2009 Enlightener & Obscurantist Awards


The Swedish Skeptic Society's annual awards for 2009 were announced yesterday.

Professor emeritus of ecological zoology Staffan Ulfstrand receives the Enlightener of the Year award,

"... for his engrossing and pedagogical books about evolution [such as Savannah Lives: Animal Life and the Human Evolution of Africa] and his many pop-sci talks, particularly during the double Darwin jubilee of 2009. Staffan Ulfstrand frequently appears on nature shows, in Q&A columns and in debates about biology and behaviour. He has also frequently explained evolution in a pedagogical manner when it has been misinterpreted and misunderstood."

Enlightener Ulfstrand receives a cash prize of SEK 25 000 ($3400, â¬2400).

Doctor Annika Dahlqvist, a former general practitioner who appears obsessed with Low Carbs High Fat, receives the Obscurantist of the Year anti-award,

"... for making particularly unsupported statements during the year about the link between diet and sickness. She has warned against swine flu vaccination and instead recommended a changed diet, without any scientific support at all. If her advice had been heeded, then the flu would have taken more lives.

Annika Dahlqvist has also published strange claims about links between diet and cancer. According to her, people who follow a diet rich in fat do not get cancer, which is not only ignorant but also lays blame on cancer sufferers. She sees industrial interests behind the healthcare authorities' recommendations. She claims that the 'establishment's' dietary advice causes cancer and that mammography is therefore useless."

Update same afternoon: The Swedish Skeptics usually get quite a lot of national press coverage of our annual awards, but it seems that giving the anti-award to Annika Dahlqvist is getting us even more air time and print than usual. The tabloids like dieting and they like maverick doctors. Dahlqvist combines both traits, and so she's been a lot in the tabloids over the past two years or so, bearing the epithet "The Doctor of Fat". She also has a lot of altie fans reading her books and her blog. And now our anti-award is the main story on Expressen's broadsheet and the alties are going nuts in the Swedish Skeptics' executive-board in-box.

More coverage at Aftonbladet, Dagens Medicin, Radio Västernorrland, Sundsvalls Tidning, Sveriges Television.

Don't miss TV4's live debate between Dahlqvist and the chairman of the Swedish Skeptics!

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Martin: Thanks for the update on Staffan, whom I met during my sabbatical in Sweden in the 1980s. Don

Hey there, Erik, good to hear from you!

The link leads to an astrologer's site, where the guy is so angry that he's constructed a horoscope for the Swedish Skeptics' vice-chair!

Good work! Honeybuns laughed all evening after having seen Dahlqvist's self-pitying moaning in Expressen.

It seems that Dahlqvist is a worthy candidate for this award. However, one passage in VoF:s motivation appars to be unfortunately phrased: "According to her, people who follow a diet rich in fat do not get cancer, which is not only ignorant but also lays blame on cancer sufferers." This moral perspective seems out of place here, implying in fact that if something similar were found to be true, the lives which could possibly be saved by this information could be measured against the blame of those already affected, leading to obscurantism in a stricter meaning.

On the whole, one problem with terminology is that "enlightenment" is highly associated in some quarters with esotericism. "Förvillare" also seems better suited than "obscurantist" for the purpose, since the award-winners generally seem to purport original (often inaccurate) ideas, rather than to compromise the orthodoxy of established science.

With best wishes for a happy new year!

Yeah, I agree with those points.

As for the translation of the award names, it's not entirely easy. I've seen "Educator of the Year" and "Deceiver of the Year", which aren't good either. One suggests that it's an award for teachers, and the other simply sounds Satanic.

Happy New Year to you too!

@Mattias and Martin, you obscuring that both the nomination and motivation for Dahlqvist is highly controversial, and have given VoF a lot of criticism. But of course, when I now point this out you only going to pretend that the criticism is nothing worth at all. But what you discuss here, indicate that there is a real problem.

I am sorry that your english readers are not able to get an own opinion on the subject.

By Enlighting (not verified) on 02 Jan 2010 #permalink

Yes, of course. And that article is, as we all know, edited by your buddies in VoF. If someone at all understand what there is written, through Google Translate.

Stop being a hypocritic.

By Enlighting (not verified) on 02 Jan 2010 #permalink

If there are errors in the article and you have access to good published sources, then it's kind of part of the Wikipedia concept that you can improve the article, right?

No, it is not that way in the Swedish Wiki, which VoF have corrupted, and you know this very well. It is because you know that you write as you do.

Perhaps you can enlight your English readers about your own and Mattias Ohmans behaviour on Swedish Wiki, and that it have been one of the main targets in the criticism of VoF? But of course not, you cannot be honest in this case.

Here is a link. Im sorry, but it is only in swedish: http://nymodernism.blogsome.com/category/nordarnas-paradis/

By Enlighting (not verified) on 02 Jan 2010 #permalink

Ooh, VoF members favorite words: conspiracy theory! An empty phrase that never means nothing when used against your enemies (Annika D for example), but have a profound rhetoric effect. Congratulations!

By Enlighting (not verified) on 02 Jan 2010 #permalink

I really didn't know much about Dahlqvist before the hoopla, I don't as a rule read tabloids and I especially flee from dietary specialists in those media. I was a bit concerned that maybe not all her statements had been properly quoted by the press. However, she aparently defended herself in her blog by stating that her pronunciations about fat and health and diseases were based on her own experience and the testimony of thousands of followers.

No self respecting medical pratictioner bases scientific statements on personal experience and unsubstantiated testimony. Not unless they also try to prove there are UFOs and witches. If she really believes in her methid she should try to have it scientifically tested. It's people who should know better, but persist in propagating a naivist view of science, that are a real threat to the public.

Not only are most of Dahlqvist's claims unfounded in scientific research. She also lacks training as a research scientist that would allow her to evaluate the research in question.

Let me be clear about this: Annika D have never been alone, not even in the scientific community, with her criticism about the swine flu hype. But VoF rethorically describe her as a "conspiracy theorist" and flirting with the lousiest news paper in Sweden (the one on the photo above is the most il-reputated in the country).

For example, Dr. Mercola writing this: Harvard Takes it Back and Says Swine Flu was Oversold

"A new analysis from Harvard University, using H1N1 deaths in the U.S. in the spring and projecting likely outcomes for this fall, suggests that the swine flu âpandemicâ has been oversold.

The new paper suggests swine flu was unlikely to create a severe epidemic. In light of this, officials have taken many steps that may have been unnecessary, including mass vaccinations.


Now it looks as though the H1N1 scare of 2009 will go down as one of the biggest government and pharmaceutical scams ever, renewing a healthy, and necessary, skepticism about government fear-mongering, the swine flu vaccine and the dubious dealings behind the implementation of worldwide mass-vaccination programs."

Annika D had right about the LCHC food. Now it seems she had right regarding the swine flu too.

By Enlighting (not verified) on 03 Jan 2010 #permalink

ArchAsa, you have not knowledge enough to judge in this case. You believe that Annika D is a tabloid mongler, but the fact is that the tabloids in Sweden is the media who have been the harshest critics against her this fall. And this is VoF flirting with...

It seems to me this is only a trick VoF have used, to get a lot of free publicity. But of course, this is only a "conspiracy theory" ;-)

By Enlighting (not verified) on 03 Jan 2010 #permalink

I am in principle against anti-awards like this one, of which there are several in Sweden. There is one "culture elite prize" given to, among others, theatre director Staffan Valdemar Holm, allegedely for staging too narrow a repertoire at the national drama scene. Then we have, in Germany, the 'plagiarius' given to the most shamelessly copied product of design. Mostly these gambits serve only to get a free ride for a particular cause and the bestowment of a fool's cap which is soon forgotten by the general public.

What surprises me about VoF:s 'årets förvillare' is not so much the choise of recipients as the grounds for nomination and the ensuing official statements. The list of brief statements found here: http://www.vof.se/visa-folkbildare indicate naive definitions of "science", "pseudo-science" and "anti-science" (with "anti-scientific" and "non-scientific" being used sometimes seemingly as equivalents!). It is remarkable that a large number of recipients is active in the light entertainment sector - around ten of the prizes involve crititique ultimately aimed against the actitivities of tabloid papers and Berlusconi-like TV channels (TV3 and TV5). I am sure that most Swedish citizens can distinguish between the authority of this sector and publicly funded science. Thus it seems that VoF may be tilting at windmills with this prize. It may have the positive effect of publicity for the positive award ('årets folkbildare'), but those previously unmoved will probably not be convinced by the nominations as these have been phrased so far.

The Swedish Skeptics' executive board consists almost entirely of natural scientists and engineers. Their concept of science is the standard one in those fields, and so looks naive to humanists. But hey, who has research funding, right? Nobody really cares about the humanities.

As for handing the anti-prize out to entertainment figures, I always argue when we decide about the awards that we need to nail somebody with strong media clout. Because we don't hand that prize out as a personal punishment. And we don't hand it out to zap obscure people (academics or lay people) with weird ideas. We hand it out to sic negative media attention on somebody who has had positive media attention for their anti-scientific claims during the past year. And to get publicity for the society's goals, that is, science and popular enlightenment.

Martin R wrote "The Swedish Skeptics' executive board consists almost entirely of natural scientists and engineers".

Let me correct you. You are natural scientists and engineers - and phycisians, and also humanists like one archaeologist (you), a professor in philosophy (Sven Ove Hansson, founder) and since 2009 a computer game reviewer named Per Edman, who is said to have some philosophical education.

This Edman is also dabbling with politics and propaganda - he is "vice kampanjledare" for Folkpartiet Norrmalm. (http://www.folkpartiet.se/FPTemplates/AreaContentPage____1139.aspx) This is perhaps useful for you, and perhaps the only use you have for this Edman?

By Enlighting (not verified) on 04 Jan 2010 #permalink

You are probably right in the observation that nobody cares about the humanities, but the notion of "folkbildning" implies some type of humboldtian learning ("Bildung"), whereas present-day natural scientists appear to harbour no such aspirations.

Well, VoF has given the anti-award to history fabricator Dag Stålsjö and the real award to folklorist Bengt of Klintberg, and they've elected me onto the executive board many years running, so I guess it could be worse. (-;

Facts have a well-known evidence-based bias. If you have some evidence that Annika Dahlqvist is correct, even demographic studies, trot it out. Anecdotes don't count.

When a pandemic is starting, we don't always know how severe or how contagious it will be. Enlightening, I would much rather have an extra vaccine and avoid a miserable fortnight with the flu even if the danger was "oversold". Being careful early and reducing contacts, rolling out the vaccine ASAP saved lives, and if not as many as we feared, all the better. Being wrong could mean being dead. If the H5 bird flu gets going, you'll see a lot more deaths. I hope that the government and health agencies jump to their preparations just as fast next time. Just consider the price of being wrong vs. the price of being ready. We had SARS in Toronto and the mortality for confirmed cases was around 65%.

Monado, you mix things up. The problem here is that VoF accuse Annika D for make statements that is not scientific based. But the fact is also - and this you yourself write with "When a pandemic is starting, we don't always know how severe or how contagious it will be" - that not even the swine flu-hype was scientifically based.

Facts have a well-known evidence-based bias, right. And it was a fact in this meaning that the swine flu wasn't much more sewere than most other flus (thought sensational medias gave the impression). The swine flu is not even deadly in itself, only (as with other flus) in combination with other conditions regarding the peoples who get sick.

By Enlighting (not verified) on 04 Jan 2010 #permalink

And please, Martin R, I want to see the scientific base for this statement from VoF, : "She has [...] recommended a changed diet, without any scientific support at all. If her advice had been heeded, then the flu would have taken more lives."

Of course you really not know this, scientifically; it is only an opinion you have. As Annika D have another opinion.

In other circumstances, you tell the Swedish people that you have no reason to criticise her health diet (for example, your spokesman Hanno Essén in TV4).

This is incomprehensible. Or perhaps you mean that a good health is not strengthen the immune system against, say, flues? But that is jaw dropping.

By Enlighting (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

This is unbelieavable. It have been pointed out that Expressen has a very bad reputation in Sweden. VoF gave the enlightener award 2008 to Anna Bäsén, Expressen, because of her criticism of alternative medicine. Bäsén's association with VoF is now very friendly and personal, as seen for example here (Orsakverkan, Jayeye, Devadatta/Dattadeva and so on is well known from VoF).

During the fall it was Expressen and Bäsén who was in the front line in the attack on Annika Dahlqvist. And of course it was Bäsen who wrote the article in Expressen which MartinR so carefully point out for us in the photo.

What to say? Congratulations to VoF for all this free publicity?