The very short TL;DR; summary is perhaps “yikes”.
So I sat down to enjoy the latest episode of Real Time with Bill maher, and was totally floored when he wheeled on Charlie Sheen’s HIV Quack, “Dr.” Samir Chachoua, and then proceeds to interview him. What then emerged were some totally unfounded claims, and so here is that 10 minute clip from the show …
I was tempted to proceed to dissect this latest bit of quackery, but soon discovered that I don’t need to because David Gorski has leapt in and delivered a truly first class analysis of it all. He is an surgical oncologist, Professor of surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine, and a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, so is truly far better qualified than most to critique it all.
His detailed, (and I really mean detailed), takedown of this quack is over on Science Based Medicine. There he writes …
it’s not that surprising that Maher went full quack. I just never expected him to embrace so quacky a quack so credulously. My bad.
The first thing that bothered me about the interview was just how unethical it all was. Sure, I was a bit skeeved out by the things Dr. Huizenga revealed, but Sheen was right there and the doctor clearly had Sheen’s permission to discuss his case. There was no such deal in the case of Chachoua, who gleefully started disclosing private medical information about Sheen (and did so on his website as well, as discussed above), in clear violation of HIPAA law and medical ethics in general. For instance, he claims that Sheen had severe encephalitis, which, if true, would indicate that he needed to be hospitalized, not treated by a quack. After Chachoua’s description of Sheen keeping his house all dark, Maher quipped that that was because of the hookers. (Stay classy. That’s all I can say.) Chachoua also claimed that Sheen had liver failure, which is certainly possible given his history of alcohol abuse.
The above is just a tiny snippet, and he does go into a lot the detail, and that includes some truly embracing revelations for Maher …
… Maher neglects to mention a very important bit of follow-up information about that lawsuit, namely that it was dismissed (more on that in a moment), instead choosing to let Chachoua blather on about how he studied spontaneous remission and that led him to his ideas. Meanwhile, Maher waxes poetic about “groupthink” in Western medicine (irony meter destroyed—again) and how it’s usually individuals not working for institutions who discover things (maybe 150 years ago, but not anymore, and of course, many of the examples cited did work for hospitals or universities).
… He also let Chachoua outright lie. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to see how I can characterize what Chachoua said when he claimed that all of Sheen’s great tests were during his treatment
… Chachoua claimed that his vaccine had eradicated HIV in a small country (Comoros). It was the sort of obscure claim that most wouldn’t be able to check, but someone on Twitter did …
— tangentgirl (@derivative_of_f) January 31, 2016
Harriet Hall also has some thoughts on it all
Dr Harriet Hall, a former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon, has also been blogging about it, and makes a vitally important point …
HIV/AIDS is one of the greatest success stories of modern medicine. In a matter of a few years, it was changed from a death sentence to a chronic condition that can be managed with a once-a-day combination pill to give patients a near-normal life expectancy with a good quality of life. It would be very foolish to stop these effective medications and switch to an untested treatment.
It is in this sense that Chachoua is a dangerous man. If he persuades patients to stop taking life-saving medications and injects them with untested vaccines based on a fanciful hypothesis that is inconsistent with much of modern medical science, that is perilous, as is giving him a platform on a national television show viewed by over four million people. Already comments are being posted on Internet forums that Chachoua’s appearance on his show is “the last thing AIDS activists need to be dealing with” and is likely to result in unnecessary deaths.
We have been here before with Bill Maher
This is not a one shot deal. Other examples of his embrace of medical quackery includes …
- his hostility to vaccines, and even his friends have ended up writing open letters to him about this.
- his promotion of other cancer cure quackery.
- his HIV/AIDS denialism
Further Thoughts On Bill Maher
When it comes to Bill Maher, I confess that I do enjoy his show and like him as a person. This is perhaps a natural outcome of our political views being aligned to some degree, the commonality of our lack of a religious belief, and of course he is a comedian, so delivers it all in a very entertaining manner … and yet none of that entitles him to a free pass for medical quackery promotion.
Clearly while I do personally align on politics and religion, I do not align with his promotion of medical quackery. I am genuinely surprised, because he has indeed applied critical thunking to many topics, but alas when it comes to medicine … er no, clearly not, because as David Gorski puts it so well, “Maher went full quack. I just never expected him to embrace so quacky a quack so credulously”
This is the reality of humans – if we compare notes with anybody and everybody, we will find things that we do agree upon, and also other things that we simply can never agree upon, and that opens up some interesting questions. In this instance …
- Do I embrace Bill Maher as one of “us” because we agree politically and also he is one us us atheists?
- Should I dismiss Bill Maher as one of “them” because we do not agree with his promotion of various medical quack cures?
What might perhaps potentially drive that choice is if I primarily embraced the word “skeptic” or the word “atheist” to describe myself, but what then happens if I describe yourself as both an “atheist” and also a “skeptic”, how can I possibly cope and make the right decision?
Actually there is no decision I need to make at all because there is no “them” and “us”, there is only “us”, and so the above is a false dichotomy. We don’t really get to categorise people into those that wear white hats and those that wear black hats. Bill Maher is like everybody else, he is both right about many things and also wrong about many things, and so if we are going to deploy criticism, then let us simply criticise the bad ideas, and not get hung up about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, for nobody is a lost cause until they stop breathing, and we all at one time or another embrace bad ideas.
So Bill, you are right about many things, but for this, well I’m afraid you are quite wrong and have indeed gone full quack.