Gyula Staar, editor of Természet Világa, the Hungarian science journal that has served the academic community of that country for 140 years, has written to inform me of the last two winners of the annual Randi Prize which is given to students who show appropriately skeptical approaches to claims and statements that they encounter in the news. The prize was first awarded back in 1992, when I visited Hungary, and has continued since, though with a few gaps because the journal did not find applicants of sufficient talent to justify the award. That principle - granting an award only when it's justified - is the way such matters should be handled. The journal holds a student essay competition on the first Saturday of March every year at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and the awards are presented by my friend Professor Gyula Bencze.
The 2008 winner was Imre Gábor Kovács of the Széchenyi István Gymnasium in Sopron. The title of his essay was "Sweet Poison", and he described how certain artificial sweeteners are declared to be poisonous by some companies, by using pseudoscientific arguments. In 2009 the prize went to Andrea Pálfi, of the Krúdy Gyula Gymnasium, Nyíregyháza, with her essay titled: "Radiesthesia: Harmful environmental effect, or fake?" (Radiesthesia is the term for "dowsing" in Europe.)
Editor Staar is dedicated to recognizing and encouraging young Hungarians who show originality and curiosity - indications of possible scientific aspirations, and I happily support his efforts to promote Hungary's contributions to knowledge. He wrote me:
I can promise that as long as I am the editor-in-chief of the journal, talented students will have a role in the dissemination of science.
Now, that's a community-oriented editor, with no time for Ivory Tower retreats and with a responsible, active, role in his country's future! I look forward to next year's competition, and I hope to visit Hungary again later this year.