It’s the new year, and so time for the third annual* Golden Woo Awards for outstanding work in the promotion of Woo in the previous year. Here are the winners:
[* Except there were no awards last year, so we will include services to woo in the last two years.]
The Egnorance Prize for the scientist or academic who said or did the silliest thing to support Woo
The Woo goes to Professor John Haught, who during his debate with Jerry Coyne (Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?), informed us that “because my wife turned the gas on” is a different level of answer to the question “why is the teapot boiling.” Therefore religion is compatible with science. Which presumably means Haught believes his wife is god. Or at least, that she makes tea using supernatural powers.
The most useless or misleading Woo study
The award goes to Anna Enblom et al for this study on acupuncture. Strictly speaking the study was not useless. In fact it was quite useful for demonstrating that acupuncture is nothing more than placebo. (Although we already knew that.) What was misleading is the way Enblom et al chose to interpret the results, namely by saying that since both real and placebo acupuncture (yes I know all acupuncture is placebo acupuncture – you know what I mean) showed a benefit, acupuncture works. As Steven Novella wrote in Another Acupuncture Fail, “In the real world of scientific medicine … when a treatment works no better than the placebo control we conclude that – the treatment does not work.” For dishonest and misleading wording in both the abstract and especially in the press release, Enblom wins a well deserved Woo.
The Larry King Prize for the media outlet that reported as fact the most outrageous Woo claim
This year’s Larry goes to numerous TV stations for screening the Dr. Oz show. Examples of how steeped in Woo Oz has become are numerous, but as an example he promotes homeopathy. For some reason the video of the show doesn’t seem to play any more, but Oz calls on a Dr. Russ Greenfield who claims that there are “scientific studies” and “some data suggesting it really works.” (Although a lot more showing it doesn’t.) He talks about “essence” which is the “spirit literally of the medication,” although, confusingly, he also says that you “don’t want to use this for stuff that isn’t self limiting.” (Translation – it only works for illnesses that will get better by themselves.) For some reason this show seems to be on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, so any one of them can claim the Larry this year.
The Chopra Award for the most drivel containing the most logical fallacies
Named for Deepak Chopra, whose support of woo with nothing but logical fallacies, is above and beyond what can reasonably be expected of any human being. I was originally going to give this year’s award to Bill “the tide comes in and it goes out” O'Reilly, for saying that since we don’t know where the Moon came from, god exists. Well worth the award, in my opinion. But I’m afraid I had to disqualify O’Reilly. You see, good (and by good, I mean bad) though his argument was, he later had Deepak Chopra on his show to support him with it. And the thing about these awards is that they need to be all your own work. Having Chopra on to help you is cheating.
So on reconsideration, this year’s Chopra goes to Michael Egnor (a previous Woo Laureate) for inventing a new fallacy. Not content with repeating at nauseam the mantra “stuff changes and survivors survive” to describe evolution, when called on this obvious straw man, he claimed it was just a colloquialism. Genius! I’m not sure what the exact name for this fallacy is. I think it’s a form of equivocation, but I’m open to ideas. In any case, I don’t remember even the fallacy grand master pulling off a stunt like that, and so Egnor is this year’s worthy winner.
The Blown Irony Meter Award, for being completely oblivious to the hypocrisy of their own actions or words in defense of Woo
The Woo goes to Barbara Loe Fisher for suing Paul Offit and Amy Wallace following their (accurate) article about anti-vaccination nuts, while simultaneously writing that she wants A Fearless Conversation About Vaccination. By fearless, she means fearless for her and her anti-vaccine friends. She’s quite happy if pro vaccine people are in fear.
Now, this incident occurred in early 2010, so (although I am covering two years here) it wouldn’t by itself have been enough to warrant an award. But Fisher is nothing if not persistent, and clearly determined to win the award this year. In November she claimed that wanting the truth to be told about vaccines (and by “the truth” I mean, “the opposite of what Fisher wanted to say) was “intimidation.” Fisher is a totally un-self aware martyr who cries “intimidation” when someone writes letters she doesn’t agree with, but is happy to get her lawyer to issue SLAPP suits while claiming to want a fearless conversation. “Oblivious” and “hypocrisy” are two words that belong in the same sentence as “Barbara Loe Fisher,” and for that she gets this year’s Woo.
The most ridiculous or bigoted act using religion as its justification
In a crowded field, the Woo goes to Michigan Republicans, for amending an anti-bullying bill to allow bullying if the bullying arises out of a sincerely held religious belief or moral convictions. This was a bill that was originally named after a teenager who killed himself after being the victim of anti-gay bullying by Christians. Now, thanks to Michigan Republicans, bullying by the religious is officially encouraged. This is outstanding bigotry and absurdity, of the sort that mostly comes from religion.
That’s it for this year. Please tell me of any I missed in the comments. And any you wish to nominate for next year.