Maher loves to ridicule the faithful for their scientifically baseless beliefs (as an atheist I do agree with him for the most part here), but then he contradicts himself by supporting scientifically baseless causes that have found a home among some on the left. One of these causes the anti-vaccine movement.
A lot of the uproar over vaccines (specifically the MMR vaccine) is over the completely baseless claim that they cause autism. In reality there has never been a legitimate scientific study that have found a link between autism and vaccine. Not one. However, there was a study by Andrew Wakefield that was published in the highly respected journal Lancet. As it turned out this study had serious methodological flaws, which forced Lancet to retract the paper and many of his co-authors to pull their support of the findings. The British Medical Journal after reviewing the study even found many of the claims in the study to be outright fraudulent.
Every study since then has completely contradicted Wakefield's fraudulent study. But this hasn't stopped the anti-vaxers (some of whom still believe in the autism hoax) from attacking vaccines. Many of them will make the correct claim that there are risks associated with vaccination. What they ignore is that the benefits are astronomically higher, and it is not even close. Bill Maher often tries to make this anti-vaxer argument against the flu vaccine with disastrous results:
Mr. Maher recently told his Twitter followers that people who get flu shots are “idiots.” On his Friday HBO show “Real Time With Bill Maher,” he explained his opposition to the flu vaccine during an interview with Bill Frist, a heart surgeon who was a Republican senator from Tennessee.
Mr. Maher questioned letting someone stick “a disease into your arm,” wrongly implying that the flu shot contains a live virus. The flu shot is a killed vaccine. (Only the nasal mist vaccine contains a weakened live virus.)
He said he did not believe that healthy people were vulnerable to dying from the new H1N1 virus. This contradicts statements from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that young, healthy people from ages 5 to 24 appear particularly vulnerable to this flu. About a third of the 76 children who have died of H1N1 since April have had no underlying health problems.
Mr. Maher also discouraged pregnant women from getting vaccinated. Studies show pregnant women are among the most vulnerable to serious complications from H1N1.
And recently he tweeted this:
What he deceptively fails to mention is that for everyone - not just the elderly - that, "Over all, the vaccine’s effectiveness is a moderate 56 percent, which means those who receive a shot have a 56 percent lower chance of winding up at the doctor with the flu. That is nearly as good as in other flu seasons, the agency said."
That means that even if you are a senior you are still better off (though not by much) getting vaccinated.
Spreading this kind of ignorance is not just dangerous to Maher's viewers, but to those who don't even know who Maher is:
I HAVE chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Three months ago, I underwent an allogeneic stem-cell transplant, in which my wise, 52-year-old white blood cells were replaced by bewildered, low-functioning cells from an anonymous European donor. For the next seven months or so, until those cells mature, I have a newborn’s immunity; I am prey to illnesses like chickenpox, the measles and the flu.
These diseases are rarely fatal, unless you’re a newborn or someone with a suppressed immune system like me. My newborn buddies and I do have some protection, however: the rest of you.
Young babies, the immuno-compromised and people who get chemotherapy are not able to process most vaccinations. Live vaccines in particular, like those for measles and chickenpox, can make us sick. But if 75 percent to 95 percent of the population around us is vaccinated for a particular disease, the rest are protected through what is called herd immunity. In other words, your measles vaccine protects me against the measles...
The truth is, we should not get vaccinated for ourselves alone; we should do it for one another. Having cancer has taught me the value of living in a community. We assist the infirm, pay our taxes and donate to charity, and getting vaccinated — for the flu, for adult whooping cough, for pneumonia — is just another important societal responsibility. After all, we’re in the same herd.
Another scientifically baseless claim that has found a larger home is the opposition to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) (aka GM foods). Fact of the matter there is broad scientific consensus
that says GM foods are no more harmful than any other food.
Even the World Health Organization agrees with this conclusion:
Q8. Are GM foods safe?
Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.
GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved. Continuous use of risk assessments based on the Codex principles and, where appropriate, including post market monitoring, should form the basis for evaluating the safety of GM foods.
Unfortunately, Bill Maher has recently made this anti-GM silliness a cause of his. In last night's episode he compares California voters, who rightly rejected a proposition that would have forced companies to label GM products, to people who don't want to know if there is horse meat in their food. Problem is GM food is not harmful. I'm all for the government forcing companies to label products that may be harmful to people. However, forcing them to put a label on their products with a negative connotation that doesn't serve any public health concern is needlessly onerous, and in general sets a bad precedent.
Now why do many liberals seem to have made this a cause of theirs? Well the best I can tell is because of misinformation and genuine - but unrelated - concerns about the companies that produce them.
Many food products are genetically modified to make them resistant to pesticides and other chemicals that may be harmful. However, it is not the genetic modification that makes these foods harmful. It is the chemicals they put on them. If this is a concern of yours we already have a label for that: It is called organic foods.
It also seems that the concern over GM foods arises over very legitimate hatred of many of the companies that happen to produce them. Monsanto's unseemly business practices are a perfect example:
Maybe, but I suspect that much of the passion is inspired by Monsanto's hard-line approach to ownership of those crops. Monsanto claims those seeds — and all offspring of those seeds — as its intellectual property. Farmers aren't allowed to save and replant any part of their harvest; if they do, Monsanto takes them to court and demands large damages. Critics call the company bullying and ruthless.
What GMO critics often fail to mention is that GMO could one day in the near future help fight world hunger
. However, more research needs to be done, but based on advances already made it is an extremely promising and exciting technology.
When presented with the overwhelming evidence that anti-vaxers' and anti-GMers' concerns are scientifically baseless what is their response? Same response that the climate change truthers and creationists make: moneyed interests are buying scientific opinion. I'm not going to spend my time refuting this silliness because the claim that reputable scientists and scientific journals like Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine are cooking the numbers are equally baseless. Certainly a lot of research may be funded by corporations, but until you can prove the numbers were cooked (like what happened with Andrew Wakefield) you are just another conspiracy theorist.
And that is why Maher and others like him annoy me so much. The progressive community at its core bases it conclusions on facts and science, not conspiracy theories like the Right does with any number of issues. Progressives are not Truthers.
Comments are closed on this story.