Each year the New Zealand Skeptics announces the Bent Spoon Award for the New Zealand organisation which has shown the most egregious gullibility or lack of critical thinking in public coverage of, or commentary on, a science-related issue.
We can all think of publications which run ridiculous and unbelievable stories as a regular part of their material. These are not Bent Spoon candidates. Instead we look for organisations and media outlets that tend to command credibility in the mind of the public, and who should have an accurate approach to information gathering and distribution. They are the ones who are rapped over the knuckles with the Bent Spoon when their professional standards lapse.
|In 1995 the Bent Spoon award was given to the Ministry of Justice, for a report they commissioned which looked into domestic violence against women, titled “Hitting Home”. The report interviewed men about their views on abuse, and attempted to uncover some statistics about the prevalence of different kinds of abuse in New Zealand. As far as we can tell, the report was well researched and written, and seems to have received a mostly positive reception both locally and internationally, with some notable dissent (mainly from men’s rights groups). However, the NZ Skeptics took issue with some of the conclusions of the report, claiming that it “trivialises the real domestic violence that goes on in New Zealand” and pointing out what were considered to be shortcomings. These supposed shortcomings included the way in which the report defined abuse, which included not just physical but also psychological abuse. However, careful reading of the report shows that the authors were well aware of these potential issues, and were careful to let the readers know of the factors that needed to be borne in mind when reading the report. Indeed, in retrospect the report appears to have been somewhat ahead of its time. At the time the award was announced, there was pushback from some members of the Skeptics, so a subcommittee was formed to accept feedback from members and come to a decision as to whether to rescind the award. In the end, a decision was made to keep the award in place, in part because a majority of the 16 people who responded to the subcommittee stood behind it. We will not be withdrawing the award. It was awarded by the committee at the time, and we would rather let the decision stand as evidence that, as skeptics, we’re just as prone to getting things wrong as everyone else. The current committee is in unanimous agreement that the award was not justified. As such, we would like to apologise to the authors of the report. And, as a way to publicly hold ourselves to account, the 2023 Bent Spoon is awarded to ourselves – the NZ Skeptics – for our “lack of critical thinking” when it came to the Hitting Home report. What we can learn from this is that we, more than most organisations, need to be careful about criticising others when we don’t have the expertise to be able to make a properly considered judgement. We’re on fairly safe ground when we go after conspiracy theories and “alternative” therapies, but we need to tread carefully when we, as laypeople, think that the experts in the room have got something wrong. As a committee we will strive to do better.
|for giving airtime to Counterspin Media, an opinion-piece streaming channel whose content amounts to Q-Anon style conspiracy theory and thinly disguised hate-speech, as well as other online media “personalities” such as Chantelle Baker and Jordan Peterson.
|Dr Simon Thornley
|for his opposition to NZ’s approach to dealing with COVID. He was one of the founders of the COVID PlanB group which opposed lockdowns, and signed onto the Great Barrington Declaration.
|Wellington City Council
|for using dowsing to find buried water pipes. The story was picked up by several media outlets, including Newsroom and Stuff.
|for coverage of a story about health fears from mobile phone towers. The story featured a woman who has built a wall to keep out radiation after two mobile phone towers were built near her home. While the main segment had some balance, including statements from the Ministry of Health and Peter Griffin from the Science Media Centre. But after the segment Hilary Barry expressed her opinion that she “wouldn’t want to live beside two” phone towers and that she “would be tempted to build a wall like Marta has”. Read more…
|New Zealand Veterinary Association
|for their attempt to balance the need for evidence-based treatments for animals with the desire of veterinarians to sell unproven therapies
|for credulous journalism, repeatedly publishing articles that clearly disregard the weight of evidence
|for suggesting, when faced with the fact that pharmacists were not complying with their Code of Ethics, that a viable solution was to change their Code of Ethics.
|for signing a petition that called on the World Health Organisation to “End the suffering of the Ebola crisis. by testing and distributing homeopathy as quickly as possible to contain the outbreaks.” Read more…
|Hamilton City Council
|for ignoring the evidence of the public health value of fluoridation Read more…
|for continuing to promote homeopathic products as a viable alternative to evidence-based medical treatments
|Gullible media outlets and personalities
|for taking Ken Ring’s earthquake prediction claims at face value
|Rural Women New Zealand and Fonterra
|for supporting homeopathic practices on the farm, thereby indicating an ignorance of basic science and a lack of concern for animal welfare. Read more…
|Clyde and Steve Graf
|for their documentary “Poisoning Paradise – Ecocide in New Zealand” which claims that 1080 kills large numbers of native birds, poisons soils, persists in water and interferes with human hormones. Read more…
|Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Levy
|for promoting psychics as “just another tool” in the investigative policing toolbox, helping the “exploitainment” show Sensing Murder Read more…
|TV3 news and Current Affairs and Carol Hirschfeld
|for her August 31 interview with self-proclaimed energy healer and clairvoyant Simone Simmons, who claims to be visited regularly by the spirit of Diana, 10 years after the death of the Princess of Wales. Read more…
|for “Come and Be Healed” the article in the Listener on Brazilian medium and “miracle-worker” Joao de Deus Read more…
|Tertiary Education Commission
|for identifying homeopathic training as a nationally important strategic priority for New Zealand Read more…
|for reporter Melanie Reid’s August 22 segment “Back from the Dead” profiling Taranaki medium Jeanette Wilson.
|Justice Minister Phil Goff
|for refusing to open the can of worms that is the Christchurch Civic Creche case (Goff was awarded the first-ever Bent Can Opener Award from the New Zealand Skeptics).
|for supporting the concept of biodynamic’s “etheralised Cosmic-Astral influences” as a means of ridding New Zealand of possums
|for the “Hallelujah Healing” documentary on faith-healing Read more…
|for supporting healing hands therapy by its nurses
|for the coverage given to the Liam Williams-Holloway case
|for misleading the public over the truthfulness of an alleged documentary on alien abductions
|for numerology lessons in maths class
|for seriously considering awarding a Bachelor of Science status for a course at Aoraki Polytech on naturopathy
|for the “Hitting Home” report on domestic violence Read more…
|for the “Satanic Memories” documentary
|for covering biodynamics as a serious pest control option Read more…
|for their Alternative Medicine article