Monday, April 7, 2008

New Rules for Bill Maher

I am a fan and an admirer of Bill Maher; I think he's one of the funniest stand-up comedians going and a generally well-informed observer of the political and social scene. But his views of health and medicine go off the rails, and the denialism blog has stepped in with a condign rebuke:

Childbirth no longer represents a major threat to a woman's life. Children don't die from ordinary illnesses and infections. Major traumas like gunshots, fractures and massive blood loss no longer are an instant death sentence - we often can put people right back together after amazing injuries. How have we managed to cure diseases like polio, or cure Senator Specter's Hodgkin's lymphoma? Evidence-based medicine and the applied science of modern medical care is the answer to all those questions. ... Bill Maher ... has tried to blame the death of bees on cell phones has engaged in anti-vaccine wingnuttery, routinely complains of mysterious "toxins", supports animal rights extremists, and generally has a disgusting "blame-the-victim" mentality towards health ... [Most common cancers] have overwhelmingly genetic risk factors and the number one risk factor is almost always family history. Maher's statement that cancers are "hatched" or that there is only "some" genetic component is typical of his ignorance of medicine, his blame-the-victim mentality towards disease, and is just as despicable as his depiction of medicine as a killer. [emphasis mine]
I have been particularly disturbed with Maher's blame-the-victim approach to health matters, which commit him to baseless pet theories about cancer and mysterious food-borne toxins, the latter of which sounds like something from the hoary fables of Scientology. Maher is a strong critic of religion, including Scientology, but he sounds like one of them when he starts blaming people for their illnesses. Or maybe that's the libertarian in him coming through -- the insistence that individuals have complete autonomy over all things. It doesn't work that way on planet earth.

He does vegetarianism no favors when he makes excessive health claims for it. A vegetarian diet will, all else equal, reduce the chances of a handful of serious and pervasive health conditions (e.g., it's easier to control cholestoral if you leave meat out of your diet), but it is not a panacea. Vegetarians get sick and die just like everyone else.

I hope Bill Maher will either cite specific and credible evidence for his more exotic claims or drop them. I want him to be a credible and popular voice for skepticism.


Domestically Challenged said...

I just love when celebrities use their honorary medical degrees!

Anonymous said...

If you like Bill Maher, you should check out the new rules at Pophangover. They are insanely funny. They call them STARTING NOW. (This isn't spam!)