It’s the new year, and so time for the fourth annual* Golden Woo Awards for outstanding work in the promotion of Woo in the previous year. Here are the winners for 2012:
* Except for years when I didn’t publish one.
The Egnorance Prize for the scientist or academic who said or did the silliest thing to support Woo
The 2012 Egnorance prize goes to theologian Alvin Plantinga, as justified by two articles by Jerry Coyne, The sophistry of Alvin Plantinga and especially Plantinga: Why God is a necessary being. As far as I can tell, Plantinga’s “why god is necessary” is just a rehashing of the Ontological Argument which I debunked over three years ago. Or as one of Jerry’s commenters remarked, the argument is:
God is defined as that which must exist.
That which must exist exists.
Therefore, God exists!
And no, you cannot define anything else as that which must exist. You just can’t, that’s why not.
As Coyne notes, this is what passes for “sophisticated theology,” a term I believe he has trademarked. Just think, Plantinga gets paid to write this drivel.
The most useless or misleading Woo study
The award goes to The John Templeton Foundation funded $5 Million Grant to Study Immortality. Yes, $5 Million to study something that no one can know exists, and if it does, no one has ever been there (and come back). So it’s $5 Million to study what people have made up about what they think the afterlife is. It’s hard to imagine anything much more useless.
The Larry King Prize for the media outlet that reported as fact the most ridiculous Woo claim
A crowded field, as usual. Nominees included the various websites reporting that Richard Dawkins’s family fortune came from the slave trade, and especially the Newsweek’s article headlined Heaven Is Real – an absurd thing to claim you know for certain, if there ever was one. Both worthy contenders. But I have to award the Larry this year to Dr Phil for his ‘psychics are real’ show featuring John Edward and CharMargolis. It’s not just that he reported this drivel credulously as fact. Many others have done the same (Dr Oz, I’m looking at you). The award is given to Dr Phil since he is supposed to be some sort of psychologist, and yet he couldn’t spot the obvious psychological tricks employed by these cold readers, nor could he recognize the psychological need of the victims to make hits out of wrong guesses.
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.
This year’s Chopra goes to Zack Kaldveer of the “Yes on 37” campaign (the 2012 California ballot initiative to require labeling of genetically modified foods). The title of Kaldveer’s article gives you a hint of the fallacy he is mostly relying on: Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods: Whose Side Are You On? “Whose side are you on?” It’s right there in the headline, followed by 1,300 words, the majority of which were nothing but (numerous) Ad Hominem attacks – smearing opponents of the initiative instead of rebutting their arguments. Add a dose of Appeal to Popularity, and Argument by Assertion and you have it all. There may be some good reasons why GM food should be labeled, but you don’t see any of them in this article. And just to be clear, a good argument in favor of labeling GMO foods would not include an argument in the form of ‘Safeway eliminated health insurance for its workers.’
I was a little reluctant to give this award to Zack since he is a friend of mine. In fact, I only learned of the article when he emailed me the link back in July. Since he is a friend, I didn’t do my usual paragraph by paragraph rebuttal. However, looking back at the year, I can’t think of another article that is made up almost entirely of logical fallacies and no actual content. I did try to look for one, but couldn’t find one that competed. I’m sure Zack doesn’t read this site, but if someone tells you about it Zack and you find this page – congratulations, you have won the 2012 Deepak Chopra Award. I imagine that would make you quite pleased.
The Blown Irony Meter Award, for being completely oblivious to the hypocrisy of their own actions or words in defense of Woo
The award goes to Lenoir City High School for denying a student the right to publish an article in its student newspaper. What was the article about? It was about how atheists don’t have the same rights as Christians in her school. The lack of self awareness shown by the school authorities is quite outstanding, and deserving of the 2012 Irony Award. As is the subsequent Streisand Effect, as her article was published elsewhere, gaining more publicity than it ever would have if it hadn’t been refused by the school.
The most ridiculous or bigoted act using religion as its justification
Always a crowded field – the examples too numerous to mention. This year I’m giving the award to the government of India and the Roman Catholic Church. The situation is that an Indian skeptic called Sanal Edamaruku debunked a “miracle” of holy water trickling as tears from a statue of Jesus (it was just faulty plumbing). The Indian government immediately accused Edamaruku of blasphemy, and he only escaped jail by leaving the country.
The Indian government should be ashamed that it has blasphemy laws on its books. But the real reason I am giving this award is the reaction of the Roman Catholic church. According to Edamaruku:
The Catholic archbishop of Bombay, Oswald, Cardinal Gracias, has said that if I apologise for the 'offence' I have caused he will see to it that the charges are dropped.
And there you see quite clearly what religion looks like when it gets everything it wants – it demands obedience and obsequiousness or it has no compunction about sending you to jail. Remember this when people talk about moderate religion, and when they say it’s only religious extremism that is the problem. What you see very clearly here is that when they are not restricted by secular reasoning and secular laws, religions’ natural state is extremism.
This year I’m combining the most persistent refusal to face reality and Occam awards into one general award for miscellaneous idiocy. Agreed, all of these awards are for idiocy in one way or another. This is just a category for anything that would otherwise be missed.
The 2012 award goes to Andrew Wakefield. His ‘vaccines cause autism’ has been shown to be the result of fraudulent research and he has been struck off the register of UK doctors. Having failed with the science, he now tries his hand in the courts by suing Brian Deer – the journalist who exposed Wakefield’s faulty research. Of course, the absurd suit was dismissed, but I trust that this Golden Woo will be of some consolation.