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CSI Announces Paul Offit As Winner of the 2013 Balles Prize

News & Comment

Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director

Volume 38.4, July/August 2014

Paul Offit

Dr. Paul Offit is a lifesaver in the literal sense. His work in vaccinology and immunology, notably the invention of the rotavirus vaccine, has saved innumerable lives. But it is for a literary endeavor, perhaps no less valuable than his scientific work, that he is the 2013 recipient of the Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking.

Offit is the author of Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, an indispensable book that boldly takes on the torrent of fantastical claims made by the alternative medicine industry—claims that rake in $34 billion a year for its promoters and put countless lives at risk. Do You Believe in Magic? examines, remedy by remedy, claim by claim, the real, provable effects and harms of a slew of alternative treatments and does so in a way that is entertaining, deeply informative, and emotionally compelling.

“Offit writes in a lucid and flowing style, and grounds a wealth of information within forceful and vivid narratives,” writes Dr. Jerome Groopman, reviewing the book for The New Republic. “This makes his argument—that we should be guided by science—accessible to a wide audience.” Dr. Harriet Hall, herself an invaluable skeptical activist and writer, raved in the pages of the Skeptical Inquirer that Offit “is a wonderful storyteller who makes his message come alive.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Evi Heilbrunn wrote, “All who care about their health should read this book.” We agree.

In his book, Offit is merciless in his application of scientific scrutiny to those who peddle false hope, yet never condescending to those who seek out these alternatives. Do You Believe in Magic?, as it disarms and deflates the alt-med industry’s wild claims, most importantly empowers its readers with the information and critical perspective they’ll need to make better decisions about their health and the health of their families.

As we said, Offit is a literal lifesaver. It is quite fitting, then, that the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry award the 2013 Robert P. Balles Prize to Offit for his book, which, as it educates the public about the dangers of alternative medicine, may save many, many more.

The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is a $2,500 award given to the author of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. Each year, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publisher of the Skeptical Inquirer, selects the paper, article, book, or other publication that has the greatest potential to create positive reader awareness of important scientific issues.

This prize has been established through the generosity of Robert P. Balles, an associate member of CSI and a practicing Christian, along with the Robert P. Balles Endowed Memorial Fund, a permanent endowment fund for the benefit of CSI. CSI’s established criteria for the prize includes use of the most parsimonious theory to fit data or to explain apparently preternatural phenomena.


This is the ninth year the Robert P. Balles Prize has been presented. Previous winners of this award are:

• 2012: Steven Salzberg, for his “Fighting Pseudoscience” column in Forbes; and Joe Nickell, for his book The Science of Ghosts—Searching for Spirits of the Dead

• 2011: Richard Wiseman, psychologist and entertainer, for his book Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There

• 2010: Steven Novella for his tre­mendous body of work, including the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, Science-Based Medicine, Neurologica, Skeptical Inquirer column “The Science of Medicine,” and his tireless travel and lecture schedule on behalf of skepticism

• 2009: Michael Specter, New Yorker staff writer and former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, for his book Denialism: How Irra­tional Thinking Hinders Scientific Pro­gress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

• 2008: Leonard Mlodinow, physicist, author, and professor at Caltech, for his book The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

• 2007: Natalie Angier, New York Times science writer and author of the book The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science

• 2006: Ben Goldacre for his weekly column, “Bad Science,” published in The Guardian newspaper (U.K.)

• 2005: Shared by Andrew Skolnick, Ray Hyman, and Joe Nickell for their series of articles in the Skeptical Inquirer on “Testing ‘The Girl with X-Ray Eyes’”

Call for Nominations: There’s amazing work being produced in 2014, with much more on the way. If you’d like to vouch for the author you think deserves the 2014 Balles Prize, contact Barry Karr at bkarr@centerforinquiry.net.

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This is the account for "official" CFI communications posts by Paul Fidalgo. His daily news and link roundup is posted at The Morning Heresy.