Shermer To Maher: Being Anti-Vaccination Is Tantamount To Being Anti-Evolution

Bill Maher’s mistrust of western medicine has been earning him a lot of flak from the scientific and skeptic communities.  Here is the latest, an open letter from Michael Shermer:

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.

Your Thoughts?

  • James Gray

    I don’t think that Bill Maher said that vaccinations are always a bad idea. He said something about how vaccinations against the flu isn’t always effective because it mutates. Also, Maher mentions how healthy people with the right habits tend to avoid getting sick. He might be right that such a person might not need the vaccine for a flu virus.

    Maher, I would hope, would admit that sometimes a vaccination is appropriate, especially given the fact that people tend not to have healthy habits.

  • sendaianonymous

    @ James
    Um, I think what Maher’s been saying for years is actually much much worse than “not always a good idea”:

    But! First Wired, now Shermer (how is he so awesome? YAY): this is a great week for science :D

    (Personally, I’d say that anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are much worse than creationism: believing in creationism at least won’t kill you)

  • Daniel Fincke

    believing in creationism…won’t kill you[!]

    if we take you carefully out of context, it sounds like someone’s gone soft on creationism!

    • sendaianonymous


      Well, at least you know the enemy’s tactics all right “cackles”

  • James Gray

    I’ve watched Maher quite a bit and he might say some stupid things, but his recent comments on the flu shot are not as crazy as what you just pointed out:

    • sendaianonymous

      It’s a good thing he’s improving :D Maybe Shermer will beat some sense into him, yay!