It is with reluctance that I decided to write about this topic again, given how many times I’ve written about it over the last decade, both here and at my not-so-super-secret other blog and given how little his fans seems to care when I do. I’m referring to the antivaccine stylings of comedian and political pundit Bill Maher, something I’ve been writing about for over a decade now. Indeed, a little more than five years ago, I stirred up a bit of trouble in the skeptical community through some particularly harsh criticisms of Bill Maher, in particular of the Atheist Alliance International’s (AAI) decision to award Maher the Richard Dawkins Award. More than once, I’ve likened giving Bill Maher an award that lists “advocates increased scientific knowledge” anywhere in its criteria, not to mention being named after Richard Dawkins, to giving Jenny McCarthy an award for public health, given that, at least when it comes to medicine, Maher is anti-science to the core. Along the way, I’ve ruffled the feathers of some of both Dawkins’ and Maher’s fans.
Arguably Maher reached his peak of antivaccine advocacy through his weekly HBO talk show, Real Time With Bill Maher, five years ago, when the H1N1 pandemic was going on and efforts by public health officials to persuade people to get vaccinated against H1N1 influenza. Indeed, it got so bad that not only were his own guests, such as Bill Frist and Bob Costas, were openly dissing him on his own show for his antivaccine views. Perhaps my favorite example came from Bob Costas, who in response to a wild claim by Maher that he doesn’t worry about getting the flu, even in the crowded confines of an airplane because of his superior lifestyle that apparently made him immune, blurted out, “Oh, come on, Superman!” Even worse, a friend of Maher, Michael Shermer, published an Open Letter to Bill Maher on Vaccinations in—of all places—The Huffington Post, which led Maher to respond, both on his show (in which he referred to vaccination as a “risky medical procedure”) and in a post on HuffPo himself entitled Vaccination: A Conversation Worth Having. It was, as a certain “friend of the blog” put it, a pyre of stupidity.
After early 2010, however, Maher seemed to drop (or at least deemphasize) his promotion of antivaccine viewpoints and quackery on Real Time, to the point where I seldom felt “inspired” to write about Maher, with no posts here primarily about him and his antivaccine stylings and only a precious few over at my not-so-super-secret other blog. Would that it would have stayed that way! Unfortunately, on Friday, Maher “topped” himself, surpassing nearly any antivaccine segment he’s done since he was last seen asserting, “I would never get a swine flu vaccine or any vaccine.” On Friday, he had Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on his show. Yes, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the man whose unhinged conspiracy theories about thimerosal in vaccines causing autism, published in Salon.com and Rolling Stone ten years ago, arguably sucked me into writing about the myth that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism and about the broader myth that vaccines cause autism. Oddly enough, at least one pundit seemed surprised at the depths of antivaccine nonsense to which Maher would descend. He shouldn’t have been. Maher’s been at this well over a decade, at least since I started paying attention.
In any event, it turns out that, after over five years of not saying that much about vaccines and autism, RFK, Jr., too, has resurrected his antivaccine conspiracy theories, first with a book entitled Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: Mercury Toxicity in Vaccines and the Political, Regulatory, and Media Failures That Continue to Threaten Public Health released last summer and now more recently with what could be considered the documentary based on the book, Trace Amounts: Autism, Mercury, and the Hidden Truth.
How bad was RFK, Jr.’s appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher? You’ll see in a moment, but I’ll give you a brief preview. It was so bad that not only did Maher happily let RFK, Jr. in essence spew every major antivaccine talking point about thimerosal, with his favorite conspiracy theories sprinkled in, but Maher actually ended up looking somewhat reasonable by comparison by disingenuously asking softball “skeptical” questions about the movie. Personally, I would have asked RFK, Jr. why he’s been going around California speaking in opposition to SB 277, a bill currently under consideration that would eliminate nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates, in apocalyptic terms, even making analogies to the Holocaust? But, then, that’s just me. Let’s step back and look at how Maher’s resurrected his promotion of antivaccine pseudoscience this season.
Prelude and buildup
This isn’t the first time this season that Maher has let his antivaccine freak flag fly again, although it’s the most egregious. Why Maher decided to resurrect his antivaccine stylings on his show this season is an interesting question to consider, but I suspect part of it might be because this year’s flu vaccine was disappointing in its efficacy. Because every year health officials at the World Health Organization basically have to make an educated guess based on the epidemiology of which flu strains were in circulation several months in advance, the efficacy of the flu vaccine varies from year to year based on how good the match between the strains included in the vaccine and the strains actually circulating during the flu season turn out to be. This most recent flu season, unfortunately, the due to antigenic drift, the match was not very good, and the vaccine efficacy was low compared to prior years.
Consequently, on the January 16 episode of Real Time Maher interviewed Dr. Atul Gawande about flu vaccine efficacy, challenging Dr. Gawande with questions such as, “It’s a big scam to make money, but flu vaccines are bullshit. I was right, wasn’t I, Doc?” and responding to Gawande’s patient explanation of how the antigens for the flu vaccine are chosen every year with, “Meaning if you’re guessing what would work and you don’t know and you’re going to inject that into your body, that’s a good plan?” Maher, as usual, revealed himself to be as antiscience as they come with respect to the flu vaccine on that episode, or, as I like to put it, still an antivaccine wingnut after all these years.
Three weeks later, on the February 6 episode, Maher revisited the topic of vaccines:
Hilariously, in the introduction to the segment, Maher tried to claim the mantle of science—and failed:
When I start these conversations, I always have to say: I’m not an antivaxer. I never have been. I’m an anti-flu shot guy I think that’s bullshit, and the fact that it was only 23% effective this week bears that out. But if Ebola was airborne, I’d get the vaccine tomorrow.
It got even worse when Maher immediately started complaining about the “attitude of the media,” which he characterized as “just a lot of shut the fuck up.” (Apologies to those sensitive to profanity, but this is a direct quote.) He even compared media coverage of vaccines to the first weeks of the Iraq war. This led Marianne Williamson, who ran for Congress last year and is some sort of author and “spiritual teacher” to chime in that the implication was that “if you had any skepticism whatsoever, you were antiscience.” That’s a nice straw man, because it’s not skepticism about vaccines that produces charges of being antiscience, it’s “skepticism” without evidence supported with pseudoscientific arguments. By that standard, Bill Maher has demonstrated himself time and time again to be anti-science with respect to vaccines, even though he views himself as totally pro-science. So Maher lapped this up, particularly when Williamson followed it up with the self-serving Maher-approved observation that there is a “difference between having skepticism about science and having skepticism about the pharmaceutical industry.”
This is a tactic taken straight from the playbook of the antivaccine movement, to conflate (disingenuously) reasonable suspicion of the pharmaceutical industry’s previous misdeeds with suspicions of vaccines. Indeed, Maher and RFK, Jr. revisit this strategy in the most recent episode, as you will see. They are not the same thing, nor is one as reasonable as the other. Whatever misdeeds the pharmaceutical industry might be guilty of, they do not cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of vaccines. There is plenty of independent evidence to support the conclusions that vaccines do not cause autism, they do not cause neurodevelopmental disorders, and they do not cause sudden infant death syndrome, allergic conditions, or any of the other problems frequently ascribed to them by antivaccinationists. Also, the claim that you “can’t question” is a favorite cry of the crank.
Maher even made this ludicrous analogy:
The analogy that I see all the time is that if you ask any questions, you are the same thing as a global warming denier. I think this is a very bad analogy, because I don’t think all science is alike. I think climate science is rather straightforward because you’re dealing with the earth. It’s a rock. I’m not saying I know how to deal with it, but climate scientists, from the very beginning, have pretty much said the same thing, and their predictions have pretty much come true. It’s atmospherics, and it’s geology, and chemistry. That’s not true of the medical industry. I mean, they’ve had to retract a million things because the human body is infinitely more mysterious. People get cancer, and doctors just don’t know why. They just don’t know why, and they don’t know how to fix it. And they put mercury in my teeth. My father had ulcers and they treated it wrong when I was a kid. Thalidomide. I mean I could go on about how many times they have been wrong. To compare those two science is, I think, just wrong.
Seriously. This is nothing more than the “science was wrong before” gambit. Let’s just put it this way. Physics has gone through many iterations and has had to “admit” that many of its prior theories were wrong. Does Maher doubt, for instance, the theory of relativity, which supplanted Newtonian physics? His analogy is just so utterly, breathakingly wrong-headed that I did the double double facepalm upon hearing it. In fact, doubting the safety and efficacy of vaccines is very much like climate science denialism. Both are areas of science that are well accepted by the scientific community and backed by enormous quantities of evidence.
Maher’s next argument was even worse, in which he likened vaccines to antibiotics and asked, “Can you just do too much of a good thing?” and “Is it limitless? Is there no amount that is too much?” At another point, he seemed to imply that scientists were surprised that antibiotic resistance has become so widespread, when in fact it was scientists warning about overuse of antibiotics who foresaw this problem. This led Williamson to repeat the tired old antivaccine trope of “too many, too soon” in the form of JAQing off. Maher did acknowledge that vaccines don’t cause autism and that he “accepts that,” but then pivoted to the classic antivaccine trope that there are no long term studies of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children and “wondered” if people who’ve had a lot of vaccine have “robust immune systems.” He linked this to more diagnoses of allergies, autoimmune diseases, and the like because, he’s just asking questions, you know—and confusing correlation with causation.
As my good bud Mark Hoofnagle notes, Maher did some serious mental gymnastics in which he argued that if you don’t use your immune system, you’ll lose it. The problem, of course, is that vaccines activate the immune system by stimulating it with the same antigens that one finds in the pathogens that cause disease. They wouldn’t work if that weren’t what they do. So Maher couldn’t even keep a coherent train of thought. On the one hand, supposedly we have all these autoimmune diseases, presumably because vaccines stimulate the immune system too much, but then people who have been vaccinated don’t have as “robust an immune system.” Which is it Bill?
The very next week, on the February 13 episode, Maher couldn’t resist resurrecting the issue in the context of the Disneyland measles outbreak. He trotted out the same analogy of “too many” vaccines to too many antibiotics leading to antibiotic resistance. As usual, his guests, who included David Duchovny, Baratunde Thurston, and Zanny Minton Bedoes, were either unable (due to insufficient knowledge) or unwilling (due to wanting to be invited back to be on the show) sometime to challenge Maher other than very weakly. In the show, Maher implicitly (actually not that implicitly) likened vaccine manufacturers to tobacco companies that worked to deny and cover up the dangers of smoking decades ago, a trope we’ve seen “Dr. Jay” Gordon use before, among many other antivaccine advocates.
Here’s a particularly telling segment:
THURSTON: I think antibiotic resistance—I’ll talk to both of you [gesturing to Maher and Duchovny]. Antibiotic resistance is not the same as your skepticism about vaccines. It’s just not. We’ve saved so many lives from sanitation, clean water, and vaccines.
MAHER: This is the straw man I’m always fighting. I am not skeptical that vaccines “work” [air quotes]. I get it that they work. Lots of things work. Antibiotics work—at a cost. Chemotherapy works. It might get rid of my tumor…
THURSTON: But what is this cost you’re talking about for vaccines?
MAHER: OK. I said this last week. This is a scientific fact. There have been no long-term studies done on vaccinated versus unvaccinated, long term health outcomes. If you never give your immune system a chance to fight a disease…
THURSTON: That’s not a cost, that’s a question.
MAHER: That is a question that science has not answered.
THURSTON: But the studies that have come in so far have not proven any distinct issues.
ZANNY MINTON BEDOES [Editor-in-Chief of The Economist]: What we do know is that vaccines have prevented an enormous number of diseases.
MAHER: No one is saying that’s not true.
One notes that doing a “vaxed/unvaxed” study in the way Maher advocates is unethical, and there already exist plenty of epidemiological data to show that neither the MMR vaccine nor thimerosal-containing vaccines cause autism.
Not long after this, Maher states outright, “Measles is not really that deadly a disease.” This is a trope that I sometimes like to refer to as “argumentum ad Brady Bunch,” in which, based on a 1969 episode of The Brady Bunch, in which all six children, the father, and the maid Alice come down with the measles, a situation that is played for laughs, antivaccinationists argue that measles isn’t such a big deal, that it’s a harmless childhood illness that everyone accepted before MMR vaccine. Another term for it is the “measles is harmless” gambit. It’s a favorite trope of the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, “Dr. Bob” Sears, and “Dr. Jay” Gordon. Unfortunately for them (and the children getting measles because pockets of vaccine-averse parents have driven down MMR uptake), measles is not benign.
You get the idea. Bad Bill Maher, the one who denies science with respect to vaccines, is back. Boy, is he ever!
Maher and RFK, sitting in a tree…
Now we get to the interview with RFK, Jr. that aired on the April 24 episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. It comes quite strategically after the monologue:
Note that the YouTube clip above only contains less half of the interview, with the video and sound fading out as RFK, Jr. answers a question. Why Real Time didn’t put the whole interview on YouTube, I don’t know, but it didn’t. To be honest, I rather suspect it’s because it was near the end of the interview that RFK, Jr. went full conspiracy mongering mode and Maher joined in. Whatever the reason was, if anyone can find me the whole clip, I’ll add a link. In the meantime, let’s look at how painful the interview above is, if you’re a supporter of science. Also note how, for at least part of the interview, Maher disingenuously takes the role of the “skeptic” of RFK, Jr.’s position, asking seemingly challenging questions that you will soon see to be softball questions designed to let RFK, Jr. hit it out of the park. The funny thing is, though, that even those questions at time seemed to fluster RFK, Jr., who, it must be said, is a terrible interview, apparently even if you like and agree with him, as Maher clearly does.
In fact, Maher shows his admiration for RFK, Jr. right at the beginning of the interview, when he characterizes him as “one of the greatest environmental crusaders we’ve ever had,” adding “I don’t think anyone would dispute that” (to lots of audience applause) and pointing out how his “history with mercury goes back a long way.” This led to this exchange:
RFK, Jr.: I got dragged into the vaccine issue kicking and screaming because I was going around the country suing coal-burning power plants and talking about the dangers of mercury coming from those plants, and almost everywhere I stopped or I spoke there were women there—very eloquent, articulate, grounded people—who said, ‘You have to look at the biggest factor of mercury in American children now, and it’s vaccines, and we need you to look at the science. And I resisted for a long time but I started reading the science after a while, and I’m very comfortable reading science. I’ve brought hundreds and hundreds of successful lawsuits, and most of them have involved scientific controversies. I’m comfortable reading science and dissecting it, and discerning the difference between junk science and real science. When I started looking at it, what I saw was very alarming, which is we were giving huge amounts of mercury to our children. A lot of it has been taken out of vaccines, but there’s still an extraordinary amount in vaccines—in particular the flu vaccine.
This has to be about as good an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, wherein a person with no training in a subject falsely overestimates his expertise in the subject, to the point where he feels he can challenge experts. There is also a lot of information that RFK, Jr. asserts as fact is, in fact, erroneous. For instance, he is correct that thimerosal is still used as a preservative for the flu vaccine. However, the flu vaccines used in children these days rarely contain thimerosal, the thimerosal-free versions of the vaccines or the nasal live attenuated influenza virus (LAIV) vaccine being the preferred vaccine for most children. This vaccine does not contain thimerosal, because thimerosal kills the virus in live virus vaccines. The bottom line is that the thimerosal content of vaccines in the childhood vaccine schedule has plummeted dramatically since 2001, and there has not been a decrease in autism diagnoses beginning three to five years later, as we would expect if thimerosal-containing vaccines were a major contributor to autism.
To see how bad RFK, Jr.’s arguments are, it is instructive to look at this exchange:
MAHER: If that’s true, then why is everyone lined up against you? Why are you so alone on this? I mean, a lot of people say—the book is called Let the Science Speak—and so many people say, “The science has spoken. We have studied this over and over, not just in America, other countries, and we say it is not the mercury.”
RFK, Jr.: Well, there’s a difference between the bureaucratic regulatory establishment and scientists, and if you look at the scientific literature we were able to find for this book—we spent three years looking at the scientific literature—and the scientific literature is virtually unanimous about the dangers of thimerosal and the links between thimerosal and an epidemic of neurological disorders that are now afflicting American children: ADD, ADHD, speech delay, language delay, hyperactivity disorder, ASD, and autism, all of which began in 1989, which was the year that they changed the vaccine schedule. And we’ve seen animal studies, toxicological studies, clinical studies, cadaver studies. They all say the same thing.
In other words, RFK, Jr. spent three years cherry picking the literature to find dubious studies, such as studies by Mark and David Geier, a primate study by Laura Hewitson (who, by the way, has recently published a study refuting her previous study and showing no effect of thimerosal-containing vaccines—or the MMR vaccine—in vaccines on primate development), and the like. As now numerous studies have shown, there is no detectable association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism or neurodevelopmental disorders.
All of this makes it very difficult to swallow when RFK, Jr. asserts that he’s “very pro-vaccine,” echoing the claim that he is “fiercely pro-vaccine” that he made when he appeared with Dr. Mark Hyman on The Dr. Oz Show last September to promote his book. It is a ludicrous claim. As if to try to inoculate himself further against the charge of being antivaccine, RFK, Jr. then volunteers that he fully vaccinated all of his children. That observation is meaningless with respect to whether RFK, Jr. is antivaccine now or not. His last child was born in 2001, which was before he “discovered” the threat of thimerosal and four years before his infamous Deadly Immunity article. A better question to ask him is whether he would, if he had another child this year, vaccinate that child according to the CDC schedule. Given that RFK, Jr. appears not to be a very good liar, it would be obvious, even if he answered yes, what he really believes. After all, he actually goes on to say that he supports government policies to promote full coverage of vaccines, a claim that is rather belied by his having jetted about California to oppose a law that would do just that (SB 277) with an analogy to the Holocaust, an analogy for which he later had to apologize.
Next up, conspiracy theories. The next part of the interview consists primarily of a rant about how corrupt the CDC supposedly is. It’s at this point that Maher lobs another softball question at him along the lines of, “But even if the CDC is corrupt, why is the World Health Organization and the National Academy of Sciences and the American Pediatricians’ Society and scientists from other countries, why are they lining up on the other side of the issue?” What is RFK, Jr.’s response? What do you think it was? It was to double down on the conspiracy mongering, portraying the CDC as completely corrupt, citing “Congressional” investigations with those findings. Gee, I wonder if he’s referring to antivaccine Rep. Dan Burton’s hearings back in the day or to the mummer’s farce that was Rep. Darryl Issa’s “autism” hearing in 2012. He also cites an investigation by the HHS Office of Research Integrity into CDC misconduct last year. I strongly suspect that what he’s referring to is the manufactroversy known as the “CDC Whistleblower scandal” that isn’t a scandal and didn’t show that the CDC covered up data showing an alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism in African American boys. Brian Hooker, Andrew Wakefield, and James Moody did write a letter to the HHS ORI last October. I suspect it’s getting all the attention it deserves. None of this stops RFK, Jr. from describing the CDC as a “cesspool of corruption” that’s been completely taken over by vaccine manufacturers. That, according to RFK, Jr., is why the childhood vaccine schedule has expanded so much, rather than because there are more vaccines protecting against more childhood diseases.
It’s rather amusing to note that RFK, Jr. can’t even get his facts right. He claims that in 1989 it became very lucrative to manufacture vaccines because the year before Congress passed a law that made it illegal to sue vaccine manufacturers. I assume he’s referring to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which established on October 1, 1988 the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VCIP), which didn’t make it illegal to sue vaccine manufacturers. Rather, it required that families seeking compensation for vaccine injury go first through a special Vaccine Court, with compensation funded by a $0.75 excise tax on vaccines. Moreover, as I’ve described many times before, the VICP actually makes it easier for children with true vaccine injuries to obtain compensation, because it lists specific “table injuries” that are almost always compensated and even pays the complainants’ court costs. Antivaccinationists (and especially lawyers who want to sue vaccine manufacturers) really, really hate the VICP, mainly because, even though it tends to give parents the benefit of the doubt and allow somewhat more questionable injuries to be compensated, it does generally do a pretty good job of sticking to the science. That means it doesn’t compensate for “vaccine-induced autism,” because there is no good scientific evidence that vaccines can cause autism.
RFK, Jr. even goes so far as to lie about Dr. Paul Offit:
In 1999, Dr. Paul Offit, who’s the consummate vaccine insider, and he’s the leading voice for the vaccine industry. He sat on one of these committees that added the rotavirus vaccine to the schedule. And he owned a rotavirus patent. And he voted—he didn’t recuse himself. He voted to add them to the schedule. Six years later he sold his patent for $182 million.
It is a lie that Offit voted on adding a vaccine for which he had an interest. The real story goes thusly:
Dr. Offit was a member of an entirely different committee at the Centers for Disease Control, the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices (ACIP). He was invited to join because of his expertise in rotaviruses and intestinal immunology. He served from October 1998 until June 2003.
A previous vaccine against rotavirus, RotaShield, was voted onto the US immunization schedule early in 1998 (note: before Dr. Offit was on the ACIP). He did vote to approve Rotashield for the Vaccines for Children program, which subsidizes vaccines for low-income families.
The ACIP voted to approve RotaTeq in February 2006, two years and 9 months after Dr. Offit had left the committee.
The facts laid out above have been public knowledge for years. Ms. Dorey is either knowingly misrepresenting the facts, or is unable to take in new information.
Nor was Offit reprimanded by Congress, as some antivaccinationists have claimed. In fact, he recused himself from the vote on whether to remove RotaShield from the schedule, saying, “I’m not conflicted with Wyeth, but because I consult with Merck on the development of rotavirus vaccine, I would still prefer to abstain because it creates a perception of conflict.” It is a myth that Paul Offit abused his position on the ACIP to approve his own vaccine. It’s just one of the common myths, among many other smears against Paul Offit, promulgated by the antivaccine movement.
And RFK, Jr. repeated it on Bill Maher’s show. Maher obliged by saying:
Why can’t we have a kind of grand bargain on this? It just seems like we’re calling each other kooks and liars. It seems like common sense that vaccines, even thimerosal, probably don’t hurt most people—if they did, we’d all be dead, because they’re in a lot of vaccines that we all took—but some do. Obviously some minority gets hurt by this stuff. I don’t understand why this is controversial. Why we have this emotional debate about something that—there is science there. It astounds me that liberals, who are always suspicious of corporations… and defending minorities, somehow when it comes to this minority that’s hurt, it’s like, “You know what? Shut the fuck up and let me take every vaccine that Merck wants to shove down my throat.”
This sounds very familiar to anyone who’s followed Maher’s antivaccine views. In fact, he said more or less the same thing in February. It’s also false equivalency. The reason antivaccinationists like RFK, Jr. and Bill Maher are subjected to being called kooks and liars is because they are at least kooks, and RFK, Jr. is a liar, at least about Paul Offit. Either that, or he has such a reckless disregard for the truth that what he says is not distinguishable from a lie.
Maher even concludes the interview by saying, “I applaud you for championing this, because we need to talk about this more,” to which RFK, Jr. responded by praising Maher for his “bravery” and complaining how the networks won’t let him on. Conspiracy mongering at its finest!
The bottom line
Bill Maher and his admirers, most of whom admire him for his vehement anti-religion stances, frequently clutch their pearls in indignation or make excuses whenever skeptics quite correctly call him “antivaccine.” Maher himself has proclaimed that he’s “not antivaccine” more times than I can remember, and RFK, Jr. has taken it one step further to declaring himself “fiercely pro-vaccine.” Maher’s apologists not infrequently take him at his word, claiming that because he says he’s not “antivaccine” he’s not antivaccine. Whenever I hear this claim, I can’t help but point out that, using this argument, these same skeptics would have to conclude that Jenny McCarthy is not anti-vaccine. She’s said many, many times that she is “not antivaccine” but rather “pro-safe vaccine.” McCarthy, for instance, probably does really believe that she is not antivaccine. Yet the evidence from her own words and deeds is overwhelming that she is definitely antivaccine. If you’re willing to accept Bill Maher’s word that he’s not antivaccine, then you shouldn’t consider Jenny McCarthy to be antivaccine either.
What else are we to call Maher, however, given how antivaccine tropes fly fast and furious out of his mouth and he sycophantically interviews an antivaccine wingnut like RFK, Jr. on his show? What Maher has said on four of his shows over the last four months would have been perfectly at home on the websites of antivaccine groups, such as Generation Rescue (Jenny McCarthy’s group), Age of Autism, SafeMinds, VaxTruth, and the National Vaccine Information Center:
- Anti-pharma conspiracy theories? Check.
- The “too many, too soon” gambit? Check.
- Claims that vaccines are loaded with toxins (excuse me, “chemicals”) and therefore harmful? Check.
- The call for a vaccinated/unvaccinated study? Check.
- Ignorant nonsense about how the immune system works? Check.
- Blaming pharma and government for the parental suspicions of vaccines? Check. If you don’t believe me, consider this “classic” quote from Jenny McCarthy: “I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s shit. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.” This is, not surprisingly, very similar to what RFK, Jr. said when he blamed the CDC for parental distrust of vaccines.
After this season of incredibly embarrassing anti-science rants by Bill Maher, my retort to his wounded indignant cries that he’s “not antivaccine,” is simply to say: If you’re not antivaccine, then stop repeating long discredited antivaccine talking points as though they were scientifically valid and stop doing credulous interviews with antivaccine activists like RFK, Jr. That’s what antivaccinationists do, and if you continue to do such things, then you shouldn’t be surprised when people conclude that you are antivaccine. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on your own words and failure to be educated over the course of many years.Bill Maher: Still an antivaccine crank after all these years David Gorski