The Australian Skeptics’ notorious Bent Spoon award has gone to former celebrity chef Pete Evans, only the first time in Skeptics history that the same person has won the award twice.
The annual Skeptics’ awards were announced on October 25 during the 2020 Skepticon convention, which this year was an online event. In addition to the Bent Spoon award, more positive recognition was given to Mandy-Lee Noble as Skeptic of the Year, Dr Norman Swan and the Science Friction program joint winners for journalism, and Dr Vyom Sharma good works to promote reason.
The Bent Spoon, one of the least sought-after awards, is given to the proponent of the most preposterous piece of pseudoscientific or paranormal piffle of the year. Past winners have included the ABC, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the University of Wollongong, the Australian [anti]Vaccination Network, SBS’s Medicine or Myth, and a psychic dentist.
While there were a number of nominations for this year’s Spoon, Evans was the handsdown choice among Skeptical groups around Australia.
“His promotion of the pseudoscientific non-medical BioCharger for treating COVID-19 would have been enough in its own right,” said Tim Mendham, executive officer for Australian Skeptics Inc. “But add on top his promotion of the anti-vaccination cause, through interviewing defrocked medico Andrew Wakefield to discuss his debunked suggestion of a link between vaccines and autism, and his support of the alarmist, conspiratorial and mis-named Medical Options Party in the Queensland election, meant that there really was no other choice.”
Evans first won the Spoon in 2015 for his dangerous diet promotions (bone broth for babies!) and his campaigns against fluoridation and vaccination.
“Over the years, Evans has added to his portfolio of weirdness. Each new fetish just puts further strange ideas out there, some silly, some dangerous. He is a deserving winner.”
Perhaps not surprisingly considering the COVID pandemic, the topic of vaccines, conspiracies, and quack cures popped up consistently among the nominations. These included a number of people who had themselves been previous winners, including: Meryl Dorey and the Australian [anti]Vaccination-risks/skeptic Network; anti-vaccinationist Judy Wilyman for her continued promotion of fear; MMS Australia for its bleach treatment for the disease; and radio jocks Kyle and Jackie O for themselves giving an unfettered platform for Evans to espouse his most outrageous and unsubstantiated theories.
More positive awards were given for Skeptic of the Year, the Barry Williams Award for Skeptical Journalism, and the Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason.
The Skeptic of the Year award is given occasionally – not every year – to someone who has close ties to the Skeptical movement and who has achieved exceptional results, often active behind the scenes. In 2020, the award went to Mandy-Lee Noble. It is through her well-crafted and carefully thought-out complaints to regulators that we have seen action taken against dangerous proponents of alternative medicine. She spearheaded the complaint that saw naturopath Barbara O’Neil banned from practising, and whose research over many years finally saw Pete Evans fined for his ludicrous claims around preventing and treating COVID-19, using the pseudoscientific BioCharger machine.
The Barry Williams Award for Skeptical Journalism is given for journalistic work that critically analyses or exposes issues related to pseudoscience or the paranormal. The award includes a $2000 prize. This was the third year that the award has been made, and the judging panel – made up of award-winning journalists – suggested two winners: Dr Norman Swan of the ABC Health Report (and numerous other media calls) and the ABC Radio National program Science Friction and in particular its Click-Sick episodes. Both winners have presented serious, rational and uncompromising pieces on the pandemic and how to deal with its effects, across a range of media platforms. Swan was particularly noted for his Coronacast podcast (with reporters Tegan Taylor and Will Ockenden) which has received international recognition. The members of the Click-Sick crew (presenter/reporter Ariel Bogle, presenter Natasha Mitchell, producer Jane Lee, and series producer Carl Smith) undertook a great deal of effective investigative journalism looking at COVID misinformation and how it is spread – unfortunately a recurring theme of the last year.
The Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason is given to a member of the public who has made a significant contribution to educating or informing the public regarding issues of science and reason, but who is not necessarily part of the traditional skeptical community. This year’s award, which includes a $2000 prize, was given to Dr Vyom Sharma, GP and magician, who has often be called upon to bring his medical and scientific expertise to bear on COVID-19. Despite what has been a hazardous road full of pseudoscientific pitfalls, he has maintained his cool throughout while imparting information that is both accurate and understandable.
Congratulations to all of our winners … or most of them!