Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shermer vs. Bill Maher - Anti- Vaccination Woo

Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine has posted an open letter to Bill Maher on Skepticblog regarding Maher's anti-vaccination views. As you may know, Maher is infamously attracted to woo about medicine, doctors and health. This recently caused a hubbub as he was given an award by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. As many have pointed out, his criticism of religion while amusing coexist with some nutty ideas about medical science. Of course these views are not the only strange bedfellows in the Maher psyche, consider (as Shermer points out) the clash between his political views and his anti-vax woo:

Finally, Bill, please consider the odd juxtaposition of your enthusiastic support for health care reform and government intervention into this aspect of our medical lives, with your skepticism that these same people — when it comes to vaccinations and disease prevention — suddenly lose their sense of morality along with their medical training. You excoriate the political right for not trusting the government with our health, and then in the next breath you inadvertently join their chorus when you denounce vaccinations, thereby adding fodder for their ideological cannons. Please remember that it’s the same people administrating both health care and vaccination programs.
Maher is an uncomfortable topic for many reasons. Not the least of these reasons is that he is a reminder of our own tendency to compartmentalize and hold inconsistent beliefs. Shermer, a noted libertarian as well as a skeptic (i.e. global warming denial issues), knows this only too well:
One of the most remarkable features of science is that it often leads its practitioners to change their minds and to say “I was wrong.” Perhaps we don’t do it enough, as our own blinders and egos can get in the way, but it does happen, and it certainly happens a lot more in science than it does in religion or politics. I’ve done it. I used to be a global warming skeptic, but I reconsidered the evidence and announced in Scientific American that I was wrong. Please reconsider both the evidence for vaccinations, as well as the inconsistencies in your position, and think about doing one of the bravest and most honorable things any critical thinker can do, and that is to publicly state, “I changed my mind. I was wrong.”
I hope Maher takes Shermer up on this offer, because on the whole I find Maher amusing, though I doubt Maher has the same integrity as Shermer.

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