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“Oh, come on, Superman!”: Bill Maher versus “Western medicine”

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on September 8, 2009

Skepdude says – Excellent post. Simply excellent!


I realize that I’ve spent a fair amount of verbiage (to put it mildly) expressing my frustration with celebrities whose support for pseudoscience and even outright quackery endanger public health. The two most frequent targets of the wrath, sarcasm, frustration, and puzzlement of me and my partners in crime at SBM have been Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey for their having emerged over the last two years as the most vocal celebrity faces of the anti-vaccine movement in general and the anti-vaccine organization Generation Rescue in particular and Oprah Winfrey for her promotion of pseudoscience, quackery, and mysticism on her show. That doesn’t even count Oprah’s inking of a development deal with Jenny McCarthy to do her own weekday talk show, which has poised McCarthy to walk in the footsteps of previous Oprah proteges, such as Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz. I’ve also lamented how celebrity physicians like Dr. Jay Gordon, Robert “Bob” Sears, and the hosts of the daytime TV show The Doctors have promoted, through the mantra of “balance,” anti-vaccine views in particular and pseudoscience about health in general.

As bad as celebrities such as Oprah, Jim Carrey, and Jenny McCarthy are, though, no one views them as skeptics, at least no one I know and no one in the skeptical movement. Even the reporters and newscasters who credulously interview them, I suspect, realize that Oprah, Jim, and Jenny are not exactly the most scientific of people. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years since I became more involved with the skeptical movement, it’s that being an agnostic, atheist, or skeptic is no guarantee against falling for pseudoscience. The problem is that when someone becomes associated with the skeptic movement for another reason, even if that person is a total woo-meister when it comes to medicine, they tend to be given a pass. I don’t give such people a pass because of their anti-religion views because I consider myself a skeptic and don’t really care much about religion, except when it intersects issues of science and health, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing blood transfusions, faith healers offering prayer instead of medicine, and fundamentalists undermining the teaching of evolution. If someone who promotes pseudoscience is a prominent critic of religion, to me that makes it even worse when they spout nonsense.

I’m referring to Bill Maher, comedian and host of the HBO show Real Time With Bill Maher. Thanks to an anti-religion movie (Religulous) and his frequent stance as a “skeptic,” many of my fellow skeptics consider him one of our own, even to the point of giving him an award named after Richard Dawkins. Yet, when it comes to medicine, nothing could be further from the truth. Maher’s own words show that he has anti-vaccine views, flirts with germ theory denialism and HIV/AIDS denialism, buys into extreme conspiracy theories about big pharma, and promotes animal rights pseudoscience. That’s not a skeptic or a supporter of science-based medicine.



2 Responses

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  1. tom sheepandgoats said, on September 9, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    The reason that even some skeptics rebel against doctors and thier science is that such are so often wrong, yet extremely loathe to admit it.

    For example, (since you mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses) New Scientist magazine recently ran an article entitled An Act of Faith in the Operating Room. The act refered to was not withholding a transfusion. It was giving one.

    The article sums up recent research to establish that in all but the most catastrophic of cases, transfusions hurt more than they help. They nonetheless are used routinely, to “perk the person up” a bit after surgery, and in cases where careful techniques could prevent that amount of blood loss in the first place, even assuming that immediate replacement is necessary.

    • Skepdude said, on September 9, 2009 at 2:01 PM

      I can’t speak about blood transfusions; I really don’t know much about that. Nevertheless I dont’ buy your argument as a whole. Sure there are mistakes and bad doctors. Remember a doctor graduating at the top of his class and one barely passing, still get the same license.

      But that does not justify throwing out “western medicine” as Maher does on the basis that it is not perfect. Even worse it does not justify embracing completely baseless and evidenceless CAM modalities. The one who does that is not a skeptic, but a lunatic!

      Regardless of what one’s opinion may be about one, or a few, specific doctors, show me anything that CAM has done that is as significant as organ transplants, which are performed by the same doctors and based on the same science you criticize here!

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