Bent Spoon award ‘honours’ lack of critical thinking

NZ Skeptics have bestowed the yearly ‘Bent Spoon Award’ for un-skeptical behaviour upon Consumer magazine, on account of the magazine’s coverage of homeopathic remedies.

The Bent Spoon is annually awarded by NZ Skeptics to a New Zealand organisation displaying a “most egregious gullibility or lack of critical thinking in public coverage of, or commentary on, a science-related issue. ”

At their annual conference in Dunedin last week (31 Aug-2 Sep) the organisation also announced ‘Bravo’ awards  – for critical and evidence based thinking and reporting-  for Whanganui District Health Board member Clive Solomon, for supporting evidence-based medicine as the core focus for hospital care, and Margo White for her column in the Listener.

A full press release from the Skeptics NZ is included below:

Consumer magazine has won its second Bent Spoon Award from the NZ Skeptics for continuing to promote homeopathic products as a viable alternative to evidence-based medical treatments.

In its September 11 2011 review of anti-snoring products, Consumer consulted a medical herbalist who was quoted as saying that “all homeopathic remedies may work wonders for one person and do nothing for another” and that “homeopathy is best prescribed on an individual basis, after extensive consultation”.

Homeopathy is known to exploit the well-recognised placebo effect where the body heals itself in many cases. Any “wonders” worked can be attributed to that effect, as homeopathic solutions are made up solely of water – a fact not known by 94% of New Zealanders purchasing such products.

“Yet again Consumer has failed to point out that there are no active ingredients in a standard homeopathic product,” says Skeptics media spokesperson Vicki Hyde. “Surely this should raise consumer protection alarm bells, akin to someone buying a microwave and receiving a cardboard box which they´re told will heat food via the cosmic power of the universe if you think hard enough…”

Consumer did note that another expert had pointed out that “the efficacy of homeopathic remedies had not been demonstrated convincingly in evidence-based medicine.” This caveat was not adequate as far as the NZ Skeptics were concerned, particularly as the homeopathic products had a prominent place at the head of the list.

“We´ve seen the homeopathic industry use selective quotes as part of their marketing and advertising strategy to get unwitting customers to pay $10 for a teaspoon of water. No doubt Consumer´s inclusion of homeopathic products will be used to boost business, despite the admission by the NZ Homeopathic Council that homeopathic products have no active ingredients. Disturbingly, Consumer´s expert doesn´t seem to be aware of this admission, stating that `extra´ active ingredients could help.”

A number of people had raised concerns about Consumer´s willingness to feature such dubious products, with one nominator saying that the article had “destroyed Consumer NZ’s reputation as a organisation New Zealanders can trust”.

Consumer last won the Bent Spoon in 1992 for a similarly lacklustre examination of non-evidence-based health products.

“We´d hoped they´d learned something by now as our country´s main consumer advocate. What´s next – endorsing rubber bracelets as power-boosters for our athletes? Approving the sale of specially trapped sunlight in bottles to treat the blues? They should leave such shonky stuff to the tabloid press.”

In addition to the Bent Spoon, the NZ Skeptics´ Bravo Awards praise a number of attempts to encourage critical thinking over the past year.

* Margo White, for her health columns in the New Zealand Listener

“It´s great to see informed writing on health issues, based on research and evidence, rather than the large amount of low-grade items we usually get based on press releases and thinly disguised advertorial material,” says Hyde.

A number of White´s columns were nominated for a Bravo, such as the item “Lies, Lies and Eyes” which reported research indicating there is no evidence for the claims by proponents of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) to be able to tell if a person is lying or not simply by looking at the direction in which they glance.

NZ Listener, July 28, 2012

* Whanganui District Health Board member Clive Solomon, for supporting evidence-based medicine as the core focus for hospital care

In July, Wanganui Hosital announced plans to provide support for a range of natural therapy services, including Maori healing, Christian prayer, massage, reiki and meditation, with the health director involved stating that it would be New Zealand´s “first-ever multi-model, natural therapy hospital service”.

In response, Solomon was reported in the Wanganui Chronicle (July 14, 2012) saying:

“Best practice, evidence-based medicine is the foundation of the scientific practice of medicine. Other modalities might have their place [but] in other areas [and] under different governance.” 7312/

“It´s rare for public figures to come out against these “soft” services,” says Hyde. “It´s easier to ignore the ethical and evidential issues associated with claims that these kinds of practices actually help to treat illness or disability beyond exploiting the well-recognised placebo effect.”

The NZ Skeptics are concerned that calling activities like prayer or Reiki “therapy” can provide an unwarranted credibility regarding actual efficacy, particularly when endorsed by a hospital.

“Prayer is a religious activity, not a medical one; Reiki is a lucrative commercial activity for Reiki `Masters´ who claim to train clients to heal at a distance by waving their hands around and manipulating `universal life energies´.”

The awards will be psychically conferred at the NZ Skeptics Conference, being held in Dunedin August 31-Sep 2. Information on the conference can be found on the NZ Skeptics website (