A Listener article on Brazilian medium and “miracle-worker” Joao de Deus has taken the annual Bent Spoon Award from the New Zealand Skeptics.

The article noted that New Zealanders are the biggest single group of foreign visitors per capita to the South American “healing centre” largely through tours promoted by Wellington naturopath Peter Waugh. The article ran before the self-proclaimed healer´s planned visit to New Zealand where a Wellington performance was expected to take in 3,000 people at $115 a head.

According to Skeptics Chair-entity Vicki Hyde, the “Come and Be Healed” article by Diana Burns received a very large number of nominations from members concerned that the anecdotal accounts of miracle cures would help boost such businesses.

“We´re used to seeing these sorts of stories in tabloid publications and B-grade `exploitainment´ shows, but many of our members expected better quality analysis from the Listener,” says Hyde. “Unfortunately, this sort of coverage sets up the promotional conditions for desperate, vulnerable people to be exploited physically, emotionally and economically.

The article did contain some caveats, briefly quoting US magician James Randi noting that the apparently miraculous feat of pushing forceps up a patient´s nose is a common circus routine.

“You have to ask why does someone who claims to be channelling King Solomon and St Frances Xavier, amongst others, have to resort to hoary old magic tricks? Where is the proof that paying to have your photo taken to Brazil is going to cure your ills?,” questions Hyde.

“It´s taken us a long time to require proof of efficacy and informed patient consent from our medical fraternity — we should demand no less from any other industry that purports to help us physically and mentally.”

The New Zealand Skeptics were pleased to see a more critical look taken at the claims of de-registered doctor Hellfried “Dr Ozone” Satori. Sunday reporter Janet McIntyre receives a Bravo Award for her item (TV One September 3, 2006) on Satori´s claims to cure cancer through ozone injections and the use of caesium chloride.

In one case, a New Zealander paid $46,000 for the treatment, conducted in a Thai hotel room. She passed out after being injected with ozone and was rushed into intensive care. The young Christchurch mother has recently died.

“If we can get more critical coverage looking at the baseless — and potentially dangerous — nature of many alternative medicine claims, then that could help reduce exploitation and save lives,” says Hyde.

Other recipients of Bravo Awards from the NZ Skeptics are:

  • David Russell, retiring head of the Consumer Institute

“We often say, somewhat cheekily, that the Skeptics are the Consumers´ Institute of the mind. Despite having once awarded Consumer magazine a Bent Spoon, we nonetheless have appreciated David´s many years of leadership in critical thinking.”

  • Linley Boniface, for her piece “Clairvoyants dead wrong ” (Dominion Post, May 1, 2006)

“We particularly appreciated Linley´s description of TV2’s documentary´ series Sensing Murder asrepellent´. Television´s enthusiasm for exploiting grieving families for entertainment value is appalling and should not pass uncriticised.”

  • Claire Silvester, Campbell Live, TV3

“Claire has brought a critical edge to her reports on Campbell Live, covering a range of subjects and taking the time to seek out alternative explanations rather than simply accepting outrageous claims at face value. That´s the sort of critical thinking we should all demand from our news and current affairs reporters.”

The Bent Spoon Award, given annually to the most gullible or naive reporting in the paranormal or pseudo-science area, will be awarded telepathically by the assembled Skeptics at their annual conference, being held at King´s College, Auckland, at the end of September.

20th Annual Skeptics Conference Kings College, Auckland September 29-October 1

More information on the conference programme and registration form available here: http://skeptics.org.nz

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