TVNZ’s Holmes show has taken this year’s Bent Spoon Award from the New Zealand Skeptics for promoting extraordinary and untested claims regarding cancer treatments.
“We were appalled to see the uncritical promotion he gave to the Rife quantum booster business,” says Skeptics Chair-entity Vicki Hyde. “Judging by more informed media reports, these people have very little knowledge regarding the actual workings of the human body, beyond being well aware of people’s incredible capacity for hope and desperate self-delusion.”
The Skeptics were particularly saddened to see the case of small boy Liam Holloway-Williams turned into a cause celebre.
The Holmes show repeated a number of times that the decision in this case to drop medical treatment in favour of what has been described by US experts as “health quackery at its worst” was an informed one. The family cited the book “Suppressed Inventions and other Discoveries” as a reference source. As its name suggests, this book deals with a vast range of conspiracy theories, from NASA’s suppression of evidence for intelligent life on Mars through to the perpetual fruitless quest for free energy sources.
“This is the sort of stuff of which fortunes are made by those prepared to rip off the vulnerable, and you can’t get much more vulnerable than being the parent of a child diagnosed with cancer,” notes Hyde.
“Certainly we all should question what the medical establishment does and doesn’t want to do. But you also have to question those claiming to have cures through alternative routes. They should be held up to the same scrutiny and the same evidential and ethical standards. If we can demand proof of a dubious-looking odometer, why on Earth can’t we ask for proof from people who want to take the lives of our children into their hands?”
The Skeptics contend that, as a national current affairs programme, the Holmes show should have looked beyond the entertainment value of a sick child and desperate parents and asked those questions.
Those sorts of questions, indicating well-researched, informative journalism, were prominent in the winners of the Skeptics’ 1999 Bravo Awards.
Brian Rudman of the New Zealand Herald was one of the few people to look at the sorry history of the Rife quantum booster business — described in his article of May 11 as “health fraud in its darkest form”.
Pamela Stirling of the Listener gained a Bravo Award for an article examining the claims of quantum booster proponents (May 29, 1999) and showed that her critical thinking was well developed in a piece on the herbal cellulite remedy Cellasene (November 28, 1998).
Dr Roderick Mulgan was also recognised with a Bravo Award for his Wellness column in Grace, covering a variety of subjects of importance to a greater understanding of health and risks, including the placebo effect (December 1998) and cellphone health scare stories (August 1999).