Robertson Rogan Maher


Thanks for your invitation. Per our exchange, below is my argument’s substantiation.


On April 13, 2022, I wrote:

“You did misrepresent Maher’s and Rogan’s arguments. You did attack them personally as an attempt to convince people to dismiss their argument. You did appeal to authority (including, implicitly, your own credentials) without advancing an actual argument.”

And later that day, you replied:

“I’ll be happy to respond to that if you can actually substantiate any of those claims because it seems clear to me that what you’re saying here is actually demonstrably false.  Maybe you’re just genuinely mistaken, in which case explaining your reasoning will help clear that up.”

Thanks for your offer.

At the very bottom of this, I’ve included a transcript of the interview soundbite in question, along with your comments that prompted my reply and led to the above exchange.


Per your comment…

“I take it you’ve never studied academic philosophy or logic from that, right?  You can read a good book on logic, and you’d benefit from learning what these terms actually mean and how to use them.”

…I gather you have some misconceptions about me. You can skip this if you don’t think the context matters.

For what it’s worth (I think not much), I was a Literature major in college and loaded up with plenty of Philosophy (including Logic). I’ve continued to study philosophy in my two and a half decades since school, both on my own and with a book club.

My interest in Stoicism was kindled in the late nineties by Tom Wolfe, deepened over a decade ago by William Irvine, and cemented by Epictetus. Practicing Stoicism has helped me through a number of challenges, and I’m a better husband, father, son, brother, friend, entrepreneur, and community member as a result. It was your work that prompted me to more seriously review Marcus’ life and writings, and I found your guided meditation at the end of HTTLARE to be beautiful and helpful. I have revisited it more than once. Thanks for that.

Professionally, I make a living building things—sometimes with my hands, but far more often with help from others. My work requires that I understand what a wide variety of people are trying to say and effectively make myself understood to them. I haven’t perfected those skills and I continue to practice every day. Writing this is good practice!

My claims


You characterize the shared argument of Maher and Rogan, as follows: 

“How did we end up with commentators so stupid they conclude from their premise that medical science hasn’t cured cancer that we can’t trust any medical science?”

Several tweets later, you reiterate that framing:

“We haven’t cured cancer THEREFORE we can’t trust what scientific research says about vaccine safety”

In response to me asserting that you strawmanned them, you explain to me what strawmanning is:

“it’s when you construct a false version of an argument to refute it.”

I agree with your definition.

I also agree with your assertion that it does not follow that because “we haven’t cured cancer” that “we can’t trust what scientific research says”. However, neither of them ever made that argument.

Putting aside that it is really just Maher who made the cancer comment (Rogan’s only contribution was to observe two realities: 1) drug makers are profiting mightily from vaccines and 2) drug makers have brought drugs to market that have harmed a great many people), here is why you are strawmanning:

  1. In that clip, Maher never asserts that we can’t trust what “the scientific research says” about vaccine safety; he does assert that we should not blindly trust what drug manufacturers say about vaccine safety, and he cites as his reason for skepticism the imperfect track record of medical professionals.
  2. Maher uses humanity’s relative lack of knowledge about cancer as just one among “a thousand” examples of our imperfect knowledge. Given how little we can say for certain, he argues, “Don’t tell me, ‘Well, we are perfectly certain that this vaccine is safe’”. He definitely is not saying, “Until you can cure cancer, I will not trust you”. He is saying, “Given all that we don’t know and all the variables at play, it is wrong for anyone to assert with certainty the universal efficacy of a new drug for every single person in the world”.

But rather than me recasting Maher’s argument, I think it’s better to simply re-read what he said. It seems plain as day to me.

Appeal to authority

“these two clowns are what people are listening to rather than to medical experts aka ‘people who actually know what they’re talking about’.”

Your argument, as I understand it, is that one of the reasons people should not trust Rogan or Maher about medical information (or anything really) is they do not meet your definition of an expert. I suppose this might be an inverse of appeal to authority. Maybe there is a different fallacy for this. Instead of, “Because I claim that credentialed people agree with me, one need not scrutinize the substance of my argument,” it is, “Because the people I disagree with are uncredentialed, the substance of their arguments should be ignored”.

Ad hominem


When one prefaces a refutation with an insult, it is at least ad homin-ish. In this specific case, your disparagement struck me as an attempt to discourage readers from considering their actual arguments by directing attention to what you see as personal flaws. If that was your intent, it was explicitly ad hominem. Regardless, it would be wrong to say, “Calling him a clown while attempting to refute his argument was absolutely not an ad hominem”.

The clip from the Maher/Rogan conversation

(I couldn’t find a transcript, so I let Siri transcribe it, and I added in punctuation)

Maher: …no, I mean, I probably have but it’s just like, I don’t know. I would trust it if it came from the CDC if they personally admitted, ‘Yes, this is…’—or the people who make the vaccine. Anybody else, I don’t know. But then again, they could be lying. I also don’t trust them to tell me the truth. About whether they did put it in there. And I don’t know what the fucking shit is. Maybe it’s the stuff in Twinkies. And maybe it’s rocket fuel that you take to look like that at your age. I don’t know what the fuck it is, or if it’s going to be bad for me.

[I don’t know what Maher is talking about here. I didn’t get this far in their discussion. They are both laughing the whole time and seem to be joking around. Maher continues, in a more serious tone…]

Here’s my overarching theme, always, about anything medical is everyone else I feel (or most people) are giving us too much credit for where we are medically because we are, of course, further along than we used to be. You know, we’re not putting wooden teeth in people. You know, I mean it wasn’t that long ago they were rubbing dirt into wounds. I mean just really stupid fucking things that people did who were calling themselves doctor, so obviously we’ve come a long way just in the last hundred years. But my point of view is that we are still at the infancy of understanding how the human body works. So don’t tell me things like, ‘Just do what we say. Don’t question it. When have we ever been wrong?’ A lot.

Rogan: All the time.

Maher: You’ve been wrong a lot and you just don’t know a lot. You haven’t cured cancer. I’m not blaming you for that. I know you’re trying, but I could name a thousand other things you haven’t cured. Parkinson’s, MS, Lyme disease. You just don’t know very much. It’s not an insult. You just don’t. If you can’t tell me exactly why people get cancer, and mostly you can’t—Obviously, smokers get lung cancer—other than that, it’s not obvious who gets what or why. I don’t know what confluence of things that are put in… there are so many thousand things that could change it: how much mercury do I have in my system, how much tunafish did I eat, how often do I hold the phone up to my head—a million things—how many x-rays, what are my genetics… Don’t tell me, ‘Well, we are perfectly certain that this vaccine is safe,’ or, ‘We are perfectly certain that these x-rays are a low-dose, and they…’ You don’t fucking know that. You don’t know what all these different things… There’s like 50,000 chemicals we have in our body that we didn’t have 100 years ago. You don’t know what the interchange of all these elements is doing to me. And me personally, it might be different than you. So just don’t have an attitude of ‘Just get it in you because we are the people who know.”

Rogan: And not just that, but they’re making insane amounts of profit from that and we’re supposed to pretend that they’ve been honest about the risks of things in the past. They’ve been… Like that Vioxx tragedy where they pitched that anti-inflammatory medication that killed at least 50,000 people.

Maher: They’ve taken hundreds of drugs off the market.

Rogan: All the time. They do it every year.

Your tweets about this clip

Robertson: Where do we begin.  The level of medical ignorance, credulity, and stupidity on display here is off the scale, and yet these two clowns are what people are listening to rather than to medical experts aka “people who actually know what they’re talking about”.

Scientific data aside, just the sheer level of illogical reasoning in this sort of conversation should concern us all.  How did we end up with commentators so stupid they conclude from their premise that medical science hasn’t cured cancer that we can’t trust any medical science?

I’d love to see more people deconstructing arguments like this logically.  That’s what philosophy students learn to do at undergraduate level.  There’s so much enthusiasm for philosophy these days but not nearly enough application of Socratic questioning and critical thinking.

And yet all it would take to cut through 95% of the media smokescreen, by which I mean this sort of anti-science garbage above, would be for people to question the basic logical inconsistencies in their reasoning. This is stuff the Sophistry that Socrates warned us against.

We haven’t cured cancer THEREFORE we can’t trust what scientific research says about vaccine safety?  That’s obviously not a logical argument – it’s just verbal sleight of hand.  How did we sink to the level where podcasters get away with scamming their audiences like that?