Guest post: Bill Maher promotes medical woo on “Real Time”

February 8, 2015 • 9:00 am

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

By Kurt

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 ( 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.

182 thoughts on “Guest post: Bill Maher promotes medical woo on “Real Time”

    1. I’ll have to get likkered up to watch.

      I wonder whom this august panel would have get immunized so that the non-immunized can get a free ride from herd immunity?

      Maher speaks of prevention and diet, and drinking. Does he mention smoking? I gather he likes his pot. Is the inhalation of smoke, qua smoke, from marijuana any less harmful to the lungs than that from tobacco (or bay leaves, or celery or any other vegetation it might occur to one to dry, grind and roll)?

      1. No. Dope is likely worse in that respect per ‘cigarette’. Although few people smoke 3 packs of joints a day.

      2. If the adverse effect being described is actually lung & digestive tract cancers, heart attack & ischemic stroke, then tobacco is definitely worse. There’s something about the tobacco *plant* itself (as yet unclear exactly why this should be so) that causes a huge range of adverse health outcomes (cancers in many sites, heart attacks, stroke, etc.).

        And while inhaling any kind of smoke will expose one to carcinogens, it appears cannabinoids have some kind of protective effect as far as cancers are concerned (by in vitro & in vivo studies). Results conflict though, exhibiting bimodal distributions indicative of hidden variables – though it is clear that either cause cellular damage.

        So while it is clear that pot smoking delivers more tar-like substances (and pot smokers breathe deeply and hold breaths), even emphysema is not clearly indicated in populational studies, whereas it is night and day among tobacco users. (and is frequently used as a “canary in the coalmine” indicator for cigarette smoking populations — emphysemas tend to be the first-developing adverse effects.)

          1. I first asked this question of a close epidemiologist colleague (who shall go nameless), about 20 years ago. I knew for instance, that everything from charred marshmallows, BBQ steaks, campfires & pot smoke to smoking one’s own toenail clippings would contain carcinogens, esp. the really potent ones in the class of benzo(a)pyrenes… and I asked the question about pot vs tobacco risk point-blank. Said epidemiologist was testifying before congress, after having reviewed literally thousands of studies and conducting metastudies on those that could be drawn together defensibly. The answer was the same 20 years ago as it is now. “There’s just something in the tobacco PLANT was the answer.” Nicotene is an amazing toxin, but it may be more than that.

            1. There’s some evidence (it was mentioned in Zumdahls’s general chemistry textbook I used in class ~20 years ago) that tobacco does uptake unusual amounts of polonium. I don’t know if that’s been confirmed, and if so whether it is enough to explain some of the effects of tobacco, etc.

    2. Indeed I had to stop watching a few minutes after Hari’s interview… sure enough things were about to get worse. The panel was a well chiseled construct of the stupidest heavy lidded ideologues of the political left and right. Interestingly Jon Stewart on Tuesday had addressed the strange bedfellows joined in the anti-vaxxer movement: “There is not a Red America and there is not a Blue America. There is just a needlessly Sick America.” Michael Specter and Ryan Lizza quipped on The Political Scene watching Jon Stewart ought to be mandatory.

  1. What griped me was Williamson at the very end of the segment shoving in a plug for intercessory prayer and while Maher quipped “but is the message received?” Williamson went on to quote “studies” that demonstrate the effectiveness of prayer.

    Total bullshit and NO TIME for a rebuttal which could have been one word: bullshit.

    1. Absolutely. The prayer people simply ignore how horrible the ‘science’ behind prayer working is. She probably still hawks Dossey’s garbage.

      1. You don’t need studies. 0 amputees healed. Zero. Zip. Nadda.

        That prayer does, if anything, so little as to seem like nothing, is as obvious as the blue sky.

    2. Indeed, and the literature I’ve read on the efficacy of prayer shows that IT DOESN’T WORK (even though Maher grants that it might have a placebo effect). But I haven’t even seen evidence for a placebo effect.

      1. Yes, I yelled at the TV about that one too including where she said that believers with serious illnesses recovered faster than non-believers.

      2. Prayer can even make things worse. If people knew they were prayed for, the outcome was worse compared to no prayer. For believers a prayer is a nocebo, ooops!

          1. Bit of an aside, but I’ve had two people recently completely dismiss me because I’ve given them links to The Friendly Atheist, because it’s “on a religious site”. And it’s not like they don’t know who Hemant is, they’ve posted links to him themselves. But ‘patheos’ becomes an excuse for confirmation bias.

            To be fair, I had the exact same thing happen when I posed a link this very site.

            WordPress? Seriously? LOL!

            1. That’s bizarre but all the more reason I’m glad Jerry didn’t move to Patheos.

              As to WordPress–despite our constant lack-of-edit-function complaint, I like it the best of the widely available bl*g formats.

      3. Like all careful woomeisters, Williamson made a very carefully peculiar statement.

        Something to the effect that people diagnosed with a serious health problem who prayed lived twice as long as the “original prognosis.” (I didn’t go back and get that exactly right.)

        She’s basing her comment on the inaccuracy or error bars around a diagnosis and making a cause/effect connection that isn’t there.

        I thought that was cleverly dishonest. It was a very contorted comment, much like mine at this point. I need coffee or a nap, or both. Pray for me.

        1. Williamson said that studies have shown that people who are diagnosed with a life-challenging illness and are in some kind of spiritual support group live twice as long after diagnosis. A bit ambiguous as that could mean twice as long as those who aren’t getting spiritual support. Or twice as long as the original prognosis? Most probably the latter.

      1. Indeed. The absurdity of it is palpable at every turn. I am constantly shocked by the requests for prayers I see on Facebook. A few weeks ago I saw this post making the rounds where people would pray for Syria. Everything in the post gave the impression that it was like a letter writing campaign: If we can get 100,000 people to pray for Syria, God might take notice of the place.

        Another bizarre thing are how my Christian friends try to time their prayers. Someone will say, “I’m having surgery next week” and the other person will ask them what time so that they can be praying at that exact moment. As though you couldn’t pray now and have God just put it on his calendar. God, so forgetful and busy, needs to be buzzed right as your friend is going under the knife or he won’t get it done.

        It really is just base superstition, no more sophisticated or thoughtful than not stepping on cracks or breaking mirrors or carrying a rabbits foot.

  2. Unfortunately, where vaccines are concerned, Bill is a woochebag. It’s a good lesson to all of us:check for blind spots. We all have ’em (though I hope none so obvious…).

    1. At least he tried to clarify that he was only against the flu vaccine (because of its 23% effectiveness). But 23%, if true, is better than 0%.

      1. He was nagging a doctor guest he had on a couple weeks ago about the 23% effectiveness of this year’s vaccine. I felt bad because the doc didn’t reply very well which was not his fault (Maher wouldn’t let him talk and let’s face it, in that environment, I can imagine it would be very difficult to stay on your toes).

          1. Thanks – I was about to look for that. I now remember how the doctor’s use of “guess” was a bad one. It caused Maher to interpret it as they just throw it whatever into the vaccine. If he had instead explained how the strains of flu were really selected, this would have robbed Maher of the opportunity to rant about the “guessing”.

        1. Yet a pitcher batting .230 will get plenty of trips to the plate. Or offer a gift card worth 23% of your purchase price and see how fast they line up at your door.

          1. I think you’re over-estimating my love of sales. 😉

            Yes, you’re right about the 23% and that is something that the doc could have countered with as well. I did feel bad for him. He was too nice and polite.

      2. The 23% figure applies only to this year’s vaccine. Past strains have been more effective: the 2013 strain was 34% effective for adults and 41% effective for children. On average the vaccine is 56% effective.

        1. Exactly. I was going to add that too. This year, they made some incorrect predictions or something as to which strains of flu would be prevalent or how last years’ would change… something along those lines. It’s not an exact science, but they’re doing the best can do and flu shots have helped me a lot over the years. They’re a necessity for people who are at risk too, including people with heart disease, etc.

      3. I often say Bill Maher isn’t anti-vaxx because of this, however he is still wrong when it comes to a lot of science, including the flu vaccine.

        1. Considering all the stupid stuff he has said on the subject, what would it actually take before you would recognize him as such?

          Not that it even matters since he is deluded enough not to realize what he his himself.

          1. If he said all vaccines were bad. That would make me label him anti-vax.

            Instead, I see him as ignorant of science in general and in favour of some types of woo.

      4. Exactly! 23% is a lot better than 0%, and in years past the effectiveness has been much higher. It was acknowledged in advance that this year’s flu vaccine was not going to be as effective as people would like (owing to the difficulty of predicting exactly what strain of flu was going to appear).

      5. I have asthma, and have been getting the shot for 15 years or so…flu will send me to the hospital. This is the first year I ever caught the flu after being vaccinated. It is important to note that even though the vaccine this year is only 23% effective, if you get the flu and are vaccinated, the sickness is not nearly as acute. I did go to the doctor for some prednizone, but the symptoms were minor, it only lasted 3 days and I never developed a fever. So BM is full of shit on this topic.

        Though I do respect the guy and love his show, especially when Dawkins is a guest!

        1. Everytime I try to get the flu shot, I’m sick. I started thinking about it again last week and boom – I got a cold. Grrrr.

          I had a bad flu last year. I was sick for 2 weeks. My dad had the same stupid flu even though he had the flu shot because it was one that eeked by. I hate it when that happens (because I probably caught it from him).

          1. Yeah, flu can be really bad. In the early 90’s, I caught what was called the Russian Flu. I was sick for over a month and finally had to go to the hospital. I’ve gotten my flu shot every year since that ordeal, and have been ok…except this year as previously noted.

            Jan/Feb are usually the peak months, so it’s still not too late. Like you said though, you can’t get it if you have a cold- damn the bad luck.

  3. I watched Real Time last night and it was the worst episode I’ve watched with the exception of the first guest and the guest brought out in the middle of the segment.

    I think the culmination of the whole thing was when everyone gasped in unison when John McCormack brought up that GMOs weren’t bad. I yelled at the TV, “stupid lefty woo!” You know you’re in weird territory when the conservative on the show makes the most sense (it’s happened before).

    The frequency of vaccines given was brought up (btw also something Jenny McCarthy talks about a lot) and that remark was not countered.

    I also heard complaints about the use of birth control pills as something really bad but with no reason – it just seemed bad.

    The increase of allergies was given several unsubstantiated causes including bathing your kids too much (Jesus, that’s something mediaeval Europeans believed!!).

    Big pharma was brought out as the scary lefty monster because they’ve lied in the past. Here I accept Maher’s larger point – that there have been lies in the past so people tend to distrust but the follow up should be – it’s okay to ask questions but develop the critical thinking skills to know where to get your answers and what makes an answer a good one.

    He conflates doctors and medicine with scientific research as well. The whole segment was speculation after speculation with no data to back up the rather strange conclusions the panelists arrived at.

    I’ve often found Maher’s understanding of science to be shaky. He seems to respect it but doesn’t quite grasp it and that’s why he falls for many of the fallacies you saw him embracing in that show. I so wish someone with a solid science background and the facts at hand were on the show to set the panel straight!

    1. I have to say it’s not terribly surprising to me when a Baby Boomer has crazy ideas, because I’ve known so many of my Aquarians elders to be a bit kookoo when it comes to health and environment, and truth be told have known several who carry around lefty conspiracy theories as feverish and unhinged as any held by Teabaggers.

      Ms McCarthy is a bigger disappointment to me, but only because I had a huge crush on her for years. When a person is beautiful and intelligent, it’s easy to project all kinds of qualities onto them and easy therefore to be crestfallen when they turn out to be as imperfect as any of us (as women have found so many times with yours truly). She is traumatized, I think, by her autistic child and her anger and guilt has found the same culprit that many others have found: which is a real shame, because I think false explanations stand in the way of accepting the random, purposeless suckiness of the universe.

      1. I’m always disappointed with other lefties when they get wooish, but there are other ones who don’t so it evens it all out. 🙂

        I suspect McCarthy knows she’s wrong now as she has tried to back peddle. It would be responsible for her to come out and say she was misled. It would be easy to do – we all suffer from confirmation bias and it is easy to find patterns where there are none.

    2. I yelled at the TV.

      As I’ve told other people, I’m alive because of “big pharma” due to a cat bite. My arm was swollen up twice it’s size in 12 hours. So is my cousin who would have died from juvenile diabetes, just as teenagers did before insulin, their bodies slowly wasting away.

      My wife’s epilepsy is controlled, my ex girlfriend too, my brother a sinus infection, my father cancer drugs, my father in law a pacemaker and blood thinners, brother in law hemophilia medication, well, I’m sure people get the picture. Hundreds of millions of people are alive because of medicines, vaccines, or insulin.

      Modern medicine is saving people from a life of agony, like rheumatoid arthritis. For those people, these new biologics like Humira are miracle cures. It worked for me for akylosing spondylitis, but gave me constant migraine headaches, and messed up my sight in my left eye. It was a risk I took be free from pain. None of the other ones worked.

      My aunt spent most of her life in pain, the last bit in agony, her skeleton deformed, eaten away, eventually her skull crushed her brain stem because her spine was eaten away. She was bed ridden for years. Hundreds of thousands will avoid that fate and become productive citizens, living lives they could not have dreamed of.

      But not all drugs are wonderful, and all drugs have side effects. Life is trade offs, that’s simply the way it is.

      If these people are looking for the perfect medicine, they are badly deluded. Nothing is perfect. Life is a risk reward benefit analysis. Every single day.

      Pharmaceutical companies have done some shoddy and unethical work, but you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. This is a reason for regulations and over sight, not resistance to medical science.

      I bet those folks are like the Republicans who hate and rant against government handouts, but conveniently forgot about the help they got from government when they needed it.

      I bet at least two of them had help from some medicine that improved their life and are surrounded by family who have also.
      It just doesn’t help their shoddy arguments.

      1. Very well said. My husband’s a senior research scientist with Big Pharma, and at this level the research is as “pure” as any academic lab. People seldom stop to think about the vast assortment of drugs that do exist, as you say, many of which save lives, or at least improve the quality of lives.

        Beyond that, a pharmaceutical company is a corporation, not a charity. If they weren’t playing by the rules of current corporate behavior they’d go extinct. Regulation is of the utmost importance if we want corporations to be willing to lose money by devoting themselves to orphan diseases, say. Beyond that, Americans have to say no to obscene CEO salaries. And to get our drugs as cheap as they are in Canada, we need to bargain as one unit, as they do in Canada.

  4. The big picture here is that this is a public health issue with huge implications on human life and financially on the health care system if too many people don’t get vaccinated.While I enjoy Bills program 99% of the time it’s obvious Bill has no idea or objective facts to back claims about the ills of vaccinations. He implies he would get an Ebola vaccine if available but thinks a 26% vaccine effectiveness for the flu means it’s worthless. This couldn’t be farther from the truth and really highlights that when a lay person is going to speak about a science that they have no idea about they need someone who can break the science down into lay terms for understanding. As a physician I found this episode irresponsible on Bills part. I think he should know better but I think his comments underscore his lack of knowledge. For example, the world health organization points out that globally the annual attack rate of influenza (flu) in adults is 5 – 10% and in children is 20 – 30%. worldwide this leads to 3 to 5 MILLION cases of SEVERE ILLNESS and 250,000 to 500,000 DEATHS YEARLY! this information is free and easily found on the world health organization website.

    In the United States the Centers for disease control note that because flu associated deaths are not mandatory to report after the age of 18 they can only give a rough estimated range (but it can be inferred that the reported mortality ranges are an under estimate.) Between the years 1976 through 2007 flu associated deaths ranged from an estimated 3,000 to 49,000 PEOPLE YEARLY. that’s an annual Flu DEATH RATE of 1.4 to 16.7 deaths per 100,000 Americans. It is known that most flu associated deaths are in people over 65 years old. taking the low end of the range (a mild flu season) with a 26% flu vaccine effectiveness rate (this years estimated effectiveness) that is 780 DEATHS that could be PREVENTED THIS YEAR and in a bad year (severely virulent flu season) thats 12,740 DEATHS PREVENTED BY A FLU SHOT when the vaccine is only 26% effective, which is low for effectiveness due to antigenic drift. But when the vaccine is a closer match the vaccine effectiveness rate can be closer to 50 – 60%. that would be 1,500 to 29,400 flu associated deaths prevented yearly if everyone got vaccinated. this does not speak to the immense financial burden that this virus causes in hospitalizations, office visits, time missed from work and school and medications needed to treat symptoms.

    For Ebola the world health organization notes that the average fatality rate is around 50% and ranges from 25% to 90%. the current outbreaks has about a 70% fatality rate. as of February 3, 2015 there have been 22560 suspected cases of ebola world wide, 13,888 confirmed cases and 9019 total deaths. one case was diagnosed in the united kingdom and Spain and 4 in the united states. the two cases in Europe both survived and 3 of the four cases in the united states survived. It is the case that you are more likely to die from ebola but you are vastly more likely to get the flu and have the associated morbidity and mortality associated with that illness than ebola. those are the facts.

    As a physician I stress the importance of getting a flu shot. Not only might it save your life but it may save the life of a fellow American who can not get a flu shot for what ever reason. remember that when 92-94% of a population have immunity to an illness the “herd” is essentially immune. meaning that AMERICAN grandpa’s and grandma’s are reaping the benefits of people getting vaccinated. If you care about your health and the health of your fellow americans you will get vaccinated.

    1. A very informative post.
      I teach an intro biology class and for years my first lecture on the scientific method ended with some stunning data on the rates of survival from cancer. I have been thinking that I need to up my game and end with some pro-vaccine facts. This stuff will be useful, once I check it of course. 👍

  5. I’m intrigued by the idea of casual heroin use! haha
    But seriously, why don’t people get addicted to hospital morphine, but they do to street heroin? Is it just all the added chemicals in the nasty street stuff?

    1. I think the research the guest was talking about showed that heroin isn’t as addictive as some have led us to believe though it is still addictive. Most likely, the way the medicine is administered (for a short period of time, in a medical setting) is the reason it isn’t causing addiction.

      I think the larger implication is that legislation around receiving pain medication should be revisited. In my opinion, there are too many restrictions that stop people with pain from leading relatively normal lives because of the small chance that they will become addicted or that the availability of the medicine will cause addicts to try to obtain it. Letting someone writhe in agony because of these reasons is sadistic.

      1. “…(for a short period of time, in a medical setting)….”

        Also to be included: “to relieve excruciating pain.” Those who have experienced relief from acute excruciating pain as a result of being administered an opiate are not simply taking pleasure in their altered state of consciousness. They are, by at least temporarily having their pain alleviated, able to promote recovery from the effects of trauma caused by the original acute event.

        Take, for example, a stroke victim. Oftentimes the pain the victim experiences in other parts of his anatomy (e.g. dislocated shoulders) are so severe that greater harm will befall the patient if an opiate is not administered. The patient, rather the experience the alleged “euphoria” of an opiate experience and tending towards addiction instead experiences a sudden relief of pain, thus enabling better recovery of the original brain trauma as well as its ancillary effects.

        Individuals in desperate need of pain relief experience opiates far differently than those who use opiates “recreationally” and are far less prone to addiction as a result of their application.

        1. This is what I understand. When in substantial pain, the morphine alleviates the pain and is not redirected to develop a strong addiction.

        1. This is sometimes though because it continues to be prescribed after they no longer need it, or in too high a dose.

  6. I still haven’t gotten past the point where Maher says comparing climate change denialism to vaccine denialism is unfair… because climate change is so much more straightforward and every climatologist has said it was anthropogenic from the very beginning. I quit watching before it adversely affected my health.

    I first knew that Maher was a germ theory denialist when he repeated the often debunked “Pasteur deathbed confession” that parallels the similar claim about Darwin.

    1. I take all my scientific advice from the last few seconds of people’s lives when they are clearly at their peak emotionally and mentally. Maher is the old dog that hasn’t learned a new trick in 30 years.

  7. the Weekly Standard columnist (how messed up is it when the columnist from that publication is the voice of reason?!)

    Pretty messed up! But as Jerry has pointed on on several occasions, this occurs quite frequently surrounding issues of note on WEIT (though the right is more apt to be onboard with its analysis of Islam than of anything science-related.

    And it’s messed up on two counts: one, because it’s unfortunate that Bill Maher is so right on so many issues but has an enormous blind spot on a serious public health issue; and two, because the conservative line was traditionally one of rationality – and in rare instances still is – but is overwhelmingly anti-rationalist and disingenuous. In short, it’s an uncomfortable feeling to be in bed with a person who is not one’s partner in so many ways, and to realize one’s usual partner is in bed with, well, the enemy.

    I would also note that the condescension is an interesting thing to see applied to someone who is saying something not-crazy. If they were using the same tone with an anti-science nutjob in re evolution or climate change, I would think it was wildly hilarious instead of insulting and frustrating. An important reminder that tone matters, and belittling one’s debating opposite is bad form, whatever he or she is saying.

    1. Good points, well made. We need to be open to information from all sources and develop our own knowledge and critical thinking ability to enable ourselves to make good decisions. Too many follow the crowd – if so-and-so says it, it must be true. It’s just another version of following the person in the pulpit.

  8. I have had no time for Maher since he said (I heard him say) that Guantanamo inmates should be made to eat pork. Admittedly, that was when he was rebuilding his career after having been sacked for stating the obvious fact that it was not correct to call the 9/11 bombers “cowards”, but surely he could have thought of something better than that.

  9. This is very, very disappointing. I’d hoped Maher had figured out that no, science doesn’t support this garbage. For a long time he lay low.

    But the urge to come out swinging against The Establishment was apparently just too strong. He’s hanging with the wrong people. And his position makes good TV for his audience.

  10. Wow, that was a whole lot of fail in a very short time. Maher confuses the functioning of the endocrine system with the immune system and gallops through a forest thicket of ideological assertions.

  11. Strange that Maher has, apparently, so much influence. I mean, he’s just a comedian right? It’s sad that the public is more willing to trust him – not a scientist, not a medical practitioner – than the medical community.

    1. And as the post mentions, it was reprehensible that he should think these “poisonous” foods are okay for starving people but not for him because he should be given a choice. ¡Ay, caramba!

      I would have gotten angry and sweary on that panel! I’m surprised the conservative guy kept so quiet.

      1. That particular part horrified me more than the rest! He considers GM foods poisonous, but it’s OK to give them to poor people? Un-effing-believable!

  12. Yes, Maher’s anti-flu-vaccine comments are infuriating, but when it came to Johann Hari and what he had to say about heroin use, I have NO problem with anything he said. Dr. Carl Hart also came to the same conclusion (detailed in his book, “High Price”). Put bluntly, people don’t have DRUG problems per se; they have problems in living.

    Also, it was good that Hari never touched on the idiotic belief that drug addiction is a disease. Is there a physical component to drug use? Duh, obviously: they are psychoactive substances that act on the brain. But is heavy, chronic use of a drug a disease? No, it’s a poisoning (a point I also discuss in my book). This is not to be confused with the fact that drugs can CAUSE disease (see cirrhosis of the liver).

    Also (while I’m here), people love to say how “drug dependent” some illegal drug users are. Nonsense: an epileptic is drug-dependent (in order to avoid convulsions). Certain diabetics are dependent on insulin. But there is no one in the history of the world who is dependent on heroin or alcohol or cocaine because ingesting these drugs aren’t necessary for survival. To put this another way, for certain diabetics, NOT taking insulin will lead to death. One can’t say the same for alcohol, except, of course, for those drinkers who need to undergo a medically assisted withdrawal (which brings me full circle to the poisoning angle).

    Anyway, here’s a good interview with Hart talking about illegal drugs:

    1. There is a problem with drug addiction being seen as a moral failing. Addiction needs to be recognized more widely by society as a medical condition, and treated as such.

  13. I’m appalled that a man so adamant in his support of evolution—and, as far as I knew, science in general

    He might be pro-science out of convenience…it’s a handy club for bashing religion. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

      1. I agree; It is harmful! (I was too concise in my first post.) I’d have to rank Maher’s performance in this segment (and that of his panel) with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Jenny McCarthy spreading misinformation about vaccines (to a mixed audience, many of whom look to celebrities for information and guidance!). Also troubling were other false/dubious statements made in rapid-fire succession in Maher’s segment, none of which were given time for critical discussion, rebuttal or correction, not to mention the lack of expertise on the panel. I give no pass to Maher or his guests, except for McCormack’s comment/question on GMOs. The segment looked like a display of thoughtless pack behavior. Very disappointing!

  14. I am very glad this is here. I have liked Mahar, I want to like him, but I had quietly switched teams a while ago.
    A commenter mentioned on Pharyngula that Mahars’ pattern for what he likes/does not like seems centered on whatever tweaks the far right. So his attitudes about global warming and evolution, etc., may be b/c that bugs the conservatives.
    A telling example is that although he generally does not accept vaccinations, he does support the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer! Why? Well, that is the vaccine that encourages promiscuity according to the far right, so that may be why Mahar is for it.

    1. That kind of helps explain why he seems to be a germ theory denialist overall, but as you point out is in favor of the HPV vaccine.

    2. The right doesn’t like Maher because he’s a “strident” atheist.

      He’s not strictly anti-vaccine. His reason for not getting a flu shot is that he believes his personal hygiene etc are such that it’s not reducing his risk. He contends that if influenza was as contagious as measles, for example, he’d get vaccinated.

      Now I sound like I’m defending him! Just to be clear, like you I think he’s wrong.

      1. Flu shots are not as effective as they could be because the influenza virus changes a lot. The WHO basically has to make an informed guess about which strains will be circulating six to nine months before release of the vaccine because production (using chicken eggs – a very old fashioned method) takes time. It’s not because vaccines don’t work. Look at HIV; it has such a high mutation rate that it is known as a ‘quasi-species’, which effectively prevents vaccines from being developed against it (for now). Also “personal hygiene” is only effective against enveloped viruses; naked viruses can resist acid, detergent, dessication, and proteases (enzymes which break down proteins).

  15. I watched the show and felt very disappointed with Bill and disgusted with the woo-lady sitting next to him spouting ignorant garbage. I often watch Bill’s show and have been a supporter many times, especially his mockery of religion. It saddens me to see him lose his way in fashionable anti-science woo. I suppose the difference is that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that religion has no clothes on, but when it comes to the more complex issues dealt with by science it’s easier to be taken in by woo. Has he ever had anything to say about Deepak, I wonder?

  16. This brings up an issue about free speech. No one disputes that free speech does not include shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater.
    Put this way, should a nationally broadcasted show that spreads dangerous disinformation about vaccines be protected as free speech?

    1. Yes it should. I wouldn’t want to see Bill Maher censored. The way to combat what he says is to speak out against it.

      1. The problem there is that the counter-speech which is not as effective. Bill Clinton was talking about a different topic when he said (to paraphrase) ‘there are those who are strong and wrong, and there are those who are weak and right’.

        1. It may take time to correct but it does work. It is working with climate change denial, it is working with vaccinations, it is working with religion. It is the cost of living in a democratic society and I personally am willing to pay that cost.

          1. The problem is that even if it’s working, it’s still putting a lot of people at risk right now who aren’t able to protect themselves. With climate change, it’s not a matter of whether we’re going to succeed in convincing people, but whether we can do so before the changes have gone too far to reverse. With vaccination, it’s whether we can convince people before we start suffering major epidemics of of diseases that leave children crippled for life or even kill them.

            1. Sure but is it worth censoring people from expressing their opinions? Who decides what can and cannot be said?

              Instead is it not better to try to change society to understand and value critical thinking. Is it not better to confront wrong thinking?

              The alternative is censorship by whom? The state? Of what? Who decides?

              1. Mark did when he asked in his original post,”should a nationally broadcasted show that spreads dangerous disinformation about vaccines be protected as free speech?”

                The question was should we not allow Bill Maher to say such things (censor him) because of his influence or should his freedom of speech be protected?

              2. I did. I know that will get a strong response, and I am sorry for that. But I am just wondering if this is one of the things that are ‘bigger’ than speech. I am not sure, to be honest.
                To be clear I do really hate restricting speech. Even hate groups get to talk (short of advocating specific violence).

              3. I used to believe that there were some issues that should not be allowed, but I’ve changed my mind, and lately I’ve become even stronger in my thought that Canada should have free speech laws similar to the USA.

                There is simply too much risk of having censorship and hate speech laws being used against groups with currently disliked views, but who’s views are correct.

                The recent calls for silencing people speaking out on extremist Islam is a good example.

                As long as speech is free, a group cannot use anti speech laws to silence their critics. Numerous person and groups have tried to use, and used various Canadian human rights boards to attack their enemies, including Muslims attacking McLeans Magazine for criticism of Muslim violence.


                Luckily all three complaints in this issue were dismissed or refused to deal with the complaint. Some anti holocaust were not so fortunate. I think perhaps it might have been better to treat them with contempt, ridicule and the truth, rather than a slap down from government.

                Organizations that have the power to silence speech have a tendency to go overboard over time.

                One of the few good things I can say about the Harper government is they have been with the US in resisting the Islamic countries attempt to push through UN resolution on promoting blasphemy laws against critics of Islam and Muhammad.

  17. If he were to pick one area to question, it would not be vaccinations, which has been established by statistics of many millions of doses over decades

    Climate is a more nebulous issue based on extrapolating models
    Extrapolation always involves uncertainty

  18. Maher is certainly a large disappointment in his show here. Should stick more with the comedy and when he does want to discuss a subject in any kind of serious way, bring on experts in those fields. Did he have one on this discussion….don’t think so? Only the guy in the first video was informed and he had done a book on that subject.

    Just the idea that he likes this kind of science but not that kind of science is probably the worse kind of joke he can do. Makes himself look like an idiot and I doubt that is what he is aiming for.

    I don’t get HBO, paying too much for television as it is. On line I’ll stick with the new rules segment and forget the rest.

  19. Maher must be feeling his mortality or something. What gives? He seemed somewhat disingenuous and just wanting to say something controversial, rather than speaking with conviction.

    It was detestable that many in the audience were applauding loudly for crap statements but didn’t make a peep when the benefits of the vaccines were cited, vaccines like measles and small pox. Pathetic. Thank goodness there was a polio vaccine! Could part of the problem be that old and disproved info such as the link to autism is still circulating on the internet, and when people Google stuff themselves, they don’t see the whole (and latest_ picture) but panic and get overly cautious and paranoid about vaccines?

    There needs to be a more lengthy discussion in order to separate all the issues, such as mistakes made in the pharmaceutical industry, where some drugs manufactured overseas (such as in India and China) have been found to be less effective than they should be. There’s a serious quality assurance slip-up somewhere.

    1. I think it’s because younger people just have no awareness of what it was like before vaccination. I remember kids with braces on their legs because of polio, or whose deafness was caused by their mother contracting measles when they were in utero. They just don’t understand the difference vaccination has made.

      1. I agree.

        My step father worked in a long term care facility when I was about 6 or 7 (1968ish). One weekend he gave me a tour of the place when he was called in to fix an elevator.

        He showed me a teenager paraplegic with severe brain damage caused by drinking and driving, (no seat belt, he got ejected from the car, then crushed by it) and then he showed me the men’s polio ward. There were about 4 iron lungs. I don’t recall it clearly, I remember being confused and frightened after seeing the teenager, it hadn’t been a long time after the accident, and his head was badly deformed with some ugly scars from the accident.

  20. Damn. I hope Maher isn’t gunning to make a movie called “Mendicalacious”.

    He’s quite possibly the most broadly influential anti-vaxer in America. And he’ll gain credibility simply by the fact he’s right on a lot of other stuff in politics and religion.

    He did retract his position on “restless legs syndrome” which he mocked as an invented disease. He got lots of letters from folks who suffer from it assuring him it was all too real. (A family member of mine suffers from it.) And he backed down- so he’s not completely inflexible.

        1. It’s really a bizarre. S/he (trying not to identify which child it is) gets the skin creepy crawlies as part of it.

  21. Bill Mahr: I’m not an Anti-Vaxxer, but…

    Ever notice how when the “but” is used in a sentence, it tends to negate the phrase preceding it? For example: You are very beautiful, but your eyes are set too widely apart.

    1. The panelists all used that “but” statement when it came to measles because the evidence is so irrefutable now. It shows how much it takes to convince people or at least make it socially unacceptable to argue against facts with woo.

  22. There was a lot of misinformation. Amy Holmes claims that they are working on eradicating smallpox! (she’s thirty years behind – smallpox was officially eradicated in 1979). And no, vaccination is not like treating people with antibiotics. Over-treatment with antibiotics aids in antibiotic resistance (evolution, duh) but may not necessarily be solely to blame. The panellists ignorance of basic immunology and vaccinology was galling; it was infuriating listening to Maher imply that vaccination might be harmful because then the immune system is “not getting a workout” (has he even got any evidence?). The immune system is not a car and it shows that he has no idea how vaccines work on a biochemical level. If anyone deigns to tell him: vaccines are like giving a person the invader you want them to be protected against, except that what you are giving them is a weakened (attenuated) version, or a part of the invader the immune system will recognize. When the actual invader attacks the body, the immune system will recognize it as it has had prior exposure and so the person will not get sick. How can you say that it is sensible to get the measles vaccine when your body is obviously not “getting its workout” by not being exposed to the virus by your logic? Or do you not want to seem anti-vax? Skepticism is not a one-way street; you have to scrutinise your views as well.

  23. wow. talk about a non-answer to the “what studies show harm?” question. maher would never let a creationist get away with responding the way he did the gentleman’s question. really, maher? “i don’t trust monsanto” is all you can do in response? that is the equivalent of the “we saw the emails!” in the climate denialist camps.

  24. Bill Maher another mainstreamer of woo, gee thanks a lot Bill. You can probably expect more. Trolling = ratings dontcha know…

  25. Maher’s grievance: “Don’t ask any questions.” Maher does agree that vaccines (in general) are safe and effective. He merely asks can you do too much of a good thing? He states in 1983 they gave a third of what they give now. He points out that there have been no long term studies of those who have been heavily vaccinated and those who have not. He goes on to ask if ‘over-vaccination’ impairs a robust immune system? Have there been long term studies?

    Maher states the medical establishment has retracted a lot of what was once considered sage advice. – True.

    An anecdote on doctors asking about diet: a neurologist could have easily stopped a pain syndrome I was experiencing merely by inquiring into my diet. I suffered acute burning pain after the ingestion of red pepper flakes and curry which was triggering post-herpetic (shingles) neuralgia. Diet is monumentally important to one’s health. The health establishment rarely delves into the nittty-gritty of what we eat.

  26. I think that the disgusting loud applause mentioned previously is because this program is filmed in Southern California. The LA area is notoriously woo-laden. Further, it seems to me that the loudest applause was usually for things that M. Williamson said. She has a large following of woo-meisters (several best-selling books), and I wouldn’t doubt that the audience was heavily represented by her supporters. It is unfortunate that this well-spoken individual who has done some pretty good things (meals on wheels for Aids victims in SoCal starting in 1989) leans so far to the flaky (and god-bothering)side.

  27. While I largely agree with the consensus here I think most of you are missing a few things from this discussion and perhaps being a little too hard on our ally, Bill Maher. Maher makes a few mistakes here to be sure, perhaps more than a few, and they should rightly be exposed, but I don’t get the sense that he is anti-science in any way. He is a skeptic, and there is nothing wrong with being a skeptic. And I don’t think he is being skeptical of science, certainly not of the scientific method, but rather he is being skeptical of corporate medicine and corporate food and government declarations on health.

    GMO’s are scientifically considered safe but Monsanto is a greedy corporation and we should all be skeptical of their motives. Same goes for big pharma. And how often has our government been wrong about what is safe for us and what is bad for us?

    While we don’t want to breed fear of science, we definitely DO want to promote skepticism and not taking things at face value. Question everything, especially where big money is involved.

    Being skeptical of Monsanto is not anti-science. Being skeptical of big pharma is not anti-science. And being skeptical of government declarations on health is not anti-science.

    Again, none of this excuses the actual mistakes that Maher makes here, but he is anything but anti-science. Some of y’all need to take a chill pill. Maher is far from someone we should all be down on because he is a bit scientifically illiterate. He mostly fights the good fight.

    1. Do you want to apologize for telling the readers to “take a chill pill”? That is unnecessary. And really, golden rice has been vetted, tested, and found safe–as safe as vaccines, and just as useful. Are we supposed to warn people off it because it’s a GMO? Really? If you take TOO skeptical an approach, you wind up NOT giving people vaccines, tested GMOs, and so on. THAT is anti-science.

      At any rate, I expect an apology from you for your diss of the other readers. If you can’t do that, go elsewhere, please.

    2. I don’t think he is anti-science, I think he has a poor understanding of science as reflected in the various mistakes he made on Frday’s episode.

    3. monsanto is not even the totality of biotechnology and a lack in trust for the company has nothing to do with the science itself.

    4. Thank you for your comments, Tim. Skepticism is an essential component of navigating the increasingly complex and convoluted frontiers of science (as in synergistic interactions of the exploding chemical industry). I listened to Maher’s clip twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Maher does fight the good fight and his mind CAN be changed. Just show him the evidence. All I hear him say is that he doesn’t accept that the evidence is absolutely definitive.

      1. He’s taking the hyper-skeptic position. There is never absolutely definitive evidence in science. There’s no absolutely definitive evidence that seat belts save lives…. maybe it is really something we haven’t detected that does it instead. But you’d need to be an idiot not to wear your seat belt. That’s skepticism to the point of stupidity.

        1. Maher is not being hyper skeptical, just skeptical.
          He isn’t after absolutely definitive, just reasonable, all things (including his understanding of his immune system and diet)considered.

          1. Here’s a quote from Bill Maher illustrating how “just skeptical” he is on the subject of vaccination…

            “I don’t believe in vaccination either. That’s a… well, that’s a… what? That’s another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur theory, even though Louis Pasteur renounced it on his own deathbed and said that Beauchamp(s) was right: it’s not the invading germs, it’s the terrain. It’s not the mosquitoes, it’s the swamp that they are breeding in.”

            The man is a kook when it comes to the subject of health and medicine. The “just a bit skeptical about flu vaccines” bit of late is nothing but damage control. And it isn’t convincing. His history on the subject is too deep.

            1. Just got back. That’s an old opinion, however Maher probably does need to brush up on some facts.
              I think the germ theory of disease survived Pasteur’s death.
              I do still think he would be amenable to a weight of evidence but perhaps he is requiring a bit more that a proper card carrying sceptic should be.

  28. I actually sort of understand the broadest strokes of Maher’s opinions on medication – that people will always reach for a new pill, but often won’t look at the basics of their lives, such as their diet. Folks will take five different medications for their heart or blood pressure, but then go buy a Big Mac. People fill their bodies with junk that makes them sick.

    The problem is that he somehow extrapolates this into baseless skepticism of medications and vaccinations as a whole. He has always had highly suspect opinions on the science of medicine, and frequently tries to walk back some of his statements (or insist he was misinterpreted).

    As far as I am concerned, you either recognize the strength of the scientific method, or you don’t.

    His other massive scientific blind spot has been GMOs. I’ll agree that skepticism of Monsanto as a giant, multinational corporation is always warranted, and there’s no question that they’ve done some questionable things. However, many people mentally conflate Monsanto the corporation, with GMOs as a scientific enterprise. The first (and often only) example many lefties will mention, is Monsanto’s “terminator seeds” – which as far as I know, never actually went to market. They’ve probably never even heard of things like golden rice.

  29. It’s so gratifying to see PCC take such a strong stand, here. I’ve been embarrassed by the pass Maher seems to be given by atheists simply because he’s prominently anti-religion.

    Can anyone tell me if Sam Harris has called out Maher as well?

    I agree with the poster above who proposed that Maher’s opinions simply reflect a lock-step loosey-liberal anti-right political stance.

  30. Thank you! I was hoping someone would call Bill Maher out on his uninformed absurd assertions that medical research is not to be trusted!

  31. Even though Maher claims he isn’t anti science,as he has confidence in global warming and evolution, It seems like a case in where his watched has stopped. Once in the AM (evolution) and once in the PM (AGW).

  32. Gish gallop, indeed.

    The reason there is overuse of antibiotics and surgery in the USA is largely due to the fetish of allowing practitioners and patients wide latitude in prescribing instead of adhering to authoritative guidelines.

    Authoritative bodies within the medical establishment are ALWAYS more conservative in recommending drugs and surgery. It’s libertarians like Maher that spew the importance of “freedom” of individuals to make their own choices and when the choice is overuse, the same libertarians turn around and complain.

    Vaccines– especially the MMR– are so clearly cost-effective and safe that any discussion is absurd. Some vaccines are less cost-effective (arguably chicken pox and influenza in adults), but regarding the childhood vaccines– MMR, DPT, Hibivax, etc.– there really is no doubt.

  33. The problem with flue vaccines is that they are not for free, (particularly if one includes the administration of the vaccine)
    In public Health (in SA 80% of the population depends on government health services) one has to choose what is most cost effective. I would hence only recommend flue vaccination for high risk groups such as the elderly and COLD (chronic obstructive lung disease) patients.
    There is a lot to consider apart from a patients risk, how virulent is the predicted strain, how effective was the informed guess this year, etc.
    I think that the funds economised by not giving a blanket flue vaccination could e.g. be used better for HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccines. HPV causes cervical cancer, vying with breast cancer for the no 1 cancer in women in SA. It is very costly to treat and then we do not even talk about the gruesome suffering. The HPV vaccine offers a more than 90% protection.
    There is a lot of opposition to HPV vaccination here from the moral crusaders: it would encourage young girls (the preferred age for vaccination is 12) to have sex (yes, a good occasion to roll one’s eyes).
    Back to the flue, if you can afford it, and particularly if you fall into a high risk group: go for it.
    On a positive note, since the introduction of pneumococcal vaccine on the ‘State slate’, the incidence of pneumococcal meningitis (a very deadly and, if surviving, highly debilitating condition) in children has dropped vertiginously here. Once a common occurrence, it has become a rarity now.

    1. nicky, that’s a new point of view that does need to be considered. Fortunately, it seems as if most anti-vaxxers are not destitute. But flu shots indeed are also aimed at adults who might not be able to afford all the “optional” vaccines.

      (By the way, since you’re such a careful writer, I’m sure you’d want to know that the word you want is “flu” (the disease), not “flue” (part of a chimney).)

      1. A flea and a fly were caught in a flue.
        So what on Earth were they going to do?

        Said the flea, “Let us fly!”
        Said the fly “Let us flee!”

        So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

  34. Hopefully everyone criticizing Maher actually watched the clip.
    Maher clearly states that he is not an anti-vaxxer and would be vaccinated in all relevant ways. He did say he did not get a flu shot, me either and there is good reason for that. However nowhere did he say child hood vaccinations were bad. Nor did the panel really, with one just advocating a critical look.
    All he was really doing was advocating a skeptical critical look at medical propositions. A fair position.
    His only error, as such, was out of hand condemnation of GMO food. However, given the known evils of corporations and corruption it may in part be understandable.
    The rest was pretty innocuous anecdotal banter.
    The real error was allowing Williamson to push a claim that prayer works.
    The pharmaceutical industry and the medical industry and the government are not pure as the driven snow.
    A skeptical, questioning approach was all that was being argued for.
    I find this critique of Maher, at best, weak, erroneous and disappointing.

      1. Possible side effect and the trouble getting it. The efficacy figures aren’t perfect.

        I haven’t had a flu for many many years. Whatever it is about my immunity such that I have had only one flu many ,many many years, a long time ago I am happy not to disturb it unless absolutely necessary.
        A You Tuber WildwoodClaire had the shot and got the flu anyway.
        I have no need.

        1. For what vaccine are the efficacy figures perfect? Since when is perfection the criterion for medical treatment?

          1. Perfection being a criterion was not my case. I don’t get the flu.
            Vaccinations are not %100 effective but the child hood lifetime disease prevention ones are pretty high. Much higher the the typical topical flu vaccine. Someone has to guess that that is the strain that will appear vector through populations, if that is wrong it doesn’t work.And it does not miniseries you against further flues.
            This is a different discussion than the preventable disease vaccinations in childhood, which have high rates of success.
            Give that perfection is not given, a cost benefit analysis is valid.

            1. There’s a standard bit of language from the financial industry that applies equally well here…

              Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results

              If you think you are simply immune to flu viruses and that you just couldn’t possibly transmit it to someone else, I think you are fooling yourself. And if you think reducing the chances of getting flu by 40 or 50 or 60% isn’t worth it because it isn’t a 100% immunity, then you don’t have a good handle on probability theory.

              The flu virus is estimated (by the CDC) to kill somewhere between 3,000 and 49,000 in the US every year. Lots of people get lucky in one particular year. Some people get lucky for several years in a row. A few, no doubt, live their whole lives and never get it, simply out of dumb luck.

              That’s not a good reason to avoid flu shots.

              1. I’m not so sure about that.
                However I did not think having or not having flu shots was really part of the ‘Anti Vaxxer debate” I though we were talking about preventable childhood diseases, in the main. The argument has been about parental impressibility and should government encroach and restrict liberties for the greater good. This included the autism nonsense and mercury content and efficacy.
                I believe this argument is outside that of whether to get a flu shot or not.
                I and I know Maher is, are in favor of vaccinations for all known preventable diseases.
                Both my parents were nurses and I have some nursing training. We were immunized and had the polio vaccine. Thankfully as I saw a few polio cases as a kid.
                There are of course vaccinations we can have as adults as well, and we should if required.
                Vaccination has been one of the true wonders of modern civilization.

                Will a flu vaccination immunize me for the flu?

                I will review my position on flu shots, my potential immunity, my potential for catching it and then spreading it to where it wouldn’t have spread without me, to a vulnerable person, any side effects etc etc.
                You don’t know me or what I may do except stay home alone and ride it out.
                It has been over 30 years.
                There may be a case for flu shots but it is not as clear cut as the childhood immunization cases.
                This associating of people reluctant to have a flu shot, with real anti-vaxxers is a little disturbing.

                Perfection is not a criteria for medical treatment but a cost benefit analysis is.

                I don’t like the finance industry, didn’t they just get paid billions of dollars for stealing billions of dollars?

              2. And, I have access to free flu shots through work. They did not at any time lay out any cost benefit analysis or rationale at all, for getting them.
                Also I see a GP quite regularly, and have for years. Different GP’s and Doctors. I have never had flu shot recommended to me.

              3. We are talking about preventing communicable disease in humans. Children get such disease. Adults get such disease.

                Flu is a preventable communicable disease. The nature of the flu virus life cycle is such that “perfect” immunity is not available to us at this point in history. However partial immunity is and I don’t understand why someone would opt out of partial immunity on the basis of it not being complete.

              4. I obviously can not assess the reason why your doctors don’t advise flu vaccine for you. And while the financial industry may not be your favorite (nor is it mine), the disclaimer applies nonetheless.

                Here are some statistics for deaths due to flu in England and Wales. Note that not all age groups are equally susceptible. And check out the “hit” on people aged 65+. Many of these folk very well might not have had a history of contracting flu. But that wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome once they did contract it.

              5. I am pretty sure there is definitive evidence that seat belts save lives and reduce certain types of injury. However that is a different argument. Maher is not being hyper-skeptical he is being normally skeptical on information as he sees it. He may be wrong but as he sees it the low rates of efficacy, the financial gains for those in the industry, a skepticism about the authorities in general and, most importantly, his belief about his own immune system and what is good for it or not, affects his decision.
                He clearly states that he is amenable to evidence.
                As I state below, no one has made the case for universal flu vaccinations out of many GP’s I see and work, who offer the shots for free.
                Why not if there is to be blame associated not getting it.
                It is a long bow to draw to blame someone for spreading the flu without knowing their circumstances and reasonings for not getting the shot.
                Your argument may be valid, but it is not obvious or widely disseminated as a necessity.
                I have seen a large number of GP’s and diet is rarely discussed.
                And, this is still a different argument than the real anti vaxxer nonsense that Maher is against.
                So in short, he is skeptical, not hyper skeptical. He has concerns and beliefs that need to addressed in a reasonable way.

      2. There are many valid reasons why someone should NOT get a flu vaccine. I am one of them (compromised immune system with neurological sequela).

        1. Point taken. Having a compromised immune system is a good reason. And being too young for vaccination is another. I don’t think either of these applies to this mini-thread since Michael has mentioned neither. In fat, these good reasons for not being vaccinated is why the rest of us have some responsibility. When we who could have but didn’t get sick, we easily pass it on to others who didn’t because they couldn’t.

    1. Well there was more than just what you object to. The reaction when the one guy talked about studies and GMOs was gasps of disbelief and pity. The Monsanto thing is group-think crap. The list of BS about “western medicine”. Your point, that Maher said vaccines are msotly safe, is true. But even that he skirted around, and there was a LOT of woo pitched on all the topics readers here have identified.

      1. I mentioned the G.m.o thing. This ‘list’ of bullshit about western medicine was small ans anecdotal. Also possibly valid at some point,not now though.
        He did no skirt around the safety and necessity for,vaccinations. I disagree, the woo pitched was minor and anecdotal.

        There was not enough there to cast Maher as the great anti-medical science, pro woo, anti-vaxxer king that people are trying to do.

    2. ‘However, given the known evils of corporations and corruption it may in part be understandable.’ is quite a broad based accusation.

      1. Yes it is quite broad based and given things like tobacco, thalidomide and other real problems in these areas being a bit skeptical and critical over what is being put forward is a good thing.
        Remember invading Iraq. was that corruption?
        The message is, that there have been reasons to mistrust certain institutions, so do not accept everything they say now, with a skeptical eyes.

  35. Finally got to see the video
    I agree mostly with your comments, but Maher was not *that* bad, albeit pretty bad.
    Take the GMO’s for example, I know of only one study showing harmful effects of a GMO crop (forgotten which one). That study was totally and decisively discredited (they used rats that are very prone to develop, well always, cancer, and the GMO fed rats didn’t even get more cancer than the controls. A ridiculous ‘study’). Williamson’s ‘Oooh’ was so very, very much unwarranted.
    Yes, we maybe suspicious of ‘the Pharmaceutical Industry’, but that does not mean that many of us were not saved by it, or can live a normal ‘depressionless’ life, or can get an erection again, etc. etc.(Ironically, I think vaccinations are indeed medicine’s greatest success story).
    Note also that the pneumococcal vaccine I mentioned earlier does *decrease* the incidence of upper respiratory tract and ear infections, contrary to what was insinuated.
    There actually *may* be some truth in Holms’ contention, at least for IgE mediated allergies, that we are ‘too hygienic’, but it is not well established. (Nothing like a good tape-worm infection to ‘cure’ asthma).
    And of course evidence based medicine is the *only* medicine that seriously tries to treat causes, not just symptoms. Besides, sometimes it does help to treat symptoms…

    It is a pity there was not a serious health professional or epidemiologist on the panel. I think Williamson in particular was just peddling woo, the worst culprit. McCormack was the best by far (IMMO).

  36. For the heroin video -although I like it in general- I also have some reservations. Medical opiates are (or should be) used to alleviate pain. The doses needed to treat pain are quite low and have no euphoric effects. However, if one waits until the pain recurs and gets bad, the doses needed are much greater, and do induce a euphoric state.
    Contrary to Hari’s contention, there are many documented cases of addiction to opiates due to ‘medical’ administration. In virtually all cases the culprit was ‘PRN’ (only give opiates at the patient’s request). The latter, as said (sorry for repeating)- when the patient experiences severe pain, necessitates a greater dose, having an euphoric (and addictive) effect.
    ‘Slow release’ morphine tablets have, well one shouldn’t exaggerate , nearly revolutionised the use of opiates. Still, pain relief remains an art.
    Point is that some substances have indeed a chemical, substance related, addictive effect (opiates *are* addictive in other words). However, there is no doubt that social/relational environment plays a serious role. I fully agree with Hari that the negative effects of drugs (ic. heroin) are exacerbated by illegality.

    BTW, the strongest ‘addictor’ we have is nicotine. I do not know of any medical practitioner (and I know quitre a few) who would dispute that.

  37. Bill Maher’s GMO hang-up is his greatest flaw methinks.
    There are some good reasons not to take the flue vaccine, in fact I did only take it once, about a decade ago, and it made me slightly flueish for a day or two. I’m not in a high risk group and over about 3 decades I never got flue (well, maybe, but indistinguishable from a coryza). So, on the risk of repeating myself, flue vaccines only for high risk patients. I agree with Maher there, and you could not find a greater proponent of vaccination in general than yours truly…. Indeed, I think vaccination is by far the greatest achievement of ‘modern’ medicine in terms of effectiveness as well as cost-effectiveness. And it may potentially defeat the scourges of AIDS, TB, Malaria, some cancers (cf. cervical cancer) and possibly many other diseases.

    His GMO hang-up is a different story though.
    I think Maher hasn’t a clue how new strains were made *before* genetic manipulation (I found that pointing this out often eases opposition to GMO): the seeds were irradiated by X- and Gamma rays -yes M,r Ms, radioactivity!- And from the thousands of the resulting ‘mongrels’ a few were chosen.
    How does that compare to selectively insert a desired gene?

    Re Monsanto (since mentioned we should go all the way). I think their introduction of GMO’s was kind of stupid, plants resistant to their own Round-up? Not really a clever way to go as far as public relations go (but it did work well in the field, one should not forget to mention that). But it tainted GMO’s. The squabble about patent infringements did not really help to improve their image either. Monsanto maybe a giant in GMO’s -I have no axe to grind there-, but they are hopeless at PR.

    And yes, Jerry, Borlaugh, and several unknown other people involved, and GMO golden rice (especially golden rice), are unsung heroes.

  38. For all clarity, some conclusions:
    1- I’m a 100% pro vaxxer, but `I do not think a blanket flue vaccine is really cost effective. Flue vaccine should be targeted. I agree with Maher there (although possibly for different reasons).
    2 – Vaccines are the greatest triumph of modern medicine.
    3 – ‘Pharmaceutical Companies’ may sometimes be suspect, but they improved our lives immeasurably.
    4 – There is nothing wrong with GMO’s (despite me following a ‘Primal Diet’ i.e. cutting the starched ou)t. take GMO’s anytime as long as they are not starches). Genetic manipulation just does more elegantly what we have been doing for millennia.
    5 – Williamson is definitely Woo, woo woo.
    Maher and Holms appear redemptable. Mc Cormack does not need.

  39. He is absolutely 100% wrong about drug addiction. I am very familiar with physicians who work in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at a major University hospital in New York City. “Behavior Sciences” is what they call their “Pain Management” department and many other hospitals use the same title. I have had extensive discussions with them about their jobs and their responsibilities regarding addiction. First of all, even when a patient has very extensive surgery of any type, they are not prescribed heroin. They are usually given Oxycodone, Morphine or a similar (very strong) narcotic and the dosage is often very high. However, unless there are complications from surgery or the illness requires further analgesic treatment, patients are taken off narcotics pretty quickly, usually within a week or two. Second, post-surgery the drugs are almost always administered orally. Third, unless necessary, the doctors try hard not to increase dosage. In fact, patients are sent home with a much lower dose than they receive immediately after surgery unless they have an ongoing illness that causes chronic pain. Fourth, if the patient requires increased doses for more than a few weeks to a month, he or she does become addicted to the drug. The physicians who specialize in pain management like those I know, are well prepared to help patients who are addicted to Oxycodone or its extended release counterpart, Oxycontin to maintain their medication as long as they need it and to help them get off the drug when the time comes that it’s no longer needed. Very high doses of narcotic drugs are needed by many suffering people and the main problem they can run into is the inability to get the medication when they need it. Many pharmacies refuse to stock sufficient inventories because of the potential for abuse; others won’t stock narcotics at all because they want to avoid any of the problems some people cause when they are exposed to a drug that has a high value on the street. Chronically ill and injured patients are the ones who suffer for such shortsightedness. Retailers who refuse to provide pain relieving drugs shouldn’t call themselves “pharmacies”.

    This is very complicated. I’m having difficulty trying to address the issues without writing a book. The idea that narcotic drugs are not addictive unless taken in the wrong environment or that patients can take large doses of heroin-type drugs for an extended period without becoming addicted is ludicrous. Johann Hari ought to try conducting a controlled experiment so he can find out that, yes, it is the drug.

    1. Very high doses of narcotic drugs are needed by many suffering people and the main problem they can run into is the inability to get the medication when they need it. Many pharmacies refuse to stock sufficient inventories because of the potential for abuse; others won’t stock narcotics at all because they want to avoid any of the problems some people cause when they are exposed to a drug that has a high value on the street. Chronically ill and injured patients are the ones who suffer for such shortsightedness. Retailers who refuse to provide pain relieving drugs shouldn’t call themselves “pharmacies”.

      Hear hear! Thanks for your post. While my pain isn’t as bad as to need narcotics, I find my doctor is completely unsympathetic and feels that I should have very little of anything (I once had migraines every day for 2 years straight). He couldn’t grasp how someone would be at her wit’s end suffering like this. So, I have am very much an advocate of people getting pain relief.

      The description of how people step down from their medication post surgery is exactly how my dad’s thoracic surgery went. I kept telling him that he would feel the pain later when they took him off the “good drugs”. He did feel more pain but it wasn’t horrible. He doesn’t even remember all that now as I think the medication caused him not to form long term memories.

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