Consumer wins 2nd Bent Spoon


Consumer magazine has the dubious honour of winning 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”. . .

Skeptics also awarded a couple of  bouquets:

* 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. . .

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

Skeptics’ website is here.


Earthquake prediction reporting another nominee for Bent Spoon


NZ Skeptics awarded their 2011 Bent Spoon for journalistic gullibility to all media outlets and personalities who took Ken Ring’s earthquake predictions seriously.

The Bent Spoon was awarded telepathically by those gathered for the annual NZ Skeptics Conference which, appropriately given the winner was held in Christchurch at the weekend.

And there’s already another nominee for the next award. TV3 is reporting Ring’s predicting another big earthquake for Christchurch at the end of September.

He does qualify the prediction:

On his website, he says there is a “potent” lunar alignment in the last week of September, same as the one that existed at the time of the September 4, 2010 quake.

“Indeed, it may not happen, and we all hope not, but the main players will be in position,” he says. “For example we might observe that Dan Carter and Ritchie McCaw are on the field, but that does not guarantee a win.”

And the report does include this:

A 3 News analysis of Mr Ring’s predictions earlier this year failed to show any evidence he was able to accurately predict earthquakes, and even his long-range weather forecasts did no better than chance.

Given that, why bother reporting this latest prediction? There is no news value in further predictions from someone whose predictions have been proved inaccuarte and even with the qualifications giving the prediction coverage is taking it seriously.

The Herald report is even worse, it doesn’t bother to report the unreliability of his previous predictions.

All media should ignore his predictions as the unscientific guess-work they are and anyone with any doubts should read, or re-read, David Winter’s scientific evaluation of the predictions.

Announcing The Mediocres


Had I attempted to file a story which cast aspersions on someone and included the statement “There is no evidence to support this impression,” the report says. when I was working for a newspaper I’d have been told to find some proof and re-read the law on defamation.

Had I attempted to file a story questioning the timing of a marriage I’d have been told that it is not a journalist’s job to seek and report on the feelings of grieving friends and relatives.

It’s only a few weeks since I asked what’s happened to the gatekeepers?

These two stories from the last couple of days are just the most recent examples which show that either the gatekeepers have gone or they’ve lost the ability to differentiate between news and gossip.

The Qantas Awards celebrate what’s supposed to be the best in New Zealand journalism. Cactus Kate questions that which made me think: the Skeptics have an annual Bent Spoon Award,  Fair Go has its Worst Ad Award,  is it time for a competition to find the lowest of the low in the media?

I think it is and am using the working title of  The Mediocres for them; but I’m open to a name which better illustrates that the award  is not for journalism which isn’t good, it’s for journalism which is really bad.

I’m open to suggestions of who could judge theses awards and the criteria to be used.

Macdoctor’s definition of spam journalism: The spurious use of sensational headlines to add spice to an otherwise pointless article would be a good starting point – he’s already up to #32 in his series. But there’s a lot more to bad journalism than headlines which aren’t supported by the facts in the story.

In the interests of inclusion there will be a category for blogs too.

Monkeywithtypewriter thinks it’s time to consider a voluntary code for blogs. I don’t think that would work because those likely to adhere to the code will blog responsibly anyway and those who don’t won’t. But a Mediocre would stick a badge of shame on the worst.

The award needs a name, judges, judging criteria and nominations – your views and suggestions are welcomed.

P.S. If there’s a category for published typso typos in blogs I’d have to nominate myself.

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