Home > Uncategorized > New rule: Bill Maher has to stop calling himself a “Rationalist” if…

New rule: Bill Maher has to stop calling himself a “Rationalist” if…

October 18, 2009

I make no claims to conceptual originality, but I do try to be careful about my sources.  And not long ago I had an exchange with a Christian who thought I was gettting my ideas from Bill Maher, producer of the mediocre anti-religious documentary; “Religulous”.  This probably happened because Maher isn’t much more original than I am, and he recycles some of Dawkins’ phraseology about “bronze-age nomads” and a few other memorable quips.  And Dawkins is the Q-source between us.  My Christian friend, well-schooled in textual criticism, might have spotted this but he didn’t.

Maher is a sharp political satirist, and he’s famous for hilarious editorials called “New Rule” in which he skewers some public person or action for pure illogic or hypocrisy.  And recently he won the Richard Dawkins award (which is not doled out by Dick the Dawk himself, but by a committee at Atheist Alliance International) for his movie.

While Dawkins doesn’t choose the recipient, he did speak at the presentation, and on that occasion he took Maher to task for his irrational stance against vaccines.  Maher sets aside the track record of vaccines in eradicating smallpox, almost eradicating polio, and in saving millions of other lives against other diseases as well.  Against this record, and against clinical and field trials, he has his distrust of the government and of drug companies, and trivializes vaccines as “the government sticking a disease in your arm”.

OK Bill Maher, it’s nice you won a prestigious award for your movie, but stop calling yourself a rationalist.  Your stance seems to be not that we don’t know anything about God, but that we don’t know anything, period.  The fact is, we do know some things.  We know exactly how safe vaccines are (which is to say; not perfectly, but a hell of a lot safer than the thing vaccinated against), for example.  You can’t use science to speak against religion, and then ignore the science that supports vaccination.

Far be it from me to hope any individual gets swine flu, but Bill Maher is rich enough that he can keep himself far away from dense crowds if he wants to.  Not so the school children and people on the street and factories and offices who can wind up terribly sick and maybe even dying from H1N1.  And that’s the problem with anti-vaccination talk: it literally ends up with people dying from preventable diseases.  If Maher has scientific evidence that vaccines are dangerous and ineffective, he should present it.  Otherwise, he should admit he is wrong about it and get the vaccine on live TV to try and undo some of the damage he’s done.

Not only to public health, but to the public reputation of rationalism as well.  You can’t just apply scientific reasoning for satire and then abandon it when it for even more laughs from an audience.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 18, 2009 at 13:05 | #1

    Agreed. The thing that sucks about his woo is that he does an awesome job on politics. But because of this stupid woo shit people aren’t going to give him a fare shake at other topics. And I can’t blame them because his woo is pretty magical.

    But I will say this, and I haven’t yet figured out what else to make of it, I haven’t really had time to give it much thought, but I got some insight into the woo or Maher and anti-vaccinationists. In email conversation I had with someone older than me, mid fifties to 60 gave away a gem in one small sentence on this very topic, “I still have reservzations about shots because I got so many when I was a kid.”

    Maybe the antivac crowd feels they were overused back in the day. And when they went to question it no one gave honest answers and BS’d them. Maybe it’s for other reasons, or a mixture of things. But I think in some cases it’s not true lunacy. I think there is some deep rooted issue at stake that has to be addressed.

  2. October 18, 2009 at 13:41 | #2

    I’ve got a daughter in public health.  She’s spent the last month at train stations, grocery stores, and malls trying to get people to participate in a study examining if and why/why not they’ll get vaccinated.  She’s appalled at the number of people who won’t for what she calls ignorant reasons, specially given the options available.  She said it’s running over 50% (approaching 75% in some neighborhoods) against vaccination among the people she’s interviewed.

    I promised her I’ll get my shot as soon as they’re available.

  3. October 19, 2009 at 08:30 | #3

    I hate to get into this, but is/are the flu vaccines now being touted as effective and proven as smallpox and polio vaccines?

    Government has spent so many years lying and dissembling (and I am not picking party-line sides on this), and keeping things secret for no reason except fear of exposing incompetence, that it is now trusted very little. How many drugs has the FDA happily approved which proved to be more harmful than useful? (While pretty much acting as a protector of profits for the drug companies? A virtual Chamber of Commerce disguised as a government agency, sez I).

    Then there’s the “press.” I’ve been watching news as though it mattered for many years, and am still having little luck giving up my addiction. My view of modern “journalism” is that it is based almost entirely on sensationalizing any story that comes along. (And don’t get me started on the talentless writers/editors of news who do not understand that stories with inherent drama need no tweaking, and stories lacking drama cannot be “fixed” into having some via hyperbole).

    So, what are my chances of contracting “regular” flu? I have no idea. What are my chances of a really bad result if I do? I have no idea. What are my chances of contracting H1N1? I have no idea. What are my chances of a really bad result if I do? No idea. What are the percentage results (both in terms of bad reactions vs. good results) for the two vaccines? I have no idea. I have no idea because either no one who could tell me knows, or has no interest in the telling.

    I also sense that there are those who operate on the theory that it is better to exaggerate risk, perhaps to counteract inertia, than to tell the unvarnished truth. I think dishonest scoundrels is a good term for such folk.

    I am uninfluenced by such as Maher, because I don’t watch or listen to him. In fact, I watch or listen to almost no self-appointed/annointed “pundits.” I figured out long ago they don’t know any more about the subjects they are talking about than I know about those subjects.

  4. October 19, 2009 at 08:31 | #4

    As for “exchanges” with christians, I don’t have ‘em. What’s the use?

  5. October 19, 2009 at 12:48 | #5

    Fortunately we’re not limited to the FDA for our information.  Just out of morbid interest I’ve read several books on epidemiology, and I also read public-health blogs like The Pump Handle and Aetiology.  And while the FDA wouldn’t be my first choice for information, the CDC has a better reputation.  And we can crib information from other countries like England for a check on our government. 

    The current flu vaccines, seasonal and H1N1, are produced by the same method as in years past so their safety is well-studied.  About the only thing that changes from year to year is the antigen signature that it imprints, which is based on a “best guess” of the coming seasonal flu.  This means it’s a gamble: you could get hit with a strain not covered by the vaccine.  One difference between the US and European version is that we don’t get the antigen-boosting adjuvants, so our vaccines need to use more of the antigen (meaning supply is more of a problem).

    The purpose of public vaccination is to flatten the contagion curve as much as possible and reduce the number of cases in each season.  Even if you are sure you’ll survive, getting vaccinated makes you less likely to be a vector to someone else who may be more vulnerable.

    Generally your chances of a really bad result from the vaccine are tiny compared to a really bad result from the flu itself.  How likely are you to get the flu?  Depends if it lands where you are how fast your immune system can recognize it.

    I just found an interesting new blog from the author of a book on the history of vaccines.  Think I’ll put that book on my Amazon list.  Of course, by the time it surfaces to the top of my reading pile, it won’t be flu season anymore.

  6. October 19, 2009 at 14:57 | #6

    Gerry:  Do you mean that you want a reasonable level of probability of acquiring either seasonal flu or H1N1?

    I admit I am a strange person, but I find that strange if that is your meaning.  As George inferred, the bottom line stat is that vaccines are more effective than declining vaccines, assuming attention to counter-indications, of course. 

    In know from personal experience … my own encounter with a pernicious virus took place before a vaccine was available.

  7. October 19, 2009 at 21:48 | #7

    I’m just saying that because no one really wants to distribute useful information, but rather each “interest” wants to distribute partial information with a spin which tends to get folks to accept that “interest’s” agenda, then I basically am left floundering, and apparently a lot of people are in that position.

    I still have no idea whether the vaccines they want me to take this year are effective or safe. I don’t say this (I hope) as a member of the boobacracy who don’t think much at all, I say it as a member of the population who wants to operate on information, but is expected to operate on propaganda.

    Sez me.

  8. October 20, 2009 at 06:26 | #8

    Well if your position is that we should be paralyzed by doubt because somebody might make some money or have their political interests massaged, I have to counter that it’s possible to at least make an educated judgment.

    For one thing, drug companies don’t make a lot of money on vaccines proportionate to the investment; it’s a lot more profitable to sell antidepressants, erectile dysfunction, arthritis and cholesterol medications.  And when the FDA says something, that’s the FDA saying it; but when the CDC and doctors and foreign governments with effective socialized medicine and books on public health history all say it too, you start to wonder if there could be something to it.

    I work in an office with an immunocompromised person, and damned if I’ll be the vector that gives her H1N1 if I can possibly avoid it.  And that’s just one person I know about.  To say nothing of the flu sucking as badly as it does if I get it myself.

  9. October 20, 2009 at 09:36 | #9

    I hardly think asking for information is the equivalent of being “paralyzed by doubt.”

  10. October 20, 2009 at 13:13 | #10

    I think the point is that there is a lot of qualified information already existing on this topic. So is your point you want us to find it for you? Or you just haven’t found the right information? The argument of, “The science isn’t complete and I’m just asking questions…” sounds scientific, but the problem is it starts from a false premise. The evidence on vaccs is pretty concrete and considering they have been given for over 80 years I would say there is a lot of sound evidence.

    If the problem is you feel as though vaccs may have been overused in years past or no one offered a decent explanation I can understand the frustration with that. But it’s no reason to deny evidence.

    I would recommend reading some studies and looking at the efficacy and safety of vaccs. If you cannot access the studies without paying just go to your local library. From there you can get access to all the studies you want. If that’s overwhelming there have been some good discussions on Public Radio station programs from experts and such.

    And if that doesn’t persuade you than keep your gris gris if you choose. But I can tell you from experience there will be little to gain by holding onto it.

  11. October 20, 2009 at 22:11 | #11

    I’m not against vaccinations in general, and have, of course, been vaccinated against a pretty large number of things, the stuff every American child generally gets, and a few they don’t because I was on my way to Viet Nam.

    Maybe I’m in a bad mood because the several courses of antibiotics I’ve been on, and still am, have left me feeling as though I’m running a low grade disease or something, and I’m not even taking them for disease, just prophylactically (under a doctor’s care, of course).

    I had to look up the side effects and other quirks of these things myself. That hasn’t helped my mood, either.

    I don’t have any gris gris, or any mojo either.

  12. October 21, 2009 at 06:43 | #12

    And if they don’t get cracking on production, it may be moot whether I decide to get the flu vaccine.

  13. October 21, 2009 at 08:08 | #13

    And if they don’t get cracking on production, it may be moot whether I decide to get the flu vaccine.

    You win the Internets today for that pun.  Amazing the media didn’t think of it, given that vaccines are made using eggs.

  14. 1centwiz
    November 2, 2009 at 06:10 | #14

    From a Christian, I’ll tell you that I find this column quite interesting and find what DOF has to say quite entertaining to the point where the quite witted mind meets the insanely humorous, at least in my book that is….

    In regards to the antibiotics, they are crap unless you think you need them. (sarcasm here)

    They almost killed me 10 years ago, and yes they compromised my immune system. In fact, I was tested and found to have Epstein Barr Virus in my system. Don’t know where I got that, but after getting down to 110lbs, (I’m 5’9”) and collapsing on the floor of my home just before Christmas, they had to pump me full of 3 bags of fluids because I was that dehydrated from being sick for the last 11 months.

    It started out with a sinus infection, then an ear infection, then strep throat, and then it would start all over again… and antibiotic after antibiotic… well needless to say my ENT got his BMW paid for on my visits alone.

    After deciding that maybe this wasn’t the way to wellness, I started with a yeast free diet. It was tough at first, but I made it through the sugar cravings and onto a real life. Even gained back some pounds and was looking good, I was told.

    This path has led me onto even more dietary changes and today I try my best to be wheat/gluten/yeast free. It’s changed my world and in fact, this is the first cold I’ve had all year, in almost 2 for that matter and I’m not on any other meds either.

    It’s amazing what food can do to you… same theory I suppose as with computers, garbage in garbage out…

    So from a Christian perspective, it’s what you eat that makes a difference in your health. That and your attitude I suppose. My Dear Hubby (Dh) tends to think that nothing will get him down. And so he prefers to go out and sweat the stupid bug out of him and it works for him. Either that or he’s so tired from all the work that he goes to sleep and then he gets better. Me? I’d rather just go to sleep with a heavy quilt to sweat and skip the work part.

    And why bash all the Christians anyway? We aren’t all narrow minded and critical of the way others think… or maybe I’m not really a Christian and just say I am to fit in, that’s it…

    Ha! I come from a family so dysfunctional that we have a Mormon, a Catholic, an Atheist, a Spiritualist and me, yep a Christian. Oh and there is also, two very liberal voters, one Staunch Republican, a conservationist and one who just votes for the underdog. Can you guess which one is me? I bet you can’t.

    Well time to get off this soap box for now… gots to make some tea per DOF’s orders so that I can rid of this cold and get some sleep…

    Thanks Gerry for making me laugh!

  15. November 2, 2009 at 07:19 | #15

    Clearly, 1cent, you have some unusual health problems.  It’s nice that the Christian perspective is all you need.  I guess all those scientists were just wasting their time.

    By the way, do you know what they call “alternative medicine” that’s been proven to work?  “Medicine”.

    As for “Bashing” all the Christians, I can’t remember doing that in this post.  But you might might enjoy my post on SEB, A Christian Asks; “I’m the bad guy?  How did that happen?”  Read all the comments – 23 pages of them and counting. Then leave a comment, and I’m sure you’ll get a response.

    Well, “enjoy” may not be the right word.  But it’ll keep you out of the pool halls for a while.  Unless your pool hall has wi-fi.

  16. 1centwiz
    November 2, 2009 at 13:51 | #16

    I never said I didn’t believe in science mind you, in fact I find it most interesting and intriguing. And it’s ok if you bash “Christians” as there have been plenty of bashing others in the media for years. It’s all about having to be right and not being tolerant, is I think, how it’s put…

    And heck, it’s your forum. I think it’s funny and don’t take offense, otherwise I wouldn’t be reading or posting now would I? I’m not here to stick up for Christians, but I’m not going to go unnoticed that we can all agree to disagree at times. I’m not here to judge you because we have different views or belief systems. Wouldn’t be very tolerant of me, now would it…

    I find the wit and the insight you provide very similar to how I think and feel about things. As far as the politics go, well like I said I disagree with most on that one. I just wish it were a bit more fair when the propaganda gets published, that’s all… its usually one sided to cause division and not much has been done to bring any type of “togetherness”, including this current “puppet” of a President. No offense to the man, just the fact that no one will be able to fix anything, regardless of the days in office when the senate, the congress and the house of Representatives continue to rally for their own causes, their own agendas instead of for the good of the people… but again, that’s my way of seeing things according to my own skewed perspective of politics I suppose. I’m not Anti-American, just anti walking over everyone’s back to get what you want regardless of the results to the people it affects…

    In fact, I don’t pretend to know much about politics at all… I’m just a perpetual 3 year old who sees life pretty simply in general and can’t understand why others can’t just get along.

    Why is there such a need to control each other and be sneaky about it all? Why do people lie and then say it’s all for the welfare of the masses, when it hurts the lower and middle class the most? Heck if you have money, no problem. Heaven forbid though if you don’t have enough, because then you are well, messed up.

    Right now I can’t find a job, I’m over qualified in my local area and scare the begebees out of the locals because of course I’m going to steal their jobs if they hire me to file or work as a cashier, simply because I’ve been in management.

    I don’t qualify for medi-cal because I don’t have kids, our 3 cars are paid in full and I own a piece of land that isn’t worth a 3rd of what I paid for it right now. So when I needed the system, to help me pay for a surgery that gave me back the use of my arm, we had to go into credit card debt.

    Sure I could have sold a car or two at a great loss and gotten a couple thousand dollars, (they are a 1989 nissan truck, a ‘97 camry, and a 2000 Jeep) However, I’d have no way to get to and from the doctors or my husband to get to work. I could have sold the land at a greater loss, and we could have put my father out of his house at the age of 74 and not had our 2nd mortgage payments looming over our heads too. But right now, my Dh is out working as a long haul truck driver and may barely make $40,000 this year. That’s a raise from the last job he worked for the last ten years of $8,000 and we finally have health insurance. But it will cost us the payment each month which will add up to $3800, plus the deductible of $1000 each, then the co-payments kick in. So there goes our raise… and yet if we didn’t have anything, were totally irresponsible, then we could be on welfare and work the system. Hmmm…

    I don’t believe in the elitist type of class system we have here, as that is not what our country was founded on, but just the opposite as I remember history. Didn’t the Boston Tea Party occur because of the tyranny that was all a part of being English? Isn’t that the reason for becoming America and breaking away from all of that? What ever happened to having community within our local areas?

    Yep, I have that here in Montana, simply because we don’t have so many people here, and everybody it struggling so we all help out where we can to make things work for us. Lucky me… but I’m still $15,000 in debt and see no hope right now of ever getting out of it with the way things are in our nation.

    The biggest thing that bothers me about the current political situation, is that our basic freedoms are being taken away. And yet we are all about making sure other countries are given this ability. And we the tax payers are footing the bill. I wonder why the ones that have all the money figure out ways to keep it by passing laws that make them exempt from paying “too” much. And what is “too” much? We got all our taxes back simply because of my medical bills and I have a home job for the deductibles. Kitties don’t count as children, bummer… but really, what would our measly $3600 mean in our trillion dollar debt?

    But that will have to wait for yet another post, as I’m hopeful that you have an opinion on that as well that I’d love to hear about. Kids now a days are being born into a debt that will only increase with time… what a legacy to leave them when we die, let alone make them have to work harder than we have had to do along the way.

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