The 2014 Balles Prize in Critical Thinking, an award for excellence in the promotion of science and reason, was given this year to the creators, producers, and writers of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and to Dr. Joe Schwarcz for his book Is That a Fact? The Balles Prize is given annually by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), publisher of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer.
The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is a $2,500 award given to the creator of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. The prize was established by 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.
Building on the groundbreaking series created by Ann Druyan, Steven Soter, and the late Carl Sagan in 1980, the new incarnation of Cosmos, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, took tens of millions of viewers on an incredible voyage through the wonders of the universe, celebrating the discoveries of science and the men and women responsible for them. It also firmly positioned itself as a champion of critical, evidence-based thinking. Never disrespecting viewers who might hold opinions contrary to scientific consensus, Cosmos deftly and eloquently tackled hot-button scientific issues such as climate change and evolution, while also confronting a history of religious persecution and gender discrimination. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey opened the eyes of a new generation to humanity’s triumphs, its mistakes, and its astounding potential to reach unimagined heights.
The second 2014 Balles Prize recipient is the brilliant and prolific Dr. Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science & Society, author of a wide range of books and articles, host of The Dr. Joe Show on Canadian radio, and a frequently sought science expert for the media. His latest book, Is That a Fact?, arrives just in time to take on a downpour of anti-science and pseudoscientific claims in politics and popular culture, such as the anti-vaccine movement, the backlash against GMOs, and the hawking of homeopathy as medicine. Is That a Fact? unflinchingly takes on all manner of popular misinformation, offering clear, friendly guidance that the general reader can use to better sniff out the factual from the fantastic. At a time when the pseudoscientific noise level is high and the public is primed and hungry for the truth, Is That a Fact? is well deserving of the Balles Prize in Critical Thinking.
Previous winners of the Balles Prize have included Paul Offit for his book Do You Believe in Magic?, Michael Specter for his book Denialism, and Natalie Angier for her book The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science.