In the 38 years of the Australian Skeptics’ Bent Spoon Award, issued to the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle, we have never had the need to award this dishonour to the same person twice. However, with the current COVID-19 situation impacting on the whole world, some of the Bent Spoon winners from past years have suddenly and dramatically thrown their hats into the ring for 2020. While the fight against this killer virus goes on, there are some in our country who seem intent on sabotaging the efforts of our health care workers and citizens alike who are, by and large, doing the right thing.
In 2015 the Bent Spoon was awarded to chef Pete Evans for his diet promotions, campaigns against fluoridation, and support of anti-vaccinationists. In 2020 Evans, via an online video, promoted the benefits of the ‘BioCharger’ machine (pictured above) from the USA. The makers of this device, which looks like something out of a 1974 episode of Doctor Who and costs US$15,000, claim it works via “frequencies and harmonics” and is beneficial for a huge range of ailments. To quote Evans, “It’s a pretty amazing tool. … It’s programed with about a thousand different recipes, there’s a couple of them there for Wuhan Coronavirus.” While he took the promotion off his Facebook page, Evans and his product are now the subject of investigations by the Health Care Complaints Commission, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
In 2010 the Spoon went to Meryl Dorey and the deceptively named Australian Vaccination Network, who spread fear and misinformation about vaccines. 10 years later and Dorey, via online videos and posts, questions whether or not there really is a pandemic at all. She also posted online the following reckless request: “Are you being lied to? If you are out and about in the next couple of days, why don’t you take your phones and pop into the local hospital.” She wants to see if hospital emergency and intensive care wards are really full of ill people. The last thing any hospital needs at the moment are conspiracy theory fanatics running amok through their corridors.
2012 saw the award go to Fran Sheffield of Homeopathy Plus! for advocating the use of magical sugar and water in place of tried and true vaccination for many deadly diseases, most notably whooping cough. This time around Sheffield is pushing the bizarre notion that homeopathy can help prevent COVID-19, and points to its use in India. She also implied there was a conspiracy to delete information of a homeopathic COVID-19 treatment.
In 2016 it was Judy Wilyman, Brian Martin, and the University of Wollongong, for awarding Wilyman a doctorate on the basis of a PhD thesis riddled with errors, misstatements, poor and unsupported ‘evidence’ and conspiratorial thinking. Wilyman too, via an online video, questioned whether there really is a pandemic, advocating that “social distancing and the banning of gatherings are not necessary in this current outbreak”. This advice flies in the face of the best medical advice and we’ve sadly seen the results so far in countries where action was taken too late. The video has since been taken down.
We will keep an eye out in case any other past winners are keen to win the Bent Spoon again in 2020, but we would warn them that the competition this year is fierce!
Click here to see the list of current nominations.