On Bill Maher’s HBO program this week, Real Time With Bill Maher, the subject of the pharmaceutical industry came up. After some questionable jokes from panelist Russell Brand, Maher and the panel got down to a more serious point.

“We have a complicated relationship with the pharmaceutical industry,” began political analyst John Heilemann.” He went on to say, “Anybody who has ever had a family member who’s had cancer,  and seen what live saving drugs can do for people …” Host Bill Maher then interrupted, making the point Heilemann was about to make, “It may have also given it to them.”

“It may have, but that’s actually kind of my point.” Heilemann continued. He added, “The reality is, if you have a “black and white” point of view, “The pharmaceutical industry is engaged in a giant conspiracy to f*ck us all over” — you are denying the reality that many people’s lives have been saved by those drugs. If say that “the pharmaceutical industry is incapable of error or maligned behavior,” you’re equally an idiot. The reality is, that in a capitalist society there are going to be companies that are seeking profit will do things that are incredibly innovative and good and do things that are incredibly terrible and exploitive. That just seems like the right position to have.”

Maher added, “I agree, let’s just be skeptical.” Maher then suggested people should take that attitude “across the board.”

Check out the clip cued to Heilemann’s point on the pharmaceutical industry below …

The point made there is a strong one. Especially since the COVID pandemic rocked the world, Americans have become as polarized on medical treatment and the pharmaceutical industry as they have on more traditional polarizers like abortion and guns. Maher and Heilemann succinctly explain that being at those polar opposites are equally as delusional as they are counterproductive. Many, many innovations have come our way via “the science” and some really bad things have come from science as well.  We, as Americans need to have open eyes without being incorrigible or injecting our personal politics into it.

The industry and science has given us live saving and life extending medicines. The industry and science has also given us addictions and treatments that caused more problems than solutions. That is the reality. Blindly trusting every “scientific breakthrough” isn’t the way, but neither is scoffing at every progress made either.

Of course, most of us aren’t scientists. Watching a social media video doesn’t serve as a substitute for an advanced scientific degree and years of experience. But we do have some things in our arsenal that can help us stay on the right paths. Things like second opinions. Things like peer reviewed studies. Things like consensus. Things like knowing what a reliable source is vs the guy at the end of the bar or propaganda put out by someone looking to get famous via YouTube. That prudence doesn’t make us immune, but it does greatly increase our odds of being in the right position to allow science to benefit us vs harm us.