Bill Maher Hosts RFK Jr. But Does Not Fact Check These Statements

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Well, Democratic Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is certainly making the rounds. Certain specific rounds, that is. After appearing on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, he appeared on Bill Maher’s Club Random podcast on Sunday. And here’s a not-so-random observation: when Kennedy made some not-really-supported-by-scientific-evidence statements about vaccines on these shows neither Rogan nor Maher really pushed Kennedy to provide concrete evidence to support such statements.

Anna Merlan already described in a VICE article Kennedy’s June 15 appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience as “an orgy of unchecked vaccine misinformation, some conspiracy-mongering about 5G technology and wifi, and, of course, Rogan once again praising ivermectin, an ineffective faux COVID treatment,” as I covered for Forbes. Well, after that “orgy,” there were various “Oh gee”-deserving comments made by Kennedy on Maher’s Club Random podcast that, oh gee, went unchecked by Maher, too. For example, during the podcast, Kennedy clubbed listeners with the following claim, “On the side that shows autism is caused by vaccines, there are over 100 studies.” Oh gee, over 100 studies? Oh gee, that kind of went against what the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) says on their website: “Many scientists have studied this question, but no credible studies show that autism is caused by vaccines.” Oh gee, it also went against what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Autism Speaks, and numerous other websites say. Oh gee, “no credible studies” versus “over 100 studies” is kind of a big difference.

So, it would have been natural and logical for Maher to have next asked Kennedy to show and review at least some of those “over 100 studies” studies on the podcast. Maher could have asked questions such as where were those “over 100 studies” published, who conducted them, and how were they scientifically peer-reviewed for accuracy and credibility? After all, the word “study” can be a bit like the words “dating” and “job.” Different people can have very different definitions and boundaries of what they consider a “study” to be. For some, a study is something that is done in a scientifically accurate way. For others, a study can be simply, “This is what came into my brain the other day.”

But Maher didn’t really question Kennedy’s “over 100 studies” claim. Although Kennedy insisted that he listed those studies in a book of his, Maher didn’t ask to see or further review this list. So what are viewers supposed to do, buy Kennedy’s book to see if there is any evidence behind what he was saying?

A little bit later in the podcast, Kennedy asserted, “The only medicine that never gets tested are vaccines. And that is what I object to.” Now taken alone, that “never gets tested” line would have been rather absurd. Vaccines do have to go through years of both pre-clinical and clinical trials before earning authorization or approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both vaccines and medications have to go through much more stringent regulations than other things such as supplements. For viewers who may have heard that “never gets tested” line by itself, Maher could have said something like “Hold on a second, to clarify, you don’t mean that vaccines never get tested, right?” But Maher didn’t.

Kennedy went on to say, “All I’m saying is let’s test them the way we test other medications. That doesn’t seem unreasonable.” So what specifically was Kennedy implying here? Vaccines do in fact typically go through placebo-controlled randomized controlled trials, where one group gets the vaccine and another gets a placebo by comparison, before they get approved by regulatory agencies like the FDA. In fact, in addition to placebo-controlled randomized controlled trials, a range of different methodologies have been used to study vaccines, because that’s what science is all about. You shouldn’t rely on a single study or one type of scientific methodology to draw a conclusion. Instead, what’s important is using a range of different methodologies and then determining what the overall body of evidence says.

It is also important to emphasize that proper testing of any medical product should be appropriately tailored to the specific properties of that product. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to testing. A vaccine that is designed to prevent an infection and disease is not the same as a cancer drug that is designed to treat someone who already has a disease. Since it’s not ethical to give a person a vaccine and then try to shove a deadly virus up that person’s nose, one way to study vaccines is to track over time which of those who got the vaccine ended up getting infected versus which of those who got placebo. Keep in mind too a vaccine that you may get in one, two, or just a limited number of doses is very different from a medication that you may take every single day for years. The former may not stay in your body for very long whereas the latter may keep building up over time.

During the podcast, Kennedy also poo-poo’ed the Covid-19 vaccine, saying, “Are you better off avoiding death or serious hospitalization? My belief about that is there is no advantage to the vaccine although, you know, there are claims that there are.” Umm, in this case by “claims” did Kennedy really mean “findings from scientific studies?” The CDC, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the World Health Organization (WHO), the New Zealand Ministry of Health, and other institutions continue to post updated lists of Covid-19 vaccine studies and their findings.

Is it a random coincidence that Kennedy appeared on Maher’s Club Random podcast? Well, Maher has had a history of making statements on his shows that have gone against existing scientific evidence and data such defending the use of ivermectin for Covid-19, when there is no real evidence that it word, and using the phrase “Masked Paranoid World” to describe the Covid-19 pandemic situation in January 2022, while the U.S. was still averaging over 2,100 Covid-19-related deaths a day. In fact, in a November 3, 2019, Nina Shapiro, MD, penned a Forbes article entitled, “Bill Maher Supports Vaccine-Autism Connection.”

During the podcast both Maher and Kennedy claimed that they believe in science. But saying that you believe in science is not the same as actually honoring and using science. As the saying goes, it’s not what you say but what you actually do. If you do in fact believe in science, one thing to do is not say things like “The only medicine that never gets tested are vaccines,” when that obviously has not been the case. Another thing to do is to make sure that the guests on your podcast do not make claims without insisting that they provide real, concrete evidence to support such claims.

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