Skeptic News:  COVID, Vaccines, Space Debris and more


96

Skeptic News:  COVID, Vaccines, Space Debris and more

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

COVID vaccine rollouts continue to happen, and the more at-risk people here in New Zealand/Aotearoa are starting to get theirs. Still, there’s opposition from the usual suspects detailed below.

The battle against misinformation is ever on-going!

Wishing you a great week…
Craig Shearer

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COVID’s worst places

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the situation in India with COVID and how bad it was there. It turns out that it’s not the worst place in the world to be (though certainly not anywhere near the best either!). There’s an interactive map hosted by the New York Times that shows, per country, the rates of infection per capita.

As expected, India and Brazil are doing badly, but there are some countries that are worse. Interestingly, Canada currently has a much higher number of infections per day than the US does – probably as a result of the impressive rollout of the COVID vaccine by the US. 

South America, overall, seems to be particularly bad – with Uruguay coming in at an average of 73 new cases daily per 100,000 population.

But almost as bad is Sweden, darling of the Plan B crowd, with 47 daily new cases per 100,000 population. 

Of course, the infection rate is just one dimension of the pandemic. The environment in which infections occur and how they’re handled and managed makes a major difference to the outcome of cases – and in India’s case, their health systems are overloaded resulting in deaths that might have been avoided in countries with better-equipped systems.

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Voices for Freedom (again!)

I’ve been watching the Facebook page of Voices For Freedom. To me it’s staggering the output of their page, with their frequent posts. often several a day. They have over 7,000 people following the page.

At the moment it’s all about discouraging people to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Their latest post is complaining about the joint statement issued by the New Zealand Medical Council and the Dental Council concerning the professional obligation of practitioners to responsibly promote the COVID vaccine to their patients, and not to promote and encourage vaccine hesitancy (which we applaud).

Given social media’s efforts (half-hearted, it seems) to shut down COVID conspiracy theories, VFF appear to be anticipating their own demise, and are encouraging people to sign up to their mailing list, which would be much more difficult to shut down (or monitor, unless there’s some sneaky skeptics signed up to it!). 

This weekend they’ve been promoting the online summit “Truth over Fear” – subtitled “COVID-19 and The Great Reset”.  Here they claim that “big tech” is trying to shut them down, though I’m not sure I understand why that would be the case. That page is truly astounding! They claim that you’ll get “unbiased answers to your questions”, that you’ll have “will have access to 100% unbiased information”.

The presenters at the summit should be very familiar to anybody who’s been following the conspiracy theory/vaccine denial industry – people such as Robert F Kennedy, Jr, Barbara Loe Fisher, Dr. Bob Sears, Dr. Judy Mikovits, and V4F’s own Claire Deeks (also social media influencer and doTERRA multi-level marketer). I think their claim that you’d be hearing 100% unbiased information is pretty laughable, if it weren’t so scary.

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Who is considered a critical health worker?

NZ Skeptics were recently contacted by a journalist in response to an Official Information Act request which revealed the numbers of people and their occupations entering the country under the guise of being a critical health worker.

Shockingly there were eight people who were listed as osteopaths and two chiropractors. Our concerns are that alternative health practitioners are considered critical health workers! 

While we are disappointed that these practitioners are being let in, we don’t find it surprising. It seems unlikely that the Department of Immigration is going to be au fait with the subtleties of which categories of medical providers actually have scientific evidence as a basis for their practice. We would hope that the Department of Health would provide robust guidelines as to which workers truly are critical, but this is probably not the case.

This time last year, in the early stages of NZ/Aotearoa’s response to the pandemic we saw chiropractors offering to be essential health workers. My reading of this is that is that the press release reads like a plea by chiropractors to retain some relevance. Chiropractors, who are largely a hands-on service, would have struggled with the reduced demand for their services during that time.

Of most concern in the era of COVID-19 and the vaccination rollout is that osteopaths and chiropractors often express vaccine hesitancy and outright anti-vax views.

It does seem that organisations representing these vocations are doing some back-pedalling when it comes to vaccination. Indeed, we’ve recently seen a very good paper written in the International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine that expresses exactly that concern:

“However, we are concerned with the negative sentiments, ill-formed views and in some cases frank scepticism regarding vaccines amongst what appears to be small sections of the osteopathic profession. There is global concern at the growing ‘anti vax’ sentiment that is expressed on social media and within other intra-health professional groups and settings”

To our mind we see this as a case of osteopaths telling their own to get their house in order. We wonder whether any osteopaths in NZ are paying attention to this warning.

Ultimately this issue falls to government policy, and appears to be a product of the less than stunning job that successive governments have done protecting Kiwis from alternative medicine practitioners making dubious, unsupported claims.

As mentioned above, the Medical and Dental councils have issued guidance to their practitioners. NZ Skeptics would challenge the respective organisations for chiropractors and osteopaths to issue similarly strong guidance to their members.

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Long March 5B

The Chinese launch vehicle – Long March 5B has been in the news over the past week. The rocket was launched at the end of last month to carry the living quarters of China’s independent space station into orbit. 

While the launch of the rocket was controlled, its fall back to earth was not. The concern was that, with uncontrolled descent, it might land on a populated area. 

As I write this on Sunday afternoon, it has been reported that the rocket has crashed down near the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, though there were tracking predictions that it could come down on Australia or New Zealand. 

From a skeptical perspective, it’s interesting to consider the concerns expressed about this, and the attention that it has captured. 

As most of the world is uninhabited (with much of the population being clumped into dense spots) the chances of it hitting an inhabited area are extremely low. The lifetime odds of a single person being hit by space debris are more than a billion to one. 

However, the law of large numbers kicks in, and while the chance of being hit by falling space debris is very low, it has happened. Lottie Williams, of Tulsa Oklahoma was walking through a park at 4am back in 1997 when she was hit by a piece of a falling Delta II rocket!

Of more concern about space debris is the large number of small pieces of space junk in low earth orbit that could cause catastrophic damage to satellites or to rockets being launched into space. NASA has estimated there’s in excess of 23,000 untracked objects that have the potential to wreak havoc. It’s counter-intuitive but even a tiny piece of metal, because of the energy it has due to the speed at which it’s orbiting, is capable of causing a lot of damage. 

At present there’s over 3,000 satellites in orbit but that number is set to increase immensely with the launch of systems such as Starlink which plans to put 12,000 satellites into orbit. What will be the fate of all these satellites at the end of their lives? And what happens if a piece of space debris hits an existing satellite setting off a “chain reaction”? This is the space debris we should really be worried about!

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If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
[email protected]

if you want to support us by becoming a financial member, or would like to check your membership status, please go to:
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Skeptic News: Going Underground


96

Skeptic News: Going Underground

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Going Underground


I’ve noticed an interesting, and worrying, shift with some of the more extreme online communities recently. On the one hand it’s great to finally, and belatedly, see social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google hold people and organisations to account when they spread nonsense such as COVID vaccine misinformation. For example, just this week Advance NZ’s Facebook page has been temporarily removed. Local conspiracy theorists such as Damien DeMent, Lee Williams, Vinny Eastwood and Karen Brewer are currently concerned over suspension of their social media profiles, because they are perpetuating dangerous untruths.

However there’s a flipside to this crackdown, in today’s technological world where it’s becoming easier and easier to set up an alternative platform. Many of the people who are losing access to their social media accounts are being driven to places where it’s harder to keep an eye on them – alt-right social sites such as Parler and Gab, and secure messaging apps like Telegram and Signal. The US owner of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, is even threatening to create a new platform focused on free speech, which he’s calling Frank. Well, not exactly free speech – you won’t be allowed to swear or blaspheme on his new site.

In New Zealand these communities, groups and channels have names such as The White Rose, the NZ Liberty Movement, Counterspin, New Zealand Free Speech, Eyes Open, Truth Seekers and even Greymouth Skeptics (who are anything but skeptical!). This is where the alt-right are hob-nobbing with hippies, and far right nationalists are mingling with anti-vaccine mothers. It’s nice that these people are now less able to influence those on the fence with their wacky ideas, but I wonder whether they’ll become mode radicalised in a more sheltered, close-knit setting. After all, the last thing we want to see in New Zealand is another terrorist attack by someone with a horribly warped view of reality.

Mark Honeychurch

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Accelerated Nonsense

A.C.E., or Accelerated Christian Education, is a Christian based curriculum used in New Zealand – both in some Christian schools, and by parents who homeschool their children. The curriculum boasts that it covers from kindergarten to year 13, and that it is recognised by New Zealand universities.

The NZARH were contacted recently by some students who are concerned about some of the content of the ACE curriculum. They were good enough to supply me with a set of pictures they’d taken of a section of one book titled “Character Study of the Strange Woman”. This chapter focuses on Proverbs 2, from verse 16:

“Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead.”

The lesson this school text book gives about this passage is that of the strange, or troubled, woman, and is basically a warning about how dangerous some women can be:

This is a person who has been abused and broken and has a tendency to be immoral… Being a strange woman is an inward condition, not simply an outward activity. A woman might be active in her church, but still have the character qualities of a strange woman… she will be a danger to any man who decides to establish a personal relationship with her.

The lesson then goes on to give a truly appalling analogy between these women and run down houses:

I once bought a little house that I was going to fix up and resell. It was extremely cheap and I soon found out why. Outwardly it was nice looking, but the inside was completely “trashed.” The man I hired to clean it out couldn’t stay inside for more than 15 minutes at a time because of its horrible stench. We called in exterminators to eliminate rodents, roaches, and other creatures.

As I studied the Scriptures about the strange woman, I thought back on our experience with that little house. In a similar way, a person can appear attractive on the outside, but be devastated on the inside.

I hate to think that every year hundreds of children in New Zealand are being taught these kinds of demeaning ideas. But that’s not all – a cursory search on google for Accelerated Christian Education brings up horror stories of over the top discipline, male dominance and science denial:

  • the act of love between two persons of the same gender is tantamount to “murder or stealing”
  • Evolution is a “sinking ship”
  • “If a scientific theory contradicts the Bible, then the theory is wrong and must be discarded.”

Both of the images below, misrepresenting the science of evolution, come from ACE curriculum material. I find it hard to fathom just how this curriculum ever managed to get approval in New Zealand.
 

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Christchurch health clinic bans vaccinated customers

An “alternative” health clinic in Christchurch, which specialises in colonic irrigation and coffee enemas, has announced online that it will not treat anyone who has been vaccinated within the last 30 days.

This news comes on the back of a school in Miami, the Centner Academy, barring its teachers from being able to see students if they’ve been given the COVID vaccine. The academy will also no longer be employing new teachers who have already been vaccinated. They argue that because the vaccines have not yet been fully tested, there is a risk that they could have unknown issues that may affect other people.

In fact, the school reports that it has already seen this happen. A letter sent out to parents said:

“Tens of thousands of women all over the world have recently been reporting adverse reproductive issues simply from being in close proximity with those who have received any one of the COVID-19 injections… No one knows exactly what may be causing these irregularities, but it appears that those who have received the injections may be transmitting something from their bodies to those with whom they come in contact.”

The local union, the United Teachers of Dade, rightly spoke up and called out this nonsense:

“As shamefully seen by the actions of the illegally run and uncertified Centner Academy, these schools not only teach misinformation and peddle propaganda, they punish teachers who try to protect themselves and their families.”

It didn’t take long for me to find a link between the Christchurch clinic and the Miami school – it turns out that the owners of the clinic are fans of David and Leila Centner, the owners of the school, and have posted online about the Centners’ recent documentary called Medical Racism. (The documentary appears to argue that it’s racist to try to convince people to be vaccinated, and to treat them differently if they’re not. To me it’s not a form of racism to redeploy frontline medical workers who refuse to be vaccinated – it’s just common sense.)

Finally, without wanting to be too trite, I had a little chuckle when I noticed the name of the Christchurch clinic. The business appears to be situated inside a residential property, and is accessed via a door at the rear of the property – which presumably is what gave rise to the name “Back Door Spa”. Remember that at the beginning of the article I mentioned that the clinic specialises in colonics and enemas; you can no doubt work out why I found the name a little humorous!

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Influential Biologist in New Zealand

Normally I would be excited to hear that a prominent biologist is in New Zealand, but in this case the biologist in question is Dr Bruce Lipton – a figure who is well known to skeptics.

Bruce “works” in the field of epigenetics – the branch of biology which looks at the different ways in which factors outside of our DNA can influence gene expression, and consequently our development – how we grow. This is a real branch of science, with some really cool findings.

However, Bruce Lipton sadly doesn’t actually do any real research into epigenetic effects. Instead, he tells people that each of their cells is a homunculus – a small version of their own body, with a brain, lungs, stomach, etc. Then he argues that if people believe something hard enough, they can influence the brain in each of their cells, and this will cause their cells to behave differently, controlling how genes are turned on and off, etc. Using this, he says that we can cure diseases with the power of our minds. Of course this is all totally made up, and has absolutely no evidence underpinning it.

As if that’s not bad enough, Bruce is currently here as a “Visiting Professor of the New Zealand College of Chiropractic”, and has been giving talks about not just his epigenetic nonsense but also COVID silliness. He talked at the popular NZ Spirit festival recently, claiming that people aren’t really dying of COVID, but just from co-morbidities. He told the cheering festival crowd that vitamins will protect them from dying of COVID, and that governments have been using the pandemic to deliberately scare us.

Sadly, looking at the online reaction to his talk, it appears that far too many people are being sucked in by his nonsense. All too often, the people who have a loyal following use their influence to recklessly spread dangerous misinformation rather than help to educate people.


If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
[email protected]

if you want to support us by becoming a financial member, or would like to check your membership status, please go to:
https://skeptics.nz/join


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