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CSI’s Robert P. Balles Award Goes to New York Times Science Writer Natalie Angier

Nathan Bupp

August 4, 2008

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry awarded its third Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking to Natalie Angier for her book The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, published in 2007 by Houghton Mifflin.

Natalie Angier is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist for The New York Times. Born in the Bronx borough of New York City, she studied physics and English at Barnard College, graduating with high honors in 1978. From 1980 to 1984, Angier wrote about biology for Discover magazine. She also worked as a science writer for Time magazine. Among her other books are Natural Obsessions, The Beauty of the Beastly, and Woman: An Intimate Geography.

The Canon finds Angier charting a synoptic and exciting course through physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy. She calls her book an attempt to unleash “the kinetic beauty of science to wow as it will.” Angier’s intelligence, wit, and passionate commitment to the scientific worldview are palpable throughout. Her tour de force first chapter should be of particular interest to readers of Skeptical Inquirer, as she thoughtfully explores what it means to think scientifically and the benefits of extending the scientific ethos to all areas of human life.

Robert P. Balles is a retired California Community College mathematics professor, retired businessman, and private investor. His mission is to recognize and reward outstanding critical thinkers who in their publications serve as guardians of our civilization against pseudoscience, irrationality, the occult, and hoaxes of all kinds. He believes these benefactors of our society deserve accolades for their uncompromising, courageous search for the truth.

“Robert P. Balles is a retired California Community College mathematics professor, retired businessman, and private investor. His mission is to recognize and reward outstanding critical thinkers who in their publications serve as guardians of our civilization against pseudoscience, irrationality, the occult, and hoaxes of all kinds. He believes these benefactors of our society deserve accolades for their uncompromising, courageous search for the truth.”

Writing in the spring 2004 issue of The American Scholar, Angier mused, “I recognize that science doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t pretend to, and that’s one of the things I love about it. But it has a pretty good notion of what’s probable or possible.” Angier is the recipient of numerous honors for her writing on science, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) prize for excellence in science journalism and the Lewis Thomas award for distinguished writing in the life sciences.

The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is a $1,200 award given to the author of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. Each year, CSI selects the paper, article, book, or other publication that has the greatest potential to create positive reader awareness of important scientific issues.

CSI, the publisher of the Skeptical Inquirer, 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.

Last year’s Balles Prize was awarded to Ben Goldacre for his weekly column, “Bad Science,” published in The Guardian newspaper (U.K.).

Nominations are now being accept-ed for 2008. Please send submissions to:

Barry Karr, Executive Director, CSI P.O. Box 703 Amherst, NY 14226-0703 or via email at: SkeptInq [at] aol.com

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Nathan Bupp is vice president of communications for the Center for Inquiry and an associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He has studied intellectual history and naturalistic and humanist philosophy extensively. He considers humanism and skepticism the preeminent moral paradigm for the modern world. Among his philosophical heroes are Aristotle, Spinoza, John Dewey, and George Santayana, the leading luminaries of the naturalist worldview. Nathan spends his free time indulging his passion for music and nature.