Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Penn & Teller Receive 2005 Richard Dawkins Award

James Randi - master skeptic - writes:


In presenting the 2005 Richard Dawkins Award to Penn & Teller, Professor Dawkins delivered an effective and somewhat effusive speech, for good reasons. With permission, I give you this small extract from that address. It expresses very much of my own reasoning behind my attitude and approach to the matters that I handle every day. Said Richard:

The second reason I would single out Penn and Teller for praise is not just that they are giving a wonderful example to others to come out of the closet, but that they have the courage to give offence. I don't mean that giving offence is in itself a virtue. But I do deplore a tendency, in the nice liberal circles in which most of us move, to feel that people have a right not to be offended, even if what they say is highly offensive....

...I happened to meet the leader of that same Christian Coalition, in the rival TV station to the BBC in Manchester. I was about to do the normal polite thing, smile and shake his hand. But I had just been thinking about my speech for Penn and Teller, and it suddenly flashed across my mind: "I don't have to shake this man's hand." Before I had time to think better of it, I called him, to his face, an irrational bigot. He said, "Well you didn't waste much time in getting down to the name-calling." I replied that there are just a few issues where we have to stop pussyfooting around, and free speech was one of them.

I think we have been running scared of giving offence for too long. There are times when offence is precisely the right thing to give. I remember a wonderful occasion when my scientific colleague Lewis Wolpert and I were on a TV panel with some theologians. At one point, a theologian said something like, "I must say I find Professor Wolpert's remarks about religion very offensive." Wolpert immortally shot back (read it in a South African accent), "They were supposed to be offensive!"

Penn and Teller are not afraid of giving offence, where the target deserves it, in particular where the target is any kind of hypocrisy or charlatanry.

Well said, Richard! The next time that someone comes down on me for speaking my mind openly and directly, I'll refer them to the words of Richard Dawkins. I flatter myself by assuming that he might apply those words to my own approach. It is not only difficult, but unethical, to withhold one's frank opinions when those giving offense are so obviously wrong — and do not resist insulting us equally. I calls 'em as I sees 'em, loud and clear. But you knew that...


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