Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Awards season is upon us once more and, after what has been a truly extraordinary year for both skepticism and pseudoscience, it’s time to nominate worthy recipients for The Skeptic magazine’s Ockham Awards. So, here are my nominees for this year's Award for Skeptical Activism and The Rusty Razor, as well as a brief outline of the rocky road they've had to get there.
The Award for Skeptical Activism, for an individual or organisation who has done outstanding work to promote critical thinking within the last 12 months, is judged according to the impact that they have had, the reach that they have achieved and their relevance this year. The award has previously gone to the UK’s only full-time professional skeptic Michael Marshall (2018) and microbiologist Dr. Natália Pasternak (2020), who took her fight against pseudoscience all the way to the Brazilian senate, with Editor's Choice going to Skeptics on the Pub Online (2020).
Marianna Spring, my 2021 nominee, was appointed the BBC’s first specialist disinformation and social media reporter in March 2020, at the start of what would prove to be not only the worst pandemic in living memory, but also one of the worst infodemics in all of history. Her work with BBC Trending and Panorma over the past year has tackled anti-vax, climate change denial and QAnon with reason and compassion. And she has responded to the ensuing hate and harassment with a campaign highlighting her own and others online struggles
Honourable mentions go to microbiologist Elizabeth Bik for facing up to legal harrasment after exposing last year's Rusty Razor winner Didier Raoult, The Data Detectives for highlighting errors and fraud in the promotion of ivermectin as a miracle Covid cure, and Mick West for debunking the latest UFO flap.
The Rusty Razor for an individual or organisation who has been the most prominent promoter of unscientific ideas in the last 12 months, is judged according to their level of pseudoscience, the reach they’ve achieved, the harm they’ve done and their relevance this year. The award has previously gone to morally goopy wellness profiteer Gwyneth Paltrow (2017), former physician turned anti-vaxx activist Andrew Wakefield (2018), and hydroxychloroquine miracle cure promoter Dr Didier Raoult (2020).
Jair Bolsonaro, my 2021 nominee, has proven a worthy replacement for his temperate alternate, who I nominated last year, with an even greater pandemic mishandling. From calling it “a little flu,” to removing his mask to announce his innfection, to pushing ivermectin, to warning the vaccine may turn you into a crocodile, his performance has been called a crime against humanity by his own senate. And all this on top of climate change denial, Amazon deforestation and an anti-science crusade that led to this year's National Order of Scientific Merit being rejected by 21 of its intended recipients.
Dishonourable mentions in this category go to: Bolsonaro's fellow anti-science covid mishandler Narendra Modi; broscientist Joe Rogan; Covid-crackpots Kate Shemirani, Piers Corbyn, David Icke, et al; and the Disinformation Dozen responsible for 65% of online anti-vax disinformation.