Respectful Insolence

Well, here’s something refreshing. In fact, it’s so refreshing that I just had to link to it. Michael Shermer, renowned skeptic and the publisher of Skeptic, has decided to school the Atheist Alliance International 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award, anti-vaccine kook Bill Maher, over the nonsense about alternative medicine, vaccines, and conspiracy theories about big pharma that Maher regularly likes to lay down.

Even better, he did it on what is normally a repository of anti-vaccine pseudoscience, The Huffington Post, in the form of An Open Letter to Bill Maher on Vaccinations. Read and enjoy. My only problem with it is that Shermer was entirely too nice about it. Of course, Shermer’s very civility just goes to show that civility doesn’t matter to the anti-vaccine loons. They’ve already infested the comment thread. You might want to send lend some tactical air support to Shermer if you get a chance. Tell ‘em Orac sent you.

Comments

  1. #1 SciencePundit
    October 16, 2009

    Unsurprisingly, that post is invisible from the front page of THP (I only knew about it from a link in a tweet). I left a comment earlier today correcting Shermer on the detail of who awarded the RDA and also saying how I got my seasonal flu shot today (Yay!), but the loons still slightly outnumber us. I get burned up reading the stupid like “Don’t think that you can guilt me with all your talk about herd immunity.”

    *SIGH*

  2. #2 K Wombles
    October 16, 2009

    As usual, they deleted my comment on Huffington Post. They just can’t face up to science.

  3. #3 Dan Weber
    October 16, 2009

    The woo is deep in the comments section at the New York Times:

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/16/judge-halts-mandatory-flu-vaccines-for-health-care-workers/

    Some brave volunteers may wish to dispel some of the BS.

  4. #4 Jennifer B. Phillips
    October 16, 2009

    Nice one, Shermer! He even gave Science Based Medicine blog a plug–woot! I thought his friendly tone was a strategic one. He’s not insulting, he’s appealing to Bill’s intellect, and his reputation for being (at least some of the time) a critical thinker. I’m not getting my hopes up, but perhaps the friendly ‘psst, buddy, your fly is down’ approach has the best chance of making a difference.

  5. #5 SC (Salty Current)
    October 16, 2009

    This Michael Shermer?:

    Everywhere I went the acrid smell of smoke was in the air, including restaurants, which once again reminded me of the tension I feel between my libertarian tendency to prefer freedom, including the freedom to smoke, and my personal preference for a smoke free environment anywhere I go. I know, second hand smoke has not been proven to cause serious lung illnesses, but it sure does stink and bothers me to no end.

    http://skepticblog.org/2009/09/22/a-romanian-adventure/

  6. #6 Sastra
    October 16, 2009

    I like Shermer’s letter: its tone is persuasive, rather than scolding, and since the two know each other and Huffpo is considered a “liberal”-friendly venue, it may be effective. As has been mentioned, to the extent that Maher is serious about his claimed commitment to critical and rational thinking, he is sowing the seeds to his own destruction on the alt med crap. You can’t claim to defend science and then invoke a wild-ass, unsupported conspiracy theory called “Western Medicine.” There is no Western Medicine, any more than there is Jewish physics or feminist chemistry. There is just medicine — and a process designed to weed out error over time.

  7. #7 Badger3k
    October 16, 2009

    Shermer isn’t the greatest – his “debate” with some YECs in Austin was a shambles, even though he thought it was a win. He also only recently accepted the science behind AGW, and he is still out on the idea that oil is produced naturally by the earth in some unknown manner and we won’t run out, at least the last I checked. He’s also pretty religious about his Libertarian/Randian ideals. I’ve lost a bit of respect I had for him as a skeptic since I’ve learned more about him (and read what he has written).

    Still, it’s good that more people are jumping on that idiot. As someone pointed out (on this blog, IIRC), Maher is more anti-corporation than a critical thinker.

  8. #8 Richard
    October 16, 2009

    I think you’re making a mistake when you keep calling Bill Maher the 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award from Atheist Alliance International. I was totally with you when you criticized AAI and Dawkins for giving him the award, but it’s over now, and I don’t see why you feel the need to keep rubbing their noses in it. Instead, I think you should just call him Bill Maher when you criticize him. I don’t see the wisdom in alienating our allies.

  9. #9 Sastra
    October 16, 2009

    Richard #7 wrote:

    I think you’re making a mistake when you keep calling Bill Maher the 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award from Atheist Alliance International.

    No, Orac’s already explained that he plans on emphasizing the error, to help prevent the same thing from happening in the future. It’s not likely to, but, since his point is valid, it’s a reasonable position.

  10. #10 Orac
    October 16, 2009

    I think you’re making a mistake when you keep calling Bill Maher the 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award from Atheist Alliance International.

    I don’t, and I intend to keep doing it indefinitely (or at least until I get tired of it).

    I was totally with you when you criticized AAI and Dawkins for giving him the award, but it’s over now, and I don’t see why you feel the need to keep rubbing their noses in it.

    Because the mistake was so monumental. Because AAI desperately wants to sweep it under the rug and “move on.” Because I don’t want to see the same mistake again.

  11. #11 Orac
    October 16, 2009

    Everywhere I went the acrid smell of smoke was in the air, including restaurants, which once again reminded me of the tension I feel between my libertarian tendency to prefer freedom, including the freedom to smoke, and my personal preference for a smoke free environment anywhere I go. I know, second hand smoke has not been proven to cause serious lung illnesses, but it sure does stink and bothers me to no end.

    Well, as Shermer pointed out in the open letter, he was once an AGW denialist but finally admitted he was wrong based on the evidence and changed his mind. Hopefully evidence will get him to admit he’s wrong about secondhand smoke, too. In a way, it’s interesting to contrast Shermer with Penn, who admitted he was wrong about secondhand smoke but has yet to admit he was wrong about AGW. True, he came closer than I ever saw him before to admitting he was wrong about AGW at TAM7 but ended up weaseling out by concluding, “I JUST DON’T KNOW,” which hopefully is one step along the way to admitting he’s wrong.

  12. #12 julia
    October 17, 2009

    Hey, i hope that these news stories are not an indication of what is coming: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/17/nyregion/17vaccine.html—Albany Judge Blocks Vaccination Rule
    then: http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSTRE59F4WB20091016 FDA warns against fake online H1N1 remedy claims then: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/16/AR2009101601384.html Links to Pneumonia, Rapid Effects on Young Noted
    So, reduced prevention, severe effects on young healthy people and fake cures–a bad combination!

  13. #13 Diane G.
    October 17, 2009

    #7 I’ve lost a bit of respect I had for him as a skeptic since I’ve learned more about him (and read what he has written).
    Posted by: Badger3k

    Agreed. Feet of clay everywhere, it seems. But I guess I applaud this particular move of his. It will certainly reach very many more people than Dawkins’s demurral to a few hundred at the AAI convention itself.

    I also agree that the civility of tone was calculated as if Shermer felt he had an actual chance to get Maher to see the light; personally I think that’s a very slight chance, and that Maher will be more likely to take offense, polite tone or not, for being called out in public. Shermer’s piece my reach a few HuffPo readers, however.

    I thought the bit about our immune systems “evolving” in response to vaccination was scientifically weak.

  14. #14 1984
    October 17, 2009

    Shermer at least loses me when he says things like:
    “In Michael Moore’s worldview, a goodly portion of the American people are ignorant, uneducated, clueless pinheads too stupid to realize the fundamental principle of a loan…”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-shermer/capitalism-a-propaganda-h_b_317378.html
    this is surprising coming from a skeptic. The public are largely ignorant about almost everything.

  15. #15 mariana
    October 17, 2009

    1984, why does that lose you? Is it because Shermer did not say what Moore said and he should have said that? Or that he should have agreed with Moore’s idea and then added that the public is largely ignorant of almost everything? Or is it that Moore doesn’t actually say what Shermer says he does?

    Shermer did say,

    I have a much higher view of the American public than does Michael Moore. I don’t think the American people are so stupid or uneducated that they didn’t know what they were doing. This wasn’t rocket science.

  16. #16 1984
    October 17, 2009

    Is it because Shermer did not say what Moore said and he should have said that?

    No. He, it seems to me he vastly overvalues the intelligence/knowledge of the general population. I think Shermer likes to think people as smarter than they are when it comes to economics so that it fits more perfectly with his political views which would be libertarianism. If so many people can get it wrong on evolution then they can get it completely wrong when it comes to economics as well.

  17. #17 redfish123
    October 17, 2009

    Shermer:I have a much higher view of the American public than does Michael Moore. I don’t think the American people are so stupid or uneducated that they didn’t know what they were doing. This wasn’t rocket science.

    It’s a nice sentiment, but I think he extrapolates too much from his own situation. I’m not saying that Capitalism: A Love Story doesn’t have an obvious bias, but Shermer extrapolates too much from his own situation and assumes that people are going to be like him and experience the same situation. There are real horror stories out there. Loans to the mentally retarded. Loans to the elderly. Minorities more likely to be given a subprime mortgage regardless of income.

    I’m not going to argue that people don’t have a responsibility of looking after their finacial situation or that greed wasn’t a factor in some of these loans… but I don’t think a more honest view of the current economic mess we’re in right now is Shermer’s. Things are more complex.

  18. #18 Denice Walter
    October 17, 2009

    BTW, it was Maher’s last show of the season last night{Thank the non-existent lord!) Chris Matthews laid into Maher’s woo-centrism heartily and seemed to be having a really good time throughout, sometimes openly laughing.

  19. #19 Orac
    October 17, 2009

    I heard about last night’s show from a couple of readers. I’m waiting for some of it to show up on YouTube or elsewhere. Or, I suppose, I could watch it when it shows up on ON DEMAND. That provides the beauty of letting me fast forward through the other stuff.

  20. #20 Isis the Scientist
    October 17, 2009

    I think you’re making a mistake when you keep calling Bill Maher the 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award from Atheist Alliance International.

    You’re still on the upward sloping portion of the hilarity bell curve with this one, Brother Orac.

    Shermer’s letter made it into the HoffPo? Whhhhoa! Is Jim Carrey off filming somewhere?

  21. #21 Kristjan Wager
    October 17, 2009

    I applaud Shermer’s effort here, and hope he gets through to Maher, without much expectation of success.

    In general, I do have issues with Shermer, whose stick seems to be “I was gullible enough to believe in the same sort of stuff in the past, so you can trust me on this”. In other words, his instincts are not very good, but sometimes he is able to use logic and reason to reach the right conclusions. Not exactly a shining beacon of skepticism.

  22. #22 SC (Salty Current)
    October 17, 2009

    Scooped by PZ! :D

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/10/bill_maher_still_doesnt_get_it.php

    [I fear this may cause Orac permanent damage.]

  23. #23 Orac
    October 17, 2009

    Why would it bother be to be “scooped by PZ”? The dude posts several times a day. I usually post only once or twice a day, sometimes less.

  24. #24 mariana
    October 17, 2009

    He, it seems to me he vastly overvalues the intelligence/knowledge of the general population. I think Shermer likes to think people as smarter than they are when it comes to economics so that it fits more perfectly with his political views which would be libertarianism.

    Thank you, 1984. I understand now, and I tentatively think that I agree in that it fits more with Shermer’s political views.

  25. #25 SC (Salty Current)
    October 17, 2009

    Why would it bother be to be “scooped by PZ”? The dude posts several times a day. I usually post only once or twice a day, sometimes less.

    I started writing a “huh?” response, and then realized that you were (quite naturally) reading “[I fear this may cause Orac permanent damage]” as referring to having been scooped. Nah – I meant the Maher clip itself (may not be worse than what you’ve seen from him in the past, come to think of it, but it’s just so packed with denialist tropes as to be worthy of a creationist, a comparison he keeps resisting though it’s plainly obvious). Sorry for the confusion.

  26. #26 Orac
    October 17, 2009

    Actually, the Maher clip in PZ’s post was worse than anything I can recall in the recent past. He really let his freak flag fly:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/10/the_2009_recipient_of_the_richard_dawkin_1.php

  27. #27 Diane G.
    October 17, 2009

    15
    Is it because Shermer did not say what Moore said and he should have said that?

    No. He, it seems to me he vastly overvalues the intelligence/knowledge of the general population. I think Shermer likes to think people as smarter than they are when it comes to economics so that it fits more perfectly with his political views which would be libertarianism. If so many people can get it wrong on evolution then they can get it completely wrong when it comes to economics as well.

    Posted by: 1984 | October 17, 2009 11:08 AM

    (R)amen.

    I don’t see why his breed of libertarianism isn’t seen for the Social Darwinism it is.

  28. #28 Jen
    October 17, 2009

    Gotta tell ya, I’ve been baaawwwing in the HuffPo Living Section comments (and often being deleted for it) for quite some time. It gave me great pleasure to see Shermer’s post and give them an atta-boy for once.

    It was also fun to throw in the http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Jenny_McCarthy_Body_Count/Home.html link for good measure.

  29. #29 Dan Weber
    October 19, 2009

    This Atlantic article goes over the evidence for total morbidity with the flu:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200911/brownlee-h1n1 Page two gets into cases with morbidity not changing in years in which the flu vaccine had trouble. Is there a response?

    I’d ask at SBM, but it seems down now :(

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.