As when I was compiling the top 10 jackasses of 2008, I had a really tough time choosing who did the most for skepticism this year. So, I threw the question to my Twitter followers. This is called “crowdsourcing,” which is like journalism for lazy people. The sad thing is that not a single person nominated a single woman, with the exception of Elyse giving the nod to the very deserving A.Real.Girl. For this list, I’ve exempted the always-awesome Skepchicks since I’m a little biased and so they’d overwhelm the list (I’ve also exempted my cohosts of The Skeptics’ Guide, who are also awesome and deserve non-biased accolades). So, I’ve added a few women I thought deserved special mention. There are many more, like Dr. Kiki Sanford, Amanda Marcotte, and Lori Lipman Brown. I hope when I ask again next year, they come to your collective brains as easily as the men.
Other runners-up who were nominated via Twitter and Facebook: Brian Dunning for doing Skeptoid and The Skeptologists, Sense About Science for their wonderful report on Celebs and Pseudoscience, Mark Crislip of Quackcast, Barack Obama of the 2008 US Presidential Elections for a thus-far mostly-promising commitment to science, and Jan Meshon of FreethoughtAction.
Here are the results of the Top 10, along with some comments from Twitter (and Facebook, connected to my Twitter account).
10. Amanda Peet
I can hear you bitching already. “But she’s just an actress!” “She has no scientific training!” “Where’s her blog?” Well, guess what? That’s what makes her awesome. Like it or not, actors have the attention of the world on absolutely any subject they’d like to discuss, which is why a coconut-skull like Jenny McCarthy can convince so many otherwise rational people to put their (and other parents’) children at risk by not having them vaccinated. Amanda Peet actually had the ovaries to step up and declare that she had her daughter vaccinated, that the science supports the safety of vaccinations, and that further, as an actress she has no special knowledge or authority that should convince anyone to listen to her opinions. How often does anyone admit something like that?
Just as ignorant celebs can make the world worse, well-informed and equally-outspoken celebs can make the world better. Let’s hope for more people like Amanda Peet in 2009.
9. Ben Goldacre
Ben Goldacre of Bad Science had a banner year, most notably taking down Matthias Rath, #6 on our Top 10 Jackasses of 2008. If you’ll recall, Rath is the bastard who sold vitamins to cure AIDS patients in Africa, and who then sued Ben and The Guardian for pointing the fact out. Neither Ben nor The Guardian backed down, and they won their case. In addition, Ben did a lot of other stuff this year, too, keeping a watchful eye on UK scam artists and pushers of bad science. He’s tenacious, vigilant, funny, and pretty damned cute, which doesn’t hurt.
*UPDATE* I can’t believe I forgot to mention that Ben also had an ass-kicking, best-selling book debut this year, appropriately titled Bad Science. Go buy it, and enjoy seeing the media’s treatment of science and medicine completely eviscerated.
Vault101Dweller: […] Thunderf00t for lack of a better term owning VFX in that DMCA debacle.
I documented Thunderf00t‘s epic takedown of VenomFangX here, so go read that if you need to catch up. As wonderful as that epic win was, it was merely the icing on the delicious cake of scientific knowledge that Thunderf00t has been baking for a long time now (I’m going to drop that metaphor now, thanks). His Why Do People Laugh at Creationists series, going since 2007, is a concise, easy-to-understand, and entertaining explanation that will arm anyone with the knowledge they need to address the most common creationist claims. Go to his page, where he’s collected them all in a playlist that lets you play multiple hours of pwnage.
wackyvorlon: Orac has my vote. He’s been on the front lines fighting the anti-vaccinationists for years now.
Orac’s been fighting pseudoscience online since well before I knew what a blog was. As a self-proclaimed egotistical surgeon/scientist (the self-proclaimed was for the adjective, not the nouns), he uses logic, reason, and good old fashioned science to dissect the claims of anti-vaccinationists like Jenny McCarthy (#3 on our list of Jackasses) and creationists like Michael Egnor. Orac has inspired countless other bloggers to tackle medical quackery, plus he supports all other areas of skepticism by running the bi-monthly Skeptics’ Circle.
No one has ever seen Orac (not even his wife), but apparently he’s some kind of . . . bottle of glue? Named EneMan? I’m not sure. Apparently that’s his mascot.
6. Susan Jacoby
If you read The Age of American Unreason, like me, you probably spent the following few weeks cowering under your bed, weeping quietly for humanity. Susan Jacoby‘s scholarly, expansive tome plunges through history, sorting out the bullshit from the truth, and showing how over time we’ve come to abandon logic, reason, and intellectual rigor in favor of the irrational and brainless. If you want to know why our Top 10 Jackasses were able to con so many people, look no further.
I actually disagreed with her on some points â€“ particularly, her bashing of the Internet â€“ but was always impressed with her ability to back up her assertions and make me think about my own assumptions. While the book isn’t the most optimistic thing I read this year, I still found it to be inspiring. By exhaustively detailing the things that were right in the past and the causes of why things have gone wrong, we can focus more on correcting ourselves to make way for a better, less credulous future.
5. Simon Singh
Reed Esau (via Facebook): Simon Singh, for not taking the easy way out.
I believe Reed was referring to Simon Singh‘s ongoing legal battle with a group of angry chiropractors (British Chiropractic Association) who are suing him over his less-than-complimentary essays on their “complementary” services. This may all sound familiar to regular readers, because I wrote about it back in August. The suit is still going on today, as Simon and The Guardian (who may deserve an award of their own for also sticking up for Ben Goldacre, above) force the BCA to produce evidence proving that what Simon wrote was untrue. That evidence has yet to be found, strongly suggesting that Simon was correct: chiropractors are promising miracle cures for diseases they cannot actually cure. (By the way, join the Facebook group to support Simon here!)
In addition to the lawsuit, this is the year Simon came out with the excellent book Trick or Treatment, in which he and Edzard Ernst lay waste to countless alternative medicine quack treatments. You should buy it, and you should buy another one for the person in your life who says, “Well there must be something to it, since the Chinese have been using it for 6 billion years.”
Amanda Rose (via Facebook): Oh I vote for Sanal Edamaruku too. http://www.boingboing.net/2008/03/25/skeptic-giggles-on-i.html
Sanal is the Indian rationalist who was threatened with death by a “powerful” tantrik’s death chants. On live TV, Sanal laughed as the Tantrik danced around him while calling upon the gods to strike him dead, for two full hours. He captured the attention of millions who lived in fear of such superstitions, and unflinchingly proved to them that it was all nonsense.
The incredible popularity of the stunt brought Sanal’s groups the Indian Rationalist Association and Rationalist International into the limelight, showing the entire world that English-speaking countries don’t have the monopoly on skeptical heroes.
Cabose: Phil Plait. Reason: Death from the Skies. I think he wins now.
eafarris: Gotta be @badastronomer. Witness http://zi.ma/4a01 and http://zi.ma/35bd55
trianglman: @badastronomer ‘s Death from the Skies kicks a lot of ass (at least the first part that I’ve read so far)
JHVanOphem: My vote is for @badastronomer His endless energy led him to the JREF Presidency and the future looks bright indeed.
Of course, friend-of-Skepchick Phil Plait has to make the list! The newly chosen president of the James Randi Education Foundation, author of Death From the Skies, and longtime skeptic had an amazing year. He’s now reaching more people than ever with his inspiring awe for science and his canny ability to call out bullshit when he sees it. Plus, he’s a complete and total nerd who gushes about Doctor Who, Star Trek, Heroes, and other lovably dorky topics. And did I mention he posed in the Skepdude calendar? Is it any wonder we all love him? He got tons of votes in the Twitter poll â€“ in fact, just about exactly as many as . . .
CoffeeJedi: PZ Meyers for Crackergate.
teambanzai: I’m going with PZ Myers. Reason being how he handled the Exposed mess.
Michael Rosch (via Facebook): . . . the winner I think is PZ, because he was expelled from Expelled, broke into the Expelled tele-conference to plug expelledexposed.com, Crackergate (the story that wouldn’t die), and now w/ him getting credit for thwarting the alliance btw. the Cincinnati Zoo & the Creation Museum.
He’s controversial, political, unapologetic, skeptical, and hilarious â€“ he’s our own PZ Myers of the popular blog Pharyngula. As his Twitter nominations suggest, he won this spot on the list by kicking the asses of two of our top 10 jackasses: Ben Stein and Bill Donohue. For Ben, PZ caused an uproar when he was expelled from Expelled, and then burst into a faux-press conference, almost literally stealing the show. Recently, also as mentioned by Michael on Facebook, PZ even managed to sink a deal between the Cincinnati Zoo and the Creation Museum, earning him even more ire from the crazies. I’ve yet to see him back down from any challenge, and I fully expect him to continue kicking ass well into 2009.
And look at how he snuggles that squid. Awwwww.
1. Marcus Seda’s Brother
Marcus Seda (via Facebook): My brother the science teacher. He shows movies like “the Core” and “the Day After Tomorrow” to point out the bad science theirin. He also uses the Onion to show how not everything you read is true.
All of you but Marcus (and possibly his brother) are probably wondering, “WTF?” I assure you, this isn’t a Time-Person-of-the-Year-like cop-out, since I’m not naming YOU the number one skeptic. Instead, I’m giving the honor to the teachers and parents who are reaching kids and instilling in them a love of science and the ability to tell fantasy from reality. I wanted to populate this list with people who had really accomplished something this year â€“ something tangible â€“ and hey, who have accomplished more than those people with the direct connection to our future society’s ability to reason?
So please, help me out here. In the comments, I’d like for you to nominate a teacher, parent, or other skeptic who has directly affected someone’s life for the better this year. As I asked the Twitter crowd: please show your work.
PS: Thanks to Tkingdoll & DC Turner for the pretty badges for our winners to have! >>