JAC comment: Yesterday I received an exercised email (with video links) from reader Kurt, complaining bitterly about the promotion of medical woo on a recent episode of Bill Maher’s “Real Time”—promotion done with Maher’s apparent approval and complicity. Rather than rephrase Kurt’s email or risk plagiarizing his take on the show, I asked him to write his email as a post. He kindly complied, and I think you’ll be shocked at what happened on this episode, as you’ll see in the second video below. The anti-vaccination slant of every panelist, as well as of Maher himself, is deeply disturbing, as are their dark hints that there’s some shaky science behind the claim that vaccinations are safe and effective. Maher argues that anti-vaxxers are not at all comparable to climate-change denialists, and raises the specter that “over-vaccination” could hurt people’s immune systems.
Kurt doesn’t talk about the vaccination bit in his post, but do pay attention to that part too, and to how all the discussants damn vaccinations with faint praise.
I’m appalled that a man so adamant in his support of evolution—and, as far as I knew, science in general—can be so wrong-headed when it comes to scientific medicine.
Not Even Wrong: Review of “Real Time with Bill Maher” science-denying panel discussion
I wanted to draw your attention to the 6 February, 2015 episode of “Real Time” with Bill Maher.
The one-on-one interview segment with journalist Johann Hari, whose podcast I used to enjoy immensely and from whom I haven’t heard in a long time (he was apparently lying low after being involved in a plagiarism scandal as well as researching his book), was pretty interesting. Hari was hawking his book “Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs”. The book’s website (chasingthescream.com) indicates during his research Hari recognized “three startling truths: Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the drug war has very different motives to the ones we have seen on our TV screens for so long.” Here’s Hari’s interview with Maher:
The panel segment featured Amy Holms, a journalist from The Blaze who anchors “The Hot List”; John McCormack, a journalist from The Weekly Standard (a conservative magazine); and Marianne Williamson, described in her bio as “an internationally acclaimed spiritual author and lecturer”. Williamson also spearheads the Sister Giant Conference, the theme of which this year is “Activating Conscience and Restoring Our Democracy”; is it me or is there just the slightest whiff of Deepakity in this theme? This segment was a bloody train wreck. See for yourself:
Suffice it to say that this segment was an embarrassment of woo-riches. I mean that literally: it was embarrassing. Practically every hoary touchstone of medical woo was mentioned by Maher. Here’s a short list:
- Maher complained that Western doctors always treat the symptoms rather than causes of a disease. He actually said that he’s never heard a western doctor ask “What do you eat?” Funny—my doctor talks to me about my diet all the goddamn time! And David Gorski of “Respectful Insolence” and “Science-Based Medicine” writes frequently that diet and exercise are something physicians harp on constantly and that the media somehow wongly attributes this as more a part of the tookit of CAM [complementary and alternative medicine].
- Maher complained about the recent research on the salutary effects of moderate drinking: “Two drinks a day? How about no drinks a day?”
- Westerners undergo too much surgery!
- Maher complained that doctors tell us to stay out of the sun completely; I’m not sure where he came up with that idea.
- Maher brought up Aspartame, which he didn’t even know how to pronounce, and declared it “shit”. I first heard the supposed problems with Aspartame debunked back in 2008, yet Maher’s still pushing this garbage? Who does his research?
- “One word: Monsanto.” (A statement by Maher.)
This last bit was what drove me over the edge; it starts at 10:50 in the second link above. Three-fourths of the panel was decrying the use of GMOs, with Maher displaying a lack of empathy for how helpful GMOs (e.g., golden rice) can be for the starving citizens of third-world nations. McCormack, the Weekly Standard columnist (how messed up is it when the columnist from that publication is the voice of reason?!), then asked the very reasonable question: “What studies have shown that GMOs are harmful?” Both Maher and Williamson said: “Oh!” as in “Oh, you poor deluded fool”. Williamson even touched his forearm in sympathy as with an errant child who desperately needs guidance. It was infuriating. Additionally galling was the frequent applause from the audience during this segment; they really seemed to enjoy the panel’s anti-science remarks.
This is by no means a complete list of the errors made by the panel, as the segment was a breathtaking Gish Gallop of poor reasoning, but I’ll let the commenters take up the slack.
If there was anything funny or insightful about the rest of the show, I missed it because I was really angry. I thought WEIT’s readers might find this episode interesting and infuriating as well.