Some “inconvenient questions” for Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins tomorrow

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The endgame is in sight. At the end of this post is a list of questions for Bill Maher tomorrow (if the opportunity presents itself), the vast majority of which you, my readers, thought of.

Let’s backtrack a minute.

A couple of months ago, I learned that an award named after Richard Dawkins was being given to someone who was so radically, unbelievably unworthy of such an honor, that I likened giving the Richard Dawkins Award to Bill Maher to giving a public health award to Jenny McCarthy. (In deference to Professor Dawkins, perhaps I’ll now liken it to giving such an award to MMR anti-vaccine crank Andrew Wakefield.) The reason I became so incensed was because of the criteria for the Richard Dawkins Award, which were described thusly:

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

As I said at the time, my first reaction was: WTF?

True, it’s only one criteria out of three, but Maher violates it by not just a little. In fact, he flagrantly, joyously violates it–nay, shreds it!–with science-free conspiracy mongering rants against the flu vaccine, big pharma, and a Tweet a few days ago (screenshot above) saying, “If u get a swine flu shot ur an idiot.” (Which got re-Tweeted by Doug Bremner, by the way. Moron.) After my initial post, I was gratified to discover there were in fact a lot of people who agreed with me or mostly agreed with me. On the other hand, I was very disappointed that there were defenders of Maher among people who should know better. Or so I thought. One thing I did know, and that was that, even though I had stirred the pot a bit, the pot definitely needed more stirring. So I took my inspiration from P.Z. Myers, who suggested putting Maher in the hot seat thusly:

…it is open season on everything and everyone. Everyone going to the AAI convention should be enthusiastically prepared to cheer wildly when Maher says something right and reasonable and even funny about religion, and if he brings up anti-vax woo or anti-research fluff, you should be equally prepared to pull out the rhetorical knives. I think anyone speaking at this convention should be aware that they are not there to receive unthinking hugs and kisses from an adoring audience of fans — they should come with ideas to make everyone think, and they should know that they will get arguments.

So that’s our answer to the other, most unfortunate idiocies which Maher espouses. Let’s make him uncomfortable. Don’t be shy about asking pointed questions and making him squirm. It’ll be fun. It’ll also be safe, because a majority of the audience will be feeling the same way about him.

Fair enough thus far. In fact, P.Z.’s suggestion was a large part of the inspiration for me to ask you all for a list of questions to ask Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins, with the promise to post that list today, which is just what I will do after my usual logorrheic introduction. Unfortunately, just this week, P.Z. also wrote something very similar, but seemed to be toning it down. A lot. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate disrupting the conference in an obnoxious manner or going all “tea party” or “August town hall meeting” on Dawkins and Maher. However, I just can’t agree with P.Z. when he goes all accommodationist on us now just because it’s his hero’s ox that’s being gored:

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

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was in this part of PZ’s response. Apparently P.Z. is fine with putting Maher “in the hot seat,” as he put it, but somehow thinks Dawkins should be immune. A couple of months ago, he was urging us to put Maher in the hot seat. Now he’s telling us to lay off Dawkins. Indeed, P.Z. even seems to be implying that Dawkins is so high and mighty that he should be able to dictate the topics of discourse at the AAI convention. Worse, P.Z.’s further implication seems to be that Dawkins might petulantly hide in his hotel room or otherwise stay safely away from the unwashed masses if people ignore his brand spankin’ new book too much and ask too many inconvenient questions about Bill Maher and his views on vaccines, HIV/AIDS, PETA, and cancer quackery. Yes, I know Dawkins has a book to promote. (Convenient that the AAI Convention is in L.A., no? Lots of TV and media there. Funny that.) But is the AAI solely a venue for Dawkins to promote his latest book? Right or wrong, that’s yet another implication I get from P.Z.’s comment. Yet, why would he be that concerned about promoting his book at AAI? After all, I’d bet a high percentage of the attendees there will probably buy Dawkin’s book no matter what (if they haven’t already) and that there will be lots of fans waving copies about for him to sign. Heck, I’ll buy his book eventually, when I get around to it.

P.Z.’s argument is a massive strawman, too, I’m afraid. No one, least of all me, is arguing that Dawkins somehow supports quackery and that that’s the reason he didn’t object to the AAI’s giving Maher the RDA. I’ve seen The Enemies of Reason. I gave it a glowing review, so impressed was I by Dawkins’ work, I even did a bit of an homage in my own inimitable way to the part of the documentary where Richard Dawkins visited the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. That’s hardly the action of someone who has any doubts about whether Richard Dawkins is anything other than staunchly pro-science-based medicine. Rather, what irritated me was Professor Dawkins’ reaction to complaint’s about Maher that developed in a thread on Pharyngula. Specifically, this is 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.

Let me repeat that again: I know nothing of any stance he may have taken on medical questions. No followup of “what are your complaints?” or “please tell me what you mean.” No “so, what are Maher’s medical views that upset you all so?” It’s as if Dawkins just didn’t care. La-de-da. So what if Maher supports quackery? No problem. As long as he bashes religion, it’s all good. My response–and an appropriate one, I think–was: If he doesn’t relish the prospect of having his book discussion time eaten into by discussions of Maher’s alt-med idiocy, Professor Dawkins should have thought of that problem before he so airily dismissed so many legitimate concerns about Maher’s anti-scientific views about medicine, shouldn’t he have? I bet Dawkins wouldn’t have had the same reaction if there had been allegations that Maher is a closet supporter of “intelligent design” creationism.

Is it just me, or does Dawkin’s response above remind you of anyone?

Oh, dear. Have I gone too far in likening Dawkins’ response to this kerfuffle to the hapless Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes (one of my all time favorite shows, by the way)? Well, P.Z. did say that nothing, not even Richard Dawkins, is sacred, didn’t he? I agree. Nothing is sacred. So Sgt. Schultz it is, and Sgt. Schultz it will be!

I see nuttink! I know nuttink!” [Exit stage right, looking puzzled, scared, and exasperated.]

In any case, that’s what annoyed me so much. It wasn’t that Professor Dawkins was ignorant of Bill Maher’s anti-flu vaccine rants, his conspiracy mongering about big pharma, his claim that Louis Pasteur “recanted” germ theory on his deathbed, and, most recently, his advocacy of cancer quackery and his claim that modern medicine hasn’t made any progress against cancer in 50 years. With Bill Maher being a distinctly American phenomenon and Dawkins safely ensconced in Oxford, I wouldn’t have expected that Dawkins would have known about any of that. Nor do I labor under any sort of delusion whatsoever that Dawkins has ever seen my blog, much less read it regularly enough to have come across any of my posts on Bill Maher. Orac may have a huge, pompous, insufferablely self-righteous ego that drives people nuts, but even he’s not that deluded. No, where Professor Dawkins earns an EPIC FAIL is in his utter lack of curiosity about Maher’s views and blithe dismissal of people’s concerns, particularly given that the award is named after him. Maher’s pro-quackery views (not to mention that he is on the board of PETA) are well-known, and that one of the criteria for the award was “advocates increased scientific knowledge.” I hate to say it, but Professor Dawkins just didn’t seem concerned at all about the disconnect. That‘s what bothered me, not some unfounded worry that Professor Dawkins might have suddenly turned pro-quack on us.

Meanwhile, Josh Timonen over at RichardDawkins.net is repeating the same sort of lack of concern:

As you may know, Richard has been invited to present AAI’s ‘Richard Dawkins Award’ at their convention in Burbank this weekend. The AAI committee (of which Richard is not a member) chose Bill Maher to be this year’s recipient, especially because of his film, ‘Religulous’. Some commenters have raised objections because of Bill Maher’s stance on other issues, related to medicine.

Whilst Richard was not involved in the decision, he is nevertheless happy to go along with it. Just as he worked with Bishop Harries to protest against creationist schools in the UK, and just as he regularly recommends Kenneth Miller’s books on evolution to religious people, he understands that it is not a prerequisite to agree with a person on all issues in order to unite in support of a common objective. Richard and Christopher Hitchens don’t see eye to eye on all political matters, but that doesn’t stop them from working together against the dangers of religion. Honoring the creation of ‘Religulous’ does not imply endorsement of all of Bill Maher’s other views, and does not preclude Richard’s arguing against them on future occasions. It is simply showing proper appreciation of his brilliant film.

Wow. That was painful to read, wasn’t it? Could the words be more wishy-washy? Could they miss the point any more widely? I think not. Are they even on the same continent as the point? I think not. Would Timonon or Dawkins be saying the same thing if the allegations were that Maher is a closet creationist?

I think not.

Moreover, it’s another huge straw man argument. No one is saying that honoring the creation or Religulous necessitates agreeing with or endorsing Maher’s other views. Really, that was even lamer than Dawkins’ response. What we are talking about is giving someone who advocates anti-vaccine views and quackery an award, one of whose criteria is to advocate for increased scientific knowledge!

In fact, Maher’s belief in alt-med is no different than creationism at its core, and it’s not closeted at all. He spews it to the masses frequently on his TV show and in his standup comedy act. It is a non-reason-based ideology that subverts and denies science. In fact, I would argue to Richard Dawkins’ face if I were ever to get the opportunity, that the alt-med woo that Maher champions, particularly he anti-vaccine views, is a greater threat than creationism. They have a much more direct and immediate impact on people’s health now in the form of the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases and people suffering needlessly because they eschew scientific medicine, thanks to the blandishments of faith-based medical practitioners. Creationism may be a long-term threat to science, but quackery such as the kind that Maher promotes is a threat now. A tangible, palpable, immediate threat. Moreover, like creationism, alt-med is every bit as much inspired by religion or “spirituality.” Much of it is based on religion-inspired prescientific notions of how the body works and disease develops. What is reiki, for instance, other than faith healing, just with Eastern religious beliefs instead of Christian beliefs. Heck, the person who developed reiki even said he developed the technique during a search to find out how Jesus performed the faith healing miracles described in the Bible!

I wonder what Maher thinks of reiki. Or therapeutic touch, which is nothing more than reiki stripped of its Eastern mysticism (although the same “life force” is there). Certainly his concept of unnamed “toxins” as the cause of disease is not too far afield. I think a commenter by the ‘nym Acumen made the same point I did but perhaps even better regarding the immediate harm unscientific medical beliefs can mean:

And as for numbers of people killed, the numbers for quackery v. the numbers for religious insanity: Imagine if anti-vaxxers (of which Maher is one) had had a significant voice in the public fifty years ago. Would we have gotten enough people vaccinated to get the chance to stop smallpox? How many millions of people would still be dying every year? What’s the next disease we’re going to be on the verge of eradicating that will continue to kill untold numbers because public figures were not called to task for spreading dangerous nonsense?

Bill Maher is a horrific enabler for people who think unscientifically. These would be, by the way, the kind of people who support Jenny McCarthy when she says she’d rather see polio resurface as a major childhood threat than have children receive vaccinations. He has a wide audience, and he is not minding his responsibility as a public figure and is abusing his position to spread dangerous misinformation about scientific facts. He does not deserve any award that recognizes in any part a contribution to science.

Actually, I’ll tell Acumen what the next disease that we were on the verge of irradicating but that came back: Polio. This was thanks to antivaccine insanity and rumors spread around Africa about how the polio vaccine would supposedly render males sterile.

Before I depart, in fairness, I will point out that I do appreciate this part of what P.Z. wrote:

…I’ve probably got a greater likelihood of getting a shot at a private conversation with Richard Dawkins than most readers here; maybe, and this is a very thin maybe, I’ll even get an opportunity to collar Maher. I may also get a chance to talk with some of the other organizers of the conference. If that happens, I’ll pass along the complaints, and I’ll try to drill down and get some good answers for you…which, of course, I’ll post here.

Thanks, P.Z., for offering to do that. Really. Despite all the other criticism, I mean that.

I must admit, though, that I’m surprised P.Z. doesn’t have Richard Dawkin’s mobile number on his speed dial, given that they are friends. Or there’s e-mail. A quick e-mail with a link to some posts about Maher’s promotion of quackery would have done nicely, and it would have had the added bonus of getting Richard Dawkins to read my blog. How cool would that have been? Apparently, at the time P.Z. didn’t consider the issue important enough to bother. Odd that he considered the issue important enough to write a blog post about but not to give his ol’ pal Dawkins a heads-up about what was waiting for him in Los Angeles. Maybe P.Z. assumed I’d let it go. Anyone who reads my blog, though, should know that letting go of an issue once he’s latched on to it is not something that Orac does well or often. But enough snark. (Well, not quite. One more: It’s amazing how—well–accommodationist P.Z. has become.)

Sadly, what I really don’t agree with is this statement by P.Z.:

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

Oh, no. P.Z. No. Now why’d you have to go and say something like that? And, no, it’s not OK.

I suppose complaints about quackery and faith-based medicine are “annoying noise” if you don’t care all that much about medical quackery, or, alternatively (and more likely in this case), if you care a lot more about atheism than you do about science-based medicine. Assuming neither of these possibilities is the case, P.Z. seems to be implying that Dawkins is some sort of shrinking violet who can’t handle controversy. Now, I’ve never met Dawkins personally. (A couple of years, I stood in the same room with him in a crowd, but I couldn’t manage to get close enough to say hello and shake his hand.) Still, Dawkins doesn’t strike me as the sort of person who can’t handle a little controversy. I even concede that dealing with this issue probably annoys him.

So what?

Let me put it this way to P.Z. and others who think I’m being too hard on Dawkins and who want to protect him from inconvenient questions: Someone’s getting an award in Dawkins’ name is different than his working with someone on a common cause. It’s in essence an acknowledgment that the person is like Dawkins in some key way and the things Dawkins believes in are the criteria for the award. Heck, it even says so (or, at least it did). I’m sure if Dawkins had had any objection whatsoever when informed of whom the AAI wanted to choose to bestow the RDA upon, he would have voiced those objections before the award choice was finalized. If that had happened, does anyone think that the awards committee wouldn’t have have moved on to its second choice? As much as P.Z. tries to deny it and Dawkins tries to ignore the controversy, Dawkins can’t distance himself from this. So, like it or not, in essence, The award is an endorsement, and I like to think that the award means something.

Either that, or, as some people have told me through e-mail, including one prominent skeptic, awards are meaningless, nothing more than a publicity game, and the AAI picked Maher because he is a celebrity. He’s famous. Maybe that person was right. I hope not.

Let’s find out together. My only regret is that I can’t be there tomorrow to help out in person. But I can help out those of you who want to raise a little hell–politely, I might add, and without noisy demonstrations. I can help you with (1) a list of questions for Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins and (2) a list of posts detailing Maher’s crimes against reason when it comes to medicine. Not only that, I can repost a couple of YouTubes of Maher’s nonsense, complete with a bit about “aggregate toxicity”:

No, no, no. Don’t thank me, Professor Dawkins. Really, don’t. It’s my honor, particularly since the press release announcing Maher’s selection by the AAI stated:

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

“Further the values of science and reason”? Bummer, that. It makes me want to ask my readers for more questions, even though the ones below are quite good, albeit somewhat repetitive. In fact, I think I will ask my readers for more questions. After all, a clear plastic box of blinking lights has got to do what a clear plastic box of blinking lights has got to do. So…if you have any good ideas, put ’em in the comments! If I missed one of your questions that you posted earlier here, put it in the comments! Then print up the list. Use it as the beginning, but feel free to paraphrase as you like!

Finally, please, my readers attending the AAI Convention, let me know what happens. Maybe I’ll post a roundup on Monday, but in the meantime feel free to leave progress reports in the comments below. I’m sure P.Z. will do the same on his blog, as he promised.

To Bill Maher:

  1. Have you ever seen Professor Dawkins’ documentary series The Enemies of Reason?
  2. Mr. Maher, you’re on record numerous times saying that flu vaccines don’t work, that they “compromise” the immune system, that healthy eating and getting rid of the “toxins” will protect you from the flu, yet you have also been very much in favor of HPV vaccination (i.e., Gardasil). Both are vaccinations. How do you reconcile your belief that the flu vaccine is harmful and compromises the immune system with your advocacy of HPV vaccination? Why is it that the flu vaccine “compromises the immune system” and apparently the HPV vaccine does not?
  3. Could you please name some of these “numerous” American people with cancer who were given a “death sentence” by their conventional doctors but went to clinics in Mexico or other countries for “alternative” medicine and beat their cancers?
  4. On September 18, 2009 on Overtime With Bill Maher, you said in response to a question about whether Laetrile works against cancer that “I do know that the shit we’ve tried for the last 50 years doesn’t [work]. I know they’ve made no progress as far as cancer in this country.” Yet, according to the SEER database, the five year survival rate for all cancers combined was 50.2% in 1975 and rose to 68.2% by 2001. The 10-year survival has increased from 44.5% in 1975 to 60% in 1996. Many tumors that were virtual death sentences in 1960 are now highly treatable today. In light of that information, would you like to reconsider your assertion that “Western medicine” hasn’t made any progress against cancer in the last 50 years?
  5. Do you really believe that Louis Pasteur recanted germ theory on his deathbed, as you claimed in 2005? If so, why do you think that this invalidates all of the evidence supporting germ theory?
  6. You continually deride religious people for their faith in an unproven supreme being. Why, then, do you have faith in alternative medicine without any proof? The studies that have made it through an IRB (Insitutional Review Board) and been completed on any alternative medicine have come up as being as good or worse than no therapy at all, or as only having a placebo effect. Where is the scientific evidence? Big pharma can not control the scientific method – if there was proof of efficacy, that therapy would be adopted as quickly as possible. And the people responsible for discovering it would be well compensated as well as famous (to paraphrase Patrick Swayze).
  7. You are admired for your courage in standing up to conventional wisdom on a number of issues, and for being unafraid to face criticism. Yet you carry on endorsing all this unscientific quackery touting alternative medicines and railing against vaccines. How about inviting a proper scientist on your show so you can educate yourself about the real science behind the “mainstream” medicine you so despise?
  8. Have you considered the possibility that promoters of alternative therapies aren’t really on to anything, but are simply finding the rules of evidence used in science rather inconvenient?
  9. Do you really think medical scientists would ignore a promising cancer therapy simply because it’s not backed by a large pharmaceutical company? Aren’t ego and achievement pretty powerful reasons for a scientist to go after whatever seems to work no matter the source?
  10. Do you believe in using rational based inquiry in all areas of knowledge? If so, how can you reconcile your advocacy of dubious alternative medicine treatments and constant flagellation of rationally driven western medicine along with continuous promotion of conspiracy theories(ex pharma out to get us) with your rejection of theism. Either you have not used skepticism to discount the latter or you reserve your rationality for specific areas of knowledge. Which one is it?
  11. Why do you advocate the use of science and reason when dealing with religious beliefs, but do not apply the same type of critical thinking to your beliefs about alternative medicine?
  12. Would you consider reevaluating your alternative medicine beliefs, using science and reason, in the same way atheists like yourself may wish to see religious proponents rationally reevaluate their religious beliefs?
  13. Alternative medicine beliefs do not use the scientific method, exempt themselves from scientific evaluation, and rely on the supernatural in their claims. How do your faith-based medical beliefs differ from faith-based religious beliefs?
  14. You’ve said that people who get the swine flu vaccine are idiots. Can you please explain the CDC’s position regarding this vaccination and their rationale for recommending it to certain populations?
  15. I enjoyed your anti-religion movie. It was funny. Will you be doing an anti-vaccine movie soon?
  16. Where are all of these people who were cured by alternatives to evidence- and science-based medicine? Why aren’t they all clamoring up to congressional hearings with proof of their *cures*? (re Maher to Letterman: truth be told,my father was treated for heart disease for many years and lived well for most of them. I remember a few woo-sympathizers telling me to “get him off those meds”,”try a natural approach.” Why,so he could be naturally dead?)
  17. How much money do the promoters/makers of “alternative” treatments put into research and development? How much money is spent on the preclinical and clinical research to show safety and efficacy? What percentage of each dollar made from the “alternative” treatments represents scientific research?
  18. We know that cig smoke causes lung cancer. What are the “toxins” you are talking about, specifically, that are causing the cancers you think can be cured by CAM. Also, where do the toxins go when you “detox” yourself? If we capture the coffee plus crap that comes out, will we find these toxins?
  19. Since you doubt the methods of conventional method for proving efficacy, how do you distinguish between alternative therapies which work and those which are snake oil?
  20. A friend had some back pain and went to his alt med practitioner and had cupping performed. As proof that cupping was drawing out toxins and not simply causing a bruise, he pointed out that the discolored areas were brown, not purple. But if I went to the same therapist, falsely complain of back pains, and they cupped me and raised the same discolorations on my skin, what would this mean to your theory of toxins?
  21. You have claimed that Pasteur recanted his germ theory on his deathbed. Doesn’t this seem to sound like the falsified claim by Lady Hope that Darwin recanted on his deathbed? do deathbed recantations even mean anything? Are you sure that you won’t have a “Come to Jesus” moment when you are on your deathbed?
  22. You have stated that, “Merely suggesting alternative medicine for cancer treatment can get an individual arrested in this country.” To date there are countless websites and companies that market and sell alternative based treatments specifically targeted towards individuals with cancer (Natural supplements, vitamins etc.). Can you cite any cases where suggestion of alternative treatments have actaully put people in legal jeopardy?
  23. Smallpox was eradicated worldwide through the use of vaccines. It is entirely possible that polio could be similarly eradicated. Should polio be allowed to flourish because you are anti-vaccine?
  24. On Larry King Live, you claimed that getting the influenza vaccine five years in a row increased the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s ten-fold. The only source for this claim is Dr. Hugh Fudenberg. Are you aware that in November 1995, the South Carolina Medical Board concluded that Fudenberg was “guilty of engaging in dishonorable, unethical, or unprofessional conduct,” and he was fined $10,000, ordered to surrender his license to prescribe controlled substances (narcotic drugs) and his medical license was placed on suspension. Since that time, Fudenberg’s medical license has lapsed. Do you still think Fudenberg is a reputable source for the claim about flu vaccines and Alzheimer’s?
  25. Are you an atheist; do you not believe in a god of any kind, yes or no?
  26. Did you say the following words and do they accurately reflect your views today? You said: “I’m not an atheist. There’s a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn’t believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don’t need. But I’m not an atheist, no.” I believe there’s some force. If you want to call it God… I don’t believe God is a single parent who writes books. I think that the people who think God wrote a book called The Bible are just childish. Religion is so childish. What they’re fighting about in the Middle East, it’s so childish. These myths, these silly little stories that they believe in fundamentally, that they take over this little space in Jerusalem where one guy flew up to heaven no, no, this guy performed a sacrifice here a thousand million years ago. It’s like, “Who cares? What does that have to do with spirituality, where you’re really trying to get, as a human being and as a soul moving in the universe?” But I do believe in a God, yes.”
  27. I’ve heard that you are anti-vaccination. Is that true? If yes, what would you do if you were bitten by a rabid animal? If get a rabies shot/vaccine – isn’t that a little hypocritical? Picking and choosing which vaccines you think are helpful and which are not? The whole purpose of vaccinations is that an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  28. Mr. Maher, one of the dangers that I have always believed that organized religion poses for people is that it promotes praying when one is sick as a plea for being cured. There is, of course, no evidence that people that pray when sick have any greater a chance of being cured than those of us that don’t. Don’t you beleive than, that anything that is promoted as a cure for ANY disease or sickness should be held to a high level of factual scrutiny and scientific study so that people are not taken advantage of like those that are told to pray for a cure? Do you have such evidence to support the claims that alternative treatments for cancer have a higher rate of cure than conventional medicine treatments?
  29. Do you understand why double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies are ultimately necessary to evaluate the veracity of claims put forth by both traditional scientific medicine, and so-called “alternative” medicine?
  30. How would you react to the prospect of an HIV/AIDS vaccine? [I like this one, because, as I have pointed out before, Maher gushingly praised HIV/AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore’s book.
  31. You have been an outspoken critic of global warming denialism, pointing
    out that much of the right wing denies the scientific consensus in favor of thei rconservative ideology. In light of this why do you choose to ignore the clear scientific consensus on specific issues of medical science like vaccines and cancer treatment?

To Richard Dawkins:

  1. Professor Dawkins, you stated that you were unaware of Bill Maher’s views about medicine. Fair enough, but why is it that, upon people complaining about his views, you showed absolutely no interest in finding out what Maher’s medical views were and why they upset your admirers? Given that Maher is being given an award bearing your name and that his medical beliefs are far better suited to one of the hapless quacks you skewered in the second half of your documentary The Enemies of Reason, don’t you think finding out what it is about Maher’s views that upsets advocates of science-based medicine would be important?
  2. Would it matter to you if the Richard Dawkins Award were given to a creationist? If it would (as I assume it would), then why doesn’t it apparently bother you that the RDA is being given to an advocate of a different, but equally fallacious and pernicious, form of pseudoscience, namely cancer quackery and anti-vaccine views every bit as loopy as those of Andrew Wakefield?
  3. What will be your position should Mr. Maher defend his anti-vaccine position in the future by referring to his prestigious science award, given to him by none other than Richard Dawkins?
  4. One of the strengths of science is the capacity to change interpretations as new information becomes available. With all that has been presented about Mr. Maher’s views of medical science, has your opinion of the appropriateness of giving him the Richard Dawkins Award changed?
  5. Since the Richard Dawkins Award, with your approval, is being given to a person who promotes Magical Thinking, why should we not consider you an “accommodationist”?
  6. You have implied that you are willing to overlook Maher’s stance on other issues because of the contribution he made with the movie Religulous. In the past, you have made common cause with those on who you disagree on certain issues (e.g. working with clergy in promoting the teaching of evolution), however, you have always been quite clear and explicit about the points over which you disagree with these sometimes-allies. Will you now clearly and unequivocally state that you do not share Maher’s views on vaccines, modern cancer treatment, and germ theory?
  7. People often charge you with being ideological in your militant atheism and accuse you of stepping outside the bounds of scientific evidence to promote atheism. How can you refute that charge, sir, if you allow a prominent promoter of anti-science woo to be given an award in your name for atheism? Doesn’t this reinforce the impression your critics have that you put atheism ahead of scientific rationality?
  8. Do you believe that vaccination is a safe and advisable approach for preventing diseases, and that people should be vaccinated according to international health organization guidelines?
  9. Is this specific instance in which Maher’s views were not made available in a timely matter or do you plan to continue to play the ignorance card while allowing awards to be bestowed upon individuals who clearly do not fulfill the criteria for recognition. How would you feel if an award representing fair minded skepticism in medical practises was given to a creationists. Perhaps then you would require rationality in all areas of knowledge?
  10. Alternative medicine beliefs do not use the scientific method, exempt themselves from scientific evaluation, and rely on the supernatural in their claims. How do Bill Maher’s faith-based medical beliefs differ from faith-based religious beliefs?
  11. You’ve accused moderate religionists of providing cover to the extremists because they offer no rational argument for differentiating good religion from bad religion. Similarly, alternative medicine proponents offer no rational standard for separating good alternative medicine from crazy alternative medicine. Once a doctor leaves behind the rules of evidence medical scientists normally use, once he skip independent peer review, controlled studies, and the constraint of prior plausibility, he’s entered the realm of faith based healthcare where all manner of harmful quackery becomes possible. I wonder how you reconcile your opposition to faith based arguments concerning the creation of the universe and life’s evolution with your approval of Mr. Maher as an appropriate recipient of the Richard Dawkins award, knowing how he frequently promotes faith based medicine?
  12. Math teachers know that students sometimes put down the right answer as a lucky guess or by copying someone else. That’s why they insist that students show their work. Professor Dawkins, shouldn’t you ask to see Mr. Maher’s work before awarding points for his “no God” answer? Given his credulous promotion of alternative medicine, it seems he doesn’t really get the scientific method. So I suspect he copied that “no God” answer from someone smarter who happened to be sitting near him.
  13. As many know, Simon Singh, a respected educator of the sciences, is currently facing legal battles in the UK from quacks. The scientific and rationalist societies rallied around him and launched a campaign against the bogus lawsuit. You, yourself, spoke in support of Simon calling him a “courageous hero” a few days ago (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/20/richard-dawkins-libel-laws). Do you feel, then, it is appropriate to give the RDA to another staunch quack?
  14. Professor Dawkins, you have come out quite strongly against medical quackery, both during your documentary The Enemies of Reason and in the foreword to Snake Oil, and Other Preoccupations by John Diamond. How do you feel about having a man whose beliefs mirror those of Prince Charles (whom you castigated) or one of the quacks you skewered in The Enemies of Reason) bear an award with your name on it?
  15. What do you imagine John Diamond might say to Mr. Maher if he were alive today?
  16. Have you ever seen your documentary series The Enemies of Reason?
  17. How can the maker of the documentary The Enemies of Reason agree to and hand out an award to someone who would be a great punch ball in that very program?

To the AAI:

  1. One of the criteria for the Richard Dawkins Award is that the person “advocates increased scientific knowledge”. Will this criterion be dropped in light of the award going to an active promoter of pseudoscience?
  2. I’m told that the inscription on the Richard Dawkins Award to be given to Bill Maher reads, “for outstanding contribution to freethought in Religulous and many insightful criticisms of religion, presented to Bill Maher by Atheist Alliance International, Oct 2, 2009.” Yet, according to numerous sources, the criteria for the RDA are described thusly: “The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.” Did you change the criteria of the award so that you could give it to a celebrity like Bill Maher, even though, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, it’s impossible to say that Maher “advocates increased scientific knowledge,” given his vocal advocacy of unscientific medicine and quackery?
  3. The Richard Dawkins Award is given to one who “advocates increased scientific knowledge.” On what efforts, in the furtherance of science, did the selection committee base this award to Bill Maher?
  4. This Award is suppose to go to an “outstanding ATHEIST” who “mirrors the UNCOMPROMISING nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.” Yet Bill Maher has gone on record that he is not an atheist. Please explain how this award is not compromising.
  5. Who was on the selection committee?

And, finally, I’m reposting a list of posts that detail in painful detail just how low Maher goes: