Bent Spoon to RMIT; Skeptic of the Year to Loretta Marron

At the recent national convention of Australian Skeptics, held in Sydney at the Australian Museum on November 19, the not-so-coveted Bent Spoon Award was given to RMIT University “for having a fundamentalist chiropractic education program – if the word education can be used in this way – and for endorsing the practice by targeting children and infants in their on-campus paediatric chiropractic clinics”.

The Bent Spoon is presented annually to the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle. The nominations come from the public, and the decision as to the ultimate winner is made by the various Skeptics groups. RMIT was a unanimous choice.

Dishonourable mention went to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and to Blackmores for their deal to sell unnecessary and unproven products to people who purchase proven pharmaceutical products.

Skeptics president, Eran Segev, in giving the awards, said that “The positive side of this deal is that the negative press it generated is likely to hold back a trend that we could see growing.”

The Skeptic of the Year is given to a member of the Skeptical community who makes a highly noteworthy contribution to the skeptical point-of-view and associated action. Last year we noted a first for this award when it was awarded not to an individual but to an organisation, Stop the AVN. This year was another first, because the Skeptic of the Year went to a person who had been awarded the same award before – Loretta Marron.

In addition to her usual activities to expose quacks and to have devices and other products removed from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, this year Loretta took on the chiropractic industry, and in particular on fundamentalist chiropractors, who still believe in the concept of vertebral subluxations as the cause of most diseases. With her usual consistency, hard work and determination, Loretta has been forcing the chiropractic industry to face up to the fact that fundamentalists are not a fringe group within them, but rather are prominent and influential. Loretta’s work in this area is far from done, but we know she will not relent. As Simon Singh said after spending half an hour speaking to Loretta about her activities: “Now I know why they’re afraid”.

An additional award, The Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason – which we call “the Fred” after the late and noted Skeptic Fred Thornett – acknowledges a member of the public or a public figure who has made a significant contribution to educating or informing the public regarding issues of science and reason. In addition to a commemorative certificate, $1,000 is awarded to the recipient or to a charity or cause of their choice.

This year the Fred was awarded to Dr Ken Harvey, who has taken great personal risks in exposing pseudomedicine claims, including his much publicised stoush with the SensaSlim company. He also won because of his actions in ensuring that regulatory authorities, who are supposed to protect the public, live up to their responsibility.

There were two further awards made. Frank Pangello received recognition for his work in the media exposing dubious and unproven claims. He is a TV journalist with Channel Seven’s Today Tonight program in Adelaide, and has produced programs covering homeopathy, Power Balance wristbands, etc.

A second award, this time a “lifetime achievement”, went to past president, editor and executive officer of the Skeptics, Barry Williams.

Barry has been a member of Australian Skeptics from the earliest days. Over his 30 years with the organisation, Barry was “the life-force behind Australian Skeptics and skepticism in Australia”. Already a Life Member of the organisation, Barry remains on the NSW committee as an emeritus member, but has scaled back his level of activity. For his contribution, in addition to the usual certificate he was given replica of the Ashes – an icon of cricket, a sport close to Barry’s heart. It was, perhaps, appropriate that, being a dyed-in-the-wool Skeptic, we chose to present Barry with a fake.

All of the awards were roundly endorsed by the convention attendees.