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CSI’s Balles Prize Goes to Physicist/Author Leonard Mlodinow

News & Comment

Barry Karr

Volume 33.4, July / August 2009

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has awarded its Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking to Leonard Mlodinow for his book The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives, published in 2008 by Pantheon.

Leonard Mlodinow received his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the Max Plank Institute, and now teaches about randomness to future scientists at Caltech. He has written for the television series MacGyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation. His previous books include Euclid’s Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace, Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life, and, with Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time.

According to Mlodinow, “The Drunkard’s Walk comes from a mathematical term describing random motion, such as the paths molecules follow as they fly through space, incessantly bumping and being bumped by, their sister molecules. ... The surprise is that the tools used to describe the drunkard’s walk can also be employed to help understand the events of everyday life. The goal of this book is to illustrate the role of chance in the world around us and to show how we may recognize it at work in human affairs.”

Mlodinow was to be presented the award at a ceremony June 7, 2009, at the Center for Inquiry/Los Angeles.

The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is a $1,300 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 selects the paper, article, book, or other publication that has the greatest potential to create positive reader awareness of important scientific issues.

CSI established the criteria for the prize, including use of the most parsimonious theory to fit data or to explain apparently preternatural phenomena.

This prize has been established through the generosity of Robert P. Balles, an associate member of CSI, and the Robert P. Balles Endowed Memorial Fund, a permanent endowment fund for the benefit of CSI.

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

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’”

Nominations are now being accepted for 2009. Please send submissions to:

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), Executive Director, CSI P.O. Box 703 Amherst, NY 14226-0703

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Barry Karr's photo

Barry Karr is the director of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.