Yesterday, on April 1, my friend and ex-employer James Randi unveiled the recipients of this year's Pigasus Awards. This isn't the kind of award one wants to receive, necessarily. Randi, a local legend and internationally renowned enemy of pseudoscience and superstition, awards these flying piggies to those who have distinguished themselves by fooling the public.
James Randi -- or "The Amazing Randi," as he used to be known -- rose to fame in the 1950s and '60s as a conjurer and escape artist. In the '70s, his ire raised by the ascendant New Age movement, Randi began working full-time to expose those individuals who used conjurers' tricks to persuade the public that they possessed supernatural abilities. (His first high-profile target was Uri Geller, the Israeli spoon-bender.)
Randi's cause has gained supporters and breadth in recent decades. "Skeptics'" conferences draw thousands of attendees the world over, and nowadays Randi's as likely to do battle with homeopaths or antivaccine activists as with magicians with delusions of grandeur. His organization, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), offers $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate supernatural abilities or phenomena under proper observing conditions. Nobody's cashed out yet.
This year's Pigasuses (Pigasi?) have been awarded in the following categories: "Scientist," "Funder," "Media," "Performer/Comeback," and "Refusal to Face Reality." And the winners are:
Scientist: Richard B. Hoover. This is guy who's found conclusive evidence of life on meteors three times in 14 years. Wrong every time! The dude's disappointment-proof.
Funder: CVS Pharmacies. They not only sell homeopathic medicine (which is to say, "medicine" in which an active ingredient has been so thoroughly diluted that not a single molecule remains); they even manufacture their own.
Media: Dr. Mehmet Oz. He's a great businessman and he's allegedly an even better heart surgeon. But for some reason, Oprah's favorite MD can't draw distinctions between genuine therapy and quackery. He's into Reiki! And this year, the JREF reports, he became convinced that medium Jonathan Edwards not only talks to the dead (which he obviously does) but that the dead actually talk back (which I'm pretty sure they don't).
Performer/Comeback: Peter Popoff. Popoff made bank as a faith healer in the 1980s for his seemingly miraculous ability to divine people's ailments and addresses without ever having met them before. His business suffered when Randi caught him receiving info on his audiences through an earpiece. Popoff declared bankruptcy in '87. Now he's back, offering "Miracle Debt Relief!"
Refusal to Face Reality: Andrew Wakefield. To be fair, Andrew Wakefield may have faced reality by now -- he's mostly disappeared since getting struck from Britain's medical registry -- but probably not. This is the fellow who originally convinced The Lancet that he'd found a definite link between vaccines and autism. He hadn't. And now the world knows just how much he fibbed to convince people otherwise.