The Philosophy Now Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity

As part of our twentieth anniversary celebrations in 2011 Philosophy Now magazine created a new annual award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity. Nominees can be philosophers, authors, scientists, journalists, playwrights or anyone else who has made an outstanding recent contribution to promoting knowledge, reason or public debate about issues that matter.

Philosophy Now editor Rick Lewis described the purpose of the Award in greater depth in his editorial, ‘Against Stupidity’, and in an article in The Telegraph, ‘The world’s biggest problem is stupidity’.

Announcement: The winner of the 2020 Award is Jon Ronson

Jon Ronson

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2020 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity is the author, journalist, and documentary maker Jon Ronson.

Jon Ronson has written many off-beat but serious books casting light on unexpected aspects of modern culture, including The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test. However the attention of the Award judges was particularly caught by his engaging book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In it he explores the mushrooming phenomenon of social media shaming. Is it an effective new way for the powerless to hold the powerful to account, or is it mob justice running amok? Or is it both, at different times? To understand it better, he also looks at the history of public shaming as a punishment down the centuries and examines the varying social and psychological effects on those who have experienced it in the present day.

The world of social media provides many examples of thoughtless cruelty. It’s easy to imagine that posting on Twitter or Facebook is a form of entertainment with no real-world consequences, yet this is a type of stupidity. In his book Ronson gently encourages us to consider how our censorious online behaviour can sometimes cause real harm. We think he’s done a great service by drawing attention to how exactly this happens and what exactly is wrong with it.

Presentation of the Award

The Award will be presented on Saturday 18 January 2020 in the Main Hall at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL. Jon Ronson will give an acceptance talk and answer audience questions via a video link from New York. The Award ceremony will be part of the 5th Philosophy Now Festival organised in cooperation with Conway Hall.

Previous Winners of the Award

2019: Angela Phillips (journalist, academic, author)

Angela Phillips

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2019 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity is the journalist, academic and author Professor Angela Phillips.

Angela Phillips has been a practising journalist for 40 years and has taught journalism at Goldsmith’s, University of London, for more than 20 years. She has carried out extensive research into the ethics and practice of journalism in the social media age. This is reflected in her book Journalism in Context, which starts by asking “What is news?” and provides a clear, philosophically-informed guide to many questions concerning modern journalism, including sources, media ownership, audiences and the social contexts within which journalists train and work. Her interest in the particular challenges of digital journalism and social media led her to co-author, with Eiri Elvestad, Misunderstanding News Audiences: Seven Myths of the Social Media Era. She also founded the local news website EastLondonLines.

The judges think that teaching people to be better, more ethical and more self-aware journalists is an excellent way of fighting stupidity. We would like to show our appreciation of Professor Phillips’ work, and of that of all good journalists.

2018: Robert Sapolsky (neurologist, biologist)

Robert Sapolsky

We have great pleasure in announcing that the winner of the 2018 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity is the neurologist and biologist Robert Sapolsky.

We are giving the award to Professor Sapolsky for the originality and brilliance of his expositions of human behavioural biology, including his Stanford University lecture courses which are available online. His many books include Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

Sapolsky’s careful consideration of the connections between biology and behaviour make him an ideal recipient of the Award. Scientists sometimes change the way we think about the world. Sapolsky as a biologist changes the way we think about the way we think (and feel, and behave). This is also what philosophers sometimes try to do.

Professor Sapolsky will be accepting the Award via a live video link from California during the Philosophy Now Festival at approximately 7:30pm on Saturday 20 January 2018.

2017: James Randi (magician, entertainer, investigator, educator)

James Randi

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2017 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity is the magician, entertainer, investigator and educator James Randi.

Known during his career as a professional magician as The Amazing Randi, he increasingly turned his skills to investigating paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. For many years Randi made a specialty of exposing fraud by purported psychics and televangelists. In 1996 he established the James Randi Educational Foundation, which until 2015 offered a still-unclaimed million-dollar reward for anyone who could produce evidence of paranormal abilities under controlled conditions.

Randi was nominated for this year’s Against Stupidity Award for entertainingly highlighting two universal human characteristics which he says are essential to the magician’s trade: the ability of people to be fooled, and the willingness of people to fool themselves.

For health reasons, James Randi will not be able to collect his Award in person, but he is recording an acceptance video which will be played at the Philosophy Now Festival on 20 January 2018.

2016: Peter Singer (philosopher)

Peter Singer

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2016 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity is the philosopher Peter Singer.

Peter Singer is an Australian moral philosopher who is now Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He is famous for his controversial and sometimes alarming views on a wide range of ethical questions. His book Animal Liberation was a major landmark in the development of the animal rights movement, and other books of his have encouraged many thousands of people to become vegetarian.

We take no collective position on Peter Singer’s particular arguments and views. He was nominated for this year’s Against Stupidity Award for two specific reasons. Firstly, for embodying the idea of a practical philosopher who doesn’t only analyze ethical problems but who also strives to apply a reasoned ethical stance to the difficult decisions that face us all in our lives.

Secondly, for the way in which Peter Singer has set out to argue for altruism, and to try to establish our duties towards one another. His books and arguments have set out to disturb the comfortable complacency with which many of us habitually ignore the desperate needs of others, and that certainly counts as fighting stupidity. The Award is particularly for this work as it relates to the Effective Altruism movement, an attempt to use research and comparative analysis to organize the charitable efforts of people in the directions in which it will do the most good.

2015: Cressida Cowell (author of children’s books, including the How to Train Your Dragon series)

Cressida Cowell

We are delighted to announce that the 2015 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity will be presented to Cressida Cowell, the author of the How To Train Your Dragon series of children’s books. She will be the first children’s author to receive the Award.

After considering several very strong nominees for this year’s award, the panel decided that nothing combats stupidity in the world more effectively than encouraging children to think. Children are great thinkers and their intellectual abilities are all too often underestimated. In a cultural environment in which children’s natural curiosity and critical spirit are easily dulled and slowly replaced by couch-potato conformity, Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon books stand out not only for their humour, excitement, and startlingly vivid descriptive language, but also, more surprisingly, for their profound meditations on complex political, historical, emotional and moral themes. They incite children to reason and to question, and inspire their imagination and inquisitiveness. For this reason the panel decided to award the 2015 Against Stupidity Award to Cressida Cowell.

Responding to news that she will be presented with the Award, Cressida Cowell said: “I am incredibly honoured to receive this award, and be in such illustrious company of past winners. As parents will know, even quite young children are able to understand complex concepts, and I make a conscious effort never to write down to them.”

2014: Noam Chomsky (linguist, philosopher, scientist, logician)

We are delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Award is Noam Chomsky. The Award will be presented on Tuesday 27th January 2015 at 8:30pm in Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4LR, and Professor Chomsky will be present via a video link from MIT (technology permitting).

Noam Chomsky is a world-renowned linguist and philosopher. He was chosen for the Award because of his contributions to critical thinking, and in particular for his work with Edward S. Herman on the ‘Propaganda Model’, a detailed analysis of structural biases and filters that shape news reporting in the mass media worldwide. His many books include “Syntactic Structures”, “Manufacturing Consent” (with Edward Herman) and “Media Control”.

2013: Raymond Tallis (doctor, philosopher, author, poet)

Raymond Tallis

We are happy to announce that the winner of the 2013 Philosophy Now Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity is Professor Raymond Tallis. After receiving the Award, Raymond Tallis will be giving a lecture called “Has Physics Killed Philosophy?”.

2012: Ben Goldacre (doctor, scientist, author of the book/newspaper column Bad Science)

Many thanks to everyone for all the nominations you sent in for Philosophy Now’s 2012 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity. We are very happy to announce that this year’s winner is Dr. Ben Goldacre. The award will be mainly for his book, blog and long-running newspaper column on Bad Science. The Award will be presented on November 13th at Conway Hall in central London, and Ben Goldacre will then give a short acceptance talk.

2011: Mary Midgley (philosopher, author)

Mary Midgley is the first recipient of the Award.

The prize is always a book token and a trophy. The Award is usually presented at Conway Hall in London, and whenever possible is followed by an acceptance speech by the winner.

Please send your nominations for the next award with supporting arguments to rick.lewis@philosophynow.org.

This site uses cookies to recognize users and allow us to analyse site usage. By continuing to browse the site with cookies enabled in your browser, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy. X