Bill Maher is an astonishingly anti-science anti-vax crank

This week's Realtime with Bill Maher was just about the most perfect example I've seen yet that maybe reality doesn't have a liberal bias. Due to the measles outbreak becoming a hot-button issue, and the realization that his smoldering anti-vaccine denialism would not go over well, our weekly debate host decided to instead unleash all of his other incredibly stupid, unscientific beliefs about medicine.

This was astonishing. And because his panel, as usual, is composed largely of political writers and journalists, there was no one to provide a sound scientific counterpoint to the craziness. The sole non-crazy person (on this topic) was the conservative guy!

What a turn around for liberalism. It turns out, the problem hasn't been that conservatives hold the key to anti-science crazy, we just haven't had a good issue to expose the anti-science of the left wing for a while. Maher goes into a list of things he decides are examples of failures of "Western" medicine (because Eastern medicine has figured out cancer or something).

1. Bill Maher repeats the trope that the vaccine schedule is too much too fast - straight out of the anti-vax denial playbook! Human beings of course can handle thousands upon thousands of antigenic exposures daily. It's called living on a planet where everything on it is trying to kill everything else all the time. It's why we have an immune system.

2. Then in a feat of mental gymnastics only an unthinking crank can manage, he jumps into the hygiene hypothesis! He says he's "not so sure that people who get a lot of them [vaccines] have as "robust" an immune system." He then goes on to say we're seeing more allergies and autoimmune disease, maybe vaccines or "environmental factors" are to blame. Now our children suddenly aren't getting enough antigenic exposures! Our immune systems need to be challenged in order to grow and become strong. This is a fascinating feat of mental gymnastics. The antigen exposure of vaccines is "bad", but somehow the antigen exposure from, say, measles is "good". Granted those who have had actual infections develop stronger responses to those infections, there is no evidence that getting these childhood illnesses is protective from other illnesses, or against autoimmune disease. There is no reason to think that exposure to specific viral disease antigens would be protective for autoimmunity, not to mention since the vaccine is viral antigen exposure why wouldn't it then serve the same purpose? The immune system just doesn't work that way, and the hygiene hypothesis is about routine exposure to common antigens.

3. He complains none of his doctors have ever asked about his diet, because in his mind, what you eat is the most important thing ever. I can understand this for a couple of reasons. For one, Maher is thin. Generally if patients are thin, seemingly taking care of their bodies, a physician won't typically interrogate them on their diet. If you then get a screening cholesterol panel that shows a high LDL and low HDL or triglycerides, the physician may start asking questions about diet, recommending exercise, more vegetables, less meat etc. Doctors aren't here to micromanage your life, we are here to address problems, caution against the more harmful behaviors, and provide general recommendations for which there is good evidence. But in Maher's mind, which seems to be the mind of the toxin fanatic, the only path to good health is through diet, so a doctor that doesn't buy into this particular nonsense is a bad doctor. The reality is, there is not great data on which diet is best. There is no evidence that some foods are "super", or carry some life-extending property. None of the claims made by the promoters of these foods has evidence of the caliber Maher is demanding from vaccines, and most of them have no evidence at all.

A good rule of thumb is, if a website uses the word "super" as a prefix, they're full of it. Worse, the toxin hypothesis is nonsense. Toxins are not a significant source of human disease (at least not in Hollywood). Humans are extraordinarily good at detoxifying foods, and just because you're eating plant material - the diet he promotes - doesn't mean you're not eating toxins. Plants are full of toxins they've developed over the years to prevent pests from consuming them and their fruit. It just happens that when a human eats a tomato, or chocolate, or one of the many plants we've genetically-modified through breeding and selection to suit our diets or learned to process since the birth of agriculture, we have an effective means of detoxifying them. Worse they make claims that non-toxic chemicals are actually toxic. Like glucose! The fuel your own body naturally makes to feed your brain is routinely castigated on the natural foody websites as a killer. This is the chemical your own body turns all these super-foods into! The inability to understand basic physiology is just wonderful.

You want non-toxic? Eat meat. It's just protein, water and fat, just like us (although even a complete non-toxin like water can of course be toxic at high enough exposure). If you're feeling sadistic and want to see the toxic effect of a superfood, feed these human foods to a non-omnivorous animal like a cat. They'll get sick. Many of our "super foods" which the morons on these websites sell as "detoxifying" or laud their anti-oxidant properties (another bogus and unfounded diet hypothesis), are actually full of various plant toxins which we have no problem with because we have awesome livers. So thank your liver, and don't buy into this toxin nonsense.

Finally other reasons he feels like he's never heard a doctor ask about his diet (because we do) is he's either not listening, or maybe he just sees a crappy doctor? So whoever is this magical "Western" doctor that Maher sees, please just ask this silly crank about his diet during the next visit so we don't have to hear this tired nonsense anymore that doctors don't care about diet. We do, we just don't buy into the silly unfounded nonsense of the toxin hypothesis which is likely his real complaint.

4. He says "we overdid antibiotics" - This could be a fair point, however, the doom and gloom about antibiotics not working anymore and our whole medical system collapsing is a bit overblown. After all, most of the antibiotics we have developed over the years were discovered, not invented. We have been taking chemicals developed in the environment by various organisms and using them to suit our purposes. However, the targets of those chemicals have been engaged in this evolutionary war for millennia before we ever even got into it. Bacterial resistance is not "new", or something created just by humans. We have to see this problem as an eternal struggle that's been going on between micro-organisms for eons, and if we're going to participate in it, we have to continue to innovate, just as life has, since the beginning. There is no "winning" here. There will never be a time when we can say we have solved bacterial resistance or have a perfect antibiotic, because we're learning more and more we have to live with our bacteria in our biome, we can't kill them all. We just have to keep working, keep innovating, and keep learning so we learn to develop antibiotics that are more specific, more targeted, and yes, more cautiously applied so we can continue to benefit from the ability to control these ubiquitous organisms that help us, are part of our normal physiology and function, but also occasionally overgrow and kill us.

5. He points out "not one country in the world does nearly as much surgery we do" - I recuse myself as I have conflict of interest.

6. He complains "I've heard on the news endlessly 2 drinks a day is good for you, I think no drinks a day is good for you." And again Maher would be wrong. For one, no real medical authority has come out and said, "drink 2 drinks a day." I'm sorry that the news misled you. I have no doubt there's a bunch of crummy journalism out there that could be interpreted this way, but it's not the medical establishment's fault that science and medicine reporting is so full of bogus nonsense. This is still a controversial medical issue. The data from sources like NHANES show that there may be a protective effect for alcohol consumption with 1-2 drinks a day. This has been seen in multiple other studies, and in other countries. The effect is more profound in men. It might disappear if you eliminate co-morbidities (in other words some people may not be drinking because of health issues making the teetotaler data look worse). Ultimately doctors can't really recommend you drink, but we typically won't castigate you for drinking 1-2 drinks a day because the health effects are likely small, and for 1-2 drinks a day, their might be a slight cardiovascular protective effect. Prospective trials suggest 2 maybe even too many. So I would rate this as a major straw man argument. As a doctor I would say, 1-2 drinks a day is probably not harmful, but no one should be drinking saying "this is for my health".

7. He wails we are Ok with aspartame, and GMOs! / and "One word, Monsanto" - and here we have it, Bill Maher's clearest example of total crankery, his complete hysteria over GMO. There is a moment then when the conservative John McCormack butts in and points out there is no evidence that GMOs are harmful, and Maher and his panel of ignoramuses are shocked into silence, and one panelist gives this weighty sigh and covers her face in horror and Maher simply sighs. No, Bill Maher, it is we that should be asking you to justify your foolishness here, McCormack, the conservative who should supposedly be the one without the liberal bias of reality asked the right question. Where is your data? Where is the proof? There is no evidence, and worse, no even plausible mechanism by which he can describe the current GMO foods on the market to be harmful to humans. Despite consumption of billions by billions, you can't point out one sickness or death. Instead they can only resort to the classic denialist correlation trope, which is exactly what the anti-vaxers have done for decades. And if someone wants to talk about the Seralini rat study, please don't bother. Another retracted paper being the sole source of proof for a bunch of denialists, where have we heard this before?

Finally Maher complains, "we can't ask any questions." The classic cry of the persecuted crank! The same whiny response you see from the 9/11 truther, the climate science denialist, or any other individual who has found their ludicrous ideas has bought them some much needed societal shame. No on is telling them they can't ask questions, but when you repeat the same question, that has been answered, and answered, again and again, and you don't listen, eventually we are going to lose our patience and say enough! The debate is over! Vaccines do not cause autism. Enough with your crankery. Enough with the harm that has come from this bogus skepticism. We have an outbreak now. We are tired of hearing this question which has been answered and the accompanying obstinance has caused real-world harm.

Maher in this episode performs an astonishing Gish-gallop proving, once again, he deserves to be called out for denialism and being an infectious disease advocate. Can we drop the notion that liberalism is somehow protective against anti-science? Do we remember when he tried to blame cell phones for colony collapse disorder? (I couldn't resist going to the old blog for that) Maher is resentful that his anti-vax nonsense is compared to global warming denialism. This is exactly like global warming denialism because all denialism ultimately comes down to the same tactics. I think we've a good example here of conspiracy (in one word! monsanto!), moving goalposts, cherry-picking, and a whole host of logical fallacies in his little Gish gallop (that's four of five of the classic tactics). Let us dismiss him as a spokesman for science. He's too easily impeachable as an anti-science crank.


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Here we go again. The 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award, anti-vaccine wingnut and lover of cancer quackery Bill Maher, decided to use the occasion of the season finale of Real Time with Bill Maher to answer some of the criticisms that have been leveled against him. All I can say is this:…

Thank you for this. I'm an immunologist and I was trying not to pull my hair out with all the BS that was being slung in this segment.

I'd point out that he also talks about how he thinks medicine/biology/human body is so much more complicated that global environmental patterns (bit of a tough time believing that one), setting up for a "the science isn't settled" argument on vaccines. However, just moments before he was adamant about how bad GMOs were for health. He can't just dispose of that immense complexity he built up the second he wants to. Well I suppose he can as its his show and he doesn't have on anyone with a science background, so nobody will call him on it.

If he was going to discuss our immune system, he should have had an expert. I think there are a few in LA. 100 years ago the biggest killer was infectious disease, and in the 1940s and 50s there were so many children in "iron lungs" due to polio. The 1918-1919 influenza epidemic killed about 3 percent of the world's population, which was the number of people living in the US. Vaccines and antibiotics along with sanitation changed all if that where infections are a a small minority of deaths. Maher lives in a world that immunized him. That he just talks without a rudimentary understanding of our immune system makes me question other areas his writers don't write for him.

Bill Maher made a joke on show that things will be for for Brian Williams because after all the misinformation, Fox News wants to hire him.

After seeing the rest of his show, I think Fox News is more interested in hiring Bill Maher as their science reporter.

By Steve Hershman (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Thank you! Thank you for writing this! After I saw Real Time last night I was SO depressed. I felt so bad for that conservative guy in the middle. He was outnumbered by idiots! They were so condescending towards him and he had the scientific consensus on his side. I couldn't stop thinking about it today and was hoping beyond hope that someone had called Bill out on his b.s., so I googled "bill maher anti science" and this glorious article came up. :-) He really is embarrassing himself and I am going to have to rethink watching his show from now on.

Anyway, thanks again for writing this. It was so spot on and just what I needed!


Thanks for this article. I am a fan of Real Time but felt like throwing the TV across the room during this segment.

The absolute worst bit was when Bill Maher claimed that science associated with climate and the Earth's evolution was 'simple' compared to the human body. WTF?

The whole problem with trying to convey climate science to non-scientists is its sheer, mind-boggling complexity and the fact that it involves a difficult balancing of various factors from oceanography, geology, geochemistry, palaeoclimate models, atmospheric science, tectonic geomorphology, sedimentology, population ecology etc.

It is almost impossible to get politicians and economists to stop debating graphs and economic models and think about the actual scientific basis (and evidence) for climate change, not just the maths.

Yet then he not only claimed that the workings of the human body were more complex than those of the Earth (!!!?) but then he proceeded to come up with the dumbest, most simplistic and ignorant nonsense about not only vaccines but GMOs. He sounded just as bad as any climate change denier.

As the relative of a dyed-in-the-wool anti-vaxxer I heard the same nonsensical talking points and conspiracy theories from Maher that I hear on an almost daily basis in my family.

It drives me nuts that anyone with an internet connection thinks they are an expert these days.

I have to thank Bill Maher. This is perhaps the best collection of left-wing anti-science in a short video clip that I've ever seen. A great example for when people liek to claim that political ideology is somehow an indication of respect and understanding of science.

By Andrew Clunn (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Hearing about the day's "important" news from Bill Maher and his washboard face: Why, there's nothing else like it... and thank goodness for that.

By Dr. Don R. Mueller (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Yeah sometimes Bill Maher just doesn't know when to shut up. He's surely more informed that the average American, but hardly an authority on any subject I can think of.

He's a great comedic performer though, and really that's what we watch him for right?

Did we watch the same show? I hope some of you actually watched the whole show, not just the clip. I've been arguing against anti-vaxxers all week thanks to a FB post by my ex. Compared to those people, ranging from the misinformed who completely misunderstand this issue (non-existent autism links, methylmercury vs ethylmercury, allergies, how our immune systems actually work, no-longer-doctor Wakefield, the debunked CDC Whistleblower that wasn't, the list goes on) to conspiracy theorists who think the gov and Big Business force medical science and the media to cover up the facts (then ironically quote the CDC or NIH to make their points, even when it comes to exactly the opposite conclusions) so doctors can poison us for fun and profit, these panelists were just a little misguided. They weren't anti-vax though, so that's something. This could have been a lot worse. A lot. I was arguing with a woman who insists a vaccine gave her daughter cancer. No, seriously, she thinks that. There's no arguing with that.

And to be fair, Monsanto is pretty evil. I still eat their terrible food, I still take meds when I need them, I still believe in science even though it's not always perfect. But yeah, evil.

Mark, may I have your permission to republish your post in its entirety on Daily Kos (leading liberal/progressive blog site)? Reason is, despite the fact that the site and its community are strongly pro-science, anti-vaxers and suchlike are banned when found, etc., there are still numerous apologists for Bill Maher who haven't gotten it yet that Maher is as bad as Jenny McCarthy or Donald Trump when it comes to science. Your post is a definitive statement that deserves to be seen over there.


Folks, listen up:

If you want to stop Maher promulgating his anti-science BS, you have to be willing to hit him in the pocketbook. That means boycott him entirely, and let his advertisers know he's promoting measles.

It doesn't matter if he's a good comedian. Donald Trump was also pretty funny to watch, the night President Obama tore him a new one at the Press Club dinner while the Seals were getting ready to take out Bin Laden.

As long as Maher gets a "comedian" pass, he's free to spew his anti-science BS without restraint. Humor is one of the all-time most effective ways to get people to accept propaganda. So while y'all are able to dissect his BS dispassionately, rest assured that Joe and Jane Average are not, and when they hear someone they think is "cool" saying that vaccines are bad and GMOs are bad etc., they are more likely to believe it. And the "humor" factor makes their new "beliefs" that much more difficult to overcome with (dull, boring) facts.

So: boycott, boycott, boycott. There are plenty of funny people and funny things to watch on TV without having to give a pass to a guy who promotes measles. In the end, measles is about as funny as, well, measles.

Erik, Maher engaged in very typical backtracking you see when a specific denialist claim becomes socially untenable (because it's never the facts that make them change their minds). But he doubled down on the anti-vax with a repetition of several of the classic anti-vax tropes in a shifting goalposts move. Not to mention, he outright repeated his bullshit about the flu vaccine that Orac has been writing about for weeks. Orac is really the expert when it comes to tracking this nonsense and makes the clear point that Maher's anti-vax may not be as bad a Jenny McCarthy's but it's still anti-vax, and it still provides powerful celebrity cover to more severe anti-vax.

G2Geek, I think Kos has to do more housecleaning than just on vaccines. In their "Science Matters" section I found this gem. It literally promotes a conspiracy between GMOs and the AAAS. Pathetic.

Sorry, as a political website it is invariably going to devolve into anti-science and quite a bit of anti-science appears welcome there. It would be fine for you to write something there, link me, quote me extensively etc., but I can't support dailykos as an appropriate outlet for science writing, and I won't publish there as I wouldn't want to lend any credibility to the site as a source of scientific writing.

Someone should point out to him that vaccines are Eastern medicine: The Europeans learned variolation from the Chinese.

By Young CC Prof (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

How can this be? Where have all those billions of research dollars gone? Where is the fruit from the war on cancer that began in 1971? Are we really much safer from the ravages of cancer today than we were in the past?

The research dollars have all been devoured by a cancer monopoly – a cartel – consisting of pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association, a research system that supports pharmaceutical manufacturers, a system of charities that raise money for cancer research, and various federal agencies such as the US FDA. These groups have little interest in curing cancer, but are fully committed to earning profits for the cancer monopoly that is headed by the pharmaceutical companies.

Cancer is a Metabolic Disease not a Genetic Disease

By Kathy Kreg (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

I know we are speaking of immunization but the whole system of Medical Research speaks volumes. 
Before 1980 most clinical research was funded by the US National Institutes of Health through grants given to universities. The universities conducted unbiased scientific research designed to reveal truth about whatever they were studying.
During the 1990s, most of those research dollars were diverted from universities and were brought into for-profit research organizations that exist to serve the pharmaceutical industry. This change gave drug companies much greater control over the research process. They could now design their own studies. They could control the data distribution and could hide unfavorable research results. They also began to exercise considerable control over research publications, which means that they could prevent research papers on alternative medical therapies from being published.

Kathy, I do love it when people educated at Google U show up to lecture me on the "true cause" of cancer. I really do. Sadly, there are a number of typical tropes you've dished that none of us are surprised by.

For one, there is enormous benefit from the billions that have gone into cancer research. In case you haven't been following the legitimate scientific literature, several types of cancers have gone from being death sentences to enjoying 90-100% cure rates. A good example is the childhood leukemias. Part of the problem is this bogus war on cancer is against one disease - cancer. Breast cancer now enjoys a 90% 5 year survival rate, up from 75% in 1971. 5 year survival from colon cancer has increased from 50% to about 67 %. These changes are incremental because there is no "cure" for cancer.

Cancer is thousands, or perhaps millions of diseases given the number of different mutations can result in dysregulation of cell cycle, cell death and proliferative mechanisms that make up the entity known as "cancer". This is a common trope to refer to our supposed failure to "cure" cancer but it's an impossible expectation based on a flawed understanding of the diseases that cancer represents. There isn't one cure nor will there be. There will be hundreds of treatments, screenings, therapies, etc., because it's hundreds of diseases.

Your final statement that cancer is metabolic not genetic is total hogwash. Cancer is so many things that even saying it's just genetics is incomplete.

Second your accusation that NIH funds no longer go to university research is not tethered to any kind of reality. The overwhelming majority of research grants go to these top 50 schools and they represent fully 80% of the extramural NIH funding. That's a hell of a conspiracy theory you've got going there. Explain exactly how The Man is able to keep all these disparate researchers at these 50 institutions in line with this evil and dastardly plan of not researching legitimate treatments for cancer? I mean just think about the logistics. Do they have a newsletter that keeps them informed of this master plan or is it microchips implanted in their brains when they get their first RO1 grant? Explain to me, exactly, how you get tens of thousands of university researchers to all obey Big Pharma's master plan? Where is your evidence that pharmaceutical companies have control over "the research process" are you talking about study sections at the NIH that decide on grants? Because there are very specific disclosure rules there. Are you talking about editorial boards? Which ones? Is it Science? Or Nature?

Take your conspiratorial nonsense elsewhere. We're not interested in these vague and ludicrous delusions about Big Pharma controlling the US research enterprise.

Cheers MarkH!! Unfortunately, you can talk facts and science unti you are blue in the face and anti-Vaxxer's and people who think the government and Big Pharm have an agenda to kill us all will never listen. I was extremely disappointed in Bill's segment. I rely on him not to be a conspiracy theorist and he just failed

By NikkiSixx (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

I stopped watching Bill Maher a long time ago for reasons not having to do with his anti-science approach. But calling him a leftist isn't fair to the left. Certainly there are those on the left who are anti-science, or who at least are selective in what they accept in science and what they reject. But, Mark, I think you are mistaken not to challenge Maher at Daily Kos. The VAST majority of people visiting there are going to be far more in tune with what you have to say than what the anti-vaxxers. The only way to persuade those who aren't yet on your side in this is to present the facts to them.

By Meteor Blades (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

God, I love this blog. Such a breath of fresh air.

I forgot another of Maher's gems (which is another 'health' trope I've heard from family members): "when did the sun start being a bad thing?"

Umm, when we started dropping dead of skin cancers?

MB says

But, Mark, I think you are mistaken not to challenge Maher at Daily Kos. The VAST majority of people visiting there are going to be far more in tune with what you have to say than what the anti-vaxxers. The only way to persuade those who aren’t yet on your side in this is to present the facts to them.

I am presenting the facts, here on scienceblogs. Link away, reproduce in part with attribution that's fine. However I feel duplicating on site with a specific political bent, not to mention one that has on its "science matters" page a conspiratorial anti-GMO rant against AAAS, that's just inappropriate. I don't want my writing to be aligned with any political ideology because denialism comes from both sides of the ideological spectrum (this is not a parity or false balance argument - I think the data shows conservatives ultimately have a bigger problem with facts) and I'd like to maintain a position as someone who is able to be critical of anti-science from either political arena. I'd be happy to duplicate this on a site that doesn't identify with an ideology which I think would be most the mainstream news publications, but I'm going to say no to HuffPo (which I consider an outright source of denialism) political sites like DailyKos or Redstate, or anything that would demonstrate that I have an ideological bias. I think in the distant, distant past I even had an account on Kos, and wrote a few things, but I was way too uncomfortable with a lot of the woo and conspiracy that results from it being an ideological site. One of the great things about scienceblogs is that I do feel Nat Geo has kept things ideologically neutral, even if there tends to be a more liberal bent around, that's just science though, it's mostly liberal just by demographics (don't tell Orac).

One of the fun things about writing this blog is that I'm variably accused of being a conservative or liberal flak. Each time it happens it warms my heart. I really am not either. I think it's important to maintain distance from ideological websites and movements because it allows me to be a neutral party, and because I really do believe the problem is any ideological extremity, and yes that includes the left. I want people to see what I write here as not aligned with any ideology but with what we can demonstrate with facts and data.

You're making Maher's point that if you ask questions, express any doubt, you are an anti-science quack. Everyone on the panel agreed people should vaccinate their kids - but science, including medical science, makes mistakes all the time. Yes, Maher speaks out his ass here, and yes, they should have had a scientist on the panel, but why are unable to tolerate any skepticism? Based on history, it's warranted.

Maybe, instead of screaming at people for not embracing the facts of science, you may want to ask yourself how you lost the trust of so many, and how you can get it back.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm neither a doctor nor a scientist but I have great respect and admiration for those who are and who follow the scientific method. Those are the people listen to, not the likes of Maher or other anti-science crowd.

By Douglas C Alder (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

Mark: Understood, so we'll stop lobbying for posting this on DK, and we'll stick to posting links as we usually do (for example links to Orac's columns). In particular I get your point about remaining disengaged from anything that might be perceived as partisanship.


Lloyd251: "Ask yourself how you lost the trust of so many..." Really? IMHO the anti-science crowd are hypocrites, as they are usually up to their ears in consumer electronics and high-impact lifestyle. If they ditched that stuff and lived like hunter-gatherers, I could at least respect them for consistency.

Anti-vax isn't a trust issue, it's a peer-reinforced paranoia issue. One may as well try to blame the government for the continued existence of 9/11 conspiracy theories and black helicopter stories.

I am from india,i follow real time on YouTube,mostly for new rules and i liked his religulous movie.Just now i saw his 14min segment of childish rant on medicine and GMO. I am a final year med student,going to be intern in a month.I think he should stop calling himself pro science. The medicine i am studying is neither eastern nor western but evidence based.Maher's attitudes indirectly help charlatans like deepak chopra using India's nametag to bluff ignorant people having fetish for foreign culture. I think i will never find bill maher as funny as before.I already felt the difference while watching his segment on fertility treatment. Glad to find this article,atleast somebody is keeping tabs of his ignorance

By Pavan pyda (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

Oh, Meteor Blades, you have got to be kidding. I left DailyKos because of the slide into conspiracy on biotech. Conspiracy theorists make terrible allies.

There's abuse from the chatterati, and there's bullshit from FP and moderation too.

DailyKos has managed to drive away many science folks, and economics folks, who had reality-based perspectives. I've been saddened to be pushed away and troll rated for facts. It's just not worth the time.

--mem from somerville

"The sole non-crazy person (on this topic) was the conservative guy!"

As usual.

By Jim Treacher (not verified) on 09 Feb 2015 #permalink

Maher made an argument based on a belief system that has no supporting evidence. It sounds to me like he has found religion.

This is a great article. I've always tried to cut Bill Maher and Jon Stewart slack on the "hey, they're just comedians" front. Stewart's recent measles segment responsibly nailed the issue, and Maher's completely missed the mark. And, in fact, highlighted a stark hypocrisy in his MO - "conspiracy theorists are nuts unless they happen to mess with MY personal conspiracy". I am totally impressed with the conservative panelist who said what needed to be said, despite the comical reactions around him. Thank you for writing so thoughtful and detailed a posting - it's what this debate (and I'm pretty sure that word doesn't even apply) sorely needs more of!

Why do all of you watch him? All these comments confirm that I made a rational, valid decision to NOT watch him in any venue that he inhabits.

As an employee of NIH-NIAID, I'm always grateful to the random internet commentators who inform me that, as a scientist in a federal facility, we're doing one of the following:

1. Creating the diseases in a lab and causing the outbreaks so that the "sheeple" will buy into the mass hysteria and vaccinate their kids, thus putting money in Big Pharma's pockets.

2. Being Big Pharma's puppets. Dang. I thought I do the work I do because I have a sincere passion for it and I believe in the work that I do and the vaccines that are created to eradicate illnesses that could, potentially, become lethal. Please forgive my ignorance.

3. Hiding research/stripping public research dollars from universities. Huh. That's weird. Because I could've sworn we have several conferences per quarter offering research dollars and opportunities to multiple universities.

But, what do I know? I just work there. Teh Googles Machine clearly has all the answers.

Bill Maher was born in 1956, a bit too late to have a memory of parents terrified of polio epidemics or of close relatives or classmates with one limb much smaller than another.

Very nice blog, but I have one caveat. When people eat red meat it changes the ecology of the flora in their intestines to one that produces a chemical, (I have forgotten the name), which causes cholesterol plaques to be laid down in the arteries.

By Gary Lawrence (not verified) on 09 Feb 2015 #permalink

>>>" The debate is over! Vaccines do not cause autism. Enough with your crankery. "

Every single person on that panel said plainly that vaccines did not cause autism, and every single one of them was in favor of vaccination. By pretending otherwise, you're a crank, too.

By Crank case (not verified) on 09 Feb 2015 #permalink

The greatest problem for me is that there are nuts going to television and saying thing's that were debunked long ago or that aren't backed by evidence and Bill Maher, the liberal messiah that saved us from the irrational ignorance of the religions, is giving them credibility. I don't believe there's a more direct and straight to the point show on american tv (correct me if I'm wrong because I'm a brazilian and watch Real Time through our HBO). So, he has the responsability of attacking any culture of misinformation and ignorance that appears on the media (even if it's not backed by religion statements). People may kill their children because some left/right-wing nut came to a talk show and said that the medical community wants your son to have autism. This is something that Bill woudl address and call BS in any other situation minus when his own BS is being defended by the crazy persons that he keeps debunking and joking about. This have nothing to do with prohibiting people the right to ask questions; it's about misinformation, because of a political/religious agenda, that kills and endangers millions of people.

By Matheus Magalhães (not verified) on 10 Feb 2015 #permalink

Even before I turned off my TV for good six years ago, I could never figure out how to tell who was "left-wing" and who was "right-wing". Mark refers to "the ideological spectrum ". Does that mean he plots people along a single axis of opinion? Would that show a bi-modal distribution? I know that some individuals identify themselves as liberals or conservatives, but surely they hold opinions on multiple issues. How do they decide what the liberal or conservative position is on all of them? Ideological labelling seems like a lossy compression algorithm.

All I know about what Bill Maher thinks is what I read on blogs like this one. I get that he has taken an unscientific position on vaccines, but what makes him a "liberal"? Wouldn't it be more accurate to label him a "TV persona who professes at least one empirically-unsupported opinion"?

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 12 Feb 2015 #permalink

"It turns out, the problem hasn’t been that conservatives hold the key to anti-science crazy, we just haven’t had a good issue to expose the anti-science of the left wing for a while."

Call me when a Democratic Senate majority passes a resolution that GMOs or vaccines or "Western medicine" is not safe for humans. The Republican Senate majority just passed a resolution that global warming is not caused by humans.

See, that's where the false equivalency lies. Yes, there are an awful lot of anti-science liberals out there...I'm an active member of the organized social-media left, and more times than I can count, my left-wing Twitter followers denounce me as a "shill" and block me when I point out that MAYBE we should listen to the 88% of scientists who say GMO technology is safe, effective and useful. But there are a couple of key differences.

First, the intellectual and political leaders of the American left do not encourage antiscience. They marginalize it, even if it means pissing off members of their base. When is the last time you heard a prominent Democratic politician attacking biotechnology? Or even making that waffly "I'm not a scientist" equivocation Republicans make on climate change? The leaders ignore the craziness and the more scientifically inclined amongst us try to keep it that way.

Second, there seems to be a real psychological distinction between liberal and conservative irrationality. Chris Mooney has discussed studies which show that Republicans with college degrees are MORE likely to deny climate change, economics, and evolution, whereas Democrats with college degrees are LESS likely to attack nuclear power, GMOs, vaccines, fracking, and free trade. There appears to be a genuine difference in cognitive dissonance...conservatives look for knowledge for the express purpose of confirming a belief, whereas liberals are more likely to seek information that challenges their beliefs.

Look, I'm ashamed of the anti-science left. As long as they're out there, as long as they're spewing, they embarrass my beliefs by association, and I call them out when I can. But please don't pretend this is a "both sides" thing. It's not.

By Matthew Chapman (not verified) on 16 Feb 2015 #permalink

Whoops, I erred above...I should have said, Senate Republicans theatrically and deliberately failed to pass a resolution that global warming IS caused by humans. My point still stands though.

By Matthew Chapman (not verified) on 16 Feb 2015 #permalink

@ Matthew Chapman,
Yes I do agree there is a matter of degree, but as Kahan research shows, when you challenge liberals on their particular tribal views you get reactions like Maher's. There is not a false equivalence here, or at least I'm not trying to make that argument, but no one can pretend their ideology is safe from this disordered type of thinking especially on the extremes. I'm glad liberals do a better job of managing it. But it's still there, and they can always do better.

Thank you. I was shovelling the driveway listening to Bill and I lost it. Long ago I agreed to disagree with Bill about GMOs but his comments about vaccines and medicine were too much. As a physician,