Notice of Annual General Meeting – 6th Dec 2020 – 7pm online


Notice of Annual General Meeting – 6th Dec 2020 – 7pm online


This email is notice of the NZ Skeptics Annual General Meeting


View this email in your browser

Hi <<First Name>>

NZ Skeptics will be holding its Annual General Meeting for 2020 online on Sunday December 6th at 7:30pm. 

The URL to attend the meeting is: https://meet.google.com/egm-afct-ysi

If you cannot attend the meeting and wish to vote by proxy, please contact the Secretary to arrange a proxy vote form.

We hope to see you at the AGM.

Best regards,
Craig Shearer,
Chair, NZ Skeptics Inc.

Twitter

Facebook

Website

Copyright © 2020 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

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

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp


Continue reading

Skeptic News: RIP Randi, hauntings and big cats


Skeptic News: RIP Randi, hauntings and big cats


Sad news of the passing of James Randi.

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

 

Randi, hauntings, and more…

Hello fellow skeptic – and welcome to November. For me, this year has both shot by and dragged. And what a tumultuous year it’s been!

Randi
This week saw the passing of James Randi (aged 92), a noted Canadian-American magician and skeptic. Most of us in the skeptic movement will be aware of the major contributions he made and in his popularisation of skepticism itself. He certainly called out many con-artists who made their livings out of fooling the public. People such as Sylvia Browne (purported psychic medium), Uri Geller (spoon bender), and Peter Popoff (faith healer) were targets of his debunking activities.

Randi, through his educational foundation (The James Randi Educational Foundation) also set up the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge (now terminated), which has been a powerful device against those who claim to have paranormal abilities but never seem to be able to produce the goods when actually tested.

Randi visited New Zealand, lecturing at Canterbury University back in 1993, and no doubt spurred many people to join NZ Skeptics at the time. We are on the hunt for the original videos of the presentation,and intend to get them up onto our YouTube channel in due course.

As skeptics we should question hero figures (and indeed the concept of heroes). No person is without their flaws. Randi had doubts about climate change (though updated his position), and was less than critical about some bad actors in our movement. But, Randi was a product of his age. There have been plenty of obituaries praising Randi, but it’s interesting to read the opinions of his critics too. From what I’ve read, many take a tone of broadly praising his work but taking issue with a particular sacred cow of their own.

On the whole, Randi encouraged critical thinking and, I think, had a positive effect on the world.

Haunting continuation

NZ Skeptics was recently approached for comment on the bizarre story of a purported haunted house in Pukekohe, Auckland. The story was amusingly written up in the New Zealand Herald. 

Haunted NZ, an organisation that investigates haunted houses, contacted NZ Skeptics, challenging us to spend a night at a purported haunted location. I wrote about this on our website. Unfortunately the planned visit didn’t happen – the proposed venue doesn’t actually allow overnight visitors!

It seemed that the story had run its course, but I was contacted again on Friday by the NZ Herald journalist, saying they’d had some further communication with Haunted NZ. Allegedly, the spiritual entities have now been ejected from the house by their ritual, but are now haunting the outside of the house but won’t come back inside. I was told that a karaoke party was crashed by a ghost – though how this would work I’m not sure.

The NZ Herald journalist was to be sent a video from Haunted NZ that would show proof of the “goings on”. Unfortunately, this has failed to materialise as of this writing. STOP PRESS – apparently the video is still being produced and edited down. We’ll provide a link so all can see if and when it actually arrives!

I’m a little suspicious of the timing of this being around Halloween. It seems like a good publicity stunt for Haunted NZ. On the other hand, perhaps spiritual entities do exist, and Halloween is their peak season for activity! 🙂

Big cats in Canterbury

This week saw another claim of a big cat in Canterbury. And by “big cat” I’m not talking about an over-sized domestic feline, but a real wild animal variety big cat – such as a Puma or Black Panther or Tiger. Over the years there have been several claims of anomalous wildlife, including Moas and Mooses. 

It seems unlikely that a population of large wild animals could exist and not be discovered by the scientific community. We should seek more prosaic explanations until evidence shows otherwise. According to experts, it’s quite possible that well-fed feral cats can grow to quite a large size. From a distance, it’s easy to mistake the actual size of an animal. 

The evidence we have so far is mostly anecdotal or distant grainy photographs where it’s difficult to determine actual scale. For these cats to be real would require a breeding population. Most big cats are endangered species in other parts of the world. It seems particularly unlikely that a population would be able to establish itself here and without the widespread notice of people.

Election prediction/science

It will no doubt not have escaped your notice that this is the week of the US Presidential Election, pitting the incumbent Trump and Pence, against Biden and Harris. I don’t think it’s going too far out on a political limb to state that, as skeptics, we should be hoping for the candidate that respects and follows science and listens to experts will actually win.

Trump is certainly the anti-science candidate. His administration’s response to COVID is evidence of that. But then there’s the climate change denial (which is arguably an even bigger existential threat), as well as dozens of other examples of ignoring experts. I liken his penchant for rolling back regulations as akin to somebody trying to dismantle a live bomb by cutting random wires. 

But it’s not a done deal – while Biden is leading in the polls, the outcome is far from certain at this stage. The US election reminds me of a scientific experiment. The Republican Party seems to be doing all it can to bias that experiment in its favour. From measures like making it hard for people to vote, to voter intimidation, to legal challenges as to up to when or whether votes can be counted – all of these measures introduce bias into the result. We can be very thankful that we have a much more transparent system of voting here in New Zealand, and one where there’s a sense of fairness in that everybody who wants to vote should be able to. 

I recall thinking back in 2016 after Trump’s unexpected win that it might not be so bad. That he would be surrounded by people that would moderate his worst impulses. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have been the case.

This week is going to be very interesting. My opinion is that Biden will prevail, unless all of the dirty tricks and manipulation going on by Trump’s side manages to bias things so far as to upset the result.

NZ Skeptics Merchandise

Have you visited the refreshed and redesigned NZ Skeptics website yet? You certainly should – it’s got a nice, clean design, done by Weka Web DesignAnd now, we’ve got some great NZ Skeptics branded merchandise for sale. Take a look at our special merchandise pageThere you’ll find some fun items which you can use to advertise your skeptical mindset.

We think these items would also make great Christmas gifts for the skeptical and not so skeptical people in your life.

Feedback

We hope you’re enjoying our newsletters. There’s a team of three of us taking turns in writing the newsletter, and you’ll probably find that each of us has a different style of writing and a different set of opinions and values that seep into our writing. We hope you welcome this diversity of thought.

The committee of NZ Skeptics is always interested in hearing feedback from our readers. If you’ve got anything to say, or would like to contribute or help out, please get in touch by emailing us.

Have a great week!

Craig Shearer,
Chair, NZ Skeptics Inc.

Facebook

Twitter

Link

Website

Copyright © 2020 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

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

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

Skeptic News: Conversion “therapy” out, free expression under attack


Skeptic News: Conversion “therapy” out, free expression under attack


With Labour in, conversion “therapy” is on the way out, we are saddened by the passing of James Randi, and reflect on the murder of Samuel Paty.

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

Conversion therapy on the way out, The Amazing Randi trolling psychics, and terrorism in France.

The NZ Skeptics newsletter email, out to you after Labour day. Have you planted your tomatoes yet? Keeping you up to date with the latest skeptical news from around New Zealand and overseas.

NZ Skeptics have been organising some exciting merch! Keep your eyes open for news soon about how you can get your hands on NZ Skeptics t-shirts, tea-towels and more…

Auckland University Professor Richard Easther @REasther tweeted “DO. NOT. STOP. USING. THE. DAMN APP.” In response to statistics showing a marked decline in New Zealanders using the government’s Covid tracer app. It seems people’s ability to understand threats is great if it involves a large creature with teeth, but not so great if it involves an invisible virus. Skeptics should follow the science, and the science is telling us we need to retain good contact tracing practices or any new outbreak will be harder to track and contain. I for one have been using that damn app.
We found many people being highly skeptical of Facebook after it’s move to ban anti-vaccination ads and QANON groups, meanwhile, they remain lurking down the rabbit hole over on YouTube.

Jacinda Ardern can now move to ban conversion therapy and reform gender law. She had promised to do so, provided she had the numbers in parliament. Now the people have given Labour the numbers, there will be nothing stopping this coming into force. This is great news for the LGBT+ community and anyone who cares about human rights. Conversion therapy is an idea promoted by religion. It does not work and is cruel psychological torture, based on the misguided idea that you can pray the gay away. Forcing people to pretend to be who they are not to pass for what is acceptable by their community hurts them. I feel strongly that it is the community who needs to change and learn to accept everyone for who they are.

Mediawatch reported that the broadcasting watchdog upheld a complaint about misleading COVID-19 claims by ZB’s Mike Hosking. It wasn’t the only time he misread the stats and misled his listeners. If you can stand listening to Mr. Hosking, well, wow. Let’s just say I’d rather watch Uri Geller bend spoons all day long.
The work Ken Ring Weather Check @RingCheck does on twitter impresses me, so I’d like to throw some love their way. With persistence and attention to detail @RingCheck picks apart the random dross Ken Ring throws our way disguised as insightful and spiritually guided premonitions about weather and earthquakes. In a recent tweet @RingCheck said “Astrology has abandoned Ken in Australia now. The whole continent seems to be oblivious to the transit of Uranus through Scorpio. Must have slipped into another dimension using the “astrological energy grid of the constellations”. So, if you like a good debunking, bring your popcorn and enjoy.
The Spinoff published an article by Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris about how to bridge the gap with someone who’s been pulled in by disinformation. This is the story of people calming down and listening, rather than point scoring and repeating facts at the other person. Kindness is the key to changing someone’s mind.

Excited about:
Tim Caufield’s new book ‘Relax, Dammit!: A User’s Guide to the Age of Anxiety’ Caufield says that too often “decisions are dictated by concerns or beliefs about our world that simply aren’t true”. True that.

After the very sad news of The Amazing Randi’s passing, The Onion let us know he is already bothering psychics from beyond the grave. We would expect nothing less. Also, ha ha ha ha ha ha!
On a New Zealand tour back in 1993 he gave a lecture at Canturbury University. Were you there? Do let us know!
This writer’s other half was lucky enough to have attended the lecture, as he was studying at Canterbury at the time. It turns out NZ Skeptics actually had recordings of the event, on VHS, and were mailing them out to people on request. On learning this we’ve begun an investigation to see if we can find a copy of the recording and from there see if it’s possible to get it into some type of form that would be publishable online. I’m very curious to see it, and to see if my now husband, who would have been just 18 at the time might have been captured on camera too. Watch this space.

According to issue 29 of New Zealand Skeptic James Randi’s talks were so well received, NZ Skeptics received a bump in membership and had the best attended conference up till that point. We were also very excited that he came to thank us in person for our small contribution to his efforts to fight a legal battle with Uri Geller. The case was brought by Geller who was offended to the tune of a cool 15 million dollars, by Randi’s suggestion that Geller’s tricks were “the kind that used to be on the back of serial boxes when I was a kid”. The court sided with Randi, and Geller was made to pay 120,000 in fees.

I’d like to finish with some words about the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty. His life was taken because some cowardly people felt so offended, and justified, they thought it was acceptable to end someone’s life. Being offended is ok. You can get over those feelings. They are just feelings. Your ideas are not you. Unfortunately, religion has a way of making you conflate your sense of self with your beliefs, so that some people feel justified to do extraordinarily grotesque things, even killing. Disagreeing with someone’s views is ok. Killing someone to protect ideas is terrorism.
After the events, the hastag #JeSuisProf started trending. From NZ Skeptics, #JeSuisProf.

Back in March 2019 white supremacist terrorism had hit us all hard and we stood together with the hashtag #TheyAreUs. White New Zealanders were forced to recognise the role we all play in the passive acceptance of racism in New Zealand, a foundation of lies and injustice that supports white supremacist terrorism, and the ongoing everyday racism that continues to injure so many with a thousand tiny cuts. Unfortunately, the ideology of white supremacy has a way of making you conflate your sense of self with your beliefs, so that some people feel justified to do extraordinarily grotesque things, even killing. Disagreeing with someone’s views is ok. Killing someone to protect your ideas is terrorism.

Now in October 2020 we stand with Mr. Paty’s family, friends and colleagues, everyone who was impacted by his death. Everyone who wants to talk honestly about controversial issues, for they should not have to fear doing so. Free expression is important and must be protected.

Facebook

Twitter

Link

Website

Copyright © 2020 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

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

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Continue reading

NZ Skeptics Member Update


NZ Skeptics Member Update


An update about your NZ Skeptics membership


Dear member

What a year 2020 has been! Obviously unprecedented in many ways. We find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic and lucky to find ourselves in a country which has sensibly listened to scientists and other experts. What a contrast we’ve seen between countries that have respected the science and those whose leaders have ignored it, taking a fairly cavalier attitude to the risks and dangers the virus presents.

We have some major changes coming up with the NZ Skeptics Society. 

Firstly, we trust that you’ve enjoyed receiving New Zealand Skeptic, the quarterly journal of NZ Skeptics Inc. The journal has been published for many years, but we’ve now taken the hard decision to stop publishing it. The Autumn 2020 issue, number 130 was our last issue.

The committee of NZ Skeptics has decided that the journal has “had its day” and to move to publishing more timely, online content, more frequently. Our plans are to publish a short regular newsletter (generally weekly, but sometimes life gets in the way), delivered via email, and to have more articles and blog-style pieces on our website. If you’re signed up to the alerts mailing list, you should have received this by now.

We hope you’ll find the new online-based content useful. We plan to cover New Zealand/Aotearoa-related content from a skeptical and science-related perspective. 

Delivering in email form will allow us to keep our members informed more frequently and hopefully encourage engagement and participation. It will also be more easily shareable with others who might not otherwise be exposed to a skeptical perspective on things. To that end, we’re going to be delivering the newsletter to anybody who’s signed up to the mailing list, not just members of the society. We see this as a way of spreading our message to a wider audience than just society membership would allow.

We’ve had some regular contributors to the journal over the years, and we hope to retain their voices, albeit in a slightly altered format. If you’re interested in writing content, we’d love to have you get in touch. Please contact us at [email protected] if you’d be interested in this. 

Speaking of the website, we’ve now refreshed the look, giving it a more modern feel, thanks to our committee member Amy, from Weka Web Design. Please make sure you check it out. We plan on adding more content and a special members’ only area in the near future.

As you’re probably aware, we normally run an annual conference. Last year’s in Christchurch was a stunning success. We had planned on running one this year in Wellington… then COVID hit. Then we planned on running an online conference, but, stressful as this year was, we could not pull things together in time. So, we have decided to forgo the conference this year, and plan on running an in-person one next year, on the assumption that things will be much more under control with the pandemic, hopefully with a vaccine in place. Things, we hope, will look very different in twelve months.

Finally, we’ve a couple of other items we think will be of interest to members. 

We’re currently setting up a page on the website where you’ll be able to order various NZ Skeptics merchandise – such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, tea towels and a few other specialty items. These items would make perfect Christmas gifts for the skeptical and not so skeptical amongst us.

Secondly, watch out in your physical mailbox in the next few weeks for a special item from us. We’re not revealing what this is yet, but we think you’ll like it.

As a committee we are interested in feedback on our decisions. If you’ve anything you’d like to let us know about, please contact us at the committee email: [email protected].

Best regards,
Craig Shearer
Chair, NZ Skeptics Inc.

 

View this email in your browser

Twitter

Facebook

Website

Copyright © 2020 NZ Skeptics, All rights reserved.

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

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp


Continue reading

The case of the haunted house in Pukekohe

With the season of Hallowe’en approaching, what better time for a tale of haunting? The NZ Skeptics recently commented on the story of a purportedly haunted house in Pukekohe, currently occupied by Filipino workers. The story appeared in the NZ Herald this week.

Let’s have a look at what we know about the claimed evidence for the haunting, from the NZ Herald story:

  • Sounds, such as footsteps and crying, and somebody calling out one of the workers’ names.
  • Lights being switched on or off.
  • Descriptions of sleep paralysis
  • Awaking to a slap in the face but nobody in the room
  • Strange smells
  • Sudden drops in air temperature

A group of paranormal enthusiasts, Haunted NZ, has engaged with the workers, offering to investigate and cleanse the house of spirits.

The Haunted NZ people give a definition of what they consider to be a ghost:

“A ghost is a person who is no longer a corporeal being, they don’t have a body anymore, but they’re still the same person that they were before.”

It’s difficult to imagine how this would work. What we know, through experiments, is that the mind and consciousness result from brain function. Without an alive brain, there is no personality or consciousness that can continue to exist. To think otherwise is to support the well discredited idea of mind-body dualism.

The listed claims are all physical phenomena. How is it that non-physical entities could produce physical phenomena?

There are likely better explanations of the evidence that do not require the existence of spirits. Many of the experiences of the workers seem to have occurred around the time they fall sleep. Hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations provide a good explanation for these phenomena. The brain, in a half-awake state, essentially paralyses your body. Hallucinations are also common during these times.

It is intriguing that some of the claimed phenomena align with conceptions of paranormal activity depicted in Hollywood movies. For example, the idea of somebody’s legs being grabbed and involuntarily raised and lowered is a trope. So, it appears that the workers’ experiences might well have been influenced by conceptions from popular culture.

What should we make of Haunted NZ’s claims to be able to rid the house of spirits?

Apparently, Haunted NZ will use a Wiccan approach, the “lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram” – basically magic incantations.

Haunted NZ will apparently also make use of a GeoPort spirit box. This device works by quickly scanning AM or FM radio frequencies to produce sounds that a primed mind might interpret as voices of spirits. We have a name for this – audio pareidolia – the ability of the human mind to find patterns in random noise and attach meaning to it. But, again, back to physical mechanisms – how are spirits able to influence these devices to produce the sounds?

It is plausible, however, that invocation of magic spells might well have a psychological effect on the current (physical) occupants of the house. Perhaps after the “cleansing”, the workers minds might be less inclined to put unexplained occurrences down to spirits.

The prior owners of the house also claimed to have experienced strange goings-on, and had the house blessed. Amusingly, they suggested that a previously-closed wardrobe door had been opened which let out whatever evil spirits lurked trapped within the house. What seems more likely is that rumours of the purported haunting were somehow passed on to the new occupants, thereby setting up an expectation in their minds.

From what we know about the house it is an old villa. As such, the idea of creaky floorboards and inadequate weather sealing producing creepy effects isn’t out of the realm of plausibility.

Haunted NZ have challenged NZ Skeptics to experience the reality of a haunted setting. We’ve been invited to spend a night at the Howick Historical Village in Auckland, and we endeavour to have a representative take them up on their offer. The hidden assumption here is that skeptics will be converted into believers by experiencing something out of the ordinary. This seems unlikely to me – as skeptics we look for rational explanations for strange events, and recognise the fallibility of human perception and biased thinking. It might be an interesting experience though, and a chance to have a conversation with believers and better understanding how they think, as well as being an opportunity for us to give our perspective on their approach.

We can only hope that we won’t be “pranked” with the aim of providing a mysterious, “unexplainable” happening that will turn us into believers!

We would encourage Haunted NZ and other believers to have a more open mind. Rather than jumping to conclusions that any strange and currently unexplained phenomena must be evidence of paranormal activity, they would do well to consider more rational explanations in the first instance.

When is an anti-vaxxer not an anti-vaxxer?

Answer – when they’re an ex-vaxxer!

It seems that being an anti-vaxxer is a bad thing now, in the minds of the public. Nobody wants to be labeled as such. So, people who, for all intents and purposes, are anti-vax, have started calling themselves ex-vaxxers.

To a certain extent this is literally true – people who’ve previously vaccinated but now no longer do could certainly claim such a label.

But this misses the point.

Some people have claimed that they’re not anti-vax. They just want vaccines to be tested properly (they have), and shown to work effectively (they have), or to be made “safer” by removing harmful toxins (hint: the poison is in the dose).

You don’t have to utter the words “don’t use vaccines” to be anti-vax. Spreading misinformation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines is enough to deserve the title of anti-vaxxer.

To be clear, vaccines are one of the most important and effective improvements in public health we’ve ever had. In this age of a global pandemic, you’d think people might be more aware of this.

The Healy “energy medicine” device is the next big thing in CAM

Note: this article was written over the last few weeks, but today Radio New Zealand featured a story by Susan Strongman that gave a great deal of publicity to this. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/in-depth/422241/vitamin-dosing-via-bluetooth-physicist-warns-don-t-waste-your-money-on-healy

At the risk of it appearing as if there’s only one person who concerns NZ Skeptics, we’ve yet another item of concern from that erstwhile bank manager, turned psychic medium and now health guru. Yes, Jeanette Wilson is at it again.

Wilson seems to be really turning up the heat on her online workshops. Back in May of this year some of our skeptical operatives attended an online session run in a Zoom meeting where Wilson made some astounding health claims, including ones about COVID-19. The story was picked up by Toby Manhire of The Spinoff and showcased a bunch of the outlandish claims being made.

On the heels of that online workshop we became aware of another one. This time, promoting an electronic device by the name of Healy. This does now seem to be her new focus.

I attended the video conference – this time a Facebook Live video session to take a look at what was being promoted.

The session was attended by around 30 people, though there were people coming and going all the time. Wilson’s new approach seems to be to set up a new private Facebook group which you must then apply to join. I applied in my own name and was allowed in. (This surprised me as Wilson definitely has mentioned me by name before so would have been aware of me, although, she does seem to have some assistants so perhaps it wasn’t Wilson personally that allowed me to join.)

Unlike a Zoom conference call, there is only limited opportunity for interaction with the hosts – just by comments in the feed. Most of the participants’ comments were supportive of the device, with some having already purchased it.

I inserted some skeptical comments which lasted for some time, but alas (and perhaps predictably) I was blocked, and no longer able to comment. I’ve since been denied access to the group.

The session was run in Wilson’s video studio that we saw in the previous Zoom session. It’s a conference table with TV monitors behind it. This session was hosted by Wilson and 3 other people. The setup is relatively sophisticated – each person has their own inconspicuous mic attached to their head, and there are multiple cameras and sound mixing, so somebody technical is operating things behind the cameras. (It turns out, through some further reveals from Wilson, that it’s her partner and business partner Andrew Carter.)

The hosts of the video were Wilson plus a guy from South Africa, who claims to be a healer and Reiki Master. There was also a husband and wife team who were, it seemed, intent on pushing the business side of things.

The Healy device

The device, according to Wilson, is a wearable bio-resonance device that measures your body’s frequency and then sends you the frequencies you need for cell health, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.

The Healy device is developed and marked by a company based in Germany. The basis of the product is a small electronic device that is worn on the person, and some electrodes which connect to it, allowing it to put electric current through the body. The electrodes are typically connected to each ear. It is claimed to be an “energy device”, with 144,000 frequencies programmed into it. The device connects to a smart phone app using Bluetooth. The app then gives the user the ability to monitor various aspects of their wellbeing, and then select the appropriate “frequency programme” that will cure what ails them.

There are various versions of the device with different features and prices. I’m skeptical, though, that the device actually has different versions – it’s likely that it’s the same device with various options enabled in the app depending on how much you pay.

This is an expensive device – the presentation showed the entry-level device and accompanying app – at 416 Euros, which converts to about 720 NZD. I’ve found that the device can be ordered online, and the prices are quoted in Singapore dollars (which are currently about $1.10 NZD).  The various versions are:

VersionCost – SGDNZD
Healy Gold$715$779
Healy Holistic Health$1,435$1,564
Healy Holistic Health Plus$2,150$2,343
Healy Resonance$3,585$3,907

Those prices are for the device alone. It is recommended that you also subscribe to the app, at a cost of $50 NZD/month. There is also a nutrition option (called the DNA – digital nutrition analysis) at $160 NZD a month. I’d say these are staggering prices, but can you put a price on your health and wellbeing?

Many claims were made for the device, but any talk of curing brought out the standard “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” line of “we can’t legally say it cures anything”, but the impression that one would take away from their presentation was that it was great for a whole bunch of ailments.

They also made the claim that it was FDA approved (as in the Food and Drug Administration in the USA), also claiming that you don’t get FDA approval without a device working. This is patently false (no pun intended). In reality, the device has FDA clearance, which is completely different from approval. All that is required for FDA clearance is to show that the device is similar to another device that has been previously approved or cleared by the FDA. This does not mean that the device actually works. They can piggy-back off a more legitimate product.

There’s also a watch form of the device, which they claim is much better than an Apple Watch. It’s claimed that it can give you an ECG graph that you could take along to your doctor for diagnosis that “contains only 4% less data than a doctor’s ECG would have”. Quite astounding really!

The nutrition aspect of the device was sold as giving advice on what you should be eating for optimum health. Claims of weight loss were part of the features that the device offered.

Rounding out the benefits, there’s also a Traditional Chinese Medicine Zodiac body organ calendar. This was quite fascinating. Apparently there are only twelve organs in the body and, depending on the time of day, you’re meant to concentrate on that particular organ. So, maybe between 11pm and 1pm you should be concentrating on helping out your kidneys. Another time during the day was for the lungs, etc.

Typical scientific-sounding claims were made about how the device interacted with the body. It’s claimed that the electrodes normalise the voltages in the your body’s cells. They claim that young, healthy cells have a potential of negative 70mV across them, and as they age that decreases down to zero. By using the device these voltages can be restored to health levels.

Device development

Device inventor – Marcus Schmieke

The device is the invention of a Marcus Schmieke. To quote from his website (https://timewaver.com/en/marcus-schmieke):

“In the course of his studies of physics and philosophy in Heidelberg and Hanover, he developed the vision of exploring the interaction between matter and consciousness…

Among other things, he has also studied Vedic philosophy and architecture during his stays in various Indian monasteries.”

There are typical claims of quantum “woo”:

“…the basis of matter is not only energy but information.”

“Every body, every person has an “Information field” and each quantum system has a specific resonance frequency and if you find the right frequencies, you can change the energetic and material state.”

Also involved in the development is an alternative medicine practitioner from Portugal by the name of Nuno Nina. He has a clinic that provides alternative therapies in the form of electrical current, and it is his “research” that has developed the 144,000 “gold” frequency programmes that are built into the Healy device.

The Healy device is a commoditisation of a former product – the TimeWaver. The TimeWaver operated on similar principles but was designed as a system for use by specialised alternative medical practitioners.

The business aspects of Healy

From what I could assess in the video conference there are several business aspects to this.

Firstly, the device being targeted at scientifically and medically illiterate people that have the money to plonk down on a product that makes grand claims for improved health and well-being. Claims for being able to provide relief for chronic pain are being made and it seems likely that there are people desperate enough to purchase the device on the basis of hyped up claims. Placebo effects and expectation will likely play a part in the success of the device.

Healy is also set up as a Multi-level Marketing company. The idea is that you purchase the device and then sell the concept and business to your friends and associates, who then sell the device and concept to their friends and associates. Along the way, you earn commission from your downline sales.

Thirdly, Wilson is promoting the device to alternative medical practitioners would buy the device then use it to diagnose and heal clients remotely – basically a gimmick to sell their time to gullible rubes.

From the perspective of an MLM there are review websites. Even these sites have negative recommendations of the Healy MLM business, citing the price of the device being a barrier to sales. But some entrepreneurs are thinking that this business will be the next big thing. I even found a printing company that has dedicated themselves (or at least a website) to providing merchandise for Healy dealers. Healyprints.com has a range of Healy-related products including business cards, t-shirts, padded sports bras, and flip-flops!

The Healy company predictably has disclaimers on their website:

“While scientific research underlies Healy technology, its connection to health and wellness has not been extensively explored or demonstrated. The Healy is not intended to cure, treat, mitigate, diagnose or prevent disease, but rather to support energetic balance and enhance recovery, vitality and wellbeing.”

Of concern with any MLM company are the representatives that go out and often make claims about the products that go well beyond the features of the product. Unfortunately, with so many distributors, it’s all but impossible to counter these claims. Of course, the Healy company has a disclaimer to cover this too:

“Healy World, with the advice of its advisory board, allows its affiliates to only make claims that are contained in company materials meant for public distribution. Please contact the company concerning any claims about which you have questions.”

Demonstration video

Wilson released a video that demonstrates how to use the device, and the app that accompanies it. It is particularly laughable.

Wilson tries to present an explanation of how the device works. She shows a diagram she clearly has no understanding of. Confusing microvolts with millivolts, then amperes with milliamperes. She clearly has no understanding of this, but then her likely audience doesn’t either and will be impressed by the science-y sounding words and explanations.

In the app you can enter the details of the client you are working with – such as their name, photo and date of birth. This is uploaded into the Healy Cloud. Incidentally, in the online workshop a big deal was made of the fact that Healy had their own “cloud” and that it wasn’t Google or Microsoft or Amazon. So, client details are likely held on a less secure server than big commercial offerings would provide for!

In the video she demonstrates the app on her partner – waving her right index finger over the screen so that the app can then somehow sense his needs and deficiencies. It is unclear how the Healy device is involved in this. Is the device somehow remotely sensing the client? Her partner was in the same room, operating the cameras and other technical equipment, but the implication is that this can be done remotely over the internet – the client themselves not having to possess a Healy device.

Once the diagnosis is complete, the app can then remotely send the frequencies to the client – it’s not clear how this actually happens, but the app shows some pretty, moving graphs which supposedly show the transmission taking place. Each “diagnosis” in the app also comes with some text that the user is meant to read out which somehow makes the therapy effective:

“With the power of my divine consciousness I now transfer all selected qualities and information into the field of the client. May they work for the highest well-being of the whole until an optimal balance for the client has been achieved (thank you!)”

So, with some special incantations this all works, magically!

As a software developer myself I’m astounded at what must have been going through the minds of the developer or developers who wrote the app. They really must have been aware of the scammy, pseudo-scientific nature of this. There really is no plausible mechanism that this can possibly work. From what I can see in the app, it will be making use of random number generators rather than actually communicating with the Healy device and reading the “quantum sensor”.

From a business perspective the device seems to be being used as a “dongle” – a device that must be present to allow the app to work. At least in the mode of remote treatment, it has no possible mechanism by which it could work.

There’s little money to be made these days in sales of apps unless you have millions of downloads, but charging for a physical device that makes an app work is probably a good way to make money.

Conclusions

In this new world we live in in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic it appears that alternative medical practitioners are moving to remote working from home that the Healy device will give them new opportunities to exploit this.

What is being promoted though is an expensive product, both in its initial outlay, and ongoing costs, that has little plausibility. Its marketing appears to be a cynical attempt to prey on the ignorance and fears of consumers. My assessment of Wilson is that she’s a bit of a dimbulb and gullible participant in this, but quite happy to take her followers along for the ride.

Jeanette Wilson strikes again!

Local “psychic medium” Jeanette Wilson seems to be finding surviving the COVID-19 pandemic a little challenging. No longer can she tour the country running her Psychic Surgery sessions, and with the NZ border closed, she can’t travel to the UK. And they say pandemics don’t have a silver lining!

But, in this age of internet technology, she’s now running online “training” sessions for wannabe psychic mediums. In reality, these sessions seem to be little more than opportunities for Jeanette to waffle on about the latest conspiracy theory that has percolated into her brain.

How do we know this? Well well-known psychic debunker Susan Gerbic, and a team of our local NZ Skeptics members recently paid to attend one of Wilson’s sessions. Painful as it was, they sat through two hours of the “training”.

They passed the video of the event onto Toby Manhire, journalist at The Spinoff, who wrote a fantastic article about the event, going into detail about the fantastic claims that Wilson was making, including some extremely dubious health claims about a product that supposedly protected against COVID-19.

Wilson is claiming she didn’t say what she clearly said, and Toby has seen the full video. Wilson claims the product “lines the lungs” preventing the SARS-CoV-2 virus from attaching to the lungs.

Amusingly, Wilson hasn’t even realised that some of the people attending her session were skeptics. She mistakenly assumed, via a message out to her group, that one of the attendees shared the video with us. You’d think that if she truly was a psychic medium, in touch with the spirit world, that one of her spirit friends would have clued her in that there were skeptics in on the call.

Jeanette Wilson, “psychic surgery” follow up

Last week we ran a campaign to get self-proclaimed “spiritual medium” and “healer” Jeanette Wilson shut down. This woman is touring NZ, doing a show called Psychic Surgery, which purports to be able to heal people (not cure, mind!) of whatever ails them. The “mechanism” is that she communicates with a team of “spirit surgeons” who when work the magic (being the operative word!) on her rubes patients. But it’s all God doing the work – she’s just the medium.

We got some good publicity in the media (https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/400150/sceptics-aim-to-shut-down-nz-tour-by-spiritual-healer), after emailing all of the venues in a bid to get the hires rescinded, and the tour effectively shut down. Alas, it seems that the profit motive is stronger than the ethics motive. Of the venues that did bother to reply, the common response was that they could not be responsible for what goes on at their venues.

Of note is that Radio New Zealand actually interviewed Ms. Wilson. This is really worth a listen. Seldom do we get to hear woo merchants “put it all out there” and make the claims in public as to what they think they can do. https://www.rnz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=2018715951

Our activity does seem to have riled Wilson up. She’s made the claim that skeptics don’t attend her shows – if they did they’d see first-hand what an amazing healer she is, and, ridiculously, why aren’t the medical community studying her? Well, we have attended her shows. What we have seen is that the “healing” as such is likely to be placebo effects, and long-term relief is unlikely. What is surprising is that her spirit surgeons didn’t let her know that there were skeptics in the audience. So much for being able to communicate with “the other side”.

It’s also caused her to come visit our website – she probably has a Google Alert set up on her name (Hi, Jeanette!). This led to a tirade on her Facebook page where she ridiculously claimed that NZ Skeptics were driven (maybe even funded?) by “Big Pharma”. She was shocked that a NZ Charity would be promoting vaccines (which, you won’t need to be reminded, are safe and effective). Apparently, she will be complaining to NZ Charities – bring it on, we say!

We make light of her ridiculous shows, but there is a serious side, which is why we took action. People that attend these shows tend to be vulnerable. Our skeptics who attended the shows witnessed some people who appeared to be quite unstable, being subject to the attention of this woman.

As we’ve seen with other woo merchants, their woo doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Once you go down one anti-science rabbit hole, there are plenty of other warrens to keep you there. Wilson’s Facebook page is a scary (but amusing) place. She’s anti-vax (despite claiming she’s not), she’s a climate-change denier, and she’s also anti-5G. She also claims that you can cure your eyesight by throwing away your glasses and using pinhole glasses. She also sells a dietary supplement, Purple Rice Powder, which, we’re told, is earning her $20,000 a month. It just goes to show that there’s big money to be made in pseudoscience.

To conclude, we never really expected to be able to shut down her shows, though it would have been great to be able to do so. The hope for the future is education – a population that is science-literate is unlikely to fall for the ploys of charlatans pushing false hope.

Psychic Surgery coming to a town near you!

NZ-based, self-described “spiritual medium” Jeanette Wilson has started touring the country with her Psychic Surgery show. We’re running a campaign to try to disrupt this by contacting the venues and making them aware of the sort of thing they’re hosting.

“Traditional” psychic surgery has involved literal blood and guts from animals being passed off as tumours and other tissues being removed from patients’ bodies. Jeanette Wilson bypasses all this messy stuff and simply walks around the patient flailing her arms and making weird “Eeeeeeeee!” sounds. All this under the guidance of her supposed team of “spiritual surgeons” on the other side.

This really is unbelievable. If you want to witness her performance, she has videos on her website.

Earlier this year we sent one of our committee members along to her show in Christchurch to observe the event and report back. What he saw was quite shocking. These shows seem to attract vulnerable people and one person there looked to be on the verge of a breakdown. So, this really is serious stuff.

Forty dollars is what it costs you to attend, but that’s just the start. She’s also running a sideline business promoting Purple Rice Powder as a dietary supplement, costing upwards of $100 for a month’s supply.

So, this person is a danger to the community. Any healing is likely just taking advantage of placebo effects, but the concern is that people with more serious conditions might well delay or avoid proper medical treatment by attending one of her shows.

Her shows aren’t limited to NZ either. She travels to the UK doing the same stuff over there. So, earlier this year, we contacted the Good Thinking Society in the UK to make them aware. They ran a campaign of contacting her venues and had good success in getting them to cancel the bookings after being made aware of what she was doing. We are hopeful that we can achieve the same here.

Locally, if you’re close to one of her venues, perhaps a well-placed word to them might sway them towards reconsidering their hiring decisions.

Conference tickets now on sale

Tickets to the NZ Skeptics Conference 2019 are now available for sale, with early-bird prices until the end of September (but of course, we’d love you to buy sooner so we get a good idea of numbers).

The conference has a bunch of exciting speakers, including all the hosts of the popular Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, Guerrilla Skeptic and psychic buster Susan Gerbic, and world-renowned mentalist and psychic entertainer Mark Edward.

This year’s conference will be held in the heart of Christchurch. Visit the conference website for more information and to get your tickets.

Nationwide school video competition promotes vaccination

The Force Field Film Challenge, aimed at helping kids to learn about the importance of vaccines, is an innovative competition being spearheaded by the New Zealand Skeptics.

The Challenge will test the research and creative skills of New Zealand Primary and Intermediate students in a deep dive to promote vaccination and the advantages of herd immunity. Students will be asked to put together a short film, up to three minutes long, to educate New Zealanders on how vaccination and its strong but seemingly invisible protective force field works.

Full-on creativity will be a requirement! Costumes, puppets, animation and any other presentation techniques that can grab the viewer’s attention are encouraged. A comedy sketch that shows how evil diseases can get thwarted? A gritty drama demonstrating how powerful vaccinations are at keeping New Zealanders healthier? Anything goes! The Number 8 wire, out of the box thinking that New Zealand prides itself on will be put to the test.

In preparation for this challenge, the NZ Skeptics have launched a funding campaign with Givealittle to help raise the prize money:

https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/force-field-film-challenge

The funding goal of $10,000 will be exclusively used as prize money, and will be awarded to the winning schools. The first place entry will win $5,000, with five runner-up entries getting $1,000 each.

NZ Skeptics Chair, Craig Shearer, said “It’s a sad fact that, even today, preventable diseases can have a horrific impact on New Zealand communities. The overwhelming scientific consensus shows that widespread vaccinations, resulting in herd immunity, are a safe and effective tool to fight these diseases. Measles, Influenza, Whooping Cough and even Polio have all been shown to be effectively combated by modern vaccinations.”

The Givealittle funding campaign will run until the 30th of April, with The Force Field Film Challenge being launched later in 2019. The challenge will be managed by the New Zealand Skeptics, a New Zealand registered charity.