Skeptic News: 9/11, Billy TK sermons, Despicable Sue Grey and more


96

Skeptic News: 9/11, Billy TK sermons, Despicable Sue Grey and more

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

This week continues the level 4 lockdown in Auckland where I live. It’s been interesting to watch the numbers and we should be encouraged by the shape of the curve. But still, there are those niggling cases popping up. It does seem unlikely that we’ll be out of lockdown anytime soon.

I’m off for my second jab late this week, so will no doubt be looking forward to a couple of days having a sore arm. Still, it’s a small price to pay for the reassurance that if or when I encounter COVID I’ll be protected as much as is currently possible.

In the last newsletter I wrote you might remember I wrote about a complaint from Evorich. You’ll no doubt be surprised to learn that we’ve not heard anything further from them. Their 5 days deadline lapsed without further communication. Watch this space, I guess! 

Craig Shearer

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9/11 20 year anniversary

 

 

Saturday this weekend marked the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 in the US. Of course, because of time zones it was Wednesday 12th September here in New Zealand when it happened, just after midnight. 

Memories are interesting things. I can call the exact place I was when I heard the news – driving to work just after 7am in Auckland. (I can also recall the exact place I was when I heard the news about the death of Princess Diana.)

9/11 conspiracy theories have abounded and were primarily promoted by the alt-right, many centered around how the buildings could not possibly have collapsed as they did without a controlled demolition, or explosives. Conspiracy theorists confidently displayed the Dunning/Kruger effect in their pronouncements on the topic.

It’s always been a good topic for skeptics to examine, and it certainly sheds light on how people think about such extremely out of the ordinary events. 

For an actual explanation on how the buildings collapsed, The Conversation did a good explainer.

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The news we share

As I’ve written in the past, NZ Skeptics often receive comments in our inbox and people often criticise us for parroting the mainstream media (usually abbreviated to MSM). Recent commenters have criticised us for sharing articles from the BBC, amongst others.

Is this fair criticism? I think not. All sources of information (including NZ Skeptics) have their biases and political leanings, so are never free from error or presenting information in a purely objective fashion.

However, we do try to present credible sources only. 

There’s an interesting website, with an accompanying chart, that shows the major media outlets and how politically skewed they are, and the reliability of their content. It’s a fascinating snapshot of the state of the industry. You can take a look at the chart here.

In our defence, the outlets we typically share are on the more reliable end of the spectrum, and mostly in the centre of the spectrum on the political bias axis. 

Speaking of political bias, there’s a perception out there that academia is full of left-wing liberal voices, and conservative voices are being “suppressed”. I came across a good video recently which nicely demolishes this argument.

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Billy TK is a religious minister!

Billy Te Hakiha is in the news again. You’ll recall that he was recently arrested, with his “partner in crime” Vinny Eastwood, for violating the lockdown, and holding a protest. Billy and Vinny spent some time in jail, but are now out on bail awaiting trial. 

The bail conditions prevented them from communicating with each other, and prevented access to the internet. 

This past week, they appeared in court (virtually) and BIlly now has limited access to the internet again – because he’s a religious minister, and has now been allowed to resume his online “religious sermons”.

I took a quick look at his “sermon” he gave on Friday afternoon as a Facebook Live event (I guess sermons aren’t just restricted to Sunday church services anymore!). While referencing the bible, the parts I heard quickly pivoted to “freedoms”. 

“And what we’re having today in this new type of government system, we have an Egyptian type system… This new Egyptian system, the same system that’s  in the Bible here, that we’re talking about is that’s wanting to kill people, restrain them, take away their rights and freedoms is the same type that we have today imposing tyranny on us.”

I think maybe the judge was a little naïve to think that Billy wouldn’t use his sermons to just push his conspiracy theories. I wonder whether he’ll be monitored as to how he’s using these opportunities.

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The despicable Sue Grey 

I’ve written in the past about Sue Grey, the lawyer and past candidate for The Outdoors Party. She’s an out and out conspiracy theorist and her Facebook page is a magnet for the most rabid anti-vaxxers.

Yesterday she posted about the tragic death of a young woman at an Auckland secondary school, claiming (without evidence) that the death was a result of the COVID vaccination.

The post has since been taken down after it was inundated with comments critical of Grey, but it’s been reported that the parents are extremely distressed by the posting, and have noted that their daughter’s death was not connected with vaccination. 

The contents of the post have been echoed around the world on various dodgy websites, and will likely continue to exist there.

Grey’s position on COVID is that the vaccination isn’t safe or effective, and that the government should just be promoting healthy lifestyles and vitamins. This is a pretty privileged position to be able to take from a country that hasn’t been ravaged by the virus. 

It astounds me that her Facebook account is still intact, and that she’s still able to practise as a lawyer. From what I can see, this incident has raised her public profile (not in a good way) and there are plenty of people now complaining to the law society. The society doesn’t exactly make it easy to raise a complaint though – this page allows you to do so, but you need to fill out a PDF then email that back to them. I suspect that that will be enough of a hurdle so that most people don’t bother.

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Bye Peter

In the good news department this week, it was announced that there’s been a shakeup at the Magic Talk network – a radio station that specialised in talkback. 

Peter Williams announced that he was retiring – on very short notice, and as of this week he’s no longer on the air. Whether he freely decided to retire  or not – who knows. But he was a darling of the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers (including the above mentioned Sue Grey), which was sad to see. Williams had a reasonable degree of respect from Kiwis after decades reading the news on TV. 

Peter’s been replaced by Leah Panapa, who is likely to be a much more moderate voice. And Graeme Hill is returning to nights, which is good news. Graeme is a friend of the skeptic community, previously hosting regular slots with Siouxsie Wiles and Mark Honeychurch to report on skeptical news.

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Conversion Therapy Submission

This week NZ Skeptics submitted our view on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. This bill proposes prohibiting so-called conversion therapies which aim to change a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression. Curiously, the direction of conversion seems to be exclusively in the direction of becoming “straight” or identifying with and expressing the gender which aligns with the genitals you were born with.  

Our submission makes the point that there’s no evidence to show that conversion therapies actually work, and lots of evidence to show that they do harm. 

“As part of our mission to promote evidence-based policy-making and healthcare, the NZ Skeptics continually seek the advice of experts and findings of contemporary research with which to inform our positions on a variety of topics. The evidence is clear that conversion therapy is worse than ineffective, indeed it appears to be outright dangerous; provision of such therapies should be seen by New Zealanders as akin to fraud.”

If you’d like to read our submission, we have put a copy on our website.

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Awards and Bent Spoon

Our annual conference is coming up in November, on the weekend of the 19th – 21. As we’ve previously publicised, we’re holding it in conjunction with the Australian Skeptics. COVID willing, we’ll be having an in-person conference in Wellington, and they’ll have theirs in Sydney.

But, even if the in-person conferences are not possible, we’re additionally offering online tickets. 

At our conferences we traditionally hand out our bouquets and brickbats, and we’re seeking your input. We hand out our Bent Spoon award, and also Bravo awards for journalists, and a Skeptic of the Year award.

Bent Spoon award

Each year the New Zealand Skeptics announces the Bent Spoon Award for the New Zealand organisation which has shown the most egregious gullibility or lack of critical thinking in public coverage of, or commentary on, a science-related issue.

We can all think of publications which run ridiculous and unbelievable stories as a regular part of their material. These are not Bent Spoon candidates. Instead we look for organisations and media outlets that tend to command credibility in the mind of the public, and who should have an accurate approach to information gathering and distribution. They are the ones who are rapped over the knuckles with the Bent Spoon when their professional standards lapse.

Bravo awards

We are also pleased to recognise excellence where it does occur, with our annual Bravo Awards. Each year the New Zealand Skeptics recognise a number of media professionals and those with a high public profile who have provided food for thought, critical analysis and important information on topics of relevance to our interests.

Skeptic of the year

The Denis Dutton Award for New Zealand Skeptic of the Year is given to the skeptic who has had the most impact within New Zealand skepticism. 

We’re seeking nominations for these awards.  Please get in touch either by emailing the committee, or using our contact page.


Coming soon…

We’re excited to announce the combined NZ and Australian Skeptics Conference/Skepticon. We’re holding this in person (COVID willing!) in Wellington and Sydney simultaneously on the weekend of 19th – 21st November.

There will also be the option to purchase a livestream ticket.

The conference will feature speakers from both sides of the Tasman as well as some exciting international speakers.

We’re seeking registrations of interest so that we can gauge interest.

Please visit the registration of interest page (hosted on the Australian Skeptics site) at the following link:
 

Register interest


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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Skeptic News: COVID update, and more from EvoRich


96

Skeptic News: COVID update, and more from EvoRich

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

This week our COVID lockdown continues, and I’ve some updates on that. And we got an email from EvoRich – details on our response below.

Wishing you a great week surviving lockdown, whether it’s level 4 or 3. Stay safe!

Craig Shearer

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COVID update

The COVID Delta outbreak in Aotearoa New Zealand continues, with Auckland (where I live) and Northland being remaining in level 4 and the rest of the country moving to level 3 from Wednesday 1st September.

With level 4, everybody is meant to be staying in their homes to avoid exposure to others, but, in my observation of things, there are plenty of people out and about “exercising”. Apparently, exercising also extends to sitting down and taking a break, or stopping to talk to others, often maskless. Sigh! As we’re advised, we should all be acting as if we have COVID – only leaving our homes for essential shopping and some exercise.

As I write this today (Sunday), there are 83 new cases in the community. These appear to be a combination of transmission within bubbles – so people who are already identified as cases infecting others within their bubbles – and infection of essential workers at their shared workplaces. While the transmission within bubbles seem unavoidable, the transmission between essential workers is worrying, and likely to prolong the lockdown.
 

John Hart (@farmgeek on Twitter) has been keeping track and graphing the daily numbers. It’s nice to see that we appear to be “flattening the curve” though not as fast as some would have hoped. Though, perhaps the flat part will run for longer than hoped because of ongoing transmissions as mentioned above.

Unfortunately, the situation in Australia is getting worse, with 1,218 cases reported in NSW today. They have reported another 6 people dead, but over 800,000 people received a vaccine dose. Over the ditch they’re aiming for 70% of the adult population being vaccinated then they’ll lift restrictions.

A 70% vaccination rate is still woefully low on a population basis. I hope that we’re aiming higher.

The reality is that with the Delta variant being so infectious, once we open up again it’s likely that everybody will be exposed to it (or yet another variant!) at some point. When this happens it’s going to be painfully clear the difference between those who have been vaccinated, and those who decided to take the risk and remain unvaccinated.

I know I’m generally preaching to the converted, but the  vaccine is safe and effective, with serious side effects being very rare. And the rare side effects and also those of COVID itself, so it’s far less risky to be vaccinated than to take your chances with COVID.

Mask exemptions

The anti-vaxxers and general “freedoms” bunch think they’re being clever. It’s now mandated that you must wear a mask when visiting a supermarket, unless you have an exemption.

Well this week, a woman in her 20s refused to wear one when visiting a supermarket. She produced a mask exemption document, which happened to be forged. The police turned up and arrested her. Charges are being considered under the Crimes Act.

An unfortunate death

You might remember back in May a high-profile BBC presenter – Lisa Shaw – died of a brain haemorrhage caused by a blood clot.

It’s now been investigated by a coroner in the UK and confirmed that Shaw’s death was likely a result of complications from the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine she’d received 3 weeks prior.

This really is a sad case, but will likely be used by anti-vaxxers, as a high profile case, to try to scare others away from taking vaccines. 

Speaking of which…

Endless anti-vax “freedoms” promotion by VfF

As I’ve previously written, I keep an eye on the Voices for Freedom email channel. Over the past week they’ve been running “Freedom TV” everyday, trying to draw in new viewers, and even providing an email “template” with which to invite your unsuspecting friends down the rabbit hole with you.


Westland Mayor

In the past I’ve resisted poking fun (really, I have!) at some prominent individuals who come out with nonsensical, ridiculous pronouncements. But sometimes, it just gets to be too much.

This week, Bruce Smith, the mayor of Westland told us that he was sick of hearing from health experts about COVID -19, and thought business leaders should have more say!

He also has claimed that we should learn to live with COVID, just like our grandparents lived with Polio. 

Luckily, Twitter user Richard Hills did a little research and uncovered the reality of NZ’s past Polio outbreaks…



And, to top it all off, it seems that Bruce denies climate change, claiming that “The climate’s been changing ever since I’ve been a kid”.

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Image: Sketchplanations

The Streisand Effect

Most skeptics will be aware of the Steisand Effect – so called because of the unintended consequence of trying to suppress information – which happened to Barbara Streisand back in 2003 when she tried to suppress pictures of her Malibu mansion. 

You might recall that back in May, Mark Honeychurch wrote about a company called EvoRich, warning about Kiwis being involved in a possibly risky multi-level-marketing (MLM) scheme.

Well yesterday we received a document from EvoRich, from the highly professional email address [email protected]

 


The document, not even from their lawyers, was a Microsoft Word document. Word documents always make interesting reading if you go to the Info tab.


OK, so a couple of Russian names, confirming Mark’s writing about the company originating in Russia. Interestingly they began the document on the day we published the newsletter, but didn’t send it until yesterday. I wonder what triggered that.

Another interesting point – the Company entry “SPecialiST RePack” points to a “cracked” version of Microsoft Word being used to author the document. I’m sure all legit companies use cracked software versions! (Incidentally, it’s best practise not to send original documents out – best to convert them to PDF first.)

They’re not happy with what we wrote though. They claim that they’re not an MLM:
 

We are not MLM, because we have neither registration fee, nor dividends paid from lowers (sic) levels to upper ones.

There are technical definitions of MLMs but it would appear that their members spend a lot of time trying to recruit their friends and associates into the business. This is a classic characteristic of an MLM.

However, should it be that they’re not technically an MLM, so be it.

Mark reminded our readers in the initial newsletter that our Financial Markets Authority (FMA) warned about EvoRich being a potential scam. So, we’re not the only ones to think that.

They also complained that Mark used the wrong email address when trying to notify them about their insecure site.
 

Please be informed that we have 24/7 support desk, which can help you to solve any technical problems, including security. The Ethics Department consider only conflict issues, which violate the Ethics Code.

They complain that:

Please note that the abovementioned publication bears the hallmarks of Defamation, which, under the Delaware Law, is a false statement that does not show and reflect the image of International Marketing Community INC in a favorable light.

The Delaware address is interesting. It would seem that the address is essentially used as a “convenience” address – to give them a presence in the US without actually having to have proper offices. 

They have requested that we substantiate our claims – the main one being that they’re an MLM when they’re not, and that we publish a “contradiction” – presumably a retraction – and delete the original article.

They threaten:
 

In case of failure with the above request, the Company of International Marketing Community INC will apply to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), as well as judicial and other regulatory authorities in order to protect its reputation and name under the Delaware Law.

All very interesting.

Anyway, I decided to go do some digging myself, to check out what Mark had discovered and see what my impressions of the company were.

My first stop was to try to look at their website. The site is in Russian, but Google Translate allows me to see it in English. The site makes a variety of claims, but doesn’t really provide any detail as to how the company works, or how it makes money.

So, next stop was to search for their presentations on YouTube. I found this video which I began watching. The video is introduced by a woman based in South America. But the video then goes continues with a presentation about EvoRich from a person with a Kiwi accent.

The video revealed that the company has a variety of business ventures, including selling financial training, running “Edu Cafe” businesses, and running crypto-currency investment schemes. 

The video later revealed that the presenter with the Kiwi accent was Andrew Hawkes, who is based in Australia, living on the Gold Coast.

Now, the name Andrew Hawkes rang a bell with me. I have a local acquaintance who I’m friends with on Facebook. I’ll call him Greg (not his real name). He seems to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist and anti-vaxxer. I’ve recently responded to some of his posts, trying to set the record straight about COVID and vaccines. One of those posts was pretty long-winded, but one of his friends, Andrew Hawkes, popped up in the discussion, spouting all sorts of typical anti-vax talking points.

I looked up Andrew Hawkes on LinkedIn. 


Oh, there he is! At the Academy of Private Investmen  (sic).

So, next stop was to look him up on Facebook. I found his profile, and confirmed his mutual friendship with Greg described above. I now understood the connection.

About three years ago Greg was posting on Facebook about this amazing investment opportunity – Skyway Investments. At the time there were many, including me, who tried to warn him about the nature of the investment, and that it was probably a scam. At the time, the FMA was warning people about it. Greg was adamant that this was going to make him rich, and that others should join him. Three years on, I see little evidence that the “investment” has panned out.

So, it seems highly likely that Andrew Hawkes was the vector for introducing Greg to Skyway – now EvoRich (and also NEEW – New Economic Evolution of the World).

Come for the investment advice, stay for the anti-vax and conspiracy theories!

Scrolling through Andrew Hawkes’s page on Facebook I came across a Facebook Live video he recorded this past Saturday morning. I thought it would be good to get some insight into what he’s promoting by watching his video. Contrary to my expectations about investment advice, what I got was a video full of conspiracy theories and anti-vax messages.

According to Hawkes:
 

“If you want to go out, and get an experimental shot from a known corrupt industry, then go for it, have at it, but don’t expect others to blindly follow you when they’ve actually done the research themselves, when they actually looked into it, when they’ve actually listened to scientists who are not being paid by the people who are pushing it…”

He then went on to talk about the Australian Census that’s currently underway, and spouted some astounding nonsense about official government documents being addressed to people with their names in ALL CAPS, and that being a separate legal entity to the person being addressed.

Hawkes then talked about COVID never having been isolated, that the Delta variant hadn’t been isolated, that COVID is a hoax, that it’s all to do with the UN and Agenda 21 or Agenda 30.

He carried on to talk about the government taking people’s guns away – referencing the Christchurch Mosque massacre of 2019.

Finally, he thinks that some of those getting the COVID vaccine are getting placebos (seemingly a misunderstanding of the original RCTs), that being vaccinated would allow keys and magnets to stick to your arm, and finally promoting Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine. 

He claimed people should “think for themselves” – ironic since he was just regurgitating standard anti-vax talking points!

So, that’s Andrew Hawkes – high profile EvoRich promotor for the Australia/New Zealand region!
 

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Dr Dan

Finally this week, and related to the Streisand Effect above, comes the tale from David Farrier, of the popular Webworm blog.

Recently, David wrote about a certain doctor in Auckland at an Integrative Medical Centre, promoting alternative COVID treatments including hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin and hydrogen peroxide.

Dr Dan didn’t like what David wrote, so got his lawyers to send a cease and desist letter.

I’ll let David tell the tale – it’s a great read!

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Coming soon…

We’re excited to announce the combined NZ and Australian Skeptics Conference/Skepticon. We’re holding this in person (COVID willing!) in Wellington and Sydney simultaneously on the weekend of 19th – 21st November.

There will also be the option to purchase a livestream ticket.

The conference will feature speakers from both sides of the Tasman as well as some exciting international speakers.

We’re seeking registrations of interest so that we can gauge interest.

Please visit the registration of interest page (hosted on the Australian Skeptics site) at the following link:
 

Register interest


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


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

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Skeptic News: Snopes, vaccines, and climate change


96

Skeptic News: Snopes, vaccines, and climate change

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

 

This week there’s been a scandal over at the Snopes website. I get my COVID vaccine and we hear more about the situation we’re in with climate change.

Wishing you a good week – stay skeptical and keep promoting science!

Craig Shearer

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I’m sure you’ve come across the fact-checking website Snopes. It’s a popular, and generally quick way to check some internet rumour or news story for its veracity. 

David Mikkelson is a co-founder of the website. It’s emerged, through a Buzzfeed investigation, that Mikkelson who used to write articles for the site plagiarised various other news sites for stories, often copying their text wholesale, or at least paragraphs. The contributed articles ran between 2015 and 2019.

Mikkelson also contributed articles under a pseudonym – Jeff Zarronandia, a practise frowned upon in journalistic circles. He claimed that using a pseudonym was for protection from people who didn’t like the results of the fact checks.

Now I have no journalistic training, but I know that you can’t just copy and paste text without attribution and get away with it. And apparently Mikkelson knew that too – he’s quoted as explaining “You can always take an existing article and rewrite it just enough to avoid copyright infringement.” The practise was to just copy and paste the whole text of a news article then go back and change various wording enough to avoid charges of plagiarism. That does seem like a fairly simplistic and dodgy approach.

So, to be clear, Snopes is still doing good work checking facts and being a source of information for shutting down hoaxes. But as always it’s best to check multiple sources, and attempt to locate the primary source where possible.

It is unfortunate that the scandal with Mikkelson will tar Snopes with that same brush. At least in the minds of simplistic thinkers, Snopes is no longer to be trusted. You can expect to have the scandal brought up if you choose to use Snopes as a source for whether something is true or not.

The current writers at Snopes have issued a statement about the plagiarism. It’s sad that they are affected by the unwise and unethical actions of one of their site’s founders.

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I got vaxxed

Last weekend I got my first shot of the COVID vaccine. Given my advanced age of 55 years, I became eligible to book a vaccine, which is done through the “book my vaccine” website. I found the process to be pretty smooth, and they allowed my wife (who is younger than me) to ride my coattails and also receive her vaccine.

There are the obvious jokes that can be made about improved 5G reception, and being magnetic. But, I’ve fortunately had little in the way of side effects apart from a bit of a sore arm for a couple of days. My next shot is booked for the middle of next month. I’m happy to be contributing and being part of the best solution we have to COVID.

Vaccine discussions

This week I’ve also had discussions with some friends/acquaintances at my choir, which I’ve previously reported on.

One of the people I talked to is of fairly advanced age, and unfortunately seems to be a bit on the vaccine hesitant side of things. He asked some reasonable questions, such as what advantage the vaccine had if you could still catch COVID, and still transmit it. I explained that it’s our best line of defence that we have – that the main point of it is that it vastly reduces the consequences of getting COVID – it’s our best chance of not dying from the disease or being hospitalised from serious complications.

I also argued that we are certainly in an unfortunate situation with the spread of the Delta variant. But it’s the anti-science attitudes of some countries (or at least some of their people) that got us here in the first place. Allowing COVID to run rampant, and using half-hearted ineffective responses has allowed the virus to mutate into more contagious versions. 

The other person I talked to was an older woman who was indignant that our border closure and travel restrictions meant that her family living in the UK couldn’t come visit. I opined that it was perhaps unfortunate but the cost of allowing the border to be open would risk many deaths in our country. She responded with the point that we’ve had very few flu deaths, implying that we should trade the flu deaths for COVID deaths so she’s not personally inconvenienced. I politely ended that conversation!

This week we’ve seen announcements from the government following advice from the Skegg Report about how we can slowly reopen the border next year, on a risk-assessment-basis. This does seem to be the best approach. 

But it’s contingent on getting everybody who wants to be vaccinated the chance of doing so. To reopen the border without the protection of a vaccination for everybody who wants it would be ethically pretty dubious. In particular, we need to get kids vaccinated. We’ve seen the effects of “long COVID” on some adults. It would be particularly awful to allow kids to acquire the disease and potentially face a lifetime of consequences.

Naturally there are those who want things opened up more quickly. We only need look across the ditch to NSW where we see the effects of a poorly managed outbreak and the consequences of that. To date there’s been a strong element of luck that the delta variant hasn’t snuck in and spread around Aotearoa/New Zealand. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Of course, once the border does reopen, the protection we have from COVID is predicated upon a large percentage of the population being vaccinated. Modelling of the R0 number for the delta variant shows that herd immunity would require an unfortunately unrealistically high vaccine penetration. 

I used to think that decades into the future people will look and wonder, in horror, why people didn’t follow the recommendations of scientists and health experts. Maybe though, our arc of educational enlightenment isn’t following an increasing path.

Which leads me to the next topic…

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Latest IPCC climate change report

This past week has seen the release of the IPCC’s 6th assessment report on climate change. The report is issued every seven years. It’s become increasingly obvious with successive reports, that the world is in danger of severe consequences of climate change, and it’s increasingly certain (to the point of virtual certainty) that humans are the cause of it.

For some numbers, the last decade has been hotter than any time over the last 125,000 years. There’s now more CO2 in the atmosphere than at any point in the last 2 million years. We’re currently 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, and it’s likely that we could hit the 1.5°C point by 2030. And while 1.1°C seems like a small temperature change, it represents a huge amount of additional energy trapped in the atmosphere. We see that played out in extreme weather events, which will become more frequent, and more severe. 

The science has been pretty clear for many decades (and the physical basis for it was known over a century ago). Skepticism of the science of climate change is misplaced. I’m skeptical that we can make meaningful enough change quickly enough to avoid the worst consequences.

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Things that didn’t happen this week

On a lighter note, this week there were two earth-shattering events that were meant to happen. The first was the Global Prayer to End Atheism, and the second with the prediction of Trump’s reinstatement as president on Friday 13th.

Being a skeptic doesn’t necessarily make one an atheist, nor is there a requirement to disavow religious belief, but I have a feeling that most readers of this newsletter and members of NZ Skeptics probably lean in that direction. (And there’s always debate as to what it means to be an atheist – in popular conception it seems to mean that you know for sure that god doesn’t exist, whereas the more technical definition would be a lack of belief in a god or gods.) Anyway, this global prayer was either meant to turn all atheists into Christians or send them to hell. Neither seems to have happened, at least in my personal view of things.

And onto the Trump reinstatement. To be fair, it was only the extreme right wing fringe, mis-informed by the My Pillow founder Mike Lindell, that seemed to cling to these beliefs. To be clear, Joe Biden is still the president, and Donald Trump isn’t. The date for Trump’s reinstatement seems to be continuously pushed back in a similar fashion to religious claims of the second coming of Jesus or the end of the world. I wonder whether there will be future dates announced!


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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Skeptic News: Thomas John reads again, VfF FB gone, selling out for £10,000 and more…


96

Skeptic News: Thomas John reads again, VfF FB gone, selling out for £10,000 and more…

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

This week I cover another psychic sting, some good news from Facebook and a COVID-denier takedown in the UK, and finally questions around the very existence of viruses!

Craig Shearer

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Thomas John hot-reads again!

We’ve talked about purported psychic medium Thomas John before. He’s a shady character whose real name is Thomas John Flannagan. Previously convicted of stealing security deposits from renters after posting bogus apartment ads on Craigslist, and having also worked as a drag queen, he’s moved on to being a celebrity psychic medium. 

He’s variously known as the Manhattan Medium, The Seatbelt Psychic (in a TV show where he transported people supposedly in a ride-sharing service and gave them readings). If you want to watch the awful show, it’s available on TVNZ On Demand, where he’s referred to as “Internationally renowned medium”.

Recently our friend Susan Gerbic of the Guerilla Skeptics led a sting operation on Thomas John. John recently reached a new low, by running an event targeting children. For USD $400/ticket (about NZD $575) a parent and their child could join a Zoom call for a reading. Little did John know that two of the sets of parents and children on the call were actually skeptics, in a setup designed to expose John’s hot-reading techniques. 

The NZ angle to this is that one of the parents was Sheree, former secretary of NZ Skeptics, and her daughter. Well done Sheree!

The Friendly Atheist blog covered the story, and it was written up in great detail by Susan in Skeptical Inquirer.

Unfortunately, there’s still plenty of true believers who are willing to give the likes of John their money. 

Thomas John, and the whole celebrity psychic industry are a blight on society. As John Oliver, on the TV show, Last Week Tonight, put it:

“…when psychic abilities are presented as authentic, it emboldens a vast underworld of unscrupulous vultures, more than happy to make money by offering an open line to the afterlife, as well as many other bullshit services.”

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Voices for Freedown Facebook Page shut down

In good news this week, Facebook has finally shut down the anti-vax, conspiracy-theory-mongering group Voices for Freedom’s page. They’re upset:

“Facebook cancelled our Facebook page Wednesday, with our page following growing by over 1000 fans a week, thousands of comments, and a monthly reach of nearly half a million people..

We’re not surprised, but it’s definitely a significant blow to both ours and your voice of freedom, and everyone should be outraged…” [emphasis theirs]

I’m sceptical of the claim of half a million people – I’m doubtful that there are that many deluded people reading their messages!

But other groups still exist run by either VfF leaders or their ardent supporters. These include The Health Forum NZ and NZ School Communities Unite, both of which are private groups so it’s not possible to see what they’re talking about unless you manage to infiltrate them.

The Health Forum NZ claims to “discuss the process of Informed Consent and COVID-19 vaccination”. Interestingly, their group has had various name changes, as reported by Facebook:


Amusingly their previous names seem to give the game away as to their real purpose.

The Health Forum NZ is run by Lynda Wharton, amongst others. Wharton is a naturopath and acupuncturist and has featured on the VfF webinars. I’ve seen her name pop up all over Facebook and she’s well known for her anti-vax views. 

NZ School Communities Unite is another private group, run by Aimee Bearda who is one of the leaders of VfF. The group’s purpose is to “ to insure a robust School Governance Policy to protect our children against the intended Covid-19 Immunisation programme in schools”. Why such a group would need to be private isn’t clear.

Voices for Freedom are, according to an email to their insiders, planning on running a campaign this week. They called for donations and, if their latest email is to be believed, have received $50,000 in donations. It saddens me that a whole bunch of people would give up that sort of money.

It will be interesting to see what they do. They claim “the media/gov will hate it”. Watch this space, I guess.

With all their pleas for freedom and avoidance of lockdowns, I would remind them of the terrible situation in Fiji (with 238 deaths so far since the outbreak in April), and the situation in NSW which is far from being under control.

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COVID £10,000 sell out

Speaking of COVID grifters, an amusing take-down has emerged from the UK.Piers Corbyn is an anti-vax activist, and elder brother of the former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

Corbyn is certainly a character that skeptics would find interesting. He ran a weather forecasting company and along the lines of our own Ken Ring, makes predictions based on “The Solar Weather Technique”, which is based upon solar observations. Like Ring, he bases his predictions on historical weather patterns in addition to solar observations (whereas Ring uses the moon), and also claims to be able to predict earthquakes. Needless to say his predictions weren’t particularly accurate. 

He also denies that humans play a role in climate change. 

Of late, Corbyn’s been working to undermine UK efforts to vaccinate its population. He originally declared COVID-19 to be a hoax, blamed Bill Gates and George Soros, then went on to refer to COVID as a Chinese Bio-Weapon, then claimed it to be no worse than the flu.

Anyway, in a delicious prank, a couple of YouTubers Josh Pieters and Archie Manners, claiming to be investors in AstraZeneca  essentially convinced Corbyn to accept £10,000 in cash to stop criticising the AstraZeneca vaccine in his anti-vax communications, and to concentrate on Pfizer and Moderna vaccines instead.

Happily, they managed to swap out the £10,000 in cash for a bundle of Monopoly money before handing it over to Corbyn. 

The YouTube video of the experience is well worth a watch. The story is detailed here

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Are viruses real?

One of the interesting aspects of being part of NZ Skeptics is that we often get contacted by people to espouse views and theories that diverge from the mainstream, evidence-based views on things. 

The latest for us is claims from a New Zealand-based person who claims that viruses aren’t real – that they’re a hoax. You can take a look at the site promoting this nonsense. (http://thevirushoax.net/)

I’m not going to name this person as the communication quickly degenerated into threats of legal action. 

From the communications I’ve had with this person it seems that they’ve latched on to some outliers in the scientific community who promote pseudoscience around viruses – Dr Stefan Lanka is the main culprit, though the site also lists a psychiatrist, medical doctor (who also promotes homeopathy and anthroposophical medicine), and, scraping the bottom of the barrel, a chiropractor.

In researching the topic, I’ve come across articles that actually show pictures of viruses through electron microscopes.  The image above is of the COVID-19 virus, where the spikes can clearly be seen. 

It seems that the person behind this works in the IT industry. I’ve encountered these types of people before – and they’re common in pseudoscience. There’s the Salem Hypothesis which suggests an apparent correlation between those who work as engineers and them being drawn to pseudoscientific beliefs such as creationism, crank magnetism and climate change denial. Perhaps we can add virus denial to the list. Though perhaps the Dunning Kruger effect explains things well too.

Our friend Siouxsie Wiles wrote up a piece explaining how COVID deniers have latched onto Koch’s postulates.

As we often say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you’re going to take on the whole scientific discipline of virology, you’d better have some good evidence to back up your claims. 

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Coming soon…

We’re excited to announce the combined NZ and Australian Skeptics Conference/Skepticon. We’re holding this in person (COVID willing!) in Wellington and Sydney simultaneously on the weekend of 19th – 21st November.

There will also be the option to purchase a livestream ticket.

The conference will feature speakers from both sides of the Tasman as well as some exciting international speakers.

We’re seeking registrations of interest so that we can gauge interest.

Please visit the registration of interest page (hosted on the Australian Skeptics site) at the following link:
 

Register interest


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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Skeptic News: Climate change, Ivermectin and COVID dishonesty


96

Skeptic News: Climate change, Ivermectin and COVID dishonesty

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

This week there’s more climate change news, protest by farmers, tradies and ute drivers, and more COVID dishonesty revealed.

And make sure you scroll to the bottom – there’s exciting details about our upcoming joint Australia/New Zealand conference in November.

Craig Shearer

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Climate change is here

Over the past few weeks there have been various extreme weather events that are now being attributed to climate change, whereas once scientists were more cagey on the issue – saying that it’s never possible to blame any one event on climate change. But the evidence is stacking up, and we see temperature records being broken – 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record

The severity of the recent heat-wave in Canada and the western United States has been attributed to climate change. Record temperatures in Canada (coming close to 50°C) exacerbated wildfires and the town of Lytton burning to the ground. 

Just this week we saw massive flooding in Germany, with the death toll currently sitting at 170 people. This is also attributed to climate change

It seems that most people in our country “believe” in climate change, and that it is human-caused. (“Believe” is obviously a problematic word for skeptics – we accept the evidence – it doesn’t require belief as such!) Research into public attitudes shows some fairly wide variations though – younger people are more accepting (and have the most to lose) whereas the older generations (who will likely die before the worst effects are seen) are less likely to believe. 

Of course, climate change has been known about for many years. There’s a popular claim on the internet that a NZ newspaper from 1912 – The Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette was first to publish a dire warning:


But actually, that same text was also previously printed in an Australian newspaper, and prior to that, appeared in an issue of Popular Mechanics.

A group of researchers at the University of Waikato recently studied people’s beliefs around sea level rise and how accurate they were. It found that a minority of people actually correctly knew the likely extent of sea level rise in the future. They point out that people both under- and over-estimate the effects of climate change. Over-estimating the effects might well lead to inaction based upon despair that there’s nothing that can be done.

The article also points out that sea level rise isn’t uniform – and that different areas of the country are rising and falling – the lower North Island falling at up to 8mm per year, and in other places rising at up to 10mm per year. Our planet is alive and ever changing!

Some years back the committee of the NZ Skeptics Society became concerned about the perceptions of the public with the use of the word “skeptics” to be associated with human-induced climate change denial. We issued the following statement:

The New Zealand Skeptics Society supports the scientific consensus on Climate Change. There is an abundance of evidence demonstrating global mean temperatures are rising, and that humans have had a considerable impact on the natural rate of change. The Society will adjust its position with the scientific consensus.

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Howl of a protest

So, on the back of increasing effects of climate change this week saw the “Howl of a Protest” event run by Groundswell NZ – a group that purportedly represents farmers and tradies and ute owners who protested against new government regulations they say are unworkable.In particular, they’re concerned about the Clean Car Discount programme, dubiously dubbed the “ute tax” as it will penalise those who drive vehicles which spew excessive CO2 emissions.

Interestingly, only 9% of all utes are registered for work purposes. There’s an interesting FBT (fringe benefit tax) loophole (or exemption as it’s referred to) that allows companies to avoid paying FBT on double-cab utes:

“IRD has decided that most double cab utes satisfy the requirement that the vehicle was not primarily designed or intended to carry passengers. Therefore, companies are incentivised to purchase utes as employee vehicles, even if another type of vehicle would suit the work better.

Moreover, although the requirement that FBT be paid when the employee uses the vehicle privately – to tow their boat out to the lake over the weekend, for example – this is rarely enforced, tax experts say.”

It would be nice to see the government address this distortion of the market that is causing more climate-damaging CO2 emissions.

The protest was largely in rural towns. In my reading, it’s been pointed out that there are plenty of farmers who are on board with the need to change practises and take climate change into effect. 

So, how big was the protest? Well, the following photo was tweeted out to show the scale of the protest.


Except that that photo was actually of a Dutch protest. The photo was reversed (and cropped to remove the non-English signs) so the tractors were driving on the correct side of the road for our country. Slightly dishonest, I’d say. 

Here’s the original photo:


The protest was also used opportunistically by the Voices for Freedom group to protest vaccines – more on them a bit further down.

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COVID-19 marches on

Yes, the pandemic is still with us, and alarmingly new strains are emerging. Evolution does what evolution does.

Currently the Delta variant is in the news, and it is more transmissible than the original strain. As I write this, New South Wales in Australia has 105 new cases and a death, and is in a fairly strict lockdown in an attempt to shut down transmission. Let’s hope they’re successful.

We’ve been very fortunate that COVID hasn’t escaped into the wild in NZ, especially after the visit last month by an Australian who was positive for COVID. It would seem that their previous Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine dose probably prevented them from transmitting the virus – though of course we can’t be certain. Yay for vaccines!

But while sensible people are getting vaccinated, spare a thought for those who can’t – those in less privileged countries who don’t yet have access. But also consider the flailing vaccination rollout in the US where people are refusing the vaccine, largely along political lines, and because of misinformation from anti-vaxxers.

As I saw somebody comment on Twitter, if Fox News had been around in the 1950s we’d still be fighting Polio and Smallpox today.

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Ivermectin study withdrawn

The drug Ivermectin is an anti-parasite drug (used on worms and head-lice), and has been touted as a treatment for COVID-19. On the anti-vaxx Facebook groups I monitor, it’s frequently cited as the favoured treatment for COVID-19, along the same lines as Hydroxychloroquine – though that seems to have faded a little now.

A study into Ivermectin has now been retracted over ethical concerns. And by “ethical concerns”, it would appear that’s euphemistic language for huge data fabrication and other scientific fraud.

The study was run at Benha University in Egypt. The study was an RCT, and claimed “substantial improvement and reduction in mortality rate in ivermectin treated groups” by 90%.

A medical student in London identified serious concerns in the paper including faked data and plagiarisation. 

“It appeared that the authors had run entire paragraphs from press releases and websites about ivermectin and Covid-19 through a thesaurus to change key words. “Humorously, this led to them changing ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome’ to ‘extreme intense respiratory syndrome’ on one occasion,” Lawrence said.”

The paper was analysed in intricate detail by a couple of scientists and reported here, who came to the conclusion:

“In view of the problems described in the preceding sections, most notably the repeated sequences of identical numbers corresponding to apparently “cloned” patients, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Excel file provided by the authors does not faithfully represent the results of the study, and indeed has probably been extensively manipulated by hand.”

Unfortunately the study was included in two meta-analyses and because the study was so large and overwhelmingly positive, this skewed the meta analyses resulting in a positive outcome for the drug. 

“If you remove this one study from the scientific literature, suddenly there are very few positive randomised control trials of ivermectin for Covid-19. Indeed, if you get rid of just this research, most meta-analyses that have found positive results would have their conclusions entirely reversed.”

So, will anti-vaxxers stop promoting ivermectin for COVID treatment? I doubt it.Ironically, ivermectin is also used as a sheep drench – the anti-vaxxers promoting it are fond of calling those who accept the “official story” on COVID sheeple. Baa I say! 🐑🐑🐑

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Doctors under investigation

Sticking with the COVID theme, I reported in a previous newsletter about the website set up to allow medical professionals and “concerned citizens” to sign their name to the statement:

“I support New Zealand health professionals standing up for established medical convention, the Nuremberg code and informed consent.”

According to the site they now have over 7,000 declarations, including 41 doctors, 211 nurses and 421 New Zealand Allied Health Practitioners.

Previously the site listed all the signatories, but they recently turned that off, stating that “due to authorities actively threatening the livelihoods of anyone who questions their opinions, individual signatory names are presently withheld”.

The site is also programmed to prevent selecting text so you can’t copy and paste – though that’s easily overridden if you know what you’re doing in the web browser developer tools 😀

They’re referring to the current investigation by the NZ Medical Council into doctors who are promoting vaccine misinformation. This is a good thing – while doctors are entitled to their own opinions, they have to remain professional and not undermine vaccination efforts by promoting misinformation.

There are currently 13 doctors under investigation for promoting misinformation. Unfortunately, that investigation is going to take 9 months. I suppose they have to be thorough.

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More VfF dishonesty

As I’ve written before, one of the main purveyors of vaccine misinformation is the anti-vax, conspiracy theory group Voices for Freedom. You will have seen their distinctive branding with their blue, teal and green signs and professionally printed placards. 

They glommed onto the Howl of a Protest, using it to promote their lies. It does seem that their ultimate agenda is to attack anything that the government is doing – as we’ve seen they have strong links to the AdvanceNZ party, so expect them to become a political force at some point in the future.

I keep track of their activities via a surreptitious, pseudonymous email address. Amusingly in one of their recent communications they claimed:

There are 3 things we know for sure:

1. The media, politicians and bureaucrats are bought and sold. We see the game they’re playing. We’re calling them out and holding them to account. The full extent of their conflicts and lack of real science will be exposed.
 

2. The Pfizer “vaccine” is not a vaccine. It is more accurately referred to as gene therapy – a harmful experiment causing significant injury.
 

3.The way out of this mess and tyranny is people power. When the people stand up and speak out, this ends.
 

I think their definition of “know” is at variance with the commonly accepted one!

 


Coming soon…

We’re excited to announce the combined NZ and Australian Skeptics Conference/Skepticon. We’re holding this in person (COVID willing!) in Wellington and Sydney simultaneously on the weekend of 19th – 21st November.

There will also be the option to purchase a livestream ticket.

The conference will feature speakers from both sides of the Tasman as well as some exciting international speakers.

We’re seeking registrations of interest so that we can gauge interest.

Please visit the registration of interest page (hosted on the Australian Skeptics site) at the following link:
 

Register interest


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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Facebook

YouTube

Website

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Skeptic News: RIP Russell, Misinformation goes mainstream, and more…


96

Skeptic News: RIP Russell, Misinformation goes mainstream, and more…

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.
 

This week I’ve some sad news to report – the death of Russell Tomes, who was one of our NZ Skeptics committee members. Russell was a prominent identity in the skeptical community, both locally and internationally. More details below.

Craig Shearer

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Russell Tomes

 

It is with great sadness that I have to report that Russell Tomes, a NZ Skeptics committee member died last week. Russell unfortunately had an undiagnosed heart condition and died of a heart attack.

Russell came to prominence in the media, both nationally and internationally by being a Pastafarian – a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Russell wore his religious headgear (a blue colander) for his driver’s licence photograph – pictures of which were splashed around the world!

Russell was interviewed by Campbell Live on TV3 – we’ve put the clip up on our YouTube channel.

The Church went on to be able to perform marriages.

Russell was involved with NZ Skeptics for many years, and had worked on various skeptical activism projects – including showing up in person at a Jeanette Wilson event (the claimed psychic surgeon), and participating in various online activities with Susan Gerbic. He was also a member of Susan’s GSoW project, writing Wikipedia articles.

Russell was a great human being, with a warm heart and keen sense of knowing what was right and wrong with the world. He also had a fantastic sense of humour – and loved to wear costumes – if you’ve been to a recent NZ Skeptics Conference, you’d have encountered Russell in costume. I fondly remember many committee meetings (which we hold via internet video chat) where he’d appear with some ridiculous mask – such as Pennywise the Clown, from Stephen King’s IT. 


While there won’t be a funeral, Russell’s mother is organising a remembrance event in Christchurch in a few weeks for those who were close to him. If you’d like to be involved, please get in touch.

The world, and certainly the skeptics movement, is a lesser place without Russell in it. RIP Russell – you’ll be greatly missed.

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Misinformation awareness goes mainstream

This past week saw the release of a report on misinformation, on research conducted by the Classification Office Te Mana Whakaatu. The Classification Office is traditionally responsible for classifying media, such as films and assessing whether material may need to be restricted.

While we’d like to see some way of reducing the impact of misinformation this is a difficult proposition for the Classification Office. From their report:

“The Classification Office cannot restrict or ban content on the basis of fairness, balance or accuracy. However we do have a mandate to restrict material that could encourage behaviour that poses a risk of self-harm or harm to others, and material that promotes criminal, terrorist or violent acts.”

It’s unfortunate that misinformation has to rise to the level of encouraging criminal, terrorist or violent acts for action to be taken. As skeptics, we know that misinformation has insidious effects that don’t rise to that threshold. There’s plenty of documented harm in believing silly things.

The report does highlight that there are widespread concerns about misinformation and that the internet plays a key role in its spread. And people are concerned and think something should be done. But it’s a difficult one, especially when commercial enterprises (such as social media companies) and their profit motive conflicts with our interests.

My belief is that the only solution to misinformation is better education in critical thinking and how to spot misinformation. In short – skepticism needs to be taught. But, maybe more awareness of misinformation by the general public will have an effect in making people more wary.

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Anti-vax paper retraction

An anti-vax paper was published recently in the open access Vaccines journal. “The Safety of COVID-19 Vaccinations – We Should Rethink the Policy”. The paper has now been retracted, though just getting it published is likely to fuel anti-vax misinformation.

Reported by Science Magazine, there have been a lot of resignations of scientists from editorial positions for the Vaccines journal, including our own Helen Petousis-Harris. 

Unfortunately, according to the Science article, the paper had drawn 350,000 readers and been tweeted about by anti-vaxxers with thousands of followers.

Why was the paper published in the first place? The paper’s authors have no qualifications in vaccinology, virology, or epidemiology. The paper was peer-reviewed, but by reviewers without any of those qualifications either. 

For such a controversial headline, you’d think that the reviewers would have had some second thoughts.

The study itself was hugely flawed – comparing data from a study of Israelis who received the Pfizer vaccine to reported vaccine side-effects in The Netherlands in a system similar to the US VAERS system – where reports are accepted but imply no causal link with vaccines. The paper comes to the astounding conclusion that “For three deaths prevented by vaccination we have to accept two inflicted by vaccination.”

As Helen Petousis-Harris states, the paper is very much a case of “garbage in, garbage out”. 

While it’s great that the paper has been retracted, it would have been great to not have been published in the first place!

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Fluoridation of our water

You may be aware that there’s currently a bill before parliament to change the way that fluoridation of our drinking water is handled. Presently District Health Boards have the individual power to decide whether the water for the populations they serve is fluoridated or not. The bill would take that power away from the DHBs and give it to the Director-General of Health.

Letting DHBs have the power to control this makes them susceptible to health cranks who want to prevent fluoridation of our water supply. Having seen the lists of people standing for DHBs it makes sense that the power is vested with qualified experts!

The bill has been open to public submissions, and I (unfortunately) got to witness some of the oral submissions via Facebook Live. The vast majority of the submitters were against fluoridation! They trotted out the usual anti-fluoridation talking points, such as that fluoride is a neurotoxin and that fluoridation chemicals are contaminated with lead, arsenic, mercury and uranium.

I think an award should be given to the woman running the process at keeping a straight face after nearly three hours of lies and misinformation about fluoridation.

There were some submitters, particularly the Canterbury DHB, who were for the bill, and they made some sensible points – one of which was that the Director-General should take advice from the Director of Public Health, in case the Director-General is not a health person – as has been in the past, where the role was held by an accountant.

For the record, fluoridation is well studied, and recommended by the WHO. Our Ministry of Health recommends fluoridation.

At present, only about half of NZ’s population is covered by fluoridated water supply. The benefits of fluoridated water are fairly major in the avoidance of dental cavities, and very cost effective – many people avoid dental treatment because of cost. Fluoridating water is a cost-effective means to reduce cavities.

I hope that sense prevails and the misinformation from fluoride cranks is ignored.

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De-platforming

In the good news department, YouTube has de-platformed local misinformant Vinny Eastwood, also joining another local, Damien De Ment, also banned. Vinny Eastwood was king of promoting conspiracy theories, but it seems that various complaints have seen his channel now removed. 

Is this a case of removing free speech? No – YouTube is a private company – it doesn’t have to provide a platform for people spouting dangerous misinformation.

It seems that Vinny was making a living off YouTube. Now, pleading on Facebook to his fans for support:


How sad. Get a real job!

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Conference update

Did you know that NZ Skeptics is running an in-person conference again this year (after not running one last year because of COVID).

This year we’re running it in conjunction with the Australian Skeptics – it will be a fully shared conference with speakers appearing in person and remotely from each side of the Tasman. 

We’re excited about the conference, and the great line-up of speakers. It will be held in Wellington on the weekend of 19th – 21st November. Stay tuned for further details.


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


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

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Skeptic News: Choirs, dinosaurs, doctors and EVs


96

Skeptic News: Choirs, dinosaurs, doctors and EVs

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

I have quite a variety of topics to cover this week – including choirs, dinosaurs, doctors, and EVs (to put them in alphabetical order!)

Today is the winter solstice. Tomorrow we’re back on lengthening days, back to summer again! Yay 🙂

Have a great week!

Craig Shearer

Electric vehicle subsidies

 

Last weekend saw the release of a new policy by the government called the Clean Car Discount.

The scheme provides a rebate, starting on the 1st July, for purchasers of low emissions vehicles (Battery EVs – zero emission, and Plug-in Hybrid EVs or PHEVs which are classed as low emission). The rebates range from $8,625 for a new EV down to $2,300 for a used PHEV. They cover only vehicles registered for the first time in New Zealand, meaning that they don’t apply to second-hard sales of already-registered vehicles.

And, from the beginning of next year, purchasers of new and newly-registered used cars that are considered high emissions will be required to pay an additional fee of up to $5,175.


The scheme is designed to bias the market for new vehicles in favour of those that produce much less CO2 emissions. The transport sector makes up a huge chunk of NZ’s CO2 emissions – around 47% as of 2018. If we’re to meet our target of being carbon neutral by 2050 we need to be moving towards de-carbonising the fleet as urgently as possible.

As much as many people want to help out with reducing CO2 emissions by switching to an EV, the vehicles are still a lot more expensive than their fossil-fuel counterparts. We still have a way to go with improving battery technology and reducing its cost. So the subsidy will help those for whom the current cost of an EV is out of reach. It will have the secondary effect of putting more EVs into the market so that in future years there is a bigger second-hard market 

As with any change in government policy there are going to be winners and losers. And, typically there’s plenty of misinformation around that feeds into people’s emotions. I’d like to cover off a few of these.

Firstly, I’m an EV owner and have been for nearly four years. I switched to a Nissan Leaf back in 2017, and earlier this year upgraded to a Tesla Model 3. I must say I’d find it very hard to go back to owning an internal combustion engine-based vehicle (ICE as they’re known in the EV community).

I’m probably going to sound like a fanboi, but there are so many advantages to EVs:

  • They’re incredibly cheap to run, especially if you do most of your charging at home, and take advantage of low night rates. (My plan costs me 12 cents per kWh between 9pm and 7am). The comparison to an ICE vehicle is that it’s equivalent to paying 40 cents per litre of petrol. Additionally, I spend virtually no time at petrol stations.

  • They’re cheap to maintain – there’s virtually nothing to do to them as they have so few moving parts. I certainly don’t miss the times of having to spend hundreds of dollars on vehicle servicing every few months.

  • They’re quiet and perform very well, leading to a smoother ride. Even the lowly NIssan Leaf can easily beat most ICE vehicles for take-off at traffic lights. EVs give you instant torque.

  • And, of course, they don’t produce any emissions, leading to cleaner air, which is good for everybody’s health, and also a big reduction on planet-warming CO2 emissions.

Top EV myths and misinformation

Let’s cover off some of the myths and misinformation that abound. Much of the myths and misinformation seem to emanate from fossil fuel vested interests! 

  1. “Range anxiety” and that you can’t do long trips. In the early days EVs their range was fairly limited, and in New Zealand it was true that you had to carefully plan out long trips and know where you could charge. Today, we’re well catered for with charging stations dotted around the country. Besides, 99% of most people’s use of a car is for around town and commuting – you charge up overnight and you’re ready to go again the next morning.

  2. The batteries don’t last and they’re expensive to replace. (I saw a post on Facebook that the batteries only last 2 years and then cost $35,000 to replace!) It’s true that batteries suffer degradation over time (reduced range from when they’re charge to 100%), but battery packs in modern EVs suffer very little degradation. To take my Model 3 as an example, it’s expected that the battery will degrade by 5% per 100,000 miles (160,000 km), and probably 10 – 15 years before a 20% degradation. Practically, it will mean that over time, for long trips, I’d need to charge more frequently.

  3. How will we dispose of all those batteries? Battery packs from EVs are extremely valuable. Once an EV’s battery pack has reduced to the point where the range of the vehicle is too small to be useful, the pack can be re-purposed as a home storage battery pack – i.e. charged from solar panels while the sun is shining and then used to power a home at night.

  4. EVs catch fire. So do petrol cars – the question is how likely they are. Fires are extremely rare, but initial estimates are that fires in EVs happen at about 10% of the rate of fossil fuelled vehicles.

  5. You can’t tow with an EV. I have a towbar, and tow a trailer without issue. However, towing does reduce the range. Over time, we’ll see the capability of EVs increase and the range of vehicles broaden to cater for more niche needs.

  6. EVs are being powered by electricity generated from coal thereby defeating their purpose. The “defeating the purpose” bit really isn’t true. It turns out that EVs are much more efficient in converting stored energy (that’s the petrol or charged battery bit) into moving the vehicle than fossil fuel vehicles are – about 75% efficiency vs 30%. So, even if EVs were powered exclusively from coal-generated electricity they’d still reduce CO2 emissions compared to fossil-fuel vehicles. But, around 80% of NZ’s electricity is generated from renewable sources. Unfortunately, at the moment we’re experiencing low hydro-power lake levels – due in some part to the effects of climate change – exacerbated by emitting more CO2! 🙁 This YouTube video is a pretty good explainer.

  7. EVs emit more CO2 during their manufacture. This is true, but as soon as they’re driven the lifetime emissions of an EV are way less. The fossil fuel vehicle continues to emit. The break-even point is around 45,000 km. If you buy an EV and never drive it anywhere, that’s definitely bad for the environment!

To be fair, EVs that can replace a family car are pretty pricey at the moment, and probably out of the reach of most kiwis. But as the market is seeded with new EVs with the rebate applied, used EVs in the future will be priced at more affordable levels. Additionally, as battery technology improves, manufacturing costs will also decrease making EVs more mainstream.

As I said earlier there will be those who are disadvantaged by the scheme (including recent EV purchases who’ve missed out on the rebate). But mainly, we’ve heard loud voices from the farming and trades communities that EVs don’t suit them, and why should they be penalised?

The reality is that high emissions vehicles are bad for the environment. Years of externalising the costs of emissions has led to the point we’re at. Climate change is real and human-induced and we’ve got to make changes to address it (though it’s inevitable that we’re doomed to suffer the effects of our inaction on it.)

Finally, the “law of unintended consequences” is always in play. 

The delay of the fee for high-emissions vehicles is likely to see a spike in demand in the next 6 months to avoid the fee. 

Similarly, the new demand for EVs is likely to drive up the price, at least of used imports where the price is set by the dealer. (New EVs are largely immune to this as their prices are already known so any attempt to hike prices would have to be carefully justified.) But, used car dealers (who knew they had such a bad reputation!) might well hike prices so as to share some of the fruits of the rebate scheme.

Additional EVs on the road will see increased demand at charging stations. But we have a healthy industry here in New Zealand that is installing more and more charge points. I see this as a very good thing. 


Most other developed countries have some sort of subsidy scheme for EVs. It’s good to have NZ join the crowd. I was in Oslo, Norway in February 2020 (before the pandemic hit) and witnessed the effect of this first hand – they were everywhere. EVs made up 54% of all light-vehicle sales in Norway in 2020, compared to around 2% in New Zealand. Let’s hope that the Norway experience can be replicated here.

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Vaccine deployment

We’re still in the COVID pandemic but last week I had some cause for cheer. I’ve previously reported on the actions of anti-vaxxer groups, who seem to be made up largely of privileged (and entitled) middle-aged people (Boomers and Karens, to be derogatory). 

I belong to a local choir (I’m a tenor, in case you‘re interested) which is also populated by the demographic that might well be influenced by anti-vax messaging and was encouraged to hear some of the older folk talking about how excited they were to be getting their vaccines. It certainly warmed the cockles of my heart to hear!

This week our PM had her first vaccine which should give anti-vaxxers pause for thought, though I doubt it will. They’ll likely rationalise it as a publicity stunt and she didn’t really get the vaccine!

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–>

Doctors under invesigation

Speaking of anti-vaxxers, they’ve recently set up a website which allows people, including doctors, nurses and allied health professionals (including alt-med practitioners) to register themselves as objecting to the COVID vaccine rollout. They claim to have 33 doctors, 123 nurses, 244 allied health practitioners (gee, I wonder why this number is so large compared to the number of doctors!) and over 3,300 NZ “concerned citizens”.

Happily, being a doctor and spreading COVID misinformation isn’t without consequences. According to Stuff yesterday, there are 13 doctors under investigation by the NZ Medical Council after people complained about them spreading misinformation. Good to hear, and I hope the council follows through on this and takes action.

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Were dinosaurs real?

Finally this week, in the bizarre category, I read an article by Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis infamy – the arch-creationist and science-denying anti-evolution propagandist. 

Ken likely has an alert set up for any mention of his Creation Museum in Kentucky. Over on the Jerusalem Post website there’s a good article that mentions the “museum”.

The article is well-written and discusses the opinions of some ultra-Othodox jews that dinosaurs were a trick by God to make people believe that the earth was old – just to test their faith. But, the article argues against such an interpretation, but goes on to criticise Ham’s “museum” for its position on dinosaurs: that the earth is only a few thousand years old, and that dinosaurs lived alongside humans and were on Noah’s Ark and perished after the flood.

Ham defends his alternate hypothesis, apparently taking offense at the idea that his god is a deceiver.

Ham, ever sensitive to criticism, was incensed back in 2009 when PZ Myers (of the Pharyngula blog) visited the creation museum and “rode”  a dinosaur. You’ve gotta laugh!


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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Skeptic News: Choirs, dinosaurs, doctors and EVs


96

Skeptic News: Choirs, dinosaurs, doctors and EVs

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

I have quite a variety of topics to cover this week – including choirs, dinosaurs, doctors, and EVs (to put them in alphabetical order!)

Today is the winter solstice. Tomorrow we’re back on lengthening days, back to summer again! Yay 🙂

Have a great week!

Craig Shearer

Electric vehicle subsidies

 

Last weekend saw the release of a new policy by the government called the Clean Car Discount.

The scheme provides a rebate, starting on the 1st July, for purchasers of low emissions vehicles (Battery EVs – zero emission, and Plug-in Hybrid EVs or PHEVs which are classed as low emission). The rebates range from $8,625 for a new EV down to $2,300 for a used PHEV. They cover only vehicles registered for the first time in New Zealand, meaning that they don’t apply to second-hard sales of already-registered vehicles.

And, from the beginning of next year, purchasers of new and newly-registered used cars that are considered high emissions will be required to pay an additional fee of up to $5,175.


The scheme is designed to bias the market for new vehicles in favour of those that produce much less CO2 emissions. The transport sector makes up a huge chunk of NZ’s CO2 emissions – around 47% as of 2018. If we’re to meet our target of being carbon neutral by 2050 we need to be moving towards de-carbonising the fleet as urgently as possible.

As much as many people want to help out with reducing CO2 emissions by switching to an EV, the vehicles are still a lot more expensive than their fossil-fuel counterparts. We still have a way to go with improving battery technology and reducing its cost. So the subsidy will help those for whom the current cost of an EV is out of reach. It will have the secondary effect of putting more EVs into the market so that in future years there is a bigger second-hard market 

As with any change in government policy there are going to be winners and losers. And, typically there’s plenty of misinformation around that feeds into people’s emotions. I’d like to cover off a few of these.

Firstly, I’m an EV owner and have been for nearly four years. I switched to a Nissan Leaf back in 2017, and earlier this year upgraded to a Tesla Model 3. I must say I’d find it very hard to go back to owning an internal combustion engine-based vehicle (ICE as they’re known in the EV community).

I’m probably going to sound like a fanboi, but there are so many advantages to EVs:

  • They’re incredibly cheap to run, especially if you do most of your charging at home, and take advantage of low night rates. (My plan costs me 12 cents per kWh between 9pm and 7am). The comparison to an ICE vehicle is that it’s equivalent to paying 40 cents per litre of petrol. Additionally, I spend virtually no time at petrol stations.

  • They’re cheap to maintain – there’s virtually nothing to do to them as they have so few moving parts. I certainly don’t miss the times of having to spend hundreds of dollars on vehicle servicing every few months.

  • They’re quiet and perform very well, leading to a smoother ride. Even the lowly NIssan Leaf can easily beat most ICE vehicles for take-off at traffic lights. EVs give you instant torque.

  • And, of course, they don’t produce any emissions, leading to cleaner air, which is good for everybody’s health, and also a big reduction on planet-warming CO2 emissions.

Top EV myths and misinformation

Let’s cover off some of the myths and misinformation that abound. Much of the myths and misinformation seem to emanate from fossil fuel vested interests! 

  1. “Range anxiety” and that you can’t do long trips. In the early days EVs their range was fairly limited, and in New Zealand it was true that you had to carefully plan out long trips and know where you could charge. Today, we’re well catered for with charging stations dotted around the country. Besides, 99% of most people’s use of a car is for around town and commuting – you charge up overnight and you’re ready to go again the next morning.

  2. The batteries don’t last and they’re expensive to replace. (I saw a post on Facebook that the batteries only last 2 years and then cost $35,000 to replace!) It’s true that batteries suffer degradation over time (reduced range from when they’re charge to 100%), but battery packs in modern EVs suffer very little degradation. To take my Model 3 as an example, it’s expected that the battery will degrade by 5% per 100,000 miles (160,000 km), and probably 10 – 15 years before a 20% degradation. Practically, it will mean that over time, for long trips, I’d need to charge more frequently.

  3. How will we dispose of all those batteries? Battery packs from EVs are extremely valuable. Once an EV’s battery pack has reduced to the point where the range of the vehicle is too small to be useful, the pack can be re-purposed as a home storage battery pack – i.e. charged from solar panels while the sun is shining and then used to power a home at night.

  4. EVs catch fire. So do petrol cars – the question is how likely they are. Fires are extremely rare, but initial estimates are that fires in EVs happen at about 10% of the rate of fossil fuelled vehicles.

  5. You can’t tow with an EV. I have a towbar, and tow a trailer without issue. However, towing does reduce the range. Over time, we’ll see the capability of EVs increase and the range of vehicles broaden to cater for more niche needs.

  6. EVs are being powered by electricity generated from coal thereby defeating their purpose. The “defeating the purpose” bit really isn’t true. It turns out that EVs are much more efficient in converting stored energy (that’s the petrol or charged battery bit) into moving the vehicle than fossil fuel vehicles are – about 75% efficiency vs 30%. So, even if EVs were powered exclusively from coal-generated electricity they’d still reduce CO2 emissions compared to fossil-fuel vehicles. But, around 80% of NZ’s electricity is generated from renewable sources. Unfortunately, at the moment we’re experiencing low hydro-power lake levels – due in some part to the effects of climate change – exacerbated by emitting more CO2! 🙁 This YouTube video is a pretty good explainer.

  7. EVs emit more CO2 during their manufacture. This is true, but as soon as they’re driven the lifetime emissions of an EV are way less. The fossil fuel vehicle continues to emit. The break-even point is around 45,000 km. If you buy an EV and never drive it anywhere, that’s definitely bad for the environment!

To be fair, EVs that can replace a family car are pretty pricey at the moment, and probably out of the reach of most kiwis. But as the market is seeded with new EVs with the rebate applied, used EVs in the future will be priced at more affordable levels. Additionally, as battery technology improves, manufacturing costs will also decrease making EVs more mainstream.

As I said earlier there will be those who are disadvantaged by the scheme (including recent EV purchases who’ve missed out on the rebate). But mainly, we’ve heard loud voices from the farming and trades communities that EVs don’t suit them, and why should they be penalised?

The reality is that high emissions vehicles are bad for the environment. Years of externalising the costs of emissions has led to the point we’re at. Climate change is real and human-induced and we’ve got to make changes to address it (though it’s inevitable that we’re doomed to suffer the effects of our inaction on it.)

Finally, the “law of unintended consequences” is always in play. 

The delay of the fee for high-emissions vehicles is likely to see a spike in demand in the next 6 months to avoid the fee. 

Similarly, the new demand for EVs is likely to drive up the price, at least of used imports where the price is set by the dealer. (New EVs are largely immune to this as their prices are already known so any attempt to hike prices would have to be carefully justified.) But, used car dealers (who knew they had such a bad reputation!) might well hike prices so as to share some of the fruits of the rebate scheme.

Additional EVs on the road will see increased demand at charging stations. But we have a healthy industry here in New Zealand that is installing more and more charge points. I see this as a very good thing. 


Most other developed countries have some sort of subsidy scheme for EVs. It’s good to have NZ join the crowd. I was in Oslo, Norway in February 2020 (before the pandemic hit) and witnessed the effect of this first hand – they were everywhere. EVs made up 54% of all light-vehicle sales in Norway in 2020, compared to around 2% in New Zealand. Let’s hope that the Norway experience can be replicated here.

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Vaccine deployment

We’re still in the COVID pandemic but last week I had some cause for cheer. I’ve previously reported on the actions of anti-vaxxer groups, who seem to be made up largely of privileged (and entitled) middle-aged people (Boomers and Karens, to be derogatory). 

I belong to a local choir (I’m a tenor, in case you‘re interested) which is also populated by the demographic that might well be influenced by anti-vax messaging and was encouraged to hear some of the older folk talking about how excited they were to be getting their vaccines. It certainly warmed the cockles of my heart to hear!

This week our PM had her first vaccine which should give anti-vaxxers pause for thought, though I doubt it will. They’ll likely rationalise it as a publicity stunt and she didn’t really get the vaccine!

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–>

Doctors under invesigation

Speaking of anti-vaxxers, they’ve recently set up a website which allows people, including doctors, nurses and allied health professionals (including alt-med practitioners) to register themselves as objecting to the COVID vaccine rollout. They claim to have 33 doctors, 123 nurses, 244 allied health practitioners (gee, I wonder why this number is so large compared to the number of doctors!) and over 3,300 NZ “concerned citizens”.

Happily, being a doctor and spreading COVID misinformation isn’t without consequences. According to Stuff yesterday, there are 13 doctors under investigation by the NZ Medical Council after people complained about them spreading misinformation. Good to hear, and I hope the council follows through on this and takes action.

<!–


–>

Were dinosaurs real?

Finally this week, in the bizarre category, I read an article by Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis infamy – the arch-creationist and science-denying anti-evolution propagandist. 

Ken likely has an alert set up for any mention of his Creation Museum in Kentucky. Over on the Jerusalem Post website there’s a good article that mentions the “museum”.

The article is well-written and discusses the opinions of some ultra-Othodox jews that dinosaurs were a trick by God to make people believe that the earth was old – just to test their faith. But, the article argues against such an interpretation, but goes on to criticise Ham’s “museum” for its position on dinosaurs: that the earth is only a few thousand years old, and that dinosaurs lived alongside humans and were on Noah’s Ark and perished after the flood.

Ham defends his alternate hypothesis, apparently taking offense at the idea that his god is a deceiver.

Ham, ever sensitive to criticism, was incensed back in 2009 when PZ Myers (of the Pharyngula blog) visited the creation museum and “rode”  a dinosaur. You’ve gotta laugh!


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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Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

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Skeptic News: Maxine misinformation, shooters on the run and an alternative to botox!


96

Skeptic News: Maxine misinformation, shooters on the run and an alternative to botox!

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

This Queen’s Birthday weekend  I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Napier to visit my mother. Last newsletter, Mark mentioned sightings of UFOs in Hawkes Bay, which were likely lenticular cloud formations. Alas, this weekend has seen dull grey skies, so no such luck on my part.

Our attention at the moment seems to be very much directed at health-related stories. Alas, there’s much misinformation to be countered. While visiting in Napier, I happened to hear an ad on the radio about COVID, and it saddened me to hear that so much emphasis is being placed on actually dispelling the myths that abound – such as that you can’t get COVID from the vaccine, and that it doesn’t alter your genes! What a sad world we live in!

Craig Shearer

Sue Grey misinformation tsunami, and who is Maxine?

We’ve mentioned Sue Grey in the past. She’s the Nelson-based lawyer and co-leader of the NZ Outdoors party, and full on conspiracy theorist and anti-vaxxer.

Her Facebook page is where she seems to spread the majority of her misinformation, and she’s posting many times a day. 

Annoyed by Facebook’s labelling her posts with their COVID-19 warnings, she recently took to experimenting with different combinations of text to try to figure out what words caused Facebook’s algorithms to label her posts with warnings. I actually think she shouldn’t really be concerned as, from seeing the reactions from commenters, she’s pretty much preaching to the choir anyway. Facebook’s warnings are likely to fall on deaf ears. But, in an effort to side-step the algorithms, the COVID vaccine is now being referred to as Maxine! Is this a new cockney rhyming slang?

Sue’s other gems this week included a link to a video that purported to conclusively prove that viruses aren’t real, and that they’ve never been demonstrated to exist.

She posted a claim that the COVID vaccine causes Stevens Johnson Syndrome which causes peeling skin, amongst other symptoms. The claim was fact-checked by Reuters and determined to be false. In a now familiar technique, anti-vaxxers will take shocking pictures off the internet (pre-dating the release of the COVID vaccine) and falsely claim that they’re the result of the vaccine. 

Also this week she wrote an open letter to the prime minister and other cabinet ministers with the subject line screaming: 

OPEN LETTER No 2- An URGENT REQUEST FOLLOWING RESEARCH SHOWING THE “S PROTEIN” IN THE PFIZER JAB IS A TOXIN

In the letter she refers to the latest anti-vaxxer talking point about the spike protein (or S Protein, as they call it) supposedly being a dangerous toxin found in dangerous quantities in the bloodstream of people who’ve received the mRNA-based COVID vaccine (hint: it’s not – and the studies don’t show what the anti-vaxxers think they do. See David Gorski’s refutation of the claims.)

Shockingly, in the letter, she goes well and truly off the deep end, quoting the legal definition of homicide and implying that government ministers would be guilty of this by allowing the COVID vaccine rollout to proceed.

In a stunning demonstration of a complete lack of self-awareness, she concludes her letter with the following:

“Please find the courage to challenge whoever is driving this, and any who act on dogma rather than evidence, reason or ethics.

The future of New Zealand depends on your courage to step up and make this critical call for our people.

I urge you to listen,  engage and act in the public interest.

Please put aside your pride and the dogma, and suspend this program.

I am happy to assist however I can.”

Sue Grey lists a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Microbiology amongst her qualifications. It seems to me that little of that study has actually sunk in!

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Danger for scientists

We should be worried about the consequences of far-right conspiracy theories. In Belgium, Professor Marc Van Ranst has been the public face of science related to the COVID pandemic and the Belgian government’s response.

Far right rogue soldier Jürgen Conings has a vendetta against virologists and COVID lockdowns. Conings is a military shooting instructor and has gone on the run with a rocket launcher and machine gun for the past three weeks, currently evading police capture.

Professor Van Ranst is in hiding. Let’s hope that nothing like this happens here, though as we’ve seen far-right ideas have had deadly consequences recently in the Christchurch Mosque shootings.

FACT (Fight Against Conspiracy Theories) is a grassroots organisation that’s opposing conspiracy theories, doing some great skeptical activism work. They’ve recently worked on contacting venues hosting the likes of Sue Grey. Some may refer to this as “cancel culture” but in my mind, preventing dangerous and outright wrong ideas from gaining wide traction is the responsible thing to do.

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Anti-vaxxer blood transfusions

Sorry to harp on about anti-vaxxers, but there’s another story this week that has emerged about prominent American anti-vaxxer Del Bigtree. Bigtree runs ICAN – the Informed Consent Action Network, and has a slickly produced video podcast called The Highwire.

It turns out that Bigtree has been out of action for a couple of weeks due to a health condition. Bigtree revealed on his podcast that he nearly died from blood loss due to internal hemorrhoids. His blood pressure was dangerously low and he required a blood transfusion.

It appears he has some friends who are doctors. and they strongly advised that he seek medical help (i.e. go to hospital!) when the symptoms of his low blood pressure became  apparent.

When it was discovered he would require a blood transfusion, being an anti-vaxxer, he decided he didn’t want to receive blood from anybody who’d been vaccinated with the COVID vaccine. Somehow, their blood would be contaminated with those dangerous spike protein toxins!

Bigtree reported received a small transfusion in the US from blood that was identified as not being “contaminated” by the COVID vaccine, then travelled to Cancun in Mexico (by private jet!) to receive a further blood transfusion of uncontaminated blood. What a waste of resources!

All of this is nicely and amusingly reported by David Gorski (aka Orac).

While none of us should wish harm on anybody, even those who wilfully promote and profit off misinformation, the story does show how dangerous misinformation can be.

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An alternative to Botox

I rarely watch broadcast TV, but on Wednesday night I happened to see a little of TVNZ’s Seven Sharp programme. They featured a segment on acupuncture as an alternative to botox for reducing facial wrinkles.

There was no skeptical angle and the piece looked a lot more like an advertorial than an actual piece of journalism. 

The reporter, Te Rauhiringa Brown (who looked quite young, and really didn’t have any particularly visible wrinkles) asked how it worked. The acupuncturist gave the following explanation:

“So the trauma from the needles sends a signal to your brain saying that there has been some damage and so your body actually sends the protein which is your own collagen to your face and that helps repair your fine lines and acne, scaring…”

Yeah right! 

The segment then went on to claim that the practise has been around since the stone age – and that the WHO recommended the practise.

Laughably after the acupuncture was administered, the final process was some “facial cupping” and a “rejuvenating face mask” to round off the treatment. I think perhaps the face mask at the end might well have had more to do with the final result than acupuncture. 

The piece cemented its purpose by quoting the price as $100 for the acu-facelift, and the name of the business to customers viewers! 

Well done Seven Sharp for promoting more pseudoscience!


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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YouTube

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Skeptic News:  Court Cases, Vaccines, Vortices and Guerrilla Skepticism


96

Skeptic News:  Court Cases, Vaccines, Vortices and Guerrilla Skepticism

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

The news at present is very much concentrating on the COVD vaccine, and it’s been great to see a lot of attention paid to countering misinformation. Details below on the purveyors of this misinformation!

Wishing you a great week…
Craig Shearer

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Sue Grey court case

The week before last we saw Sue Grey, a Nelson-based lawyer and co-leader of the NZ Outdoors party, bringing a case against the NZ Government claiming that the rollout of the COVID vaccine was illegal under the Section 23 of the Medicines Act.

Section 23 of the act allowed the Minister of Health to grant access to approved medicines to a limited number of patients. Grey’s argument was that rolling out the vaccine to all kiwis over the age of 16 didn’t meet the criteria of being a limited number of patients. 

It does seem that it’s a stretch to call all people over the age of 16 a limited number of patients, and on this point Grey’s argument was correct.

However, the case was never about concern that the government was following the law on rollout of the vaccine, but instead was a full-blown anti-vax argument fest. A variety of arguments were introduced claiming that the safety of the vaccine wasn’t proven, and referencing the American VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) as proof that vaccines, in general, were risky and resulting in many cases of adverse effects and vaccine injury.

Grey was petitioning the court to rule the rollout illegal and requesting that the judge halt the rollout of the vaccine. 

As it turned out the judge, Rebecca Ellis, sided with Grey, advising the government that the act’s wording needed to be revised. However, the judge declined to stop the vaccine rollout:

“For now, I decline to exercise my discretion to grant the interim orders sought. The adverse public and private repercussions of doing so are too great, by some very considerable margin.”

If you really want to see what Sue Grey is all about, you can review her video she posted after the judgement came out. It turns out, she’s a full-blown rabid anti-vaxxer, including claiming that the “cure is worse than the disease”, that COVID can be managed by drugs such as Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine, and that people should “do their own research”. 

The case was supported by Voices for Freedom (complete with their supporters holding placards outside the courthouse). To me, trying to deny people access to the vaccine is the very opposite of freedom!

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–>


VFF reaction

I have a super-secret email account that I use to sign up to various mailing lists, including the Voices for Freedom mailing list. Boy do they put out some propaganda!

From their latest email:

“Emotions ran high this past week. Some of us allowed ourselves to feel hopeful that the judiciary would act heroically. We visualised a judgment throwing caution to the wind by finding that the Government acted illegally and that the Covid vaccine rollout could be paused.

 

Our dreams were half-realised. 

 

The Judge agreed that the Government was behaving illegally – but tripped up over the rollout issue, sticking to the script that we combat Covid at all costs. Even when those costs include enrolling every Kiwi over 16 in an experimental jab with a sub-standard injury reporting system and zero information about long-term safety.

 

It didn’t feel particularly heroic. Especially when the Government did what it seems to do best right now and tyrannically changed the law to suit them the very next day.”

It’s interesting to observe how they’re attempting to manipulate their followers, trying to paint them as “heros” doing what’s right in the face of a tyrannical government.

VFF run weekly webinars over Zoom to rally the troops. The past couple of weeks have featured “heroic” doctors – Dr Sam Bailey (who runs a YouTube channel with 240K subscribers) and Dr Alison Goodwin, who’s a maverick doctor from Hawkes Bay. These webinars, it’s claimed, have a limited number of seats available. I sign up for them in the vain hope that my signup might prevent somebody else who wants to see the content from being exposed to their dangerous misinformation. Does that make me a hero? 😊

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Simon Thornley

Yet another anti-hero of the COVID story is Dr Simon Thornley, of the COVID Plan B group who we’ve mentioned many times in the past. 

Thornley is an odd case in that he’s an academic at the University of Auckland, who should know better. (And he was an expert witness in Sue Grey’s case in the high court, mentioned above.)

Over this past weekend, Stuff published an excellent article by Charlie Mitchell on Thornley about how he’s gone down the rabbit hole and can’t seem to find his way back up again.

Though Thornley is a scientist, he seems to have a lot in common with the attitudes and behaviours typically seen in anti-vaxxers (and anti-science types in general), preferring to cling to flimsy, cherry-picked evidence, and holding on to positions even when the evidence is stacked against them. He’s certainly done his own research!

On one of Thornley’s theories that the COVID virus was circulating as early as March 2019. From the article: 

“At the end of his presentation, a slide notes many of Thornley’s references came from one place: A blog post purporting to describe “the manufacturing of the coronavirus crisis”, written by an architect in the United Kingdom who has no apparent medical or science expertise.

During a question and answer session, Thornley was asked if it meant Covid-19 had circulated undetected in New Zealand: “It’s very hard to believe we haven’t been exposed to the virus in quite a dramatic way”, he responded.

Only a seroprevalence survey – measuring the proportion of people with antibodies for the virus – would give the answer, he added.

Two months later, a seroprevalence survey was released. It determined only around 0.1 per cent of New Zealand had been infected with Covid-19. The finding “provides robust evidence to support New Zealand’s successful elimination strategy for COVID-19”.

Thornley, nevertheless, remains unconvinced.”

The article is well worth a read.

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Vortex Water

From the hard to believe it’s real category, we found out about a revolutionary product being offered in New Zealand – Vortex Water!

From their website, they explain:
 

“In nature, water on it’s (sic) journey in a mountain stream twists and turns over rocks, always returning to circular or orbital motion. Constantly regaining it’s (sic) power and vitality to reinvigorate us and nature.

In today’s world we force water through straight pipes with hard bends after thrashing it through a centrifugal pump; leaving it lifeless. Then we add chemicals to make our water safe to drink.

Then we choose to store our drinking water in clear plastic bottles, to be destroyed even further by sunlight and heat. A journey destroyed before commenced.”

The site has some truly bizarre products available. (Notably, the site looks like it was designed in the early days of the web – somewhere around 1999. Of course, a slickly designed site is no guarantee of the quality or efficacy of a product…)

Navigating to try to purchase a product takes me to this page (http://www.unityconscious.org/) I can buy various items, including the Vortex Energiser for Household Vortex Water Revitalisation for the cost of $397.

Interestingly the picture accompanying the product seems to indicate that the water doesn’t even have to flow through the device to have its effect. 


The more likely reason is avoiding having your plumber laugh at you when asked to install the ridiculous device into your pipes 😊

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GSoW

If you’ve spent any time on the internet you’ll likely have encountered Wikipedia – the community-edited encyclopaedia. Wikipedia gets a bad rap as it’s possible for anybody to edit the content and put misinformation on a page.

However, it’s a useful resource, and bad information does usually get weeded out. It’s a good first stopping point on a path to further research. 

Friend of NZ Skeptics, Susan Gerbic runs the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project (GSoW) which specialises in writing informative articles on Wikipedia, centering on science, pseudo science and the people of science (and pseudoscience).

From Susan:

“GSoW has just written 1,751 Wikipedia pages in many languages. Those 1,751 pages have been viewed more than 88 million times – that’s a lot of science communication.

The team has written 31 Wikipedia pages with a New Zealand focus, some of which include; Siouxsie Wiles, Puzzling World, Robert Bartholomew, Lance O’Sullivan, Claire Deeks, Andrew Digby, Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Margaret Hyland, NZ Skeptics, Jeanette Wilson, Immunisation Advisory Centre of NZ and more. These 31 Wikipedia pages have already been viewed over 201,000 times.”

An important aspect of this is that these articles provide important background about people of pseudoscience, often highlighting unflattering and inconvenient aspects that they would rather weren’t public. Case in point is the recently written page about Claire Deeks, of Voices for Freedom. When journalists are doing background research, Wikipedia is a good first stopping point, and having this information at their fingertips promotes a balanced (and not white-washed) view.

Susan is looking for new contributors from New Zealand. If you’ve got some spare time to devote to science communication, one of the most effective ways of doing this would be to join Susan’s team.

Susan personally provides full training on how to research, write, and maintain Wikipedia pages. And you get to be part of a secret community which runs on Facebook with over a hundred people from all over the world dedicated to promoting science and skepticism.

If you’d like to get involved, please contact Susan directly via her email: [email protected]

 


If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
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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:  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:  UFO Mystery, essential oils, psychic car crashes


96

Skeptic News:  UFO Mystery, essential oils, psychic car crashes

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

The COVID-19 pandemic marches on throughout the world, and this week we’re seeing tragic increases in deaths in India. Unfortunately it seems that the Indian government was premature in announcing victory over COVID back in January. 

While many first world countries are making great progress in rolling out vaccines it seems that the poorer countries are struggling. There’s potential long-term consequences for letting the pandemic run out-of-control as the massive number of cases allow for mutations to create new, potentially deadlier or more infectious strains of the virus. 

It’s clearly in all our best interests to support the whole of humanity to deal with the pandemic, though there seems little that individuals in our isolated part of the world can do to help. 

Being lucky to live in NZ where we’ve managed to isolate ourselves effectively I was able to socialise this weekend, attending a friend’s 40th birthday. There’s strong social norms associated with meeting socially with people, from hugging friends to shaking hands with new acquaintances. And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve got a cold! I’m hoping it will be over with quickly!

Wishing you a great week…
Craig Shearer

 

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Triangular UFO “mystery” solved

An interesting video has appeared on YouTube which gives a rational explanation for a UFO video taken by US Navy personnel.

The UFO video, promoted by Jeremy Corbell who runs a website called ExtraordinaryBelief.com, features supposedly triangle-shaped UFOs. The site feels more like a throwback to The X Files, but I guess it’s targeting a specific demographic that is into that sort of thing.

The “take down” video, by Mick West shows exactly how the triangular images were produced – they’re an effect of the iris in the lens of the camera used – for any readers who are photographers, they’re just weird-shaped bokeh.

It turns out that the UFO in the video was actually likely to be a commercial airliner as the ship from which the video was taken was on the Los Angeles International Airport flight path. 

Mick West comments on his video:

“New reference footage from night vision monoculars (including the military standard PVS-14) demonstrates pretty conclusively that the supposed flying pyramid UFO actually looks exactly like a slightly out of focus light in the sky – quite possibly just a plane, as the ship was right under a flight path for LAX. 

Some of the other lights are identified as Jupiter and some stars. 

I don’t think that means the Navy got it terribly wrong. This was initially unidentified (with the UAP Task Force Investigates), and they maybe even thought it was a triangle for a few minutes. But it’s not. It’s just some lights in the sky. “

So, it would seem that the more prosaic explanation that the images are the result of easily replicable camera effects is much more likely than alien spacecraft. That won’t likely stop the believers though!

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Essential Oils causing seizures

Essential oils are one of those trendy products that seem to be very popular at the moment, and they seem to be a great money-maker for their manufacturers and retailers, with the estimated market size of over $17 Billion dollars globally in 2017. 

Essential Oils are derived from plant matter, and are claimed to contain the “essence” of the plant, whatever that is. They’re typically used in Aromatherapy, via a diffuser, which puts the molecules into the air. Who doesn’t like an attractive smell in the air which may have some positive mental effects, but as far as providing actual proven benefits studies are usually small. 

One downside to using essential oils could be that they can potentially trigger convulsive seizures in some people according to a study in India, written up in The Academic Times. The study determined a correlation between the use of camphor and eucalyptus essential oils and seizures. While proving causation requires further research it seems there’s certainly an association, and it’s not implausible that inhaling these molecules might well have neurological effects. 

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TV Psychic to pay £100,000 legal costs in failed case

TV psychic Maurice Amdur, star of UK TV shows Maurice’s Psychic World and Four Rooms has been left to pay £100,000 in legal costs after attempting to sue an insurance company for his loss of his psychic powers after a car crash. 

The psychic, who claims to have done readings for royalty, heads of state and movie stars, claimed that a car crash, where his car was shunted from behind at a roundabout in London, caused him to be so racked by pain for years afterwards that he “struggled with the intense concentration required to predict the future”.

Mr Amdur was suing for £250,000 in compensation, but the judge threw out the claim saying it had been undermined by fundamental dishonesty. He claimed that he was unable to do readings for two years, but in fact had done readings during the period.

It seems the judge was onto Amdur, stating:

‘I am prepared to accept that Mr Amdur does believe that he has a “gift” and that he considers that he behaves with integrity when working as a clairvoyant, unlike others in the field who are “charlatans” as he called them.’

Amdur would have been awarded over £10,000 for his crash injuries, but instead the judge dismissed the claim and so he must now pick up the legal costs for the case. Clearly he didn’t see that coming!

 

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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:
https://skeptics.nz/join


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