The ReThink Blog

Starting from scratch in politics and science


Bill Maher is a Cancer on Modern Medicine

Derpy Bill Maher
What a Derp

In September, around the same time my father was being diagnosed with colon cancer, Bill Maher (controversial recipient of the 2009 Richard Dawkins Award for his alleged support of science, reason, skepticism, and atheism) announced his belief that "Western medicine" has not made any progress in treating cancer in the last fifty years. He also made it clear that he believes the government and "Big Pharma" are so intertwined that they are actually conspiring to keep you sick so that they can make money. This is hardly a surprising stance from Maher, who has been a frequent opponent of vaccination (not to mention germ theory) and outspoken supporter of alternative medicine, advising everyone that, as long as they eat well and exercise, they will be immune from all disease. Maher has a well-documented history of spouting out-and-out falsehoods with fervor, denouncing anyone who disagrees as misinformed, naive, or part of the Big Pharma conspiracy.

Bill Maher is certainly entitled to his radical beliefs, no matter how ridiculous they are, and as a political commentator known for his controversial approach to things, it should come as no surprise that he has a few wacky opinions. But given that he bills himself as rational and denounces others for being irrational, the fact that he opposes modern medicine in favor of quackary just reeks of hypocrisy. Add that to the fact that he is blaming victims, and we shouldn't in good conscience allow his nonsense to go unchallenged.

Detox pills
Feel free to try this instead of chemotherapy when you get diagnosed, but don't be surprised when you prove Darwin right

I take it a little more personally because, as I mentioned above, my father was recently diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. According to Maher's logic, he could only get cancer if he is unhealthy to begin with, and therefore it is his fault for getting cancer. Maher also explicitly states that my father should not be putting his welfare in the hands of modern medicine, because all they want is to keep him sick so that "Big Pharma" can make more money. If my father really wants to cure his cancer, Maher suggests, he should trust in the practitioners of alternative medicine instead, since doctors haven't made any progress in treating cancer in the last 50 years (as a side note, Maher also inexplicably claims that practicing alternative medicine is somehow illegal, which it very clearly is not).

Before I get into how patently false Maher is on every single point here, I am happy to report that my father is expected to make a full recovery. They surgically removed the tumor on his colon (along with much else) and have started him on chemotherapy. The results of his most recent PET scan are excellent, and it would appear that nearly every single cancer cell in his body has already been eradicated. Needless to say, we are all extremely thankful that he trusted Western medicine instead of trying to detox diet his way out of cancer.

Seriously, if cheap homeopathic remedies, accupuncture, crystal healing, aromatherapy, herbal supplements, and "colon-cleansing" detoxification programs could heal every disease known to man, we wouldn't be wringing our hands over AIDS, diabetes, swine flu, or cancer. If double-blinded studies actually showed any benefit at all to these alternative treatments, doctors would be jumping all over them and sending their patients to the nearest snake oil salesman in town.

Cancer diagram
Notice that it doesn't end with "but only if you're a stupid, fat American"

Of course, once somebody like Bill Maher accepts the premise that there's a conspiracy behind the establishment, facts mean nothing to him. Despite this, let me examine each of his claims--one at a time--not because I think I can change Bill Maher's mind, but because I hope I can prevent you, dear reader, from falling victim to that kind of thinking.

First there's the notion that cancer only happens to people who do not eat right and exercise. Cancer starts as a simple error in DNA replication. Throughout your body, this happens fairly regularly, and is in fact one of the driving forces behind evolution. Unfortunately, the mechanism that deals with cellular mutation (apopstosis, among other things) isn't a hundred percent perfect, and there is an infinitessimal chance that a mutated cell will begin replicating in an out-of-control and invasive fashion. This is cancer, and while there is evidence to suggest that poor health and fitness--and an unlucky heredity--can increase the chances of it happening to you, it can happen to any body at any time. Every multicellular being is succeptable, regardless of the health of the organism. In other words, you could be the healthiest person on the planet and still get inoperable brain cancer tomorrow.

Sure, a smoker shouldn't be surprised if he or she gets lung cancer, and an 800-pound man who dies of some form of gastrointestinal cancer is not a medical mystery. But being in poor health is not the only relevant factor here. For example, our genetics--something none of us have control of yet--can be a fickle bitch, to paraphrase Benjamin Linus. Therefore, since my father was relatively healthy (he wasn't perfect, but he wasn't somebody who should be expecting such medical complications), it is unfair and incredibly insulting to imply that he is at fault for getting cancer. So, with all due respect and on behalf of my father, fuck you too, Bill Maher.

911 truth drawing
This is clear evidence of a massive government cover-up, and I'm sure it had something to do with Big Pharma (and Big Tobacco, too!)

The second claim Maher makes is that there is a perfect storm of evil behind the scenes, with pharmaceutical companies, the government, and the medical establishment all colluding together to ensure that people stay as sick as possible so that they can all make money on the misery of the everyman. Sure, there are problems with running the entire medical industry with an eye towards money alone; the fact that it is more profitable to make psychological drugs that people take for years at a time than it is to make new antibiotics that a person only has to take for a week has inevitable results that speak for themselves. However, to take this notion to such an extreme that you actually believe there is nobody actively trying to cure cancer is just insane.

If there were such a huge conspiracy going on, you'd think there'd be a few more whistleblowers out there. Men and women of conscience exist everywhere--history has taught us this--and they are the ones who keep such wild conspiracy theories from becoming reality. This is why we roll our eyes at the 9/11 truthers or the Barack Obama birthers. Sure, every once in a while, politics and greed override actual science and reason (*ahem* manmade global warming *cough*), but even when this happens, there is a chorus of educated scientists and skeptics to fight it.

Besides all this, though, there is very clear evidence that modern medicine works and that we are the healthiest generation that has ever existed. Which brings me to the next stupid claim, that medical science has gotten nowhere for 50 years in treating cancer. Today, one in every six people over the age of 65 has survived cancer, and the survival rate (number of deaths divided by number of incidents) is roughly 40%, a much higher rate than 50 years ago.

For colorectal cancer alone, the 5-year survivability rate (calculated from the data between 1999 to 2005) is a pretty impressive 65.2%. According to the CDC statistics from 2005, 53,005 people died of colorectal cancer while 141,405 people were diagnosed with it, making the general survivability rate about 62.5%. Youth, good health, availability of treatment, and other factors increase that percentage greatly.

cancer survival rates 1975-1999
As this diagram clearly shows, the number of assclowns who spout nonsense on television has grown significantly since 1975 [SOURCE]

50 years ago, on the other hand, survivability rates were much, much lower. Just twenty years ago, the survivability rate for all cancer started increasing by roughly a single percentage point every year, and after 2003, it started increasing by about two percent a year. The biggest change, I rush to point out, is in colorectal cancer, which is far more survivable than it used to be. [SOURCE]

And this is just for cancer. I could go on spouting statistics for various other diseases that have been greatly diminished thanks to modern medicine. For every disease that is on the rise, there are fifty diseases or disorders we have vanquished with vaccines, antibiotics, drugs, new technologies and techniques, research, therapies, etc. To ignore this reality in order to further an ignorant political ideology is irresponsible and reprehensible, especially when you start advocating the use of alternative treatments that have been shown to do far more harm than good.

So given the choice between listening to Bill Maher and listening an actual doctor, I think I'll go with the doctor. If I want a second opinion, I'll go to a different doctor. I think any rational person would do the same, because where health is concerned, all the other ideological and political bullshit is just that: bullshit.

-e. magill 10/20/2009

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