Respectful Insolence

I hadn’t planned on writing much, if anything more, about the whole Bill Maher debacle, but PZ has shown up in my comments and graciously tried to explain what’s going on at the AAI convention regarding the truly awful choice of Bill Maher for the Richard Dawkins Award:

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.

As has been the case all along, there is a mixture of reasonable and not quite reasonable in PZ’s words. There also seems to be a bit of revisionist history there. For example, the bit about the Creationist Museum strikes me as a wee bit disingenuous. PZ can correct me if I’m wrong, but the reason he wanted everyone to be polite was because he didn’t want to give the museum officials an excuse to kick anyone out or refuse the group entry to the museum. But that’s merely an irritating quibble. Let’s look at the history of how the Maher Mess developed.

PZ now states that Professor Dawkins is distressed and unhappy now about the decision and detests Maher’s medical views. That’s good, and I have no reason to doubt this characterization of Professor Dawkin’s opinion. However, nearly three months ago, Dawkins airily dismissed said concerns in a comment on PZ’s blog when PZ’s readers started referring to Maher’s quack views. I think it’s worth reminding everyone what Dawkins wrote:

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 thusly:

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.

At the top of that “phenomonal” list? Bill Maher. No mention of Maher’s support for quackery, though. If PZ was distressed by the selection of Bill Maher for the Richard Dawkins Award, there was no indication of it in the post.

PZ concluded with:

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.

I reiterate that there was absolutely no mention in that post of Maher’s kooky medical views. If PZ was so distressed at Maher’s being selected right from the beginning, there certainly was no evidence of it back on July 20 when he made that post. It was only after some of PZ’s commenters started pointing out that Maher was a crappy choice because of his support of anti-vaccine views, strong advocacy of alternative medicine, PETA, and his sympathy for HIV/AIDS denialist views and after 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 PZ wrote another post in which he urged people to “put Maher in the hot seat.” Indeed, I used that post as part of my inspiration to ask Bill Maher some questions, which I later expanded to a campaign to ask Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins some questions.

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

I realize that neither PZ nor Dawkins had any say in who got the award, but it really does strike me as a 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.

I wonder if that’s true. Certainly, the way things went down at the AAI Convention suggests to me that it is. The problem is that the clamor and protest over Maher’s selection began way back in July, right after his selection was announced. If Dawkins didn’t know about it until “just the other day,” then I add the FAIL not just to him but to PZ and anyone else who both knew Dawkins and knew about Maher’s promotion of medical pseudoscience. By not warning him back in July, if that’s what indeed happened, they failed Richard Dawkins. Moreover, if it weren’t for a few of us refusing to let this issue go, I’m quite sure that it would have faded into oblivion, other than some grumbling on some discussion boards, long before the convention. Also, please note that, to some extent, I include myself in this FAIL. Even though Dawkins doesn’t know Orac from a box of blinking lights (assuming that, as a Brit, he’s familiar with the inspiration for my pseudonym), perhaps I should have tried anyway to find out how to contact him and then to do it. Mea culpa there. In retrospect, I could have name-dropped PZ as a means of trying to establish my cred. If Dawkins truly didn’t know about Maher’s looniness until a few days ago, then my mistake was to assume that he had somehow been informed, based on the chatter on his own discussion boards and PZ’s knowledge of Maher’s support of quackery.

What I want is not to keep harping on this (after this post, at least) but to look to the future.

This screw-up is 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. This was a massively EPIC FAIL on the part of the AAI that ended up sliming Richard Dawkins. What can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again? That’s the important question now, as I’m sure PZ would agree, our disagreement over this whole mess notwithstanding.

Hopefully (and I’m sure that many, if not most, of my readers would agree), I won’t be posting about Bill Maher again for a long time. My desire to finally leave this issue behind notwithstanding, it’ll probably be just my luck that on Friday’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, Maher will finally proclaim that he thinks homeopathy can cure cancer.

Comments

  1. #1 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    I have to wonder, sincerely, if PZ sees any difference between the accommodation of Mooney and the accommodation of Maher.

    Maher seems *dramatically* worse to me: he’s not an accommodationist after all but a promoter of dangerous pseudo-science. I understand this was an atheist conference, not exactly a “science and reason” conference, but still.

    Why attack Mooney and defend Maher’s selection. Would it be OK to give Mooney the award? I’d certainly hope so, considering Maher. Would it be OK to give Karen Armstrong a Science and Reason award? I’d prefer her to Maher.

  2. #2 UK Visitor
    October 4, 2009

    In defence of Brits ignorant about Bill Maher, all this one can say is that, well, he was ignorant of Maher’s views until Orac and others raised the matter. I suspect Dawkins – though well-travelled – fits the Brit sterotype too, in not knowing too much about Maher.

    Bear in mind that Maher sprang to prominence in the UK from brief snippets (not on mainstream TV) where he took the piss out of Bush and fundamentalists. Those of you who saw his shows in their totality were ahead of us; you knew what he thought on Altmed.

    With hindsight what Maher seems to want is easy targets: Bush obviously, then Christians… all well and good… when it came to Big Pharma, however, his jibes entailed his support for weird and unscientific irrationalism.

    Let’s make this the last EPIC FAIL. (Says a guilty one.)

  3. #3 Terry
    October 4, 2009

    UK Visitor:
    Maher seems reasonable in snippets until you get to see him in action for an hour. He’s not a skeptic, he’s merely contrary. His last show was called Politically Incorrect because that’s all and only what you got: alternative viewpoints without any consideration for their accuracy or relevance.

    Maher’s shallowness is striking.

  4. #4 beebeeo
    October 4, 2009

    I think we need to calm down a bit. I read (almost) everything you and PZ write and I agree that Maher wasn’t the best choice. Even though I do like his show every now and then, I knew he wasn’t very reasonable as far as altmed is concerned. Even though the award states that science and reason are a criterion, I do not think that many people will make the connection between an atheist award and Maher’s woo support.
    Maher will not start waving his “science and reason award” to people arguing about woo. Now its time to move on, and everybody will be more careful when its time to give an award again. If Maher start using the fact that he was awarded as an argument to support his opinion of woo, Dawkins can still withdraw his endorsement of the award.

  5. #5 Barn Owl
    October 4, 2009

    Thanks, Orac, for all you’ve written on the subject. I’m hoping that the brilliant Stephen Fry will be considered for the award in the future, especially with his recent series Last Chance to See, which involves zoology and conservation biology. Fry is also the host of a very witty and intellectual program QI (Quite Interesting), and, unlike Maher, he’s actually funny. Nor does he have any quack woo medicine beliefs, AFAIK; I think his recent weight loss was the result of pretty standard diet and exercise changes.

  6. #6 Ramel
    October 4, 2009

    @UK Visitor: Dawkins may not have known who Maher is, hell I’m british and I’d never heard of him before this business, but if he’s going to endorse a nomination for an award with his name on it a few minutes online would be a fairly good idea don’t you think?

  7. #7 Mary
    October 4, 2009

    Orac, enough of your schoolyard rants. I’m extremely disappointed with the flinging of testosterone here.

    FTR: PZ has moved to the top of my ‘must read’ pile and you’ve been nudged down a bit. Keep it up and I’ll delete you like I did Isis.

  8. #8 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    @Mary

    “Schoolyard rant”? Geez, you haven’t read some of PZ’s more–shall we say?–animated rants against religion, have you? At times, he makes me seem downright sedate in comparison.

    Be that as it may, I note that Mary doesn’t refute anything I’ve said. Others have made some reasonable objections and counterarguments over the course of my several posts on this issue. That’s good. Vigorous debate is a good thing. I also note that none of those who have objected to my campaign has thus far or vigorously disagreed with my stand has threatened to “delete” me.

    Perhaps you’d better just delete me and get it over with. I suspect that reading my blog will not be good for your blood pressure, and I wouldn’t want that on my conscience. Besides, if you really want to see the “flinging of testosterone,” just wait until I get into another exchange with J.B. Handley of Generation Rescue. Now, that‘s “flinging testosterone.” What I’m doing right here, right now in this post is simply vigorously disagreeing.

    Funny, though, that you characterize this vigorous disagreement between two men as “flinging testosterone.” Do you similarly think that the disagreement between Chris Mooney and PZ is “flinging testosterone”? I wonder…

  9. #9 Colugo
    October 4, 2009

    Your point is a good one. In the age of the internet and Google, Dawkins could and should have been instantly informed of Maher’s promotion of pseudoscience – then he could have voiced his misgivings, Maher would have been quickly dropped, and everyone would have moved on by now.

    Nobody in the wider world knows or cares about the distinctions between RDA, RDFRS, and Dawkins himself. Incorrectly or not, what will be gleaned from this episode is that what Dawkins represents has given what Maher represents the stamp of approval.

    Wich is more important to atheists/skeptics/rationalists: promotion of rationalism or opposition to organized religion? Maher is not even an atheist. The message is that being against Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths is more important to atheists than fostering rationalism and reason.

    In the hardline atheist community, Ken Miller is more risible a figure than is Bill Maher. Which, given their respective histories with regard to science and rationalism, is really nuts. I’m not saying that Miller’s views are not problematic in some respects. But I’ll take him over a conspiracy-monger like Maher any day.

  10. #10 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    Barn Owl! Of course. Stephen Fry 2010!

  11. #11 Richard
    October 4, 2009

    Group hug! Excluding Bill Maher, of course.

  12. #12 Militant Agnostic
    October 4, 2009

    Besides, if you really want to see the “flinging of testosterone,” just wait until I get into another exchange with J.B. Handley of Generation Rescue. Now, that’s “flinging testosterone.”

    That would be flinging “sheets of testosterone”.

  13. #13 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    It’s only flinging testosterone if you disagree! Otherwise it’s reasoned argument.

  14. #14 Perky Skeptic
    October 4, 2009

    Militant Agnostic @12 FTW!!!

  15. #15 Isis the Scientist
    October 4, 2009

    Losing Mary as a reader keeps me up at night. Seriously. Come back, Mary.

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    October 4, 2009

    Well, I guess it’s something that I have been moved from the category ‘tacitly approves of quackery’ to ‘didn’t criticize quackery soon enough or loud enough’. I’ve asked what else I can say in my repudiation of Maher, and apparently the answer is to invent a time machine and go back to repudiate him sooner.

    The bottom line: I do not defend the Maher selection, and I’m with you 100% in thinking Maher is a kook who probably spends too much time listening to Ariana Huffington instead of thinking rationally, and that I would not have given him this award at all. Dawkins also thinks he’s a real wackaloon, but thinks the movie earned him some appreciation (by the way, I was not particularly happy with the movie and thought his Oscar performance was a red flag that he was an ass, and don’t really agree with Dawkins on this). I’m certain the AAI will be vetting their nominations much more thoroughly in the future — the committee members I talked to were regretful, both because they disagreed with the altie nutcase stuff, and because they had walked into a PR nightmare no matter what they did at this point.

    So now we’re in this strange situation where I’m getting denounced for not being as quick or vociferous as you are on the Maher matter. You really don’t want to go down that road, man. I’ve got a long list of creationists who I’ve slammed harder than you have; shall I wave it around and declare that Orac is soft on creationism? No, because I know you aren’t. Similarly, I’m not soft on altie assholes, but I trust in other blogging watchdogs like yourself to cover that beat far more effectively and with more depth than I possibly can. I approvingly linked to your post documenting the sins of Maher and offering a list of good questions to hammer him with. I can’t be held at fault for lacking the expertise to put together a great dissection like that — I acknowledged your contributions on that.

    As for all of the people making this silly claim that Dawkins should have just googled Maher — try it yourself. Maher is a minor media figure. Google him and you mainly get articles about his show, about Religulous, about public appearances, some of his humor pieces, and even his criticism of climate change denialists is fairly prominent. He looks like a funny skeptic from a superficial google search! His quackery is buried deep, isn’t a major feature of his public persona, and you need to plug in the right key words to find it on Google. It’s a bit disingenuous to argue that someone who wasn’t familiar with the Maher schtick ought to be able to find it with little effort.

  17. #17 howtoplayalone
    October 4, 2009

    That’s not very hard:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_maher#Views_on_health_care

    This is the first thing I would have googled, and it would have raised the red quack flag.

  18. #18 howtoplayalone alec
    October 4, 2009

    That’s not very hard:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_maher#Views_on_health_care

    This is the first thing I would have googled, and it would have raised the red quack flag.

  19. #19 bob
    October 4, 2009

    Thanks for all you’ve written about this, Orac. I think this is a good place to end it, unless PZ or RD stops by and drops a deuce in the comments.

    Of course, some people still aren’t getting the point. Like beebeeo @4: “Even though I do like his show every now and then, I knew he wasn’t very reasonable as far as altmed is concerned.”

    Let’s replace *altmed* with *evolution*, and try and imagine what PZ and RD would have done. The analogy seems strange, because anti-evolution-ism is typically religion-based, but technically evolution is just a science issue and has no bearing on the a/theism question.

    As for Orac’s question about what to do in the future, for me the answer is clear. Support efforts that promote science and skepticism, rather than support atheism itself. If organized atheism is willing to shelve science, then it’s too akin to a religion for my taste.

  20. #20 PZ Myers
    October 4, 2009

    Actually, I do have one productive suggestion, at least.

    It would be useful to have the Maher criticism moved up higher in google searches, so it would be a good idea for more bloggers to link to Orac’s questions.

    I’m in the midst of getting ready to leave the meetings and vanish into airplanes for a while, but I’ll talk to Josh Timonen and suggest that one really good thing for the RDF to do would be to link to and promote Orac’s criticisms of Bill Maher. Seriously, they also agree with Orac — it’s just that as an organization they are trapped by the initial misstep, and as I mentioned above, there is nothing that they can do that isn’t a PR catastrophe. While the individuals see the problem, the organizations involved are tangled up in damage control mode.

  21. #21 Pablo
    October 4, 2009

    PZ – it isn’t an issue of “vetting” the awardee. We aren’t talking about whether he has a mistress or failed to pay social security tax on a housekeeper. No, this was the AAI failing to even consider the criteria they provided for the award. We aren’t complaining because they failed to realize he was a medical quack, but because they didn’t even consider the “promotion of reason and science” aspect of their award. If they had, they would have found pretty quickly that he failed.

    But I agree with PZ that it’s not reasonable to expect Dawkins to have googled Maher. Then again, he didn’t need to, because he was informed about it through PZ’s link to Orac’s blog. So what did he do when he learned Maher was a medical crank? Meh…

    I said it last night. Instead of saying, “I didn’t know, but I liked his movie and think he’s funny,” would it have been so hard to say, “Really? I didn’t realize it. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have approved it. Oh well, too late now…”?

    Would that type of comment on PZ Myers’s blog really have been so damaging or controversial, or insulting to Maher?

    Then again, PZ indicates that Dawkins still does not object to Maher getting the award, so I’m not sure that would have been his statement. Medical science be damned…

  22. #22 XD
    October 4, 2009

    @17

    When was that section added?

  23. #23 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    As for all of the people making this silly claim that Dawkins should have just googled Maher — try it yourself.

    OK:

    Bill Maher vaccine
    Bill Maher alternative medicine
    Bill Maher (Wikipedia), specifically Views on Health Care

    I do, however, appreciate your linking to me and suggesting that others do so. On the other hand, I still wonder why Dawkins wasn’t made aware of this problem back in July. Remember, in retrospect I now also include myself in the EPIC FAIL. Apparently I was too blinded or intimidated by the The Great Man even to consider trying to contact him myself. I also assumed that you or someone else had done so. It goes to show, as the saying goes, that when you “assume” you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

  24. #24 bob
    October 4, 2009

    And, my “unless” comes true before my post even got submitted. PZ, you too are missing the point. Since you’re normally so good as slicing through BS, I suspect you’re being deliberately obtuse.

    The problem isn’t what happened at the meeting; it went as well as it could have. The problem is what to do to prevent things like this from happening in the future. You say that this can be prevented by a more careful vetting process. I don’t trust this, since this problem wasn’t hard to foresee (your comment about googling Maher was asinine, as howtoplayalone already pointed out). Also, Maher wasn’t the only one there who was full of shit, as you pointed out yourself with Maurice Bisheff.

    Frankly, I don’t know if supporting atheism in and of itself is worth as much effort as it is currently garnering. It’s important for the sake of civil rights and discrimination, but it’s also easily misled. Plenty of people are atheists for irrational reasons: they hate religion, they like being contrarian, it seems “alternative” and trendy, etc. If atheists aren’t careful, these wackaloons might swamp the movement. If science and reason are given top billing, the atheism will also get promoted by proxy.

  25. #25 Colugo
    October 4, 2009

    bob: “Let’s replace *altmed* with *evolution*, and try and imagine what PZ and RD would have done.”

    Excellent point.

    Even if a recipient were not a creationist/IDist but merely a anti-natural selection crank on evolution to the degree of, say, Mae-Wan Ho, Rupert Sheldrake, Antonio Lima-de-Faria, or the balloon animal guy whose name escapes me, the award would have been publicly rescinded without hesitation.

    The organization’s damage control choice of going through with the travesty is due to medicine being lower on the list of priorities than organized religion and evolution. But a little PR pain earlier on would have been a far better alternative. This will be a lasting shame, the atheist version of “cdesign proponentsists.”

  26. #26 Chris
    October 4, 2009

    ISTM that organizations that want to associate themselves with science and reason ought not to get into “damage control modes”. I know it’s endemic in bureaucracies, but surely the RDF can take a lesson from Dawkins’s own retelling of the respect shown an elderly scientist who admitted he was wrong? (Which is in one of his books, but unfortunately I forget which.)

    If you’re wrong about an empirical question, no amount of “damage control” is going to make you less wrong, or even make you seem less wrong. It will only make you look ridiculous. Whether or not Maher should be given an award isn’t an empirical question, but people are familiar enough with organizational waffling that it doesn’t really convince anyone anymore.

    Orac does have a point that nominees should be more thoroughly vetted in advance in the future, though.

  27. #27 PZ Myers
    October 4, 2009

    Some people really aren’t getting it. Why would anyone, when considering giving Maher an award for Religulous, type “maher’s views on healthcare” into google? The movie is what made him prominent in the atheist community. That tends to focus one’s interests; health is the focus of this blog and the readers here, so of course you’d go searching for his views on a subject of direct and immediate interest to you. Dawkins would have been more likely to search for “maher’s views on religion” or “maher’s views on evolution” or “maher’s views on science”, while some other organization might have searched for “maher’s views on immigration” or “maher’s views on marijuana”, and each would give a different picture of the guy.

    Seriously. No one was expecting a quack, based on his positions on religion and evolution. No one was expecting a racist or a pedophile or a flat-earther, either, so no one would have thought to go looking for evidence of those things.

  28. #28 PZ Myers
    October 4, 2009

    Why would Dawkins have thought to google “maher vaccine”?

  29. #29 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    But I agree with PZ that it’s not reasonable to expect Dawkins to have googled Maher.

    Maybe not when Dawkins first learned of the selection of Maher. Indeed, I have always maintained from the very beginning that I don’t blame Dawkins for not knowing about Maher’s views when he first approved AAI’s selection of Maher, given that Maher is little known outside of the U.S.

    But why the hell not expect Dawkins to have Googled Maher after the complaints about Maher’s anti-vaccine views, HIV/AIDS denialism sympathies, PETA membership, and other pro-quackery views started to roll in? Dawkins lost more than two months’ heads-up over that. Instead, we got the “la-de-da” comment of how Dawkins “knows nothing” of Maher’s views on medicine.

  30. #30 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 4, 2009

    Hi PZ,
    I keep hearing about the ‘PR nighmare’ and while I don’t doubt that it is/was one, it would be great to know why–was it the RDFSR sponsorship that got in the way of a more definitive reaction? The charges that you and/or Richard are ‘soft on woo’ are, ridiculous, I agree, but I would like to know how you respond to the perception that in this case, a united cause of ‘atheism’ was prized over the value of science and reason.
    Most of all, I would like to know what changes will be made with regard to the AAI and its big-name supporters. We’re hearing a lot about the AAI people who didn’t want Maher to receive the award–what about those who did? What about the reports of standing O’s and general warm welcomes Maher received from the attendees? Does it give any of the great defenders of science and reason (you, Richard, Dan…) pause to continue to be affiliated with an organization who, despite its professed commitment to rationality has apparently thrown its doors open wide to all kinds of wooly thinkers as long as they’re godless?

    Can AAI be fixed? Is it worth fixing? At the very least it seems that some review of organizational priorities is in order. I’d hate to think that the only consequence of this debacle is for the AAI to develop better public relations strategies.

    Oh, and re: Mary:

    FTR: PZ has moved to the top of my ‘must read’ pile and you’ve been nudged down a bit. Keep it up and I’ll delete you like I did Isis.

    Is anyone else thinking ‘Word Processor of the Gods’ here?

    Mare, my fingers tingle with irony as I write: Your concern is noted.

  31. #31 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    Some people really aren’t getting it. Why would anyone, when considering giving Maher an award for Religulous, type “maher’s views on healthcare” into google? The movie is what made him prominent in the atheist community. That tends to focus one’s interests; health is the focus of this blog and the readers here, so of course you’d go searching for his views on a subject of direct and immediate interest to you. Dawkins would have been more likely to search for “maher’s views on religion” or “maher’s views on evolution” or “maher’s views on science”, while some other organization might have searched for “maher’s views on immigration” or “maher’s views on marijuana”, and each would give a different picture of the guy.

    Bill Maher science

  32. #32 XD
    October 4, 2009

    @23

    Wouldn’t you have to know that Bill Maher was anti-vaccine or into alternative medicine to Google those terms? I mean, you might be a homophobe*, but if I didn’t suspect that you were specifically a homophobe, why would I Google “orac homophobe”? And yet if I didn’t Google it, why would I suspect you were?

    Also, remember that the Google results pages change continuously. What they look like now is not what they look liked back when it would have made a difference, even if you did know what to search for.

    *I chose that example because I trust you’re not a homophobe, btw.

  33. #33 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    I’d like to hear more about how folks at AAI decided on Maher. Did they consider others? Who was on the committee? Young Comedy Central viewers who haven’t biked around the block yet? So Cal New Agers? Anxious entertainment industry wannabes?

    Before Orac, I admit I didn’t know about Maher’s anti-“Western medicine” stuff. I hardly ever watch TV. The little I’ve seen of Maher I’ve liked. I almost downloaded one of his “New Rules” books from audible.com a year ago.

    I can believe the AAI might not have known about Maher’s anti-medicine side. If so, when did they become aware? Was their discussion about how to handle the contradiction inherent in handing the RDA to an “Enemy of Reason”? Did unconcious wishful thinking cause them to minimize the worry?

    These kinds of psychological and social autopsies help me understand SNAFU physiology. They make me politically smarter. But they’re hard to do if people feel unbearably shamed.

    So I’d like to put aside personal accusations of bad faith. Humans can’t help being human, and most aren’t good at managing battles on several fronts at once (Orac, being super-human, might be an exception). Cake-and-eat-it-too dilemmas trip us all up from time to time.

  34. #34 bob
    October 4, 2009

    PZ, please respond to Jennifer B Phillip’s comment at #30. This defending of RD is making you look pathetic. Fine, he had no way of knowing ahead of time, and we all honestly disagree about what should have been done once he was made aware of it. Fine. Please provide your thoughts about what to do going forward, because everyone agrees that *something* needs to be done to prevent this in the future.

  35. One point here: Google results differ from country to country.

    Also, it cannot be expected that people try to google someone with every anti-science trigger word one can think off – you have to know that there is something to look for.

    Maher looks superficially acceptable for foreigners, until they start digging a bit. Dawkins had good reason to believe that the AAI had vetting him before deciding to giving him a prize.

    Personally, I think that the AAI should have withdrawn their prize to Maher, when they became aware of his quarkery, and perhaps have changed it to a prize to the movie, if that was possible. That would have sent a clear, pro-science message.

  36. #36 Colugo
    October 4, 2009

    This isn’t about Richard Dawkins sitting around doing Google searches. The point is that with networked media, these things are not dependent on a single individual’s research. There is swarm intelligence. And within that swarm certain individuals could have voiced their concerns much more loudly.

    Post-hoc BS rationalizing about how supposedly tough it is for an online community to find out some basic facts about a public figure is even more weak than granting an award that stands for rationalism and science to a kook with a merely perfunctory disclaimer.

  37. #37 Sivi
    October 4, 2009

    The whole thing is kind of disappointing, though I get how these internecine ScienceBlog disputes come up. It seems like a lot of folks on the atheism side don’t see that our atheism should be a /result/ of our skeptical and rationalist ways of thinking, rather than of convincing arguments by popular atheists.

    No really slagging PZ or Dawkins, who make good and convincing arguments, but things keep coming close to praising Maher for his anti-religious propaganda value rather than looking askance at his anti-science views.

    Um. Yeah, I’m a bit muddled. Basically – lots of atheists seem to have been treating atheism and scientific thinking as separate domains, and really shouldn’t.

  38. #38 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    So now we’re in this strange situation where I’m getting denounced for not being as quick or vociferous as you are on the Maher matter. You really don’t want to go down that road, man. I’ve got a long list of creationists who I’ve slammed harder than you have; shall I wave it around and declare that Orac is soft on creationism? No, because I know you aren’t.

    Bit of a straw man here, I’m afraid. I never said you were “soft on altie bullshit.” Really. I didn’t. Go look at every post on this matter that I’ve done and see if you can come up with anything I’ve said that says you or Dawkins have gone soft on alt med. Indeed, I even intentionally went out of my way to praise the alt med section of The Enemies of Reason–more than once!–and point out my positive review of it when it first came out. What I said was that being pro-atheism appears to have trumped being against altie bullshit. A subtle, but important, distinction, I think.

  39. #39 XD
    October 4, 2009

    @31

    Yes, that’s the Google results page for “Bill Maher science” for today. Do you know what it looked like a few months ago?

    I think people just assumed he was pro-science, which as we have seen was a mistake. Mistakes happen. I have no doubt that such assumptions will not be made in the future, as no-one would want to repeat this PR mess. Presumably the AAI thought that withdrawing the award would also result in a PR mess. It was a lose/lose scenario, as all those involved have admitted.

    Still, at least you get to laugh at some people you don’t like, so it’s not a complete loss.

  40. #40 SciencePundit
    October 4, 2009

    I see that PZ beat me to it, but it’s worth repeating. Why would Dawkins have thought to google “maher vaccine”?

  41. #41 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    Then you should also by now have seen that I responded to the question of why Dawkins should have Googled “maher vaccine.” :-)

  42. #42 XD
    October 4, 2009

    I can believe the AAI might not have known about Maher’s anti-medicine side. If so, when did they become aware?

    Too late?

  43. #43 Ken
    October 4, 2009

    Come on Orac, I used to think you were really with it, but you’ve totally overblown this subject. I generally agree with you, but you’re now to the point of just screaming over details.

    Weeks ago when RD approved of Mahar because of the movie, while stating he wasn’t aware of Mahar’s medical stance, he was doing that oh so very odd British thing that Americans rarely understand. He was being polite, while admitting he was ignorant about Mahar’s other beliefs.

    Obviously since that time he educated himself. When RD presented the award he stated his full views.

    Regarding PZ, its a false analogy to discuss his rules for his group visiting the Creation Museum. First because there were signs posted (or so I’ve read from people who commented during the presentation) at the AAI presentation that disruptions would not be tolerated, second because PZ smartly didn’t want this to turn into a mirror of the teabagger events you americans are so fond of throwing. A room full of screaming Orac’s would have bruised the skeptical movement far more than politely awarding a good movie while pointing out the other serious flaws in Mahar’s ways.

    Yes, we understand and mostly agree with your points Orac, but this is a schoolyard rant by you. Your denial only proves it …

    Can the school kids please raise their hands and tell us which logical fallacy this is?

    Orac – “Schoolyard rant”? Geez, you haven’t read some of PZ’s more–shall we say?–animated rants against religion, have you? At times, he makes me seem downright sedate in comparison.”

    Yes Children! this is the logical fallacy of “Tu quoque” Justifying a wrong action because someone else does it! Gold Star!

    I for one am very glad Orac is done writting on the subject.

    I also laugh at Isis’ response … from her blogging, her whole life seems to be one big logical fallacy. I stopped reading her blog months ago.

  44. #44 SciencePundit
    October 4, 2009

    That’s my fault for not refreshing the comments page before posting.

  45. #45 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    No problem. I’ve done the same thing on occasion. Still, I couldn’t resist the tweak. :-)

  46. #46 Neill Raper
    October 4, 2009

    First, heres where I agree. I still maintain that it was an “EPIC FAIL” on Dawkins part not to have made the kind of announcement he made on the podium at the AAI as soon as the complaints started to be made. I also do not buy at all the argument that its tough to find Maher’s stance on these issues (links provided @ 23 are similar to those I found two seconds after reading that silly paragraph).

    That all being said I think this has gone completely overboard at points.

    Frankly I have had it with the suggestions that Dawkins and Myers do not care about alt-med. PZ regularly posts on “altie bullshit”, Dawkins writes about it, and he (as you well know) made a 45 minute television show about it. Not exactly a trifling investment of effort.

    What happened here was that Dawkins was put in the awkward position by the AAI and he handled it poorly. But this is one situation out of many to look at. Dawkins screwed up, and taken in a vaccum I would agree that he appears to care more about atheism. But taken with what he has done, even just done recently, to repudiate alt med, I think that it is absurd to argue that somehow this makes alt med his “neglected stepchild”. By the way, I am quoting Orac here but this is mostly directed at the vitriol in the comments….mostly.

    PZ screwed up even less. I can’t think of anything he has really done besides not initially going after Maher and trying to defend Dawkins too much (although I think that some defense is warranted obviously, given the last paragraph). This is not nothing, but it is far less than would deserve being told he does not care about quackery.

    In conclusion though. by all means continue to try and get Dawkins attention, perhaps he will post a more complete criticism of Maher on his website. The real target here should be the AAI though. They have commit the most EPIC of the fails here, and they are the ones who should be expected to explain what they will do to avoid this bullshit in the future. As well as apologize, and perhaps post a criticism of their own.

    (By the way that “….mostly” thing was actually an obscure South Park reference and not an attempt at being passive aggressive.)

  47. #47 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    Two weeks ago I gave a public talk on theory of mind and autism. Several healthcare folks expressed surprise at the end of my talk at my firm claim that there’s no science to support the vaccine-autism link, or the “toxin” etiology of autism. They’d been led to believe these notions were “common knowledge.”

    I was surpised by their surprise.

    I have this impression that integrative medicine is not controversial on the West coast. Articles like the one below appear in the paper. People read them and think, “oh that’s nice.”

    http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2009/09/new_clinic_opens_at.html

    How to communicate the “holy crap!” I feel at this state of affairs to the basic scientists? Maybe they’d feel it if they could imagine 20 years of ID in science classrooms, and a world where people generally respond to criticim of ID with, “Really? There’s some problem with design theory?”

  48. #48 Nija
    October 4, 2009

    @Mary – Thanks for the reference to a new blog.

    @Isis – I’ve added you to my list of ~daily blog checks.

    Just thought everyone should know that. :)

  49. #49 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    Yes Children! this is the logical fallacy of “Tu quoque” Justifying a wrong action because someone else does it! Gold Star!

    Not at all. I was merely using that example to point out Mary’s double standard when it comes to schoolyard rants. She’s all mad at me for being so mean and issuing “schoolyard rants” but doesn’t mind it when PZ goes all “schoolyard ranty” on some creationist or religious loon or other. It was also a bit of self-deprecating humor, as well, but you left that part out, namely the part where I said that, if you really want to see testosterone flinging, wait until the next time I take on the anti-vaccine loon J.B. Handley. And it is, to some extent. My criticisms of Dawkins and PZ, however, are not “testosterone flinging” or schoolyard rants. If you like, I could show you some of my real schoolyard rants. Usually they involve anti-vaccinationists.

    Basically, I rather suspect Mary likes schoolyard rants, the exception being when they’re directed at a target she likes.

  50. #50 bob
    October 4, 2009

    Why do people keep saying this? Neill @46: “Frankly I have had it with the suggestions that Dawkins and Myers do not care about alt-med.”

    Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ on a Stick, no one is saying that! (Orac, in particular, pointed this out explicitly from the get-go!) You people are arguing like creationists. Try responding to what people are ACTUALLY saying.

    Or, continue arguing against the caricature of our position you’ve constructed in your head. It seems to be what everyone prefers to do, anyways. I suppose it is easier.

  51. #51 Isis the Scientist
    October 4, 2009

    It is beyond hilarious to me that my name has been brought up in a comments section that never invovled me. I thank you all for the lipservice and the resultant traffic. Still, this breed of atheism that some seem to be supporting is looking an awful lot like the religious factions said atheists abhor so much.

    The solution here seems simple to me. If principles and the truth are so important to this group, then as soon as they became aware of Maher’s antiscience views they should have picked up the phone, called the dude and said, “ix-nay on the award, bitch. You hate science.” Done. Move on.

    Really, are the perception of atheism and the “PR” problem more important that the truth? If atheist leaders start fucking the atheist equivalent of altar boys, we are all totally screwed. You guys had better get PZ his pointy hat and Prada shoes, STAT.

    Logically fallacy, indeed.

  52. #52 Isis the Scientist
    October 4, 2009

    Yay Nija!!! I <3 you and welcome!

  53. #53 Pliny-the-in-Between
    October 4, 2009

    This entire episode is one of the reasons several of my friends and I have started to use the somewhat tongue in cheek term amystic-i.e., skepticism of anything supernatural. A surprising number of people who claim to not believe in gods, seem to have no problem with equally nonscientific or supernatural beliefs in other areas.

  54. #54 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    I don’t think science-based medicine is viewed as the red-headed step-child among the skeptical movement generally. The problem is that since the early 1990s, the vitalists have been far more successful at gaining ground in medicine than the creationists in biology.

    The resistance to woo that was present when I was training has been broken. No resistance; no apparent problem from the vantage point of the world outside of medicine.

    Here’s a recent comment from a thread at RD.net from a fellow atheist:

    Dr Benway – No I did not learn that junk food is bad for you in medical school. Let me be more specific. It isn’t junk food itself, but a junk food diet. Excessive intake can lead to obesity and diabetes which in turn can lead to heart attack and premature death. You don’t have to be a doctor to know this. It is general knowledge, In much the same that heavy smoking can lead to lung cancer or alcoholism can lead to cirrhosis. The problem with diet is a particularly bad one in America where apparently a third of adults are overweight, some even seriously so.

    The over-emphasis upon the content of one’s diet in the etiology of disease, the scientifically meaningless categorization of “junk” food vs “non-junk” food –this chap is reading from the naturopathy play book but doesn’t know it. More frighteningly, med students are reading from the same book and don’t know it.

    From the same poster:

    Giving a depressed person drugs is attacking the symptom, not the cause. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the solution to this problem, not pill-popping.

    “Attacking the symptom, not the cause” is another naturopathic mantra with little scientific significance.

    The assumption that MDs are inappropriately prescribing antidepressants is now “common knowledge.”

  55. #55 XD
    October 4, 2009

    Hi Isis

    The subject of sexual exploitation in organisations is important to you, which is commendable. You are no doubt aware of the systemic sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, an organisation you are a member of. What are you doing about this? Have you written to any bishops? Have you threatened to cease donations? How extensive would the abuse have to be for you to leave the organisation?

    If you have a blog-post addressing this, I’d be grateful if you could provide a link. I tried searching your blog, but could only find stories about abuse in academia. I wouldn’t want to conclude that your silence over the institutionalized child abuse of the organization you are a (proud?) member of was an endorsement of the abuse.

  56. #56 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    PZed and Richard Dawkins:

    Are you aware that the American Medical Student Association supports naturopathy?

    http://www.amsa.org/naturopath/

    Everything Bill Maher says about “toxins” and “BigPharma” has long been said before by the naturopaths.

    You see, in medicine it’s not the poor weak pseudoscience scratching at the door hoping to get in, as with the ID proponent and biology.

  57. #57 rb
    October 4, 2009

    PZ, at any point BEFORE the conference you could have gone “crackergate” on maher and the AAI, but you didn’t. you still haven’t. The accommodation you made had nothing to do with the award, it had everything to do with an attitude that you would let that issue slide. It is your lack of realization that you, along with all of us, must pick our battles, and admitting that this one wasn’t yours.

  58. #58 Isis the Scientist
    October 4, 2009

    XD,

    This is a valid question, and I have remarked about it in comments, but I have few real posts in my earlier days at ScienceBlogs. As my blog has evolved I have found myself much more interested in addressing injustice in the academic institution as opposed to religious ones. I am but one woman and have had to pick my battles for this space.

    My real life self is personally acquainted with her Bishop and has worked within her diocese to put new (well, not so new anymore, but in the scope of 2000 years…)protections in to safeguard the well-being of children. She has relationships with her clergy and has questioned the role of women in her church. My pseudonymous self has written on a few occasions when I felt my Pope was doing something contrary to science and medicine.

    our question could be framed another way — how much discrimination, fucking of female undergraduates and graduate students by male professors, and over racism, would I be willing to tolerate before leaving academia. The answer is, clearly, and awful lot. Then again, I believe in science more than the people who are conducting it.

    But, I came to ScienceBlogs to write about minorities and women in academia. Assuming that my silence on any issue means that I condone it would be terribly short-sighted of you. What I point out above is that the group mentioned here seems more tolerant of its award recipient spouting other “non-data based” claims than they would if he claimed there was a God. That seems like much more of a logical fallacy to me.

  59. #59 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    Please everyone, read the link above at the American Medical Student Association link. Really look it over.

    Can you see what I see? The red-neck creationists are children in comparison to this multi-billion dollar coalition of corporations, professional organizations, and celebrity backers (hello Huffington and Maher!).

    The vitalists have their own wedge strategy, which I wrote about here: http://tuftedtitmouse.blogspot.com/2009/03/mapping-emergence-of-integrative.html

    Getting into the IOM (Institute of Medicine), expanding scope of practice laws at the state level for alternative practitioners, establishing departments of “integrative medicine” at academic centers –all achieved.

    The next objective: coverage for supplements equal to prescription drug coverage. Maher, like a lot of medical marijuana advocates who view the supplement category as a potential path toward legalization, will not be on our side.

  60. #60 Mark UK
    October 4, 2009

    I think both PZ Myers and Orac give global warming deniers a way too easy ride. They’ve gone soft on the people who have hijacked the skeptic label.

    Like most of the skeptical community by the way.

    Each has his/her priorities. Seems rather obvious here.

  61. #61 Neill Raper
    October 4, 2009

    bob:
    I think I was very clear that for the most part I completely agree with the criticism being made. I also agree that most of the commenters taking issue with Dawkins’ response are not making this point.

    You appear to have just assumed that I am part of the mob making endless excuses for everything Dawkins has done and that (as anyone who actually read my posts with a tiny bit of care would have noticed) is quite far from the truth. I have made it very clear in every post I have put up here that I agree with the bulk of the criticism. In fact I think I have probably over-emphasized it.

    I am not, never was, and never will claim that all of the criticism has been of the flavor I was addressing. In fact, as I said, most of it has definitely not been of this flavor. I am sure that you have never made this accusation yourself given how aggressively you went after my post, but if this is the case than I was not talking to you bob. I was referring to a few comments that did take that tactic.

    How many times do I need to say this before the people here get over their urge to jump all over everyone who even briefly appears to be disagreeing. On 99 percent of this whole fucking debate, I AGREE WITH YOU!

    And come on, arguing like creationists?

  62. #62 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    The med student stories really upset me. Students are in no position to sort science from pseudoscience.

    I’m astonished that it only took a decade to make obvious lies acceptable truth, and further, to erase the memory of this transformation.

    My teachers from the 1980s are all retired now, save a few emeritus exceptions. Doctors are older than basic scientists when they start their academic careers. Perhaps this explains in part how the institutional memory in medicine can seem so short.

    Sailboat time.

  63. #63 Orac
    October 4, 2009

    I think both PZ Myers and Orac give global warming deniers a way too easy ride. They’ve gone soft on the people who have hijacked the skeptic label.

    Really? Have I proposed giving an AGW denialist an award, one of the criteria of which is “advocates increased scientific knowledge”?

    Nope.

  64. #64 Joseph C.
    October 4, 2009

    @Benway,

    You just made my day. I knew there was a reason I didn’t join AMSA. I thought it was my own sheer laziness until now.

    At the same time, I’m a bit disheartened that the academic open-minded/celebrate diversity environment has atrophied us to where our “best and brightest” students can’t spot obvious nonsense like homeopathy.

  65. #65 XD
    October 4, 2009

    @58

    I’m happy to hear that you have confronted the problem of institutionalized sex abuse in the Catholic Church IRL.

    What I point out above is that the group mentioned here seems more tolerant of its award recipient spouting other “non-data based” claims than they would if he claimed there was a God.

    I think you’re right, but as the organisation and award are principally about atheism, is it any surprise? As you say, we all pick our battles, i.e. some things, in some circumstances, are seen as more important than others would be in different circumstances.

    PZ and RD are against all non-data based claims, but choose to concentrate on those inspired by religion. Orac is against all non-data based claims, but chooses to concentrate on those inspired by woo. You are against all sex abuse, but choose to concentrate on those that happen in academia.

  66. #66 bob
    October 4, 2009

    @Neill: Thank you for the further elaboration of your views, even though I couldn’t parse much of it. Still, I stand by my response to your previous post. I quoted you directly, and what you said was a complete strawman of Orac’s (and plenty of others’) point.

    Here is what you said: “Frankly I have had it with the suggestions that Dawkins and Myers do not care about alt-med.” I’ll again repeat that no one seems to be saying that. It’s not clear from your reply @61 whether or not you still think people are offering that criticism of RD/PZ. If they are, then I agree with you that they’re off-base. But, since I don’t think people are saying that, then you are arguing like a creationist, because attacking strawmen is tactic number one out of the anti-evolution playbook.

  67. #67 Ken
    October 4, 2009

    While I could continue to point out fallacies and contradictions … well, maybe just one more:

    … Hey Isis, I called you out because of your sarcastic response to Mary, You involved yourself here, I didn’t just pull your name out of my butt. Shouldn’t you be off blogging about the Canadian Bishop who was just caught with child porn? … You know, the Bishop who brokered the deal to compensate people victimized by your church in his area years ago, but only removed himself now, decades later, when he himself was caught? At least for this one your great leader actually accepted the resignation instead of just moving your good Bishop KiddieFiddler to a more obscure corner of the world to continue hurting kids.

    … Instead lets look at the common ground. Most of us seem to agree that no skeptic is the perfect skeptic. We all have areas of interest, none of us can be fully informed on every topic. Many good atheists can’t help saying “oh my god”, but they are still good atheists.

    Could Richard Dawkins have refused to issue the award? Yes, but instead he chose to be present where he could make a statement in person against Mahar’s other issues and could discuss the issue with others at the event.

    Could PZ have told the masses to rise up and stop the presentation? Yes, and like typical americans no doubt plenty of yahoos would have shown up and turned it into a skeptic’s teabagger event and we’d all come out looking like idiots. Maybe Orac wishes he had a sufficient following to wield such powers, but has not yet gained the wisdom to know when doing so will cause more damage than good.

    Regardless we now know that we need to pay more attention to how the AAI operates. Those of you who contribute to the organization need to become better informed, work towards becoming more involved with their processes to prevent future embarrassments, or if warranted remove yourself from future contributions.

    Orac are you a member of the AAI? If you’d like to help in a productive manner to steer them in a better direction, you can start your journey here:

    http://www.atheistalliance.org/Support-AAI.html

  68. #68 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    As you say, we all pick our battles, i.e. some things, in some circumstances, are seen as more important than others would be in different circumstances.

    Yes, it’s my impression that the skeptical community is made up of individuals with a variety of core concerns. This is why we should spend some time arguing over priorities, to expand areas of agreement between us.

    If the AAI are willing to compromise their rationalist/pro-science stance regarding alt med in service to the marketing of atheism, physicians will go elsewhere. Perhaps the AAI don’t really care about that. Perhaps, in fact, they have more alt med practitioners on their rolls than MDs.

  69. #69 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    Hey Joseph C, are you the genius “Joseph C” that gave a crazy chiropractor student an epic and totally beautiful spanking on this site a few months ago? Dude was insisting med school was only 3 years in spite of links to schools saying otherwise?

    If so, you just made my day.

  70. #70 bob
    October 4, 2009

    And, now Ken decides to start attacking Orac for things he didn’t advocate:

    “Could PZ have told the masses to rise up and stop the presentation? Yes, and like typical americans no doubt plenty of yahoos would have shown up and turned it into a skeptic’s teabagger event and we’d all come out looking like idiots. Maybe Orac wishes he had a sufficient following to wield such powers, but has not yet gained the wisdom to know when doing so will cause more damage than good.”

    Orac suggested nothing of the sort. You would know this if you had read what he’s been saying all along.

    Ken, and others: please pay attention what people are actually saying before finalizing your opinion on the matter. You might discover that you agree with them. You might also prevent yourself from looking like an idiot. (Well, maybe.)

  71. #71 jessica
    October 4, 2009

    seriously, pz

    THE WIKIPEDIA ENTRY TO MAHER’S NUTTALK IS WITHIN 6 LINKS OF A GOOGLE SEARCH OF *maher*.

    thats it, all he had to do was google maher and the info was there, maher alone with no other words. what will you tell us next, that dawkins doesn’t know what wikipedia is? give us some more revision.

    you guys would willingly desecrate one of a religions most symbolic objects- yet wait, the atheist maher? you and dawkins obviously tried to cover this shit up as best you could *even as* shit just kept hitting the fan.

  72. #72 Marilyn Mann
    October 4, 2009

    FWIW, I think Orac has been very reasonable and civil with respect to this Bill Maher controversy. I haven’t noticed any testosterone flinging.

    That said, it is true that Orac uses a certain style on this blog that may not be to everyone’s taste. Hey, just don’t read this blog if you don’t like it. Or read it and take him to task in specific instances when you think he goes a little overboard. Whatever, who gives a shit.

  73. #73 Isis the Scientist
    October 4, 2009

    Ken, you’re a hilarious little muffin, but you’ve got one point that is worth pondering. We all have the battles we choose to pick, and here Captain Question Everything has been shown to be just as guilty as the rest of us of charry picking what he chooses to address when it comes to making a point. ie, he is absolutely no different than those he chooses to attack on his blog. I won’t go so far as to say that he is not an advocate for science, because I do not believe that to be correct, but I will say that he probably has a larger agenda.

    I’m going to simply leave you with the irony of this statement:

    Could Richard Dawkins have refused to issue the award? Yes, but instead he chose to be present where he could make a statement in person against Mahar’s other issues and could discuss the issue with others at the event.

  74. #74 XD
    October 4, 2009

    thats it, all he had to do was google maher and the info was there, maher alone with no other words. what will you tell us next, that dawkins doesn’t know what wikipedia is?

    Or maybe that Dawkins’ computer only allows him to search the Wikipedia of the present, not the Wikipedia of the future. You do realise that Wikipedia changes over time, don’t you?

  75. #75 jessica
    October 4, 2009

    xd,

    you do realize that wikipedia also has a history button that lets one track changes to articles?

    fyi, the medical section of maher’s wiki page has been there with much the same information and wording since at least 0ct 2008

  76. #76 tf
    October 4, 2009

    Unfortunately I’m not as eloquent as other commenters, but +1 for Orac.

  77. #77 Anthro
    October 4, 2009

    I cannot (and will not) read another word on all this!

    BILL MAHER IS NOT AN ATHEIST–HE IS ONLY ANTI-RELIGION. The award is bogus first and foremost for this reason; the woo crap just adds insult to injury.

    None of this is Dawkins’ fault. Just MAYBE he has more to do than google Maher? Do ya think? HE did not give the award and had no authority to withdraw it.

    I have been listening to Maher’s show on podcast for months and never heard any of the woo shit until I read about it here, so am I now not fit to call myself an atheist? I hate woo with all my heart and brain, but I still find Maher funny and would watch him as long as he doesn’t get into woo. Obama is a Christian, but I voted for him. It is possible to overlook things you disagree with for brief events. It was the AAI’s mistake as they include the furthering of science and so on in their mission and that is unfortunate, but honestly Orac, I am way more concerned about the tripe that goes up DAILY at Huff Post and that is advertised non-stop in my local newspaper.

    PZ has bent over backwards to meet you on this and you’re being unnecessarily critical at this point in my (quite meaningless) view. I won’t stop reading you because I depend on you to keep my sanity some days, but I do hope this is the end of this. Just the view of a granny who has learned to pick her battles.

  78. #78 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 4, 2009

    The schadenfreude, it burns.

    I’ll be surprised if this Maher/Dawkins/Myers drama doesn’t appear somewhere in Isis’s imminent review of ‘Unscientific America’. ‘Captain Question Everything: FAIL’ is like a gift-wrapped pair of Naughty Monkeys from Heaven.

  79. #79 Todd
    October 4, 2009

    One of the frustrating aspects of Maher is that he can seem so reasonable, depending on what he’s talking about. If all you know of Maher is a handful of episodes of Real Time and his movie, you might think he’s a rational thinking skeptic. Global warming denialists, 9/11 truthers, creationists have all been targets of his scorn. I’ve watched his show off and on, depending on his guests, and his altie wacko ideas of medicine are not often discussed.

    Going back to when his nomination for the award was announced, a lot of the discussion at the time was focused on his movie. Most people, outside of readers of this blog or Novella’s, just don’t know much about Maher and his views. You may think a simple google is a valid investigative tool, but it’s about as reliable source for truth as Wikipedia.

    As far as the rest of this episode, I think it’s now devolving into a “gother than thou” discussion.

  80. #80 jessica
    October 4, 2009

    todd,

    wikipedia has been shown to contain less errors then the encyclopedia britannica. (yall sure do like to spout platitudes without researching them).

    lets face it, dawkins was irrationally irresponsible and pz went along for the ride- neither of these guys cares about rationality, just pr.

  81. #81 Todd
    October 4, 2009

    wikipedia has been shown to contain less errors then the encyclopedia britannica. (yall sure do like to spout platitudes without researching them).

    For academic articles, yes. It’s notoriously unreliable on articles about public individuals or current events. As an expert on Internet research, of course, you no doubt do not need me to tell you about its recent edit locking policy on articles about living people.

  82. #82 Joseph C.
    October 4, 2009

    Hey Joseph C, are you the genius “Joseph C” that gave a crazy chiropractor student an epic and totally beautiful spanking on this site a few months ago? Dude was insisting med school was only 3 years in spite of links to schools saying otherwise?

    I was involved in that thread. I think the guy was trying to desperately imply that chiro diploma mill is somehow superior to MD. You know a school is good when the only test you have to pass to get in is the wallet check.

    I wonder how he thinks his training compares to someone like Orac with his MD + General Surgery + PhD + Fellowship insanity.

  83. #83 mamut
    October 4, 2009

    This podcast from Brian Dunning identified Maher as a kook long time ago (See #4).

    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4125

  84. #84 bob
    October 4, 2009

    @Anthro: PZ is bending over backwards to meet Orac? Really? You sure about that? On the contrary, it seems to me that PZ is bending over backwards to defend his buddy RD. He’s gone so far as to claim Maher’s kooky views are difficult to find, which is both untrue (as has been pointed out) and irrelevant (since the situation is done and over with, and the conversation has moved on).

    The question now is, how do we prevent this in the future? PZ is assuming that the problem will take care of itself, because this embarrassment will lead to better vetting in the future. I disagree, and for reasons made clear in this very comment thread. People don’t seem that bothered by it, frankly. Moreover, it’s supposedly hard to find Maher’s quackery online, so who gives a shit about it, right? To hell with his anti-medicine views; so long as he accepts evolution and rejects god, he’s qualified for some lovin’ from the atheists.

  85. #85 Kismet
    October 4, 2009

    @Ken
    I don’t believe your insults make your point & I for one believe what ORAC has done is much more productive than what you do or suggest. Just voicing my support here…

    BTW, Dr Benway, I’m sure you did not mean it that way, but I believe you should appreciate “coverage for supplements equal to prescription drug coverage.” That would mean that actually efficacious supplements produced accordingly to good manufacturing practise should be paid for (for instance evidence-based use of MK-4, vitamin D and fish oil).

    just saying…

  86. #86 IaMoL
    October 4, 2009

    Really, are the perception of atheism and the “PR” problem more important that the truth? If atheist leaders start fucking the atheist equivalent of altar boys, we are all totally screwed. You guys had better get PZ his pointy hat and Prada shoes, STAT.

    Logically fallacy, indeed.

    Oh, go say a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers on your rosary, Isis. You’ve entered troll mentality territory.

  87. #87 IaMoL
    October 4, 2009

    Really, are the perception of atheism and the “PR” problem more important that the truth? If atheist leaders start fucking the atheist equivalent of altar boys, we are all totally screwed. You guys had better get PZ his pointy hat and Prada shoes, STAT.

    Logically fallacy, indeed.

    Oh, go say a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers on your rosary, Isis. You’ve entered troll mentality territory.

  88. #88 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    Kismit, I think that FDA oversight and insurance coverage are two separate issues.

    The DSHEA created the “supplement” category, removing FDA oversight. If it’s a supplement, it’s not regulated, by definition.

    OTC meds are regulated. If a doctor prescribes an OTC such as Vitamin D, some insurers will cover that.

  89. #89 Ivence
    October 4, 2009

    Orac I love your blog and check it daily. Same with Pharyngula. It seemed for a while like you wouldn’t be happy with this until you receive a mea copula from PZ and Prof. Dawkins, but…well I don’t think one is really deserved here, and I’m glad you’re letting this die.
    I hate alt-med woo, hell I’ve lost friends over the fact that I wouldn’t stop pointing out that they were risking their kids lives to go along with it, and I’d do the same again. I’m also a staunch atheist. With both of those in my background I had no idea about Maher’s anti-vax lunacy until I discovered your blog earlier this year.
    I don’t think most people’s reaction when asked “do you think person X deserves this award?” is a google search. They just go with what they currently know about the individual and move on. Prof. Dawkins was in the middle of writing a book at the time of all of this and I don’t think a full background screen on the subject of an award whose recipient he had no input about would have been very high on his to do list.
    A quick aside to everyone else sniping here: Guys, we’re on the same side. Some of us are fans of both PZ and Prof. Dawkins, but we understand that balls were dropped on this one. The unfounded wailing for recriminations only serves to make your position seem petty.

  90. #90 John Morales
    October 4, 2009

    Well, at least there’s consensus regarding Bill Maher’s status… That’s a positive.

    Jessica (my emphasis):

    lets face it, dawkins was irrationally irresponsible and pz went along for the ride- neither of these guys cares about rationality, just pr.

    Wow. Just, wow!

    PS I do like “irrationally irresponsible”. :)

  91. #91 Eileen
    October 4, 2009

    I wonder how much of this shitstorm has filtered down to Maher. Dawkins seemed politely friendly on Real Time last Friday, but he also seemed a bit distant. As far as I’m concerned, a good lesson has been learned: don’t assume anti-religion means pro-science.

    I used to admire Bill Maher a great deal – I thought he was great at calling out bullshit. Too bad he swallowed the alt-med kool aid.

  92. #92 bob
    October 4, 2009

    Are people forgetting what Orac wrote by the time they get to the bottom the page to blurt out a comment? Here is the key paragraph from Orac’s post:

    “This screw-up is 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. This was a massively EPIC FAIL on the part of the AAI that ended up sliming Richard Dawkins. What can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again? That’s the important question now, as I’m sure PZ would agree, our disagreement over this whole mess notwithstanding.”

    We are now discussing how to prevent this from occurring. Is there a reason people are completely missing this? I know it was at the end of his post and all, but you all can’t be bothered to read the entire thing before commenting on it? (Especially when your comment contains criticisms and/or insults?)

  93. #93 Dr Benway
    October 4, 2009

    We are now discussing how to prevent this from occurring.

    Many have argued that “atheism” simply means “no belief in god(s),” and atheist organizations do not require rationality among their members. So it’s likely that atheist organizations have many members in favor of alt med, UFOs, big foot, etc. It’s demonstrably true that atheist organizations have members unable to distinguish arguments of fact from arguments of priority or politics.

    I would guess, as political atheism grows over the next couple of decades, we’ll meet more self-described atheists who identify with atheism as a trend or style –in other words, stupid atheists.

    Therefore, I would argue that the science-based community should divest itself of organizations with “atheist” in their name. Atheism is not a sufficient filter against irrationality.

    I believe rationalist or skeptical organizations will provide a greater return-on-investment for scientists in the years to come. This includes the JREF, Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Science Based Medicine, Quackwatch, and CFI.

    If the Richard Dawkins Foundation were to separate itself from the AAI, it would also likely prove a worthy investment, as its name emphasizes science and reason rather than atheism.

  94. #94 David
    October 4, 2009

    I’ve never read orac before but the logic displayed in this article and your subsequent comments are worthy of a creationist nut who believes the earth is 6000 years old. You’ve engaged in just about every logical fallacy known to man. *You* sir, are the quack, regardless of whether you happen to be in the right side of the vaccine argument.

  95. #95 DLC
    October 4, 2009

    My last comment on the matter.
    I really think Dawkins can be excused some for not knowing that Bill Maher is a feckin ijit when it comes to medicine and to science in general.
    Honestly, I think it was just a case of Dawkins and the AAI not really thinking it necessary to vet anyone who made a movie mocking religion. But the truth is, Maher isn’t really a rationalist or even a semi-atheist. Maher is merely an iconoclast.

  96. #96 mattand
    October 4, 2009

    @94 David:

    Hey, Dave. Hope your Sunday is going okay. Anyways, what the hell are you talking about?

  97. #97 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 4, 2009

    Dr. Benway, this is exactly the the kind of discussion I’m hoping will take place in the wake of this cock-up. I really want to know how RD the man and RD the Foundation are going to justify a continued relationship with AAI, and what steps will be taken to rebrand the kind of atheism that you and I and many of the readers here espouse–they kind that is a by-product of critical thinking, rather than through a rebellious rejection of organized religion.

    I do think there is some value in organizations that give people permission to be godless–I don’t feel a need for it myself, but I know there are many atheists who, having escaped from oppressive religious sects, find themselves ostracized and isolated. As a defined worldview, however, atheism alone is woefully inadequate. There needs to be more, and if the substance of that ‘more’ includes any kind of ‘spiritual but not religious’ nonsense or other irrationalities, it needs to be distinct from any organization staking its claim on science and reason.

  98. #98 bob
    October 4, 2009

    Dr Benway, I agree completely. The only counter would be that atheists probably need some kind of “promotion” (for lack of a better word) because most Americans hear atheist and think satanist.

    Of course, skepticism needs to be careful as well. It’s easy to abuse the terminology, as has been done by plenty of people in the comments of Orac’s past few entries. Luckily, though, the pseudoskeptics usually out themselves as frauds. Sometimes they do it less than a paragraph in, like David @94.

  99. #99 Barn Owl
    October 4, 2009

    It seemed for a while like you wouldn’t be happy with this until you receive a mea copula from PZ and Prof. Dawkins

    Is a “mea copula” what’s commonly known on Gordon Ramsay’s television programs as a “Fuhhck me!”?

    Or is it a demand to be referred to as “Your Hypobranchial Eminence”?

    Inquiring minds, and all that …. ;-)

  100. #100 David
    October 4, 2009

    @96. What am I talking about? My God, do all the logical fallacies needed to be pointed out one by one by one? I don’t have the entire night. I love this gem:

    “PZ concluded with:

    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.

    I reiterate that there was absolutely no mention in that post of Maher’s kooky medical views. If PZ was so distressed at Maher’s being selected right from the beginning, there certainly was no evidence of it back on July 20 when he made that post.”

    People should have Googled “Maher vaccine”. Like I said, this is the type of reasoning I expect from Ray Comfort.

  101. #101 bob
    October 4, 2009

    You know what, David, go ahead and humor us by pointing out one logical fallacy. (You haven’t yet, by the way.) You keep using that term … I do not think it means what you think it means.

  102. #102 mattand
    October 4, 2009

    @100 David:

    Seriously, what are you talking about? What logical fallacies has Orac committed?

  103. #103 Joseph C.
    October 4, 2009

    The only counter would be that atheists probably need some kind of “promotion” (for lack of a better word) because most Americans hear atheist and think satanist.

    I’m not sure that this is entirely true or fair (Satanists). Perhaps a fairly healthy cross section do, but most?

  104. #104 bob
    October 4, 2009

    Joseph C, my apologies for the hyperbole/sarcasm.

  105. #105 rmp
    October 4, 2009

    Good FSM, can you people just take a couple of shots of what ever blows your skirt up and just move on. Sheeeeezzz.

  106. #106 Diane G.
    October 5, 2009

    IMO the real subtext here is the appearance of “stardom” having gone to the heads of certain acknowledged leaders of the so-called New Atheism movement, and the dangers of demagoguery & reflexive sycophancy that can lead to. The handful who have been called N-A “rock stars” revel in the appellation and the wannabes dare only genuflect. Plus everyone’s written or is writing a(several) book(s), and they rely on each other for endorsements and sales pitches via their various platforms (often blogs). I think Orac’s use of “The Great One” is great shorthand for all this. Dawkins is certainly at the pinnacle, and it is obviously sci-bloggily incorrect to criticize him.

    Orac, I can’t thank you enough for trying to hold these N-A representatives to the standards they themselves usually adhere to, and for pointing out that they flagrantly dropped the ball in this case. As for their claim that they had no say in what the all-powerful AAI was going to do—surely there was every bit as much incentive on AAI’s part to not ruffle the feathers of the very big names that they were relying on to make their conference (& thus their cause) such a big deal. Had the scientists left en masse, it would have looked like a pretty lame conference, Bill Maher notwithstanding.

    The truest mark of either an above-it-all (Dawkins) or apologist (PZ) attitude is the refusal of either of them to simply say “I was wrong” without an accompanying load of justifications, rationalizations, bringing up of non-related accomplishments, etc.

    One of the best things about science is that it’s supposed to be not about who-you-are so much as what-you-say. It’s so disappointing, albeit human, when the opposite occurs.

    Don’t get me wrong—I buy all the books and love these guys (and others) for all they do. Just…well…feet of clay…

    #7 FTR: PZ has moved to the top of my ‘must read’ pile and you’ve been nudged down a bit.
    Posted by: Mary | October 4, 2009 11:39 AM

    Well, and Orac has risen to the top of mine. Win some, lose some, I guess. (Not that I’ll ever stop reading PZ!)

    #4 Maher will not start waving his “science and reason award” to people arguing about woo. Now its time to move on, and everybody will be more careful when its time to give an award again. If Maher start using the fact that he was awarded as an argument to support his opinion of woo, Dawkins can still withdraw his endorsement of the award.
    Posted by: beebeeo | October 4, 2009 11:15 AM

    Better—Dawkins could use the occasion to develop a huge public discussion on the subjects in question & take advantage of the opportunity to run circles around Maher debating science v. woo. (And FWIW, I certainly could see Maher letting himself be introduced/blurbed as “Richard Dawkins Award winner Bill Maher…”)

    #35 Personally, I think that the AAI should have withdrawn their prize to Maher, when they became aware of his quarkery, and perhaps have changed it to a prize to the movie, if that was possible. That would have sent a clear, pro-science message.
    Posted by: kristjan-wager.myopenid.com | October 4, 2009 1:06 PM

    That certainly occurred to me, too. I’d have thought RD would have suggested as much. Give Maher the Steve Allen Award, or some such, for best popularizing of “the cause” by a celebrity…

    #51 The solution here seems simple to me. If principles and the truth are so important to this group, then as soon as they became aware of Maher’s antiscience views they should have picked up the phone, called the dude and said, “ix-nay on the award, bitch. You hate science.” Done. Move on.
    Really, are the perception of atheism and the “PR” problem more important that the truth?
    Posted by: Isis the Scientist | October 4, 2009 1:48 PM

    Holy fuck, I agree with Isis…

  107. #107 AndyD
    October 5, 2009

    Bit of a straw man here, I’m afraid. I never said you were “soft on altie bullshit.” Really. I didn’t. Go look at every post on this matter that I’ve done and see if you can come up with anything I’ve said that says you or Dawkins have gone soft on alt med.

    Okay. From your previous post

    As for the “tightrope,[...] 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.

    My opinion, as if anyone cares, is that yours was a valid rant when first raised and probably justified a reminder closer to the event. Beyond that it looks like science imitating art where faux “controversy” is everything. Is it “ratings season” at scienceblogs?

    A few days ago I asked you for comment on an apparently new study (Age of Autism, Wakefield) showing vaccine effects on monkeys. That question remains unanswered. Should I now go off and blog incessantly about how you don’t care about vaccine research as much as you care about atheism awards – or should I just assume you’re a bit busy and only have so much time to devote to things?

    I also have questions about swine flu vaccine posted on my blog here which I’d like answered if you (or anyone here) have the time.

    In closing let me say I prefer your anti-quack articles to these ongoing “rants” against people who didn’t act the way you would have acted if you were them – but it’s your blog so I’m hardly likely to tell you what you should comment on. As if you’d care for my opinion anyway.

    Now though, about Wakefield…?

  108. #108 Mary
    October 5, 2009

    Oh gee, I see all my favorite scientists have gathered here and continued the pissing match. Most unbecoming.

    You’ll get page hits this way, of course, but I’m not learning any science this way. Guess I didn’t miss a thing watching 9 hrs. of football today. Sigh!

    Epic fail of all sciencebloggers!

  109. #109 Muzz
    October 5, 2009

    It’s unfair to judge individual feelings on a vague reading of “mood” taken across many comments.
    Still, that vague reading from my detached viewpoint is “hysterical”. All the legal discovery of the terms of the award, the timelines, the ‘gotchas’ in old quotes. It all seems hardly worth it for an award I’ve never heard of and don’t really care about.
    Is it really that important? Maybe embarassing for the AAI but what else? They give out Saturn awards to just about everything faintly sci-fi and it has not killed sci-fi, to my knowledge. All this “Prominent Atheists In Soft on Woo, Can’t Google Shocker” is bizarre.
    You can’t get this excited about it unless you somehow rate the award next to giving Osama bin Laden the Nobel Peace Prize, or something else that might, you know, make the papers.
    So I propose a new topic: The Darwin Awards; good or bad for public understanding of evolution?

  110. #110 howtoplayalone
    October 5, 2009

    David doesn’t know what a logical fallacy is, apparently.

    The point isn’t that Dawkins should have googled “Maher + health care” but simply have read the Wikipedia article, which includes (and I assume included) not only a section on medicine/health care, but other references to Maher’s woo.

    No one said google “Maher + anything”. Just read the Wikipedia article.

    (Someone should update and add to Maher’s Wiki page in the “health care” section, btw.)

  111. #111 T. Bruce McNeely
    October 5, 2009

    I think the take-home message (for me, at least) is that when a similar situation arises, contact the players early and often. Orac is right on when he says that he should have contacted Dr. Dawkins sooner rather than later. Hell, I should have done that, too.
    Further to this, I’m going to do a couple of things as a result. I will be contacting the AMSA about this naturopathy nonsense. Although I’m not an American, I’m not going to assume that this will invalidate my concerns. Secondly, I will do more regarding a move by naturopaths in my province to be allowed to order lab tests through our medical labs – which would obligate us in the labs to be “aiding and abetting” the practice of quackery. No thanks.
    Anyway, props to Orac and Dr. Benway.

  112. #112 davek
    October 5, 2009

    they can take away the fucking “miss california” award for being a bigot, and that award is not given for advancing human rights. why don’t the aai take away this award from maher, when he’s directly opposed to the purpose of the award?

    miss california usa: 1
    aai: 0

  113. #113 davek
    October 5, 2009

    carrie prejean lost the “miss california” award for being a bigot, and that award is not given for advancing human rights. why don’t the aai take away this award from maher, when he’s directly opposed to the purpose of the award?

    miss california usa: 1
    aai: 0

    as for the comparison to nobel prizes on the previous thread: not retracting the nobel prize for e.g. lobotomy _lessens_ the gravitas of the award rather than the reverse.

  114. #114 Jay Lee
    October 5, 2009

    Don’t assume anti-religion means pro-science?

    After reading many of these posts, don’t assume anti-religion means pro-reason!

  115. #115 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    I just got off the phone with my mother a little while ago. She’s been in continuous atrial fibrilation since mid-August. She’s not on coumadin.

    Me: WTF? Did your cardiologist talk to you about coumadin?

    She: “I don’t want handfulls of pills every day. So many doctors now just want to push pills at you.”

    It was like talking to Bill Maher, except without the yelling.

    THE BIGPHARMA MEME IS TRYING TO KILL MY MOTHER!!!!!!!!!

  116. #116 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    Still, that vague reading from my detached viewpoint is “hysterical”. All the legal discovery of the terms of the award, the timelines, the ‘gotchas’ in old quotes. It all seems hardly worth it for an award I’ve never heard of and don’t really care about.

    I agree, the world won’t change appreciably because an anti-vax, HIV-denying, anti-BigPharam, PETA terrorist won the “Richard Dawkins Award for Science and Reason.”

    However…

    The process that allowed this to happen, if it isn’t examined and corrected, has the potential to seriously undermine the rationalist movement.

  117. #117 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    I wish someone from the AAI would join this discussion and help us to understand what happened.

  118. #118 Pablo
    October 5, 2009

    You folks and quibble over what Dawkins should have known and when he should have known it, but that seems to be missing something. I go back to a comment by PZ early yesterday

    Dawkins also thinks he’s a real wackaloon, but thinks the movie earned him some appreciation

    Exactly what sort of appreciation are we talking about? A phone call saying well done? A hearty handshake? Or does RD still think that Maher was a good choice for the RDA because he made an anti-religion movie?

    At this point, there is no excuse.

  119. #119 cam
    October 5, 2009

    dr. benway, “memes” have pretty much been scientifically debunked for some time.

    just because dawkins continues to use it (even knowing that its been debunked), doesn’t mean we should keep using it.

    please stop.

  120. #120 James Sweet
    October 5, 2009

    Well, the Google for “bill maher science” is also a little unfair, since most of the relevant hits are about this controversy, i.e. they did not exist at the time that Dawkins chose to endorse the decision to give the award to Maher, but were rather fallout of such.

    I’m really surprised by the continued vitriol against PZ and Dawkins. I was with ya, Orac and co., as this controversy ramped up, but I feel like at this point, everybody involved has sufficient egg on their face and has made at least a reasonable attempt at setting things right. (Dawkins allegedly criticized Maher while introducing him for an award? How many times have you seen the presenter of an award criticize the recipient in their introduction?!? That’s a pretty good gesture right there) I for one am reasonably satisfied: It has been made clear that the “New Atheism” movement does not approve of Maher’s views, and that we (as a group) don’t hold our leaders sacred. That’s all the message that I need…

  121. #121 Orac
    October 5, 2009

    A few days ago I asked you for comment on an apparently new study (Age of Autism, Wakefield) showing vaccine effects on monkeys. That question remains unanswered. Should I now go off and blog incessantly about how you don’t care about vaccine research as much as you care about atheism awards – or should I just assume you’re a bit busy and only have so much time to devote to things?

    Patience, Grasshopper. Good things come to those who wait.

  122. #122 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    cam,

    “Genes” are a special case of “memes,” which are units of information with variable rates of replication under environments with selection pressures.

  123. #123 Robocop
    October 5, 2009

    Although I didn’t record the show and must thus rely solely on my memory of it, Maher was even more insidious and Dawkins more culpable than has been mentioned to this point. On Maher’s HBO show — where Dawkins might have done some real good by slamming Maher’s ridiculous views on alt-med — Dawkins remained silent. He remained silent in the face of Maher’s posturing about atheism (as I recall, introducing Dawkins as a “fellow atheist”) and about science (criticizing creationism as anti-science and making a big production of the global warming denialists and how they have the temerity to oppose all the PhD’s in the relevant fields — remarkable irony that). His goal seemed clear — to but himself and the Great One in the exact same category.

    It seems clear to me that Dawkins decided that he needed to appease the “faithful” and did that at AAI, but remained silent when saying something might actually have mattered. Again, it appears that anti-religion trumps science and publicity and selling books trump all.

  124. #124 cam
    October 5, 2009

    dr. benway

    im aware of what a meme is, thanks. im very familiar with the research. the concept (that memes are…etc) has been scientifically debunked for some time, seriously scientifically debunked. check it out, the information is freely and easily available.

    yet dawkins chose to use this unscientific concept in the beginning of the god delusion (knowing full well the scientific community had rejected the concept), peddling it as if it were a scientifically validated metaphor.

  125. #125 Tsutsugamushi
    October 5, 2009

    *”when you “assume” you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

    During residency one specialist haunted me with “assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.”

  126. #126 Febo
    October 5, 2009

    Cam, could you provide a kink to some of the “freely and easily available” debunking of memes?

  127. #127 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    I’m not clear on how one “debunks” a definition.

    The word is in common usage.

  128. #128 cam
    October 5, 2009

    dont be thick, benway.

    febo, ever head the phrase “google is your friend”?

  129. #129 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    Robocop, I assume your post above is sarcasm.

    No one is arguing that Bill Maher is wrong across the board. He’s right about many things.

    Some may be arguing that Dawkins should have taken the initiative to tell Maher “You’re wrong about (AIDS, vaccines, PETA, alt med). I don’t know. I haven’t read all the posts.

    I am arguing that it would have been wise to honor Maher some other way than via the Richard Dawkins Award for Reason and Science. Maher does hold some dangerously anti-science views, and it cheapens the nature of that award to give it to him. But what’s done is done. The question is, where to go from here.

    Are you are arguing that there’s no need for the AAI to do things differently in the future?

  130. #130 Pablo
    October 5, 2009

    No one is arguing that Bill Maher is wrong across the board. He’s right about many things.

    While this is true, I’m not sure if it is something we should celebrate. Do the ends justify the means?

    Bill Maher does not come to his positions by considering the evidence and then working to a conclusion. Even in those cases where his opinions concur with mainstream science, it’s not the science that causes it. As has been noted, Maher is a reactionary, and appears to base his positions on whether they piss off the right wing or not.

    I have no love for the right wing, but that’s a consequence of my views. Maher seems to use it as a premise, and develop his veiws from there.

    I don’t think that’s worth celebrating or recognizing.

  131. #131 Robocop
    October 5, 2009

    129: “Robocop, I assume your post above is sarcasm.”

    Nope. Deadly serious. As I thought I made clear, Dawkins could have done some real good by going after Maher’s wack-a-loon ideas on Real Time. Instead, he made nice there while Maher cozied up to him as a supposed joint-protector of science (with Dawkins) against the great unwashed. Dawkins appeased his critics at the AAI event (while still praising Maher overall), but kept silent in the spot he could have done the most good.

    “Are you are arguing that there’s no need for the AAI to do things differently in the future?”

    The AAI and Dawkins both screwed up horribly and would be well-advised to do things differently in the future.

  132. #132 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    Thanks for clarifying, Robocop. My sarcasm detector is on the fritz.

    Dawkins could have done some real good by going after Maher’s wack-a-loon ideas on Real Time. Instead, he made nice there while Maher cozied up to him as a supposed joint-protector of science (with Dawkins) against the great unwashed.

    Maher didn’t ask for Dawkins and the AAI to give him an award. It would seem to me an under-handed bait-n-switch for Dawkins and the AAI to honor Maher and in that context then to beat him up.

    There’s a time and a place for specific arguments. In a talk show, it’s not for the guest to attack material the host hasn’t put on the table.

    In defense of reason, best not to come off as an ill-bred loon on a mission.

  133. #133 Robocop
    October 5, 2009

    132: “There’s a time and a place for specific arguments. In a talk show, it’s not for the guest to attack material the host hasn’t put on the table.”

    Fair enough. But doesn’t his going on and on about the importance of science and how he he so strongly supports science and evidence-based reasoning open the door?

  134. #134 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    Perhaps, Robocop. I don’t know. And given that I don’t know, I’m inclined to trust Dawkins to do what seems sensible.

    PZ and Dawkins both have been heroic in their efforts to fight irrationality. I don’t believe either is more pro-atheism than pro-reason.

    This present conflict between what seems best for atheism and what seems best for scientific medicine is a relatively new thing for our tribe. Usually the science minded and the atheists are lined up together.

    Two years ago Sam Harris recommended ditching “atheism” in favor of “reason,” because the latter is what we all really want. Sam argued that the word “atheism” forces us to be defensive. We have to justify the lack of belief position again and again, and that self-justification effort distracts from the more progressive effort of teaching people how to think clearly for themselves.

    I think we can add another reason for moving away from “atheisim” as a cause –namely, the emergence of stupid atheists who will believe anything you tell them, provided it isn’t obviously religious.

  135. #135 Robocop
    October 5, 2009

    134: “Two years ago Sam Harris recommended ditching “atheism” in favor of “reason,” because the latter is what we all really want. Sam argued that the word ‘atheism’ forces us to be defensive. We have to justify the lack of belief position again and again, and that self-justification effort distracts from the more progressive effort of teaching people how to think clearly for themselves.”

    Yet Harris has Maher on the board of his (so-called) Reason Project and went on Real Time about a month ago and the two of them played kissy-face for the entire interview.

  136. #136 cam
    October 5, 2009

    stupid atheists who will believe anything you tell them, dry benway?

    like that memes are real or not scientifically disproved?

    seriously, im ashamed to be lumped in with the majority of you. we all cry about religion, but theres no indication that anyone in here is more informed or more rational, i include dawkin and pz in that assessment (and sam harris).

    again, this new atheism is all very embarrassing.

  137. #137 James Sweet
    October 5, 2009

    I’m very confused about this “memes are disproved” rhetoric. Memes have always from the very beginning been an analogy. I suppose you could compile evidence that it is a poor analogy, but you can’t “disprove” it, because it wasn’t a positive conjecture to begin with. I mean, are you thinking that Dawkins is proposing there is some kind of DNA of thought???

    Personally, I find it to be an extremely useful metaphor at times, and downright counter-productive at other times. Which is the nature of most scientific metaphors, I think…

  138. #138 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    We should debate the best way to respond to people like Maher.

    Myself, I think it’s better to separate issues and arguments from specific people whenever possible. Humans are not fundamentally rational beings. Nearly everyone will have some quirky opinions or interests that can’t be rationally justified.

    So if I enjoyed a platform like Dawkins or Harris, this is what I’d do: I’d keep a pen and pad handy for the next time Maher spouts some really batshit, misleading nonsense of consequence. Then I’d publish the results of my brilliant and crushingly witty dissection someplace.

    It will happen. I can feel it.

    Being a generous person, I’m going to give Maher a head start before someone decides to release the hounds: Conspiracy theories are typically non-falsifiable.

  139. #139 cam
    October 5, 2009

    james,

    i suggest looking into the science behind memes as a descriptive model. aside from the massive amount of criticism of the very idea as a descriptive model, the metaphor has been scientifically debunked through empirical testing. have you read dawkins on memes? have you read anyone else on memes?

    its pathetic that dawkins tried to peddle it in his last book, and it made me seriously embarrassed. it embarrassed me even more when all of you started to peddle it in the crusade against religious folk.

    there is no scientific justification or even indication that atheists are more rational or skeptical, and i wish people would stop lumping me with the rest of you.

  140. #140 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    cam, your concern trolling has been noted.

    Here, I have made you a cookie: O

    It has chocolate chips!

  141. #141 cam
    October 5, 2009

    benway,

    my concern trolling? do you usually respond that way when someone questions the scientific justification behind your statements?

  142. #142 James Sweet
    October 5, 2009

    i wish people would stop lumping me with the rest of you

    I wonder who exactly is doing that…. heh…

  143. #143 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    I think I found the meme “debunking” cam has been going on about HERE.

  144. #144 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 5, 2009

    ok:

    Hey, all you people who keep lumping cam in with the rest of you:

    You are stupid assholes. cam is the very model of a modern, thinking atheist. S/he is head and shoulders above the silly, meme-loving atheist hoi polloi. S/he is in a class by him/herself; an Atheist with a capital ‘A’. We’re not fit to lick his/her uber-rational boots.

    That ought to do it. No need to thank me.

  145. #145 cam
    October 5, 2009

    benway,

    irrational some?

    Atran, Lohmar, Benitez-Bribiesca, Deacon, Sperber, Boyer, Kull

    learn to read and stop mimicking everything your idols tell you no matter how much they insist its in the name of “reason” and “science”

  146. #146 Everbleed
    October 5, 2009

    Having read this whole damn thing from both Orac’s and PZ’s blogs for the entire duration I have appreciated Orac and his pesky-ness, and this recent post is an accurate summary to the best of my knowledge and recollection.

    Hey. People get star struck. People don’t pay attention. Even PZ and RD.

    I agree wholeheartedly that if Orac had not kept the heat on the whole thing would have died on the table. But it was and is an important discussion of an important issue and Orac accomplished a great deal of good in being such a pain in the ass.

    Regarding Orac’s mea culpa that he could have contacted Mr. Dawson, good luck with that too. RD is not actually all that easy to get a hold of if you try to go through his entourage. At least that has been my experience. But I am not a nearly famous Doctor/Blogger/Fighter for Truth and Justice.

    I have had the great pleasure to spend over an hour face to face with PZ and believe totally that he merely missed something here that got away from him. It is hard for anyone to come out and confess their “sins”… except of course David Letterman.

    I hope Orac has made everyone involved far more sensitive to the issues raised. He sure did for me.

    Thanks Orac!

  147. #147 cam
    October 5, 2009

    jennifer

    listen, ill take back the “i dont want to be lumped with you guys” statement…

    i just get pretty emotional when my fellows claim to be rational skeptics along with me, but easily buy into the unscientific crap peddled by the new atheists. in discussions around town, i’ll get lumped in with all that, and it makes conversations very much more difficult.

    it pains me to see us reduced to the very thing we try to decry: irrationality and unscientific thinking…. all in the name of atheism.

  148. #148 Pablo
    October 5, 2009

    Everbleed – I think there are two big lessons that can be taken from this incident:

    1) From a general perspective, a lot of atheists are not content with the “as long as he’s atheist, that’s good enough for us” attitude
    2) More specifically, Bill Maher has some serious issues, and those who interact with him should think about the implicatons

  149. #149 Antaeus Feldspar
    October 5, 2009

    As for all of the people making this silly claim that Dawkins should have just googled Maher — try it yourself.

    OK:

    Bill Maher vaccine
    Bill Maher alternative medicine
    Bill Maher (Wikipedia), specifically Views on Health Care

    Even simply “Bill Maher science” brings up, on the first page of results, a post from December of 2005 titled “Bill Maher and his anti-vaccination claims. Again.”

  150. #150 bob
    October 5, 2009

    Well, I hate to be so pessimistic, but it looks like this has been swept well under the rug. Looking at the Most Active list, most people have moved onto blasting Conservapedia over at Pharyngula. I guess rmp had the right idea back at comment 105. Everyone make themselves a drink, head over to PZ’s blog, and start mocking young-earth creationists. It’s the Real Atheist* thing to do.

    *Not to be confused with the Real Skeptics, a group that seemingly begins and ends with this cam guy.

  151. #151 Greg
    October 5, 2009

    What’s really going to give heartburn on this is if Maher tries to use the RDA to feign legitimacy for his anti-scientific ideas.

  152. #152 RichardSchutt
    October 5, 2009

    LOL at cam – his/her evidence that science has “debunked” meme theory involves merely going to wikipedia and pulling a few names from the “Criticism of meme theory” section. XD

    I’m with Dr. Benway on this one: “cam” = TROLL

  153. #153 cam
    October 5, 2009

    i havent even read the wikipedia page for meme. either way, those are the names that were at the forefront of the issue.

    someone provides science and reason for you guys and you act like the people you decry. forgive me if i fail to see how atheism differs from religion.

    let me pwn you:

    one of atran’s empirical experiments was to use a nicely defined bit of information: one of the ten commandments. here providing a clear operational definition for “meme” wouldn’t obviously be as difficult. his experiments showed that though phonetic replication went off with high fidelity, there was little to no replication of semantic content, even though we intuitively would believe that there would be a large amount of consensus on such a meme.

    it does seem when it comes to memes, yall will buy whatever dawkins pushes, without doing even the smallest bit of research. when someone questions it, you cry troll. how bout you gtfo.

  154. #154 Joseph
    October 5, 2009

    One of the criticisms of meme theory that appears in the Wikipedia article seems spurious to me. It says the meme lacks a “code script” like DNA has.

    There is probably a way to produce “code” for a meme. This is a computer science problem. If you can create a representation of an idea, then you can produce “code” for a meme. Look up Knowledge Representation in Wikipedia. Admittedly, it’s a difficult problem.

    But it’s like saying that the concepts of evolutions can’t apply to, say, the evolution of languages, because we can’t easily produce “code” for a language.

  155. #155 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    Well cam, I will see your meme-theory criticism argument from authority and raise you a……

    MEME!

  156. #156 bob
    October 5, 2009

    What’s the big deal about memes? Dan Dennett has repeatedly pointed out that words are memes. They’re little bits of information that can spread, mutate, and evolve. They even have a “code” (letters), which solves the problem Joseph just noted.

    Now, are they a good way to explain (or even explore) culture? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? The question is *not* whether or not they exist, despite your bleating.

    As defined by Dawkins, memes exist. This isn’t surprising, since there’s no damn reason to define something that cannot exist. Memes are a hypothesis to explain culture, and you’re free to reject it if you so choose. Just stop trying to claim they don’t exist. (It’d help if you stopped being a prick, too … just sayin’.)

  157. #157 cam
    October 5, 2009

    benway is given evidence from reputable scientist doing empirical experiments that disprove “meme” as a descriptive model, and how does he respond? ad hominums, and his indirect perceptions of youtube videos, amazing. science and reason at its best.

    the rest of you that bring up “solutions” have clearly not looked at the literature, but merely parroted your idols. (you guys think you suddenly solved all the problems with the wave of a hand in 30 seconds of thinking?)

    both dawkins and dennett have admitted that “memes” as a descriptive model doesn’t work, yet they continually fall back on it when speaking to the general public. i wonder why they do that?

    i cannot believe the irrationalism im hearing on this issue, seriously. i guess the new atheists said its true, so it must be true.

    any other actual skeptics of dawkins et al can also check out richardson and boyd as well as the others ive mentioned.

  158. #158 cam
    October 5, 2009

    also, bob

    my apologies on being a bit of a prick. this issue just hits home for me because its partially in my field. ill try to take it down a note and not be so overbearing. however, i think some of the attitude im being met with is equally unfair.

  159. #159 bob
    October 5, 2009

    Thanks for the apology, and I’ll also apologize for the name-calling. But, I still think you’re being especially harsh. I don’t think anyone here is saying “Dawkins said it so I believe it,” yet you keep propping up that strawman. This argument is especially ridiculous in this context, since we all were criticizing Dawkins *higher up on this very page!*

    As for your actual comments, I still don’t buy what you’re saying but I will acknowledge that you seem to be better-informed than me on the issue. First off, I think you might be conflating the colloquial use of meme (rickrolling) with the technical definition (definable unit of culture). Secondly, I don’t know that Dawkins and Dennett have admitted that memes “don’t work.” I recently saw a lecture from Dennett and read half his Breaking The Spell on an airplane, and he absolutely supported the idea of memes in both. Also, how do you respond to Dennett’s observation that words are memes?

  160. #160 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    cam, you actually wish to be taken seriously? I did not realize this. Shotgun insults are not typical of people hoping for a dialog.

    WRT the 10 commandments example. I don’t see how this contradicts the notion of “memes.” The 10 commandments may not be memes.

    For something to be a meme, it must be subject to replication with sufficient reliability to appear as a copy of the original.

  161. #161 Joseph
    October 5, 2009

    Despite what cam says, it appears the field of memetics is alive and well.

    You can count papers matching “memetics” in Google Scholar. You can also search for the letter “a” to adjust for total number of papers published in a given year.

    In 2008 there were about 4 papers per 1,000. In 2005, there were about 0.7 papers per 1,000. In 2001, there were about 0.2 papers per 1,000.

    @cam: Teach us about memetics if you want, but you are clearly exaggerating about its demise.

  162. #162 Steve Zara
    October 5, 2009

    Your posts have been important.

    I was pretty amazed and shocked at the generally friendly and enthusiastic speech that Dawkins gave before the award to Maher, having been informed he knew the depth of Maher’s science denial. Maher’s science denial is equal to that of an ID supporter, and I doubt that Dawkins would be quite so polite in those circumstances.

    There is a deep problem here, and I don’t know what the solution is. This kind of thing is going to happen if those who promote reason and science also want to take a political stance, which is to support atheism in general, rather than atheism as a conclusion of reasoning.

    I was pleased to see PZ’s statement about the mess this is. The problem is that I saw no evidence in Dawkins’ speech that he realises the real problems.

    Somehow the science and the politics need to be separated. I think we are in difficult territory. I trusted Dawkins to be sensible until I heard that speech. I think it showed poor judgement. But then perhaps even giving a speech was in that situation.

    I don’t think that you should give up on posting about this. A break perhaps, but your pressure regarding these matters is important. This is a general problem regarding reason, science, atheism and politics.

  163. #163 Steve Zara
    October 5, 2009

    I have just seen from previous posts that you intent to continue campaigning about this, so ignore the last few sentences of my previous post.

    Incidentally, I am glad to see Benway getting recognition for her work.

  164. #164 cam
    October 5, 2009

    bob, im aware that “meme” has a common usage, however it is often used by atheists in a semi-scientific sense, despite significant evidence for its unscientific status.

    benway, the ten commandments comment was made in relation to me being called a troll, as if i wasnt familiar with the field. if you are interested in understanding the matter, instead of providing your own intuitive unscientific interpretation of that experiment, why dont you look it up?

    though papers are still published about memetics, blackmore and dennett just wont give up, there has been overwhelming rejection of the concept by the scientific community responsible for that field. it is not alive and well.

    you will all forgive me, but it frustrates me to watch new atheists ream a less-knowledgeable religious believer for being irrational, even though the evidence they are reaming them with carries no scientific weight (for example scientific studies have shown that religion has been shown to be a NEGATIVE predictor of violence and terrorism), and when i question something that dawkins peddles, all i get is a bunch of irrationalism (not from all of you, but even at best, quick hand waves are pretty annoying). im just sick of meeting new atheists who seem to be the paragon of that which they oppose.

    bob, im also pretty familiar with dennett’s work, however, if he ever proposed that memes are words alone, id like to see where. also even a meme as a word can be problematic, as i hinted at earlier, given that we have evidence to suggest that even when phonetic replication is high, semantic replication is no where near high.

    sorry yall, im trying be calmer moving forward.

  165. #165 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    Cam, what a day it’s been for you! A cookie, a rick roll, and a fierce battle over the validity of memeics with people who don’t really give a shit –all in a thread about something else entirely.

  166. #166 bob
    October 5, 2009

    Not too tough to find, cam. A few seconds of googling turned up Appendix A from Dennett’s Breaking The Spell on Google Books. It’s the third link here: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=dennett+words+are+memes

  167. #167 PZ Myers
    October 5, 2009

    Just to address Robocop’s argument that Dawkins should have slammed Maher on his show: he wanted to! On these talk shows, guests are expected to write down topics they’ll discuss ahead of time, so that the host can be prepped. Dawkins specifically and strongly suggested that they get the altie medicine stuff out in the air, but Maher vetoed it; through an assistant they heard that Maher said it was “too personal.”

  168. #168 Dr Benway
    October 5, 2009

    PZed, I maded u a cookie here.

  169. #169 cam
    October 5, 2009

    touche, dr benway. by the way, you didnt rick roll me, as a /b/tard, i google my links before clicking, thanks.

    bob, didnt think dennett’s appendix would be online, but ill take another look in breaking the spell. as i mentioned however, memes as words is also pretty problematic scientifically (and i only mentioned one of the many concerns).

    you all can keep blindly trusting dawkins et al, i think ill stick with science, from atheists or otherwise.

  170. #170 bob
    October 5, 2009

    cam, thanks for the unnecessary and untrue parting shot. PZ, thanks for again valiantly rising to your buddy Richard’s defense rather than addressing how atheists will avoid embarrassing episodes like this in the future. Two complete duds to end the night, three if you count the Packers not teaching Benedict Farve a lesson. But, boy did we show those putzes at Conservapedia!!

  171. #171 Christine S.
    October 6, 2009

    Who needs memetics when Ruth Milikan already came up with a much better working theory-decades ago-at cultural evolution? Hasn’t anyone here read Language, Thought And Other Biological Categories: New Foundations For Realism? Compared to teleosemantics, meme theory is merely child’s play.

  172. #172 SC (Salty Current)
    October 6, 2009

    Still, this breed of atheism that some seem to be supporting is looking an awful lot like the religious factions said atheists abhor so much.

    Sure, it is. Wackaloon.

    The solution here seems simple to me. If principles and the truth are so important to this group, then as soon as they became aware of Maher’s antiscience views they should have picked up the phone, called the dude and said, “ix-nay on the award, bitch. You hate science.” Done. Move on.

    No misogyny there. Nope. And of course that would have been pure class. Isis knows all about that – owning up to errors and such.

    Really, are the perception of atheism and the “PR” problem more important that the truth?

    Really, does this question have any meaning at all?

    If atheist leaders start fucking the atheist equivalent of altar boys,

    There’s no such thing, you disgustingly callous moron.

    we are all totally screwed. You guys had better get PZ his pointy hat and Prada shoes, STAT.

    Are you nuts? Seriously. Are you?

  173. #173 ildi
    October 6, 2009

    Well, I’ve been sent on a mission to find the “atheist standardized creed,” SC, so now I’m confused… no leaders? No creed? What kind of religion are we running here, anyway? Next you’ll be telling me there are no tithes, either…

  174. #174 Joseph
    October 6, 2009

    though papers are still published about memetics, blackmore and dennett just wont give up,

    From what I see, the number of papers appears to be increasing exponentially still as of 2008. Is it possible 2 researchers are increasing their work output exponentially?

    It’s as if the idea is being transferred from one researcher’s mind to other minds, through some sort of process, perhaps “word of mouth” or some such. The population of these ideas is not even stable. It’s thriving for some reason.

  175. #175 bob
    October 6, 2009

    Jeez, Joseph, one might even say that the idea of memes is a meme! You just blew my mind!

  176. #176 cam
    October 6, 2009

    joseph, you typically make judgment calls about fields you know nothing about by quick google searches? memetics is a pseudoscience and has been labeled so by nearly all respected scholars in the field…

    would you tell orac that because alt med nuts are getting into the halls of medicine that they aren’t a pseudoscience? does it surprise you to find out that English depts are still using freud?

    christine, ill check out the book, thanks. millikan looks interesting.

    i think bob is about the only one not being dogmatic around here about this whole meme business.

  177. #177 James Sweet
    October 6, 2009

    joseph, you typically make judgment calls about fields you know nothing about by quick google searches?

    The irony is rich here, cam, since when people challenged you to provide sources for your contention that the idea of a meme had been thoroughly discredited, your response was to tell them to Google it.

  178. #178 SC (Salty Current)
    October 6, 2009

    Next you’ll be telling me there are no tithes, either…

    Never! See the “Donate” button on my blog. :P

  179. #179 cam
    October 6, 2009

    if youll remember right james, i offered the leading names against “memes”, and went so far as to recap an important experiment against the field.

    i first mentioned to google the information available (so one can find books to read on ones own), because explaining an entire field on a blog post can be difficult.

    but then again, dawkins said it, and it makes intuitive sense…kinda like….religion makes… intuitive sense to some people. again, im seeing no indication that atheists are any more rational or less dogmatic than the rest of the population (but you can provide me some HARD DATA to that regard if you can produce it)

  180. #180 Joseph
    October 6, 2009

    would you tell orac that because alt med nuts are getting into the halls of medicine that they aren’t a pseudoscience? does it surprise you to find out that English depts are still using freud?

    As a matter of fact, I’ve probably told Orac, here’s how the anti-vaccine idea is performing in the media over time; here’s the trend in VAERS reports, and so forth.

    If you’re making the claim that the field of memetics is on its way out, counting papers is a perfectly valid way to evaluate said claim. I don’t even have to know anything about memetics to make that evaluation.

  181. #181 James Sweet
    October 6, 2009

    but then again, dawkins said it, and it makes intuitive sense…kinda like….religion makes… intuitive sense to some people. again, im seeing no indication that atheists are any more rational or less dogmatic than the rest of the population (but you can provide me some HARD DATA to that regard if you can produce it)

    Even if I accepted every single word you say here as absolutely true, there’s still a damn important difference: Last time I checked, nobody went around executing homosexuals, lopping off young girls’ clitorises, and crashing planes into buildings as a result of putting too much faith in memetics.

    I actually agree with you that it is unlikely that atheists are, on average, more rational than the average person. We humans are indeed pretty irrational beings. I’ve been meaning to read SuperSense by Bruce M. Hood, which basically says that expecting to be rational all — or even most — of the time is a futile endeavor.

    However, even just making an attempt at rationality goes a long way. Many other worldviews hold rationality in explicit contempt. I think most atheists — or at least the so-called “New Atheists” — at least place a high value rationality, even if we are not always perfect in adhering to those values. That’s gotta count for something.

    Anyway, I’ll tell you what’s irrational… spending hours commenting on a blog to try to prove some minor point about meme theory. :p

  182. #182 cam
    October 6, 2009

    james, you might want to check the data, religion is a *negative* predictor of violence and terrorism. id also love to see the data concerning religion and abhorrence to rational principals.

    see this is what im talking about (and why showing meme theory as bs is important), the new atheists are using “science” and “reason”, and yet just about every statement made has no scientific basis, none. its just more intuitive bs. we need to stop the irrational propaganda, dawkins and pz included.

    i agree, a little rationality goes a long way, but again, theres no indication that new atheists are usually any more rational about their beliefs then the religious folk they cry about.

  183. #183 James Sweet
    October 6, 2009

    Okay, I’m convinced now. Concern troll.

  184. #184 bob
    October 6, 2009

    cam, it depends on how you cherry-pick that data you’re suggesting we look at. Religious people tend to be less receptive to astrology, alt med, etc, but that’s because their BS (their religion) preaches that other types of BS is evil. So, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Thus, nonreligious people at the population level probably seem more susceptible to crap like astrology, because they aren’t being told it’s bad. That is why promoting science and reason is just as (if not absolutely, positively MORE) important than promoting only atheism. Which is why we are upset at the Maher fiasco. Which is why we want to prevent the likes of PZ & RD making such faux pas in the future. Which is what we were talking about before you had a conniption fit about memes.

  185. #185 Dr Benway
    October 6, 2009

    cam’s use of the argument from namedrop to criticize others for their alleged use of the argument from authority is fantastic. One more similar own-goal and I believe we will have a troll-time Bingo winner.

    As a /b/tard, cam likely enjoys having Real Time with Bill Maher on in the background while he’s uploading hysterically funny LOLcat macros. The show is slightly less crappy than the other crap that’s usually on TV.

  186. #186 cam
    October 6, 2009

    sigh

    benway, i provided names of scientist who have done scientific experiments concerning memes, not merely given an argument from authority. as mentioned, i recapped the findings of one of these important experiments.

    i find maher’s to be an ideologue, so i dont keep him on, hes always irrational about everything. i browse /b/ out of interest in it as a cultural phenomena, ie what makes it successful; not to post lolcats.

    bob, cherry-pick? again scientific studies have strongly showed that religion is a negative predictor of violence and terrorism. your arm-chair philosophy and intuitive perceptions about alt med and religious folk are just that: arm-chair philosophy and intuitive perceptions. show me some hard data on a correlation between religion and abhorrence of rational principals. im all ears.

    you guys are missing the point: mahers was never rational. outside of biology, pz and dawkins aren’t being scientific (they are even spouting information contrary to accepted scientific data in those fields). clearly talk about atheism is pointless, and we should drop it in favor of exclusively talking about science, from religious folk or atheists alike.

  187. #187 cam
    October 6, 2009

    bob, sorry…i meant to say, why and how religious folk are opposed to alt med.

  188. #188 bob
    October 6, 2009

    Armchair philosophy? Frankly, you can kiss my ass, pal. You might be interested in looking over the gigantic Baylor Religion Survey: http://www.baylor.edu/pr/news.php?action=story&story=52815

    Here’s the data to prove my point: “The Baylor Survey found that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases credulity, as measured by beliefs in such things as dreams, Bigfoot, UFOs, haunted houses, communicating with the dead and astrology[.]” Which is, you know, exactly what I said.

    And here is some copypasta about religious people eschewing rationality:

    “Bader was stunned by the percentage of Americans – 55 percent – who said they were protected from harm by a guardian angel”

    “The survey found that 45 percent of Americans report having at least two religious encounters”

    “The 2005 survey found that 67 percent of Americans said they were “absolutely sure” heaven exists and 17 percent thought it “probably” does”

    “The survey found that 73 percent of Americans believe hell absolutely or probably exists”

    Unless, of course, you think we ought to accommodate the notions of angels, talking to god, heaven, and hell into “rationality.”

  189. #189 cam
    October 6, 2009

    my second post was to correct my first statement: i am aware of the data concerning religion and disbelief in occultisms. However, your jump from the data to your explanation of the data is spurious at best, and seems more based on your intuition then anything else.

    your copypasta for “religions irrationalities” is again problematic: you jump from data to a larger explanation based on your intuition. is there any indication that religious people engage in more harmful behavior because they believe their angel will save them? is there any indication that because some religious people make one statement that appears irrational, they reject rational criteria for other statements, that they *abhor* rationality?

  190. #190 bob
    October 6, 2009

    Why do you get to decide that religious people need to “abhor” rationality for religion to be a problem? Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous that over 1/2 of Americans in 2008 believe than a supernatural entity tasked with protecting them intervened in the natural world to their benefit. If you want to call that “my intuition,” feel free to continue. I’m done discussing it with you.

    I’ll again try to drag the discussion back to the original point, *especially* since I think it’s a point we all would agree on.

    (a) Promoting atheism in and of itself isn’t enough.
    (b) We need to promote science and skepticism in general.
    (c) In fact, (a) might actually be problematic, since it might shoot (b) in the foot like it did with the Maher issue.
    (d) So, should we not promote atheism in and of itself, or at least de-emphasize it in favor of skepticism.

  191. #191 Dr Benway
    October 6, 2009

    cam,

    When the atria are fibrillating, they aren’t contracting. They’re just sitting there as bags of blood. Blood that isn’t moving tends to clot, and when a clot forms in the left atrium, small bits break off, travel through the left ventricle, into the aorta, and quite typically, up the carotid arteries and into the brain where they cause a stroke.

    I’m freaking out about my mom right now.

    Somehow, my incidental use of the word “meme” in the above context provoded you with an opportunity to shit on some imaginary group of people who uncritically accept everything Richard Dawkins says.

    WTF, dude.

  192. #192 cam
    October 6, 2009

    sorry about yr mother, dr benway. i hope that she recovers. obviously, i had no way of knowing that information, though it wouldn’t have changed my criticism; i think the majority of you push atheism devoid of science.

    bob, fine.

  193. #193 Porlock Junior
    October 7, 2009

    Ken, being the polite Brit that he is, is kind enough to explain to us that the reason we don’t understand a remark and also engage in logical fallacies is that we are Americans. Thanks for the clarification.

  194. #194 Andreas Johansson
    October 7, 2009

    for example scientific studies have shown that religion has been shown to be a NEGATIVE predictor of violence and terrorism

    Cite?

    (For a study that found the opposite, try Gregory S. Paul, 2005, “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”.)

  195. #195 rx1
    October 7, 2009

    Thus, nonreligious people at the population level probably seem more susceptible to crap like astrology, because they aren’t being told it’s bad.

  196. #196 Pablo
    October 7, 2009

    Mostly unrelated, but still funny

    I had a dream about Richard Dawkins last night. Or a cartoon version of him. He was on a South Park like show, and was among a panel of religious types. I was watching it with the closed-captioning on (like we often do these days), and I remember he said something like,

    “My name is A-noy, and I am wondering why their aren’t any atheists on this panel?”

    Why in the world would his name be “A-noy”? I have no idea (could it be for “annoy?”), but I specifically remember that A-noy on the caption. And it was definately Richard Dawkins.

    Bizarre.

  197. #197 Knockgoats
    October 8, 2009

    My pseudonymous self has written on a few occasions when I felt my Pope was doing something contrary to science and medicine. – Isis

    Considering the evil lies the RCC tells about AIDS and condoms, about abortion, about voluntary euthanasia, how on earth do you find time to do anything else?

  198. #198 Knockgoats
    October 8, 2009

    Oh, I forgot stem cell research.

  199. #199 David Marjanović
    October 8, 2009

    If atheist leaders start fucking the atheist equivalent of altar boys

    What, pray tell, would that be?

    I mean… no gods => no sacrifices or metaphoric remembrances thereof => no altars => no altar boys. No religion => no organized religion => no organization => no altar boys. No religion => no rituals => no mass => no altar boys. I keep arriving the same conclusion. Help me out, please. What have I missed?

  200. #200 Blog Ref
    October 13, 2009

    My decision: PZ wins again, for being an adult with a sense of humour and one of proportion. +0 feed list points (he rants too much too), -2 and a “mark all read” to Orac.

  201. #201 Chris
    October 13, 2009

    “Blog Ref”, who cares what you think?

  202. #202 Orac
    October 13, 2009

    “Blog Ref” is more than welcome to mark all of my posts as read and then to go and read PZ’s blog rather than mine instead of laying down drive by snark. Really. If he doesn’t like what Orac lays down, he’s perfectly welcome to go elsewhere.

    He probably won’t, of course. Such is the power of Orac. :-)

  203. #203 sgMarshall
    October 14, 2009

    The wikipedia currently has three short paragraphs under Views on health care.

    Bill Maher has expressed the view that most illness is generally the result of poor diet and that medicine is often not the best way of addressing illness.[34] In an episode of the show about the 2008 Presidential Candidates’ health plans, Maher states that poor nutrition is the primary cause of illness, he goes on to say that “the answer isn’t another pill.”[34]

    Maher has stated that the AMA is a powerful lobbying group, and one of the primary reasons why the United States has failed to enact health care reform.[20]

    In an interview with Michael Moore about the film Sicko, Maher states “Basically people are sick in this country because they are poisoned, the environment is a poisoning factor, but also we’ve got to say they poison themselves – they eat shit, people eat shit.” He frequently cites federal subsidization of agribusiness and the prevalence of high-fructose corn syrup in food products as causes of these problems.

    Without knowing what he’s including in ‘most illness’, and were I just scanning the page, this wouldn’t normally jump out to me as problematic, since it in no way speaks about how rigid his views on the subject are. I think most people who have posted here are using the specticles of hindsight to read a bit more into the wikipedia page.

    Lastly, for all those talking about links to drive up search results, it seems to me it would be more productive for someone to make the wikipedia entry a bit clearer on his actual stance.

  204. #204 epicfail
    October 14, 2009

    “it really does strike me as a FAIL on Dawkins’ part not to have taken the complaints more seriously right from the beginning”

    This is crazy. Dawkins is a human being. He can’t possibly think of everything. He has a human attention span, and that means that he has to filter information. People go up in arms about all sorts of things. It’s easy to just ignore it and assume that it’s just more hyperbole, and go about your business.

    So when you talk about “EPIC FAIL” with your wanna be cool interwebs language, consider your own epic fail in bashing PZ Myers. You bash him for being soft on wooers? Epic. Fucking. Fail.

  205. #205 epicfail
    October 14, 2009

    @Orac

    OK:

    Bill Maher vaccine
    Bill Maher alternative medicine
    Bill Maher (Wikipedia), specifically Views on Health Care

    Is this supposed to be a joke? You wouldn’t use those search terms unless you knew what you were looking for in the first place! Seriously, if you are going to try to defend your own epic fail and useless bashing of PZ Myers for being “soft”, while he’s harder than you will ever be, at least try to come up with something valid.

  206. #206 epicfail
    October 14, 2009

    @bob

    Thus, nonreligious people at the population level probably seem more susceptible to crap like astrology, because they aren’t being told it’s bad. That is why promoting science and reason is just as (if not absolutely, positively MORE) important than promoting only atheism. Which is why we are upset at the Maher fiasco.

    You are drawing conclusions based on your own misconceptions.

    The facts:

    1. “Irreligious” includes people who believe in a god but are not part of organized religion (people who do not attend church)

    2. Actual Atheists make up only 1/3 of the “irreligious” group

    3. 2/3 of the “irreligious” group believed in Bigfoot and nonsense like that

    4. The report does not specify that ATHEISTS do

    Notice how 2/3 believe in a god but just don’t attend chirch corresponds with the 2/3 of the group that are likely to believe in non-Christian superstitious nonsense?

    Notice how atheists make up 1/3 of the group, and 1/3 does NOT believe in non-Christian religious nonsense?

  207. #207 Orac
    October 14, 2009

    Is this supposed to be a joke? You wouldn’t use those search terms unless you knew what you were looking for in the first place!

    Given that the complaint was made that Bill Maher is anti-vaccine and pro-quackery, and it doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me think of searching “Bill Maher vaccine” or “Bill Maher medicine” or “Bill Maher alternative medicine.” Mea culpa. I had a higher opinion of people’s intelligence than you apparently do, given that you appear to think they’d be too ignorant or stupid to think of Googling those terms once the complaints about Bill Maher’s loony views about vaccines and alternative medicine started percolating. I didn’t. Also note that a couple of my posts on Bill Maher and vaccines from way back in 2005 have routinely popped up on the first page of Google searches on those terms.

    I guess I just have a higher opinion of PZ’s readers than you do. I would caution you that it’s dangerous to generalize your lack of knowledge to everyone else. Not everyone is as ignorant as you appear to be.

  208. #208 epicfail
    October 14, 2009

    Nice dodging and weaving there, Orac. You would be the perfect Creationist. Changing the subject and using straw men are to popular methods they employ.

    Let’s look at how the discussion started, which was that someone who didn’t know much about Maher using Google to look him up. If you do that, the impression is that he’s a rational guy who’s applauded by other rational people.

    Only if you actually know something about him in the first place would you know what to search for, in which case the search would be useless anyway because you already know it.

    You have a higher opinion of PZ’s readers? No, you illogically and irrationaly wanted people to use search terms they never knew they should be using in the first place. You evidently believe in psychics, seeing as you expect people who don’t know much about Maher to know everything about him.

  209. #209 Orac
    October 14, 2009

    No, the discussion started, at least in my post, with my wondering why apparently no one used Google to look up Maher’s views on vaccines after his views on vaccines and alternative medicine were pointed out. Nice straw man, though.

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