Pseudoscience may get a free pass in the media, but not from James Randi (and not from me!).
The “dubious honor for dubious claims” has been bestowed this year on practitioners in an array of fields, from astronomy to pharmacology, and covering everything from aliens to homeopathy. There’s even been a repeat winner! There’s an infamous anti-vaccine promoter there too. And perhaps best of all, there is a man who formerly went bankrupt after James Randi himself exposed his scam.
Lest you think that Randi is just cynical and dismissive (no good skeptics are, and he is a great skeptic), keep in mind that his foundation offers $1,000,000 to anyone who can prove a pseudoscientific or supernatural claim in a rigorous double-blind test. So far no one has claimed the prize.
Anyway, here are the top five worst crackpots to date!
The Scientist Pigasus Award went to NASA Engineer Richard B. Hoover, who recently announced for the third time in 14 years that he had found evidence of microscopic life in meteorites.
The Funder Pigasus Award goes to CVS/pharmacy, for their work to support the manufacturers of scam homeopathic “medications” who sell up to $870 million a year in quack remedies to U.S. consumers. Instead of giving their customers the facts about homeopathy, CVS/pharmacy executives are cashing in themselves by offering their own store-brand of the popular homeopathic product oscillococcinum. Oscillococcinum is made by grinding up the liver of a duck, putting none of it onto tiny sugar pills—that’s right, none of it—and then advertising the plain sugar pills as an effective treatment for flu symptoms.
The Media Pigasus Award goes to Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has done such a disservice to his TV viewers by promoting quack medical practices that he is now the first person to win a Pigasus two years in a row. Dr. Oz is a Harvard-educated cardiac physician who, through his syndicated TV show, has promoted faith healing, “energy medicine,” and other quack theories that have no scientific basis. In March 2011, Dr. Oz endorsed “psychic” huckster and past Pigasus winner John Edward, who pretends to talk to dead people. Oz even suggested that bereaved families should visit psychic mediums…
The Performer Pigasus Award—this year for “Best Comeback”—goes to televangelist Peter Popoff. Popoff made millions in the 1980s by pretending to heal the sick and receive information about audience members directly from god. He went bankrupt in 1987 after JREF founder James Randi exposed him for using a secret earpiece to receive information about audience members from his wife. Now he’s back to prey on victims of the economic recession. In paid infomercials on BET, Popoff offers “supernatural debt relief” in exchange for offerings of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
The Refusal to Face Reality Award goes to Andrew Wakefield, the researcher who launched the modern anti-vaccine panic with unfounded statements linking the MMR vaccine with autism that were not borne out by any research, even his own.
For those interested, check out Randi’s Foundation. It’s a great place to begin your foray into the skeptical arena!