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An Open Letter to Bill Maher on Vaccinations

by Michael Shermer, Oct 20 2009

(Note: this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post on October 16, 2009)

Dear Bill,

Years ago you invited me to appear as a fellow skeptic several times on your ABC show Politically Incorrect, and I have ever since shared your skepticism on so many matters important to both of us: creationism and intelligent design, religious supernaturalism and New Age paranormal piffle, 9/11 “truthers”, Obama “birthers”, and all manner of conspiratorial codswallop. On these matters, and many others, you rightly deserved the Richard Dawkins Award from Richard’s foundation, which promotes reason and science.

However, I believe that when it comes to alternative medicine in general and vaccinations in particular you have fallen prey to the same cognitive biases and conspiratorial thinking that you have so astutely identified in others. In fact, the very principle of how vaccinations work is additional proof (as if we needed more) against the creationists that evolution happened and that natural selection is real: vaccinations work by tricking the body’s immune system into thinking that it has already had the disease for which the vaccination was given. Our immune system “adapts” to the invading pathogens and “evolves” to fight them, such that when it encounters a biologically similar pathogen (which itself may have evolved) it has in its armory the weapons needed to fight it. This is why many of us born in the 1950s and before may already have some immunity against the H1N1 flu because of its genetic similarity to earlier influenza viruses, and why many of those born after really should get vaccinated.

Vaccinations are not 100% effective, nor are they risk free. But the benefits far outweigh the risks, and when communities in the U.S. and the U.K. in recent years have foregone vaccinations in large numbers, herd immunity is lost and communicable diseases have come roaring back. This is yet another example of evolution at work, but in this case it is working against us. (See for numerous articles answering every one of the objections to vaccinations.)

Vaccination is one of science’s greatest discoveries. It is with considerable irony, then, that as a full-throated opponent of the nonsense that calls itself Intelligent Design, your anti-vaccination stance makes you something of an anti-evolutionist. Since you have been so vocal in your defense of the theory of evolution, I implore you to be consistent in your support of the theory across all domains and to please reconsider your position on vaccinations. It was not unreasonable to be a vaccination skeptic in the 1880s, which the co-discovered of natural selection — Alfred Russel Wallace — was, but we’ve learned a lot over the past century. Evolution explains why vaccinations work. Please stop denying evolution in this special case.

As well, Bill, your comments about not wanting to “trust the government” to inject us with a potentially deadly virus, along with many comments you have made about “big pharma” being in cahoots with the AMA and the CDC to keep us sick in the name of corporate profits is, in every way that matters, indistinguishable from 9/11 conspiracy mongering. Your brilliant line about how we know that the Bush administration did not orchestrate 9/11 (“because it worked”), applies here: the idea that dozens or hundreds pharmaceutical executives, AMA directors, CDC doctors, and corporate CEOs could pull off a conspiracy to keep us all sick in the name of money and power makes about as much sense as believing that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their bureaucratic apparatchiks planted explosive devices in the World Trade Center and flew remote controlled planes into the buildings.

Finally, Bill, please consider the odd juxtaposition of your enthusiastic support for health care reform and government intervention into this aspect of our medical lives, with your skepticism that these same people — when it comes to vaccinations and disease prevention — suddenly lose their sense of morality along with their medical training. You excoriate the political right for not trusting the government with our health, and then in the next breath you inadvertently join their chorus when you denounce vaccinations, thereby adding fodder for their ideological cannons. Please remember that it’s the same people administrating both health care and vaccination programs.

One of the most remarkable features of science is that it often leads its practitioners to change their minds and to say “I was wrong.” Perhaps we don’t do it enough, as our own blinders and egos can get in the way, but it does happen, and it certainly happens a lot more in science than it does in religion or politics. I’ve done it. I used to be a global warming skeptic, but I reconsidered the evidence and announced in Scientific American that I was wrong. Please reconsider both the evidence for vaccinations, as well as the inconsistencies in your position, and think about doing one of the bravest and most honorable things any critical thinker can do, and that is to publicly state, “I changed my mind. I was wrong.”

With respect,
Michael Shermer


157 Responses to “An Open Letter to Bill Maher on Vaccinations”

  1. plob218 says:

    Wait, no mention of libertarianism… what is everyone going to bicker about??

    • frank says:

      well there seems to be an element of tub-thumping to drag in creationists and IDers etc.

      without Bill’s original article to refer to i can’t be sure of my nitpicking here – but i wonder why the gratuitous swipe at the anti-evolutionists? why the paranoia that ant-vaccinateon = antievolution?
      i think you will find that creationists and IDers are no more anti-vacc than evolutionists – and for the same reasons.

      it is misrepresentation to claim that they don’t accept the observed validity of the processes of naturalselection (and vaccination acquired immunity is a valid example of those processes) – they just don’t accept that natl. selection can answer the origins question.*

      [evolutionists postulate that N/S can 'bootstrap' new information upon which nat. selection can operate. the others suggest that an outside agency is required to supply said info.]

      the origins implicatons are not relevant to the anti/pro vaccination debate.

      lets stay focussed



      *something which i understsnd that even the cited RD (at least tacitly) admits.

      • Dan says:

        “the origins implicatons [sic] are not relevant to the anti/pro vaccination debate.”
        I didn’t read anything in Shermer’s letter regarding origins. He was pointing out the irony that Maher believes the theory of evolution to be true while simultaneously denying its truth in his anti-vax stance. The reference to ID-ers is simply to point out that Maher is otherwise rather skeptical. Nowhere in this letter does Shermer claim that the religious are any more or less pro or anti-vax.

      • Sea snake says:

        Whatever the case may be, what acquired immunity, be it through vaccines or not, is not is an example of/for evolution by itself, not even in a very unscientific sense. I accept that we have an immune system because of evolution, but nothing more. Or are you into Lamarck now?

      • Jay Dubb says:

        “it is misrepresentation to claim that [IDers} don’t accept the observed validity of the processes of naturalselection … they just don’t accept that natl. selection can answer the origins question.”

        Incorrect. The question of origins is a minor issue in the evo vs. ID debate. What is at issue is the cause of *speciation*. Scientists and rational people “believe” that evolution is the most likely explanation; IDers believe that Go-, er, I mean, ‘an intelligent entity’ did it.

  2. Angelique Mason says:

    In 1982 I read a quote from a medical journal stating (about the smallpox vaccine) it “causes, furthermore, an explosion of leukemia.”

    As any open-minded person would do, I decided to find out why information like this had never been shared with the public, and what other information was being withheld. I did many years of in-depth research and dug up A LOT. Vaccines ARE dangerous and deadly, and they DO NOT and NEVER HAVE ended epidemics. That story is strictly media manipulation. So, either you are seriously misinformed or you are a shill for the huge pharma industry.

    Do you know what the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Act is? Do you know that while the pharmaceutical/agribusiness/oil/biomedical “research” industry – owned media tells us that Sudden Infant Death is caused by things like second-hand smoke, putting the baby on his tummy, etc., the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Act ADMITS (in private, but in writing) that the DPT vaccine cause SIDS? It also admits a litany of other “reactions,” including Type 1 diabetes and various forms of neurological damage and seizures. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but another thought on the NVICA – the pharmaceutical companies used to have to pay off lawsuits filed against them after it was found in a court of law that the shots did cause death and damage – so, in what had to be some under the table deal made with the government, the NVICA was formed – so NOW, while the pharmaceutical industry rakes in billions of dollars every year, who pays off the damage claims? WE DO! THE TAXPAYERS!

    • James says:

      Wow, so you must be drinking the kool-aid? If all your “years” of research has uncovered is that vaccines ARE dangerous, than perhaps your doing the wrong research.

      For future reference, if your going to talk about a medical journal in 1982, it might help to cite the entire article, so that we can all review this quote.

      • David says:

        “If all your “years” of research has uncovered is that vaccines ARE dangerous, than perhaps your doing the wrong research.”

        Wow, that I call open minded!

      • David says:

        I’m sorry, I just never met an anti-vaccinationist, and all this articles that sound like people want to force you to use vaccines or otherwise kill you are kind of annoying me.

      • James says:

        I don’t get why being open minded requires a complete disregard for actual evidence.

    • Brian M says:

      Don’t worry, we’re safe. We have implemented our tinfoil hats and are awaiting instructions from the mothership.

    • gwen says:

      Angelique…..umm, no dear, your sources are wrong. :)
      Put the kool-aid down….slowly, slowly, we can help you.

    • MadScientist says:

      Where did you pull your facts from, out your ass? I’ve been to places ravaged by diseases which we have all but eradicated in the USA and vaccines work. If you don’t believe me, go get yourself bitten by an animal which is confirmed to be suffering from rabies. You are guaranteed to die without vaccines; the rabies vaccine is so effective that your chances of dying from rabies becomes very small indeed. It’s been decades since I’ve seen anyone suffering from poliomyelinitis since the vaccination is so effective and there has been a world-wide campaign to eradicate the disease. I have never seen a single case of smallpox in my lifetime since the disease was eradicated in the USA long before I was born and not too long ago it was declared eradicated from the global population. You are an ignorant liar for making the claims you make about vaccines being dangerous and the Big Pharma Conspiracy.

      • Sea snake says:

        Really, Mad Scientist,
        no need to be so insulting —out of your ass? What are you thikinf of, calling people “ignorant liar”. Such passion does not suggest a very stable personality. Defending vaccines (as I do, not uncritically), does not make it necessary to be so iill-mannered? The idea is to convince —if possible—not to coerce. I think. And I do agree wirh the basic info in your post, that’s the worst part. Have a walk and cool off, friend.

      • tmac57 says:

        “What are you thikinf (sic) of, calling people “ignorant liar”. Such passion does not suggest a very stable personality.” Well, he is ‘Mad’ Scientist after all ;-)
        While I am not a fan of ad hominem attacks on people, I’m afraid I have to agree with Mad on this one. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.

      • Sea snake says:

        Quite right,
        sorry about the ortography, but I still think it’s unnecessary to insult. At least you can try to be imaginative if you feel impelled to it.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Angelique, I was born on a small tropical island off the coast of Australia, between Australia and Papua New Guinea, as was my mother, her nine siblings, her father’s family and my three brothers and sisters. Because of our location my entire family have been vaccinated against smallpox. I was vaccinated as a baby in 1973 and am now in my late thirties, and NOT ONE of my family members has leukemia or any other kind of cancer. Surely an ‘explosion’ of leukemia (and yes, please cite your source, ‘explosion’ is such a medically accurate term) would have affected at least one of the 15 members of my immediate family, or, the additional 20 members of my extended family who were also born there?

      The smallpox vaccine has, years after its creation, proved to be so vigilant that even if I was to visit a country where the disease had reoccurred, I would not need to be re-innoculated, as its effectiveness has been shown to last for 75 years. If this vaccine had not been created, being born where I was, there’s more than a good chance that I would not have been here to discuss it here today.

      Smallpox has been eradicated by one thing – the vaccine. To deny this as some kind of grand conspiracy is not only foolish, it is dangerous.

  3. Shane Brady says:


    I suggest you check your facts again, because you pretty much got everything wrong. Also, it should be noted that the finding of juries isn’t a scientific process by any standard.

  4. Brian S says:

    I don’t think the objections are with the idea of vaccinations in general or their general efficacy, but rather with the suspicious nature of peddling vaccines that are mandatory.

    Clearly, there are a number of vaccines available, some of which are now mandatory for public school participation, for conditions which have always been common and against which the human immune system’s natural defenses are sufficient in the overwhelming majority of circumstances. Chicken pox vaccine comes to mind, which I don’t believe is mandatory at present but may be in the near future. White it’s difficult to realistically argue a conspiracy, it’s noteworthy that companies have a financial interest in the widespread use of these vaccines, and lobbyists are demonstrably convincing; it would be unreasonable to assume they are not lobbying to those folks that make these determinations for the public.

    I’m not saying vaccines for things like Polio aren’t essential, or that vaccines in general haven’t clearly done humanity in immeasurable service. Some of the elective vaccines that are pushed so fervently to most of society (yearly flu, H1N1) are more important in some segments than others, particularly the elderly or infirm. But just how deadly has H1N1 proven to be so far to the world vs. a number of other every day conditions? I’d like to see an unbiased analysis of this whole industry to come to any conclusions about the whole process and just how scientific it is.

    I think Bill’s point has continued to be that there is far too much de-emphasis on humans fighting disease by strengthening themselves and their bodies rather than using pharmaceuticals. Vaccines do work and have undoubtedly moved us forward as a species. But is it sot unreasonable to question the process that quickly puts out these vaccines under public panicked pressure, particularly when so much money is at stake?

    • James says:

      I feel like I should keep this argument on file like in Word because it apparently bears repeating:

      When a vaccine does one billion in annual revenue, that’s pretty good. Two million and people lose their minds, but lets keep it in perspective. The statin Lipitor does one billion in revenues EVERY MONTH. So this idea that “big pharma” is raking in the dough by making vaccines mandatory is incredibly unlikely.

      “Big Pharma” could stop producing vaccines and concentrate on lifestyle drugs and make MORE money because they wouldn’t be subject to attacks that they are “gaming” the system to line their own pockets.

      • Max says:

        What, they make vaccines out of charity?

      • John Paradox says:

        Lower profit=Charity? error.

        Besides, if people get these virii and die, that’s one less consumer for Viagra and other ‘lifestyle drugs’.


      • John says:

        You have uncovered a nefarious plot. Big Pharma knows that there is a lot of money to be made in treating the diseases and conditions of the elderly – so if they can prevent us from dying off with childhood diseases they can reap the rewards when we’re in our so called golden years! How dare they turn longevity against us!

        This is why I am not only campaigning against childhood vaccination but I am for infants putting plastic bags over their heads and falling head first into buckets.

        (In case Jenny McCarthy is reading this, I am being ‘sarcastic.’ IOW: I mean the opposite! ;)

      • Brian S says:

        James, your financial argument is completely inaccurate. Here is just one of many examples on projected profits related to the swine flu vaccine alone:

        To see pharmas don’t make big cash off big ticket vaccines is just ridiculous.

      • James says:

        First, I have to thank you. As a practicing skeptic I (like most here I think) are just trying to find the truth. If the evidence leads in one direction, then I must change my mind. So here goes:

        Lipitor does not earn one billion in sales a month.

        I will say though that companies that are making money off of, as you called them “big ticket vaccines” is nothing new. My point is that because someone makes a profit off of something does not make it inherently evil. But to more directly counter your argument:

        These “big ticket vaccines” might be generating short term profits, but for the last thirty years or so vaccines have not made too much money. So here is what they are doing now:

        Selling flu shots and other mundane vaccines to other countries, countries that see the benefit that they have. For instance Gardasil prevents cervical cancer for a little under two hundred dollars, but how much does it cost to treat cancer?

      • James says:

        For clarification are we talking about the H1N1 vaccines specifically or are we talking about all vaccines in general. This I feel is an important distinction to make. Will I contend that GlaxoSmithKline is not going to make money off of H1N1? Of course not, that’s capitalism. What happens though when this strain goes away? All these companies will have made a one time profit off of H1N1. Unless it proves to be seasonal, in which case I’m sure competition will drive prices down.

        If we are talking about vaccines in general, covering the Hep shots, polio etc. I would counter that it is not this “cash cow” everyone makes vaccines out to be:

      • Max says:

        Yes, the H1N1 strain is expected to be added to the seasonal vaccine next year.

      • Sea snake says:

        Friend James,
        does three billion pounds sound like small change? Check it out. “Big Pharma” concentrates on making money, it’s the scientists who develop the formulas which are then exploited by the companies (see patents on drugs and ways to circunvent their caducity, for example). N1H1? How many people die of Malaria, to cite only an example? Are we nearer to a vaccine against it? Nope, most “malarians” have no money.

      • James says:

        So operating from the premise that a malaria vaccine is NOT being developed:

        And why wouldn’t there be a study of the most cost effective vaccine? Isn’t large parts of Africa dirt poor? Doesn’t the US and the rest of the world give billions in aid each year?

      • Sea snake says:

        ¿How much do they get in return? More than they put in. And remember, we’re talking about Human Time, how many must die before a cost-effective (whatever that is) vaccine is developed?

      • Sea snake says:

        Oh, and by the way, those cost-effective, thingumagigs you talk about are only models, they don’t exist at all, but you don’t seem to have understood my point. We already have a supposedly effective vaccine agains a disease we didn’t even think of, in, what, a couple of years? And the disease in question isn’t even lethal. Yes, right, parts of Africa, South America and elsewhere are dirt poor, THAT’S the Point. And Malaria wasn’t born yesterday, you know? And yes, we send them aid, not as much as we say (see Tsunami aid, for example) and decide for them what to spend it on. The rest is just (I repeat, just, as in only) bread and water.

      • James says:


        Your premise was that no vaccines for malaria were being produced, while there is no licensed vaccine as of yet there are some in development. Of course, resources could be diverted away from a malaria vaccine to create a vaccine for HIV/AIDS which is also prevalent on the contintent.

        If you had bothered to read the whole thing, you would have seen that what was being compared was the most likely target for a malaria vaccine. There is progress being made on this front, despite how little money you think they have.

        As for this,”We already have a supposedly effective vaccine agains a disease we didn’t even think of, in, what, a couple of years?” I’m not sure what your talking about. If we’re talking about H1N1 it is a flu virus and thus easy (relatively speaking) to make a new vaccine for. Flu vaccine production every year is almost a game of chance. Companies have to predict what strains are going to be problems and plan around that. So by the time flu season rolls around, if they guessed wrong the vaccine is useless company takes a huge hit. If they are right then they can make a profit.

        If we’re talking about malaria, how long have we known about HIV/AIDS? Are you suggesting that people are dragging their feet on an HIV/AIDS vaccine because there’s no profit in it?

      • Sea snake says:

        Well, there is a sort of hopeful AIDS vaccine just being tested, my premise was NOT the production or not of an anti malaria vaccine (which, by the way, is mostly in the hands of investigators who don’t want it to be patented). The “Big Pharma” opposes the production of anti-AIDS generic drugs in Africa where AIDS is almost pandemic (and the “commercial” ones are quite expensive). Obviously, I’m talking about H1N1, don’t be sly. And sure, the flu vaccines are a hit or miss affair. If they miss, they don’t even notice, everybody who wants to use the vaccine has had it already BEFORE the season. If you’re already down with the flu, you hardly would want a vaccine, would you? Again, does three billion pounds sound like small change to you? And about the profit motive, as refers to AIDS, the only fact now obtainable is that it’s huge. I hope the vaccine comes as soon as possible, because, contrary to what you seem to think, I’m all for vaccination —with tested and clinically tried vaccines. In a nutshell, what I think, aa meny others do, is that health is too important to leave in the hands of private interests

      • James says:

        Okay, well I think your moving the goalposts here, because you said,”How many people die of Malaria, to cite only an example? Are we nearer to a vaccine against it? Nope, most “malarians” have no money.”

        Implying that that a vaccine is not being developed for malaria, since the region most affected has little money to spend.

        Then there is,”Obviously, I’m talking about H1N1, don’t be sly.” Well no “slyness” was implied, merely a request for clarification. At any rate you also said,”And the disease in question isn’t even lethal.” H1N1? You realize that it HAS killed people right? Unless your talking about some other disease maybe?

        The last thing I want to talk about is this here,”The “Big Pharma” opposes the production of anti-AIDS generic drugs in Africa where AIDS is almost pandemic (and the “commercial” ones are quite expensive).” I’d love to see some evidence of this. Really, if would please provide some for my review and we can move forward from that.

        As for the profit motive, I think that 3 billion in revenue is different from 3 billion in profit. I would speculate that when the numbers finally come in, because these are “expectations”, that a good chunk of the 3 billion of projected revenue will be taken up by production costs.

        And what’s wrong with profit? It makes the world go round. The “invisible hand” principle of economics at work.

        Finally, I don’t think that you are anti-vaxx. At no point did I accuse you of that, I merely took exception to the waving of the “big pharma” flag.

      • Sea snake says:

        Frend James,
        I sugggest you google the number of deaths of H1N1, it’s not difficult to find. It It is also ridiculously low and and has mainly affected people with previous health problems, Compare that number to that of the people who die from seasonal flu. As for the opposition of “big P” to generic drugs, haven’t you heard the hullabaloo mounted against India,m Southafrica and other for manufacturing generic drugs against Aids? What papers do you read? At least here, in Europe, it was (not that much, now) quite pubilcized. And, let me stress this, there’s no bad faith in my part towars you, since you seem to feel somewhat offended. Don’ be, I enjoy articulate responses, so thank you.

      • Max says:

        Take a look at the hospitalization rates.

        For those 18 and over, the red 2009-2010 curve resembles a seasonal curve, only starting earlier, but for those under 18, the red curve is increasing faster.
        About 5-15% of hospitalized patients die.

        Some underlying health problems are more significant than others. For example, 10% of adults have diabetes, and 10% of adults hospitalized with swine flu have diabetes, so diabetes is not overrepresented there. However, 7% of adults and 26% of adults hospitalized with swine flu have asthma.
        Many people with health problems don’t even realize it, and would say that they’re pretty healthy.

      • James says:

        -exasperated sigh-

        Me google it? That’s not the way it works here friend, if you are making the claim, you present the evidence.

        What papers do I read? None. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution is doesn’t really take a global approach to news. Which is one of the reasons I canceled my subscription.

      • Sea snake says:

        Friend James, know what?
        you’re absolutely right, I’ve been downright lazy by saying that. As you point out, the burden of proof is mine, but my Mac is old, my line slow and I have the stupid defect of not jotting down some sites’ names. Thus, I’ll try to find the data again (I mean the sources) sometime this week for you to consult if you want. Sorry again.

    • Cthandhs says:

      Our immune systems can handle a lot of of things, but do you want to risk your life on that? Your child’s life? I was in kindergarten when I got chickenpox. A vaccine was not then available to me, but I sure wish it had been. I had a particularly severe case, I was sick for weeks. My body was covered with hundreds of sores. I didn’t have any particular immune problems then or now, I was just unlucky.

      I got the flue shot this year. Know why? I got the flu for the first time in my adult life last year. The flue sucks! I was throwing up for two days. I had to stay home from work for a week. Why is the “natural” way of producing antibodies better?

    • AuBricker says:

      The Spanish flu caused more deaths than did World War I in a much briefer period of time. Have the equivalent of a H1N1 vaccine been available and pushed by the government in 1918, think of all the lives that might have been saved. Vaccines have halted the spread of diseases that once ravaged the world. I, for one, am thankful for their existence. And I am one of the few that have actually experienced a bad reaction to a vaccination, but I still understand their need and value.

  5. The anti-government conspiracy mongering, even when it tries to sound reasonable, misses many components of the system. There are independent watchdogs on the system – academic physicians and professional organizations. They have a different set of interests, and it is naive to think that the interests of government, industry, and the medical profession all coincide.

    The science, at least, is transparent and is independently analyzed by many groups and individual scientists – pretty much anyone who is interested. There are also many governments looking at the same data – not just the US.

    And saying the media is industry controlled is really dismissive – there is no “the” media. There are many investigative journalists who love to make their career by cracking this alleged conspiracy.

    You really do get to a 9/11 style conspiracy theory when you put all the pieces together.

    • JonA says:

      If the media is controlled, then how is Bill Maher allowed to spew his non-sense on a media owned TV channel?

      • John Paradox says:

        JonA says:

        If the media is controlled, then how is Bill Maher allowed to spew his non-sense on a media owned TV channel?

        Where do you get that from:
        And saying the media is industry controlled is really dismissive – there is no “the” media. There are many investigative journalists who love to make their career by cracking this alleged conspiracy.?


      • Sea snake says:

        Oh, any nonsense, even if it is no nonsense —and I’m not referring specifically to Bill Maher, I’m not familiar with his position— is fodder for the media. They Thrive on it. Or hadn’t you noticed?

  6. And – to correct some specific bits of misinformation:

    The vaccine compensation program is not paid by all taxpayers – it is funded by a dedicated tax on vaccines themselves. Everyone who gets vaccinated shares the financial burden of paying for the rare side effects.

    This was no backroom deal with industry. It was all quite transparent. The purpose was to keep vaccine production at least partly in the US – because otherwise companies would lose money defending themselves from frivolous lawsuits. The liability was just not worth it. The current system is much better – it is streamlined and efficient – it’s good for everyone.

    And the threshold for compensation is deliberately low – it is NOT an admission that vaccines cause a specific problem. No one is saying that vaccines are risk free. There are genuine but rare adverse events. But the benefits vastly outweigh the risks.

  7. Luke Vogel says:

    After watching Maher’s remarks on his season finale show with regards to vaccinations etc. – I’m inclined to think he would see Shermer’s comments as being “to inside the bubble”. A long time common complaint about skeptics in general (said to be the vocal cloistered curmudgeons protecting the mainstream, whether academia or medical). Also, I would surmise that he does not see Shermer actually refuting his concerns.

    Maher’s season finale comments – Youtube – “Maher Still “Not Crazy” About Vaccinations”

  8. Max says:

    Maher’s a douche. Now can someone address Dr. Tom Jefferson of the Cochrane Collaboration? He’s going around telling everyone to wash their hands and not get flu shots.

    • Karen says:

      Are you familiar with the chochrane collaboration? They combine studies of similar research to discover a common trend and whether there really is significance in people’s findings or if its just among a couple of studies.. Very impressive bit of statistics going on there.

      He brings up a good point too, how effective is the flu vaccine?

      the results of his research has been very interesting.

      • Max says:

        Yes, I posted some of the Cochrane summaries below.

        Basically, the seasonal flu vaccine DOES prevent influenza cases in healthy adults, but does NOT prevent many other influenza-like-illnesses (ILIs).
        It DOES reduce flu cases among the elderly by 45% in healthcare settings, and by 25% in the community.
        There’s little evidence that vaccinating healthcare workers prevents flu in elderly patients, but it’s common sense that if fewer healthcare workers get the flu, then fewer of them will infect patients.

        Don’t forget that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and that in the real world we have to make decisions with incomplete evidence.

        I got my seasonal flu shot AND I wash my hands and try to eat healthy and all that.

  9. Max says:

    Our immune system “adapts” to the invading pathogens and “evolves” to fight them, such that when it encounters a biologically similar pathogen (which itself may have evolved) it has in its armory the weapons needed to fight it.

    Acquired immunity is an example of evolution? Say what? The immunity is not inherited, which is why old folks are immune but young folks aren’t.

    • Max says:

      Meant to say, “old folks are immune to H1N1 but young folks aren’t”

      • Brian M says:

        Some is inherited via evolution, but you are right to say the while organism doesn’t evolve and pass on the trait. That would be downright lamarckian!

        But, the individual immune cells do a bit of that, in that they, for lack of a better term, learn how to fight the pathogen. And those cells are the ones that divide and conquer. They don’t get passed on to the next generation, but they do evolve in a simplistic sense of the word.

  10. Luke Vogel says:

    From Maher’s season finale about vaccination – “this is not settled science like global warming”. Perhaps, we could take two RD award recipients (created and presented by AAI – Michael, if you’re making a case for evidence based knowledge, perhaps fixing your first paragraph mistake would be wise), in this case Bill Maher and Penn & Teller and have them discuss science since the award includes science advocacy. Do P&T still state that GW is a conspiracy concocted by hippies and environmental wacko’s? (they received the RD award in ’05, two years after the now infamous Bullshit episode on GW and environmentalism).

    Have those guys battle out vaccines and global warming with regards to science, then have Shermer and Penn set everyone straight on Libertarianism and skepticism.

    • Beelzebud says:

      If Libertarianism and skepticism go hand in hand, then why did the Libertarian National Convention feature Richard C. Hoagland as a speaker in 2008?

    • tmac57 says:

      At TAM7 Penn was much more circumspect on his global warming stance. Basically he hedged his previous disbelief with a kind of “well maybe there’s something to it but maybe not, but if there is what the government is proposing to fix it is wrong, but maybe it isn’t, but who the hell knows anyway, but maybe someone does know”. I think his opinion could be best described as ‘evolving’, which is good, and shows that he is willing to alter his belief on what the science is showing, instead of ideological stagnation, and intellectual dishonesty.

      • Luke Vogel says:

        That sounds very much like what Penn said the year before at TAM6, especially his explanation of what he said later in a LA Times opinion piece – “Climate change? Once more, ‘I don’t know’ [July 2008]

        Here’s the important part (after some strange comments on Gore):

        You can’t turn on the TV without seeing someone hating ourselves for what we’ve done to the planet and preaching the end of the world. Maybe they’re right, but is there no room for “maybe”? There’s a lot of evidence, but global warming encompasses a lot of complicated points: Is it happening? Did we cause it? Is it bad? Can we fix it? Is government-forced conservation the only way to fix it?

        So much for Maher’s settled science claim. I can’t find a single piece of evidence where they back off some of their claims from the Bullshit episode, “Environmental Hysteria”. It’s been over 7 years now.

        In a way the remarks a year later at TAM7 seem almost worse. This whole “who the hell knows” and “I don’t know” can seem like a more scientific friendly (maybe because he’s confronted by skeptics), but also can be just a cop-out, especially when you’re mixing it with such opinions as Gore’s an asshole and there’s people who just want us to hate ourselves.

      • tmac57 says:

        Sounds like Penn is experiencing some cognitive dissonance.

    • Mark M. says:

      By “GW” do you mean ‘George W.’ or ‘global warming’? ;)

  11. Beelzebud says:

    Hey, some people take ‘alternative medicine’ as the gospel, and others take ‘libertarianism’ as the gospel. Neither has science behind them.

    • Anthony O'Neal says:

      Political ideology is by nature subjective. I think it would be wrong to say that any political ideology has science behind it, although some are obviously more in favor of supporting science than others.

      Although since libertarians are literally in favor of cutting all science funding, I think science is literally as “against” it as possible, for pure survival reasons.

      • Beelzebud says:

        That’s a very good point, and why I pointed out the the Libertarian national convention in 2008 featured Richard C. Hoagland as a speaker. He even brought up his moon/mars conspiracy theories during the talk.

      • Kurt says:

        HuffPo features articles advocating homeopathy. Therefore, liberals can’t be skeptics.

        Does that “logic” bother you, Beelzebud? If so, quit using it against libertarians.

      • Beelzebud says:

        You might have a point if the Democrats had a homeopath to their national convention to give a speech…

      • J.F.Soti says:

        Science would do very well and has done very well without government funding. If the government got out of the science business it would leave more money in the pockets of the people to then invest into whatever science venture they wanted to and potentially make a profit.

        The way it is now the government takes your money by taxation puts it into science venture X. Then if X is produced and sold you get hosed a second time by having to pay for it again.

        At least in the libertarian scenario I have the chance to profit off it myself

      • Luke Vogel says:

        How would we pay for vaccination programs for everyone? Would it be our selfish nature which would get us to donate enough out of pocket money to make sure we can achieve herd immunity? Would the donations go to private contractors who would decide the best way to dole out the vaccines?

        It appears you miss the point of government and science working together.

      • J.F.Soti says:

        What you can’t afford the 20 bucks it would cost for a vaccine if the government got out of the way and let the free market do its thing?

        It appears you missed the point of cutting out the government as middle man!

      • Luke Vogel says:

        J.F. Soti

        What you can’t afford the 20 bucks it would cost for a vaccine if the government got out of the way and let the free market do its thing?

        I can’t tell if you’re serious or not. My guess is you don’t actually know to terribly much about Libertarianism (or what you seem to be ascribing) – my first hint, you direct the question to me personally. Reading my question more closer may help. I apologize if I come off like an asshole here, but I’ve grown exceedingly tired of what amounts to simpleminded B.S. from Libertarians.

      • Anthony O'Neal says:

        You would make some technological progress, true. But technology /= science. Private companies aren’t going to pay for something with as long-reaching effects as the LHC or space colonization.

        As George Washington once said:

        There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.

        PS, your economics is off. Obviously the research is a component cost of producing the product, and you pay the same amount whether that component cost is paid through taxes or by corporate R&D.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Well thats all fine and good if your only motivation is to make a buck, but with that line of thinking we would not have built the Tevatron, the LHC, the Hubble Space Telescope, gone to the moon, launched the Voyager probes, etc, etc, etc.

        But with libertarians, the only goal for humanity would be to turn a profit. None of the big things we’ve done in science would have been done by the private sector…

      • Cthandhs says:

        But with libertarians, the only goal for humanity would be to turn a profit

        Umm… that’s like saying “Progressives are all socialists” or “Conservatives just want to make everyone Christian”. You oversimplify the goals and desires of a *lot* of independent-minded people.

  12. Niki says:

    Ah, another refreshing Shermer piece.

  13. Dan says:

    This was a very well written article. Both objective and unafraid to call things as they ought to be called out in.

    Indeed, it would appear that the concept of intelligent design can very easily be beaten back with something so simple as vaccinations. Those of us who have been fighting to promote evolution need well versed people such as yourself.

    So for your eloquent prose, I bid thee thanks.

  14. Henk van der Gaast says:

    quote;In 1982 I read a quote from a medical journal stating (about the smallpox vaccine) it “causes, furthermore, an explosion of leukemia.”quote.

    Huh? smallpox vaccine prevented uncountable deaths and human suffering and there is a leukemia explosion? when?

    Tell you what… find a small pox community.. apparently a few have arisen.. and live there.. you choose, vacc or no vacc.

    I am hopeful that the few numbers of small pox victims touted last year are something else or mis reported by the “evil media and big pharma” just to sell a few extra jabs to inflict further vacc misery.

    Now just to set another record straight that Steve seems to have missed; vaccination doesn’t turn you into superman. Some members of the population cant be vaccinated for medical reasons and other ones, well the vacc doesnt seem efficaceous.. Its why you need a high representation of vaccinated individuals in each and every community. Its called the herd effect for good reason. Vaccinating Denver has no effect on the folk in Staten Island. You need to vaccinate all of the USA for diseases like measles, mumps and rubella so your visitors will have very little impact at all.

    I would also like to point out that the USA was caught with its pants down WRT to H1N1. Forbid it ever happens again and you guys remain in stock of drugs like Tamiflu

    • Sea snake says:

      Tamiflu scarcely has any effect, look it up or ask a professional; at most, is reduces the duration (3-7 days) of illness. If you remember, it was first sold wholesale during the bird flu scare, now magically absent form big news. As for the flu itself, doctors seem to consider it less serious than old fashined flu. Compare the number of deaths cause by each, keeping in mind that there is a “normal” flu vaccine, and that its use is rather widespread (at least in Europe). Now I repeat myself, what about a vaccine against Malaria, for example? How many people die because of it every year? Could it be because it would not be good business?

      • KMW says:

        The majority of, if not all, the diseases that we get vaccinated for here in the US are caused by bacteria or viruses. Malaria is caused by a parasite. It may be that vaccinations against parasites in general, or even certain parasites, are more difficult to invent. And when I use the word difficult, I don’t imply a definition of financial cost.

      • Sea snake says:

        Thank you, KMW, for an intelligent reply. Right, there are three lines of investigation —for the time being, just models— vector, parasite, end environment, but if we’re making headway in almost every malady —cancer, for one— that have a high incidence in our “developed world”, how come that a parasitical malady known for so long hasn’t been at least partially eliminated? Granted, the remedy or vaccine may be more difficult to obtain (though quinine helps a bit) but why have our brainy scientists not come up with something. If Global Warming dos what some say it will, malaria will spread to us rich people. Let’s see how long does it take for a remedy to appear.

      • Sea snake says:

        It’s me again,
        sorry I got carried away and forgot about the main issue. First of all, I’m all for vaccination, in general, but I distrust these new aliments that keep on emerging out of the blue (maybe because we’re too exploitive? Look up swine and birds farming conditions). The most relevant part of the post, though, was that about the flu, tamiflu and so on, and I’d like to know what your thoughts are on that matter.

      • KMW says:

        I acknowledge your questions about how much research has gone into developing a preventative medication for malaria. I have no idea, so I won’t speculate. It’s a good question, however.

        From what I’ve read, thus far the H1N1 has not been more lethal than the more usual flus. It’s been considered pandemic because it spread quickly into multiple countries and throughout countries, and the concerns have been about it mutating into something more lethal. Whether it will actually do that or not, I don’t think anyone knows. To me it seems more like a “better to be safe than sorry” approach.

        My 2 kids still at home and I get flu shots every year now. My husband is rather neurotic when it comes to needles so he doesn’t. I don’t think anyone in our house has had a flu since 2005. But I also try to shop at the least busy times and stock up on things so I don’t have to go out shopping as often during the fall/winter. And I carry the disinfectant wipes around with me and wipe down the shopping carts, etc. My kids get wiped down with Purell after school and after gymnastics. My husband doesn’t have a lot of in person contact with others in his work.

        So are the vaccines keeping us from getting the flu, or our own precautions and lifestyle, or both, or neither? I don’t know. I just tend to take the “better safe than sorry” approach when it comes to mine and my kids’ health. Am I being exploited for that? Maybe. I’m not sure I could positively determine that one way or the other right now either.

        My nearly 4 yr old would be the only one eligible for the H1N1 vaccine right now. I’m not sure that these arguments that the vaccine was “hastily” made are valid. From what I understand, it’s relatively easy to isolate a flu strain and get a vaccine ready to be made. The lengthy part of the process is due to having to use chicken eggs. If a way was found to bypass the use of the eggs, vaccines for new flu strains could be made available much sooner and in larger quantities.

      • Sea snake says:

        Thank you very much, KMV, I do appreciate your answer, and I do understand tour “better safe than sorry” argument. I would probably feel the same. Nevertheless, I’m not trying to scare anyone, It’d I who’ve been scared by the media And the WHO and whatnot. It’s what made me look into the matter and feel somewhat indignant. First it was the bird flu, which cost, in Tamiflu (which was never used) billions of dollars to save us form an unexisting Menace (how many people actually died of it, some hundreds? (most of whom shared their living space with birds) and god knows how much in “investigation”. And now this. If the virus mutates to be really dangerous, the present vaccine will serve no purpose whatsoever, medically speaking. A new strain of virus, as seasonal fever proves, is “immune” to our immunization. Thank you again for your answer and, beleive me, I’m not trying to be negative, only skeptical

      • Max says:
        “Treatment of adults with an antiviral was associated with more than a two third reduction in death from influenza.”

  15. Jack says:

    Ah shucks guys – my mind’s made up. Will ya all stop tryin to confuse me with the facts.

  16. Bill says:

    Michael Shermer continues to bash the 9/11 Truth movement in almost every article he writes, yet refuse to debate any of the 9/11 researchers. I have challenged him on this and he won’t debate on this topic. Do you notice Michael never argues specifics about 9/11. He only talks generalities. I wonder why?

    It’s amazing that Shermer is skeptical about almost everything with the one exception of government False Flag operations.
    False Flag operations are covert operations conducted by governments, corporations, or other organizations which are designed to deceive the public in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities. The name is derived from the military concept of flying false colors; that is, flying the flag of a country other than one’s own. False flag operations are not limited to war and counter-insurgency operations, and have been used in peace-time.

    Michael says anyone who believes False Flag operations are real is nothing more than a Conspiracy Nut. I have asked him several times if there is any Government False Flag operation that he believes did happen in the last 75 years, and he could not name one he believes. Isn’t that amazing?

    I’m a Skeptic and I think most Skeptics do a great job exposing frauds and hoaxes! I continue to be amazed at how many Skeptics do this so well, except when it comes to critical thinking about government cover-ups and lies. Here they accept what the government tells us as the truth. Pearl Harbor, JFK, Gulf of Tonkin, 9/11, Political Assassinations, you name it. Watch the online videos of World Trade Center Building 7 collapsing at free fall speed at 5:20 pm on 9/11/01. Building 7 was not hit by any airplane. It has all the earmarks of controlled demolition. Yet if you bring this subject up, these same Skeptics blow you off as a conspiracy theorists. They change the subject and tell you to take off your tin foil hat. Wow, isn’t that scientific?

    Could the answer be that some of these Skeptics have connections with some of the Intelligence Agencies? It’s a well known fact that the CIA has deep cover agents in the news media (Google Carl Bernstein’s articles as one example). I wonder if they have deep cover assets in the Skeptic Society?

    • Sea snake says:

      Friend Bill,
      have a look at This, it comes form a danish published study, sorry I can’t get you the address right now, it is written by Jim Hoffman.
      The scientific paper Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe
      conclusively shows the presence of unignited aluminothermic explosives in dust samples from the Twin Towers, whose chemical signature matches previously documented aluminothermic residues found in the same dust samples. The present review of the paper and related research is intended to summarize those findings for the non-technical reader. To that end, I first provide a short introduction to the subject of aluminothermic explosives, then outline the methods and results of analysis of the dust samples, and finally explore the significance of these findings.

      • James says:

        Again why does this matter? If for the sake of argument we concede that there were explosives planted, how in the blue blazes did they get them into the building with no one noticing?

        It’s ridiculous.

        Not to mention there is legitimate criticism about this study.

      • Sea snake says:

        Friend James,
        as a reply to Bill’s post, it does have a bearing. As for how did the thermite get into the building in the blue blazes, I wouldn’t know, I’m not an expert on these kind of things, but if they did get there, someone thought of a way —there are some suggestions about that in the cited article.
        By the way, I’m not particularly keen on the conspiracy argument, it would involve too many participants and it would have leaked at one point or another, but I do think it’s not beyond reasonable doubt.

      • Mcguire says:

        Im a Medical Doctor , and Skeptic too ( hate hoaxes and conspiracy BS theories ) but i completly agree with you Bill.. False Flag operations are well documented and no True Skeptic should avoid the evidence and the Lack of congruence about building 7 collapsing at free fall speed..
        I just cant undertand this hard deny for serious and scientific debate about this topic by the Skeptic “leaders” ( even Dr. Dawkins )

      • James says:

        So your a medical doctor, and not sayyyyy a structural engineer? or demolitions expert? So since we are commenting on things outside a given area of expertise. Me being an interested layman feel free to comment that economic theory is false, it’s all voodoo. Planets are held up by giant turtles. And there is something fundamentally wrong with the theory of relativity.

    • James says:

      wow, you must not be a good skeptic then, since all the evidence points to there not being a conspiracy.

    • Mark M. says:

      “I wonder if they have deep cover assets in the Skeptic Society?” I think this statement of yours shows us that your are indeed a conspiracy theorist.

    • tmac57 says:

      I think that all conspiracy theorists are part of a conspiracy to discredit science and critical thinking, thus setting the stage to gain control of our minds, and to take over the world, and our precious bodily fluids ;)

    • Kurt says:

      It’s entirely reasonable to bash Truthers, but not because they think the U.S. government is capable of tremendous evil. That idea is reasonable. What isn’t reasonable is their omni-credulous capacity to believe that *any* act of evil can be traced back to dark unseen conspiracies. It’s magical thinking for pessimists.

      Truthers also love to play a game of anomaly spam where they rack up a list of objections that proponents of the mainstream view must “respond” to. (Creationists love to do this as well.) Nowhere is this more evident than in controlled demolition theories where Truthers will list endless things that seem “weird” about the WTC collapses even if those anomalies imply mutually contradictory explanations of the collapse. Also, I have never yet met a Truther who actually knew a damn thing about structural engineering and their objections are layman’s errors (as is also common among those who refuse to consider anthropogenic climate change).

      Dozens of knowledgeable structural engineers investigated the collapses and ruled out demolition. But, hey, what do they know? They’re part of the conspiracy too, I hear.

    • Mcguire says:

      Im a Medical Doctor , and Skeptic too ( hate hoaxes and conspiracy BS theories ) but i completly agree with you Bill.. False Flag operations are well documented and no True Skeptic should avoid the evidence and the Lack of congruence about building 7 collapsing at free fall speed..

      I just cant undertand this hard deny for serious and scientific debate about this topic by the Skeptic “leaders” ( even Dr. Dawkins )

      • Cthandhs says:

        Copy Pasting your posts… or are you a spambot? Hmmm… So tell me, where do “Medical Doctors” get their structural engineering training?

      • Mcguire says:

        In the first place ..Sorry for the copy pasting thing…

        Second.. i don´t need to be a structural engineer to aplicate skeptic thinking on a subject so tremendously strange ( is not normal for a building just to collapse at free fall speed , think about it )

        Anaybody that just believe in the Goverment version is not a true Skeptic by definition.

      • Cthandhs says:

        I *am* a skeptic. And I *do* believe the government’s version. Among other reasons, I studied architectural engineering for 3 years before I went into computers. My husband is a licensed structural engineer who works professionally in the field. He *loves* conspiracy theories and was all over the 9/11 building theory when it happened, but none of the arguments for controlled demolition are up to the facts test. Most of them are simple anomaly picking and layman misunderstandings about what happens to buildings when they are hit by planes and catch on fire. The reason my husband doesn’t bother to post a huge debunking every time it comes up, is that most of you guys seem a lot more dedicated to the conspiracy than you do to the truth.

        Sometimes bad shit happens. If Bush and Co. really wanted to bring down the towers, they didn’t have to do a demolition. All they had to do was shred a memo or two and let the radical fundies do the rest. I’m totally willing to go with “Bush is evil”, but I’m more committed to understanding the truth than I am to clinging to conspiracies.

      • Mcguire says:

        Cthandhs… please tell me .. with all your knowledge in buildings .. how did the WTC 7 fell down at free fall speed without an airplane hit… ?? shit happens .. wow!!! that`s a scientific answer!!!

      • Cthandhs says:

        Building 7 was severely damaged. There are some good pictures here:

        Different materials fail in different ways, but it is not mysterious for a steel building to collapse very quickly once it’s foundation has been undercut. Steel is strong in tension loads while concrete is strong in compression loads (which is why you reinforce concrete with steel). With the foundation undercut and the steel strength weakened by heat (steel can get very weak from heat without actually melting), it is no surprise that the building fell as quickly as it did. Basically steel and concrete will hold on until they reach their failure point and then let go entirely. Unlike wood buildings or mixed materials buildings which will show a lot more deflection before they collapse. There. You have my educated answer. Will you consider it? Or will you move the goalposts, throw up more “anomalies” and try to obfuscate the issue.

  17. Dirk says:

    I’m a big Michael Shermer fan and thought his letter to Bill was excellent, but in the case of flu vaccinations there does seem to be grounds for legitimate skepticism about whether they work or not, or in whom they work. Doctor Harriet Hall, who writes a “Skepdoc” column in Skeptic Magazine, came out strongly for both “regular” flu and H1N1 flu vaccinations recently. Michael also seems to think we should definitely get the shots. But check out this article.

    The author’s point – and she’s reporting on the work of a scientist who’s skeptical about these specific vaccinations – is that we’ve not been able to really tell if the flu vaccinations work due to deficiencies in our epidemiological approach and the fact that we don’t have an easy and inexpensive way of testing if a person actually has the flu. These little buggers mutate pretty regularly and we seem to miss a moving target most of the time. In a nutshell, healthy people probably don’t need a shot because their immune systems can fight off the virus and older people who get a shot, due to their less effective immune systems, may not develop the antibodies the vaccine is designed to develop.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the shots hurt – paralysis is rare and usually temporary – and they may benefit us all. They might benefit us a whole lot if we get the vaccine right and the flu is a killer virus.

  18. Here is a better summary of the evidence for the flu vaccine efficacy – by and ID specialist:

    Don’t ignore the fact that when healthy people get the vaccine and develop antibodies, they protect frail or older people by keeping them from getting exposed to the flu.

    Also – H1N1 flu vaccine is likely to be particularly effective, because we know it is well targeted. We don’t have to guess like we do for the seasonal flu vaccine.

    • Max says:

      Here’s the Cochrane summary of seasonal flu vaccine efficacy or lack thereof for different groups of people.

      Healthy adults:
      “There is not enough evidence to decide whether routine vaccination to prevent influenza in healthy adults is effective… It did not change the number of people needing to go to hospital or take time off work.”

      “Best effectiveness of current vaccines in preventing clinical illness and its complications was seen in long-term care facilities (for example nursing homes) where vaccines prevented about 45% of pneumonia cases, hospital admissions and influenza-related deaths. This compared to about 25% vaccine efficacy in preventing hospitalisation from influenza or respiratory illness in open community settings.”

      Healthcare workers who work with the elderly:
      “There is evidence that vaccinating the elderly has a modest impact on the complications from influenza. There is also high quality evidence that vaccinating healthy adults under 60 (which includes healthcare workers) reduces cases of influenza. Both the elderly in institutions and the healthcare workers who care for them could be vaccinated for their own protection, but an incremental benefit of vaccinating healthcare workers for the benefit of the elderly cannot be proven without better studies.”

  19. Paul Bredderman says:


    I agree with the several points you make in support of wide-spread vaccination to reduce the spread of disease.

    This is a risk:benefit situation, where the benefits far outweigh the risks. That is, it is a semi quantitative weighting is called for.

    Those in the know, have the responsibility for giving the public accurate information for making individual informed decisions, based on risk versus benefit.

    It should not get more idiological than that — decisions based on data/science.

  20. jason hagen says:

    I don’t know if Shermers’ “you must believe vaccinations because you are a believer in
    evolution, so please be brave and say you’ve changed your mind” was best the

    Bill Maher quotes wrong stats and information in which Shermer addressed only slightly.
    Shermer should have taken all of Mahers’ recent statements and addressed the
    accuracy of each.

    But it may be just the beginning, if Maher does reply by a public letter/blog then they surely
    will get into details of Bills claims and argue the facts.

    • Max says:

      The evolution argument was pretty ridiculous. Michael was just trying to cram Maher’s pro-evolution stance into the argument somehow to increase cognitive dissonance.

  21. Jason Wood says:

    Excellent letter, but you did not address Bill’s main point, that we should DEBATE this issue.

    Bill should be reminded that due to the complexity of vaccines, the debate should really be left to the qualified professionals. What reason is there for the general public to debate scientific facts?

    Perhaps there is legitimate scientific debate about whether this particular vaccine is necessary. If so, Bill should be clear not to bring all vaccines into this discussion, further fueling the fires of the deniers.

    • Ryan says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. When Bill backpedals from ‘vaccines are all out bad’ into ‘we should debate it’, it smacks of another historical backpedaling – namely from ‘evolution is just wrong’ to ‘teach the controversy’.

  22. Marc says:

    The point to be made about big business and profits is that it is irrelevant to whether or not vaccination is in the better interest of public health. Discussion regarding business, big or otherwise, should be confined to such things as fair practice, economic effect and viability.

    The problem with Bill Maher is that he is predominately a comedian. Comedic argument and satire relies on finding humour; a good comedian is necessarily proficient at this, but not necessarily proficient at the critical thinking that supporting a correct conclusion implies. When Maher is correct, i.e., when we agree with him, it’s easy to think it’s because he makes sense. But when he’s wrong, as in the case of vaccines (and I would add his support of PETA), it is easy to see what a dull tool comedy is, and what a dull tool Bill Maher can be.

    • Max says:

      The same goes for Penn and Teller.
      In general, when people agree with the conclusions, they tend to ignore the logical fallacies, the ad hominems, the smoke and mirrors, the false analogies (e.g. “anti-vaccine = anti-evolution”) used to reach those conclusions.
      I tend to call bullshit where I see it.

      • Marc says:

        Nonetheless, I give Penn and Teller more credit because they give the things they call bullshit more credit: they allow their targets the freedom to express their beliefs. They also practice some scientific process and physically tests things when they can. With them the comedy and ridicule is more window dressing than the totality of their arguments.

      • Max says:

        I think even they’d admit that entertainment comes first.

  23. Forrest Robinson says:

    Whenever I cannot seem to see the truth, I always “FOLLOW THE MONEY”. These folks are not making any money on the front side because they are giving the vaccine away for free at the local health clinics and they are only charging a minimal fee for it from other distributors. On the back side they are not making much money either. The cases which support the anecdotal evidence are so few that we would be forced to think of the health proffesionals as incompetent. Well are they incompetent or not? I have to conclude that they are competent. They are just trying to look out for us on this one. “FOLLOW THE MONEY”

  24. BorgLord says:

    Vaccinations WORK! People who refuse to use this very basic tool of public health are placing themselves at unacceptable risk. To see that Mr Maher–for whom I have a great deal of respect–rejects a positive good this basic puzzles me beyond words. I for one appreciate not ever contracting, smallpox, polio, various kinds of flu, whooping cough, diphtheria and other diseases against which I WAS VACCINATED. Please Mr Maher come back to realityland! Thank you Dr Shermer for calling him on his trip to La La Land.

  25. Lauralee says:

    How can anyone deduce that the sole purpose of vaccines is to generate money for Big Pharma? A population ravaged by endless bouts of polio, small pox, rabies, measles and flu would necessarily spend FAR more on pharmaceuticals and health care than the few dollars it currently spends on vaccination programs.

    • Max says:

      What’s the pharmaceutical treatment for smallpox and measles? Mechanical ventilation?
      GSK happily sells both the flu vaccine Fluzone and the anti-viral Relenza without a huge internal conflict.
      Companies don’t think long-term. If they have a product that can raise sales now, they’ll sell it. I’m not convinced by big-picture arguments like yours or John Paradox’s above (“Besides, if people get these virii and die, that’s one less consumer for Viagra and other ‘lifestyle drugs’.”)

  26. Cambias says:

    It is both amusing and depressing to see all the comments, both on this post and in general on the Skepticblog, which follow this template:

    “I think you’re doing a great job promoting skepticism — but MY pet crackpot theory is TRUE!”

  27. Bill says:

    Not a single “Skeptic” on this Forum who believes the government has told us the truth about 9/11 has presented any specific facts that prove the government is right. You just blow things off with generalities. Read Dirty Secrets: Crime, Conspiracy and Cover-Up During the 20th Century (2005) by Michael Collins Piper and learn about your government’s False Flag Operations. Oh wait. You live in Heehaw City so you won’t bother to take the time to seek out political truth. That would require some real investigative work on how the real world of politics works, and you are “scientists” that don’t dirty your hands in politics. Just sit back on your chair, smoke your pipe and accuse others who don’t believe as you do of wearing tin foil hats. That sure solves a lot of our problems.

    • Max says:

      All “skeptics” blow things off with generalities. /sarcasm
      Go polish your tinfoil hat and stop trying to hijack this and other discussions.

      • Bill says:

        Nice post. No facts. No data. No science. Just more avoidance and unwillingness to debate. Michael Shermer runs from the 9/11 debate. He will not accept any debate challenge on the subject. Some scientist.

      • Beelzebud says:

        False Flag operations are real. We performed them in Iran in the 70’s, for example.

        However, 9/11 was NOT a false flag operation…

      • Mcguire says:

        just explain to all how the WTC 7 fell down .. how in the world you can not be Skeptic about the oficial story ???

      • Beelzebud says:

        Because building 7 had one of the towers fall on it… The conspiracy theorists love to point out building 7, as if it were unscathed after one of the towers partly collapsed on top of it.

      • James says:

        If I’m not mistaken wasn’t building 7 the one that had uncontrolled fires burning in it for several hours? Because the collapse of the towers had knocked out the water and the priority was finding survivors?

      • Mcguire says:

        “Because building 7 had one of the towers fall on it… “what????????!!!!!! you just want to believe your own BS!!!!!

        “if I’m not mistaken wasn’t building 7 the one that had uncontrolled fires burning in it for several hours?” .. there are several examples around the world about buildings burning for alot more time that a few hours and not collapsing at free fall speed .. to think that´s ok is just ridiculous!!

      • James says:

        Okay, so we have a starting point. That burning buildings that burned for more than a few hours did not collapse at free fall speed. These other buildings that are mentioned. Were there attempts made to control these fires? Possibly saving them from complete collapse because of them?

        Because building 7 had no one trying to put out any fires, it was an evacuated building and since the water was knocked out no one could do anything anyways. Plus, the priority of rescue personnel was to try and find survivors after the collapse.

        So my guess is that it collapsed at free fall speed (to which I have seen no video please provide) because there were no attmepts made to save it.

        To which I can freely speculate since I am not an architect, demolitions expert, or structural engineer. Which by your admission you are not one either.

  28. says:

    Regardging the comment about Pfizer’s Lipitor and its [$1.13] billion dollars a month, another perspective might be comparing its cost to patients with that of the “illegal” drug trade. Failing coverage on my [Wellpoint/Blue Cross] HMO insurance formulary, the 10 milligram doeses are $3 each, working out to a whopping $300,000 a kilo, or TEN TIMES THE COST OF COCAINE!

    Who are the real drug cartels? The reason coke and pot haven’t been legalized may just be that the profits and tax revenues are chump change to the politicians who feed from the Pharma-teat, our modern day Robber-Barons.

    • Marc says:

      There is no reason for cocaine to be anywhere near the price that it is. Marijauna, being a weed, could be free if people were simply allowed to let it grow. There is no R&D and testing involved with producing illegal drugs. But to suggest that low profits from tax is the reason they aren’t legalized is ridiculous. Governments spend billions of tax dollars keeping them illegal.

      • Sea snake says:

        Well, yes, there is,
        all those drugs are ridiculously cheap and easy to make. Legalize them and how would you justify the seven US military bases in Colombia, where would the anti-drug campaigners, specialized police and customs units and so on work?
        There’s a whole world built around “drugs”. But think about the legal ones, those that have half the planet hooked (benzodiazepines, antidepressants and so on, and remember Huxley’s Brave New World). As an excuse, they are beautiful. But we have had a previous experience on prohibition, don’t we? Alcohol. How many fortunes were made in illicit trade in the times of Prohibition? Organized crime flourished, as now. It’s exactly the same problem. There’s nothing that the illegal drugs can do that cannot be compared to the effects of alcohol, a hard drug, by the way, not as cannabis (marihuana). And yet, not everybody is an alcoholic, I suppose. Maybe more information and less phariseism would help a bit. And Look up dates, marihuana was legal and used (in fact, not specially noticed) in the UK until about 1968. Then, suddenly, it became “lethal” and the “doorway to harder drugs”.

      • James says:

        I would agree that the banning of marijuana has been a head scratcher for me. Since the drug itself does not have the immediate destrucive effects of heroin, cocaine, or the like(fact check?).

        I had always thought that the reason that it was banned because William Randolph Hearst was threatened by the ability of marijuana to produce four times the paper than a trees(fact check?). So he reached out to his political connections, pulled the “evils” of marijuana and got it banned.

      • Sea snake says:

        Friend James,
        I didn’t know about Hearst’s “involvement” but it makes as much sense as any other explanation and yes, cannabis is incredibly productive, dirt cheap, easy to grow —it does almost by itself— and better than cutting down trees, which take a lot of time to grow and we should respect a bit more. Anyway and not that long ago, even in old USA there was an attempt to create a non-funnny marihuana because its fibers were highly appreciated for cordage and the like. Funnily enough, in lots of places where Cannabis sativa used to be grown, and not for its psichothropic properties, its cultivation is now forbidden, with the forced “recycling” of a lot of family economies. Whatever the case, it’s a fact that marijuana is a “soft” drug, you only have to look at a pharmalogical textbook form the 60s and 70s and you’ll see. In fact, there’s an interesting drug against brain and soft tissue tumors that is being developed from tetrahidrocannabinol, the active (most active, rather) ingredient of cannabis.

    • Max says:

      I guess your point is that drug syndicates should stop dealing in illegal drugs and instead develop legal blockbuster drugs.

      • Marc says:

        No. Selling something that costs next to nothing to produce and has no benefits to consumers besides relieving them of their money is definitely the way to go.

        Really, what operating costs do the drug cartels have besides the purchase of weapons? It’s all tax free, no lab expenses, no labs with expensive equipment in the first place, no teams of scientists, no actual goals so no research or creative thinking necessary, no exploration to find new substances, no nothing. It’s all gravy. That’s good business.

      • Max says:

        Bribing officials and paying for legal defense, similar to big pharma ;-)

      • Max says:

        “No. Selling something that costs next to nothing to produce and has no benefits to consumers besides relieving them of their money is definitely the way to go.”

        In that case, they should switch to selling homeopathic remedies.

  29. hugo Perez says:

    Hi, I know vaccines work, or how many people with polio do you know?

  30. Alan says:

    Mr. Shermer,

    I have found this an effective argument against the conspiracy angle of anti-vaccination proponents.

    (This argument only works on those anti-vaxers who are accept global warming as true. In my experience I have found that most anti-vaxers are usually left of center politically and so they usually accept global warming and are critical of global warming deniers. Bill Maher fits this description):

    The argument that big pharma has the power/money to be in conspiracy with the CDC and the medical science community is at odds with the fact that big oil (who probably has more money and power) cannot influence the climate scientists. Despite all of big oil’s attempts, the IPCC has not reversed any of its global warming findings or predictions. So, I don’t think the less powerful pharma industry can sway the entire medical science establishment.

    • Max says:

      One difference is that big oil doesn’t fund environmental research, but big pharma does fund medical research and FDA review.

  31. Moochie says:

    Bill Maher is right. They’re all right — every conspiracy theorist out there! There *was* no landing on the moon. The government *did* orchestrate 9/11. Obama *was* born in Kenya. Oswald *was* deep-cover CIA. Mother Teresa was a Muslim. The Pope is head of the Illuminati!
    Vaccines cause autism. Masturbation *will* blind you!

    • Sea snake says:

      There seems to be a conspiracy against conspiracy theorists, but at least, they do seem to view things with a measure of skepticism, which is a healthy attitude. Let’s see, did you believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Irak? The major newspapers held up the lie for long after the deed was done —and by the way, it was decided long before it happened, 9/11 served as an excuse. And, do you think things are going better in Afghanistan? As of today, the sel-prclaimed president has passed a law which enforces women’s submission, the burka, and, in general, all those “customs” which made the taliban regime so hateful, as is the saudi regime, by the way, look it up. Belief without proof is “religion”, but skepticism with data is just that, skepticism. All big media are now in the hands of very few, as Iraq proved, so, where do we find more, true, data?

  32. Beckner says:


    Codswallop? Really?

    I hope that when you get on Bill’s show, you find a way to use that word again. It’s definitely going into my vocabulary.

  33. Walt Moseley says:


    I enjoy reading your emails. However I’m a little concerned that a little non-science has crept into your thinking.

    In your Huffington Post post you say that “how vaccinations work is additional proof . . . that evolution happened and that natural selection is real” because our immune system “evolves” to fight “invading pathogens.” Are saying that we pass our vaccinated “evolved” ability to fight disease on to our progeny? I don’t think that’s evolution.

    Or, is my understanding non-science?

    Walt Moseley

    • Walt Moseley says:

      I.e., if our personal immune “evolves,” can we then really pass this new immune system on to our progeny?

  34. lynn dewey says:

    Maher and Shermer are my heroes both and enjoy then whatever chance I get. Of course, Bill is way off base in most of his comments about vaccinations in general. However, in terms of seasonal flu and the H1N1, he may indeed have the last laugh. At least is now supported widely by a number of important studies.
    See the Atlantic magazine, November, 2009.

  35. Mcguire says:

    ,,, off topic… just explain to all how the WTC 7 fell down .. how in the world you can not be Skeptic about the oficial story ??? justify this saying that it was not not Bush because it worked ! is just BS!!! im disappointed.

  36. Hilton says:

    Simply put a lepers bell around the neck of unvaccinated sufferers and send them back to their “medical advisers” for treatment

  37. Don says:

    I’m curious if Bill Maher doesn’t want a vaccination because it’s grown in a chicken egg. He has been a staunch Vegan, and continuously pushes idea that everyone else should be vegan as well. Perhaps someone should ask him if he considers vaccines to be poisonous due to where they are incubated.

    Bill should stick to what he knows which is comedy. There is nothing funny about telling people life saving procedures are poisonous.

    • Sea snake says:

      Frien Don,
      you’re perfectly right. The only problem is information —as regards new vaccines, which is mainly one-sided. How many people have died of Bird Flu, How many of H1.N1? Is this a necessary scare? Is the WHO overstating the case, as it did with the bird flu? Why? Let me say, nevertheless, that I’, all for vaccines, those reliably testad and have proved to be, clinically, and underline that, useful, and with negligible or at least acceptable side-effects. All the rest is just commercial reasoning.

  38. John Draeger says:

    Shermer’s letter to Maher is an excellent piece of skeptical diplomacy. I think the last paragraph is something every skeptic should think about carefully.

    As Dr. Novella suggests, we should trust infectious disease experts when it comes to vaccine information. The U.S. CDC has excellent of information about infectious diseases. In general, we should trust the consensus of experts in their specific field of science. Even good scientists are on shaky ground when they make claims or spout beliefs about topics in which they have limited knowledge. For all references the skeptic should examine who did the original research and how they did it. Some criteria to look for in good medical studies are: adequate sampling size, double blind, placebo controlled, randomized, multi-center, prospective.

    For those who are still trying to bring politics (how you prefer a society should be run – your value judgements) into comments, here’s a quote to consider by world renowned biologist E.O. Wilson:

    “Political ideology can corrupt the mind, and science.”

    • tmac57 says:

      Very good points John. Sometimes I think that people mistake cynicism and contrarian opinions for healthy skepticism.

  39. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    Some readers above mentioned Dr. Thomas Jefferson’s article on the flu vaccine.

    An exact quote from Jefferson’s article states….

    “Inactivated parenteral vaccines were 30% effective (95% CI 17% to 41%) against influenza-like illness, and 80% (95% CI 56% to 91%) efficacious against influenza when the vaccine matched the circulating strain and circulation was high, but decreased to 50% (95% CI 27% to 65%) when it did not.”

    So, the flu shot is 30% effective against ‘influenza-like illness’. Not bad actually. This is more than I expected, given that the vaccine is specifically made to protect against a certain strain of influenza A.

    It is 80% effective against Flu A when well matched with the circulating strain.

    Again, pretty good.

    It is even 50% efficacious against unmatched strains.

    So, even if poorly matched, if most people in the community are vaccinated, at least 50% of them would have significant protection. And the 50% that were not protected by their own immunity would benefit from by having their risk of exposure decreased due to the 50% that were protected.

    This added layer of protection becomes significant only when large numbers of people are vaccinated. This is called herd immunity.

    The H1N1 vaccine is extremely well matched to the circulating virus. So if we go with the 80% efficacy number that Dr. Jefferson refers to in this scenario, then the herd immunity effects should be quite high if communities can achieve decent vaccination rates. There will be many less flu related deaths.

    If people get both flu vaccines this year in significant numbers, the herd immunity effects will compliment each other.

    The downside is extremely small (cost, pain at the injection, rare reactions).

    Why all the controversy?

  40. trilitium says:

    All you people just miss it completely. It is well proven to me that the smallpox vaccine worked. As for the others there is no clear medical evidence as statistics are biased with a) too small numbers in people observed, b) the ongoing improvement in living conditions leading to better health in general and such. There is no clear evidence to say that tuberculosis died because of vaccines or cleaner water/homes. So, MDs are the lousiest of statisticians I have seen. On the other hand, the smallpox vaccine did work, so the principle works. The argument against vaccines is in the byproducts, not the active ingredient, and the way to stretch the active ingredient or to stabilize it. Thimerosal, adjuvants and such. And the idea to actively harm your child for the greater good. And the idea to harm your child at a point it cannot defend itself. Why is it that autism grew over the last few years, in coincidence with raised vaccination campaigns. It leaves you wonder, and the moment there is serious doubt (never trust a capitalist anyway) I just dont do it!

    • tmac57 says:

      “Why is it that autism grew over the last few years, in coincidence with raised vaccination campaigns.”
      Please look at this article by Dr Novella on his Neurologica blog ,if your question is serious, and not just rhetoric:

      From the article: “the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that the increasing autism prevalence is due to increased efforts to make the diagnosis and a broadening of the definition of autism. The evidence is not sufficient to conclude that there is not also a real increase in ASD incidence, but nor is there data to support this conclusion.”

      By the way, even if it turns out that Autism rates are rising, the idea that just because there has been increases in vaccinations at the same time that Autism rates might be rising doesn’t prove causation, there have probably been hundreds of other increasing events that could equally be blamed if correlation is the only criteria. Science is more complicated that that.

    • Max says:

      How do you tell which statistics are biased and which aren’t?
      Maybe the correlation between vaccines and autism is biased.

      Living conditions may have improved, but the population has grown, there’s more travel, and diseases like measles are still highly contagious. Without vaccinations, their rates probably would’ve increased, not decreased.

    • Max says:

      “It leaves you wonder, and the moment there is serious doubt (never trust a capitalist anyway) I just dont do it!”

      Then you’re just opting for a proven risk over an unproven risk.
      Granted, the risk of infection may be low for now thanks to herd immunity, but that will change if others in your community follow suit.

      • trilitium says:

        Well, we all seem to agree on one point. Statistics are biased one way or the other. Where people fail to link autism to vaccines I also say they fail to link decrease in disease rates to vaccines out of the same reason. The usual scenario, we cannot go back in time and see what happens if we leave out vaccines and such. Studies are formed by pharmaceutical companies and dont proof a single thing and objective studies are an impossible task due to all the bias that just cannot be eliminated. In addition my two cents: “Smoking is healthy” signed Phillip Morris. “Eat sh**, 1billion flys cannot be wrong” bla bla

        The point of taking a risk has to be slightly corrected. There are only two really serious diseases that should be taken care of as they turn deadly, diphtheria and tetanus, and maybe meanwhile H1N1 if there is a preexisting medical condition with the lungs. So I kind of get the need to vaccinate here as the risk outweighs the doubt. However the former two diseases are unlikely to be caught at the age of one, and the latter is very very controversial for small children. So I rather delay the vaccines until the body of the child is mature enough to compensate all the stuff in the vaccine. As for the rest, this is just stupid childplay. Oh, well, then my child has the measles at one time. It gets over it with todays medical structure (even without) in no time and built up immunity naturally. So why risking to inject all that stuff here I ask? Whats the point…

        And with all this herd immunity. I wonder about the propaganda claiming that tetanus sick people had vaccines in them, that a recent polio outbreak happened within a vaccinated community.

        It all comes down to this. There are no serious and unbiased and honest opinions out there that truly inform. There can’t be as long as people take advantage of the dumbness of the masses….So all the pro opinions are pointless, all the contr opinions are manufactured as well, so I just sit there and see what happens and meanwhile believe no one anymore! Then it all comes back to “do I want my child to be injected with stuff that is potentially devastating with no unbiased proven benefit” and the answer is “no, if I there is a chance that my child cannot handle it”

  41. stuff says:

    Michael Shermer: “I used to be a global warming skeptic, but I reconsidered the evidence and announced in Scientific American that I was wrong.”

    In the face of Climategate, are you going to become a global warming skeptic again?

  42. GoneWithTheWind says:

    The problem with simply dismissing “birthers” is that many serious questions have no logical answer. As a parent we all experience that moment when we know our children are lying to us. That doesn’t mean we know what the truth is but we recognize there is a lie or many lies. Where the “birthers” have gone wrong and why they are such easy targets for the “anti-birthers” is focusing on the Kenya part of the mystery. Lets say Obama was born in Hawaii and was/is a natural born American citizen. So why was he also a citizen of Indonesia? Did he have an Indonesian passport? How did he travel to Pakistan in 1981? Because no one with an American passport could have traveled there. He obviously had a passport from someplace other then the U.S. This could be disproved by showing us the passport he used in 1981. Or if he destroyed it the government keeps those records. (That’s two lies if you are counting.) And who paid for all this. Arguably Obama had no money and no influence and managed to attend Columbia University and Harvard Law School. What are the odds. I’m guessing 20-30 million to 1 against some poor unknown getting that opportunity right out of high school (where he had a less then wonderful academic record). So maybe this part is not a “lie” so much as suspicious circumstances. The implication is that someone was “handling” him. No one believes an 18 year old boy, broke and on his own pulled this off. The magical story goes on but I have a simple challenge: Instead of labeling “birthers” as loons and making believe you don’t understand the questions. How about explaining the unexplainable. Obama could solve this by simply releasing the records but has spent millions in legal fees to keep the records hidden. And while we are at it lets find out how Mrs Obama got hired into a 6 figure part time job where the salary suddenly tripled once Obama used his Illinois Legislative position to funnel money to her employer. What we need is a special prosecutor to investigate all these issues.

  43. tom volscho says:

    How can pharmaceutical companies put pressure on regulatory agencies to do what is in their shareholders’ best interest? There is a literature in economics about “capture” of regulatory agencies.

    A quick glance at the Big Pharma industry is pretty instructive. Monopoly patents on drugs. They have armies of lawyers who try to extend their ability to be the only company selling a particular drug (and by extend I mean make the patent extend as far into the future as possible). Is this good for shareholders? Yes, profits are higher when competition is low or even monopolitstic. Is this good for people who need the drug, vaccine, etc.? Probably not.