With a rebel yell, they cried Maher, Maher, Maher

By Phil Plait | November 17, 2009 4:00 pm

Oh, that Bill Maher. It’s time to change his show’s name to "Antireality Time". Because when he talks vaccines, he wanders into major woowoo territory.

I don’t need to debunk his antivax nonsense, since actual doctors who have facts at their fingertips do it so well, like in this tirade from Orac and in Steve Novella’s more measured (but just as devastating) response.

But there is one thing I want to mention. My favorite part is when Maher says:

I agree with my critics who say there are far more qualified people than me — its [sic] just that mainstream media rarely interviews doctors and scientists who present an alternative point of view.

First off, that’s total baloney. Go watch the news and other talking head shows; they often have people talking up the "alternative" (that is to say, wrong) point of view when it comes to vaccines. And if these people aren’t certified physicians, what does that tell you? Maybe you’ll come to the correct conclusion that the overwhelming majority of physicians think antivaxxers are full of it.

And second, about talk shows not having "alternative" viewpoints — and this is critical — why should they? When the weatherman talks about lightning in your area, should he give equal time to the Zeus theory?

Feh. Maher digs himself deeper every time he talks about this. Some people hold him up as an icon of skepticism, but it’s simply not true. A lot of non-believers love his ideas and attitude when it comes to religion, which is fine, but it doesn’t translate to his other beliefs, especially when it comes to real medicine. What he does isn’t skepticism, it’s dogma, and just as dogmatic as the religions he mocks.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Skepticism

Comments (95)

  1. terryp

    equal time for zeus and thor, definitely.

  2. LukeL

    Careful Phil you are using a strawman here. While I am not anti-vac, however I do believe that often new drugs including vaccines are rushed through clinical trials and may not be 100% safe. The vaccines we have for diseases like Polio, Mumps, Tetanus, etc. are excellent. But vaccines for disease which have a very very low mortality rate need to be carefully examined and weighed against the risk of the disease it self.

  3. Andrew

    I got the H1N1 Shot today and I am fine. If you don’t want to get it thats fine but don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for you or your family if you contract it and die. Not sure why there is so much pushback on this, it’s the same as the regular flu shot and so few people have problems it seems stupid to me to risk it in the other direction.

  4. CR

    I originally posted this in the older entry with Jenny MacCarthy getting skewered by a unicorn, but it bears repeating here…

    In other news, science struck another small blow against disease today as I and my family just got our H1N1 vaccinations. Take THAT, disease! Went really well for me in particular… I honestly thought the nurse hadn’t even injected me, as I felt absolutely nothing. One of my kids panicked a little (as kids are wont to do concerning needles), and was so tense, she got a little sore. But otherwise, all went well, and we all have one less thing to worry about now.

  5. Pisces

    Yeah…Maher went the wrong way on this one. I don’t know what he bases his opinion on, but going on TV and telling people not to get the H1N1 shot is at the least dumb and at the most dangerously irresponsible.

  6. Gary Ansorge

    Bills character is a construct, towing the far left anti-authoritarian inclination and taking it to extremes(though he’s a far cry from Stephen Colberts lampoon of the far right). The problem is, he doesn’t even realize that position is just as wooish as the far right and its “pry my gun from my cold, dead hands”. I used to enjoy his atheistic posturing and leftist leaning, until the day he went ballistic about bee colony collapse. After five minutes on the web, I discovered that the same thing occurred in the late 1800s and was probably then, as now, a fraking INFECTION. See, we didn’t have insecticides or gene modified plants in those days, so it wasn’t anything we were doing to the environment(except possibly for acid rain from all the coal burning we were doing). Gee, what ever happened to research? His hysteria was WAY overboard. OMG we’re all doomed ’cause the poor bees won’t be around to pollinate(like they’re the ONLY critters that do that?).
    In Arabia, way back in the ’50s, date production dropped off in the Eastern Province because we were spraying DDT for mosquitos and killing off the palm tree pollinators,ie, FLIES! Took about ten years to figure that out and it was(surprise,surprise) scientists who made the discovery and pursued solutions.

    Ah Bill. You should spend some time over here on the BA Blog. You might learn something about critical thinking. It’s not JUST about being skeptical of authority. Sometimes, authority is fraking right.

    GAry 7

  7. Nekura

    The thing that bothers me most about this debate, is that he says he’s not against vaccines, he just wants people to ask questions about them. And then proceed to ask the same baited, misleading questions again and again even after a valid, rational answer has been provided. Also his “Sixty-five percent of French people don’t want it.” logic.

  8. Gary Ansorge

    2. LukeL:

    1) The death rate from vaccine side effects is less than 1/10,000.
    2) The death rate from 2009 H1N1 is around 1/100

    You figure the value of those relative odds.

    GAry 7

  9. Daniel J. Andrews

    Think you nailed it in one word, Phil. Dogma.

    LukeL: No-one has claimed vaccines are a 100% safe. That is a strawman argument. Not sure what you think Phil’s strawman argument is. btw, no drug is a 100% safe, including aspirin. There will always be some risk, however small.

    Vaccines are magnitudes safer than the disease though. When you’re vaccinated you’re trading a relatively high risk for the much much lower risk.

    Why do you believe new drugs including vaccines are rushed through clinical trials?
    What evidence do you have?
    Do you know the steps and regulations that vaccines (and other meds) need to undergo to be approved for use?
    What steps do you think have been skipped? Evidence?
    Which vaccines did you have in mind?
    Why those vaccines, and again, what is your evidence?

    Also, are you implying that we would keep giving out vaccines even if they weren’t magnitudes safer, or caused as much problem as the disease? That sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory because it would involve countries and researchers around the world.

    You’re not a concern troll, are you?

    Edit: Gary…where did you get your death rate from side-effects of vaccines from? 1 in 10,000 is awfully high. Ones I looked at are about 1 in a million, and even there WHO says it isn’t sure the death was caused by the vaccine as the rate is too low.

    Which vaccines are you talking about? Could you double check your numbers and let us know what vaccine, or vaccines, you were referring to, as well as your source. Thanks, Gary.

  10. James

    LukeL stated: “But vaccines for disease which have a very very low mortality rate need to be carefully examined and weighed against the risk of the disease it self.”

    They have been. And the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. This has been demonstrated repeatedly. H1N1 vaccine is based on the seasonal flu vaccine, which has shown to outweigh the risks for decades. Bill Maher and the rest of the anti-vax, alt-med crowd repeatedly use arguments that have been addressed, just like the creationists. And they are just as wrong.

  11. Old Geezer

    I always love the, “They never interview the expert who has the same erroneous opinion as me” complaint. I keep waiting for them to interview the judge that thinks no one should go to jail, or the ringmaster who doesn’t think there should be clowns. What? No clowns? Then what would Maher do for a living?

  12. Gary Ansorge

    8. Daniel J. Andrews:

    I left that open to see if Luke would actually respond. Note I stated “less than 1/10,000″. It depends on which vaccine and when it was created. Last time I checked, flu vaccines WERE around 1/million but the older, more lethal disease vaccines were crude and sometimes provoked auto-immune reactions(grown in eggs, preserved with penicillin). If you average all those rates together it might come close to 1/10,000(or not. Haven’t actually done the calculations.)

    Let’s see if Luke responds.

    GAry 7

  13. I have always enjoyed watching him on Real Time when he says something profoundly stupid and his guest calmly tears him to pieces. It happened twice in the last two episodes.

  14. @Arthwollipot: It was weird that it was Bill Freakin’ Frist who was tearing him apart. When Frist is the most rational person in the room then something is very very wrong.

  15. HP

    Personally, I suspect that behind Maher’s (and many others’) antivax attitude is good, old-fashioned needle phobia. Phil, if you can ever manage to get yourself on Maher’s show, bring along an unopened, sterile, disposable syringe. Take it out of the pack, remove the needle guard, and ask him to hold it. I bet he can’t.

  16. The call for ‘equal time’ for ‘alternative viewpoints’ is naïve at best, hypocritical at worst. I got the H1N1 vaccine today (I’m a doc so it’s a patient contact thing), and didn’t get any complications. Perhaps if I predictably fail to develop autism or Guillain Barré I should clamor for an interview: why should my personal anecdote be less important? Not enough emotional punch? Well I’m really happy to be vaccinated and I really care about my patients whom I’m protecting this way; I’ll even cry on camera about this if you want me to.
    See?
    Doesn’t work…
    QED.

  17. Josh

    Herd immunity seems to be the one thing that the anti-vaxxers never deal with. And yet, we know that ignoring this fact leads to documented deaths.

  18. @Daniel J. Andrews: Exactly right. I’m allergic to aspirin but do I go around warning people not to take it because their throats might close up? (Hint: no.)

    @Josh: Also exactly right. If I ever meet any of these anti-vax yahoos in person, I will play the “sick card” (which I don’t often pull out, but it’s effective when combined with my youth and my cane) and tell them “Thank you for endangering me, since I can’t get vaccinated, by encouraging people who can get the vaccine not to do it. Thanks for ranking your backseat-driver dogma as more important than my life.”

  19. Beautifully put, Phil. Keep up the great work.

  20. Matt Moore

    The reason they don’t have doctors and (real) scientists with alternative viewpoints is quite simple: there aren’t any.

  21. T.E.L.

    “When the weatherman talks about lightning in your area, should he give equal time to the Zeus theory?”

    This sort of argument must be handled with some care. It’s possible to pervert it so as to strip whole schools of thought of the right to a fair trial in the market of ideas. Consider this particular example, the “Zeuss theory”. No one needs to give it equal time, because just about no one seriously thinks there’s a guy named Zeuss hurling bolts of lightning by hand. If there were a sizable, voting, taxpaying subculture devoted to the worship of the Norse gods, and who have a consistent but alternate working hypothesis of the origin of lightning, might they might arguably be entitled to the political right of having their sentiments represented by the publicly-funded National Weather Service?

  22. Gepinniw

    Hey, lay off Bill Maher. I think the deal with Maher is that he has a general distrust of the medical/health care establishment, and so that just extends to pretty much everything they do, including vaccines. Now I tend to trust vaccines myself, based on their pretty solid track record, but I understand Maher’s general skepticism. I am respectful of the many amazing advances in medical science, but medicine gets way too much credit for improving human health when in fact it has far more to do with improvements in hygiene and nutrition. And let’s face it, the health care industry does have a track record of pushing unnecessary (and frequently harmful) drugs and treatment.
    I’ll forgive Bill Maher this little quirk, given all the incisive commentary he provides.

  23. @Gepinniw A “little quirk” looks a lot more like a “harmful fallacy” from the point of view of someone who relies on herd immunity.

  24. Phil, considering how gung-ho you are about science-based medicine, I find it ironic that the RSS feed of your blog has ads for “My 1 Tip Of A Flat Belly” scams.

  25. tacitus

    Hey, lay off Bill Maher.

    Nope.

    I think the deal with Maher is that he has a general distrust of the medical/health care establishment, and so that just extends to pretty much everything they do, including vaccines.

    It’s far more than that. He just doesn’t have a distrust of the medical establishment, he believes that they are conspiring to keep us unhealthy by providing treatments when they could be providing cures. It’s the classic conspiracy theory position. Not only that but he also has the completely erroneous beliefs that (a) we are constantly poisoning ourselves with our modern lifestyle and (b) that traditional Chinese medicine is far better than western drugs. He is wrong on both counts. Life expectancy is far greater now than it has ever been in history. If we were poisoning ourselves, we would be dying younger, not older.

    Now I tend to trust vaccines myself, based on their pretty solid track record, but I understand Maher’s general skepticism. I am respectful of the many amazing advances in medical science, but medicine gets way too much credit for improving human health when in fact it has far more to do with improvements in hygiene and nutrition. And let’s face it, the health care industry does have a track record of pushing unnecessary (and frequently harmful) drugs and treatment.

    Yes, you can cherry-pick a number of examples of drug companies gone astray, and they are horrendous cases which is why we need oversight that isn’t in their pockets — i.e. an FDA that is working for us and not the drug companies. But to compare the few cases of malfeasance with the thousands of treatments, drugs, and cures that have been discovered in the last few decades is laughable. No system is perfect, and we should continue to strive to improve everything associated with it, but the net benefit is overwhelming, even when you remove hygiene and nutrition from the mix.

    I personally know one young woman who would be dead today were it not for a new drug that just came out a few months before she was diagnosed with a deadly form of leukemia. Thanks to western medicine, she can look forward to graduating from college, marrying her boyfriend and perhaps even starting a family one day.

    I’ll forgive Bill Maher this little quirk, given all the incisive commentary he provides.

    Mahar’s “little quirk” may have cost the life of a child or two, if some parent somewhere was deterred from getting their kid vaccinated after listening to one of his scare stories about western medicine. Careless words cost lives.

  26. @zandperl: I wonder if Discover’s ads are keyword-driven or totally random.

  27. Then Again

    “What he does isn’t skepticism, it’s dogma, and just as dogmatic as the religions he mocks.”

    Pot meet kettle.

    There are an awful lot of atheists like that. Their ranks certainly include the likes of Richard Dawkins & Christopher Hitchens – plus the many pompous, arrogant, snide and deliberately offensive militant atheist posters here.

    Atheism is best defined as a religuious belief in knocking other people’s religious beliefs and vainly worshipping one’s own empty reflection rather than the real God and Lord Jesus Christ.

  28. Gepinniw

    @ tacitus
    What you call conspiracy talk I see as a valid point about a warped system. The fact is, western medicine does profit from sickness. There is, on a very deep level, a desire to keep the current system in place. THAT is what I hear Maher saying.
    You disagree that the modern lifestyle is poisonous? Really? Have you had a look at what governments are spending on health care these days? You don’t think lifestyle plays a huge role in heart disease (#1 killer), cancer or diabetes?
    And please, list some of these “thousands” of drugs and cures that have been discovered in the last few decades. It makes me laugh when I watch the American nightly news shows. Every week there’s a big story about some “miraculous” medical breakthrough (and isn’t it funny how half the ads on those shows are for drugs?).
    Maybe I’m just a little more charitable than you, but when I listen to Maher, I hear a guy who is calling for common sense approach to improving health: Eat well, get some exercise and don’t pollute the air and water.
    Just because he doesn’t want to get vaccinated doesn’t mean he’s a baby killer. Rhetoric like that might make you feel righteous, but it alienates more people than it convinces.

  29. Rhetoric like that might make you feel righteous

    You’d be the expert.

  30. western medicine does profit from sickness

    So does Bill Maher, unless he’s stopped getting paid at some point.

  31. Cory

    Then again says…”Atheism is best defined as a religuious belief in knocking other people’s religious beliefs and vainly worshipping one’s own empty reflection rather than the real God and Lord Jesus Christ.”

    A troll is a troll is a troll is a troll. And not even a very original one at that.

    I think, therefore I am athiest.

  32. Travis

    What the conspiracist “they keep us sick for profit” line of thinking overlooks is that an awful lot of modern medical research is funded by organizations that have no vested interest in keeping us sick. That research gets published just like the rest of it so this entire line of thinking is flawed.

    In regard to the idea that vaccines are rushed: which ones? Compared to what? How is this known to you?

  33. tacitus


    What you call conspiracy talk I see as a valid point about a warped system. The fact is, western medicine does profit from sickness. There is, on a very deep level, a desire to keep the current system in place. THAT is what I hear Maher saying.


    Of course western medicine profits from sickness, or would you deny the right of doctors and medical researchers and investors a right to earn a living. I think you’ll find that Eastern and alternative medical practitioners are making money hand over fist (often for nothing more than empty promises) too. I am a big supporter of a national health service like that in Britain (I have lived under both systems and the British system, for all its flaws, is as good, covers more people, and is far cheaper than the current American system. And half the medical research is conducted and paid for by the US government, so it’s not all greedy capitalists who are doing the work. Western medicine has done more for people’s health in 100 years than Eastern medicine did in thousands of years, and the gap is widening every day.

    You disagree that the modern lifestyle is poisonous? Really? Have you had a look at what governments are spending on health care these days? You don’t think lifestyle plays a huge role in heart disease (#1 killer), cancer or diabetes?


    I thought you would say something like that. I do not deny that obesity and overindulgence is a serious problem. I am overweight myself, and I hardly have the perfect diet. But there is a difference between leading an unhealthy lifestyle and the usual cry that “we are being poisoned.” Prevention *should* be a major aspect of the health care system, and everyone should be encouraged to eat better and exercise more, but what people like Maher claim — that every “unnatural” additive out there is slowly killing us — is simply hysteria.

    And please, list some of these “thousands” of drugs and cures that have been discovered in the last few decades. It makes me laugh when I watch the American nightly news shows. Every week there’s a big story about some “miraculous” medical breakthrough (and isn’t it funny how half the ads on those shows are for drugs?).


    Perhaps because most of the viewers who watch the nightly news are older and like to see stories about new breakthroughs in health care? I am not a fan of drug advertising since it can lead to undue pressure on doctors to prescribe, but that’s no reason at all to condemn the whole system for its imperfections.

    Maybe I’m just a little more charitable than you, but when I listen to Maher, I hear a guy who is calling for common sense approach to improving health: Eat well, get some exercise and don’t pollute the air and water.


    If that’s all he was doing then I would be cheering him on from the front row. He is doing far more than that — he is making irrational and misleading arguments against vaccines and proven cures from western medicine based on false premises and information.

    Just because he doesn’t want to get vaccinated doesn’t mean he’s a baby killer. Rhetoric like that might make you feel righteous, but it alienates more people than it convinces.


    Again, if that’s all he was saying then fine — it’s his life. But have you read the comments to his article. He is a hero of the anti-vaccination and anti-pharma conspiracy theorists, and anything that sustains them is going to lead to more unnecessary deaths of the children of these people.

    P.S. Phil, if you are reading this, please see if you can get the webmasters of the blog to modify the stylesheet of your blog so that italicized block quotes don’t come out bold. Preferably, the blockquotes should be italicized automatically without needing the i tag.

  34. TheBlackCat

    What you call conspiracy talk I see as a valid point about a warped system. The fact is, western medicine does profit from sickness.

    That does not mean there is a conspiracy to keep us sick. That is assuming that all pharmaceutical companies are conspiring to keep the cures off the market. But history shows that cartels like that are extremely ineffective. There is just too much incentive to cheat. All it would take is one company deciding to release one of the real cures and all of the other pharmaceutical companies would be instantly driven out of business. You think the pharmaceutical companies are driven purely by greed, which I agree with, but at the same time you require that they ignore greed entirely and work for the common good of all pharmaceutical companies even to each’s own individual detriment. Those two positions are inherently contradictory.

    Have you had a look at what governments are spending on health care these days?

    Yes, and there is a good reason: we actually have effective treatments for disease. In the past, you were more likely to get sick going to a doctor than you were to get better. They didn’t really know what they were doing, and they didn’t have effective treatments anyway. That is the sort of situation that Maher is suggesting we return to when he tells people to use “traditional Chinese medicine”, or any traditional medicine for that matter.

    Yeah, we are spending a lot more on healthcare now then we did a hundred years ago. That is because there is a lot more we can do to care for peoples’ health then there was a hundred years ago, or 50, or 20.

    You don’t think lifestyle plays a huge role in heart disease (#1 killer), cancer or diabetes?

    Of course it does. Probably the biggest part of our lifestyle that is contributing is the fact that we are living long enough for many of these diseases to become an issue. That was not a problem befor, people died too young for many of them to become a problem. People are also able to survive with them, which they were not able to do before, so you see a lot of people walking around with diseases when in the past they would have just dropped dead.

    And please, list some of these “thousands” of drugs and cures that have been discovered in the last few decades.

    Uh, lets see: recombinant insulin, anti-retroviral drugs for HIV, anti-viral drugs for influenza, light-activated free radical producing chemicals to destroy tumors in specific locations, treatments for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anti-psychotics, who knows how many countless cancer treatments. Many forms of cancer are now highly treatable, some with as high as 90% recovery rate, when before cancer was essentially a death sentence. We can largely cure deafness and cures for blindness are currently being tested. Such treatments do not restore full functionality but people can get remarkably close.

    Maybe I’m just a little more charitable than you, but when I listen to Maher, I hear a guy who is calling for common sense approach to improving health: Eat well, get some exercise and don’t pollute the air and water.

    No, he is telling people to forgo proven life-saving treatments. There is a big difference.

    Just because he doesn’t want to get vaccinated doesn’t mean he’s a baby killer. Rhetoric like that might make you feel righteous, but it alienates more people than it convinces.

    Yes, technically it very well could make him a baby killer, since he could pass on a disease that is relatively harmless to him but lethal to infants. It happens all the time, that is why neonatal units are kept so sterile.

    But that is not what he is doing, he is trying to convince other people not get vaccinated. If he succeeds people will die. We are seeing large resurgences of lethal diseases due to the efforts of people like him, and they are killing people. This is not idle-chit chat, lives are on the line here.

  35. tacitus

    What the conspiracist “they keep us sick for profit” line of thinking overlooks is that an awful lot of modern medical research is funded by organizations that have no vested interest in keeping us sick. That research gets published just like the rest of it so this entire line of thinking is flawed.

    I believe we are spending about $70 billion on medical research in the USA, with government and non-profit foundations being responsible for just under half the total amount, so yes, there is plenty of medical research going on that doesn’t involve the lust for massive profits.

  36. Dave

    @Gary:
    As mentioned, 1/10,000 is much higher than the death rate from flu vaccine.
    And 1/100 is much higher than the death rate from swine flu. The swine flu death rate is more like 1/10,000 (or 2/10,000) than 1/100.

  37. Miko

    Gary Ansorge:

    You’re committing a subtle but significant mathematical error. Let’s take your figures:

    1) The death rate from vaccine side effects is less than 1/10,000.
    2) The death rate from 2009 H1N1 is around 1/100

    You’re assuming that you have a 1/10,000 chance of dying if you take the vaccine and 1/100 if you don’t. This is incorrect:

    To die from the vaccine, I both have to (a) take the vaccine and (b) have side effects. So, in the case where I take the vaccine, I die in 1/10000 cases. If I don’t take the vaccine, we drop to the next case.

    To die from the disease if I don’t take the vaccine, I both need to (a) contract the disease and (b) die from it. Call the probability of catching the disease x for some unknown x (both since I don’t have the data on hand, and since it might be different for different individuals based on lifestyle). Then the actual chances of dying from the disease are x*(1/100) (representing both catching the disease and then dying from it), so if x<1/100 (since 1/100*1/100=1/10,000), I'd be safer not taking the vaccine. Unless there have been 3,000,000 cases of H1N1 in the U.S. (i.e., 1% of the population, which is not the case, as in fact there have been only ~500,000 cases worldwide), we have x<1/100 (at least currently; it may increase). Thus, if your numbers are correct (I don’t think they are), it would be safer to not take the vaccine.


  38. And please, list some of these “thousands” of drugs and cures that have been discovered in the last few decades.

    I had one last week… I had a basal cell carcinoma removed without surgery. It involves a cream and photodynamic therapy (basically shining a light on the spot – details on my blog – enclicken my name). I have a 12 – 15 cm scar from the last time I had a BCC removed 15 years ago, so, yes, there has been some improvement in the last few decades. That is just one example.

  39. Dave

    @Miko:
    For seasonal flu, x is about 1/10, and the death rate is about 1/1000. So, an average person has about a 1/10,000 chance of dying of seasonal flu in a given year. The probability of dying from complications from vaccines is less than 1/1,000,000. You’re much likelier to die from flu than from flu vaccine. Swine flu has infected fewer people than seasonal flu so far this year, but it’s still early in the year and the disease looks to be quite infectious, so I suspect the probability of oink-death is about comparable to the probability of seasonal flu death.

  40. Jay

    I find it pretty funny that Bill Maher wants more studies done on vaccines to prove if they are safe or not, but at the same time he goes to a naturopathic doctor, someone who is pushing stuff that doesn’t have any studies backing up their claims that the things they do are effective.

    Also, it’s hard to take him seriously when he keeps saying things like: “If they went to the CDC Web site and saw what’s in the vaccine — the formaldehyde, the insect repellent, the mercury — shouldn’t they at least get to have the information for themselves?”

    There is like 20 times more formaldehyde in a single banana than there is in all of the vaccines children get combined. Not to mention that those amounts are measured in milligrams, while your body naturally produces up to 50 grams (not milligrams, grams) of formaldehyde per day.

    He mocks 9/11 Truthers and Global Warming deniers, and then pulls out “debate” and tactics right from their playbooks. Misinformation, misrepresentation and intentional distortion of the facts, followed by supporting and promoting the side with ZERO evidence.

  41. From what I’ve been reading the H1N1 death rate is comparable with the seasonal flu so far which I think is a good thing. If it actually kills fewer people even better.

    Are there twice as many dying as there would be if only the seasonal flu was going around? Or is the seasonal flu killing as many people as normal and the swine flu is piggy backing on top of that?

  42. Lukester

    Thank you Phil for being consistent.

  43. tacitus

    The odds of dying from a properly administered vaccine (i.e. with regard to those who are hypersensitive to eggs) is far less than 1/1,000,000. The odds of just contracting the most serious side effect of the flu vaccine (Guillain Barre) is estimated to be, at most, 1/2,000,000 and the death rate from that is 3% at most, so you’re talking about a risk of perhaps 1/60,000,000.

    Typical flu seasons see about 30,000 deaths in the USA annually, so assuming H1N1 is no worse, that’s about 1/10,000 Americas who will die from the flu this flu season. (Obviously susceptibility varies from person to person, but the magnitude of the risk doesn’t change much.)

    So, 1/10,000 deaths from the flu vs 1/60,000,000 deaths from the flu vaccine.

    One would think the right choice was obvious, right?

    The problem is that few people can assess risk accurately. Even though I understand the risks from catching the flu, this is the first year in a long time I have bothered to get the vaccine. Even a number like 1/10,000 is hard to appreciate.

  44. Oh, and I forgot to mention… since I read the headline I’ve had Billy Idol just going round and round in my head. Make him stop. Please.

  45. tacitus

    Are there twice as many dying as there would be if only the seasonal flu was going around? Or is the seasonal flu killing as many people as normal and the swine flu is piggy backing on top of that?

    The seasonal flu season (!) doesn’t really get going until after Christmas. The only flu around at the moment in most places is H1N1, so it’s too early to tell what will happen.

  46. @tacticus
    So you northern hemispheroids are already having an atypical flu season even if the death rate is lower or similar to a normal season.

  47. Daniel J. Andrews

    And let’s face it, the health care industry does have a track record of pushing unnecessary (and frequently harmful) drugs and treatment.

    Big bad pharma. Paid shills. Doctors and scientists hiding the truth and you can’t trust them. People forget that we know about these things because the very system they distrust and the people they think are hiding the truth are the ones who bring it to light. Ironic really. It isn’t the alt-med people finding these things, it is the science-based medicine researchers they think are dishonest, bribed, naive, misled, incompetent etc.

    If there really was a conspiracy some of the mistakes made by pharma and doctors would still be hidden. After hiding “a” cure for cancer or hiding the fact that vaccines are causing illness and problems around the world then covering up the thalidomide scandal would have been relatively easy.

    Gary…one website I looked at tracked flu deaths. E.g. Canada was 1/160, US 1/130, Saudi Arabia 1/23. However, that was based just on the people who caught the flu, not the overall population. Canada has 30 million people, 198 confirmed flu deaths.

    And that 1/160 rate was most likely based on comparing H1N1 death rates with confirmed H1N1 infections. Since they stopped testing for H1N1 in the general population many infected people just stayed home till they felt better, and didn’t report to a doctor. Therefore, even that number 1/160 is much higher than the actual deaths from infection.

  48. Damon

    Funny, I thought Maher’s post was incredibly articulate, reasoned and sincere– and when it comes down to it, isn’t that all we can really ask from a role-model? Above all else, be sincere.

    As usual, your fervent “antivax” (there’s no ‘x’ is vaccination) paranoia is noted, and ignored. Please stop treating us readers like children who have no familiarity with critical thinking; it’s condescending, and what’s worse, it gives worse elitist genetic-cleansing mini-hitler types a soapbox from which to spout their jerk-me-off holier-than-thou BS.

    I think your addiction to pop-skepticism has blinded you (not the rest of the world apparently) to some of your more primal, but no less important, instincts; suspicion for one, suspicion of evidence and alternate agendas, suspicion of imagination, and by extension, preparedness. You’re barking up the wrong tree.

  49. Beelzebud

    Some people hold Michael Shermer up as an icon of skepticism as he sings the praises of Ayn Rand and claims that we need no regulation of the economic sector. He obviously ignores skepticism when it comes to economics, always siding with people that think there shouldn’t be any regulation of wall street at all.

    As long as we’re talking about purity…

  50. @Damon
    isn’t that all we can really ask from a role-model? Above all else, be sincere.

    No, we ask them to be accurate. The road to hell and all that…

  51. tacitus

    @Damon: I have no doubt Maher is articulate and sincere, but reasoned? Have you read the critiques linked in BA’s post? Mahar quotes and references people from the lunatic fringe of medical science to make his points. You can make just about anything *sound* reasonable but reasoned this is not.

    In case you haven’t noticed, there are hundreds of pressure groups and activist organizations campaigning for all kinds of badly needed reforms of the health care and the medical industry out there — many of them with entirely sensible and reasoned objectives that would help us all if they were implemented. Mahar isn’t one of them. If his ideas were implemented it would set medical science back decades as people resorted to mostly worthless “traditional” treatments instead of the proven treatments and cures that are available to us today.

  52. tacitus

    So you northern hemispheroids are already having an atypical flu season even if the death rate is lower or similar to a normal season.

    Well, in the sense that H1N1 cases are spiking months before the usual flu season spike. It remains to be seen what happens when the usual flu season rolls around. The death rate is lower than normal but it is hitting the young harder than usual. The elderly are usually the worst affected but seem to have been spared by H1N1.

  53. As for the people asking more astringent controls over new drugs, there are two things: 1) the 2009 winter flu shot is not completely new; 2) controls must not be exceeded to those truly needed, because unneeded controls mean more unneeded animal experimentation and more unneeded animal suffering.

  54. I live in an isolated community where we often find ourselves having to act to care for ourselves and each other in emergencies due to our unique geography. Our local CERT/Red Cross group along with our tiny local health clinic printed up a colorful poster with emergency information for our residents advising them what to do in case they get flu symptoms. It has phone numbers of the clinic and local individuals who will help them if they get sick, advice on stages of the flu symptoms and categories of individuals most at risk from complications. It doesn’t even mention the H1N1 vaccine, yet now we are fighting a daily battle as the rabid cadre of anti-vaxxers even here in this tiny town have begun to tear down our public health posters to replace them with their own paranoid rhetoric. They don’t even read what they are censoring. They see “flu” and they read “conspiracy” and immediately act in ways causing very real harm to others. So ignorant! So self-righteous! Its very sad.

  55. Gonzo

    If there were a sizable, voting, taxpaying subculture devoted to the worship of the Norse gods, and who have a consistent but alternate working hypothesis of the origin of lightning, might they might arguably be entitled to the political right of having their sentiments represented by the publicly-funded National Weather Service?

    Ah, yes. Good ol’ democracy by the fringe minority. Someone ask the Tea Partiers how that’s working out. Though they might possibly be entitled to have their ridiculous and wrong viewpoints debunked by the scientists who work at NWS.

  56. shawmutt

    @Beelzebud

    “Some people hold Michael Shermer up as an icon of skepticism…”

    I don’t hold anyone up as an icon. However, I certainly give what he says more weight than what wacky Maher says. At least Shermer, Plait, et al go out of their way to provide information that can be independantly verified.

    “…and claims that we need no regulation of the economic sector. He obviously ignores skepticism when it comes to economics, always siding with people that think there shouldn’t be any regulation of wall street at all.”

    Just because you don’t agree with someone on one topic doesn’t mean they are incorrect on other topics. I don’t agree with Plait’s hatred of snow-covered cars–that doesn’t mean I’ll disregard anything else he has to say, provided I can independently verify it.

  57. Or as Twain said, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

  58. José

    @Damon
    Please stop treating us readers like children who have no familiarity with critical thinking.

    You might be familiar with it, but you’re not using it. Out of curiosity, which commenters do you think are the elitist, genetic-cleansing, mini-hitler types?

  59. The “Zeus Theory”? Shouldn’t that be the “Zeus Hypothesis”? :)

  60. @Then Again,

    Yes, there are plenty of athiests whose only mission in life seems to be knocking those who believe in God. However, there are also plenty who are happy with their own beliefs/lack thereof and don’t feel the need to “preach” to others about the lack of a God.

    Similarly, there are plenty of religious folks who seem to think their life’s mission is to “save” everyone by getting them to worship their particular form of religion. However, there are also plenty who are comfortable with their own religious beliefs and feel no need to proselytize in an attempt to win conversions.

    To describe all athiests or religious folks based on the actions of those who preach their beliefs seems unfair. (For the record, I am semi-religious and feel no need to preach my religion. I’ll discuss it calmly with people if they want, but not in an attempt to convert them.)

  61. Flying sardines

    Nice header / title there.

    You can amost hear the anti-vax sheeple baa-ing. ;-)

    Just get your swine flu shots and get over it. That’s all I got to say on this one.

    Except …

    When the weatherman talks about lightning in your area, should he give equal time to the Zeus theory?

    Well that would make the weather forecast a mite more entertaining!

    “There’s a 60 % chance of Thor flying overhead and chucking lightning bolts and the rain gods apparently sadder and wetter than ever. Hopefully, Odysseus or his jealous crew will unbag the other winds and not just keep the one Aeolus gave him to get to Ithaca so we can have a change of wind direction, Friday!” ;-)

    (With apologies to the original Homer for blatantly stealing from the Odyssey.)

  62. Gary Ansorge

    36. Dave and 37. Miko:

    Y’All are correct. Please note however, I put that little bit of foolishness out there to encourage a reasoned response from LukeL, just to see if he was anything but our typical troll. All he had to do was look at the numbers and he could have jumped on them as a wash. Since he never responded I take that as good evidence he’s not a real human,,,

    The only reason I have for not getting the 2009 H1N1 vaccine is because I’m a member of that population sub-set least likely to be affected by the flu,ie, I’ve seen it before, thus the shot I might have received goes to someone who really needs it. Last time I looked we only had enough vaccine in circulation to vaccinate half the population and that should go to the most susceptible people, children, pregnant/lactating mothers and others with serious underlying disorders. After they’re taken care of I may, should the situation warrant, get mine.

    GAry 7

  63. T.E.L.

    Gonzo Said:

    “Ah, yes. Good ol’ democracy by the fringe minority. Someone ask the Tea Partiers how that’s working out. Though they might possibly be entitled to have their ridiculous and wrong viewpoints debunked by the scientists who work at NWS.”

    All you’ve done is to say that if other people think differently, then they can go to Hell.

    You know, this isn’t a matter of being correct. It’s about how, in a free society, the correct school of thought doesn’t have a monopoly on ideas. The correct theory of how the universe works must pay its way just like any other. Scientists have no business lobbying for an official worldview. THAT would be unscientific.

    If you want only the correct worldview to be available to the masses, then nothing can be offered to them, because I guarantee that not a single scientific law or theory is absolutely correct, and that includes the the ones with the best track records of experimental success. The historical trend in science is that there’s always more to be discovered. There’s always a more accurate, more comprehensive way of understanding Nature waiting to be discovered. There is no official worldview in science. Does one worldview get more attention from scientists than others? Yes, usually. That’s because each individual weighed it and considers it to be viable. Getting more votes in a de facto way doesn’t mean it’s a voteable issue. Each person decides for itself. Is there a guy in the sky hurling lightning bolts by hand? I don’t expect so, but perish the thought that someone who believes in that sort of thing should be disenfranchised.

  64. @Gary Ansorge,

    Actually, there’s another good reason not to get the H1N1 vaccine: Egg allergies or some other medical condition that means you can’t get vaccines in general or the flu vaccine in particular.

    Although, my niece has an egg allergy and she’s getting the shot. Her doctors are breaking it up into 3 shots to reduce the allergic reaction. Not sure how wise that is, but I’m not about to question their doctors. They know her case a lot better than I do.

  65. Beasjt

    There is of course only one god of thunder and that is Thor.

  66. Gary Ansorge

    66. Beasjt:

    You know why they call him Thor, don’t you? It’s because he spent so much time playing with his Hand Maidens,,,

    Gary 7

  67. As a general vaccine reference, I’ll just add that people should click on my name to get to antiantivax.flurf.net. I have a section on the flu vaccine, as well as other specific vaccines, vaccines in general and the myths and misinformation surrounding them. CDC, FDA and AAP are also good sources of information.

    On the whole “Big Evil PharmaTM” bit, what always gets me is that these people think of pharma companies as some single, monolithic entity, rather than a collection of lots and lots of human beings, many of whom are either directly affected by the company’s products or are related to or know someone who is. They seem to think that, down to the very last individual, they are all morally bankrupt automatons out to destroy the world. Now that’s insulting and morally bankrupt.

  68. Roger G

    What no one is asking, and what should be asked is:

    1- Why the sudden increase in Autism?

    2- In some cases, the child appears to be developing normally and then after the vaccines are administered the child exhibits autistic behavior. Are all the vaccines in combo the cause, or is there something else in the environment that could be linked to Autism?

    3- Could it be that the rapid-fire editing of TV and Movies that causes convulsions in certain people can, if exposed to young developing minds, cause a “short-circuit” during crucial stages that manifests itself later as autism?

    4- Is it something environmental, some sort of food additive that wasn’t used as widely if at all 15 – 20 years ago?

    5- Could it be that there is something going on during pregnancy, that would have caused a miscarriage before, but with better care, is causing these children to be born and live long enough to exhibit autism?

    6- Could it be that autism rates have always been what they are, and that until recently, it’s been mis-diagnosed or classified?

    I truly hope that someone somewhere is focusing on the issues and questions rather than the circus act of Maher et. al..

  69. 67. Gary Ansorge Says:
    November 18th, 2009 at 10:01 am

    66. Beasjt:

    You know why they call him Thor, don’t you? It’s because he spent so much time playing with his Hand Maidens,,,

    Gary 7

    Deserves this

    J/P=?

  70. Eric H.

    “When the weatherman talks about lightning in your area, should he give equal time to the Zeus theory?”

    That is probably the best single line that I have read all month.

  71. ndt

    ThenAgain, who are these “militant” atheists you’re talking about? Are they advocating violence to spread atheism? If not, then they aren’t “militant”. Proclaiming that there is no evidence for the existence of gods and that it’s irrational to believe in them isn’t being militant, it’s being outspoken.

  72. Scenario_dave

    I believe that most of the antivax nonsence is motivated strictly by emotions. Unfortunaty, the only thing that is going to stop this is when someone famous or their child dies from a disease that could be prevented. I can just see Movie Star A going on Oprah at the same time as an antivaxer so that the movie star can cry about his/her dead child and yell at the other antivax celeb that he/she killed his/her child.

  73. Gary Ansorge

    I’d just like to note, we still have that pesky H5N1 virus infecting birds world wide. Luckily it hasn’t(yet) mutated to a human contagion but you know how evolution works. It appears there are numerous economic rationales for nation states to ignore bugs. I found this link after getting my laughs on at the Onion.

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/17/the_great_flu_cover_up

    69. John Paradox:

    The “deserves this” link didn’t do anything. Try Again???

    GAry 7

  74. mike burkhart

    Bill Maher is no atheist he dose believe in a God it’s called Bill Maher yes he thinks he is God and wants every one to worship him in fact thats why he preachs like this to get more worshipers and thats why he knocks religon because in his mind hes the only true God and when his show gets cancled he will pass out the poison kool aid . I think most people on tv are stuck up and think there better then everyond else the only thing that Bill Maher is scared of is bad rateings and so is every one else on tv .By the way you can’t give equal time to Zeus there are no temples around to sacrifice to him may be because no one worships the Greak Gods any more as a Catholic I find the one God is plenty I do’nt nead a pathion

  75. Gary Ansorge

    74. mike:

    Just because I knock Bill for being a faux skeptic doesn’t mean I think he’s a dufus. He’s pretty bright but it is obvious he has no actual training in scientific methodology.

    ,,,and I seriously doubt he thinks of himself as a god.

    By the way, mike, does your computer have a spell checker?

    Gary 7

  76. Charlie Foxtrot

    “By the way, mike, does your computer have a spell checker?”

    and punctuation?

  77. coolstar

    Beelzebud: EXCELLENT point on Shermer, I was wondering when someone was going to comment on what a nutball he really is. Nutballs like that are all too common in the “skeptical” community. He falls into the same trap as Maher: just because he happens to be right on some things, he thinks that gives him the right to pontificate on things he knows nothing about.
    Tacitus: I would place the odds on a “bad result” on the H1N1 vaccine at about 1/200 based on your numbers, since Guillain-Barre syndrome is definitely a bad result. That’s still pretty low of course, but just high enough that NOT getting the H1N1 vaccine if you’re in a low risk group is not really irrational. Plus, a lot of people remember the really bad, comparatively speaking, swine flu vaccine of 1976 and thus the scale gets tipped a little more (that’s at least the popular perception of that vaccine, and that’s the important thing for understanding some of the fear of the present vaccine) . Add in phobias about needles, and it’s not surprising that lots of smart people chose not to be vaccinated. The chances of spreading the flu to someone else who IS in a HIGH risk group doesn’t change this much, as long as you take reasonable precautions and don’t live with high risk individuals.

  78. Cairnos

    “If there were a sizable, voting, taxpaying subculture devoted to the worship of the Norse gods, and who have a consistent but alternate working hypothesis of the origin of lightning, might they might arguably be entitled to the political right of having their sentiments represented by the publicly-funded National Weather Service?”

    Umm, I think you’ve missed something. There is a sizable, voting, taxpaying subculture in the US that believes in the christian God but you still don’t expect to hear:
    “When asked what conditions contributed to the severity of hurricane Katrina, the meteorological service stated “Basically God just fu**ing hates New Orleans because it’s a den of sin”"

  79. Oh, come now! Wait til “Religulous II: The Second Coming” is made, and Maher will be a hero again…

  80. What most disappoints me about Maher’s position on this matter is that he used to criticize the Bush administration for ignoring science. Yet here he is doing the same thing himself..

  81. John Paradox:

    The “deserves this” link didn’t do anything. Try Again???

    grumble, grumble, grumble……

    Time for to go to bed…

    Geeze, and I still messed up the HTML… should work now…..

    J/P=?

  82. Buzz Parsec

    coolstar, where does the 1/200 come from? Or was this a typo for 1/200,000,000? Or is it 1/200th the likelihood for getting a bad result if you are vaccinated vs. getting a bad result if you are not? In other words, you are 200 times as likely to die if you don’t get a shot as you are to have some sort of bad reaction to the flu vaccine? (Versus the 6,000 times worse that Tacitus implied?)

    There’s lots of different ways of looking at things that give different numerical results (do you include the people who get vaccinated but the vaccine does take, and they get the flu and die anyway? Do you include simple deaths, or do you multiply by the number of years the person died prematurely?) These things skew the statistics but not the basic fact that it is better to get vaccinated than to not get vaccinated (unless you are allergic to eggs.)

    If you are an epidemiologist trying to determine the best vaccination strategy, all these complications matter. Otherwise, just apply the simple rule: if vaccine is available to you, take it!

  83. Travis

    “1- Why the sudden increase in Autism?”

    There isn’t. At least not in the numbers that some present. There are more diagnoses of Autism but that is not the same thing.

    “2- In some cases, the child appears to be developing normally and then after the vaccines are administered the child exhibits autistic behavior. Are all the vaccines in combo the cause, or is there something else in the environment that could be linked to Autism?”

    Coincidence. Autism is actually observed in many children prior to the combo vaccination but most parents don’t notice it until the child hits the age when they become more communicative and that, coincidentally, is when the combo is given.

    “3- Could it be that the rapid-fire editing of TV and Movies that causes convulsions in certain people can, if exposed to young developing minds, cause a “short-circuit” during crucial stages that manifests itself later as autism?”

    I doubt there is any correlation.

    “4- Is it something environmental, some sort of food additive that wasn’t used as widely if at all 15 – 20 years ago?”

    I, personally, don’t believe there is any environmental toxin factor at play with Autism. Boys get it twice as often as girls and that indicates it is most likely genetic.

    “5- Could it be that there is something going on during pregnancy, that would have caused a miscarriage before, but with better care, is causing these children to be born and live long enough to exhibit autism?”

    That is part of one school of thought regarding the conditions origins.

    “6- Could it be that autism rates have always been what they are, and that until recently, it’s been mis-diagnosed or classified?”

    Bingo! How many kids get the diagnosis of plain vanilla retardation these days? Very, very few compared to previous times. How many get diagnosed with Autism? Much more.

  84. I lost a friend to complications from influenza not too long ago, which definately reinforces my recent change from “flu is mostly harmless” to “I should probably get vaccinated.” (That change came primarily from your blogging Phil, so keep it up, you’re definitely doing some good.)

    I actually missed my shot at H1N1 vaccination today. There was a free vaccination drive being held on my campus that I found out about a half-hour after it closed down.

    Still waiting for the vaccine to become more widely available in my area. :(

  85. @Roger G,

    Autism rates aren’t really increasing. We’re just getting better at detecting cases all along the Autism spectrum. There are people with Autism who are very high functioning (e.g. Asberger’s) and there are people who can’t function at all in normal society and then there are tons of people in between. Previously, we might have only identified the very severe cases. Now, we’re finding more all along the spectrum. Plus, cases that might have previously been counted as “retarded” etc. are now being classified as Autism. So while it looks like rates are increasing, they really aren’t.

  86. @coolstar

    Take a look at my site, antiantivax.flurf.net (linked in my name). I address the 1976 issue there.

    Even with the 1976 vaccine, the rate of GBS was only very slightly higher than the regular background rate of GBS in the general population. Since then, despite several studies looking to see whether flu vaccine has a higher risk of GBS, no elevated risk has been found.

  87. Funny thing is he is for the new health care bill but doesn’t trust the government enough to give him a shot!!!!!

  88. Nigel Depledge

    LukeL (2) said:

    Careful Phil you are using a strawman here. While I am not anti-vac, however I do believe that often new drugs including vaccines are rushed through clinical trials and may not be 100% safe. The vaccines we have for diseases like Polio, Mumps, Tetanus, etc. are excellent. But vaccines for disease which have a very very low mortality rate need to be carefully examined and weighed against the risk of the disease it self.

    So in what way is Phil using a strawman argument?

    Is he claiming something that Maher does not, and attacking that false claim? If not, then he ain’t using a strawman.

  89. Nigel Depledge

    Gepinniw (22) said:

    I am respectful of the many amazing advances in medical science, but medicine gets way too much credit for improving human health when in fact it has far more to do with improvements in hygiene and nutrition.

    Poppycock!

    Hygiene and nutrition have a role to play in health. Sailors no longer die of scurvy and children are commonly free of ricketts, but medicine, and vaccination in particular, have played a far larger role in general improvements to health.

  90. Nigel Depledge

    Then Again (27) said:

    Pot meet kettle.

    Please cite specific examples wherein Phil is dogmatic instead of sceptical, as you claim here.

    There are an awful lot of atheists like that. Their ranks certainly include the likes of Richard Dawkins & Christopher Hitchens – plus the many pompous, arrogant, snide and deliberately offensive militant atheist posters here.

    Please cite examples in which Dawkins and Hitchens have been pompous, arrogant, snide and deliberately offensive.

    I have personally observed very very few atheist commenters here who have been deliberately offensive.

    Perhaps what you interpret as a deliberate attempt to offend you is simply a case of someone being blunt, and you taking offense because you fail to respect atheism as a valid viewpoint. I cannot recall a comment of yours here in which you have ever respected an atheist’s right to reject the concept of god.

    Atheism is best defined as a religuious belief in knocking other people’s religious beliefs and vainly worshipping one’s own empty reflection rather than the real God and Lord Jesus Christ.

    This is just rubbish.

    The vast majority of atheists – yes, including those that comment here – do not knock religious beliefs, except where those religious beliefs are plainly at variance with reality. Atheism is best defined as the word is rooted – living without a god. Atheists don’t worship anything.

    Besides, if people believe in something that is extraordinary, but for which there is not the slightest shred of evidence, why should that belief not be knocked occasionally?

    Can you prove to me that your belief in god is qualitatively different from your belief in, for instance, the existence of gravity? I suspect not. The biggest difference between the two is that a belief in gravity may be tested, whereas a belief in a god may not. Why must other people respect your choice to believe something for which there is no evidence?

  91. Nigel Depledge

    Geppiniw (28) said:

    What you call conspiracy talk I see as a valid point about a warped system. The fact is, western medicine does profit from sickness.

    So what? So do all the alt-med charlatans. In fact, it can be argued that alt-med has far larger profit margins, because they don’t have to bother will all those pesky regulatory hoop-jumping exercies, like proving their stuff works!

    Do you similarly abhor agriculture because it makes a profit from people’s hunger?

    There is, on a very deep level, a desire to keep the current system in place. THAT is what I hear Maher saying.

    For good reason. Most of the time it works. Vaccination is probably the single most successful medical intervention we have.

    Besides, the current system contains mechanisms for continual improvement. Do we still use chloroform and ether as anaesthetics? No, because they were too dangerous. Do we still use thalidomide to treat morning sickness? No, because it caused developmental issues. Do we now have experimental treatments for many different types of cancer? Yes. Did we have these 30 years ago? No.

    You disagree that the modern lifestyle is poisonous? Really? Have you had a look at what governments are spending on health care these days? You don’t think lifestyle plays a huge role in heart disease (#1 killer), cancer or diabetes?

    Lifestyle plays a role in the conditions you quote, but that doesn’t mean that the average modern lifestyle is “poisonous”. What it means is, we all need to get more exercise and eat more fresh vegetables. We have known this for 50+ years.

    Living in a free society, people have chosen not to do these things. Getting regular exercise is a matter of hard work and commitment. It’s far easier to put it off than to get up and do it.

    And please, list some of these “thousands” of drugs and cures that have been discovered in the last few decades.

    At least 20 different antibiotics. Several antifungals. Every single frakking antiviral compound in existence (there are about 25 now, IIUC) – 20 years ago, we had none at all. Most modern surgical procedures have been developed in the last 4 or 5 decades (or are refinements of stuff that was already known). Open heart surgery was unthinkable 50 years ago.

    If you really want details of this, go and look it up. You’re the one criticising modern medical practice. Therefore, it behooves you to inform yourself before you (metaphorically) open your mouth.

    It makes me laugh when I watch the American nightly news shows. Every week there’s a big story about some “miraculous” medical breakthrough (and isn’t it funny how half the ads on those shows are for drugs?).

    Why do you find the alleviation of suffering humorous?

    Maybe I’m just a little more charitable than you, but when I listen to Maher, I hear a guy who is calling for common sense approach to improving health: Eat well, get some exercise and don’t pollute the air and water.

    Which will always help. But these activities cannot do anything about transmissible diseases such as flu. Swine flu predominantly kills the young and healthy, in fact (this is one of the differences it shows from normal flu strains).

    Just because he doesn’t want to get vaccinated doesn’t mean he’s a baby killer. Rhetoric like that might make you feel righteous, but it alienates more people than it convinces.

    But he’s not merely saying “I choose not to but you should consult your physician” is he? Maher has advocated that people in general should avoid vaccination. TV is a sufficiently influential medium that people will listen to him in preference to their physician all too often. If his influence causes a reduction in herd immunity (because people who might have chosen to be vaccinated decide not to get the jab), then far more people will contract the disease and more people will die that would otherwise have been the case.

    So, rhetoric it may be, but it ain’t far from the truth. Based on the epidemiology of swine flu, if Maher persuades enough people to not get the swine flu vaccination shot, he will have caused the death of several teenagers or young adults.

  92. Nigel Depledge

    Damon (48) said:

    Please stop treating us readers like children who have no familiarity with critical thinking;

    Demonstrate some familiarity with critical thinking and then we’ll stop treating you like a child. Quid pro quo.

    it’s condescending, and what’s worse, it gives worse elitist genetic-cleansing mini-hitler types a soapbox from which to spout their jerk-me-off holier-than-thou BS.

    But there are people here, me laddio, who really do know a lot more than you do about this stuff. People who have, through dint of hard work and intellectual effort, earned your respect, not your scorn.

    I think your addiction to pop-skepticism has blinded you (not the rest of the world apparently) to some of your more primal, but no less important, instincts; suspicion for one, suspicion of evidence and alternate agendas,

    Suspicion of evidence is called “paranoia”. Perhaps you should go look that up.

    suspicion of imagination, and by extension, preparedness. You’re barking up the wrong tree.

    The studies have been done many times. The evidence is clear. The benefits of vaccination substantially outweigh the risks of no vaccination. This is what we techno-elitists refer to as a “fact”. If you cannot deal with that, then your problem is not with Phil or any commenter here, it is with reality.

  93. the dude

    Sure is troll in this thread.

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