Monday, 16 November 2009

Maher Snubs Shermer

What a weird article from Bill Maher. Throughout 'it's' is spelt 'its'. That's not the worst thing about it, but it's not a good sign. It's a response of sorts to this letter from Michael Shermer.

It's a textbook example of how to get an issue wrong. He says he's a reluctant (fundamentalist?) spokesperson on anti-vaccination, and others are more qualified - is he qualified *at all*? - but then ploughs on regardless. Here's the perfect recipe for scare-mongering a potentially controversial issue.

1) Find something that you know nothing about, but about which you have a vague sense of unease.
Vaccination - check
American diet - check
2) Make sure that lots of people share this sense of unease.
Anti-vax polls - check
No-one likes their 'smartie tube' punctured - check
3) Add some known provisos or grey areas.
Over-vaccination is a bad thing - check
Immune system problems make vax dangerous - check
4) Cite people with personal stories to tell as credible data.
Barbara Loe Fisher - check
5) Cherry pick 'experts' in the minority.
Dr Russell Blaylock - check
Dr Jay Gordon - check
6) Pretend you're just trying to publicise a little known problem.
"I'm just trying to represent an under-reported medical point of view in this country" - check
7) Find something dangerous sounding that can be blown out of all proportion.
Formaldehyde - check
Mercury - check
8) Insist you and your cohorts are not anti-whatever it is.
"Anyway, Ms. Fisher is someone who says she is not "anti-vaccine," but just has a lot of questions about the long term effect of using a lot of vaccines." - check
9) Exaggerate for effect.
"Is it worth it to get vaccines for every bug that goes around? Injecting something into my bloodstream? I'd like to reserve that for emergencies." - check
"If one side can say anything and its not challenged, then of course dissent becomes heresy in the minds of many." - check
"There are consequences to vaccines and antibiotics. Some people want to study that, and some, it seems, want to call off the debate." - check
"Ms. Fisher said 'If we want to create a society that is dependent on shots for immunity -- the same way we are getting dependent on prescription drugs, antibiotics, and surgery -- this is the path we should keep going down.'" - check
10) Deny there is a conspiracy, whilst implying there is one.
"In fact, when Howard Dean asked me that, my response was "I wouldn't call it a conspiracy." Any more than there's a conspiracy for the Pentagon budget to be obscenely bloated and operated largely for the corporate welfare of defense contractors." - check
"Is it conspiracy theory to believe that American medicine too much treats symptoms and not root causes of disease? " - check
11) Disingenuously spread misinformation thanks to one's high profile job.
Chat show - check
Twitter - check
Huffington Post - check

And stir. And stir again. Whatever any experts say, do *not* go back and change the ingredients. That would be too scientific, and wouldn't serve the agenda.

Two more things shock me about this article. One is how *parochial* his attitude is; he needs to get out and about and away from the particular obsessions that Americans have; no doubt there are some reasons to be paranoid in the States, and no doubt there are issues with 'big pharma' the world over. But that isn't an excuse for pretending one knows better than the scientific community, when one doesn't. The second is the suggestion that scientists want to close down any argument surrounding vaccinations. I see no evidence of that; just authorities concerned about know-nothing slebs endangering people's lives.


  • KWombles says:
    17 November 2009 at 03:44

    Stermer: shermer?

    Found your blog this morning while looking to source the asinine quote from Fisher after stewing on it since my blog on the Maher piece last night (I had just done a piece on Fisher the day before). Love that we both did the check thing. I've linked to your post in mine, in an update.

  • Mark Jones says:
    17 November 2009 at 04:33

    Thanks for pointing out the typo, KWombles. Corrected now.

    It is good to know that there are some around who reject the anti-science when we see it - good blog.

  • Liz Ditz says:
    17 November 2009 at 10:37

    Roundup of bloggers critical of Maher's article, including this post.

    Maher's getting in bed with the "autism is vaccine injury" crowd. However, there are quite a few autism parents like Kwombles who are pro-science. Examples would be Leftbrain/Rightbrain, Autism News Beat, and Squidalicious to name just three (I didn't use links because I didn't want the comment to get hung up in moderation.)

  • Mark Jones says:
    17 November 2009 at 11:50

    Thanks for the heads up, Liz.

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