Reason Project board member Bill Maher should be placed in the Hall of Shame

Total Posts:  291
Joined  14-10-2007
28 July 2009 12:00


Last week, I expressed my surprise and dismay that the Atheist Alliance International chose Bill Maher for the Richard Dawkins Award. I was dismayed because Maher has championed pseudoscience, including dangerous antivaccine nonsense, germ theory denialism complete with repeating myths about Louis Pasteur supposedly recanting on his deathbed, a hostility towards “Western medicine” and an affinity for “alternative medicine,” a history of sympathy to HIV/AIDS denialists, and the activities of PETA through his position on its board of directors, all facts that led me to liken his receiving the Richard Dawkins Award to giving an award for public health to Jenny McCarthy. I was not alone, either. Larry Moran, Matt D., and Skepacabra agreed with me.

When I wrote that post, I expected some pushback, and I hadn’t really expected to be writing any followup posts. After all, to my surprise P.Z. Myer’s defense of the decision was tepid at best, and the strongest he could come up with was to urge attendees to the AAI convention to “put Maher in the hot seat.” Then over the weekend I noticed that someone unexpected took me to task. Not just took me to task, but lambasted me. Normally, I don’t know if I would have bothered to respond or not, but this criticism came from someone I normally like and respect. Worse, the arguments were shockingly weak compared to his usual posts. Given that, I felt he deserved at least a brief reply (except that this is Orac we’re talking about and “brief” is not really in his vocabulary). I’m referring, of course, to Jason Rosenhouse, who thinks that Bill Maher is a a fine choice for the Richard Dawkins Award.

Basically, Jason argues that Maher isn’t primarily known for his pseudoscientific views on medicine and vaccines, which is mostly (but not completely) true. After all, Maher’s views on alternative medicine and vaccines are well known enough that it’s virtually inevitable whenever Maher is being interviewed by Larry King, David Letterman, and other hosts of talk shows that he will be asked at least one or two questions about these topics. Indeed, Larry King, ever since Maher’s first anti-vaccine tirade that I’m aware of in 2005, pretty much always asks Maher about the flu vaccine whenever he is on King’s show. Maher may not be primarily known for his views on “Western medicine,” but they are well known and he not infrequently spouts off about them on television to millions of people. In any case, Jason in essence does what other Maher apologists I’ve seen do and completely ignore the criteria of “who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge.” Jason also virtually concedes that Maher is not really an atheist, waving it away by saying:

The fact that he has some vague belief in a higher force in the universe hardly negates all of the good work that he is done in areas of relevance to the award. He has defintely raised awareness of the nontheist life stance through the media and the arts, and certainly helps teach acceptance of the nontheist lifestyle, just as the award describes.
Well, yes, but that’s only one criterion out of four, and fortunately Skeptico has already addressed this argument. In any case, Jason appears to be conceding that, at best, Maher meets only 2/4 criteria, with 1/4 (science) an EPIC FAIL and the other 1/4 questionable at best. If Jason thinks that’s the only criterion that matters and is willing to ignore the rest, I guess there isn’t much more to say other than that, personally, when an award is given, I prefer that the recipient actually meet all of the listed criteria. (I’m funny that way.) The recipient doesn’t have to meet all of them equally and could even be a little shaky on one or two of them. But miss any one of them by so much that he might as well be on another planet? I don’t think so. As I’ve pointed out before, Maher’s views on medicine and science would have made him a perfect “victim” of one of Richard Dawkins’ deconstructions in part 2 of his BBC documentary Enemies of Reason, right there with the homeopaths, crystal users, and various other woo believers.

I do find Jason’s defense rather interesting in that, in essence, it says that the criteria for the Richard Dawkins Award don’t really mean anything, which to me implies that the award itself doesn’t mean much of anything. Apparently it can be given to almost anyone, as long as he meets just one of the four criteria strongly enough, even if he gets an EPIC FAIL on at least one. He doesn’t even have to be anything resembling a rationalist! He can advocate whatever pseudoscience he wants, and as long as he “raises awareness of the nontheist life stance through the media and the arts” and “helps teach acceptance of the nontheist lifestyle” whatever woo he believes him is all good.

As long as it’s not God or religion, of course.

But that’s not what bothered me most about Jason’s post.


Click here to read the rest

[ Edited: 28 July 2009 12:53 by queefsr4quitters]
Total Posts:  15152
Joined  15-02-2008
01 August 2009 08:09

He is also on the board of the The Reason Project. While I agree with him on religion, that does not justify his views and position in other areas.

Total Posts:  291
Joined  14-10-2007
01 August 2009 13:30
GAD - 01 August 2009 12:09 PM

He is also on the board of the The Reason Project. While I agree with him on religion, that does not justify his views and position in other areas.

Yes, I think he neither deserves a Richard Dawkins Award nor a place in The Reason Project’s advisory board. If we are to promote reason we aren’t helping by going gaga over celebrities who just happen to be atheists. Reason has to permeate to other areas and not just “I don’t believe in an invisible daddy in the sky so therefore I’m reasonable and logical across the board.” Um, no. He is just as nutty for rejecting the germ theory of disease as others are for rejecting evolution.

Total Posts:  20
Joined  25-09-2009
20 January 2010 21:38

Maybe once Bill Maher is away from the spotlight he is a champion for reason and science. But I used to watch his Politically Incorrect show on TV from time to time until nasty and vulgar blotted out his former acerbic wit.


Billy Shears
Billy Shears
Total Posts:  2730
Joined  09-10-2006
30 January 2010 19:00
Starfire - 21 January 2010 02:38 AM

Maybe once Bill Maher is away from the spotlight he is a champion for reason and science. But I used to watch his Politically Incorrect show on TV from time to time until nasty and vulgar blotted out his former acerbic wit.


Apparently, you’re not the only one who’s noticed the change.  One of his former writers, Evan Sayet (who has become politically conservative in the years since 9/11), remarked that the change in his behavior comes from the move he made from New York to Los Angeles.

He describes Maher as a narcissist and an egoist, who thrives on approval and hearing how wonderful he is, Since the population density in New York City is very high, and people are packed close together, he’d constantly hear doormen, cabbies, street vendors, strangers in the elevator, etc. yell out, “Love you, Bill” or stop to compliment him, and sometimes, like anybody, he’d talk back to these people.  This kept him in contact with ordinary folks with a broad spectrum of views.  Then the show moved out to Hollywood, where everything is very spread out, and there are no cabbies, doormen, street vendors etc.  Out there, you get in your car at the studio and you drive to your mansion in the Hollywood Hills, and you don’t hear from anybody in between.  You stay in a little bubble, and as a result of this, in order to have people say, “Love you, Bill” anymore, he has to be loved by Susan Sarandon, his neighbor on the left, and Sean Penn, his neighbor on the right, and Jackson Brown, his neighbor across the street. 

According to Sayet, very little of what he says on his show are heartfelt beliefs or core convictions of his; they’re things he thinks people will appreciate and approve of, and in New York City that came from a wide balance of people, in L.A. it comes from a small group of like-minded celebrities and their associates who are increasingly narrow-minded and subject to groupthink as they’ve become more and more isolated out there from ordinary people.

Total Posts:  89
Joined  17-12-2006
01 February 2010 17:24

Does Maher subscribe to a lot of goofy ideas?  Well, sure he does.

Is his ego too big for his pants?  Well, that seems to be the case, though I think it goes too far to call him a narcissist.

Is Bill Maher a high profile opponent of theocratic and authoritian government and organized religion, who certainly does more good on any given day than all the subscibers on this forum put together?  Yeah, I kinda suspect that is the case.

Thus, should we let the perfect be the enemy of the good?  No, I think that idea sucks elephant cock.

Next question.

Thomas Orr
Thomas Orr
Total Posts:  985
Joined  16-12-2005
25 February 2010 19:41

Nice post. On the other hand queefsr4quitters strikes me as a person who confuses rational and independent thinking with being politically correct and aligned with accepted authorities. Since when herbalist and homeopats gained monopoly on pseudo science? What about the corporate science and its grip on the established medicine?

Billy, on the other hand is very much like the other Billy from the Fox channel who always has some sympathetic and “unbiased” words about Obama but in the end you are left with some serious doubts about the president. Billy, can you explain to me why it is OK to be eccentric and egomaniac when you are CEO of a big company but it is not OK when you have a lot of friends on the left?

I was impressed with Bill Maher few days after 9/11 when in the middle of the pseudo-patriotic national hysteria he calmly reminded us not to confuse courage/cowardice with being a fanatic and/or extremist. If I had to accept the popular wisdom of that day Dick Cheney (draft dodger hiding in an undisclosed location) should be my role model of a courageous person.

I didn’t particularly like the Religulous but still it was OK. It is also my opinion that being an effective secularist and an open minded person who can tolerate other people’s opinions (to the point as Sam Harris reminded us) is far more important, desirable and honorable than being an atheist fanatic.

Total Posts:  2
Joined  18-04-2010
18 April 2010 18:11

I watch Maher’s show religiously (haha).

I’ll admit I was rather shocked by Maher’s rant on flu shots last November. I thought he was a bit more grounded in reality than all that, and the views he was proposing on immunizations and vaccinations perpetuate an absurd popular fear of the greatest lifesaving innovation in medical history.

I think this comes from his general distrust for US megacorps, which is not at all unfounded. And I like to think that he is reasonable enough to change his opinion upon further study of the evidence.

But overall, I’ll take the good with the bad. People like Maher and Jon Stewart helped me get through 8 years of Bush. And Maher is by far the most visible and unapologetic challenger of Religion on US Television.

Total Posts:  14
Joined  01-06-2010
04 June 2010 15:36

Bill Maher can be very funny but I don’t like that crude, egotistical side to his humor.
Here’s a good youtube clip - Hitchens flips off Maher’s morons :

Total Posts:  115
Joined  26-06-2010
18 July 2010 19:31

bill maher comes off as a snide extreme left liberal who finds atheism agreeable because it ticks off republicans/conservatives.  he is not funny, nor does he strike me as an atheist.  i didn’t like religulous at all; i found it offensive and shallow.  his pseudo-science views are well-known; he is not a rational thinker, or a reasonable man.  but he claims atheism, the flavor of the month.

there has to be more of a reason than that, to give him the Richard Dawkins award.  shame on the AAI.  this bestowal is akin to obama’s winning the peace prize, or al gore, for that matter.  or mother teresa becoming a saint.  who approved this recipient?  who even suggested him?  there has to be some accountability.  some one or ones must be held accountable for this recipient’s having been awarded —nay, rewarded —such a prize.  i am very disappointed in the AAI.  mad

Total Posts:  1102
Joined  14-08-2008
05 October 2010 16:16

I generally like Maher. But I never knew of his “alternative medicine stance” until I read it here. Now, I’m not sure what to think.  I mean, this is no small thing. GERM THEORY? Come on!!! If it was up to me I would have reservations about awarding him the prize. Reason and logic are not “part-time” qualities.

I wonder what Bill would say if asked whether he would go to his local mall, take a donut and rub it along the entire length of the escalator handrail, and then eat the donut. Of course, I’m sure he would have no problem eating it because there’s no danger of acquiring any germs from the thousands of filthy hands that have clutched those handrails. Right Bill?

PS - I liked Religilous. 


Total Posts:  14
Joined  30-10-2010
03 November 2010 14:35

I agree with what seems to be the general consensus that Maher has some big flaws in rationality and opposition to scientific facts that ought to (sadly) make him ineligible for Dawkins’ award.
Also that he’s clearly not nearly as funny as he used to be. He just seems bitter now -though I am too after 8 years of Bush and the people who think Obama’s a Muslim, African, Terrorist, Socialist had an overall big win yesterday.

And no.. we shouldn’t let ‘perfect be the enemy of good’, but to continually damn immunizations and to hear Maher say that all he’s doing is ‘asking questions’ when the questions have been answered already and he refuses to address that collection of facts… there’s NO excuse for that.

It’s sad that he is the most famous out-spoken atheist out there -though he doesn’t know what atheist means since he says he’s agnostic and not atheist when he is in fact both. But a LOT of people screw that simple point up too. But they don’t get Dawkins awards!

Also I thought Religulous stunk and I was assuming it was going to awesome before I saw it.

He took on Jesus Truckers who worship in a POS trailer? You pretty much can’t aim for easier or more pointless targets than that. And he did make it took much about himself as well.

Hitchens said after Maher’s film came out that he was also going to make an anti-theist film… but his “was going to be funny”. That line alone was funnier than Maher’s entire film.

I’m still waiting for someone to make a truly great anti-theism film and obviously Hitchens has not and probably will not make the film he mentioned. Maybe he said it only for the slam against Maher?

Total Posts:  506
Joined  30-01-2007
14 November 2010 00:14

As I am reading this thread I can’t help but think about the consequences of “institutionalization”.

Any concept that is institutionalized usually breaks from the Institutions that “stand for it”.

We like it or not Institutions take a life of their own, with their agendas their policies and their methods of operating.

This is intrinsic also in organized religions. I mention this with no intention to be apologetic for their first principles, but they are also “victims” of the process of institutionalization.

I believe the real issue here is the “Atheist Alliance International” and not their specific choice of Bill Maher.

(sorry for my terrible English , I am Greek)

[ Edited: 14 November 2010 00:21 by Hippasus]
Total Posts:  1
Joined  04-01-2008
18 January 2011 00:15

FYI Maher on his “vaccine rant” show in 2010 also denied that he rejected Germ Theory. His theory is that many vaccines (and an excessive level of vaccination) is harmful in most circumstances. He is wrong, but his position is not as extreme as posted here. I stopped watching his show after the vaccine rant episode.

Total Posts:  60
Joined  09-01-2011
18 January 2011 03:34

An atheist needs no invisible means of support.