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2023 Ockham Awards: The Best & Worst of Skepticism

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

With preparations well under way for the annual QED conference in Manchester, it is time once again to consider the best and the worst of the year’s skepticism and to make our nominations for The Skeptic’s 2023 Ockham Award for Skeptical Activism and its ever-popular antithesis The Rusty Razor. And the competition this year has been tougher than ever with the pandemic and its accompanying infodemic still with us, Elon Musk reinvigorating the misinformation sphere with his Twitter take over, and a UFO flap building to an inevitable fizzle.

The Ockham Awards for Skeptical Activism & Editor's Choice

The Award for Skeptical Activism is presented to an individual or organisation who has done outstanding work to promote critical thinking within the last 12 months. It is chosen by the editorial board of The Skeptic, from nominations received, based on the impact that they have had, the reach that they have achieved and their relevance this year. Last year the award went to the BBC’s Disinformation Unit (now part of BBC Verify) and in previous years has gone to Michael Marshall (2018), Dr Natália Pasternak (2020) and Dr Elizabeth Bik (2021).

Prof Sander van der Linden

Prof Sander van der Linden, Dr Jon Roozenbeek and the rest of the team at the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab, my 2023 nominees, have continued their dual mission of researching and combatting misinformation with inoculation theory. As well as publishing numerous academic papers the team has gone mainstream this year with Sander’s pop-science book Foolproof and Jon’s latest award-winning game Cat Park. And, in the interests of full disclosure, Sander and Jon have both given lively and engaging talks at Cambridge SITP.

Dr Peter Hotez

Dr Peter Hotez, my 2023 editor’s choice, is a paediatrician and research scientist, specialising in neglected tropical diseases and royalty free vaccines, who, when his 19-month-old daughter was diagnosed with autism, wrote a book about how it was not due to vaccines. All of which made him the ideal candidate for an online and IRL harassment campaign when he retweeted a VICE article criticising Spotify for not conforming to its own rules over a Joe Rogan interview with RFK Jr. Hotez’s next book, out in September, warns of this dangerous rise in anti-science.

My honourable mentions this year go to YouTube science communicators Dr Dan Wilson (Debunk the Funk), Dr Susan Oliver (Back to the Science), Prof Greg Tucker-Kellogg (Biotech and Bioinformatics) and Dr Yan Yu for taking their debunking of medical misinformers, such as my Rusty Razor nominee, to the platform that spawned them; our dear friend Prof Edzard Ernst for reminding us of the new King’s history of bad ideas; NewsGuard for innovation in tracking and combating online misinformation; and, of course, stalwart Mick West (Metabunk) for continuing to combat the ever-evolving and seemingly never-ending UFO flap.

The Rusty Razor

The Rusty Razor is presented to an individual or organisation who has been the most prominent promoter of unscientific ideas in the last 12 months. It is chosen by the editorial board of The Skeptic, from nominations received, based on level of pseudoscience, the reach they’ve achieved, the harm they’ve done and their relevance this year. Last year the award went to Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation and in previous years has gone Gwyneth Paltrow (2017), Andrew Wakefield (2018), Dr Didier Raoult (2020) and Dr Mike Yeadon (2021).

Dr John Campbell

Dr John Campbell, my 2023 nominee, manipulates and misrepresents official data and academic studies in a "nudge nudge wink wink" sort of way, to sow suspicion and pander to antivaxers and Covid conspiracists on government mortality statistics, vaccine efficacy and safety, disproven treatments, virus origins, natural immunity, etc, to his rapidly amassing audience of some 2.8 million on YouTube. He has also platformed and appeared on platforms with antivaxxers. His turn to medical disinformation and pseudoscientific nonsense is particularly tragic as in doing this he has debased his academic title, his long career in emergency nursing and nursing education, and an almost heroic reputation for reasonableness established early on in the pandemic.

My dishonourable mentions this year go to anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr for parlaying his lifelong promotion of pseudoscientific nonsense into a widely publicised longshot presidential campaign; podcaster Joe Rogan, Twitter-owner Elon Musk and questionable skeptic Dr Michael Shermer for attempting to legitimise RFK Jr and his BS amongst many more crimes against critical thinking; and, of course, crackpot conspiracy theorist Piers Corbyn for continuing to be almost as big a problem as the climate change and COVID he denies exist.

QED Saturday Night Entertainment

Winners, chosen by The Skeptic editorial board, will be announced at the QED conference (September 23rd-24th) as part of the Saturday night entertainment, which will be hosted by science presenter Helen Arney and feature comedians Ahir Shah and Helen Arney. So, make your nominations official by completing the official nomination form before nominations close on September 9th, book your tickets for QED, and I’ll see you at the awards ceremony in Manchester.

Catch our debates on the best in skepticism, the worst in pseudoscience & The Ockham Awards 2021; and, on anti-vax, climate change denial, QAnon & The Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theories.

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