05 April 2010

Australia's funniest science prize: The Eureka Ethics Prize and the Vatican

Holy Galileo! Last year when I told you the Joke about the Vatican and the Science Ethics Prize I didn't expect it to get funnier, but this year it passes satire into silliness.

For yea, this year the Australian Museum's ACU Eureka Prize for Research in Ethics will again be sponsored by Australian Catholic University.

This is the year we in Australia have been granted the "honour" of getting our "first saint", Mary MacKillop, who achieved two miracles ("intercessions with God"— or in lay terms, getting God to stop torturing and killing in an untimely manner. What she had to do to get this is a mystery, as is the proof that she did this or he did that) from her grave.

The comments following this announcement about the saint and the miracles in the Adelaide News show Australians' healthy sense of humour, as well as the scepticism and demand for proof that is the basis of science itself.

Last year when I brought up the outrageousness of the Vatican-cozy Catholic University having anything to do with a science ethics prize, the comment from the Australian Museum (the host of the prizes) was "We're always after new prize sponsors." From the evidence, this means that an anti-science sponsor can continue to use the prestigious "Australian Nobels" like tobacco companies have, "research".

I suggest instead, that the Australian Museum look to the recently instituted policy of PLoS (the Public Library of Science) Medicine. Not wanting to continue to be a venue used by the tobacco industry to justify itself, PLoS Medicine has decided not to publish any tobacco-industry funded studies. New Scientist interviewed Ginnie Barbour, the editor of PLoS Medicine, who said:
There is a huge problem with all corporate funding of clinical trials: it's like asking the coach of the football team to referee the game. But unlike pharmaceuticals, the tobacco industry's products are never useful, they only harm human health.
Leaving out the current scandal of insufficient recognition by the Vatican of the ethics of the Vow of Silence that the raped were made to take, leaving out the history of the Church's claims to scientific knowledge about how condoms work (and the numbers of fatalities caused by this Church teaching) the very procedure of saint-making, its secrecy, its claim to determine proof with no proof and no outside scrutiny—if the scientists wear this silently and cheerfully, then they deserve not respect, but derision. Even the Latin liturgy that this Pope wants to spread shows that he thinks glories are best respected when they are not understood by those gathered to give awe.

The list of winners and runners-up for this Ethics prize reads curiously, to say the least. People like:

Rev Dr Norman Ford SDB
Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, Victoria
The Prenatal Person. Ethics from Conception to Birth

If this science "Ethics" prize stands and the Australian Museum does not excommunicate the Catholic Church from sponsorship and judging, then I suggest other deep-pocketed sponsors pile in. As things stand, the message the Eureka Prizes send is that scientists don't examine evidence, don't change opinions based on facts, and don't give a damn about ethics, provided the money's there. That isn't true for Australia's many brilliant and often brave scientists such as Nobel Laureates Barry J. Marshall and R. Robin Warren. So in their honour, I hope the Australian Museum acts like good scientists do.

Coming soon? The Church of Scientology Eureka Prize for Astronomy.


weez said...

The Church of Scientology Eureka Prize for Psychology!

anna tambour said...

You're so right. And your Machine Gun Keyboard plays one helluva good tune.