Skeptic News: Peer Pressure from Dead People


96

Skeptic News: Peer Pressure from Dead People

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Peer Pressure from Dead People


What day is it? Is it still 2020? Damn.

Jess Macfarlane.

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What’s the harm in a good conspiracy?

What’s the harm in viral conspiracy theories? This bbc.co.uk blog investigated the people who had been affected by and involved in the spread of misinformation in 2020. The piece touches on Covid-19-deniers who ended up contracting the illness, people who became internet sensations and ended up speaking to thousands about their conflicting and nonsensical notions, and the hurt of having newly estranged family members.
 
On the question of how to approach people who have been swept up in the conspiracy theories, psychologist Jovan Byford is quoted as saying “The point is to infuse their thinking with counter arguments so the next time they approach a conspiracy theory in a different way.”

At the time of writing the F.B.I are investigating 5G paranoia as a motive for the suicide bombing in Nashville on Christmas. This writer attended an anti-5G protest in 2020, In support of 5G. 5G is a technology that will allow us to do even more on the internet, and the scientific consensus is that it is safe.


Insulting, ridiculous, disappointing & dangerous

Dr. Siouxsie Wiles wrote on twitter recently about a NZ Herald article which wondered if New Zealand’s response to the pandemic was an overreaction. While pointing out that she hadn’t read the article (it was pay-walled) she said “But if the answer isn’t a resounding NO WE DIDNT then the piece is insulting, ridiculous, disappointing, & dangerous”.
 
This was illustrated by the Toby Morris animated graph showing the predicted numbers of Covid-19 cases with and without a lockdown. The gaping maw between the two lines in the graph became the mouth saying the words “we overreacted”. This type of reaction feels like a predictable one – where a lot of effort was put in to prevent a disaster, and no disaster occurred.
 
I personally hope that this type of reaction does not discourage our experts in science or healthcare from doing the important job of slowing down a deadly pandemic. I was able to see and hug my family for Christmas and I am very happy to say I have not attended anyone’s Covid-19 related funeral or (personally) know anyone who has. As a measure of success for me, those examples are palpable.
 
Again from the NZ Herald, if you are able to read it, this paywalled article goes through the contributions of many of the New Zealand scientists who helped make our Covid-19 response a success. Included in the list are Dr. Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris. I’m very glad New Zealand was able do what a good skeptic should do and follow the science. A big thank you to all from me.

As for the NZ Herald, posting articles that are on either side of a debate that isn’t a debate, where scientific consensus is on one side and devil’s advocate the other, that is a false balance i.e. anti-science propaganda.


A Grinchy point of view

In the very first verse of The Grinch, we learn that the Grinch hated Christmas, and then Dr. Seuss writes “Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason”.  My young self always wondered about that. Why couldn’t I ask? Was I supposed to not ask questions so I wouldn’t feel guilty about parcelling him up in my mind as the bad guy? That advice always seemed very sinister to me. I’m instinctively deeply skeptical when someone tells me not to question something.
 
The story goes on to explain that it’s the “noise, noise, noise, noise!” that the Grinch hates. As a child this washed over me as something all grownups must either tolerate or complain about to varying degrees, but I learned somewhere along the line about something that changed my perspective. I learned about misophonia. Misophonia isn’t a dubious Japanese soup made of doom-scrolling devices, but a condition where certain sounds or repetitive noises trigger an unusually strong emotional response in people, responses ranging from annoyance to panic to anger. A workmate of mine suffers from this condition.
 
For the purposes of a jolly Christmas tale of someone learning the value of Christmas, I suppose it helps the story to just have a bad guy and leave it at that. However, looking at the tale again and imagining the Grinch as a rounded person with a particular condition that makes him respond intensely with panic or anger to banging buzzing or beeping toys, it makes me wonder if the Whos down in Whoville might have grown their own hearts several sizes by stepping up and trying to actually ask him why he hated Christmas so much.
 
Alternatively, perhaps it’s best to acknowledge that Christmas (not to mention other traditions) can put a lot of pressure on some people, and it can be cathartic to be a Christmas hater sometimes. If I were the Grinch bothered by Christmas noise even from inside my own home, wouldn’t it be nice to be offered a safe space where I could relax in peace and quiet without being accused of being a hater and being made to feel I’m not doing my duty by participating? There I fixed it. Now let’s all raise our be-baubled glasses and remember that most tradition is totally pointless peer pressure from dead people. Cheers!


Ex-chef’s face off Facebook

In other news, Australian ex-celebrity chef Pete Evans has finally been kicked off Facebook for spreading conspiracy theories about Covid-19. He had previously been fined $25,000 for trying to sell a ‘Bio Charger’ device as a fake coronavirus cure via a livestream on the platform.
 
Back in April he was in the news for passing on and making up stories on Instagram. The stories were a reaction to New Zealand’s lockdown, which resulted in us all being able to spend the holiday season with family and friends, unlike many countries where social distancing is still in place and for some now dealing with new Covid-19 variants, getting stricter.
 
One idea Mr. Evans was very vocal about was that kiwis had better wake up because after lockdown, we were all about to be put under martial law as part of the Prime Minister’s plot to control us.
 
Well, that’s it from me. It’s nearly time for my once a month allotted 5-minute outdoor time in our #NZhellhole and I don’t want to be late and get on the bad side of our benevolent dictator. Tootles!
 


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Skeptic News: Crystals, Black Holes and Dark DNA


96

Skeptic News: Crystals, Black Holes and Dark DNA

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Crystals, Black Holes and Dark DNA


I told you all three weeks ago that I was going to visit the Ancient Mystical Order of Rosicrucians, and I can report that I survived the meeting intact. My friend Tim and I had a great chat with three of the group’s members about their beliefs, and about the history of the organisation. Much of what we heard sounded very familiar, with an organisational structure that reminded me of Scientology (making your way up the “Bridge”) and a belief in visualisation that was akin to Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”, where if you imagine something enough it will come true for you.

After this event, we decided to visit a Hemi-Sync event (binaural beats) and a Share International meeting about angels. However, both of these meetings fell through, and so instead I woke up yesterday morning and jumped into my car to visit our local Wellington chapter of the Builders of the Adytum for a Qabalistic Service. Unfortunately, contrary to the assertion on their sign, the doors to the temple were firmly shut.

 

 

So my fellow intrepid explorers from Wellington Skeptics in the Pub and I walked up the road and joined Kirtan at the local Sikh temple, followed by driving to nearby Arise Church where we took part in an evangelical Christian service with a rock band, stage lighting and cheering crowd:

 

 

All in all it was a good morning, and we’ve promised the Sikh temple that we will visit them again soon as they are keen to sit down and chat with us.

Mark Honeychurch

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We have our own Monolith

In the news this morning, it’s been reported that our very own New Zealand monolith has appeared at Adventure Park in Christchurch. I’d love to think that this monolith could stay until I get a chance to visit it, but given that the original monolith mysteriously disappeared, and that a bunch of young Christians destroyed a similar monolith in California and replaced it with a cross, I worry that our version may not last long.

I have to assume that this proliferation of monoliths, rather than being a carefully planned stunt, is more likely to be the work of copy cats who want to add to the mystery. My understanding is that the monoliths are rather simply constructed, and that the hard problems are getting them to their destination and digging a hole to place them in.

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Crystal Healing that works?

In one of our Facebook groups this week there was a recent discussion started by Donald Pettitt about his visit to a “crystal healer” to help with issues he’s been having with his balance:

“I’ve been having balance issues due to a head injury on my bike ride about 4 months ago.
I went to a crystal healer a few days ago. Turns out there is real science behind it!”

The post linked to a Mayo Clinic article explaining exactly what this healing is. In the ensuing conversation Jonny Grady, a committee member who I’m sure many of you have met, wrote a very nice summary of what this is all about:


There is some genuine science here, but also a lot of misinformation. The ‘crystals’ talked about here have absolutely nothing to do with the ‘traditional’ crystal healers (as I’m sure you all figured).

There are ‘otoconia’ (calcium carbonate crystals) in your vestibular portion of the inner ear which act to help detect linear acceleration of your head and your head’s general orientation in space in relation to gravity. The cavity they reside in acts a bit like a ‘snow globe’; if you tip a snow globe on it’s side, the ‘snow flakes’ inside will shift towards the bottom of the glass bulb under the force of gravity. If you tip your head on its side the otoconia will shift in a similar way, like sand cascading towards the lowest point in relation to gravity. Tiny sensory ‘hair cells’ (stereocilia) lining the bowl of the cavities (utricle and saccule) detect this change in the alignment of these otoconia, which corresponds to your head position in relation to gravity or linear head motion.

There are also special fluid-filled loops in the vestibular organs with stereocilia (the Semi-circular canals), which are evolved to detect rotary head motion (head turns). They operate a little differently. If you turn your head in a certain direction, the fluid in your semicircular canal lags behind the head motion, causing it to brush past the stereocilia, triggering them to indicate that your head is turning. There are three of these semicircular canals in each ear, each corresponding to a different orientation in head rotary head movement.

Now, if the otoconia from the utricle and saccule get out of those spaces and get into the semicircular canals, they can sit on or brush past those stereocilia sense organs, triggering them to tell you your head is turning, even when it isn’t. This mis-match between what your vestibular/balance organ is telling you (you’re moving) and what your vision and proprioception are telling you (you’re not!) is what makes you feel dizzy. This can happen if you get a traumatic hit to the head; the otoconia can get into the semicircular canals, causing the dizziness. We also get more prone to this as we get older (it’s pretty common in retirees).
If this happens, there are manual head-rotation exercises that can be done that help the otoconia travel from the semicircular canals back into the utricle and saccule.

So yes! This is the only time in medicine that you can legitimately go to a clinician to “have your crystals realigned”!


Nice work, Jonny – thanks for helping us to be a little smarter.

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Does anyone know what Dark DNA is?

Retraction Watch have written a nice summary of the year in retractions for The Scientist magazine. Unsurprisingly many of the scientific articles that have been retracted this year are on the topic of COVID-19, but there was one that caught my eye from the Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences titled:

“A black hole at the center of earth plays the role of the biggest system of telecommunication for connecting DNAs, dark DNAs and molecules of water on 4+N- dimensional manifold.”

The abstract for the paper reads like the back-story for a trashy sci-fi book written by William Shatner (and yes, I’ve read Shatner’s TekWar – it’s not very good):

“Recently, some scientists from NASA have claimed that there may be a black hole like structure at the centre of the earth. We show that the existence of life on the earth may be a reason that this black hole like object is a black brane that has been formed from biological materials like DNA. Size of this DNA black brane is 109 times longer than the size of the earth’s core and compacted interior it. By compacting this long object, a curved space-time emerges, and some properties of black holes emerge. This structure is the main cause of the emergence of the large temperature of the core, magnetic field around the earth and gravitational field for moving around the sun. Also, this structure produces some waves which act like topoisomerase in biology and read the information on DNAs. However, on the four-dimensional manifold, DNAs are contracted at least four times around various axis’s and waves of earth couldn’t read their information. While, by adding extra dimensions on 4 +n-dimensional manifold, the separation distance between particles increases and all of the information could be recovered by waves. For this reason, each DNA has two parts which one can be seen on the four-dimensional universe, and another one has existed in extra dimensions, and only it’s e_ects is observed. This dark part of DNA called as a dark DNA in an extra dimension. These dark DNAs not only exchange information with DNAs but also are connected with some of the molecules of water and helps them to store information and have memory. Thus, the earth is the biggest system of telecommunication which connects DNAs, dark DNAs and molecules of water.”

The paper’s author, Dr Massimo Fioranelli, mentions on his website (in Italian) that:

“Ho studiato varie discipline a connotazione “naturale”: la medicina fisiologica di regolazione, la nutrizione, la medicina low-dose, la fitoterapia, l’agopuntura, il microbioma, le tecniche psicologiche, la mindfulness, la meditazione, lo yoga e molte altre.”

Thankfully google translate makes a good effort at making sense of this for me, given that my grasp of Italian is non-existent:

“I studied various disciplines with a “natural” connotation: physiological regulation medicine, nutrition, low-dose medicine, phytotherapy, acupuncture, microbiome, psychological techniques, mindfulness, meditation, yoga and many others.”

So it looks like Dr Fioranelli has taken the Kool-Aid of alternative medicine, and as so often happens this has likely led him down the path towards believing in all kinds of unproven nonsense, and even now making up his own novel (read: daft) ideas.

(As a side note, I was going to be clever and mention that at Jonestown the cult used Flavor-Aid rather than Kool-Aid in their massacre, but I’ve now learned that the cult had both brands of flavoured drink mix at Jonestown, and it’s unclear which was was used on the fateful day)

Weirdly this article was published in a special “Global Dermatology” issue of the journal, which makes me wonder whether it just bypassed peer review all together – after all, it’s hard to see how a black hole in the centre of our planet which allows communication between our DNA and a higher dimension DNA has much of anything to do with skin, hair or nails. And it turns out that this isn’t the only recent dermatology slip up – Retraction Watch mentions that one of the paper’s co-authors, Uwe Wollina, has written a huge number of other papers that appear to be pure pseudoscience. This debacle has been documented by Der Spiegel in Germany (although the article is unfortunately both in German and behind a paywall).

I suppose we can at least be thankful that this paper was eventually retracted. Who knows how many other nonsense papers are flying under the radar, being cited by alternative medicine practitioners as proof that their dubious therapies are “proven” by science.

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Glittery Just Desserts

As Skeptics we’re not very fond of scammers, and we often try to protect the public from those who would rip them off with dodgy devices and ineffective products. The video below documents a feat of engineering, a device that targets the problem in the US of people who steal people’s parcels – and it targets them in a pretty funny way. Although theft is not really a scam, it’s still enjoyable to see unethical people get their comeuppance – and it’s mentioned later on in the video that this device has also recently been used against scammers. And to be honest, I needed a good excuse to share this video!
 



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Skeptic News: Flynn Effect researcher dies


96

Skeptic News: Flynn Effect researcher dies

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Hello

Welcome to this week’s NZ Skeptics newsletter. I’m going to be pretty brief as I’ve have a busy weekend, but there were a few stories that caught my eye this week.

Craig Shearer

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Flynn Effect researcher dies

Renowned Otago researcher, Jim Flynn has died, aged 86. He discovered a very interesting effect –  now named after him – the Flynn Effect, which states that IQ scores are increasing decade by decade. Basically, people are scoring better on IQ tests than they did in the past. This has had the effect of moving the 100 score – which is, by definition, the average IQ score upwards. There is speculation on the reasons for the Flynn effect, but nothing completely conclusive. But it is interesting to ponder. 

IQ tests are sometimes controversial measures of intelligence. And there have been people who’ve bought into ideas of differences in IQ scores between races. Flynn effectively countered such racist ideas and provided science-based explanations that refuted these racist ideas.

Monoliths – definitely not aliens!

A few weeks back a monolith was discovered, in the desert in the state of Utah in the USA. Since then they’ve been popping up in various places around the world. The famous monolith from Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (based on Arthur C. Clarke’s novels) would appear to be the inspiration for these. 

It appears that the original in Utah was installed back in 2016, but remained undiscovered. Wikipedia has a list of all the monoliths discovered so far.

In this age of viral videos and publicity stunts, it’s easy to imagine that there’s a company behind this using it for some marketing purpose, though given how long it’s taken for the original to be revealed, that does seem unlikely.

While these monoliths have allusions to that in 2001, if it were aliens, they’d do something much more impressive. Simultaneously making them appear all over the world, for instance. Appearing levitating above the ground? Let your imagination run wild!

There is a serious side to this though, particularly the original Utah one. As has been pointed out, this is essentially littering on public lands. Such “artwork” attracts visitors to locations not prepared for a public onslaught, thereby endangering both the land and people’s lives who might decide to visit, ill-prepared for the journey.

ME/CFS research by Kiwi scientists

There was an interesting item this week on research by Kiwi scientists showing that Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is a real thing and not psychosomatic.

As a skeptic, I know that it’s often easy to dismiss medical symptoms that are hard to define as potentially not real and likely psychological. It’s great to see the successful research done that teases out and defines a biological basis for this.

 


Seven Sharp promoting psychics

Last week (December 10th) TVNZ’s Seven Sharp programme had an item featuring a Ponsonby-based psychic medium by the name of Kimberly Stewart. The story was based on the premise that because 2020 has been such a stressful year, that people have been seeking the services of psychics more. Business is booming! As is typical of these items, they offered a psychologist’s opinion for balance.

Perusing the psychic’s website is a fun journey if you like that stuff. She claims to be “New Zealand’s most accurate psychic” – though it’s not known how such a title is determined. That would imply though that there are others that are less than accurate! How would one know who to choose?

If you find yourself flush with cash you don’t know what to do with, she’ll happily spend 30 minutes with you for an eye-watering $180! Or you can have a Past Life Regression session for $230. According to her website: “do not get caught up on the idea that its [sic] all in your imagination”! The cynical me suspects she knows this is all it is!


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Skeptic News: Social Media Cleansing


Skeptic News: Social Media Cleansing


NZ Skeptics Newsletter

 

Social Media Cleansing

It’s been a very busy few weeks for me of Birthdays, training, events, and Christmas tree decoration. My irrational rage at people who erect festive trinket dust collectors before December 1st has abated, only to be replaced by incredulity over people who are ‘decorating’ their routers with faraday cages to protect themselves from 5G.

Jess Macfarlane

Social Cleansing

Business insider finds that YouTube’s algorithms are still sucking people deep down into whirlpools of misinformation, however, anti-vaccination messages aren’t among those messages.

Unfortunately, those same algorithms aren’t smart enough to detect the baby in the soiled bathwater, and seem to be defenestrating the lot, blocking misinformation as well as videos debunking anti-vaccination misinformation. YouTuber Stephen Woodford was one who found himself scooped up in the cleansing. He recently posted a video to his YouTube channel Rationality Rules called ‘The Covid-5G Conspiracy – Debunked’. It was taken down and he was sent a letter explaining why. Woodford made the letter he received from YouTube public, highlighting the reasoning given; “we think it violates our medical misinformation policy”. You can see Woodford’s response here

It has to be acknowledged that the sheer volume of misinformation being uploaded couldn’t possibly be interrogated without the assistance of code, but given the vast resources available to the platform, one wonders if they couldn’t afford to spend more money on humans to vet content to mitigate against counterproductive issues like this. 

It is concerning that this cleansing of conspiracies is also quieting skeptical voices on the platform. As Woodford himself said, “Well, I’ve got the message. Don’t expose conspiracy theories, don’t expose medical misinformation”.

Doubt is your friend – Survey

Scoop.co.nz published a survey looking at New Zealanders perceptions of misinformation. One finding was “The majority of New Zealanders surveyed agree that disinformation has the ability to greatly influence someone’s opinion (91 percent), but far less (53 percent) acknowledge that disinformation could influence them.” This hubris is something we need to work on. That belief that it can’t happen to you is the very reason wrong ideas may be lurking untouched and untested in your belief system.

Stolen Identity Keto pill Scam

 

The ABC News website published a story about a keto pill scam using a famous (in Australia) NZ born TV Doctor (Dr Brad McKay) to promote their nonsense without his knowledge. Dr McKay was not happy with the fact they had stolen his identity to promote their products, but is still struggling to get the posts removed as Facebook has given him the equivalent of a sorry-about-that shrug and taken no action. He has approached multiple authorities and agencies in Australia but (at the time of writing) is still waiting to hear back from them.
 

Dr McKay made his position clear when he said that when it comes to buying health products online “What you see is not what you get, and they can be extremely harmful to your health… I would never endorse or promote products like this.” 

The article urges the reader to read the fine print and has some great advice about how to avoid scams including:

  • Check who owns the website

  • Be skeptical of positive reviews – anecdotes are not evidence!

  • Do the claims seem too good to be true? – then they probably aren’t.

  • Check if they are trying to sell you something – are they explaining a problem they can sell you the solution for?

Understand the wool

Understanding marketing tactics is a good way to learn how to be more skeptical about them. Knowledge can help you take off that wool you didn’t know had been pulled over your eyes, and see the truth behind the lies, and hopefully be able to make a better decision about where and how to spend your hard earned cash.

 

One tactic marketing teams use is to publish ‘white papers’. These don’t directly sell you products, but supposedly provide impartial facts and figures around an issue or problem and draw conclusions, all while subtly pointing you in the general direction of the type of product they are trying to sell.

An example might be if you search in google for “why do I have headaches nz” where the top search result is a snippet from Southern Cross Health Insurance, with a number of helpful causes of headaches. What are they trying to sell you? Insurance. Further down in the search results, a website from a well -known brand of head-ache pill, again with helpful information. What are they trying to sell you? Their pills. Are they the best pills out there? Could there be other reasons for your headaches? The best person to talk to is always going to be your GP, not someone trying to sell you something.

Along pseudoscience lines I found a white paper on homeopathy for dairy farming – the Homeopathic Handbook for Dairy Farming. A solution to the problem – how do I keep my herd healthy, but a solution that funnels consumers to a product that is pure pseudoscience, built on the idea that like cures like, that dilution makes a remedy more powerful.

What’s the harm in homeopathy being used on livestock? Just as it is in humans, delaying evidence-based treatments can prolong suffering and cause real harm. Some conditions will go away by themselves, but others need early intervention.

Stay skeptical!

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