As controversy has grown over Bill Maher’s idiotic statements about vaccination, Maher decided he needed to address the criticism on his most recent show. Unfortunately, he just made it worse:
This is a classic example of what I call the “I’m just a humble investigator asking questions” gambit that is pretty much universally used by all conspiracy theorists, denialists, and cranks when backed into a corner. They come off incredibly strong at first insisting how much they “know” they’re right and everyone who disagrees with them are complete fools. Only two weeks ago, Maher tweeted that anyone who gets the H1N1 vaccine is “an idiot.” His words. Then once you have them on the ropes, they retreat to a weaker position that sounds more rational, like “I’m just asking questions” or “I’m just calling for more debate.” Sure, you are.
Here are some examples of others who use this tactic. Scientologists, who run a “museum” named Psychiatry: Industry of Death and who blame psychiatry for every major atrocity in pretty much all of human history will, when grilled by media personalities, often retreat to the safer position that they don’t oppose everything about psychiatry. They’ll even go as far as to sometimes publicly admit some pharmaceuticals may have genuine benefits to mental health. But what was the name of that museum again?
And 9/11 deniers often will insist all they want is for another investigation. But is there really any doubt that if such an investigation happened and still concluded that 9/11 was not an inside job that they wouldn’t just declare that that investigation was a sham too?
Then there’s moon landing denier Joe Rogan, who passionately ranted about how certain he was that all the evidence we went to the moon was obviously faked by NASA on Penn Jillette’s radio show. After having each of his arguments flattened by Phil Plait, he retreated to the, I’m not saying it didn’t happen but I’m just an ordinary, rational guy who’s just asking questions position. Of course, within minutes, like every other denialist, he was back to taking the strong position again. Some of that show can be heard on The Conspiracy Skeptic’s podcast episode 5, The Moon Landing Hoax here (24 minutes into the podcast you can hear the back-peddling from Humble Joe).
In the mockumentary Expelled, Ben Stein plays the humble investigator just asking questions too. In fact, the whole narrative of the film is that this is all supposed to be just Ben Stein’s investigation into evolution. Of course, the reality is that Ben Stein seems to have had little involvement in the film until he was brought in later to play the film’s star. Several scientists were interviewed by the film’s producers months before having to reshoot some of the interviews with Stein there asking the questions. What’s really interesting though is the rollercoaster ride of positions taken throughout the film. Half the time Stein is just asking questions and hearing from creationists who claim they’re only interested in “teaching the controversy” or in “academic freedom,” to which Stein’s voiceover responds as if either he’s retarded or he thinks his audience is retarded with things like, if all they want is to ask questions, what are the Darwinists so afraid of? While the other half of the film is Stein blaming evolution for the Holocaust by way of more retarded rhetorical questions.
And on the rare occasion that someone in the media gives a platform to Holocaust denier David Irving, he’s suddenly the model of rationality. All he says he wants is to get to the truth and determine a more accurate figure for the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust. He’ll also pretend to find Hitler appalling despite the fact that he celebrated Hitler’s birthday on his website. Classy guy.
It’s all about playing the rationality card to the media so that the audience doesn’t find out that you’re batshit insane. Case in point: Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey. At their “Green Our Vaccines” rally, when referring to the CDC, Jim Carrey shouted, “Do they think we’re stupid?” McCarthy clearly shared this position. The implication was undeniable. They were declaring that the CDC was deliberately involved in a coverup. Of course none of this wacko conspiracy talk that was so prevalent when surrounded by their flock made it into McCarthy’s answers when she was interviewed Time Magazine. In fact, the total number of times the CDC was mentioned in that interview was zero. No, instead she focused on repeatedly saying how not anti-vaccine she was while seriously suggesting she only thinks we should be taking two, none of which were against measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, cervical cancer, polio, or seasonal flu. Of course, McCarthy proved even a failure at marketing herself around a saner, more rational position when she admitted that her plan might lead to millions of deaths and that she preferred it anyway:
I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s s___. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism. (Read “New Clues to Autism’s Cause.”)
. . .
People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines. Please understand that we are not an antivaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins. If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f___ing measles.
Measles kills. Polio kills. Autism doesn’t. Hmm, tough decision. Fortunately though, we never have to choose between them because science has overwhelmingly shown no connection between vaccines and autism.
The bottom line is that contrary to popular belief, people touting crazy ideas aren’t always completely unaware of how crazy they sound. When people think of crazy people, they think tin foil hats or straight jackets. But in the modern age of marketing, crazy people have learned to hide their crazier ideas. One doesn’t have to be stupid to be suckered into a cult. Do you really think anyone would be a $cientologist if they came out with the Xenu stuff on day one? Of course not. That’s why they start with a simple free stress test to get you to come into their center where they can sell you phase two, which will lead to phase three, and so on. Or they get you with their phony narcotics recovery clinic or with their bogus educational tools, etc. People promoting major bullshit claims will recognize when they’re not getting any traction and switch to a tactic that seems more rational until they think they can get away with the full-on crazy stuff again.
Bill, you’re not helping your case, buddy. Here, maybe you should pay attention to Michael Shermer and EVERYONE ELSE instead of just your own maverickiness. I know. I know. Some of your best friends are vaccines and you’re not really anti-vaccine; you just think their the greatest WMD’s in history. We know. We know.