Every year, the James Randi Educational Foundation gives awards to recognize the special few uncritical thinkers who do more to peddle pseudoscience and damage the public in ways that only celebrities could. Below are five “winners” of various categories whose success in nonsense have given actual science communicators like myself a greater challenge – not only to inform the general public of the way things are, but to do so while battle the faulty preconceptions caused the non-scientific thoughts and beliefs caused by such purveyors.
Winner: Stanislaw Burzynski
Biochemist and physician Stanislaw Burzynski sells fake “cancer cures” for tens of thousands of dollars, despite the FDA warning that his research methods are not safe. In fact, he has never published the results of a single clinical trial, and he may be negligent in protecting his participants, which include children. Of course, his spin is that the FDA is against him, making conspiracy theories about how they don’t want him to do his research because it would somehow undermine their finances or such.
Winner: Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center
Pumpkin Hollow won for their promotion and advocacy of the “Therapeutic Touch,” which is a “contemporary healing modality which evolved from the process of laying-on of hands.” Several professional nursing associations approve education on this, despite absolutely no evidence for its efficacy. Pumpkin Hollow is a major funder of this practice, but if they really wanted to raise a significant amount of cash, they could easily earn the JREF’s own million-dollar prize simply by showing that it actually works.
The cable TV network Syfy – whose alternative spelling of Sci-Fi is as cool as their shows are scientific – has pumped out a stream of paranormal and pseudoscience programs at an alarming rate. For example, Ghost Hunters, Haunted Collector, Ghost Mine, and a brand new one to start just next week, Deep South Paranormal. But this is a tiny fraction of the amount of shows they have been making. Now obviously, we’re talking about a business, and I believe that they should be free to make basically whatever show they want. But considering the way these shows are purveyed as legitimate scientific investigations is extremely troublesome. One of two changes should be made: Either don’t call it “reality TV,” or don’t call it “SyFy” – as in “science fiction.” Why? Because these shows involve neither science nor reality. It’s all just pseudoscience; and unfortunately, pseudoscience sells.
Winner: Alex Jones
Alex Jones is a radio host whose entertainment value is sometimes based on the creativity with which he comes up with the most ridiculous conspiracy theories in the US, not to mention his promotion of pseudoscience and bogus medicine. Natural disasters are all somehow government conspiracies, and events like the murder of dozens of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School were all fake. Unfortunately, he’s not just your average forum troller or misguided blogger – he’s a very popular radio host.
Category: Refusal to Face Reality
Winner: Dr. Oz
Mehmet Oz is probably a name most Americans know. I wrote about just how bad and unethical his work is, whether we’re talking about the medicine itself, the marketing of his products, or his business practices. This is a sad departure from what he used to be – a respectable surgeon, dealing with scientifically substantiated medical practices. But along the years, he changed his ways, and in the worst way possible. To give just a few examples, he tells viewers that alternative medicine like Reiki are cure-alls, TV psychics are legitimate, faith healing is effective, and gay people can be “cured” with special therapy. Depressingly, his show is extremely popular. And now he has the distinction of being the most frequent winner of the Pigasus award, as this is his third time on the list.
Here is the announcement video from the Amazing James Randi himself: