The Ockhams 2011

At the beginning of December 2011, and for the first time ever, The Skeptic announced that it would be issuing awards for efforts in scepticism during 2011.

We ware exceptionally lucky to have the help of both QEDcon who hosted the event, and MC Richard Wiseman. We’re equally lucky to have had the help of our distinguished judges (see below).

But we’re also lucky to have had you, Skeptic readers and sceptics everwhere. We made announcements on the website and Twitter because we wanted your input about the candidates the judges should be considering: your response was better than we could have imagined.

The winners are:
The Pod Delusion.
Event/Outreach: Robin Ince. The award was presented by Paul Zenon.
Blog: Skepchick, accepted by Daniela Meli
Best Science video: Daniel Keogh and Luke Harris for ‘The Strange Powers of the Placebo Effect’..
Best Skeptical Video: ‘Tim Minchin’s Storm’, accepted by Robin Ince on behalf of Tim Minchin, Tracy King and D C Turner.
Editor’s Choice: Mike Hutchinson

Deborah Hyde’s comments on the Editor’s Choice:
Perhaps you haven’t heard of Mike Hutchinson. I hadn’t, until I took over at The Skeptic and encountered a very friendly man who seemed to have his eye on all the details. Mike takes a backroom but very important role at the magazine, but far more than that, he has been a very important figure in the development of skepticism in the UK

Like many of us, he started out by wondering if it was all true. Mike and I can’t have been the only ones to have enjoyed von Daniken, and The Holy Blood etc. But when he read Randi’s book ‘The Truth about Uri Geller’ in 1976, he wrote to Randi and started a friendship that lasts to this day.

The US ‘Skeptic’ Magazine had started in 76, and Mike started by taking care of the subscriptions in the UK and Europe. So when Wendy Grossman started the UK Skeptic, he was the natural candidate to help with that. He’s been taking care of subscriptions ever since.

So far, so diligent.

But if you think that sceptics getting sued is a modern phenomenon, read on.

In 1993 Mike was selling titles under the Prometheus imprint, a leading publisher of sceptical books. ‘Physics & Psychics’ by Victor Stenger came through his hands and as distributor, he was included when Uri Geller decided to sue several parties. It was settled three years later, but that didn’t end Mike’s interest in Mr Geller.

In 1992 Uri Geller did a gig in Reading, and Mike arranged a spoon bending session for the local paper. Lots of publicity. So even after the threat of legal action, Mike was trail-blazing the kind of activism that many of us here, now take for granted as being a normal part of active scepticism.

In 1998, proceedings were started against Mike again. This time it was for ‘Flim Flam’ by Randi, and it took about six months to make it clear that Mike was not, in fact, the distributor. Mike reckons that “As a psychic, Uri should really have known that”.

He went on to In co-write the book ‘Bizarre Beliefs’ with Simon Hoggart which covers such things as firewalking, cryptozoology and mediumship – the whole gamut of skeptical subjects.

So Mike’s really was the name that leaped instantly to mind when Chris and I came to discuss this award. I’m very glad that we’ve been able to bring his work to your attention.

The Judges

Chris French
is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and former Editor-in-Chief of The Skeptic. He specialises in the psychology of paranormal beliefs and ostensibly paranormal experiences, and runs the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit.

Wendy Grossman is the founder and a former editor of The Skeptic. She is a journalist who has written for Scientific American, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New Scientist, Wired among many others. In February 2011 she was elected as a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

Jon Ronson is a journalist, documentary filmmaker, radio presenter and nonfiction author, whose works include The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, Them: Adventures with Extremists and The Men Who Stare at Goats which was made into a successful film starring George Clooney.

Simon Singh is a science writer. He is the author of several very successful popular science books such as: Big Bang, Fermat’s Last Theorem, The Code Book and Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial which was co-authored by Edzard Ernst. Simon is well known in scepticism for his energetic campaigning to keep libel laws out of science.

Richard Wiseman holds the Chair in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is a member of The Inner Magic Circle and author of Paranormality, 59 Seconds, Quirkology and other popular titles.

The awards called for a very skeptical title and while the appalling, vague play on the The Oscars is entirely the fault of Deborah Hyde (sorry!), the beautiful logo and strapline is from our very talented artist-in-residence, Neil Davies.