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The time has come…

…for Bill Maher to receive the Richard Dawkins Award. It was a huge mistake on the part of the Atheist Alliance International to award it, for the reasons I’ve repeated ad nauseam over the last couple of weeks; so I won’t go there again.

What I really want to know is what happened. I can’t be in L.A. this weekend. Actually, I’d much rather be in London for TAM London than in L.A. anyway. Unfortunately, I can’t be in either place (although I will be going to Chicago next weekend for the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress; keep that in mind if any of you Chicagoans wants to try a meet-up in a little more than a week.)

In any event, with only a few hours to go before Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins take the stage at the AAI Convention, I thought I’d do this post as a place for any attendees who might be there to tell everyone what’s going on. In particular, I want to know what happens at Maher’s talk. Come on, don’t be shy! Let us all in on the action. Will Dawkins slap down any of Maher’s alt-med nonsense, or will he stay silent and polite? Will Maher spew some amazingly ignorant anti-vaccine views, rants against big pharma, or cancer quackery? Did anyone get an opportunity to ask Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins any questions?

Inquiring minds want to know!

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

54 replies on “The time has come…”

Right now I am sitting with 600 or so attendees watching the live feed of Real Time with Bill Maher. After the show he and guest Richard Dawkins will travel here for the award ceremony. The audience seems very warm toward Maher. Of attendees I have spoken to, most have not heard of the issue. Will live blog in the comments here If iPhone battery lasts. Btw, they have posted notices that any “disruptions” will result in ejection.

I can’t be in L.A. this weekend. Actually, I’d much rather be in London for TAM London than in L.A. anyway.

A trip to London is always better than a trip to LA. Even if you’re going to a Scientology convention.

In introducing Maher, Dawkins says that he disagrees with Maher on medical matters. Says tha he thinks committee that selected him thinks the same. Says the he loved Maher’s film and makes clear that award is for movie.

DFA summary:

Interviewer intro: Maher has expressed some views that are very anti-science based medicine..

Me: Dats true.

Interviewer: …at least to some people.

Me: RAGE!

Interviewer: People expect someone who is an atheist to have all the same ideas they have on every subject.

Me: KNOW WHERE DIS IZ GOING RAGE!!!!

PZ: Associations to politics economics…blah blah. (PZ trying not to go where interviewer wants)

Interviewer: Er, Crackergate?

PZ: Web traffic. Big screen TV.

Interviewer: Bill Maher controversy is silly. Atheist award not a science award.

Me: WHITE HOT LAVA RAGE!!!!

Interviewer: He’s said some things about the germ theory of disease, vaccines. What u tinks PZ?

PZ: Oh u makes me a headache. Decision months ago. Moovie. On other hand, kook.

Me: “KOOK!” Ok PZ, I let u live

Standing ovation for Maher as presented award

Quotes:

“Richard dawkins summarizing the movie is better than the movie.”

“Getting this award from Ricard is like getting an Oscar from an Oscar.”

“Whenever Obama gets Christ-ee I think ‘motherfucker, you better be lying.'”

further updates if battery lasts.

Crowd very friendly to Maher.

Btw–

Maher done. Gave 30 or so minutes of funny religious humor. Standing ovation. No sign of protest. Nobody ejected. Lots of people laughing. Standing ovation. No sign of controvercy other than Dr. dawkins’ opening remarks indicating he disagreed with Maher on medical matters.

Over and out from Burbank

Re: DFA– Ok, PZ effigy bonfire is off.

Re: the award–Sounds like Dawkins was in damage control mode. It will be interesting to see if the RDA criteria and/or selection process change as a result of this.

Richard Dawkins stated that he doesn’t agree with everything Maher says, in particular what he says about medical matters, but just as he has been honored to share a stage with Christopher Hitchens even though he disagrees with him about the war in Iraq, he is honored to share a stage with Bill Maher.

Maher said nothing about medical matters; he gave some thanks for the award and did his routine where he reads from Rick Warren’s _Purpose-Filled Life_ (pretty much the same as you can see on YouTube).

Does anyone get the impression that Maher knows his anti-science view has been targeted?

It looks like they took a safe route in the presentation. Was there any attempt to take questions from the audience? Can folks now challenge Maher to take a more scientific stance because he accepted an award from an organization that promotes science over ideology?

Or is that too much to ask for?

Ok Richard, I let u live.

Richard gets to live, unlike a percentage of people whose health decisions are influenced by what they (or their parents) have heard from Bill “promoter of science” Maher.

In introducing Maher, Dawkins says that he disagrees with Maher on medical matters.

Sorry, but “disagrees” is not strong enough. Scientists disagree all the time, but they’re still arguing from evidence.

Thankfully, PZ reports it as being a bit stronger than that.

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

The good news for all the critics of this choice is that Dawkins pulled no punches. In his introduction, he praised Religulous and thanked Maher for his contributions to freethought, but he also very clearly and unambiguously stated that some of his beliefs about medicine were simply crazy.

“Crazy” – good start. I’d also add that by spreading his amateur views without a qualified person present to correct any errors, Maher will almost certainly be responsible for avoidable deaths.

of course Bill Maher is funny.
Moe Howard was funny. Lou Costello was funny.
Richard Pryor was funny. But unless there’s more to them than I know, I would not have taken medical advice from any of them.
That being said, I also think Giving Maher a pretty for Religulous was a faux pas on a grand scale for AAI.
Sure, they got some momentary publicity. But I doubt their membership will see one jot of increase out of it.
I wouldn’t join them, mainly because I wouldn’t be a member of any club that would have a guy like me for a member.

DLC, we don’t worry about you taking medical advice from celebrities. It’s the rest of the world we worry about.

At least RD distanced himself from Maher’s medical woo. I doubt he could have been very specific about Maher’s misinformation at that moment.

Remember, RD was in Burbank surrounded by glassy-eyed starfucker zombies (how many standing ovations???). Better for him to escape to safety first.

@3Dr Benway – “Some people assume all atheists will have the same opinions about everything.” I assume that since you used quotes, you’re having a rage about something that Maher or Dawkins said. It also tweaks my irony meter, since I’ve found the same to be true if “Christian” is substituted for “Atheist.”

@3Dr Benway – “Some people assume all atheists will have the same opinions about everything.” I assume that since you used quotes, you’re having a rage about something that Maher or Dawkins said. It also tweaks my irony meter, since I’ve found the same to be true if “Christian” is substituted for “Atheist.”

The problem is that it’s not a matter of differing with Maher on an opinion (say whether Pride & Prejudice is better with zombies or without). Factually, Maher is wrong when it comes to medicine. It’s not a matter of opinion that people are upset — Maher’s a loon when it comes to medicine. Saying that it’s a matter of differing opinion is to spin our concerns away on the matter.

No mary, I’m upset with the sentence “Some people assume all atheists will have the same opinions about everything” itself.

It’s a misdirection, a strawman. It appears you do not appreciate this.

Vaccination conspiracies don’t belong in the set “things reasonable people might not agree about.” They belong in the set, “symptoms of brain injury.”

HTH.

I think Dawkins did the right thing and his “disclaimer” was better than I expected. The best possible outcome would be that Maher takes the hint and examines his views–I can dream, can’t I?

Thanks for the live blogging all of you. I had won a ticket to TAM in London, but couldn’t go and then was going to go to L.A., but that didn’t work out either, so it was great to get first hand info!

The lesson I’ve learned from this Maher fiasco is this: “atheism” is a waste of time. It’s not a sufficient filter against irrationality.

The AAI can kiss my ass.

I think Dawkins did the right thing and his “disclaimer” was better than I expected. The best possible outcome would be that Maher takes the hint and examines his views–I can dream, can’t I?

It’s a start.

I wonder if Dawkins and PZ Meyer are so tolerate of Meher’s “kookiness” if Meher’s “kooky” beliefs happened to fall under their field — evolutionary biology. For instance, if Meher happened to believe that aliens directed human evolution (and promoted it via his twitter and show), would they have raised more questions about the selection process? Probably.

Hopefully in the future Orac won’t give out any science-based medicine awards to people who are ardent creationists.

Dr. B @26: This is my take-home as well. The Maher episode serves as a reminder that mere lack of belief in something–anything–is a lousy basis on which to form a club.

Dr. Benway says:

No mary, I’m upset with the sentence “Some people assume all atheists will have the same opinions about everything” itself.
It’s a misdirection, a strawman. It appears you do not appreciate this.
Vaccination conspiracies don’t belong in the set “things reasonable people might not agree about.” They belong in the set, “symptoms of brain injury.”
HTH.
Posted by: Dr Benway | October 3, 2009 10:13 AM

(sigh)

Dr. Benway, you apparently listened to my podcast interview with PZ Myers and assumed that EVERY question I asked him related to the Maher issue. The particular question I asked PZ relates to a theme that I have been interested in for some time, and is something I would have asked PZ regardless of whether the Maher issue existed or not. I have often experienced atheists assume that I share their political beliefs on all issues because I am also an atheist, and I wanted to hear PZ’s opinion on that. I made my position on the Maher issue clear in the interview when I asked PZ a differen question, which I reuse differs from your opinion and Orac’s. Still, I think that the rage and anger you are personally expressing over this issue is over the top and not warranted for such an insignificant award from an orginization that is unknown outside of a small circle of hardcore atheists. If it was an award from a national science foundation, you might have a point. If it was even from the JREF or CFI you might even have a point. Most of the “real world” has never heard of AAI, or the Richard Dawkins award. Please consider lightening up.

Dr. B @26: This is my take-home as well. The Maher episode serves as a reminder that mere lack of belief in something–anything–is a lousy basis on which to form a club.

This applies to Rich, too. It would be one thing if the AAI were just an atheist organization, and the RDA was just an atheism award. However, what is setting many off (including me) is that they don’t advertise themselves as such. Look at the mission statement for the AAI. It goes well beyond “we are all atheists” and includes aspects of “promoting reason and science.” Similarly for the stated purpose of the RDA. So stop with this bullshit that it’s not about science. The AAI themselves made it about science.

Lighten up? We ask them to live up to their own charter and award criteria, and we are told to lighten up?

As has been noted, there is something we have learned from this thing: the AAI is not really concerned with reason and science, and only cares about being anti-religion. Moreover, folks like PZ Myers (and even RD himself) seem to have no qualms about this type of approach, and think we need to accomodate the medical crank beliefs of others as long as they are atheists.

Fortunately, others among us disagree.

Pablo, I’m with you. However, it seems clear based on previous reports of AAI meetings as well as some of the AAI posts PZ has up on his blog right now (transcendental science? wtf?) that as much as the AAI PR might tout the science and reason angle, the organizers aren’t really fussed about whether their members, guest speakers, whatever, hold to this or not. My read is that they are more concerned with bolstering their numbers than they are with adhering to their mission of promoting reason, etc. Thus, in practice they are ‘just’ an atheist organization. And this is why they fail so spectacularly, IMO.

I made my position on the Maher issue clear in the interview when I asked PZ a differen question, which I reuse differs from your opinion and Orac’s. Still, I think that the rage and anger you are personally expressing over this issue is over the top and not warranted for such an insignificant award from an orginization that is unknown outside of a small circle of hardcore atheists. If it was an award from a national science foundation, you might have a point. If it was even from the JREF or CFI you might even have a point. Most of the “real world” has never heard of AAI, or the Richard Dawkins award. Please consider lightening up.

EPIC FAIL.

But, hey, I’m sure Richard Dawkins would be happy to know that you consider the Richard Dawkins Award to be “insignificant.”

As for “lightening up,” I refuse. This incident shows something I’ve suspected for a year or two now, namely that for Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, and the rest of the “militant” atheists being anti-religion trumps being pro-reason and pro-science. Truly, it’s amazing. P.Z. would go so far as to desecrate a Catholic host in order to make his anti-religion point, but suddenly goes all soft and squishy when it comes to medical quackery.

Thus, in practice they are ‘just’ an atheist organization. And this is why they fail so spectacularly, IMO

Jennifer – I agree totally about the “in practice” vs “in principle” distinction, and on the ultimate failure. In fact, I see consequences for AAI from this kerfluffle, as atheists actually take more and more of an outspoken stand against them. What will happen to their credibility as they become known not only as a “non-science” organization, but an anti-science apologetic organization? I can’t see that endearing themselves to a lot of the atheists in the world.

Sure there are atheists who don’t care about science, and to the AAI, you can have them. I am an atheist, but I don’t want to have anything to do with them.

I am a bit surprised about your comments about PZ – he has always been staunchly pro-science, medical and otherwise. I got the feeling he did not want well-meaning protesters to cause a common commotion, which would accomplish nothing and leave a bad impression.

One of the reasons why I feel proud watching Dawkins talk to creationists (for example) is that he is unrelentingly polite. He does not give in, but keeps making his points calmly, while listening to what his opponent says. This would alsi be the best attitude regarding Maher. I do hope they got a chance to chat eye-to-eye, and that Dawkins managed to make a few important points.

I got the feeling he did not want well-meaning protesters to cause a common commotion, which would accomplish nothing and leave a bad impression.

Repeats of this “disruptive” meme are irksome. Please, someone, who make threats to disrupt the AAI meeting?

I’ve asked for evidence in a couple of threads where this issue was raised. So far, nothing.

Conclusion: It’s a boogeyman. Not cool.

Re: Comment #2 (why does everyone use @ for referring to a comment?)

I just got round to reading this–whoa!! Talk about bias! They brush this off, of course, but it all sounds so “sciency”. I’d like to have a quick rundown from Orac to use next time I run into an altmed friend (and I have many, sadly).

I got the feeling he did not want well-meaning protesters to cause a common commotion, which would accomplish nothing and leave a bad impression.

So what you are saying is that he thinks we should accomodate Maher’s anti-science crap, and Dawkins’s shrug-off of it, in order to not come off looking bad or offending anyone.

Io, I don’t disagree with your characterization of Myers’s comments. I just think that, even if we accept them as correct, then WTF?

This is the guy that threw a catholic communion host in the wastebasket and photographed it. Since when does he care about a bad impression? Oh, that only matters for his favorite issues. So when he says, “Nothing’s sacred,” that doesn’t really mean “nothing”

This is the guy that threw a catholic communion host in the wastebasket and photographed it. Since when does he care about a bad impression? Oh, that only matters for his favorite issues. So when he says, “Nothing’s sacred,” that doesn’t really mean “nothing”

Exactly. The contrast between how Myers behaves when it’s religion and how he behaves when it’s “just” quackery or “just” anti-vaccinationism is quite striking.

The AAI should change the wording for their charter and for the Dawkins Award. It is really disingenuous to present themselves as promoting science and then award someone who is as anti-science as Bill Maher clearly is.
I have a feeling this move by them will only hurt them and their membership. With this latest development, I would no more become a member of the AAI than I would an atheist organization that featured horoscopes on their front page.

glassy-eyed starfucker zombies

An abundance of such is another good reason to avoid organizations like the AAI, as well as their conferences. And I’d be surprised if the zombies can be lured from their habitus of licking the intestinal mucosa of the “stars”, for long enough to listen to, and consider, valid criticisms of their actions.

In addition to the anti-vaccination, infectious disease nutbaggery, and cancer treatment quackery, Maher also engages in nutrition woo. It’s irritating to read the apologetics for Dawkins and company, referring to their focus on “biology”, rather than “medicine”. What the hell *is* evidence-based Western medicine, if not biology? Humans are animals, correct? With organs, tissues, cells, enzymes, DNA, etc. etc., and susceptibility to genetic mutations, developmental abnormalities, parasites, and pathogens, right?

“Oh lighten up, Barn Owl, it’s not evolutionary biology ….”

“Lighten up”? You want a joke about pregnant nuns maybe?

It grates when atheists (“skeptics”) don’t give a damn that a science award — given in the name of perhaps the most well-known atheist and scientist in the world — is going to someone who is a scientific illiterate. A dangerous scientific illiterate. (Take a look at the news about all the people who claim they are afraid to be immunized.)

That the AAI crowd gave Maher a standing ovation is very telling. Surely many, if not most, had heard the controversy about the Dawkins award going to Maher, especially if there were signs in the conference warning against disruption and people handing out information about Maher’s quack views. This was sad day for atheism…and science.

Pablo,

this kind of reminds me of the famous visit to the Creation Museum. PZ asked the attendees not to be disruptive, not to molest other visitors, be civil and calm; and this WAS most explicitly a favourite issue of his. I think the difference is all about restraining the outrage in public so as not to let the other party see you as uncivil and not worth listening to.

I despise Maher for his statements regarding medicine, and I wish somebody had asked him and Dawkins about them in a direct, calm manner. An open attack might not have done much to convince Maher or anyone who thinks alike, nor would it have endeared anyone to Dawkins, who is probably not too happy about this nomination (and who was not the one to choose Maher: the AAI did), considering that he is not very accomodating of bullshit medicine.

An open attack might not have done much to convince Maher or anyone who thinks alike,

And lighting off a stink bomb wouldn’t have convinced anyone of anything, either. Fortunately, no one has advocated doing either activity.

Seriously, who called for an “attack” of any sort? Unless you call “bombarding with questions” an attack…

nor would it have endeared anyone to Dawkins, who is probably not too happy about this nomination

Really? What would lead you to think that? As far as I know, Dawkins has not in any way expressed any concerns at all about Maher getting the award (much less being nominated). This is the problem, Io. Dawkins response when learning that Maher was a crank was not at all concerned. You’d think something of, “Really? I didn’t know that. That’s pretty unfortunate” would work. Instead, he has done nothing to support Maher for the award.

You claim he is “not very accomodating of bullshit medicine.” So the question, then why is he accomodating a bullshit medicine promoter?

its fun to watch you guys finally figure out what others of us knew from the very beginning of this movement: “science” and “reason” are getting thrown around as pure propaganda.

none of the new atheist books contains any science on religion, just plenty of bad arm-chair philosophy. personally, i cant read the trash. i plan on having nothing to do with any of this horrible joke.

We’re all born shruggies, and atheists.

Not everyone has had the scales fall from their eyes yet, or else they converted to a different (principal) enthusiasm.

Got different ranking of priorities than me?
Burn the heretic!!!

Boy Orac, you certainly know how to reach a conclusion without any evidence. You say I am a “shruggie.” Here is the definition you provide:

Shruggie (noun): a person who doesn’t care about the science versus pseudoscience debate. When presented with descriptions of exaggerated or fraudulent health claims or practices, their response is to shrug. Shruggies are fairly inert, they will not argue the merits (or lack thereof) of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) or pseudoscience in general. They simply aren’t all that interested in the discussion, and are somewhat puzzled by those who are.

I am not a shruggie at all, although I don’t like the definition because I don’t see that there is an actual debate at all–there is science-based medicine, and there is crap-based medicine, and to say that there is a “debate” between the two is like saying that there is a “debate” between the scientific history of the world and creationism. One is real, one is not. One can be proven, and one isn’t subject to proof because it is based on superstition, dogma, and. . . . crap.

That being said, just because I am not a “shruggie,” doesn’t mean that I need to against Bill Maher getting this award, which (again) I will say is an insignificant and unimportant award in the first place. Orac, I don’t remember you protesting when Penn and Teller won the award at the same time that Penn was clearly a global warming denier (although I think he has moderated his views in the meantime). I assume that the reason for this is because it is an insignificant and unimportant award that nobody had ever heard about and that nobody outside of the AAI cared about in any way. I don’t think that the award is an issue because nobody knows about it (outside of the small circle of people reading these blogs and a few of the people attending the convention), nobody cares about it, and nobody will remember it. I guess the intensity of the feelings that you and others here have on this issue is further evidence of Sayre’s law: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue.”

Orac, I don’t remember you protesting when Penn and Teller won the award at the same time that Penn was clearly a global warming denier (although I think he has moderated his views in the meantime).

That’s because they got the award in 2005, and at that time I hadn’t heard of the Richard Dawkins Award or the AAI, nor was I even particularly interested in the subject. Four years ago, you know. Since then, I’ve criticized P&T for AGW denialism and their original claim that secondhand smoke isn’t a health hazard (the latter of which they appeared to back off on, although they’ve never renounced their episode of Bullshit! that tried to “debunk” the secondhand smoke link with health problems.

We’re all born shruggies, and atheists.

I’m not so sure we are all born atheists. In fact, I’m guessing we’re not. Human brains have evolved a strong tendency to overestimate our own importance (both individually and as a species) as well as to ascribe agency when there is none. That’s pretty much a recipe for belief in some sort of supernatural deity or deities…

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