Skeptic News: X has Y


96

Skeptic News: X has Y

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Your Skeptics Society Needs You

For those of you who like the work we do enough that you want to support us financially, it’s that time of the year when membership subscriptions are due. Membership is only $40, or $20 if you’re unwaged, and the money we receive will be spent on worthy causes, allowing us to help make New Zealand a more skeptical place.

Also, if you join before the end of March we’ll send you a bona fide “Card Carrying Skeptic” business card with your name and membership number – it’s great to show to friends when they comment about how you’re always so damn skeptical.

Subscriptions can be paid (via credit/debit card) using the Memberful member management system at:

https://nzskeptics.memberful.com/

If you are a current member who hasn’t logged into our Memberful site before, click the Reset it link (next to “Forgot your password?”) and enter your email address. An email will be sent to you containing a password reset link for the account we’ve set up for you.

If you want to pay via internet banking, have any problems using Memberful, or have any other questions about membership, please contact our treasurer, Paul Ashton, at [email protected].

Anyway, now that I’ve annoyed you all by asking for your support, I suppose I’d better get on with telling you what’s been going on of skeptical interest recently.

Mark Honeychurch
Secretary, NZ Skeptics

<!–


–>


 

Grant Robertson has Had Enough

MP Grant Robertson was on Peter Williams’ Magic Talk radio show this week when he was asked about the “Great Reset”. His immediate reaction was to quit the interview early, and he’s subsequently let Magic Talk know that he won’t be returning for his regular weekly slot with Williams. So, what’s going on in this drama that’s of interest to skeptics?

The Great Reset, for those who’ve not heard about this conspiracy theory, was originally an idea posited by the World Economic Forum during the start of the current COVID pandemic. It suggests that a world-changing event like a pandemic would be a good place to start to tinker with how economies operate, in order to correct an imbalance many people feel has crept up over the last 100 years or so where the ultra-rich are being taxed less and are getting richer faster, and that the gap between the rich and poor is widening. It also talks about using technology more effectively, and being more mindful of long term environmental issues. Unfortunately the conspiracy minded have decided that, like the UN’s Agenda 21 and 2030 before it, the Great Reset is secretly a global plan to take away our freedoms and impose a socialist prison state system that will enslave us all. Of course, these plans have never been proclaimed outright – you have to read between the lines of the Great Reset’s documents to see the nefarious nature of these insidious ideas.

As a backdrop to this event, Peter Williams has already been in the news recently for promoting anti-vaccine views. He recommended that viewers visit the Voices for Freedom website to find out more about the COVID vaccine. Unfortunately Voices for Freedom is a new group in New Zealand who have been hosting what they call “courageous conversations” around COVID, conversations which skeptics would be more likely to call “total and utter nonsense”. These include claiming that masks are ineffective, casting doubt on PCR tests and vaccines, and promoting Ivermectin, vitamins and zinc as effective treatments/prophylactics for COVID.

So, anyway, when Peter asked Grant about the Great Reset, I’m guessing that Grant was well aware of Peter’s recent controversy and was primed for a silly question coming his way.

I’ve met with Grant before, to ask for advice about helping asylum seekers. He was rational and knowledgeable, and came across as level-headed and skeptical. It’s great to see him take a stand so publicly in this instance, and we can only hope that others will follow his lead.

<!–


–>


Rush Limbaugh has Died

The controversial conservative US radio host Rush Limbaugh died this week. Although this isn’t something that the NZ Skeptics feel is okay to celebrate, we do acknowledge that Limbaugh was responsible for the spreading of many damaging and harmful conspiracy theories, and was very mean spirited to people he saw as the enemies of the US, including those who were black, gay, liberal, female and/or atheist. Unsurprisingly, the work Rush Limbaugh undertook spreading his divisive message was recently rewarded with America’s Medal of Freedom. Rather than going into more details of Limbaugh’s life, I will leave it to the (hopefully impartial) BBC’s obituary if you would like to know more.

<!–


–>


Billy Te Kahika has Quit

Or, at the very least he’s apparently quit politics. This one was a bit of a surprise to me, as the conspiracy minded Billy had only just announced that he was re-naming his Public Party to the Freedom Party. Maybe he quit because he realised that there had already been a Freedom Party in NZ, and that all of the most obvious domain names had already been taken? Alternatively, it might be that recent accusations of financial mis-management and fraud are making life in the limelight a little too uncomfortable for Billy at the moment.

Of course, the void left by this conspiracy driven political movement will likely quickly be filled by the Outdoors Party and others. It wouldn’t surprise me if Mothers Who Stand for Freedom (Renee Argyros and Laura Surrich), Voices for Freedom (Claire Deeks), the Brave Truth Society (Damien De Ment), the Maori Ranger Security Division (Monica Eastick and Peter Martic) or some other conspiracy minded group tried to start a political party, in an effort to capture those voters who want to give their vote to an “alternative” party.

<!–


–>


A local Psychic has Guessed Wrong

Lockdown timing predictions from a Hamilton based psychic, Sarah King, have been unearthed and posted to our Facebook group this week:

 

 

Sarah said when she made these totally wrong predictions, back in June last year, that she has been finely tuning her “spiritual ninja skills”. It’s refreshing to see a psychic who’s still willing to make concrete predictions, rather than just uttering vague platitudes designed to make people feel good. Of course, most psychics avoid being this specific because they’re invariably shown to be totally inaccurate. I’m guessing that Sarah will learn this valuable lesson in time!

Another post in the Skeptics FB group this week showed Tuppence, a Hawkes Bay medium, telling her followers that she was saddened by the sudden cancellation of the Art Deco festival in Napier, where she had planned to offer her psychic services. Of course the main question being asked by skeptics is why she didn’t see it coming.

 

 

This reminds me of the time psychic Jeanette Wilson was due to entertain the audience at a Wellness event that was attended by a group of skeptics back in 2013, but she had to cancel her appearance at the last minute due to “unforseen personal circumstances”.

 

<!–


–>


Conspiracy Spam

A member emailed us this week to share an unaddressed letter she received in her mailbox. Thankfully the anonymous author of the document has put in the hard work of joining all the unconnected dots of some of the conspiracies I’ve mentioned above, and more, and has figured out that the overall aim of the New Zealand government is transhumanism – apparently we’re going to be converted to Human 2.0 via the COVID vaccine. As a technology enthusiast I’m having a hard time seeing the downside to being upgraded, although I have to admit to being worried that, given Bill Gates’ involvement, my new nanobots may be running a Windows based OS. Hopefully I’ll be able to flash them to a more stable BSD or Linux OS, just as soon as I figure out where my serial port is.

Anyway, in case you too would like to be a part of this Human 2.0 experiment, here’s a copy of the letter which is kind enough to list the required reading before your upgrade can take place:

<!–


–>


If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, send it to:
[email protected]

if you want to support us by becoming a financial member, please go to:
https://skeptics.nz/join


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2021 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

Skeptic News: Talkback and conspiracies


96

Skeptic News: Talkback and conspiracies

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Hi there

Conspiracies are in the news a lot lately. In recent newsletters we’ve talked about them a lot, and there’s more to cover this week, both from an international and NZ-based perspective.

Craig Shearer

<!–


–>

Talkback Radio

In recent weeks there’s been a bit of controversy on the airwaves in the form of talkback radio. Talkback radio’s an interesting format – where else (apart from letters to the editor) do you get to voice your opinion on any matter to such a big audience? A few weeks ago we saw the removal of John Banks from the Magic Talk radio network after his abhorrent racist remarks (and not shutting down those of a caller). 

And now we hear that Peter Williams, a veteran broadcaster who has the respect of a significant chunk of the NZ population, is giving oxygen to anti-vaccine groups who are “sceptical” of the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out. Peter Williams has also been in the climate-change-denying camp with his opinions on that appearing in print, and no doubt on the airwaves as well. 

It is a shame that these pseudoscience opinions are aired, when there’s a fantastic opportunity to educate the public instead. Indeed, in the past Mark Honeychurch and Siouxsie Wiles used to have a regular spot on RadioLive on Sunday Evenings with Graham Hill where they shared their skeptical thoughts. Alas, RadioLive is no longer.

Today I read an opinion column from Alison Mau which is well worth a read. She makes good points that talkback radio is an essential service for many in the older demographic.

“For some battling loneliness and isolation, talkback is a lifeline. A conversation with a talkback host might be the only human interaction some older, or geographically isolated, people have in their day or their week. For the farmer spending long days sealed in the cab of their harvester, or the elderly person who hasn’t seen another soul in days, the chance to chat or share an opinion can be a much-looked-forward-to bright spot.”

But the crux of Alison Mau’s article is that “you should always be ready to debunk nonsense that callers spout as fact or opinion.”. Hear hear – this is exactly what we need – talkback hosts with the intelligence and broad knowledge that can challenge opinions that promote pseudoscience.

<!–


–>

Creationism conspiracy theory

Creationism is what drew me into skepticism. Back in the 90s when I was lecturing in software development, I had a work colleague who was a young earth creationist. Seemingly rational in other areas of his life, and very intelligent, he was nevertheless hooked on “creation science”. It showed to me how even smart people can be taken in when they have an emotional stake in the topic. 

An interesting article appeared on The Conversation by Professor Paul Braterman from the University of Glasgow likening creationism to conspiracy theories. The article was also featured on the snopes.com website – a site dedicated to fact-checking claims. 

While the article is very US-centric, it is an interesting read. The prominent organisation supporting (and financially benefiting from this conspiracy) is Answers in Genesis, run by Ken Ham (originally from Australia). Responding to the criticism in the article they sicced one of their attack dogs, in the form of Ham’s son-in-law Bodie Hodge, onto it. It’s an exceedingly long “rebuttal” of the points that Professor Braterman makes. It’s difficult to make it through the response but Hodge’s main weapon of attack is to point out logical fallacies, himself committing the fallacy fallacy. It just goes to show that there’s a lot more to skepticism than being able to reel off a list of fallacies that you think somebody is committing.

<!–


–>


Newsletter Feedback

One of the joys or risks (depending on your perspective) of writing these newsletters is that we sometimes receive negative feedback. A few weeks ago I wrote about QAnon and the realisations that believers were having that the predictions of Q hadn’t panned out. From this I received the following feedback. My comments in [red].

“If these are your viewpoints, then I wonder if you consider information available from sources other than mainstream media, which you clearly echo in your “newsletter”  (I say “yours” for a reason). [While it’s good to consider other sources, at least the mainstream media is written by professional journalists, who, while not perfect and have biases, at least are trained. What other sources would you suggest that are accessible from here in NZ?]

 I am an American, but in NZ for 45 years. Herewith, my responses to TWO examples from your diatribe:

 I can vouch for the existence of high-level pedophile rings and their protection under certain domains [Then I really hope you’ve done something about this, such as reporting to relevant authorities!]. This reality is tossed as nonsense and minimised by your mockingbird article about “Q beliefs” and what not.

 This is the very reason why this horrible crime continues unabated (100,000 missing children in USA – never recovered [Not sure of the source of your 100,000 number (and over what period of time?), but this article provides some interesting background, showing that the number of children missing and never seen again is quite small.]) and this certainly does occur through these rings here in [Location supplied] (I’m an ex-secondary teacher).  All protected.

 Aren’t you skeptical? [Yes, that’s my role]

 Was there election fraud? Is Biden for real the most popular President “eva”? [I believe that this is a reasonable conclusion given the polarisation of the electorate. Many people were highly motivated on both sides meaning a high turnout.]

I saw the votes being changed onscreen during the election night (did you?) [I saw reports of videos but I think there are more prosaic explanations, such as errors being corrected, than election fraud.]

I have seen CCTV of ballots dragged out and counted (multiple times) after everyone ordered home (have you?). [No, I’ve not seen evidence that votes were counted and added to a total multiple times. How credible is your evidence, and would this account for enough error to sway the result?]

I have seen videos of dumped ballots – for President Trump, of course (have you?) [No, and again, how significant would this be even if this was the case?]

How many dead people? And after you die, you re-register as a Democrat?  Thousands, wtf? [Evidence? While there may be isolated cases of this happening, is it widespread enough to affect the outcome?]

I have watched the testimony of many and seen their affidavits under penalty of perjury (>20,000 recorded) from nearly every one of about 5,000 reporting counties in the USA (have you?) [If there was credible evidence of fraud, why wasn’t it presented in the numerous court cases brought?]

 Aren’t you skeptical? [Yes, but not credulous]

 I could go on, but I’m afraid you are not as skeptical as I. Good luck in your quest to find real answers.”

 

To me this illustrates the difference between skepticism and unbridled gullibility in buying into conspiracy theories. To me skepticism must be exercised with caution. With specific regard to the US election, if there was clear evidence of large scale fraud it would have been produced in the numerous court cases that the Trump team lost. For the fraud to rise to a level that could determine the outcome would require a vast conspiracy which would likely be exposed very quickly.

We should listen to actual experts, who have commented that the recent US election was the most secure ever.

<!–


–>

STOP PRESS – COVID Community Transmission

As no doubt everyone will be aware by now, there’s been community transmission of COVID-19 in Auckland. Back to Level 3 for Auckland, and Level 2 for the rest of the country. Let’s hope this is over with quickly, and doesn’t get out of hand. Best wishes to everyone involved, and keep scanning and checking in!
 

<!–


–>


Membership of NZ Skeptics

NZ Skeptics membership runs on a calendar year basis and we’re about to switch to a new system for collecting subs. If you’re enjoying these newsletters and you’re not a member, we encourage you to join us – it’s a very reasonable $40/year for individuals and only $20/year if you’re unwaged.

We are using a new system called Memberful to manage memberships. Memberful offers a number of advantages:

  • Members can opt to save their credit card details, so that annual subs are paid automatically each year.
  • The credit card payment interface is simpler than the PayPal one.
  • For those who do not wish to have subs paid automatically, reminder emails will be sent a few days before membership expires
  • Members can update their own personal information
  • In the future we might decide to offer member-only content on skeptics.nz, accessed using Memberful login details.

Details of all current members (those whose most recent subscription year was 2020 or later) have been loaded into Memberful. If you’re a member of NZ Skeptics, in the next day or two you should receive an email that contains a link to reset your Memberful password, sent to the email address we have recorded for you. When you get that email:

  1. Click the reset password link and give yourself a password. That will log you in.
  2. Once logged in, click subscriptions to view your subscriptions.
  3. Your current subscription type should reflect the most recent sub payment made. If you need to change to a different plan, click the Change button.
  4. If your subscription is expired, click Renew and enter credit card details.
  5. If you need to change your email address, name or postal address, that can be done in the Profile page.

Credit card payment processing is done by Stripe, a very large payment processing company that has been used for payments for Skeptics conference for the last few years. Credit card details are handled entirely by Stripe, and cannot be accessed by NZ Skeptics or Memberful. If you choose to save your card details to enable automatic renewals then those saved details are held by Stripe.

If you do not want to login to Memberful to renew your membership then contact the treasurer (Paul Ashton) at [email protected] for details of other payment options (such as payment via internet banking).

Also contact the treasurer if there are any questions or issues about renewing subscriptions via Memberful.


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2021 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

Skeptic News: An Atheist in Iran


96

Skeptic News: An Atheist in Iran

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

An Atheist in Iran


I like to sum up my style as a combination of brevity and rambling. This time the newsletter will be of the former persuasion.

Jess Macfarlane

<!–


–>


Article of atheism

Late last year we were contacted by Sina Nasiri, who had written a heart-felt article about his journey to atheism while growing up in Iran. His article explored the risky business of finding people to trust and confide in, in a society where being an atheist is no trivial thing – where apostacy from Islam is punishable by death.

While the atheist and skeptic communities overlap in New Zealand, and many in the society appreciated and were moved by the article, it was the feeling of the NZ Skeptics Society that our focus should remain on promoting critical thinking and calling out the harms of pseudoscience.

We felt the society also did not have the connections and experience to support people who might connect with Sina’s story and reach out to us for help. So, with permission we have forwarded Sina’s article to the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, and would recommend anyone interested in this subject check out their website.

If you are interested in reading some of Sina’s previous articles, you can find out more at Atheist Refugee Relief.


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2021 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

Skeptic News: Goodbye Ngaire McCarthy


96

Skeptic News: Goodbye Ngaire McCarthy

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Goodbye Ngaire McCarthy


Last week I attended, online, the funeral of Ngaire McCarthy, who died just over a week ago from cancer. Ngaire was an outspoken Māori atheist, humanist and rationalist who spoke to the NZ Skeptics at our 2014 conference in Auckland. She told us about how the census shows comparable rates of dis-belief amongst Māori and Pākehā in New Zealand, and how Christianity had imposed itself on Māori culture, merging in a way that makes it hard to pick them apart today.

Ngaire was, for a few years, the President of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, and later became the organisation’s librarian, where she diligently catalogued the NZARH’s large collection of books on religion, atheism, humanism, free thought and skepticism. The library includes a collection of books once owned by the NZ Skeptics, which were donated to the NZARH for safekeeping many years ago.

Ngaire pushed for secularism in New Zealand, arguing for Religious Instruction and other faith-based observances to be removed from primary schools. She believed that religion in schools is detrimental to children, often causing long term damage to class cohesion and scientific literacy.

For all of you who met and spent any time with Ngaire, I’m sure you’ll remember her sharp wit, infectious laugh and most of all her warmth. She was one of those people who could make you feel like an old friend the first time you met them.

Ngaire’s sister Hema, who is the current President of the NZARH, officiated at the funeral. Several of Ngaire’s children and wider family members spoke of her love for science and rationalism, and how she used to tell them as kids that they were made of stardust, and that answers were to be found in science, not religion. It was sad to be saying goodbye to her, but heartwarming to hear the effect she’d had on those around her, and the respect she’d earned from her peers for her tireless efforts to combat religious privilege in New Zealand.

Mark Honeychurch

If you want to know more about Ngaire’s life and her beliefs, the articles and videos below are a good place to start:

https://www.canadianatheist.com/2019/04/mccarthy-jacobsen/
https://religiouseducation.co.nz/whats-the-problem-with-karakia/

 

 
 



<!–


–>

Jewish space laser

I wish I was making this news story up – partially because it’s getting a little bit tiresome writing about US politics. However, the recently elected Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who likes to ride on the QAnon conspiracy carriage of the Trump Train, has been put through the wringer in the last week. Journalists have been poring over her social media history and documenting her words, shares and likes – some of which are so weird and wonderful it doesn’t take much to debunk them.

There’s a lot to unpack in what Marjorie has said in recent years, including that 9/11 was a hoax, Obama is a Muslim, the Clintons killed JFK Jr, and recent school shootings in the US were “false flag” operations. However, the most out there of them all has to be the idea that has made headlines around the world – that the 2018 California wildfires were caused by a satellite mounted laser which is controlled by the Rothschild family. This has now been dubbed the Jewish Space Laser.

Thankfully many in the Jewish community in the US have given this outlandish, evidence-free, racist idea the level of response I believe it deserves – ridicule. Twitter has many funny comments and images, making light of the idea and turning it into something very kitsch. However, I think that the conspiratorial undertones of making Jewish people out to be an evil conniving race cannot be ignored, and I hope that the House of Representatives, and the Republican Party in particular, are able to do something to tackle those within their ranks – not just Greene – who harbour these kinds of dangerously wrong-headed ideas.

This whole incident reminds me that we had a very similar thing happen here in NZ last year, but at a much smaller scale. Advance NZ’s Wairarapa candidate, Nigel Anthony Gray (a Scientologist), claimed that a Directed Energy Weapon was used to start the Lake Ohau fire. Thankfully the media pounced on the claim pretty quickly, and Jamie Lee Ross was just as quick to distance himself from Gray’s theory – while still being happy to keep him on as a candidate.

<!–


–>


Reiki is here to save us all

Or at least that’s what NewsHub would have us believe, with an article published on Tuesday about the benefits of Reiki, an energy healing technique that involves the practitioner manipulating your “energy field” by waving their hands around your body.

Of course there’s no evidence that this energy field exists, or that manipulating it has therapeutic benefits. What little scientific literature is out there is a bit of a mess, and there appears to be an issue with the quality of the studies that do exist – an issue that exists for many alternative therapies. Most people who have the time and money to test these therapies are practitioners, and obviously they have a vested interest in proving the efficacy of their chosen therapy.

My opinion is that a Bayesian analysis would show that any positive results from studies would not be enough to overcome the sheer implausibility of what is being posited. The idea that physicists somehow have whole chunks missing from their understanding of the nature of reality, while a handful of plucky young spiritual folk have not only made groundbreaking discoveries about new energy fields, but have also learned how to manipulate them with their hands, needles, diluted poisons and simple electronic devices with flashing lights, seems laughable. It’s much more congruent that these people are a mixture of con-artists and the conned, people who don’t know how hard it is to take a glimpse at the true nature of the world we live in, how many hours the best minds in the world spend trying to peel back the curtain of reality. So, in their ignorance (and arrogance), they come to believe that they know better than the combined effort of thousands of scientists.

If you’re interested in learning more about this idea of using Bayesian analysis in medicine, there’s a good summary here of a couple of posts on the Science Based Medicine blog about the difference between Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) and Science Based Medicine (SBM). Click through to the original SBM articles to read more. Suffice it to say that SBM has more going for it, but unfortunately EBM is far too popular in modern medical science, leading to the legitimising, and even funding, of many therapies that we skeptics are pretty sure are meritless.

One common thing you’ll hear from alternative medicine practitioners is that you can’t knock something until you’ve tried it. Now obviously this is silly – as skeptics we know that personal experience isn’t to be trusted. That our personal anecdotes are okay if they’re all we’ve got, but that they should always take a back seat to proper scientific testing if it’s available.

However, it’ll come as no surprise to some of you that I’ve had Reiki treatment in the past. This happened at a Spiritual and Psychic fair in Upper Hutt, where around ten of us skeptics turned up to sample the therapies on offer, and then make complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about unsubstantiated claims the companies offering these therapies were making in their posters and pamphlets.

Me at the Upper Hutt Cosmopolitan Club in 2016, trying out Reiki


Anyway, the Reiki did nothing positive for me, beyond being nice and relaxing. Obviously this anecdote is neither here nor there – my personal experience of Reiki has no bearing on whether it actually works or not. But sometimes I do find it useful to have tried a therapy – so that I can make points when arguing with practitioners both that personal anecdote is no way to test if a therapy works, and that even if it was a good way to test a therapy, I’ve tried it and it did nothing for me.

Back to the article – sadly it reads a lot like a paid advertisement for Olivia Scott’s Reiki practice in Auckland. Many claims are made, about Reiki’s efficacy and mechanism of action, as well as about its increase in popularity, but absolutely no evidence is given for any of this, and no time is given to the opposing, prevailing view of science that Reiki is bunkum. The article even finishes with a cringeworthy push for people to give up their hard-earned cash and try this ludicrous treatment:

“Whether you’re looking for healing, more energy or just a sublime cozy nap – maybe skip the next F45 session and head to Scott’s clinic for a session instead. Your cortisol levels will thank you.“


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2021 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

Skeptic News: Realisations


96

Skeptic News: Realisations

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Realisations


 

Hi there

This week has been pretty interesting in the arena of skepticism. As you’ll no doubt be aware, this week saw the inauguration of Joe Biden as president of the US and the beginning of his administration. We’ve seen various pro-science, evidence-based actions taken in just the first couple of days – for example, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, rejoining the World Health Organisation, and halting the Keystone XL pipeline, which I personally celebrate.

This week is also a week of realisation for many, with QAnon predictions failing to come to pass. More details on that below.

Hope you have a great week…

Craig Shearer

<!–


–>

The events of January 6th with the storming of the Capitol in Washington DC were pretty shocking. However, believers in QAnon conspiracy theories were holding out for January 20th – the day of inauguration of the new president. Expectation was that all was going to be revealed – and that Joe Biden wouldn’t, in fact, become president (but, in fact, be arrested). This was the day of “the storm” when president Trump would bring down the “deep state” and expose an extensive pedophilia ring among Democrats.

Of course, this didn’t happen. Refreshingly there have been reports that the QAnon believers are now coming to the realisation that their beliefs weren’t anchored to reality. “We all got played” was a common theme.

I listened to a really fascinating interview on the Oh No Ross and Carrie podcast this week. The interview was with Joe Ondrak who is a researcher at a company called Logically. Logically is a company set up to combat fake news. The interview covers a lot of detail about QAnon and who the believers are, and what we should do about them. I highly recommend listening to this episode.

The interview led me to reflect on the consequences of conspiracy theories. It’s easy to poke fun at believers in outlandish ideas, but I think we also need to have some sympathy. They indeed did “get played” and were, to some extent, used as pawns by those who would exploit these beliefs for their own political purposes.

The bottom line for me is that part of being an adult is being responsible for the consequences of your actions. We can’t absolve poor actions because some people went “down the rabbit hole”. Beliefs have consequences – and as adults we’re much better off if we can ensure that our beliefs are anchored to reality.

<!–


–>

In another example of “realisations” we have the uplifting story of a person who was in the anti-vax camp who has since realised the problems with her views and has now become pro-vaccination. It’s fascinating to read her story and how the change came about. It’s all the more important because her original story went “viral” and received wide attention in the media. You can read her story on her Facebook post. Oh, and you don’t have to be a Facebook member to read the post.

<!–


–>


Plan-B dishonesty

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage with close to 100 million cases over 2 million deaths worldwide. As I’ve said before we can be thankful that we pursued an elimination strategy here in New Zealand. Still, we can’t afford to become complacent, particularly with the emergence of more virulent strains of the virus. (Keep using the COVID app and scanning in!)

Of course there have been groups that have criticised our response – we’ve mentioned the Billy Te Kahika crowd many times, but also the Plan B group of academics. Shockingly for a group of academics, it was revealed that they’ve simply deleted an embarrassing post off their website that claimed that elimination must be ended. The original post is available on the wayback machine but the page on their site now simply returns a 404.

I think it’s pretty shameful that a group of scientists would delete “data” that is now inconvenient to their message!

<!–


–>

Speaking of Billy Te Kahika, one of our skeptical operatives had an interaction with him this past week at Wellington Airport. Here’s his amusing story containing 3 dilemmas:

I arrived late at the airport, thanks to mis-judging Wellington traffic, at 17:35 for a 18:00 take off with a cabin bag full of survey equipment which sometimes attracts extra attention in security.

Heading into the pre-security screening zigzag line and immediately in front of me is Billy Te Kahika. He’s walking very slowly, fumbling with his phone, as he is just finishing a live stream about the day’s protest outside Parliament. 

Dilemma 1 – Should I subdue the urge to shout “He’s talking bullshit” as I really need to get through security without a fuss?   I pass him and carry on around the bend in the line but, as I walk back towards him, notice a $50 note fall from his pocket.

Dilemma 2 –  he’s a conman, should I tell him about his loss?   I do tell him he dropped something and, as he turns to look, the man behind him scoops it up and hands it to him. He looks genuinely grateful and says ‘Thanks, you’re both gentlemen’.

Dilemma 3 – Briefly consider, but resist the urge, of replying ‘thanks, but I think you’re a morally bankrupt dangerous influencer’

The survey gear did trigger a second bag scan but was OK after that. I just made the flight annoyed that I didn’t confront him but with the certain knowledge it would have been futile.


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2021 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

Skeptic News: Piña coladas and Protests


96

Skeptic News: Piña coladas and Protests

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Piña coladas and Protests


In a world where for some 2021 is already giving 2020 a run for its money, I’m trying to appreciate my freedoms. That includes the freedom to relax, drink cocktails and enjoy the balmy weather, and not get stressed out about about where to put cocktail flavoured suppositories to solve make-believe problems invented by the wellness industry.

Jess Macfarlane 

<!–


–>


Lockdown Protests at the Beehive

There were many false claims made on 14th January, by Billy Te Kahika and his supporters outside the Beehive in Wellington. The most dangerous claim was that Covid-19 is no more deadly than the flu (2 million people have died worldwide at the time of writing). Among other strange things, they claimed that Jacinda Ardern is a communist who wants to keep putting New Zealand into lockdown, including organising one again on 15th January, the day after the protest.

The problem with making false claims about a deadly pandemic is, people who underestimate the danger will not only risk catching Covid-19 themselves but will wantonly take risks that impact the health of others around them.

The trouble with making predictions about specific things happening on specific days, is what to do if your prediction doesn’t come true.

We found our answer on January 15 when @nealejones shared on Twitter a screen capture of Billy Te Kahika saying “Urgent Live!! Lockdown called off because of us?”.

If that’s not a textbook example of confirmation bias, (and delusions of grandeur) I don’t know what is.

In response to the protest, Newshub writes that Dr Anna Brooks, an immunologist at the University of Auckland’s Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery spoke to Magic Talk, saying it was “somewhat frustrating” to see people who have done their own “research” online spread misinformation about Covid-19. Dr Brooks said it was “offensive” for people to say “I’ve done my research” when actual experts have had to spend years and a great deal of money to understand what research means and how to perform it objectively.

U.K. Society of Homeopaths have Accreditation Suspended

In a win for skeptics everywhere, On 11 January 2021, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) in the U.K.  moved to suspend accreditation of the Society of Homeopaths (SoH), because they found that the SoH “did not appear to have prioritised public protection over professional interests in its handling of complaints or governance processes, which undermined confidence in its ability to ensure its registrants were compliant with its own Code of Ethics and position statements.”

Read here to find out about the multiple legal challenges the Good Thinking Society have brought over the years, including one relating to the morally bankrupt CEASE therapy, intended to ‘cure’ autism.

In New Zealand, after a tip from NZ Skeptics, reporter Farah Hancock wrote back in August 2019 about CEASE therapy in Christchurch, and how diluted vaccines were being sold as homeopathic cures for autism right here in New Zealand. Vaccines do not cause autism, but it is this false belief that led homeopaths to think they could cure it by coming up with a homeopathic remedy made from diluted vaccines.

It seems that so far, no-one in the SoH has offered their resignation, despite the significant blow to the organisation in losing accreditation. You would think they might want to clean house to get back on the good side of the PSA. We will see what happens. A hearty congratulations to all those at the Good Thinking Society and those that helped to make this happen.

Fruity Vagina Melts go viral on TikTok

The author of my Bible – The Vagina Bible, Gynaecologist, columnist and author Dr. Jen Gunter was on Twitter recently, again, to educate people about how a vagina is able to self-clean, without any help from the wellness industry which is doing its best to make money out of people by shaming them into thinking they have to fix a problem that isn’t there.

Dr. Gunter explained that any products designed to clean vaginas or mask their natural odors can cause harm by disrupting the body’s own natural effective cleansing process. The tweet came in response to vagina cleansing melts that were becoming a thing on TikTok. Femallay, the company selling the fruity flavoured vaginal moisturising suppository melts say they “offer a fun and healthy way to feel confident, smell lovely, and be your best you! “.

On her first ever TikTok, Dr. Gunter assured us that vaginas don’t need any assistance from fruity flavoured and fragranced melts, are evolved to clean themselves, and should not “smell like a piña colada”.

This product had apparently been in the news for a while as I found an article about them from back in October 2020 when Christchurch gynaecologist Olivia Smart was interviewed by Stuff.

Dr. Smart suggested that in a physically and emotionally healthy relationship the melts were unnecessary but could be fun. However, she worried that people might turn to them instead of seeking medical advice for issues such as “pain, discharge, odor or dryness”. Again, delaying effective treatment may cause real harm.

I’m saving the fruity flavours for the cocktails. Stay skeptical!


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2021 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

Skeptic News: Protesting for Dummies


96

Skeptic News: Protesting for Dummies

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Protesting for Dummies


 

Happy New Year!

I can’t help but wonder what 2021 is going to bring us, given that we’ve already started the year with the US Capitol being invaded by right wing extremists and QAnon conspiracy theorists. Closer to home, Billy TK’s Public Party appears to be coming apart at the seams, with staff members taking over the party’s website to detail Billy’s financial mis-management.

The new COVID strains – both the UK and South African variants – are looming large around the world, and we can only hope that we are able to keep ourselves protected against them here in NZ. Thankfully we have trusted science advisers to help protect us, rather than homeopathy, prayers and wishful thinking.

Mark Honeychurch

<!–


–>


Auckland Lockdown Protest

Billy TK held an anti-lockdown rally in Auckland on Saturday. The rally was accompanied by a variety of interesting flags, signs and chants:

The flags were a mix of Trump 2020, the United Tribes of New Zealand and one picture of an assault rifle with the words “come and take it” underneath.

The signs covered a wide range of conspiracy and pseudoscientific beliefs – here’s just a sample of what was on view (complete with spelling mistakes):

 

“Take your mask off your eye’s”

“No mandatory vaccines”

“No more Lies. No more lockdowns”

“Certificate Of Vaccine ID”

“Do your own research”

“Noah was a conspiracy theorist, then it started to rain”

“Wake up New Zealand”

Agenda 21 = Slavery”

“Sick of cover ups, sick of lies. Ban 1080”

“Masks kill lives”

“Socialism distancing”

“Rise up NZ”

“Sunshine save lives”

“We do not consent to scumbbaggery”

“Blood & organ harvesting, modern day slavery”

“MSM-FB and this Muppet Show government are hiding the truth”

“No No No. Lockdown. Forced Vax. 5G

“We are sovereign

“Stop stealing our freedom, Comrade Jacinda”

“NZ has been subjected to socialist brainwashing”

“Children are being tortured, Pizzagate should be investigated not ignored”

“Close the media for 30 days and watch 80% of World Problems go away”

“I will not be muzzled, tested, tracked, chipped or vaccinated to support this orchestrated lie”

and my favourite:

“COVID-19 is a manipulated UN/World/Media Instalment of a ‘Global Reset’ for Socialist/Communist Totalitarian Control By the 1% Elite. We Do Not Consent“

Billy and a couple of other local crackpots spoke for a while, and then Billy’s phone was held to the microphone while cranks from around the world (including “Dr” Rashid Buttar) phoned in to talk to the crowd. One of the warnings given was that Billy has been told, via “military insiders”, that another lockdown is coming on January 15th.

Vinny Eastwood led the chanting during a march held after the rally, which consisted of pretty much what I’d expect from him – an onslaught of weirdness and conspiracy nonsense:

“We do not consent”

“No forced vaccines”

“No 1080, no fluoridation, no chemtrails, no Agenda 21”

“No more Labour, no more Greens, they’re corrupt”

“No 1080, no chemtrails, no mass surveillance”

“No more scumbaggery, no more corruption, shove it up your bum”

“No AI, controlling our lives”

“No more COVID, it’s a fricking hoax”

“Disobey the lockdown, January 15”

“No more Jacinda, no more Cindy, ruling our lives”

“You can stick your New World Order up your ass”

“No World Economic Forum, they’re bad and we need to destroy them”

“COVID-19, a hoax can’t you see”

“No radiation, destroying our nation, while people play playstation”

“No more Jacinda, she’s just a sinner, no more Jacinda, she just wants to skin ya”

“No more Jizzy, Jizzy in your face”

I feel sorry for those who were on Queen Street at the time and had to listen to this drivel.

Maybe we should be thankful that our parliament is in Wellington, and that the Auckland march after the speeches wasn’t able to storm the Beehive – instead just meandering down Queen Street and back again. Having said that, there was an announcement at the end of the march that the next Public Party event will be on the 6th of February (Waitangi Day) in Wellington. I’ll be there, and will report back on how things go.


For those of you with enough intestinal fortitude that you can digest conspiracy nonsense without feeling sick, you can watch the entire 2 hours of nonsense on YouTube courtesy of Vinny Eastwood.

<!–


–>


Beware of JP Sears

I’m sure many skeptics have enjoyed JP Sears’ parody videos of the wellness industry, such as How to Become Gluten Intolerant and How to be Ultra Spiritual. It was a surprise to me, just before Christmas, to read that despite poking fun, JP Sears has for a long time been a seller of nonsense. An article from the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Canada details JP Sears’ history of selling unregulated therapy sessions and useless supplements, and sadly also his recent descent into COVID-19 science denial.

The article talks about “conspirituality” – a mixture of conspiracy and spirituality. We’ve seen this recently in NZ, with some of the weirder summer festivals embracing conspiracy thinking, hosting conspiracy lectures and workshops, etc. At least it’s been good to see that some in the local spiritual community are concerned enough about this shift that they’re actively trying to combat it, both in the media and at the festival events.

<!–


–>

Musical Vaccine

An image that has been making its way round the internet recently purports to be a circuit diagram for a 5G chip which is inside COVID vaccines. However, those who are technically musical minded have pointed out that the image is actually that of a guitar effects pedal called Metal Zone from company Boss.

This slip up reminds me of the time Uncensored (a conspiracy magazine in NZ) purchased the rights to a short video of an alien autopsy, blissfully unaware that the footage had been lifted from an Ant and Dec movie literally called “Alien Autopsy”. Jonathan Eisen, editor of the magazine, said at the time:

“The magazine’s technical people did a frame by frame analysis prior going to press with it and determined that it was legitimate in every respect.”

Back in 2015 it took me a couple of hours to source a copy of the movie, a few minutes to confirm that the footage Uncensored bought was just a copy of part of the movie, and another hour or so to learn how to use a video editing suite and line the two videos up to show they were identical. I’m not sure what these “technical people” did, but they certainly didn’t certify the legitimacy of the video they were buying!

The video that Uncensored bought can still be found on their website, under the headline “Roswell Original Footage of Dead Alien Discovered by Uncensored Editor”, without any kind of retraction or footnote to let people know that the footage is fake.

<!–


–>


A Faraday Cage to protect you from WiFi

On the popular tech news YouTube channel Linus Tech Tips, Linus has evaluated a couple of small faraday cages that are sold in the US as a way to protect home users from the harmful radiation coming from their WiFi base stations. At around NZ$120 a piece I’m not sure which of the findings I think is the funnier – that they do a really bad job of blocking WiFi, or that they turn out to just be repurposed wire paper trays with a couple of modifications to allow wires to be inserted, and that they cost less than NZ$10 each to buy from China.



Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2021 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

Skeptic News: New year, skeptical you?


96

Skeptic News: New year, skeptical you?

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Happy New Year from NZ Skeptics


 

Welcome to the first newsletter of the new year. I think we can all agree that 2020 was a fairly exceptional year, and not in a good way. 2021 has rolled around, and the common expectation is that it’s going to be much better than 2020! I feel we’re falling for some cognitive effect that rolling over the calendar provides us – and that maybe it’s not going to turn out that way.

Let’s see what happens…
Craig Shearer
 

<!–


–>

Image from Scott Rodgerson/Unsplash


 

Psychic predictions for 2020

At the start of each year, it’s common for psychics and mediums to put out a bunch of predictions for the coming year. These predictions generally fall flat, although a common strategy for some psychics is to put out so many, often vaguely worded, so that there’s a chance that some of them will actually come true, at which point they capitalise on this, claiming to be the World’s Most Accurate Psychic™! 

An obvious point about the 2020 year is the huge number of astounding events that have occurred, none of which were predicted by psychics! For a humorous look at this, see Rebecca Watson’s YouTube video. Rebecca points out that
 

“Psychics are frauds that lie to people for money, though many people who think they’re psychic are just lying to themselves (and others).”

– that’s certainly putting it bluntly and accurately.


The Real News?

We’re written about the Advance NZ political party in the past, and about their conspiracy-theory-driven policies and public statements. 

It’s come to NZ Skeptics attention that they’re now promoting a new magazine to be distributed early this year. There’s a new website set up to promote this, run by a company called The Full Court Press. The director of that company, from the NZ Companies Register, is Katherine Smith, who’s also the publisher of the awful New Zealand Journal of Natural Medicine. That magazine has been popping up in mainstream magazine outlets and supermarkets for some time (and also available as a gift option on iSubscribe – hopefully that didn’t get given as a Christmas gift!), but it appears that the new venture is going for a more viral distribution model.

If you’d like to read the first issue of the magazine, it’s available for free here (if you can stomach it!). 

Their distribution model is to get people to buy the magazine in bulk (minimum order of 100 copies at $1 each) then sell them at a profit to friends, family, and neighbours. 

The first issue is packed full of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and dangerous misinformation, and as expected, advertises various likely-bogus “natural” medicines.

 

COVID-19 Vaccines

As you’ll no doubt know, 2020 ended seeing the successful and record-setting development of a range of vaccines for COVID-19 from various companies. 

New Zealand is in the privileged position of having zero cases of COVID in the community. We can afford to take our time with the vaccine, which must go through local approval processes (Medsafe), unlike other countries where the transmission is rampant, and vaccines have been authorised for emergency use. 

The current predictions are that vaccines will be available in New Zealand sometime this year.  We’re also doing the right thing by our Pacific neighbours and helping them out. More information can be found on the NZ COVID-19 website.

Unfortunately, it seems that many people in the US are falling prey to vaccine hesitancy

This is unfortunate, though perhaps predictable. I believe that it’s not unreasonable for people to have concerns about the vaccines, particularly with the speed at which they’ve been developed. But, as always, the key to alleviating concerns is a deeper understanding of the science behind their development. The key takeaway is that the speed of development is mainly down to bureaucratic hurdles being removed, modern technology, and the moon-shot-like efforts that scientists put in.

Image from Tim Mossholder/Unsplash


New Year’s Resolutions

Around this time of the year it’s common to be spending time with extended family and friends. 

As we’ve seen over the last few years with the rise of social media, it’s easy for unsuspecting people to fall down the rabbit holes of conspiracy theories. 

Equally, this is the time of year that people make new year’s resolutions, often around the themes of improved health or weight loss or better eating. There are many businesses that thrive on and exploit these tendencies. I’ve seen various fad diets and detox programmes popping up on my social media feeds.

If you’re searching for your own new year’s resolution, I challenge you to become a skeptical ambassador and encourage critical thinking and spread the skeptical viewpoint among friends and family. And this year, it’s particularly important to help people establish an accurate science-based view of the COVID pandemic and the vaccines.

What can you do to promote critical thinking?


NZ Skeptics Membership

NZ Skeptics is a registered charity. If you’re already a member now’s the time to pay your subs. If you’re not a member, please consider joining us to support the work we do. Membership is only $40/year for waged/salaried people, and $20/year for unwaged people. You can sign up on our website.


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2021 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

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.

<!–


–>


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!
 


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2020 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

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

<!–


–>


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.

<!–


–>


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.

<!–


–>


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.

<!–


–>


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!
 



Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2020 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

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

<!–


–>

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!


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

<!–


–>


Copyright © 2020 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

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!

Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

Copyright © 2020 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading