I fancy myself a skeptic.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories from Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Kennedy, or Lincoln. They all involve too many pieces falling into place at the exact right time, all with perfect execution and more importantly perfect silence. I don’t believe in ghosts, vampires, sasquatches, or the Loch Ness Monster. As there has never been scientific evidence whether it be a complete lack of proof in the cases of ghosts and vampires or in the cases of the latter two admittance by the people who committed the hoaxes. That being said, I enjoy reading about all of them and in the past was a firm believer.

Skepticism for me is total subscription in the rational methods. My favorite public figures in this are James Randi, Penn and Teller, and until recently it had been Bill Maher. As a comedian I have liked Maher’s routines, I enjoy his HBO series although I do disagree with his ultra left wing stance on most issues. For instance I don’t think that the war in Iraq was motivated by war profiteering. I honestly think that while there was some opportunism involved it seemed to me that Bush believed that he was doing the right thing in Iraq.* I think that while he is on the left his show did make attempts to be more center which is more than other pundits can ever claim, recently he has been under fire for his criticisms of both the Democratic party’s ineffectiveness and of President Obama in particular.

A couple of weeks ago he received the Richard Dawkins award for his stance against religion in general and Creationism/Intelligent Design in particular. However this runs in complete contradiction to his stance on medical science. I have my own issues with Richard Dawkins, in short he’s pretentious when it comes to religion. He wanted to have atheists rename themselves “brights” which would mean that all religious people from St. Augustine, Descartes, and onward would be considered “not bright” which is plain insulting. The thing about the award is that it is supposed to reward a commitment to science and the scientific method which should mean that Maher cannot be given the award.

Maher’s medical beliefs run the gamut of alternative “medicines,” he urges people to reject vaccinations because they are in his words “ineffective.” On a recent episode he cited a quote from Jonas Salk, inventor of the Polio vaccine, as saying that vaccinations have the possibility of causing the disease that they are supposed to be fighting against. This quote which has no attribution, and cannot be found on an internet source except in reference to this conversation he had with Dr. Bill Frist is false.

To further admonish this claim Maher falls into a circular logic trap. He is using an appeal to authority, Dr. Jonas Salk would be THE authority figure on vaccines as his work nearly single handedly eradicated polio. It is from this position that Maher uses to impress Frist on the inefficacy of the H1N1 vaccine, but in denying the effectiveness of all vaccines he is using a source that Maher, himself, does not subscribe to. At one point during the interview you can almost see Frist wanting to scream at Maher, “I am a practicing doctor, I do this for a living and I am telling you…!”

All of his diatribes against the anti-evolution crowd as being idiots are neutered in the fact that he apparently denies the scientific evidence that the flu vaccine is effective, that polio and smallpox are no longer epidemics, and that makes him not only in idiot but also self-contradictory.

Skeptic websites and blogs are thus picking him apart for this contradiction. It would be like discovering that Christopher Hitchens was a Scientologist, or Jeanine Garafolo voted for McCain, or Sarah Palin an atheist.

The counter-point can be made as whether a person can receive an award for one thing and still be dangerously wrong in another.** Well, of course this is possible, I like Martin Sheen’s movies but not his politics. In the case of Maher it isn’t possible as his contradiction is anathema to the award. I’m skeptical to a fault in everything. Ockham’s razor is my favorite tool and I put all my faith into Karl Popper’s assertion that a theory which is un-falsifiable is automatically wrong. As frustrating as that may be to other people I’m at least consistent, if only everyone could be as well.

*Of course things didn’t turn out the way he may have intended. I do disagree with the conduct that war was run on initially.
**As his advisement that pregnant women should not get the vaccine has the potential to be mortally so.

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