June 14, 2013
columnist Steven Salzberg and author-investigator Joe Nickell will each be awarded the 2012 Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking, to be presented by
the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry at the CFI Summit in October.
In the struggle against the torrent of pseudoscientific misinformation peddled to the public, there could be no more valuable ally to skeptics than a
rational, critical, and intellectually honest media. Unfortunately, tales of hauntings and the paranormal, and celebrity-endorsed magic “alternative
medicine” cures based entirely on hearsay have proven irresistible to much of the established press and popular media.
This is why the work of Steven Salzberg and Joe Nickell is so necessary.
In his column for Forbes, “Fighting Pseudoscience,” Steven Salzberg regularly shines the light of reason on the false or dubious claims made by
those hawking homeopathy, demonizing vaccines, deifying celebrity gurus, or generally denying science and reality, often at the expense of public health.
He has done so with a clear and accessible voice, and with a healthy dose of humor.
Accessibility and humor, along with unmatched rigor and curiosity, are what famed Joe Nickell, a CSI senior research fellow, has been bringing to his work
for decades. In 2012, Nickell released his latest of many invaluable books, The Science of Ghosts – Searching for Spirits of the Dead, in which he
explores, investigates, and exposes the many legends, myths, and hoaxes about ghosts. He gets past the mysticism and romance to examine the actual evidence
for “spiritual activity,” based on diligent research and hands-on investigation.
The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) is therefore proud to give the 2012 Balles Prize to both Steven Salzberg and Joe Nickell. This is the first time
two awards have been given in the same year.
The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is a $2,500 award given to the author of the published work that best exemplifies healthy
skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. Each year, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry selects the paper, article, book, or other publication
that has the greatest potential to create positive reader awareness of important scientific issues.
This prize has been established through the generosity of Robert P. Balles, an associate member of CSI, and the Robert P. Balles Endowed Memorial Fund, a
permanent endowment fund for the benefit of CSI. CSI’s established criteria for the prize include use of the most parsimonious theory to fit data or to
explain apparently preternatural phenomena.
This is the eighth year the Robert P. Balles prize has been presented. Previous winners of this award are:
- 2011: Richard Wiseman, psychologist and entertainer, for his book Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There
- 2010: Steven Novella for his tremendous body of work, including the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, Science-Based Medicine, Neurologica, Skeptical Inquirer column “The Science of Medicine,” and his tireless travel and lecture schedule on behalf of skepticism
- 2009: Michael Specter, New Yorker staff writer and former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, for his book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives
- 2008: Leonard Mlodinow, physicist, author, and professor at Caltech, for his book The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
- 2007: Natalie Angier, New York Times science writer and author of the book The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science
- 2006: Ben Goldacre for his weekly column, “Bad Science,” published in the Guardian newspaper (U.K.)
- 2005: Shared by Andrew Skolnick, Ray Hyman, and Joe Nickell for their series of articles in the Skeptical Inquirer on “Testing ‘The Girl with X-Ray Eyes’”
Call for Nominations: There’s amazing work being produced in 2013, with much more on the way. If you’d like to vouch for the author you think deserves the 2013 Balles Prize, contact Barry Karr at firstname.lastname@example.org.