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Dr. Oz, Andrew Wakefield and others, um, 'honored' by James Randi

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April 01, 2011|By Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times
  • Dr. Mehmet Oz was given a "Pigasus Award" by the James Randi Educational Foundation for being one of this year's "5 worst promoters of nonsense."
Dr. Mehmet Oz was given a "Pigasus Award" by the James Randi Educational… (Mike Coppola/Getty Images )

We doubt that either Dr. Oz or Andrew Wakefield will be proudly displaying these honors on their mantelpieces: Both received "Pigasus Awards" this April 1 from the  James  Randi  Educational  Foundation for the dubious honor of being among the "5 worst promoters of nonsense."

Dr. Mehmet Oz got the "Media" Pigasus. The foundation explains why he won the prize: "Dr. Oz is a Harvard-educated cardiac physician who, through his syndicated TV show, has promoted faith healing, 'energy medicine,' and other quack theories that have no scientific basis." Among the guests that Randi's foundation deems especially dubious: psychic John Edward,  who claims to talk to dead people. (Check out this TV Guide interview in which Dr. Oz says that having Edward on the show "changed [his] life!" and adds, of Edward, "He seems authentic, not at all like a charlatan. I've learned in my career that there are times when science just hasn't caught up with things, and I think this may be one of them.")

Andrew Wakefield, a British researcher known for his repeated assertion that autism is caused by vaccines, got his Pigasus in the "Refusal to Face Reality" category. Wakefield's study in the 1998 that started the whole brouhaha has been thoroughly discredited, and study after study has failed to find a vaccine-autism connection. (In fact, a lot of autism researchers aren't even sure that the rates have truly risen, because in the past, milder cases were not diagnosed.)

CVS/pharmacy got a prize too. Its award in the "Funder" category is for running a brisk business in homeopathic remedies, many of which are sold right along legit health products -- and selling its own brands too. Homeopathic medicines are hugely diluted -- to the point where there are hardly any active ingredients left within them, if at all. (Some homeopathy proponents claim that the products leave "memory" behind in the water and that's how they work even when diluted down to nothing.) James Randi, the noted skeptic and magician behind the James Randi Educational Foundation, has taken on homeopathy many times before, including a recent stunt wherein he "overdosed" on homeopathic sleeping pills (and suffered no harm).  

The two other awardees? One of them was NASA scientist Richard Hoover, whose paper in the eccentric Journal of Cosmology claimed to have found signs of life in Mars rocks (and was widely dismissed). The other was televangelist Peter Popoff, who claimed to heal the sick in years past (until he was exposed by Randi as using a hidden earpiece to get info from his wife about audience members). Now, says Randi's Foundation, Popoff is back offering 'supernatural debt relief' on infomercials.

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