Everyone Take a Bow — Group Bent Spoon Award from NZ Skeptics
The NZ Skeptics have awarded their annual prize for journalistic gullibility to all those media outlets and personalities who took Ken Ring’s earthquake prediction claims at face value, thereby misinforming the public and contributing to 50,000 people leaving Christchurch with all the inconvenience, cost and emotional harm that that caused
“We believe that it is the business of the professional media to ask pertinent questions on behalf of the public when presenting material as factual. We even have broadcasting standards which call for accurate reporting. Many, many media outlets and journalists failed the basic standards of their profession in failing to ask “where is the evidence?” in the face of Ken Ring’s claims to predict earthquakes. They did us all a disservice,” says Skeptics media commentator Vicki Hyde.
The group Bent Spoon award is an unusual one for the NZ Skeptics, but they felt that so little was asked by so many that it had to be a broader award this year. That said, the organisation did single out some reporters and commentators whom they felt had made particularly poor journalistic efforts in this area. They include:
- Marcus Lush, for giving great and unquestioning publicity for Ring’s claims that Christchurch would have a major earthquake — “one for the history books” — on March 20th, and continuing to support Ring’s promotion as an earthquake predictor and weather forecaster.
- Closeup’s Mark Sainsbury for giving Ring another platform to air his ideas with very little in-depth critique (Ken Ring Breaks His Silence, July 12,2011) http://tvnz.co.nz/close-up/ken-ring-breaks-his-silence-9-05-video-4300423
“The best thing about Ken’s failure on March 20 was his long silence afterwards. Yet here he is back on what is supposed to be credible current affairs show with more vague pronouncements and self- justifications. Surely Closeup had another Kate-and-William clip they could have played instead to maintain their level of in-depth journalism.”
- The Herald on Sunday’s Chloe Johnson, described as having provided uncritical publicity for Ring which continued long after his failures had been well and truly demonstrated (Moon Man just wants a chance to help people, June 26 2011); http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?objectid=10734595
“It’s been sad to see the Herald name devalued by the tabloid approach of the Herald on Sunday, especially when the lower-quality spin-off can sometimes do good stuff such as its hard-hitting editorial headlined ‘Charlatan Ring merits contempt’.”
Charlatan Ring merits contempt (March 20, 2011) http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10713609
- Brian Edwards, described by one commentator as providing “banal and rigourless equivocations”, along the lines of such gems as “the evidence that the moon has some contributory influence on earthquakes seems slight…however, it is not impossible that it does”.
“We’ve seen Edwards cogently skewer sloppy thinking in the past, so it was surprising to see just how wishy-washy he was in this particular case.”
And what of the notorious John Campbell interview where the television interviewer lost his cool and boosted sympathy for Ring by shouting him down?
The NZ Skeptics say that that has given them the unusual situation of seeing nominations come in to give Campbell both the Bent Spoon and the society’s Bravo Award for critical thinking.
“We appreciate what John was trying to do — introduce a little evidence and call into question some very dubious claims — but we knew he’d blown it as soon as he started to talk over the top of Ken.”
The NZ Skeptics also applaud critical thinking with a number of Bravo Awards each year. This year’s recipients are:
- Janna Sherman of the the Greymouth Star for her item “Sceptics revel in Hokitika ‘earthquake’ non-event” (March 14 2011)
Ken Ring predicted an Alpine Fault rupture and/or an extreme weather event which would require Civil Defense to prepare for gales and heavy rain at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival in March. As Sherman’s report noted:
“The 22nd annual Wildfoods Festival on Saturday was held under sunny skies, with temperatures climbing over 20degC.”
“In science, a lack of evidence or a failed prediction can tell us a lot; in the media, we rarely see any stories about a non-event. That’s why it was great to see Sherman and the Star cover Ken’s failure — pseudo-scientists and psychics alike will only trumpet their sucesses as part of their self-promotion. To get the real picture, you need to hear about their failures too,” notes Hyde.
- Philip Matthews, writing in the Marlborough Express, for a great article on 1080 that actually says there is really only one side to the story rather than introducing an alleged controversy with token “balance”.
1080 this debate is a no-brainer (22 June 2011) http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-xpress/rural/5176061/1080-this-debate-is-a-no-brainer
“We don’t ask the Flat Earth Society to provide balance for a story on the International Space Station orbiting a spherical Earth. Why should we give a false impression of evidence-based “debate” in other areas such as 1080 or immunization? If there truly is controversy based on evidence, let the evidence speak for itself, but don’t give us misleading balance based on opinion and hearsay.”
In discussing the entrenched views regarding the use of 1080, Matthews wrote:
“One of those “entrenched views” is the weight of science; the other, emotive opinion. The debate is done a disservice by suggesting the views are somehow equivalent.”
The NZ Skeptics also commend Dr Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who, while not in the media itself, did a great job of evaluating the evidence and presenting a report clearly outlining the evidence.
As always, the Bent Spoon will be awarded telepathically by those gathered for the annual NZ Skeptics Conference. Given the winner, it seems particularly appropriate that this year’s conference is being held in Christchurch (August 26-28).