easiest to get PR for. It isn’t and HONOR its a PR stunt.

  142. #142 bob
    September 29, 2009

    @Irene (#137):

    You might want to take a look at Pablo’s question for Dawkins at #138, then go re-read PZ’s post. You’d be more correct if it were someone else, but this is PZ Myers we’re talking about. He’s a guy who’ll fly off the handle about a link someone sent him, and not notice that it’s from 2005. Yet here, he wants you to be careful to not waste Dr. Dawkins’ time or offend Mr. Maher’s sensibilities at this glorious event. You either aren’t a regular reader of Pharyngula, or you’re deluding yourself that PZ isn’t making a special case for the sake of Dawkins, AAI, or atheism in general.

    Again, I’ll point out that atheism isn’t exactly a cause unto itself. If you disagree with that notion, take it up with the AAI and their Richard Dawkins award. It normally and nominally goes to someone who “advocates increased scientific knowledge.” And, their supposed “values” include: reason, science, knowledge, progress, empiricism, ethics, and responsibility. None of those things are implicitly atheistic. And, Maher embodies none of them.

  143. #143 Sastra
    September 29, 2009

    I think you can still make a case that Maher’s outspoken stance against the value of religion has helped mainstream non-belief in a culture which tends to treat all religious criticism — let alone mockery — with disapproval. There’s a real need for prominent voices to “break the spell” faith holds on too many. Maher, the popular entertainer, is valuable in this cause.

    But that’s only part of the criteria. The case against Maher getting the Dawkins Award, specifically, is much better. On principle — and we should always hold to principles — the critics are right. There’s a much larger picture.

    It’s a screw up.

  144. #144 Pablo
    September 29, 2009

    But that’s only part of the criteria.

    This has been the biggest problem for me. There were stated criteria, and I thought they were good. Yet, they blatently ignored entire components of them. Now it seems they have even retro-actively changed the criteria in order to make Maher qualify.

  145. #145 Jennifer B. Phillips
    September 29, 2009

    @rc-moore:

    Calling those who don’t just post comments, but bring this fight directly to the religious who would like a theocracy in the US “asshats” is certainly is working for the betterment of the cause.

    It’s rather arrogant to assume that I have any knowledge of whatever noble activism for the godless you may be involved in. I called you an asshat based solely upon the content of your comments here and at Pharyngula, and I stand by that assessment. Whether or not one you are one in meat-space is quite beside the point.

    I guess we could all just stop, and leave it up to all the blog site commenters. I am sure it is much more effective.

    And while you write as though your great atheist works are widely heralded and must into account before insulting you, you don’t allow for the possibility that others here might also take their ideologies into their own communities and affect change on some level; that some of us just might be more than mere ‘blog site commenters’; that in fact the whole point of this discussion is to determine how taking specific actions *in real life* could make gains for science and reason. Hmmmmmm.

    I get that Atheist ≠ Skeptic. I get that participation in the AAI is, in general, more about creating a supportive community for nonbelievers than it is about science and reason, even though the most prominent members all appear to be proponents of both. What I and many others are specifically objecting to is that an award whose criteria all stress reason and scientific inquiry is being given to an undeserving recipient. Regardless of how it might benefit the AAI membership to give this award to such a high-profile religion basher, the cost to science and reason is, in my view, too dear. I don’t have a vested interest in AAI, but if I did, I don’t think my opinion would be any different.

    And while I’m sure it’s very healthy (and adult!!!!) of you to have dealt with this bit of unpleasantness and moved on, please pardon the rest of us if we continue to discuss ways in which we can productively express the views that are important to us regarding this particular incident.

  146. #146 Sastra
    September 29, 2009

    Pablo #145 wrote:

    Now it seems they have even retro-actively changed the criteria in order to make Maher qualify.

    Retro-actively change the criteria? I’m not sure what you mean. If it’s the wording on the Dawkins Award itself, that’s just honesty, and accuracy. It’s the specific reason Maher is getting the award. It’s not for any contributions to a general scientific approach to thinking.

    I understand, and agree with your point that it should be, and thus not Maher. But given that it is Maher, best to be clear and truthful.

  147. #147 Pablo
    September 29, 2009

    Retro-actively change the criteria? I’m not sure what you mean. If it’s the wording on the Dawkins Award itself, that’s just honesty, and accuracy.

    Yeah, honesty in that they are giving the award for THIS and not for the criteria that they have stated in the past.

  148. #148 Sastra
    September 29, 2009

    Pablo:
    Ah, I see. Ok.

  149. #149 Pablo
    September 29, 2009

    Can someone please tell me why I keep getting a “Registration is required” error over at PZ Myers blog? What registration?

  150. #150 Sastra
    September 29, 2009

    Pablo #150 wrote:

    Can someone please tell me why I keep getting a “Registration is required” error over at PZ Myers blog? What registration?

    Typekey registration: PZ’s trying to keep out spammers. I was going to post the link for you, but for some reason I’m having problems. Instead, try SEF’s link at #30 on the “Richard Dawkins says we’re descended from frogs” thread (she’s constantly posting it as a public service, and it’s the only one that finally got me on.)

    Question: given that Maher is getting the Dawkins Award, what would you have preferred to have on the inscription? Seriously.

  151. #151 JohnV
    September 29, 2009

    Better inscription: Broken clock right twice a day?

  152. #152 catta
    September 29, 2009

    Question: given that Maher is getting the Dawkins Award, what would you have preferred to have on the inscription?

    If at all, and since it appears to be inevitable:
    “For his outstanding achievements in raising awareness of nontheism”.
    Leave out the claim that he’s an atheist, leave out the claim that he’s representative of a “stance” commonly adopted by a loosely-defined-as-it-is community.

    For all I know, his “life stance” is “don’t think too hard”. Or possibly “seated behind a desk and kinda slouchy”.

    “Life stance” is a terrible construction to begin with, and is completely unnessecary even in the basic description of the award.

  153. #153 Sastra
    September 29, 2009

    catta #153 wrote:

    Leave out the claim that he’s an atheist, leave out the claim that he’s representative of a “stance” commonly adopted by a loosely-defined-as-it-is community.

    The current wording (on the physical award itself) is in post #75.

  154. #154 Pablo
    September 29, 2009

    I think the inscription should indicate what the award is for, not why it is for him. Presumably, he is supposed to reflect what the award is for, not the other way around.

    I’ll admit, it is difficult to have an inscription that describes the award AND give it to Bill Maher, but that’s kind of the point…

  155. #155 Kismet
    September 29, 2009

    Antaeus Feldspar, I have to disagree. If you are an honest sceptic, eventually you shoud turn out to be an agnostic (and not just weak ass teapot agnostic) or an agnostic, atheist. Otherwise you’re merely sceptical of the things that don’t fit your worldview.

    And what do you mean about “god in a spiritual sense”? If you waste your time praying to god, while not praying to the tooth fairy, gnomes, dragons and demons there’s also something awfully wrong with your scepticism. Either Dog exists, or he doesn’t and it’s your imagination…

  156. #156 Frank Latendresse
    September 29, 2009

    To Bill Maher:

    Do you understand why double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies are ultimately necessary to evaluate the veracity of claims put forth by both traditional scientific medicine, and so-called “alternative” medicine?

  157. #157 Pablo
    September 29, 2009

    Do you understand why double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies are ultimately necessary to evaluate the veracity of claims put forth by both traditional scientific medicine, and so-called “alternative” medicine?

    I’m not sure I agree. Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies are not always necessary. Where is the DBRPC study proving the efficacy of parachutes for jumping out of airplanes? In something more relavent to medicine, how about one showing the effectiveness of an appendectomy? As Orac points out, such a study would be unethical.

    In fact, the “you can ONLY use DBRPC studies” is the current position of the anti-vaxxers, who can’t accept things like epidemiology.

  158. #158 jake
    September 29, 2009

    From Maher’s Twitter:
    http://twitter.com/billmaher/status/4403617471
    “If u get a swine flu shot ur an idiot.”

  159. #159 Frank Latendresse
    September 29, 2009

    I agree with your criticism Pablo. Substitute the word “ultimately” for “almost always” in my original question.

  160. #160 Antaeus Feldspar
    September 29, 2009

    I think Kismet demonstrates my point well; instead of considering whether alliances between skeptical atheists and skeptical believers can advance goals that they hold in common (I would like to think that, say, public health might be a high priority goal for both camps?) Kismet’s immediate response is to dismiss the very possibility of a skeptical believer and immediately start trying to alienate that skeptical believer. At least I have to assume that alienation was the goal, because shoddy logic of the kind displayed (“If you believe in one thing I don’t believe in, you obviously believe in everything I don’t believe in!”) is certainly not going to convince or impress anyone who isn’t already a convert.

  161. #161 rb
    September 29, 2009

    My suggestion to replace Bill Maher: Posthumous award to George Carlin, a true atheist and funny guy (don’t know if he went for quack meds, but even if he did he was way cooler than Bill), or Kevin Smith, whose movie Dogma was way better than Religulous and also exposed some of the sillyness of religion. Or Phillip Pullman, who pulled off writing a decent (though still flawed) series showing the sterility of religion, even in a magical world.

  162. #162 Kismet
    September 29, 2009

    Antaeus Feldspar, I couldn’t care less about strategical alliances and whatnot when I am directly addressing one specifical point you made. Therefore, your retort is completely besides the point [and, no, I do not approve of your religious accomodationalism. FWIW we can form alliances on health topics while *strongly* disapproving of superstitious beliefs and pointing out that they're silly.]

    Would you be so kind to answer the questions? How can you sceptically examine belief and not arrive at the conclusion that agnosticism (and not the 50:50 variety) and atheism is justified? Please, explain you reasoning.
    What is this spiritual but non-material god you were speaking of? How do you justify praying to god, which god and why not demons and elves?

    I just fear that you simpy mischaracterised sceptics in your post; not those posters claiming that most sceptics should be atheists.

  163. #163 Neill Raper
    September 29, 2009

    mk:
    Regarding the quote. The article is two years old, the quote is not. He used to believe in God, now he does not.

    Let me state, yet again, that I am not claiming that Maher self identifies as an atheist. I actually specifically said that. I was not trying to demonstrate that Maher has said the words “I am an atheist”. I was trying to demonstrate that the man clearly read the God Delusion and found no issues with it that he felt he needed to explore on the air. He sucked up to Dawkins and called God an imaginary friend, despite the fact that Dawkins takes a very hard line against any and all Gods, not just the obviously false ones. Same for every other atheist interviewee he has ever had on the show. You would think that if he believed in God he would have at least one critical question for at least one of the atheists he has had on his show.

    Interestingly enough the only time he claims that he is not an atheist he is being interviewed by a potentially hostile source. On top of that all recent quotes I have heard from Maher where he makes this claim he commits a classic misunderstanding of what being an atheist is by saying it “mirrors religious certainty”, thus implying that all atheists are absolutely certain of God nonexistance. This is simply not true, and never has been true. In fact he corrects this fallacy himself in the Dawkins interview so I would suspect that the only reason he continues to commit it is rhetoric.

    As for it being important to me that Maher fall into the atheist camp. I might actually prefer if he didn’t, he is kind of an idiot, certainly not very thoughtful even when he displays a bit of wit. I completely agree that he looks like a fool. It is not important to me that he is an atheist, it simply happens to be true that he is. In light of this it is very very silly to list Maher not being an atheist among the otherwise legitimate complaints with the AAI.

    Maher looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, and I frankly don’t care if he is claiming to be a chicken.

  164. #164 mk
    September 29, 2009

    I am often pretty dense Neill. I think I finally get where you’re coming from.

    I once heard Robert Wright on the Diane Rehm show (I think that was it.) And half way through I thought to myself, Jesus! What is wrong with this guy? Everything he says suggests he’s an atheist, but he refuses to say it. In fact he kept criticizing those who were atheists, yet in substance they said nothing different from him.

  165. #165 redfish123
    September 29, 2009

    If anything Maher shows anything it’s that being an atheist/agnostic/whatever doesn’t make one immune from silly beliefs, just as being religious doesn’t automatically make you a moral person.

    How can you sceptically examine belief and not arrive at the conclusion that agnosticism (and not the 50:50 variety) and atheism is justified? Please, explain you reasoning.
    What is this spiritual but non-material god you were speaking of? How do you justify praying to god, which god and why not demons and elves?

    Could be it be that some people approach religion on a non-fundamentalist level? The world’s a complex place, and the theories people create are even more so. Not all Christians actually believe in a material God. (As Joseph Campbell once noted, “Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”)

  166. #166 Neill Raper
    September 30, 2009

    mk:
    Honestly I agree with Sam Harris that atheist should not be the term that the “atheist movement” uses to describe itself. I know some atheists who are thoughtless idiots, and why shouldn’t I. Atheism does not imply anything but the rejection of God belief, it says nothing about whether you rejected it for good reasons. I think a better description of the worldview being advanced by Dawkins and the like is rationalism. Among other things this would highlight how absurd it is for Maher to be receiving this award, along with avoiding the “what about Stalin” questions that get lobbed out at every single debate I have seen or engaged in on the subject.

    @redfish
    If you believe that God is just a metaphor that should not be “interpreted as fact” than I’m sorry, but you my friend are an atheist.

    Allow me to edit the quote you provided to illustrate my point.

    Every star wars movie is true in one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.

  167. #167 redfish123
    September 30, 2009

    Every star wars movie is true in one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.

    If you ever tried using The Force, you often find that Star Wars isn’t “factually” correct. No matter how sophisticated science becomes, I doubt we’ll ever get lightsabres (damn). Thankfully, Ewoks don’t exist.

    If you believe that God is just a metaphor that should not be “interpreted as fact” than I’m sorry, but you my friend are an atheist.

    Atheism is by definition the belief in no God, but if your concept of God is that he’s the representation of an idea (metaphore: a figure of speech in which one thing is referred to as another), how would that make you an atheist? It’s just a non-fundamentalist concept of God.

  168. #168 akorozco
    September 30, 2009

    How would Maher react to the HIV/AIDS vaccine? (http://www.newsy.com/videos/positive_step_toward_cure_for_hiv_aids) It would end one of the biggest health crises of our time.

  169. #169 Militant Agnostic
    September 30, 2009

    Honestly I agree with Sam Harris that atheist should not be the term that the “atheist movement” uses to describe itself.

    I like Gary Trudeau’s (Doonesbury Comic Strip) term “Reasonists”

  170. #170 Neill Raper
    September 30, 2009

    Sorry for the derailing, in penance here is a question for Maher.
    You have been an outspoken critic of global warming denialism, pointing out that much of the right wing denies the scientific consensus in favor of their conservative ideology. In light of this why do you choose to ignore the clear scientific consensus on specific issues of medical science like germ theory and cancer treatment?

    redfish:
    So God is a figure of speech? Well I certainly believe in figures of speech, does that make me a theist? The problem here is you are playing fast and loose with the idea of existence. Atheism is specifically the belief that God does not literally exist. There is absolutely nothing in atheism that dictates that I can’t believe that God is a metaphor. Either you believe God literally exists and you are a theist, or not, in which case you are an atheist.

    The point I was making with the star wars thing was that from your definition of belief and existence, I believe that the star wars universe exists. The same could be applied to any fiction with even a little bit of metaphor in it.

    I’m sorry but words mean things. My concept of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that he is just a representation of an idea, there pastafarianism is correct because I have defined it to be so.

    Your “non fundamentalist” concept of God is that he does not exist as anything but a metaphor. So again, sorry, but that makes you a big fat scarlet a wearing virgin sacrificing atheist.

  171. #171 Dr Benway
    October 1, 2009

    How would Maher react to the HIV/AIDS vaccine?

    Ooo. Tricky.

    The religious right might oppose it, ‘cuz HIV is God’s way of reminding you to keep it in your pants. Ergo, Maher should be for it. BUT…

    Maher is an AIDS denialist. Plus the vaccine would not be “natural.” It would be manufactured by a large pharmaceutical corporation. Ergo, Maher should be against it.

    Could go either way.

  172. #172 Everbleed
    October 1, 2009

    Sic ‘em Orac. Give ‘em a piece of our mind. We are with you.

    Thanks “sundeep” for your post #48. Checked out “Sense About Science”. Nice.

    Orac, I hope you have an interesting and enjoyable time. We wait eagerly for your updates.

  173. #173 Doug
    October 3, 2009

    It isn’t just medicine–Maher also insisted (in his Playboy interview) that astrology is real.

  174. #174 Orac
    October 3, 2009

    Really? Anyone got a link?

  175. #175 Dr Benway
    October 3, 2009

    The only proper answer to “do you believe in astrology?” is a horselaugh. Instead Maher responds with evasion. So guilty as charged in my book. However, Maher sympathizers likely will let him off the hook for this one.

    http://ronmwangaguhunga.blogspot.com/2008/10/bill-maher-believes-in-astrology-image.html

    “Radar: After seeing your film, I found it surprising to read that you believe in both astrology and reincarnation. 


    “Maher: I didn’t come out of the egg believing what I believe now. It was a slow evolution. I was still making deals with God when 
I was 40. It’s never too late to become a rationalist. I’ve always said that I don’t not believe in anything. Could it be that God had a boy named Jesus? It could be. But the lint that’s in my navel now could be God. It could be Furby. Remember Furby? Furby could be God. As far as astrology goes, I use it as a shorthand for character traits, like I’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s a real Capricorn thing.’ The slim reed that would suggest there might be some merit to it is that it’s about planetary positions, which could have some basis in scientific fact. Or it could be a bunch of bullshit.”

  176. #176 Tiberius
    December 21, 2009

    I know I have joined this session very late but I have a two-part question for which I have been seeking an answer for sometime. Perhaps the good Professor might be able to help or this could be conveyed to him in view of its broad implications:

    1. Do you think our world would be a better place if not for past (and present) religious ideologies and institutions with their various persecutions and influence over people’s behaviour and thinking?

    2. If your answer is ‘yes’, would you really prefer that alternative ‘better place’ world in view of the following. Let me explain: Being angry and feeling betrayed by past injustices is understandable but carries an interesting irony since we are the unique children of that past. Just consider the paradox of a person from a conquered land of mixed descent who endures a lifetime of apparently justified indignation reflecting over that part of his indigenous ancestry that were exploited and abused at the hands of invading foreigners who wiped out an ancient civilisation and imposed an alien ideology on the surviving generations. Like us he wonders how much better his world would have been if not for such acts of barbarism. Yet, he doesn’t consider that if those very events had not taken place he would not exist, just as it could be argued we would not exist except for human history occurring precisely as it did. A different set of circumstances impacting on peoples’ movements and meetings around the globe would have resulted in a different gene mix with in turn different circumstances impacting on that mix, and so producing a different lot of descendents at every generation onwards. And modern science has only increased our awareness of the probability factors governing our individual existence. For instance, of the approximately 100-500 million sperm released in every act of human intercourse, with each individual sperm carrying a different genotype, what were the odds that the particular sperm with your genotype would be the successful one to win the race to fertilise the egg? Take this to the next step by multiplying these sperm by the number of successive generations that have occurred in your ancestry since the first humans walked the earth (recent estimates by scientists put this at around 6 million years ago). A different sperm being successful at any level in your lineage and the individual that is you could not now exist. As such we might be grateful for the past, with all its triumphs and tragedies, philosophies and institutions, individuals and events. We need to learn from the past and not be too hasty to want to do away with concepts that are part of our heritage, either because we don’t personally have the standard of proof we demand to satisfy our sense of what can be real or not or have suffered great disadvantage in our own lives as a result of the misuses of these concepts.

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