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Bill Maher: Still an antivaccine wingnut after all these years

It should come as no surprise to anyone here that I consider Bill Maher to be an antivaccine and pro-alternative medicine wingnut. Indeed, early on in my blogging “career” (such as it is), I used to blog about him fairly regularly, mainly because he served up deliciously stupid antivaccine red meat to a blogger like me on a depressingly regular basis. As hard as it is to believe, my first acknowledgment of Bill Maher’s antivaccine proclivities was nearly ten years ago, when Maher promoted the myth that Louis Pasteur had “recanted” on his deathbed, adding to that a statement that “I don’t believe in vaccination, either” because it’s a “theory that I think is flawed.” Indeed, he’s been promoting the lie that vaccines don’t work and that the influenza vaccine causes Alzheimer’s disease since before I started blogging (although it’s been nine years since I first noticed it) and proclaiming his lack of belief in “Western medicine” to the point of telling David Letterman after his heart surgery that maybe he could come off his medications.

A few years ago, though, Maher seemed to have made a strategic decision not to spout off so much about vaccines and his belief that, if you just eat the right foods and keep the body “pure,” you will be magically immune to the flu. Maybe it was because his pseudoscientific invocation of “will” was so ridiculous that Bob Costas mocked him for it on his very own show, dismissing his claim that he wouldn’t catch the flu on an airplane sarcastically by saying, “Oh, come on, Superman!” Or maybe it was the flak so justifiably aimed at the Atheist Alliance International for giving him the Richard Dawkins Award in 2009, which inspired me to liken giving Maher such an award to giving Jenny McCarthy a public health award. Back then, when he tried to defend himself, he just dug himself in deeper and deeper, to the point where Chris Matthews even compared him to a celebrity Scientologist like Tom Cruise denouncing psychiatry. Or perhaps it was Maher’s foolishly ignorant attempt to refute Michael Shermer’s open letter to him urging him to reconsider his antivaccine and anti-“Western” medicine views. Or maybe it was his endorsement of cancer quackery.

Whatever the reason, for the most part, Bill Maher has been relatively quiet about vaccines and medicine of late. Sure, I saw him or heard of him reverting back to form briefly on various occasions, letting loose with a sarcastic joke or two about big pharma or the like, but quite infrequently. He seemed to be sticking to politics and pop culture and laying off of medicine for the most part. Actually, I was grateful. It made Real Time With Bill Maher actually watchable for me, as in general I could compartmentalize and appreciate Maher’s other humor, as long as I wasn’t having his quack-friendly tendencies shoved in my face every episode. Too bad it couldn’t last. Or maybe it did, but Maher just can’t resist every so often letting people know he’s still antivaccine. Whatever the case, on Friday, Maher couldn’t resist reverting to form at the tail end of an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande. In fact, Maher couldn’t resist introducing his last question with, “I got a lot of shit a few years ago because I said that flu vaccines are bullshit.”

I bet you can tell where this was going.

Yes, Maher asked (with glee) about the news reports last week in which the CDC reported that the flu vaccine is 23% effective this year, you know, the stories and study that I discussed in depth on Friday. Maher continued by saying:

It’s a big scam to make money, but flu vaccines are bullshit. I was right, wasn’t I, Doc?

No, Bill. You’re the one who’s full of bovine excrement, not the flu vaccine. I suppose, however, that the story about this year’s flu vaccine not being well below its usual average in efficacy this year was just too big a temptation, rather like a huge piece of catnip to a cat or a big fat joint to, well, Bill Maher.

Dr. Gawande did his best to school the ever-ignorant Bill Maher, putting up with Maher interjecting periodically after parts of his explanation, “That’s why they’re bullshit.” For instance, Gawande explained patiently, in a manner that I envy greatly given that, were I being interviewed by Maher I’d have to resist with every fiber of my being the overwhelming urge to call Maher an idiot, that flu vaccines depend on an educated guess made in February about what strains will be circulating in the fall, and that’s why their effectiveness can vary so much from year to year. Of course, I don’t discount the possibility that Dr. Gawande was also resisting with every fiber of his being an overwhelming urge to call Bill Maher an idiot but was simply much better and hiding the inner struggle than I could ever be. Almost certainly he was, but his self-control is far greater than mine. That’s probably part of the reason why he’s on TV all the time, and I’m not. (That, and because he’s written some bestsellers, which reminds me: I really need to write a bestseller.)

Be that as it may, if you’ve read my two posts on why this year’s flu vaccine is not as good as we had hoped it would be, nothing that Gawande told Maher will come as a surprise to you. He basically explained to Maher, once again, the science. This led Maher to mock his explanation:

MAHER: What else would we use this method with? Let me just guess what would work?

GAWANDE (leaning forward): Meaning…?

MAHER: Meaning if you’re guessing what would work and you don’t know and you’re going to inject that into your body, that’s a good plan?

Gawande again tried to explain the rationale, namely that we do know what components will work if we can predict what strains will be circulating with sufficient accuracy. It was, not surprisingly, in vain. While he was trying to explain what you and I know about the flu vaccine, Maher looked at him with his smarmy, smug look, interjecting mocking little “yeahs” and a “twenty-three, Doc.”

The interview ended with Bill Maher blithely dismissing Gawande with an airy, “We’ll just agree to disagree here” and a joke about how he’s not the Pope and therefore won’t punch Gawande.

I left the whole thing annoyed. (Of course.) However, I was not surprised. Certainly I was under no illusion that Maher had changed his antivaccine views, his tendency to conspiracy theories about big pharma, or his proclivity to support quackery. He had just been spanked down a few years ago and decided to take this opportunity to let his antivaccine freak flag fly again.

Same as it ever was.

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]

227 replies on “Bill Maher: Still an antivaccine wingnut after all these years”

I just can’t understand why someone apparently versed in science can be anti-vaccine.

He annoys the ever-living piss out of me. He claims that he’s a ‘rationalist’ rather than just an atheist. But he’s nothing but a blowhard.

An invention that led to a 23% reduction in the risk of being killed in a car accident, having a heart attack, getting cancer or whatever, would be hailed as an important breakthrough. Why is it that some people think 23% efficacy is so terrible, especially when the risks are negligible? Even a 12% reduction in risk, as Mr. Schecter claimed (and LOLed at, weirdly) on another thread, is worth it in my opinion; flu is horrible. I don’t see them mocking seat belts because they “only” reduce injuries by 48% in high speed collisions. It’s that old Nirvana fallacy again.

The one thing I don’t understand is why we’re do an “all or nothing” guess by picking 3-4 strains in February instead of picking the top 8 and formulating the vaccine to need, based on what’s actually around in the fall. That’s the one part were the “they only want to make money” idiots are correct – the flu vaccine could be more effective if we’d spend some extra money.

Sure, 23% decrease in risk, isn’t that much. But, don’t people take vitamin supplements thinking it gives them similar odds for better health?

If something increased your risk for illness by 23% would you avoid it? Probably.

So, would 23% sound better if we said “almost 1 out of 4”?

I try to be forgiving of Maher… he’s an entertainer, a satirist, a stand-up comedian. The fact that he’s speaking from my “community” prevents me from being entirely forgiving. It’s a good lesson in two common themes, though:

1. A poor-man’s Nobel disease. Fame makes people think their ideas are better than experts in that field. In the case of Maher, I think he secretly suspects that his own ability to cut through bullshit is superior to the medical community at large.

2. Per Michael Sherman, smart people are the easiest to fool. “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” Maher defends liberal ideals very well, even when they cross into irrational territory.

Maher is the epitome of these two ideas combined.

Roadstergal:

He annoys the ever-living piss out of me. He claims that he’s a ‘rationalist’ rather than just an atheist. But he’s nothing but a blowhard.

He’s a rationalizer, is what he is. Like most people, but because he believes he’s so smart and so clever for refusing religion that gives him some sort of license to not examine his own views critically ever again. “Rejected God, there, that’s done, now I can’t ever be wrong again!”

I realize that’s probably not how he feels about it, but effectively that is what he’s done. Congratulations, Maher, you worked out that there isn’t any empirical evidence for God. Have a cookie. That doesn’t make you a skeptic, and the crap you spout on other topics proves you are no skeptic at all. You’re a man grinding an axe, accepting whatever evidence seems to help that and rejecting whatever doesn’t.

Mu: I’m sure it’s all down to how much antigen they can realistically grow in time for the next vaccine cycle. Doubling the number of antigens would probably halve the number of vaccine doses that could be made, which of course means the price tag would also have to go up.

A few things..

First, I’m glad that a well-known *liberal* broadcaster ( Mr Matthews) was the one who commented so adamantly. In fact, his colleagues ( Mssrs Farrow and Hayes), who similarly voiced support for vaccines recently, have both caught AoA’s jaundiced eye.
I’m sure that these fellows know how to sway their audiences. Now if only the illustrious Ms Maddow would speak up. ( She may have already but I haven’t heard it). They love her.

Maher is incredibly smug which annoys me even when I do agree with him.

And Rob, yes- woo-meisters often couch their line of bs in precisely those terms:
a particular fruit of phyto-chemical reduces the risk of cancer/ CVD/ whatever by 25%
exercise cuts risks of death by such-and-such percent
ad nauseum.
As a matter of fact, I’ve heard ( paraphrase) that eating fruit cuts the risk of cancer 10% so if you eat ten kinds of fruit you’ll have absolutely NO risk!
Believe it or not, that’s what the loon said ( @ PRN).
Swear to ( non-existent) g-d!

Mu: In terms of increasing efficacy, there are thousands of strains and variants that are gathered each year. The strains drift, sometimes substantially.

Secondly, the primary manufacturing site in the US (Sanofi at Swiftwater, PA) uses thousands of chicken embryos for seeding the virus. I’m told that the embryos cannot effectively produce an adequate immunological response to more than a few strains, as some strains outright kill the hosts.

Together these are some significant barriers to producing a panacea vaccine.

Why, oh why is MISinformation so easy to spread and a simple bit of info like “they make the best guess months ahead and some years they do better than others” so difficult to get across?

Now if only the illustrious Ms Maddow would speak up. ( She may have already but I haven’t heard it). They love her.

Oh, we do. I personally want to get married to Ms. (Dr.) Maddow, but that is not legal at the moment in my state. Plus I think she’s already pretty much married.

I don’t think I’ve seen her address the subject on her show – she mostly does politics – but it might have come up at some point in the “Maddow Blog.” Maybe I’ll do a little sifting and see what I can find.

Hmm. She’s covered some of the political stupidity surrounding the HPV vaccine, but you’re right, nothing on anti-vaxxers per se.

Chris Hayes, a close colleague of Maddow’s (who has hosted her show on occasion) did do a segment on anti-vaccination trutherism.

These folks are really more part of the nerdy, wonky, four-eyes liberal set, though, not so much the crunchy-granola contingent.

She’s covered some of the political stupidity surrounding the HPV vaccine, but you’re right, nothing on anti-vaxxers per se.

The funny thing, as I’ve mentioned before, is that Maher loves the HPV vaccine. Loves it. I rather suspect that the reason Maher is so in favor of the HPV vaccine is because conservatives and fundamentalists hate it. It is, after all, targeted against a sexually transmitted disease, and we can’t have that, you know. Never mind that it’s designed to prevent an STD that can lead to cervical cancer 20 years down the road. Vaccinating against such a disease might “encourage promiscuity” and “give our girls the wrong message.” (Yes, I know. That’s one of the most ridiculous arguments ever, but I hear it not infrequently.)

In any case, Maher is pro-vaccine when it suits his desire to stick it to religious fundamentalists; otherwise he’s antivaccine.

@ JP:

Right. Both Hayes and Farrow have been castigated by Age of Autism ( g–gle their names plus Age of Autism).

Vaccinating against such a disease might “encourage promiscuity” and “give our girls the wrong message.” (Yes, I know. That’s one of the most ridiculous arguments ever, but I hear it not infrequently.)

Considering the same argument has been made against telling kids to use condoms, I am duly unsurprised.

I’ve always found Bill Maher to be an irritating (four-letter word) in any case. He always and obviously thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, even when that is so clearly not the case. I am qutie pleased that John Oliver has edged him out in the ratings.

I really do hope that John Oliver takes on the Disneyland thing – it would be epic, I’m sure.

@ Lawrence:

Agreed.
He’s clever but enjoys going over the top with parades, marching bands and costumed extras – very apropo.

PROBABILITY
Imho, Kreb hit it with #4. It’s tough to affect anything 23% in the short term. (By my purely unscientific observation) sane people who take vitamin supplements are expecting more modest life improvement over a longer term.

MAHER
He IS an entertainer, and his smug is central to his ‘positioning’ in the land of comedy — his niche, or ‘brand’. He’s the only ‘liberal’ who presents the persona of being a dickhead. He fills the slot for folks who hate Rush, but wish someone ‘on their side’ talked like Rush. It’s a small niche, but big enough for Maher to be pretty successful, as he ‘owns’ the brand. I have always found him personally annoying, and prone to cheap shots where more powerful, funny, and devastating ‘fair’ attacks would be available to a true wit.

MADDOW
She’s definitely pro-science, but not into science per se. That is, science topics make it to her show on the basis of coming up in national policy debates and being exploited by conservatives to build their power base. She’ll take on AGW denialists for messing with sane environmental measures, creationsts messing with textbooks… She did a devastating takedown on Rand Paul’s false claims about Ebola — not to point out the claims were false, but to point out that Paul was a hypocritical and dangerous political opportunist. Like any TV news show, she and her staff pick from a multitude of potential topics each day the one’s that Maddow both cares the most about, and gauges her viewers care most about. Anti-vax doesn’t have the political significance to get above that threshold. However, it could, if VPD outbreaks continue to grow, leading Dems to propose some prevention strategy that Teapers can demagogue as ‘more Big Government socialism destroying your freedom’. As for where Maddow herself might fall on the issue as it is, I’d observe that as MSNBC’s clear ‘star’ (in addition to personal friendship) nothing that would piss her off is going to appear on All In with Chris Hayes. (In contrast, the MSNBC hosts who come out of the main NBC News shop — Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd — wouldn’t care what Maddow thinks, nor would her peeps likely stick their noses into what those folks do).

CRUNCHY GRANOLA
Granting that nerdy, wonky Maddow fans may indeed like granola and purchase it at Whole Foods, I think we all know who JP’s referencing with the metonym, and I’m trying to think what media sources, if any, would be central to that contingent. For the most part, (personal observation again) I think they tend not to do news of any kind. Too depressing, and they focus on ‘the personal’ rather than the political. Maybe they get a feed of culture/lifestyle stuff from HuffPo? I really don’t know…

WHAT’S FALLACIOUS ABOUT NIRVANA?
Sell the kids for food – weather changes moods
Spring is here again – reproductive glands
Hey – He’s the one
Who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he knows not what it means
Knows not what it means when I say
We can have some more – nature is a whore
Bruises on the fruit – tender age in bloom

@nazani #3:

A case of shingles might show him the error of his ways.

You’re more charitable than I am. I was contemplating smallpox.

Yes, he is a comedian and his first job is to make jokes. After I watched that and most of the rest of the show I noticed that seeing the initial display of willful ignorance about vaccination, made me question a lot of the other things he said because I had seen the evidence of confirmation bias at the begining.

@sadmar:

RE: Maddow: Right. As I said, “she mostly does politics.” 😉 Given that she got her PhD in poli-sci, it’s not exactly surprising. She does what she does best, much like our esteemed host.

For the most part, (personal observation again) I think they tend not to do news of any kind. Too depressing, and they focus on ‘the personal’ rather than the political. Maybe they get a feed of culture/lifestyle stuff from HuffPo? I really don’t know…

My personal observation jives with this to a certain extent. While I can understand not wanting to be obsessively involved in news and current events – it can be depressing – I do think that a basic understanding of news and politics, national and international, is vital for an informed citizenry. Sadly, a large percentage of our (USian) citizenry is rather uninformed.

Or: misinformed. As far as what the crunchy-granola set actually relies on for news (and I have a fair number of peeps in that set) it seems to basically be social media and ideologically-friendly “news” sites like alternet. I’m constantly astounded by how gullible otherwise intelligent people can be when they’re blinded by ideology. The same people who think TV is the opiate of the masses seem oddly willing to believe anything the read on the Internet. Well, I suppose that the term “going viral” is not an accident – the spread of misinformation does have a large social contagion factor.

What’s sort of funny is that a lot of people seem much more likely to swallow information when it’s presented in the simplest, most “sound-bite-y” form possible. During the recent hysteria after the GMO labeling bill failed in Oregon, I posted what I thought was a smart and nuanced discussion of the scientific and political issues involved, and it got almost no attention at all; maybe it’s because it was a big page full of words. As an astute friend of mine did comment on the article: “I prefer to get my information from pictures with one or two sentences on them.” (Sarcasm, of course.)

Maher is courageous and entertaining
Let’s keep questioning our assumptions…good science

JP: Yup on everything. I was thinking social media were big — pomo word of mouth — but didn’t really know. I’d say the gullible granola gang is short-sighted by a ridiculously simplistic concept of ideology theory: corporate media = lies, voice of the people = truth. ‘Social media’ has techno-hippie origins: the first and still in many ways archetypal ‘virtual community’ was The WELL — The Whole Earth Lectronic Link founded by Stuart Brand. Techno-Libertarianism evolved out a more techno-Califnornia-style-anarcho-syndicalism.

But that was a more discursive forum to say the least. It seems to me that almost everybody on the Web swallows information presented in the simplest, most “bite-y” form without thinking about it too much, and passes on the bites that grab their momentary-attention as res ipsa loquitor along paths of potential virality.

And visual forms are far more suited to this, in addition to culture in general being more image-dominated anyway. The astuteness of your friends sarcasm lies in that preference notwithstanding, most people do get their information from pictures with one or two sentences on them, and that’s as problematic for an informed citizenry as simply not attending to national and international affairs.

Dunning-Kruger gets attributed to ‘Google-U’, and the D-K that shows up on RI is likely to come from Googling pages that have a lot of words on them. But the broader D-K might better be characterized as Facebook/Twiiter/Instagram/YouTube/e-mail-notification. RSS-feed University. And all of these forms are short on text, and centered around pictures.

(Duty impels me to note that the social consequences of speed/fragmentation/image-saturation etc. are central to what actual pomo scholars are trying to suss out, especially Baudrillard.)

I’ll discuss a ‘local’ example of words vs. images in a follow-up comment.
……..
Smart and nuanced discussion of scientific and political issues getting almost no attention because of filling a page with too many words? Tell me about it! 🙂 🙂

@ sadmar:

Unfortunately, many of those who would eschew reading SB pages filled with ‘too many words’ purchase books by AoA
contributors**, read endless articles on Natural News and hang upon each and every word- no matter how mispronounced and/ or malapropised- uttered by the so-called Dr Null.

Then there are films, videos and taped lectures by the lot.

** there’s even a book fest of sorts at a real university!

“Maher is courageous and entertaining”

I remember seeing a set of clips on YouTube of his wingnuttery, and in one of them, he was spouting off about how he could be arrested for just talking about ‘alternative’ cancer cures. I just had to laugh. No, Bill, nobody is going to arrest your rich white ass no matter how much pseudoscience you spout.

Yes, I have a bug up my butt about Bill. I feel like he gives atheism a bad name.

Can you imagine if Maher had, say, a climatologist on the panel alongside, say, somebody of the more Republican persuasion who said “we’ll just agree to disagree” on climate change?

What would Maher’s response to that be? Would he just let it to unchallenged?

Well considering that Maher based his whole theory on the origins of Christianity to a fringe theory that is not accepted by the historical community, yeah. He gives atheism a bad name.

Dishonest people tend to do that.

So it’s no surprise to me that he’s anti-vax. And dishonest about it.

Bill Maher also had Stanislaw Burzynski as a guest on Poltically Incorrect in the late 90s.

Bill has no real understanding of science. He supports action on Climate Change because he has seen the graphs of the temperature change and can understand a trend when it’s shown to him, but he does not really have a grasp of the material. Bill Maher does not understand epidemiology, immunology or medicine in general and so when he’s told “this only works 23% of the time” he compares that to high school math class where 23% was a failing grade on an exam.

It is ironic that Bill – who I watch faithfully and agree with on most things – will carry on and on about people who deny the science of climate change, and then proceed to perpetuate this myth about vaccines, completely ignoring the science. If those people are ignorant for ignoring science, why is Bill immune from ignorance. Oh, perhaps he found a root or a plant that gave him immunity.

The American left needs to vote with their feet and ignore him. Whether or not he’s ‘funny’ (smug is not funny, it’s rude) is irrelevant: he’s a public health hazard who supports people becoming vectors and making others sick.

The fact that he spouts anti-vaxx BS and then talks about climate, only undermines climate activism generally: ‘Climate change is nonsense, it has the support of people like Bill Maher who also believe in quack medicine.’ Right, and how are we supposed to reply to that?

As for what he should catch, I’d vote for poison ivy. A fortnight of him struggling with a nasty itch on the telly would be really funny. All the more so if he tried some of his preferred quack remedies and none of them worked. ‘Thanks for the measles, Bill! Now try not to scratch yourself when everyone’s watching!’

Sounds like this author is a true idiot. Maher makes total sense. The flu vaccine costs the US government millions and its all BS..

Not only that but numerous studies have linked vacs to long-term automimmune diseases. Most people don’t know this but the pharma companies DO NOT have to prove long-term safety to get FDA approval and they are not on the hook financially if you get sick or disabled. Quite a good business for them if you ask me. I can make a product that is guaranteed to sell AND I have NO liability for that product!!!! PERFECTION!

@JP:

[N]umerous studies have linked vacs to long-term automimmune diseases

Citation needed, and from a reliable source. That means not Mike Adams, not Gary Null, not vacctruth or the National Vaccine [dis]Information Center, and definitely not whale.to.

the pharma companies DO NOT have to prove long-term safety to get FDA approval

A half-truth, if not an outright lie. Vaccines are monitored and if problems are discovered (e.g. a rotavirus vaccine that supposedly caused an increased rate of intusucception) the vaccine is withdrawn.

[Pharma companies] are not on the hook financially if you get sick or disabled.

Another half-truth based on the (usually false) assumption that vaccines cause harm. Oh, and you’re wrong.

@JP(the other one):

Please stop besmirching my initials with your stupidity. Thank you in advance.

Oh, crap.
I had also hoped the years of apparent quiet on the subject meant that Maher had either changed his views or at least recognized that they were anti-science and he was supposed to be pro-science.

Maher is courageous and entertaining
Let’s keep questioning our assumptions…good science

The problem is that Maher isn’t questioning our assumptions regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines (seasonal flu or otherwise): instead he’s questioning established fact. That’s the opposite of good science.

Maybe his problem come from facing black and white positions on medicine such as yours?

Clearly the “Big Pharma” are no angel working for the well-being of people.
Profit clearly dictate their actions and investments into research.

Dismissing western medicine altogether because of this would be madness.

But dismissing alternative medicine altogether is also madness (since almost all medicine started as alternative medicine).

So when faced with people holding black and white opinions like this, maybe some alarms go off in his mind and he is reluctant to trust anyone who would hold such position as rational?

Patrice #43 wrote:

But dismissing alternative medicine altogether is also madness (since almost all medicine started as alternative medicine).

What is your definition of “alternative medicine?”

anything that isn’t currently in the list of approved medicine to be use by medical professionals i guess??

i haven’t put much thoughts into it haha

or stuff that did not come from scientific research but from folks knowledge.

like aspiring coming from willow tree.
before isolating the active ingredients.

“Bill has no real understanding of science.” Correct. Nor would having one help him do his job.
“He supports action on Climate Change because he has seen the graphs of the temperature change and can understand a trend when it’s shown to him.”
Wrong. He mounts snide attacks on AGW deniers because his producers have extensive graphs on viewership demographics, know what appeals to their audience, and can spot a ratings trend when they see one.
“Bill does not understand epidemiology so when he’s told “this only works 23% of the time” he compares that to high school math class where 23% was a failing grade on an exam.”
Partly wrong. Even if he did understand epidemiology, he would understand that comparing the two 23% numbers functions as a snarky joke.
“It is ironic that Bill will carry on about people who deny the science of climate change, and then proceed to perpetuate this myth about vaccines.”
Correct. Irony is part of the act. Not that he’s feigning this irony (though he’s probably exaggerating it a bit for theatrical value), but inconsistencies are central to his persona as an ‘independent-minded’ sh!t-stirrer.
“If those people are ignorant for ignoring science, why is Bill immune from ignorance?”
He’s not. A measure of ignorance works for him as an entertainer. He act is “professional wise-ass political humor”. If he wasn’t obnoxious, not enough people would tune in. It’s a small niche in the entertainment world — it used to be just Maher and Dennis Miller. Then Miller took himself out of the game by becoming too ideologically rigid, and taking his own right-wing schtick too seriously. Maher is not going to make the same mistake.
If he really understood any of this stuff, it would weigh to heavily on his mind for him to be funny about it. The act depends on being ‘more thoughtful’ than typical media discourse — not hard, but a huge audience limiter to start off — but still maintaining a level of superficiality as it’s really all about Maher’s control of the discourse on his show — his air of confident superiority that express itself it snarky sound-bite sized put-downs. Like O’Reilly, he performs a wish fulfillment function for the viewers, dropping rude dismissals on the kind of people they wish they could just rudely dismiss. The actual content matters, but it’s secondary to the exercise of imagined rhetorical power.
“I hoped Maher had recognized his views were anti-science and he was supposed to be pro-science.”
His views are neither. They’re pro-Maher and anti-‘authority’. Science has nothing to do with it. AGW deniers and Creationists are close to the seat of political power. They are fat targets. Their opponents here are viewed by the Maher’s audience as ‘scientists’ — smart anti-social nerds with good intentions and low political capital — underdogs worth rooting for.

The anti-vaxers though are the rebels, not against ‘science’ in the viewers eyes, but against the medical establishment — the dismissive inattentive doctor, the desk staff that never pick up the phone, the big dent in the Visa when you go to the pharmacy, the insurance company that denies every claim it can, and employs nasty adjusters to put you off. ‘Medicine’ has giant corporations. ‘Anti-vaxers’ have Facebook pages. People hate Big Pharma because whatever else good they may do, they also do hateful things that J. Q. Public knows about.

There’s a rule in comedy, that only the hard-core righties routinely violate: Bullies aren’t funny. Never punch down. Across is OK. Up is better. This is one reason Jews, Blacks, and Women have a natural advantage as comedians. If you’re Richard Pryor, you can attack anybody without looking like a bully. Same with Sarah Silverman. Maher probably takes more liberties than most apparently-together white guys, excoriating some powerless dumb-asses for being dumb-asses. But there’s a line you don’t cross w/o losing the audience.

Consider the formula of The Daily Show. Stewart only takes on the big targets, and his comic persona allows for some ‘just-kidding’ passes Maher couldn’t get. When The Daily Show goes after folks who aren’t famous, that’s the job of the correspondents, who are NOT the star, not abusing the power of celebrity, punching across.

And comedy is metaphoric punching. It needs an identifiable human target. That’s part of the correspondent sequences. The target of the jabs is embodied and visualized on screen. So were Maher (even if he were so inclined, which he’s obviously not) to take on anti-vaxers, he’d be dumping snark down on a group of anonymous mostly women, who are dealing with the stress of raising autistic children. That would not be entertaining to many people, and the phone would be ringing in the studio from the HBO execs beforehe elft the stage.

Is he Anti-vaccine or Skeptical of the Flu Vaccine? Anyone anti-vaccine proper needs serious guidance. With his breadth if influence albeit a more intelligent crowd; he is dangerous if a believer in the latter.

I subscribe to Skeptical Inquirer and love their work. But there is so much $$ in vaccines an conventional medicine in general that I’m personally afraid that science and true peer-reviewed studies are being left in the dust of the profit motive. Maybe it’s time to reassess the pros and cons of vaccines. The voices against vaccines are growing louder.

@HomerD: if you are not a drive-by troll: Please point out how much money is made with vaccines compared to the potential money to be made treating the illnesses themselves. After all, the flu shot costs only a few bucks. Getting any of the anti-flu meds once you have the flu? A lot more.

The MMR is a cheap vaccine. Treating any one of those illnesses – lost work time, high risk of complications, lost school time for children, quarantine for exposed family members – that’s a LOT more money than the vaccine itself costs.

Please explain how the profit motives are from the vaccines and not from treating the illnesses again? Or are you not a parent who *has* to work, can’t afford to be off 7, 21, 28 days with a sick child (and lucky if only that child gets sick and doesn’t pass it through the family). I know that the financial hit of a sick child would have caused a huge struggle in my household except for the fact that my husband and I could alternate staying home.

The voices against vaccines are getting louder because those losing arguments always raise their voices, hoping that loudness will detract from weak arguments.

HomerD: “Maybe it’s time to reassess the pros and cons of vaccines.”

Yes, to continue on what MI Dawn wrote, do enlighten us to the comparative costs of the vaccines versus the diseases. Out of the fifty measles cases this past few weeks at least six required hospital care. Tell us how having at least one out of ten requiring hospital care is so much cheaper than the hundred or so MMR vaccine doses.

When you do answer please include good verifiable economic data that treating diseases is cheaper than preventing them. Use this paper as an example: Economic Evaluation of the Routine Childhood Immunization Program in the United States, 2009

“So were Maher (even if he were so inclined, which he’s obviously not) to take on anti-vaxers, he’d be dumping snark down on a group of anonymous mostly women, who are dealing with the stress of raising autistic children.”

I disagree. He’d be punching up (actually, across) at affluent, arrogant people. Plenty of anti-vaxxers don’t have autistic children, as Bill demonstrates. The Daily Show did an anti-vaxxer segment where they didn’t punch down.

Maher wouldn’t have to take on anonymous parents to make pro-vaccine jokes: he could take on the snake oil peddlers who told us the world was going to end on 1/1/2000, and doctors like Dr. Oz and the “pediatrician to the stars.”

Or, for a target he and his audience would probably both enjoy him attacking: the Taliban as the armed wing of the movement to save the endangered polio virus.

IN 1957, I WAS A HEALTHY, IN GOOD SHAPE 22 YEAR OLD LIFEGUARD AND THE FLU DAMN NEAR KILLED ME AS IT HAD MANY AMERICANS THAT YEAR. AND UNTIL I WAS 62, I USED TO GET, THE FLU EVERY YEAR.

THEN,IN 1997, I STARED DRINKING NONI JUICE VERY DAY AND HAVE NOT HAD THE FLU ONCE!

THEN,IN 1997, I STARED DRINKING NONI JUICE VERY DAY AND HAVE NOT HAD THE FLU ONCE!

Noni Juice does have the very unfortunate side effect of making people type everything with the caps lock key down.

Perhaps Mr Reinhardt (“MANUFACTURING MANAGER MOSTLY IN LARGE MAIN FRAME COMPUTERS”) is more comfortable with an old Teletype keyboard.

Noni Juice? Is that anything like Yoni Juice?

I believe that an appropriate pan-Orientalist reply here is “Go butter your lingam.”

“his lack of belief in “Western medicine” to the point of telling David Letterman………
after his heart surgery”

Pretty much sums it up.

I propose the following, modestly:
Alternative surgery for Hollywood woonuts.
Put them under with something milder than a full anesthetic, glue on a fake scar that feels real enough until it falls off, let them be out for about the usual time. Afterwards, hand them a mini cutlery set labeled “General Gao’s Ancient Wise Homopathic Surgical Kit” (the misspelling of homeopathic is deliberate, it’s something to get hollywood types distracted ;-).

Bill the JennyM/BillyM etc the usual and customary charges for the eebil Western medicine they disdain, then offer the real surgery gratis to someone with a real job who needs but can’t afford the operation.

Perhaps Mr Reinhardt (“MANUFACTURING MANAGER MOSTLY IN LARGE MAIN FRAME COMPUTERS”) is more comfortable with an old Teletype keyboard.

Even the two DECWriter II’s that I rescued but had to give up had both cases. Hell, they could do APL for a fee.

I’m curious as to how true this is,or has it been misinterpreted by someone waiting to pounce on Maher for some other reason?

I USED TO GET, THE FLU EVERY YEAR.
THEN,IN 1997, I STARED DRINKING NONI JUICE VERY DAY AND HAVE NOT HAD THE FLU ONCE!

I have a weird feeling of deja vu.

My sister-in-law is virulently anti-vaccine and firmly believes the vaccines cause autism. Yet,, both of her (un-vaccinated) children have been diagnosed as autistic.

Go figure.

Just imagine how much worse their autism would be if they had been vacinated… [toggle sarcasm off]

“I’m curious as to how true this is,or has it been misinterpreted by someone waiting to pounce on Maher for some other reason?”

Someone spliced together a few clips of his wingnuttery.
youtu.be/jsmOrIotebs

His irrational stance on vaccination and other science-based interventions is plenty of ‘reason’ to pounce on him.

Because Maher is an atheist, and a vocal one at that, a lot of people seem to assume that he is rational, skeptical and scientific. In fact what it demonstrates is that in any demographic (in this case I’m talking about atheists) you will get some brilliant minds and some morons. For me Maher is highly irritating and just a little too proud to be an atheist. Now I am saying that as someone who loves Dawkins’ approach to the debates, to Harris’ relentlessness on it and the late Hitchens’ caustic wit. But Maher wants so badly to be in that ilk and he just doesn’t qualify, he’s just not interesting enough to bother listening to and so he becomes boring and irritating to me. To know that he is an anti-vax is somewhat of a relief to me, now I have a more stable reason to dislike him.

Totally off-topic, but speaking as a major fan of old black and white TV westerns, I’m thrilled that both Peter Brown and John Smith could be with us today.

I’m curious as to how true this is
But not curious enough to investigate?

hdb: “But not curious enough to investigate?”

Surely not quite curious enough to click on four links in the first paragraph (on most browsers they are in blue letters).

He is not anti vaccine. He is anti flu vaccine, which is logical seeing it does only work 23%.

I’m pro-vaccine, but wonder if the flu is a bridge too far…

From a ‘return on investment’ standpoint.
The low effectiveness combined with the relative low dangers of the flu VS the cost.

Vicki #53
Yes, a ‘Maher-type” could go after Oz. Oz is more than big enough. and his daytime-TV positivity would put him right in the snark-sight. I doubt a comedian would ‘stick’ Oz with anti-vax: he’s not indentified with that, and he’s not that far out. A Maher could co at Oz for his schtick in general, but mainly the supplements — stuff he promotes for the money. Nobody watching TV gives a sh!t about Bob Sears or Jay Gordon. The Taliban/polio would actually be a good gag for him. Unless a bunch of people are blaming polio vaccine for something I don’t know about. He could actually make it funny (to people who think he’s funny) and gain a little cred w/o sacrificing anything. Problem is it would help him say more bs about MMR. “I’m pro-medicine; I hate polito!”

Roadstergal #52
You’re thinking real-life affluence. It would have to be hollywood affluence; tabloid affluence. And ‘people’ don’t actually exist to television unless they’ve already been on television.

I’ve been a fan of Bill Maher for years, and regularly watch Real Time, though didn’t see Politically Incorrect very often. Actually, that was one of the original reasons we decided to get HBO several years ago, so we could watch Real Time. I’ve even gone to one of his concerts last summer when he was in Vancouver, and enjoyed it. (all politics, marijuana and religion though…nary a whiff of his views on medicine, which he likely could have gotten away with in a place with such a huge yuppy-granola population as Vancouver)

I definitely share his political and religious views, and he is a sharp and knowledgable political commentator. I do admire his willingness to say out loud things that I often think. I did tend to side with him on the recent Islam/Ben Affleck broo ha ha. However….

Certainly his comments on vaccine and “western” medicine have been cringe worthy in the past. I agree with ORAC though, he seems to have toned it down the last few years.

His schtick is being snide and cynical, but in a smart and educated, (ie not Rush Limbaugh) way, however he has been even more so the last couple years.
If he mentions the fact he donated $1 million to Obama in 2012 one more time I’m going to throw a brick at the TV.

Bill does seem to be an edgy sort of a guy. You can see the fear and anger in his eyes when a joke falls flat. He gets offended if people don’t laugh at everything, and will get angry and petulant sometimes if he gets a boo. He does NOT deal well with hecklers.

It is ironic how stupid, uninformed, and idealogu-ish he can be on vaccines, and CAM. Yet as a vocal supporter of anthropogenic global climate change, he regularly rails against the deniers talking about the overwhelming evidence from various sources and the expert consensus. How can he not see how he is doing the exact same thing with his medical views.

As a fellow atheist, I will now ironically refer Bill to Matthew 7:3 “”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

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