Respectful Insolence

A report from the field…

…from PZ Myers at the AAI Convention:

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

Good. I daresay he wasn’t made to feel uncomfortable enough.

Dawkins should feel the awkwardness of the decision to give an anti-medical science loon an award that bears his name. Although the AAI screwed up, Dawkins is not blameless. He brought it on himself with his airly dismissive attitude when these concerns were first brought up. I can only hope Dawkins learns from this experience. Maher’s views are far worse than a simple political disagreement, such as the example of Dawkins disagreeing with Christopher Hitchens but remaining able to work with him on other issues. Maher is a medical crank, who is demonstrably wrong about vaccines, HIV, and cancer, among other things, as I documented in a post listing many of the posts about Maher I and others have done over the years to describe just how far into quackery he is. It also didn’t help that the AAI apparently posted signs around the auditorium threatening to expel (word choice intentional) anyone who “disrupts” the meeting. Clearly, the AAI was feeling the heat. Unfortunately, they attacked a straw man. No one that I’m aware of, least of all me, was advocating “disrupting” the awards ceremony.

As for the “tightrope,” well, suffice it to say that I’m still less than impressed. PZ is right about one thing; it wasn’t enough. To me, this whole fiasco is pretty strong evidence that, if atheism and science come into conflict (unless, of course, that science happens to be the science of evolution, in which case I highly doubt that this controversy would have been so flippantly dismissed), for Richard Dawkins atheism wins hands down, and science-based medicine once again remains the poor, neglected stepchild of the so-called “reality-based” community. Atheism is clearly what’s more important to Dawkins now. As long as he bashes religion, Maher’s a-OK with him and only gets a brief remonstration for his promotion of quackery and anti-vaccine views. I’m the other way around. Quite frankly, I no longer care much about atheism; science and reason are my passion, which is why this fiasco got me so worked up. As I said in the comments of another post, increasingly, it really is striking me as the difference between two world views. I realize I’m likely to provoke a negative reaction from some by saying this, but there you are.

I’m also happy to have been one of the very few that I can identify who didn’t let go of this issue and kept pushing it, even to the point where it clearly started to annoy and exasperate Richard Dawkins’ good buddy PZ. Arguably, I was the one who pushed it the hardest, although a fellow skeptic (Dr. Benway) wouldn’t let it go in the comments of that weaselly post written by Josh Timonon for RichardDawkins.net. Kudos. No doubt Dawkins, PZ, and the AAI would have preferred that this unpleasantness all go away. I suspect that, if I and a handful of others hadn’t kept pushing, it would have gone away too.

As I’ve said before, I regret nothing. Stirring up trouble for a worthy cause is a good thing, even though I knew from the very beginning that the AAI wasn’t going to rescind the award and Richard Dawkins wasn’t going to refuse to give the award. That’s why I urge those of you who were as upset as I about this to keep stirring up trouble–politely, but insistently, of course and even to The Great Man himself. Don’t let the AAI or Richard Dawkins think that, now that the awards ceremony is over, we’ll forget about this.

Comments

  1. #1 sea creature
    October 3, 2009

    Thank you Orac.

  2. #2 Denice Walter
    October 3, 2009

    Ironically enough, on his show last night, where Dawkins was a guest, Maher berated climate change denialists saying that they are incompetant to challenge the climate experts who are PhD’s in their fields.Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the expression on Dawkins’ face

  3. #3 Richard
    October 3, 2009

    Thanks Again, Orac. I, too, believe that quackery is a great evil, with far fewer redeeming qualities than religion. It’s as bad as creationism, or worse. I hope there’s no schism or bad blood over this, but I hope there’s some serious dialogue.

  4. #4 Pablo
    October 3, 2009

    Ironically enough, on his show last night, where Dawkins was a guest, Maher berated climate change denialists saying that they are incompetant to challenge the climate expert

    That’s because “climate change denialists” are predominantly repubican, and Maher rejects anything that the republicans support.

    I agree with Orac in one respect. This exercise, to me, has really exposed these prominant atheists for what they really are about. I used to respect Myers because I believed him to be non-apologetic in his support of reason, which led to things like atheism. Now it’s clear that he’s willing to compromise on reason, as long as one is sufficiently mocking religion. How disappointing.

    On the other hand, I do disagree with Orac on another point: it’s not that I don’t care about atheism (the atheists notwithstanding). The problem I have is, damn it, why can’t we do both? Why do we have to promote one but not the other?

    I still can’t figure it out. How can PZ Myers, the one who objects so strongly to a religious guy being head of the NIH sit back and be so damn ACCOMODATING for an award to an atheist who doesn’t back science?

    “Walking the tightrope”? Bullshit. What “tightrope” is he talking about? There is no tightrope here. How is that not doublespeak for “accomodating the the medical woos in the atheist audience”?

  5. #5 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 3, 2009

    Denise @2–YES! I was floored by Maher’s statements in that segment–and I wondered if he was maybe talking up the science a little more because he happened to have Dawkins at the table. Quite a display of cognitive dissonance, there.

    I’m not at all happy with the way the whole award thing went down, but I am glad that Dawkins chose to do a bit of damage control, even though it clearly was too little too late.

    The timing of Dawkins’s new book release, culture lag, and a generally busy schedule have all been put forth as justifications for him not paying more attention to Maher’s altie leanings before the fact. I’m not inclined to cut him much slack over this, although I’ll allow that these conditions may have conspired to prevent him from doing anything about the problem until it was too late to handle it delicately, in his view.

    For me, the real test comes now. What will happen to the Richard Dawkins Award in future years? Will this embarrassment serve as a caution to vet subsequent recipients more carefully? To alter the criteria in a way that avoids liability? If I were Dawkins, I’d be parleying with the AAI ASAP about this, making their continued use of my ‘brand’ contingent upon them never, ever again bestowing this award on such a flagrantly anti-reason recipient.

  6. #6 mary
    October 3, 2009

    I’m running the risk of “me-tooing” Pablo, but yeah, what he said! I feel much the same when I hear about fellow Christians who deny scientific evidence and reason. That saddens me, since I grew up in a Christian community that placed a very high value on logic, reason, and the scientific analysis of data, as well as respect and courtesy.

  7. #7 Greg F.
    October 3, 2009

    This exercise, to me, has really exposed these prominant [sic] atheists for what they really are about. I used to respect Myers because I believed him to be non-apologetic in his support of reason, which led to things like atheism. Now it’s clear that he’s willing to compromise on reason, as long as one is sufficiently mocking religion.

    PZ and Dawkins are first and foremost biologists. That’s their field of expertise, that’s what they’re passionate about, and when it comes to areas of science outside their scope, they don’t really care or give it a high priority. To demand that they passionately delve into medicine because that’s what you care about and label under the big “science and reason” umbrella is not realistic.

    I don’t give chemistry a lot of attention because that’s not my area of expertise. Should that make me a bad guy to chemists?

  8. #8 JD
    October 3, 2009

    Thanks again Orac. Rationalist methodology needs to be consistent. The sleep of reason brings forth Mahers.

  9. #9 Ramel
    October 3, 2009

    @Greg F: Would you have been ok with them giving the award g to a flat earther or geocenterist? That wouldn’t be biology, so should be ok right?

  10. #10 Pablo
    October 3, 2009

    That’s their field of expertise, that’s what they’re passionate about, and when it comes to areas of science outside their scope, they don’t really care or give it a high priority. To demand that they passionately delve into medicine because that’s what you care about and label under the big “science and reason” umbrella is not realistic.

    Good gravy. It doesn’t take a friggin immunologist to recognize that anti-vax folks are opposed to science.

    I don’t give chemistry a lot of attention because that’s not my area of expertise. Should that make me a bad guy to chemists?

    Not in itself, but, as a chemist, if you support giving a science award to someone who does not accept the atomic theory of matter on the grounds that “I’m not a chemist so I don’t care,” then you damn straight we have a problem.

    BTW, Maher is plenty a biology loon. Denying the germ theory of disease? I would hope that any working biologist would recognize this as whack, and make no mistake that Myers knows very well what this attitude means.

  11. #11 Daniel J. Andrews
    October 3, 2009

    “Quite frankly, I no longer care much about atheism; science and reason are my passion.”

    Exactly!

    Re: Maher. I think it is obvious Maher is not able to reason on any scientific subject. It seems to me he just filters what he hears through his preconceived political/religious biases. He didn’t chastise climate-change deniers because he suddenly is going all “sciencey”. He did it because he rejects Republicans–they embrace denialism, so he rejects it.

    Same with the HPV vaccine. He embraced it because fundamentalists/Republicans(?) reject it. He rejects what those he opposes accept. That’s his science right there (to paraphrase a certain ex-actress blond vaccine googleversity PhD, which seems apt in Maher’s case).

    Based on these examples I think if there isn’t a political or fundamentalist aspect to some topic then he’ll accept or reject it on some other equally arbitrary bias, and will not do so based on the quality of the science behind that topic.

    It will be interesting to see who AAI gives the award to in following years. That’ll let us know if they realized they screwed up.

  12. #12 Militant Agnostic
    October 3, 2009

    Greg F – medicine is applied biology and is doesn’t take much delving to discover Maher is anti-science. Maher’s anti-scientific views indicate his support for the theory of evolution is imply based on his dislike of religion. Maher is simply a smugly ignorant contrarian – a very “Embarrassing Ally”.

  13. #13 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 3, 2009

    How is that not doublespeak for “accomodating the the medical woos in the atheist audience”?

    Yup. Moreover, it seems to be a capitulation to the idiotic strawman that so inflamed Dr. Benway earlier, that some people think atheists should agree on every point. It seems that for the AAI, and perhaps also for Dawkins, the importance of maintaining the common bond of the group they’ve all worked so hard to build will always trump the diversity of world views within the group, no matter how disparate or even directly conflicting they might be. I have to wonder at the utility of a group in which the criteria for belonging are so broad as to be meaningless.

  14. #14 Orac
    October 3, 2009

    PZ and Dawkins are first and foremost biologists. That’s their field of expertise, that’s what they’re passionate about, and when it comes to areas of science outside their scope, they don’t really care or give it a high priority. To demand that they passionately delve into medicine because that’s what you care about and label under the big “science and reason” umbrella is not realistic.

    I don’t give chemistry a lot of attention because that’s not my area of expertise. Should that make me a bad guy to chemists?

    WTF? I’m sorry, but this is the most disturbing “defense” of Dawkins and Myers I’ve yet seen. Give them a pass because they aren’t physicians or not expert in medicine? Give ‘em a pass because they’re biologists and evolution is what they’re passionate about?

    Bullshit.

    Would you (or Dawkins or PZ) give me a pass if I were to start thinking that maybe there’s something to “intelligent design” creationism and maybe we’re all being way too hard on poor, poor Michael Behe? I think not. Would you give me a pass if I started writing posts to that effect and publishing them on this blog? No way! You (and PZ–although probably not Dawkins because he has no clue who I am and, as far as I know, doesn’t read this blog) would rip me a new one.

    And rightly so.

    Moreover, Dawkins and Myers know that Maher’s medical beliefs are quackery, pseudoscience, and anti-science. Myers has said as much on more than one occasion, and apparently it even registered with The Great Man. Yet in statements leading up to the award ceremony, a post on RichardDawkins.net and an e-mail from someone high up in AAI brush Maher’s views aside as a mere “disagreement.”

    I recently listened to an interview with a guy who states that he’s an agnostic/atheist but that he believes in a variation on “intelligent design” and does not accept “Darwinism.” The difference is that he thinks that aliens seeded the planet with life and, prior to seeding the planet, had implanted in that life “programs” that have guided the evolution of all life for billions of years. While defending his nonsense, he referred to “Darwinists” (much as any good creationist would do) and repeated a whole lot of creationist canards about “microevolution” and there not being enough time for random chance, even with selection pressures, to have produced the diversity of life that we see. Let’s say this guy, instead of Maher, had made Religulous. Would Myers and Dawkins be OK with giving this guy an award with Richard Dawkins’ name on it?

    I think not.

    Yet that is exactly what the AAI did with Maher. Maher’s anti-scientific medicine views are every bit as whacky and anti-science as those of any creationist. It’s not a matter of legitimate scientific or medical disagreements, and likening it to a political disagreement, a la Dawkins and Hitchens, as Josh Timonon (who presumably wouldn’t have posted that tripe without Dawkins’ permission) is a huge misrepresentation and a red herring, to boot.

    My point stands. As happens far too often, scientific medicine is the poor stepchild of the so-called “rationalists.” It’s OK to be a woo-meister and anti-vaccinationist as long as you’re anti-religion and have the right position on evolution.

  15. #15 Jeremy
    October 3, 2009

    While I absolutely agree with what you’ve said, I think it’s worth noting that there are quite a lot of atheists who could be considered “anti-science” or at least very ignorant of science. I’m talking especially about humanities students (and probably specifically philosophy students).

    Unfortunately I don’t think that in reality atheism = science.

    Moderately in the defence of this award (perhaps in a devil’s advocate manner, since I really do agree that he shouldn’t have got the award and am fairly concerned with anti-science based medical views), it is an award given out by an atheist organisation, not a science organisation.

    Religious also was a good movie.

    So I guess I can understand why Maher got the award, even if I disagree.

  16. #16 bob
    October 3, 2009

    @Jeremy: No, atheism does not equal science. However, many atheist organizations (and/or prominent atheists) also claim to be pro-science and science-based. But, it seems that sometimes they don’t take their claims seriously, and let their atheism completely trump their science.

    You gotta wonder if the efforts going towards promoting atheism wouldn’t be better spent promoting skepticism. Both are worthy goals, but problems arise when they’re put forth as a package deal.

  17. #17 Treppenwitz
    October 3, 2009

    …it is an award given out by an atheist organisation, not a science organisation.

    It’s an award that A) is named after a prominent scientist, and B) includes promoting science and reason in its criteria. Decouple reason from atheism and you’re giving out a stopped clock award.

  18. #18 Greg F.
    October 3, 2009

    @Orac,

    Give them a pass because they aren’t physicians or not expert in medicine? Give ‘em a pass because they’re biologists and evolution is what they’re passionate about?

    Nowhere did I say to give them a pass. I was just explaining why they don’t seem to care about medicine, don’t really care about it and won’t care about it. I was politely, and I admit rather obtusely, saying that they’re self-absorbed and because they have such a narrow focus, it’s unrealistic to demand change from them.

    Although, maybe I’m wrong on the last point. But in any case, it wasn’t my intention to try and shield them from ridicule of justify their subjectivity.

    They’re not bad people for it, just atheists and biologists first and foremost, and beating them up over it will only entrench them more and more rather than force them to admit their follies.

    In truth, I don’t see why Maher even got the award. His movie wasn’t really all that good and he’s made absolutely no contributions to any science or science education whatsoever.

    As happens far too often, scientific medicine is the poor stepchild of the so-called “rationalists.” It’s OK to be a woo-meister and anti-vaccinationist as long as you’re anti-religion and have the right position on evolution.

    All the rationalist bloggers I know and had the pleasure to work with are fervently anti-woo because we know it’s crap and saw people waste time and money on magic water that does absolutely bubkes, or harm themselves and those around them by refusing vaccines. From Phil Plait to the Skepchicks, Ian O’Neill and myself, we’ve written numerous anti-quackery articles ridiculing anti-vaxers, naturists, herbalists and homeopaths on scientific grounds without mincing words.

    PZ also used to bash Maher’s anti-woo stances but as noted above, since promoting atheism and biology is much more important to him, to Dawkins and to the AAI, he decided to just lay off and use the event to focus on other areas of advancing atheism.

    @Ramel

    Would you have been ok with them giving the award g to a flat earther or geocenterist? That wouldn’t be biology, so should be ok right?

    I don’t know why they just didn’t give the award to an actual scientist. As I said, I still have no idea why Maher was even in the running, much less became the recipient.

  19. #19 S
    October 3, 2009

    What you are witnessing at the AAI conference is Atheism (or more properly, secularism) as a political movement. You’re correct that atheism and science can sometimes come into conflict with each other as Maher’s beliefs and the actions of the AAI demonstrate. And in the big picture I think Dawkins made the correct choice as a leader in the Atheist movement (like it or not Maher is a leader in that movement as well).

    You’re absolutely right that the actions of Dawkins and AAI are hypocritical in some ways, but it’s going to expand the movement, where being “pure” about this won’t.

  20. #20 Greg F.
    October 3, 2009

    @Pablo,

    if you support giving a science award to someone who does not accept the atomic theory of matter on the grounds that “I’m not a chemist so I don’t care,” then you damn straight we have a problem.

    If I denied the atomic theory, all my particle physics posts and articles would never have been written. Kinda hard to do particle physics without atoms. =)

    Again, I think my word choice was rather poor but I certainly didn’t say that it was ok not to care about other sciences. Just that PZ and Dawkins didn’t seem to because of their passions.

    @MilitantAgnostic

    Greg F – medicine is applied biology and is doesn’t take much delving to discover Maher is anti-science.

    I would never deny Maher was anti-science when it comes to medicine. He made those stances abundantly clear during his stand-up specials and kept making it more and more evident with every anti-medicine rant.

    As for medicine being applied biology, yes, it is, but there are other disciplines involved as well which is why biologists and doctors diverge in academia and in the field.

  21. #21 Orac
    October 3, 2009

    All the rationalist bloggers I know and had the pleasure to work with are fervently anti-woo because we know it’s crap and saw people waste time and money on magic water that does absolutely bubkes, or harm themselves and those around them by refusing vaccines. From Phil Plait to the Skepchicks, Ian O’Neill and myself, we’ve written numerous anti-quackery articles ridiculing anti-vaxers, naturists, herbalists and homeopaths on scientific grounds without mincing words.

    Yes and no. Most skeptics are profoundly anti-woo, but there is what I perceive to be a significant minority who are not. A few weeks ago I was at a skeptics in the pub event. There were people there who believed that vaccines cause autism or at least weren’t mollified by the science showing that they don’t. One woman in particular seemed completely unconvinced by explanations of why they don’t. When I was at TAM I encountered several “skeptics” who bordered on anti-vaccine and pro-alt-med. I always give kudos to Phil Plait, Rebecca Watson, and James Randi, for example, but this disaster reminds me that we have a lot of work to do.

  22. #22 Dr Benway
    October 3, 2009

    You’re absolutely right that the actions of Dawkins and AAI are hypocritical in some ways, but it’s going to expand the movement, where being “pure” about this won’t.

    So this affair was intentional?

    Wow. AAI leadership are dumber than I thought.

    I would have defined a new award. Maybe the “OUT” award, playing off the “Out” campaign, to be given to someone speaking out in a powerful way against the forces of theocratic power. I’d talk to Dawkins about using funds set aside for the RDA this year for the OUT award, explaining the benefits of honoring Maher, though he doesn’t fit the RDA criteria.

    And thus Maher would be honored, the AAI could celebrate Religulous, Richard Dawkins could remain a champion of reason rather than mere atheism, and an irrational pseudoscientist wouldn’t be granted more credibility than he deserves.

  23. #23 Greg F.
    October 3, 2009

    @Orac,

    It’s unfortunate that there are people who call themselves skeptics, forgetting that the word applies to a rational, scientific mindset about everything, not just ghosts and psychics, but I do know that they’re out there and I tackle them just as fiercely for it as I tackle the ardent creationists on school boards for their anti-scientific stances.

    I can only speak for the bloggers I know and for myself. Yes, we have a lot of work to do and we will always have a lot of work to do as long as there are massive infestations of woo out there. However, I assure you that for many of us science writers having the right stance on evolution isn’t worthy of sainthood in our eyes.

    Not that we even believe in sainthood… =)

  24. #24 Jay Lee
    October 3, 2009

    Science and Reason are the parents of atheism.

  25. #25 Zach Voch
    October 3, 2009

    Great post, Orac, and thank you for pushing this point.

  26. #26 Pablo
    October 3, 2009

    PZ also used to bash Maher’s anti-woo stances (sic) but as noted above, since promoting atheism and biology is much more important to him, to Dawkins and to the AAI, he decided to just lay off

    aka accomodate his anti-science promotion; pretty good trick for the strident anti-accomodationists

    Actually, I disagree with your comment. “Laying off” Maher would be to ignore him. They haven’t done that. They have supported giving him an award. That goes well beyond “laying off”

  27. #27 Kausik Datta
    October 3, 2009

    Rationality, sense and sanity are the cornerstones of both evidence-based medicine and atheism. If one takes rationality away from atheism – as AAI has done in giving RDA to Maher – all that remains is vacuous rhetoric. I cannot conceptualize that PZ and Richard Dawkins do not understand this simple idea, but clearly AAI does not, and for some reason – obscure to me – both of them chose to toe the AAI line that Maher promotes atheism (though by his own words, he does not).

    Golden words from Maher’s own mouth (repeated ad nauseum at many places, still…)

    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.

    And:

    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.

  28. #28 D. C. Sessions
    October 3, 2009

    Science and Reason are the parents of atheism.

    Some people arrive at atheism via science and reason.

    Others take it on faith.

    The question is, which is more important?

  29. #29 rb
    October 3, 2009

    we are all accomodationists. To say otherwise is just blind. PZ proved to be one in this case.

    atheism also does not breed social justice or awareness, hence the Randi Foundation booked a cruise in the Galapogos on a European owned ship. DId not know (or care) to look to support local industry. His excuse, he is old and needs comfort now as did many he hoped would come on trip. No indication they left any money on local hands.

  30. #30 mattand
    October 3, 2009

    I’m kinda new to the whole atheist/skeptical thing, so there’s a very good chance much of what I say sounds like ass-talking. I think this whole fiasco has been disappointing, to say the least.

    What’s been most thought-provoking is that I didn’t realize there was such a potential fault line between atheism and science. Both subjects seem to have a common goal (helping promote reason/critical thought). One would hope that any disagreement between the camps wouldn’t help derail that.

    I can’t help but wonder if the AAI has shown its true colors here; bash religion first, all other stuff second. As Orac or someone mentioned before, have these people not read their own award criteria or heard of Google?

    As has also been repeated ad nauseam, Maher is promotion of atheism is second hand at best. He takes pains to state he isn’t atheist, and dismisses it as merely the flip side of religion. Maher’s rejection of most science behind modern medicine is fairly easy to document as well. This gives the 2009 award a stink of “Well, it’s the best we can do for now.”

    I know that Dawkins has little to do with the award and selection of its recipient. Unfortunately, an appearance has been created that he is willing to let some horrendous alt med promotion slide as long as its author suitably shits on religion. Everyone has their blind spots, I guess, but Dawkins is supposed to be the go-to guy for promoting science.

    The whole “PZ asking the unwashed masses to not bother the Great RD with your questions” request was a bit of a disappointment as well. I’m sure it’s not the intention, but it radiated a bit of a “Question all authority except ours” vibe. I would like to think Dawkins has the ability to handle criticism.

    At the end of day, it sounds like at least Dawkins (and hopefully the AAI) heard the criticism and understood it. I would hope that everyone involved in this scenario applies the lessons learned for any future brouhahas. Soapbox mode off.

  31. #31 D. C. Sessions
    October 3, 2009

    Both subjects seem to have a common goal (helping promote reason/critical thought).

    Atheism per se doesn’t have goals: it’s a rather simple factual proposition (and not a particularly testable one, at that.)

    In contrast, some atheists have the goal of promoting reason and critical thinking. It’s a fallacy to generalize that to all atheists.

  32. #32 Paul J.
    October 3, 2009

    It seems that most of the commenters at http://www.richarddawkins.net are just as annoyed with this award as the commenters here are (according to Josh Timoen’s post that Orac mentioned).

  33. #33 llewelly
    October 3, 2009

    Orac, thank you for pursuing this issue. It’s somewhat of a relief to hear that Dawkins at least “… unambiguously stated that some of his [Maher's] beliefs about medicine were simply crazy …”, but really it would have been much better if Dawkins had opposed the award on exactly those grounds. Also, it’s a disappointment (but not a surprise) that Maher was not asked to address any of the questions you and your readers devised.

  34. #34 Todd
    October 3, 2009

    If nothing else, this whole episode confirms to me that the so called new atheist movement is still a loose federation of people who agree on absolutely nothing beyond the fact that none of us believe in a god, and even their we quibble.

    We’re still herding cats.

    Apart from Myers’ second hand account, is there any actual video of the awards presentation? I hesitate to pass judgment on anyone without some actual evidence of what actually was said at the award ceremony.

  35. #35 Dr Benway
    October 3, 2009

    rb, whenever I hear the “we are all X” argument, I expect that overture to be followed by, “but the real problem is, where to draw the line concerning X…” or something like that.

    You appear to be arguing simply that “we are all X.” Fair enough, I suppose.

  36. #36 mattand
    October 3, 2009

    @ 31 D.C. Sessions:

    In contrast, some atheists have the goal of promoting reason and critical thinking. It’s a fallacy to generalize that to all atheists.

    Yeah, I should have thought out that better, critical-wise. Point taken.

  37. #37 Anthro
    October 3, 2009

    Golden words from Maher’s own mouth (repeated ad nauseum at many places, still…)

    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.
    And:

    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.
    Golden words from Maher’s own mouth (repeated ad nauseum at many places, still…)

    THE REAL ISSUE IS (as Kausik Datta and others have posted here and in previous entries on this topic) that Maher is NOT an atheist and has NO RIGHT to this award on that basis alone. I feel bad for Dawkins, though, who probably found out too late just who Maher really is and decided not to make a scene in another country or whatever.

    There is indeed, much work to do and Orac should start with all the DOCTORS who write woo books and add woo to their practices and shrug off patients who use woo. I know he hits hard at the anti-vax docs, but more anti-woo books need to be written by docs–for a wide audience, something that’s right up there with all the self-help crap. It’s hard for me to argue with people when they shove a book written by some MD at me; I say that he’s a quack, but I need documentation.

  38. #38 Mary
    October 3, 2009

    Seriously, what’s the big deal here? AAI stands for Atheist Alliance Int’l, not Scientists or Physicians. One can be an atheist and know nothing of science, so why should we hold hold an atheist to scientific standards?

    Barking up the wrong tree here, guys.

    Signed,
    An atheist who reads Orac, PZ, & Dawkins

  39. #39 rb
    October 3, 2009

    Dr. Benway, I am not really arguing, simply stating an observation. I guess what I find critical is that we admit it to ourselves.

  40. #40 Uncle Glenny
    October 3, 2009

    It will be interesting to see what Maher says on his show (if he hasn’t already). Hopefully someone will report (I don’t watch the tube).

    (Is “tube” for “TeeVee” an obsolete term?)

    Greg F.: … ridiculing anti-vaxers, naturists, …

    You have something against people running around naked in the woods? (/lame-humor)

  41. #41 Eosine
    October 3, 2009

    You cannot separate medicine from biology. Biology is life science, and medicine must keep up with the most current information and technology in biology to be effective. Giving Maher an award by a biologist is absurd when Maher boviously has no clue about biology.

  42. #42 Greg F.
    October 3, 2009

    @Pablo,

    Actually, I disagree with your comment. “Laying off” Maher would be to ignore him. They haven’t done that. They have supported giving him an award.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that PZ had any input whatsoever in AAI’s decision and decided to ignore, then sidestep Maher when time came close to the actual convention because he didn’t want to piss off the AAI’s leadership.

    I already said what I think of the decision itself and will expand on that on my blog tomorrow.

  43. #43 Kausik Datta
    October 3, 2009

    Mary,

    One can be an atheist and know nothing of science, so why should we hold hold an atheist to scientific standards?

    You don’t really understand the issue here, do you? Have you checked the AAI blurb for the RD Award? This is how it reads.

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

    Maher is neither an outstanding atheist (Ref: my comment above), nor does he advocate increased scientific knowledge, but he is rather big in advocating myths, superstitions and pseudoscience.

    An atheist need not be a scientist, but we can at least expect some degree of rationality, which after all is the basis of atheism, no?

  44. #44 Phoenix Woman
    October 3, 2009

    I suspect that another thing that is chapping Orac’s hide is how PZ has no problems gleefully — and, as some have said, offensively and counter-productively — attacking religions, especially Catholicism (remember the Great Desecration, done in response to a Florida college’s nearly expelling a top-flight student for the “crime” of taking home a communion cracker?). Yet here PZ and Dawkins are suddenly tolerating from Maher and the AAI stuff that they wouldn’t accept were it coming from Father William Maher, Jesuit priest.

  45. #45 Neill Raper
    October 3, 2009

    To be clear before I make this point, I completely agree that Maher should never have been given that award, nor should he even be invited to speak at any atheist conference that claims to be pro science as well. The man is the most dangerous kind of quack and needs to be repudiated.
    Now, that being said, let me address this “PZ and Dawkins are being accomodationists” thing, because I’m fairly sure its steaming bullshit.

    The accomadationism debate is not, and has never been, about whether religious people who accept evolution and atheists who accept evolution should work together to promote evolution. It is about whether or not religion and science are compatible worldviews. With this in mind trying to use that particular debate as an analogy to the Maher fiasco seem odd. Neither PZ or Dawkins seem to be claiming that Mahers crazy horseshit is compatible with science. Certainly they are being too nice about it for my taste given the extent of Maher’s delusions about medicine, but they are certainly recognizing that his views on this subject are antiscientific.

    If the analogy is not to the worldviews of science and medicine but instead to worldviews of atheism and medicine. Well yes those are potentially compatible. There is nothing about atheism that prevents you from being a flaming idiot. There is nothing internally inconsistent about God not existing and western medicine being a big hoax designed to make money off the gullible. The inconsistency there is not with atheism but with reality.

    But again, I’m damn glad there are people making noise about this Maher thing. Please excuse my pedantry.

  46. #46 Pareidolius
    October 3, 2009

    Atheist ≠ Critical-Thinker.
    Skeptic ≠ Critical-Thinker.
    You can be a magical-thinking atheist. You can be a magical-thinking skeptic. You can not be a magical-thinking critical-thinker however. Trust me, I speak from experience.

  47. #47 Pierce R. Butler
    October 3, 2009

    … Dawkins disagreeing with Christopher Hitchens but remaining able to work with him on other issues. Maher is a medical crank, who is demonstrably wrong about vaccines, HIV, and cancer, among other things…

    Yabbut Hitchens is a political crank, demonstrably wrong about Iraq, politicized Islam, and the “Global War on Terror”, among other things. And that roster is responsible for (I suspect) a lot more deaths and misery than is medical crankery.

    Please don’t read this as a defense of Dawkins’s slackness regarding Maher. I’m proposing that you’re right in urging him to tighten up his standards – you’re just not taking it quite far enough.

  48. #48 godlesschick
    October 3, 2009

    Although I don’t agree with Maher being given this award, he’s gotten it and that’s that. Many of our complaints are valid and it does seem that the AAI is aware (I mean why else post obvious signs to quell disruption). I can only hope the AAI now realizes the impact of what they’ve done and will choose a more worthy recipient next year.

  49. #49 Dr Benway
    October 3, 2009

    Yabbut Hitchens is a political crank, demonstrably wrong about Iraq, politicized Islam, and the “Global War on Terror”, among other things

    Not a good parallel.

    Iraq is a mess. There’s a lot of room for reasonable people to argue over both factual and value statements.

    Homeopathy –something Maher uses, by hearsay report– is just crazy.

  50. #50 Mark P
    October 3, 2009

    Seriously, what’s the big deal here? AAI stands for Atheist Alliance Int’l, not Scientists or Physicians. One can be an atheist and know nothing of science, so why should we hold hold an atheist to scientific standards?

    Because one should not pick one’s friends solely on the basis of one shared belief. If Atheism is to advance socially it has to reject the nutcases. Otherwise it presents an inconsistent and, frankly, idiotic face to the world.

    I oppose all forms of Marxist thinking. But I’m damned if I’ll hook up with a Fascist to do so.

  51. #51 Matt
    October 3, 2009

    Personally I see no evidence that Dawkins views promoting atheism as more important than promoting science, medical or otherwise. My feeling is that he, like most socialised people, and contrary to how he is usually perceived, is uncomfortable with being “impolite” to friends and colleagues (here Maher and the AAI).

    The same with PZ. Although, bizarrely, he seems to be worrying about us being impolite to Dawkins.

    Assuming I’m right in my reading of their behaviour, both of them have got over this discomfort on the matter of religion – probably on account of the amount of time they has been campaigning against it and thinking about how to combat it. They need to get over it on medical quackery too.

    The AAI is another thing. It may well include people who are full of woo, and as long as it’s not theistic woo then they think that’s all hunky-dory. These people do not represent me in any way.

    Back to being polite. We have a problem: AIDS denialism, anti-vaccine and anti-medicine views KILL PEOPLE. Potentially MILLIONS OF PEOPLE. Maher is not solely responsible for this of course, but he is on the team that is killing people.

    I also don’t feel comfortable being impolite to people, particularly in person, and whether I like them personally or not (and I do like Dawkins, PZ, and Maher). However, if being impolite is the best strategy for saving lives, then I have to remind myself that people are dying and BEING POLITE CAN GO FUCK ITSELF OFF A CLIFF. If disrupting the ceremony was the best way to save lives, then we should have been advocating disrupting the ceremony.

    The issue of debate for me is: what is (or was) the best strategy? Do we trust that words were had behind the scenes? Do we think Dawkins’ criticism of Maher’s woo at the ceremony was enough? Do we think the AAI will be more critical of anti-science in future?

    I don’t know.

    In the (unlikely) best case Maher will change what he says and could become a very useful public face of the pro-science and pro-medical-science “team”. If that happens then Dawkins had a good strategy – likely getting a better result than any of the ideas discussed here (although expressing opinions here, on richarddawkins.net, and Pharyngula, may well have influenced Dawkins’ actions). I hope Maher does have a road-to-Damascus conversion to reason, but I don’t see it as very likely. The end result will be likely be ambiguous, with some people modifying their behaviour in ways that we may not even notice.

    However, I believe Orac and Dr Benway have been absolutely correct in telling the truth with no matter how much it might seem impolite. This is extremely important – in medicine lives depend on it in very direct ways. I thank them both for being such excellent examples, along with many other posters here and elsewhere, and for helping me to form my opinions of the matter.

  52. #52 PZ Myers
    October 3, 2009

    One thing you’ve got all wrong: you aren’t beginning to exasperate me. I am as peeved at this choice as you are: I got to talk to one of the award committee members yesterday, and I told her that picking Maher for this award was like giving it to David Berlinski, a nominal atheist and also a creationist. Fortunately, Berlinski has done nothing of note to justify an award.

    Dawkins also takes it very seriously. You must understand: the decision was made by the AAI committee 10 months ago. It was run by Dawkins as a courtesy, and as a Brit, he knew nothing of Maher except that he’d seen Religulous. He knew nothing about Maher’s lunatic views on medicine, and it was only recently, when all the stink was rising, that he was informed…and that put him in an awkward spot. He does not choose the award winner. It’s only named after him.

    Furthermore, Dan Dennett didn’t know anything of the controversy, and when we had dinner together, Dawkins had to explain the mess to him, and let me assure you, there were no excuses made. Dawkins thinks that Maher’s views on medicine are stark raving mad. He’s still funny and he made a movie about religion that did not air his views on medicine, though…if it had, this controversy would not have arisen.

    This is definitely not a case of putting atheism before good medicine, or of giving Maher a pass on some crank views because he is a fellow traveller. What it actually is is a case of poor vetting by the award committee (which will not happen again, you can bet), and inertia — unawarding him would have been politically difficult in the group that picked him, and the people you are blaming are not the ones involved in the decision.

  53. #53 Caryn
    October 3, 2009

    @Jeremy, philosophers are generally better grounded on this topic than anyone else. They’re more closely united with the sciences than any other humanities discipline. There are entire PhD programs in the history and philosophy of science that strongly encourage the recipients to hold a joint MS by graduation (Irvine, Pittsburgh.)

    Analytic philosophers take science very seriously indeed.

    But if by “philosophers” you meant “people who go to metaphysical bookstores and buy a copy of _Jonathan Livingston Seagull_”, well, you didn’t mean philosophers.

  54. #54 Pablo
    October 3, 2009

    The accomadationism debate is not, and has never been, about whether religious people who accept evolution and atheists who accept evolution should work together to promote evolution. It is about whether or not religion and science are compatible worldviews.

    I thought it was about how those “moderates” who don’t oppose the nutjobs were just as much of a problem? About how mainstream religiousites wash their hands of the extremists by saying, “I don’t believe that way,” but don’t do anything to actually stand up in opposition to the extremists.

    Then again, if it is a question of “incompatible worldviews,” then why doesn’t the same thing apply to other non-scientific views? Will Myers give “psychic intuition” a pass because it’s not religious? Of course not.

    “Medical woo” and the means from which it originates is just as incompatible with science as is religion. Religion is not the only threat to science (although, to be fair religion is certainly the basis for a lot of medical quackery). One could just as much ask if “anti-establishment reactionary politics” and science are compatible?

    Anti-science is anti-science, whether it stems from religion or political activism. Neither are acceptable, and neither deserve to be accomodated.

  55. #55 Pablo
    October 3, 2009

    Dawkins thinks that Maher’s views on medicine are stark raving mad. He’s still funny and he made a movie about religion that did not air his views on medicine, though

    I noticed one thing you didn’t mention, PZ, is whether Dawkins thinks Maher was a bad choice for the award.

    Is he going to ever say anything publically? Sure he says, “I don’t agree with his views,” but will he say, “He wouldn’t have gotten the award if we had known”? Or is he going to let Maher ride off proudly in the sunset, feeling he got endorsed by Richard Dawkins?

  56. #56 Joseph Steinberg
    October 3, 2009

    If forced to choose between science and atheism, I would go where people wold accept my individuality based on my intellect, not just because I just happened to identify myself the same way others did. Atheism is like any other religion: it takes names and phone numbers with the collection plate extended. Science asks for a good argument.

  57. #57 damianphipps
    October 3, 2009

    There is absolutely no evidence that Dawkins knew that Maher was a medical crank when he agreed that the award should be given to him, and it’s also not entirely clear what he attempted to do once he was informed about it, or even what he could/should have done. What is clear is that Dawkins has sold millions of books and made several documentaries promoting scientific, evidence based thought — one of which was specifically about the dangers of “alternative medicine” — and he also repudiated Maher in front of the audience at the AAI Convention.

    What, exactly, did people expect Dawkins to do once he became aware of the situation? Refuse to present the award, after having agreed to do so? Perhaps, but he’d given his word to the AAI, not Maher, which means that he would have been letting them down. Of course, it’s terribly easy to criticize his decision to go ahead with the presentation, but excuse me for being just a little bit skeptical about whether most people would have even had the courage to do as Dawkins did, as opposed to simply refusing to present the award (which was the easy way out).

    As it is, Dawkins made the best of a bad situation, in my opinion, which is why I find the reaction rather bizarre. Whether others like it or not, doing what Dawkins did, in front of the entire audience, as well as the media, is likely to have more of an impact than simply refusing to present Maher with the award, given that most people would not have bothered to find out why (if they even knew that he was meant to present it in the first place).

    The key now is that people learn from this and endeavor to properly check people out before awarding them in the future. Or, you could be totally irrational, as some are, and pretend that Dawkins had a million other options, and that you would have personally stood up in front of all of those people and given Maher what for. Strangely, I notice that very few of the people talking the talk actually bothered to go to the convention, at all. I thought that some of you would have been protesting outside?

    And so that I know that those of you who are specifically criticizing PZ and Dawkins are able to maintain a consistent position, you would all presumably refuse to present an award to someone like, let’s say, Francis Collins (or any religious believer with similar views), due to the fact that some of his beliefs are truly bizarre and explicitly contradicted by scientific evidence (he claims that morality could not have evolved, and that God has provided us with a Moral Law, among other things), and given that that mode of thought can be plausibly and logically linked to much harm in the world (and probably much more than medical quackery)? Or is that, like, totally different?

    While I’m not suggesting that the comparison is exact, there is certainly a comparison to be made. There are lots of beliefs that could be described as comparable, in fact, both in terms of a lack of evidential support (and in some cases, an explicit contradiction between the belief and the evidence), as well as the amount of harm that has been caused, due in part to those beliefs.

    If a mode of thought can be logically linked to harm, you are forced, under pain of inconsistency (as well as, hypocrisy), to be as concerned and vociferous about all beliefs of a similar standing. And yet, that is not what we see, and in some cases, we see the exact opposite.

    To be clear, I’m as annoyed that Maher was chosen for the award as anyone else. I wish that he hadn’t been, because he is not an advocate of science or reason (or even atheism). But unless you can outline a better solution to this particular issue, given the very specific circumstances, and not your own fantasy, blaming Dawkins and PZ is both ridiculous, as well as an unfair overreaction.

  58. #58 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 3, 2009

    Neill:

    The accomadationism debate is not, and has never been, about whether religious people who accept evolution and atheists who accept evolution should work together to promote evolution. It is about whether or not religion and science are compatible worldviews.

    Pedantry aside, a whole lot of the most recent dust-up over ‘Unscientific America’ (which most people are going to categorize as part and parcel with “the accommodationist debate”) has centered on them mean ol’ “New” Atheists scaring away theistic evolutionists who might otherwise have joined us in defeating Creationism in the classroom, etc. It’s not a straight, perfect analogy, by any means, but there are some similarities between this and the perception that people involved in the AAI-Maher nonsense are cautioning the rationalists who have spoken out about this not to spook the woo-friendly Maher or his fans.

    That said, I don’t feel inclined to pile on PZ or Dawkins about their perceived accommodationism in this matter. I’m disappointed that more of a vetting effort wasn’t made, and I was definitely bummed about the ‘yeah, but he made a funny movie, and Dawkins is a really busy guy with a new book out’ sentiments. But all early signs post-award point to a shake-up of the AAI policies, and I’ll be surprised if Dawkins doesn’t issue some sort of clear response at some point after the convention–he must know how many of us are thinking ‘wtf’ at this point.

    So, Orac, and whomever else is supportive of the ‘Dawkins is an Accommodationist!’ meme, I’m interested to hear what you think he should have done, given that:

    RD evidently didn’t know of the altie leanings of Maher until fairly late in the game,
    RD is not in a position to bestow or revoke the award that bears his name
    RD may be committed (legally) to book-related appearances and other PR activities arranged by his publishers–I have no idea how this actually works, I’m just speculating that he may not be at liberty to muck about with his schedule all that much.

    FTR, my own opinion is that RDs reactions to this problem before and during the award ceremony were insufficient. I’m just interested to hear what others think he should/could have done instead. Refuse to attend? Pull a Kanye? What?

  59. #59 bob
    October 3, 2009

    @56: Ummm … thanks for that?

    If you’re done preaching, you might try stepping off your high horse and actually reading Orac’s post and people’s replies. No one is complaining about what Dawkins did at the event; everyone, except you, has moved onto what this issue indicates about the promotion of atheism vs the promotion of science, reason, skepticism, etc. Do try and keep up.

    @45: You kind of missed the point, too. Right about here you swung and missed: “Neither PZ or Dawkins seem to be claiming that Mahers crazy horseshit is compatible with science.” Nope, but it does seem completely compatible with atheism!! And that’s what is still making people uncomfortable.

  60. #60 rb
    October 3, 2009

    PZ, you are wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an award away when someone is shown to be a crank. people do it all the time. Its not nice, and giving Maher a beef with you (the AAI) might not be a smart thing(Maher has a TV show) But they should have. You may not be putting atheism above science, but the AAI did. But you have been very light with them.

  61. #61 Treppenwitz
    October 3, 2009

    Is he going to ever say anything publically? Sure he says, “I don’t agree with his views,” but will he say, “He wouldn’t have gotten the award if we had known”? Or is he going to let Maher ride off proudly in the sunset, feeling he got endorsed by Richard Dawkins?

    The award being named after him makes this trickier, I think. If Dawkins, rather than AAI, says that giving Maher the award was a mistake, it undercuts AAI. As much as I dislike making concessions to political expedience, it’s worth asking whether Dawkins publicly having it out with AAI is worth it over one incident.

    If, as PZ suggests, they understand why it was an unpopular decision and have learned their lesson, maybe it’s worth waiting a moment and seeing how they proceed from here. I don’t really know anything about their other activities, though, so I don’t know whether they’ve done anything to deserve that sort of consideration.

  62. #62 Dr Benway
    October 3, 2009

    I agree that it would have been unfair to Maher to snub him at the last minute.

    I was hoping Dawkins would say something like, “nice movie; wtf alt med?!” I got that, so I’m ok.

    I don’t have a problem recognizing Maher for Religulous. That movie likely has helped people to be more outspoken about the automatic respect religion demands from us. I’m glad Maher was selected to receive an award for that. I just wish some strategy was worked out months ago to avoid endorsing Maher generally.

    My upset has been down to these two things:

    1. I was afraid Maher might feel more emboldened in his pseudoscience rants on TV, once received the blessing of one of the world’s most famous scientists. It didn’t help that the award criteria specifically included something about furthering reason and science.

    2. I’m up to my ears in strawmen sent to me by the happy atheists who became annoyed by my annoyance. I need for them to come by my place, identify their shit and get it out of here.

  63. #63 Neill Raper
    October 3, 2009

    Pablo:
    I’m sorry you are simply misunderstanding the point I am trying to make, and the whole debate about accomodationism.
    I admit that it perhaps not the most aptly named issue but it has nothing to do with the moderates not going after the fundamentalists. The issue is whether the religion that the moderates do believe in is in fact compatible with science, and whether there are valid “ways of knowing” in any theology. Basically the NCSE’s approach of telling religious people that there religion can be a perfectly valid way knowing, versus the Dawkins approach of working with the moderates but not backing down on the fact that religion and religious ways of “knowing” are vacuous.

    Moving on, PZ and Dawkins are most certainly not giving Maher a “pass”. As I said, there should have been a clear statement earlier in the process from Dawkins. He certainly should not have been dismissive of the criticism’s that were originally leveled, but to suggest that PZ and Dawkins are just fine with Maher’s medical views demonstrates nothing more than the fact that you have apparently not taken the time to actually see what they have to say.

    As for the rest of your post. What that I have said so far has lead you to believe that I would not agree with your last two paragraphs. Did you even read what I wrote?

  64. #64 godlesschick
    October 3, 2009

    Slightly off-topic but did anyone else notice on Real Time last night that in the intro Maher referred to Dawkins as a “fellow atheist?” Did he just ‘come out’ recently and I missed it?

  65. #65 Neill Raper
    October 3, 2009

    Jennifer:
    Just because the same people are involved in both debates does not mean they are the same debate. That being said feel I am obligated to address the analogy as you stated it as it is not at all as ridiculous as the accommodationism angle.
    I am still not entirely satisfied by it though. Dawkins is certainly are not soft on Alt Med in general, he is just as barbed about those issues as he is about religion (see Enemies of Reason for evidence). The issue here was not one of accommodating alt med (or quack med as I would prefer) the issue is that Dawkins accommodated Maher because he was put in that awkward position by the AAI.

    That is not meant to excuse him however. I think, first of all, that he should have investigated Maher’s medical views as soon as he heard about the complaints. Secondly he should have very clear as soon as he heard about Maher’s medical stupidity that he did not endorse it and in fact repudiated it. I don’t even think any of this would have been bad form. He takes jabs at the priests that he promotes evolution with all the time.

    Basically Dawkins accommodated a person, not an idea. This is the difference in my view. And again, to be very clear, this does not excuse him, but it does indicate that the analogy is flawed.

  66. #66 Dr Benway
    October 3, 2009

    I’m afraid I’ve been scanning past all the posts arguing over Maher’s atheism. In my book, atheists, agnostics, and deists can all be “atheists” if they want to be. Politically they fall in the same category, as all deny the authority of divine revelation.

  67. #67 jessica
    October 4, 2009

    richard dawkins, the supposed paragon of reason and science, chose religion-bashing politics over reason and science.

    i will seriously be reconsidering his arguments about how religion is so dangerous.

    thanks for giving us a voice orac, else this would have been totally suppressed.

  68. #68 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 4, 2009

    Neill @ 64. I think we basically agree. AAI put RD in a shitty spot with their pick, especially in light of the fact that the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason had already agreed to co-sponsor the AAI convention this year–perhaps this fact presented more of a ‘tightrope’ walk than just the book tour stuff on its own would have. Like you, I’m not trying to make excuses, but only trying to acknowledge that the reality of the situation was a little more complicated than the “I’ll overlook any amount of batshit insanity as long as he’s an atheist” caricature that seems to be emerging.

    Jessica, that’s some fine hyperbole you’ve got going there. Orac has indeed been instrumental in keeping the pressure on at Scienceblogs, and I love him all the more for it, but I didn’t hear about this at RI first, and plenty of other discussions have taken place in other venues, including on Dawkins’s own website. ‘Suppression’ is a baseless charge.

  69. #69 John Scanlon, FCD
    October 4, 2009

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an award away when someone is shown to be a crank. people do it all the time.

    You’re talking about beauty pageants though, where it’s all about commercial sponsorship. Or guest speaker engagements at US university Commencements, which is much the same thing.

    The Nobel Committees have committed a few major fuckups along the way (lobotomies? Kissinger?), and they are not retracted. More gravitas, see. That’s what the AAI is emulating.

  70. #70 PZ Myers
    October 4, 2009

    Look, I don’t know what else I can say. I didn’t endorse Maher; if they’d run this decision by me months ago, I would have said, “Are you nuts?”. But of course, I have no clout with the AAI. Dawkins consented to the award initially, because he didn’t know much about the full views held by the crackpot; he would certainly have more clout than I do, but this was ultimately a decision by the AAI. I have discussed this with Dawkins one on one; he thinks Maher’s views on alt medicine are absolute rubbish, and isn’t happy himself…but he does still like the movie and thinks that that deserved an award. I have talked to members of the AAI committee that chose him, and expressed my displeasure without reservation.

    We don’t think quackery is at all appropriate for atheism. The RDF is all about supporting reason and science, and they think Maher’s views on medicine are ridiculous. What more do you want?

    I’ll also add that several people found Maher’s personal behavior at the ceremony to be rude and pompous; while he gave a very funny acceptance speech, I got the impression he didn’t like us much, either. Giving him the award was, in my opinion, a mistake, and I wish it could be retracted. But notice, please: I’m not the guy who decided to give it to him in the first place, nor do I have any power to take it away.

    As for this peculiar argument that I’m somehow going soft on altie bullshit: when I told everyone to be civil and non-disruptive on our visit to the Creation “Museum”, were you all interpreting that to mean I was going soft on creationism? I wish people would notice that I never advocate violence or actions that might interfere with other people’s rights to speak and act (within reason) as they wish. This was more of the same. I was there making the same arguments against the choice of Maher that you are, with the people involved, but I wasn’t going to rush the stage and tackle Maher at this event.

  71. #71 Bill London
    October 4, 2009

    You’ve made a strong case in your various posts to demonstrate the serious errors made by AAI and Dawkins, but I think this statement goes way beyond the evidence and has been contradicted by the efforts of Dawkins throughout his career, in his newest book, in his talk at AAI the evening after Maher got the award, and in the mission of Dawkins’s foundation:

    “To me, this whole fiasco is pretty strong evidence that, if atheism and science come into conflict (unless, of course, that science happens to be the science of evolution, in which case I highly doubt that this controversy would have been so flippantly dismissed), for Richard Dawkins atheism wins hands down, and science-based medicine once again remains the poor, neglected stepchild of the so-called ‘reality-based’ community.”

  72. #72 smith123
    October 4, 2009

    Well PZs post makes a lot of sense, but then there is the video of Dawkins speech introducing Maher. Whilst not sharing his medical views, he nevertheless says “I’m more than happy, delighted to be associated with Bill Maher.”

  73. #73 Silvermute
    October 4, 2009

    @ smith123

    You’re over-analysing it: that’s just how we Brits speak when we’re being polite. I often say “delighted to meet you” on being introduced to someone for the first time: I’m not actually “delighted” in the true meaning of the word.

  74. #74 smith123
    October 4, 2009

    I suppose I could be overanalysing, in New Zealand on some rare occasions we say delighted to meet you. But do you say it in a speech just to be polite?

    I don’t know its possible my dismay at such a crackpot getting an award associated with science coloured my interpretation of Dawkins speech but I could do with some more convincing.

  75. #75 Ramel
    October 4, 2009

    So now the argument is we should lay off Dawkins due to his mysterious inability to google? Seriously in this day and age failing to take a look on the internet before endorsing someone is just plain fucking stupid.

  76. #76 Stella
    October 4, 2009

    Maybe the atheists allying themselves with Maher AND keeping the pressure on him will convince him to change his stance. It’s hard for a public figure who is very vocal about an issue to admit he is wrong solely on the basis of being wrong, but if people he respects gently nudge him into accepting more science-based medicine, maybe he’ll come around. Maybe “Your friends think you’re a kook” is a more powerful message than “prominent scientists/atheists think you’re a kook.” Maybe Dawkins is now in a position to say, “Look, Bill, we gave you an award. Clearly we respect you for your reasoning skills. Now could you please apply them to these medical issues?” And maybe it’ll be effective. Only time will tell.

    (Didn’t another Scienceblogger recently post a study on optimism? That’s totally me right now.)

  77. #77 Ticker
    October 4, 2009

    This whole incident proves once again there’s no heroes to look up to. It’s like finding out Batman isn’t real, all over again.

  78. #78 John Morales
    October 4, 2009

    I think much of the disputation results from conflation of atheism with rationalism.
    Rationalists are almost always atheists¹, but this is not a necessary condition, alas.

    AAI: Atheist Alliance International.
    Their focus is atheism, and that is what the award was for. I don’t think the award criteria weren’t met in intent, though they might’ve arguably so been in a literal narrow sense (specific failure highlighted):

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

    Sigh. Good post, Orac; good response, PZ.

    ¹ I consider agnostics to be atheists, since they’re non-theist.

  79. #79 John Morales
    October 4, 2009

    Ack, editing failure.

    “I don’t think the award criteria weren’t met in intent” → “I don’t think the award criteria were met in intent”.

  80. #80 SteveF
    October 4, 2009

    @silvermute

    “You’re over-analysing it: that’s just how we Brits speak when we’re being polite. I often say “delighted to meet you” on being introduced to someone for the first time: I’m not actually “delighted” in the true meaning of the word.”

    Well, speaking as a Brit and with all due respect, that’s utter crap. We may say delighted to meet you upon meeting someone, but there’s a clear difference between this and “I’m more than happy, delighted to be associated with” someone.

  81. #81 J. J. Ramsey
    October 4, 2009

    PZ Myers:

    Dawkins also takes it very seriously. You must understand: the decision was made by the AAI committee 10 months ago. It was run by Dawkins as a courtesy, and as a Brit, he knew nothing of Maher except that he’d seen Religulous.

    That’s a lousy excuse. Basically, what you are saying is that Dawkins didn’t know enough about Maher to determine whether he merited the award, and yet still let Maher have the award anyway. That’s just lazy.

    damianphillips:

    What, exactly, did people expect Dawkins to do once he became aware of the situation? Refuse to present the award, after having agreed to do so?

    That would have been one viable solution. Sure, it would mean admitting that he had screwed up in letting the award go to Maher in the first place, but it’s not as if Dawkins hasn’t admitted error before. Sure, it would be disruptive and anger a lot of people, but that has hardly stopped Dawkins before, especially when he has been promoting the cause of atheism.

  82. #82 John
    October 4, 2009

    The difference between the anti-vaccers and anti-evolutionists is that evolution has been and is now under far more withering an attack than the anti-vacc people. Yes, ideally the award would go to someone whose positions are right on everything (climate change, vaccines, evolution, rationality, etc). The simple fact is that not all battlegrounds are created equal.

    Presidential candidates are not asked about their position on vaccines. They do not claim that vaccines work but are “helped out” by god in some ill-defined way. Vaccines are given to the overwhelming majority of Americans. Evolution acceptance is nowhere near this level. The anti-vaccine movement isn’t nearly as political, divisive, focused, or well-funded as the anti-evolution movement.

    Until a political candidate can be elected that is an atheist and accepts evolution these two areas are the most important when it comes to the public fight over rational thought. I think we have to address threats in the proportion of danger to a rational-based worldview. I think it is also a good idea to use the people who are accepted by a larger media and have the charisma and appeal to make a difference. We could award the AAI award to countless scientists who would promptly recluse back into their lab and maybe fire off a few blogs read only by people that agree with them.

    I think it is far more productive to co-opt a person like Maher while trying to distance ourself, respectfully, from his medical woo. I’m also optimistic that people who Maher respsects could convince him of his mistake on vaccines. Lastly, I think it would be far easier to take someone like Maher and convince them that they are wrong on vaccines than to take a scientist who is right about all the issues and make them into a charismatic TV star with a popular talk show.

  83. #83 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    So now the argument is we should lay off Dawkins due to his mysterious inability to google? Seriously in this day and age failing to take a look on the internet before endorsing someone is just plain fucking stupid.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much one problem.

    PZ says that Dawkins is distressed and unhappy now about the decision and detests Maher’s medical views. That’s good. However, nearly three months ago, he airily dismissed said concerns in a comment on PZ’s blog when PZ’s readers started referring to Maher’s quack views. Quoth Dawkins:

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

    Come to think of it, PZ himself said nothing about Maher’s quack views when he first announced on his blog the list of speakers for the AAI Convention. In fact, PZ referred to this list as:

    By the way, if you’ve ever wanted to actually meet Mr Deity, you’ve got a shot: he’ll be speaking at the Atheist Alliance International 2009 Convention in LA this October. And it’s not just him, look at this phenomenal lineup of speakers.

    And:

    I’m going to be in there somewhere, too — I’m a late addition. It will be a wonderful assemblage of the godless. Plus one deity.

    It was only after commenters started pointing out that Maher was a crappy choice and I likened giving Maher an award that has the word “science” anywhere in its list of criteria to giving a an award for public health to Jenny McCarthy that he finally started to urge people to “put Maher in the hot seat.”

    So, PZ, if the choice of Maher bothered you so much from the beginning, why did it take reminders from your readers and me to goad you into starting to criticize him three days after your original post announcing the lineup for the AAI Convention? Did you warn Richard Dawkins back in July? If not, why not? Aren’t you guys buddies now? After all, you seemed to spend a fair amount of time hanging out with Dawkins at this convention. Isn’t that what friends do? Warn friends when a shitstorm’s coming their way?

    I realize that neither you nor Richard Dawkins had any say in who got the award, but it really does strike me as an EPIC FAIL on Dawkins’ part not to have taken the complaints more seriously right from the beginning. It’s not just me. With Dr. Benway leading the charge, the commenters at the RDF are also largely up in arms. Even worse, Paula Kirby (comment 478 in the RDF thread I just linked to) said this:

    I don’t know how long ago it was, Steve, but I do know Richard has said he knew nothing of Maher’s views on medicine until just the other day.

    Is that true? The clamor began back in July, right after the selection of Maher was announced. If Dawkins didn’t know about it until “just the other day,” then I add the EPIC FAIL not just to him but to PZ and anyone else who knows Dawkins and knew about Maher’s love for woo.

    Of course, that’s all water under the bridge now. What I want to know is what the AAI and RDF are going to do after the convention to make sure a fiasco like this doesn’t happen again.

  84. #84 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    Regarding the Hitchens comparison. Hitchens might be wrong about many things, and his continued defense of the war is embarrassing. Still, those are not — usually — scientific arguments he’s making, they’re political or ethical arguments. Maher is making scientific, factual claims, and he really *is* demonstrably wrong. “Vaccines cause autism” is just wronger than “We’re safer now,” however stupid “We’re safer now” is.

    I don’t see how giving this award to Maher is any less “accommodationist” than enduring or wanting to make peace with the “fatheists.” I think it’s worse: I would rather see an award in Dawkins’s name given to a Kenneth Miller, say, who, whatever his religious beliefs are, doesn’t drag his beliefs into magisteria where they don’t belong. I suspect Dawkins would too. I’d hope so anyway.

    I’m as anti-accommodationist PZ or Jerry Coyne, But guys like Maher are worse for science and reason than Chris Mooney or Kenneth Miller, way worse. The fact that he’s anti-religion (or at least anti-monotheism) doesn’t begin to forgive his pseudo science.

    Reason and science are how one should arrive at their atheism, a byproduct of critical thinking. Giving an award for doing it backwards is mindboggling.

  85. #85 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    The difference between the anti-vaccers and anti-evolutionists is that evolution has been and is now under far more withering an attack than the anti-vacc people.

    A few years with an attitude like this prevailing, and I bet antivaxers will be able to give creationists a run for their money.

  86. #86 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    John said:

    “”The difference between the anti-vaccers and anti-evolutionists is that evolution has been and is now under far more withering an attack than the anti-vacc people. Yes, ideally the award would go to someone whose positions are right on everything (climate change, vaccines, evolution, rationality, etc). The simple fact is that not all battlegrounds are created equal.”"

    The battlegrounds aren’t very far apart, and it wouldn’t be very hard to find someone who was an atheist and also actually supported science. That doesn’t seem hard at all. Otherwise, it’s almost like

    “Here’s a famous atheist. He’s a quack, but what can you do? Gotta give it to someone.”

    And I’d say, if you had to separate them and try to figure out which is worse, woo and all quackery vs. religion and creationism, I’d say woo and pseudo-science are worse and more harmful, directly more harmful. Maybe not, but the battlegrounds are pretty close. I certainly run into a lot more woo and quackery than creationists (plus, creationists, however many there are, are on the defensive, while quackery is moving very, very fast). In fact, I know one hesitant, possible creationist, and almost everyone else I know is somewhat quack prone. Quackery is more a disease of the left, and it’d be nice to see the AAI (and Dawkins) doing a little something more for ‘science and reason’ than preaching to the choir.

  87. #87 John
    October 4, 2009

    We can’t launch full blown artillery barrages at everything that deviates; I’m advocating measured responses. I really don’t see the anti-vaccine movement building up that much steam, but if it did then it should be focused on to that extent.

    Vaccines also have two advantages over evolution: it is extremely obvious that they work, and they don’t directly conflict with religion as it is widely interpreted today. Virtually every American understands that vaccines exist. Once there was polio and small-pox ravaging the world; now there isn’t. Evolution is much more esoteric. People simply have a hard time ignoring their religion to accept that a 20 year study on bacteria evolving to adapt to a different environment means dinosaurs evolved into birds.

    Threats to rational thinking exists in a myriad of places. The biggest threat by far, dwarfing all others, is religion and it is targeting two things primarily: evolution, and skeptical-philosophy (atheism).

  88. #88 rb
    October 4, 2009

    Gee PZ, way to bury your feelings about Maher in the bottom of the comments section. You didn’t bury them when talking about “accomodationists” in other areas. Why did you not join Orac from the outset with full blown pharyngulation of Maher. Because you didn’t want to cause a disturbance in the force? umm I mean AAI? is the alliance between atheist groups that tenuous?

  89. #89 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    @ John (#87)

    My goodness you are pretty naive about the anti-vaccine movement. Sure, it’s obvious to scientists that vaccines work, but, because they work so well, it’s no longer so obvious to lay people. The anti-vaccine movement plays on that very aspect, and it has an explanation as to why polio is rarely seen in the U.S. now that claims that it’s the better hygiene, etc. In huge swaths of California and other woo-friendly areas vaccination rates are plummeting.

    No, you really do appear not to understand.

  90. #90 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    John:

    “We can’t launch full blown artillery barrages at everything that deviates; I’m advocating measured responses.”

    Of course you can. Why the hell not? That’s what this blog is about.

    And the anti-vaccine movement is not “deviating,” it’s a huge movement. Plus the passion of the anti-vaxxers is way more passionate and “knowledgeable” than most people who are anti-evolution.

    But it doesn’t matter which is worse. They’re both terrible. Commence with full blown artillery barrages. It would be nice if the order had come from commander Dawkins.

  91. #91 Muzz
    October 4, 2009

    *knock knock*
    *creak*
    “Psst, is this the gallery for the House Un-Atheist Activities Commission? a…Oh you’ve already started. Damn. Did I miss the shaving of the collaborators?”

  92. #92 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    @91 No, it’s the Un-Reason and Anti-Science Activities Commision.

  93. #93 John
    October 4, 2009

    The reason we can’t launch full blown at everything is that we will end up in an echo chamber. I really don’t want to see the proponents of rational thought burn every bridge to the outside world. We, finally, have a mainstream personality willing to be seen with us. While that may not appeal to your pride (it doesn’t mine either) I think it is a much better idea to attempt to correct what appears to be Maher’s only problem (awful as it may be) than to attempt to make reclusive scientists who write papers 99.5% of Americans can’t read into charismatic ambassadors.

    If we had a Carl Sagan, then I’d say give him the award. The closest thing we have is Neal de Grasse Tyson and he has a long way to go yet. My fear is that proponents of rational thought will only award and applaud people who noone else have heard of. If we intend to have impact (as opposed to parties congratulating how right we are) we need to be willing to be pragmatic and be more shrewd with the resources and connections we have instead of cold-shouldering. In this I think Dawkins took the right tac in his speech awarding Maher.

    As an aside, what was Dawkins supposed to do? Once he realized what Maher thought was he supposed to campaign for the award to be rescinded? Was he supposed to tear apart Maher during his speech giving the award? What a great message, atheists like to give awards only to stab you in the back. Are we so ready to isolate ourselves further?

  94. #94 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    “I really don’t want to see the proponents of rational thought burn every bridge to the outside world.”

    Which is not what would happen by not giving the award to Bill Maher.

    “The closest thing we have is Neal de Grasse Tyson and he has a long way to go yet.”

    Yeah, a long way to go to Bill Maher-ville. Are you kidding? I could think of dozens of people. Possibly not as famous as Maher but also a lot less controversial (if you want to burn bridges to the fence sitting potential atheists, give the award to Bill Maher. If you don’t, give it to Tyson, who’s respectful (for better or worse) and who happens to use critical thinking, science, and reason. Fame wasn’t a criteria that mattered too much anyway, considering the past recipients (all of whom are awesome and deserved it).

    “Once he realized what Maher thought was he supposed to campaign for the award to be rescinded?”

    Yet again, why not? That would have been awesome, and now all of Dawkins defenders would be applauding him. Dawkins’s documentary “Enemies of Reason” is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. Certainly one of the best about critical thinking. But Maher is anti-everything in that documentary. I was dumbfounded he didn’t pull his name or ask Maher’s to be pulled. Or at least why not just give a scathing speech, like Bollinger gave at Columbia, or at least a scathing speech, an anti-pseudo-science lecture, for half his talk. Let Maher get up there and defend his beliefs.

  95. #96 John
    October 4, 2009

    I see this as a continuation of my failure to communicate effectively with hard-line idealists. Your very username is “howtoplayalone”. Well I’m tired of playing alone. I’m all for some caustic attacks and the occasional drawing of the line in the sand but we if we do it every time we will simply not matter.

    I personally think Ken Miller’s point of view is damn near incoherent but I don’t attack him because I’m aware of how useful an evolutionary theist is. I don’t see why we can’t work with a person when they agree with us, and oppose them when they don’t. We can agree with Bill Maher on religion, climate change, and evolution. We should, therefore, work with him on those issues. The award was an atheist award, and he is an atheist, and he has done more for atheism than anyone else this year with the power of his movie and TV show. He earned the award and it shouldn’t be denied – or worse, stripped – because he disagrees with a large number of atheists on vaccines.

    A proper approach to solving problems is to work with people when you can agree. If you refuse to work with people on issues of agreement because of disagreement on a separate issue, then be prepared to “play alone” and be a lone, ineffectual voice in the wilderness.

  96. #97 John @93
    October 4, 2009

    And the people, mostly children who wind up deaf, blind, paralyzed or dead due to vaccine preventable diseases are just collateral damage in the fight against theism. I have far fewer problems with with theists who compartmentalize their irrationality to their religious beliefs than I do quasi atheists who hold irrational beliefs about vaccines and science in general.

    I have no problem “isolating” atheism from a loud mouthed contrarian ignoramus who is an atheist only because the people he disagrees with politically are usually christians.

  97. #98 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    The anti-vaccine movement isn’t nearly as political, divisive, focused, or well-funded as the anti-evolution movement.

    Well over 40 of our leading medical schools now have departments of “integrative medicine.” A billion of our tax dollars have been funnelled into NCCAM for pseudoresearch that’s more about promoting naturopathy and chiropractic than science.

    The laws in state after state have been changed and are being changed to expand the scope of practice for naturopaths and chiropracters. Soon they will be federally designated “primary care physicians.” Tom Harkin, backed by Herbalife, now chairs the committee drafting healthcare policy in this country.

    You have not been paying attention. The enemies faced by scientific medicine are far more powerful than the moronic dweebs at the Discovery Institute.

    Presently I can’t report a colleague for recommending chelation for autism to a State Board of Medicine, as the laws have been changed specifically to protect “alternative” medicine.

  98. #99 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    “Your very username is “howtoplayalone”. Well I’m tired of playing alone.”

    That is so clever! How do you do it? It must be a gift. I don’t think I was rude to you, I certainly didn’t lay any stupid jokes on you.

    Not accommodating Maher’s quackery would not make me, or Dawkins, or Orac or anybody else’s an “ineffectual voice in the wilderness.” I would say it would make Dawkins’s stand for reason and science more effective, certainly less wishy washy (this is the only case I’d accuse him of being having a wishy washy stance about science, which is why it’s so surprising and frustrating).

    I don’t think a science based medicine award should be given to a creationist who happened to strongly support all science based medicine, particularly not in Dawkins’s name. I don’t think Orac would allow a science award to be given to a physics super genius in Orac’s name if the physicist was also a Holocaust denier. It’s not alienating the world to strongly disapprove of snake oil pushers and not give them awards in one’s name. I’d approve of giving the award to Maher if he only say was a big pusher of multi-vitamins and raw food. He’s not, he’s dangerous.

  99. #100 Joseph C.
    October 4, 2009

    Well over 40 of our leading medical schools now have departments of “integrative medicine.”

    And they’re starting the woo at M1 now with the CAM clubs.

    Not to mention woo-friendly professors who try to set us up with “awesome experiences” doing international clerkships for the “department of herbal medicine” for hospitals in China. This is after they’ve lectured us on the fact that we can’t just go by “the western allopathic model”.

  100. #101 John
    October 4, 2009

    If the joke was offensive, my apologies. I meant it as a light jibe, not direct insult.

    I will admit I didn’t know that medical quackery has made such headway in the United States. I live in Mississippi and am surrounded by substantially more religious woo than medical woo.

    This new-agey medical woo, growing as it might be, doesn’t have thousands of years of religion backing it. I think it to be a silly fad that few will take seriously over years. Evolution and atheism have faced stalwart opposition from organized religion.

    I could very well be underestimating the power of medical woo but I stand by my feeling of working with people when common ground can be met. I also stand by my strategic musings that it would be easier to make Maher into an ideal ambassador than a nameless scientist. I think 45 minutes alone with Neal de Grasse Tyson (or one of countless scientists with SOME penchant for communication to the layman) could convince him of his error. Remaking a scientist into having the influence and charisma Maher does, however, is much harder.

  101. #102 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    Why are so many of our basic science colleages seemingly blind to the enormous devastation of academic integrity at our medical schools? Why the indifference to the rapid expansion of naturopathy, chiropractic, and TCM?

    I have to guess that alternative medicine seems reasonable to many of our science friends. They must be sympathetic to the “BigPharma” anti-authoritarian rhetoric we hear from Maher and others.

  102. #103 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    I’m offense proof. Just seemed like a pointless ad hominem.

    I see what you mean, I just am more worried about quackery than religion (although I’m very worried about religion) probably because I don’t live in Mississippi and do live in an arty college neighborhood.

    http://whatstheharm.net/vaccinedenial.html

    And I’m *certain* it’s not a silly fad. It’s been around forever, literally all of human history, and it’s more surprising and worrying now that we actually do have a scientific method. Evidence that it’s no more powerful now than over the last 200 years:

    http://www.amazon.com/Fads-Fallacies-Name-Science-Popular/dp/0486203948

  103. #104 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    And they’re starting the woo at M1 now with the CAM clubs.

    Joseph C., you break my heart.

    M1 (first year med students) are like vulnerable babies. It’s a long marathon run on a razor’s edge to get into medical school, where a student faces yet another marathon against far more elite competitors, involving far more physically and intellectually challenging trials, on the journey toward a good residency spot. There’s no room for raising hell. For this reason, faculty absolutely must protect students from sectarianism. Cult medicine is an abuse of power.

    I weep. I really do.

    and through the intellectually and physically gruelling trials and to to win a spot at the residency you want, and t

  104. #105 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    I could very well be underestimating the power of medical woo but I stand by my feeling of working with people when common ground can be met.

    John, my “holy shit” moment came last year when I shared an autistic patient with and MD who convinced the mother that her child had Lyme disease, mercury poisoning, PANDAS, leaky gut syndrome, systemic candidiasis, hepatic insufficiency, and a number of nutritional deficiencies.

    This MD sent the child’s sent blood work to four naturopath-friendly laboratories. The misleading results came with the standard quack miranda warning in the footer: “Not for the diagnosis or treatment of disease.”

    I wrote to the med school I graduated from asking for help in standing up to the “integrative medicine” movement. I offered a scholarship to pay for a med student to attend the Science Based Medicine conference at TAM last year.

    Professor emeritus thanked me for my generous offer, which he forwarded to the chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine.

    No takers for the scholarship.

  105. #106 Joseph C.
    October 4, 2009

    @Benway,

    Actually, I think woo-friendly faculty can’t do a damn thing to pre-clinical students. Either you bubble in the correct answer on the Scantron sheet, or you do not. Same thing for USMLE Step 1. Also, like you suggest earlier, you don’t find many woos among the basic science folk that teach most pre-clinical classes.

    It’s the clinical years where they can really screw you over. Those years where you need good rotation grades and pissing off a woo-friendly attending certainly could harm your grade. And then there’s the LOR issue, which obviously could be a problem if you want to match into specialty X and the dept. chair of specialty X at your school just happens to be a woomeister that you’ve deeply offended accidentally.

    Ultimately, I think the vast majority of med school faculty are not woo-friendly, but it only takes a few to do a lot of damage.

  106. #107 Joseph C.
    October 4, 2009

    No takers for the scholarship.

    Obviously, the lazy bastards didn’t even offer it to the students. All it takes is an email or even an announcement between lectures.

    Med students would sell their first born into slavery for a free lunch. No way in hell they’re turning down a free trip to Vegas.

  107. #108 Matthew Putman
    October 4, 2009

    I completely agree that you must not look over one error in judgment, just because someone got it right with something else. The power of entertainers is a touchy thing. As scientists we need people to communicate, and expose our work, which too often is lost in journals. Mahar really has been good for debunking religions grasp on reason. The fact though that he has fallen so desperately short in regards to medical science could destroy any progress he has made. It leaves critics with the justification of saying “how can a man who cares for reason be so unreasonable”? I think Dawkins and the other high profile new atheists need to call him out publicly. Giving facts and figures, not just words.

  108. #109 Pierce R. Butler
    October 4, 2009

    Dr. Benway @ # 49: Iraq is a mess. There’s a lot of room for reasonable people to argue over both factual and value statements.

    Imagine someone saying that about a patient in critical condition due to intervention by a notorious quack. The policies which Hitchens has cheered on Iraq are undeniable and atrocious failures, as proven by results. This is not contradicted, in either case, by the many difficulties in finding suitable remedies.

    John @ # 87: The biggest threat … is religion and it is targeting two things primarily: evolution, and skeptical-philosophy (atheism).

    Uh, no. The primary targets of religion in this country are gay rights and abortion rights. Other sex-related issues (contraception, privacy laws, health education, etc) are the rings around that double bullseye.

    Outward from there we find hate crime laws, accurate history education, and whatever opportunistic quarry their corporate allies point them to (health insurance reform, at present). Evolution and atheism are still at the edges of their radar.

    That’s in the US. Worldwide, the primary targets of religion seem to be – following a venerable tradition, a measure of which spills over into American crusades as well – other religions.

  109. #110 Rorschach
    October 5, 2009

    This post and the comments suffer from the ideological burden of the blog host, as usual.
    People can not separate someone’s contributions on one issue with their views on other issues.
    I marvel at how you guys have relationships or marriages, what do you do if your spouse disagrees on any given issue? Well, you dont get divorced straight away, do you, which makes you hypocrites IMO.

    Maher made a movie about religion for which he was given an award, he has other views that are rather out there and unscientific, but the award has nothing to do with them.

  110. #111 Scott
    October 5, 2009

    The difference between the anti-vaccers and anti-evolutionists is that evolution has been and is now under far more withering an attack than the anti-vacc people.

    The other, far more important difference, is that anti-vaccinationism is deadly, with the potential to kill literally millions. Creationism is entirely irrelevant in comparison.

  111. #112 Pablo
    October 5, 2009

    Maher made a movie about religion for which he was given an award, he has other views that are rather out there and unscientific, but the award has nothing to do with them.

    So the Richard Dawkins award has nothing to do with science and reason?

    Will the AAI formally change the criteria, then, or will they just continue to ignore it at their convenience?

  112. #113 Hank
    October 7, 2009

    Quite frankly, I no longer care much about atheism; science and reason are my passion

    Science on the Internet needs a lot more of this kind of thinking.

  113. #114 Dr Benway
    October 7, 2009

    Maher made a movie about religion for which he was given an award, he has other views that are rather out there and unscientific, but the award has nothing to do with them.

    So you say. Some people feel otherwise. You don’t show any sign that you grasp their arguments or that you care to.

    Relationships are quite straightforward when you’re the only one in them.