Why do men have nipples?

Nikos Petousis, in his article Skepticism Greek-style answers many questions which have previously puzzled me, for which I thank him sincerely.

In return, may I answer one of his own unanswered questions? He had asked why God gave us such useless things as nipples on men. Many people, doubtless not attendees at the 2008 Skeptics conference, would claim Intelligent Design or Divine Guidance.

I know better. Those apparently useless appendages evolved for two excellent reasons, both for the benefit of the medical profession. The first reason is so that the doctor knows where to apply a cold stethoscope for maximum effect. The second is so that if the patient is unclothed, the doctor knows if s/he is looking at the front or the back. Q.E.D. (Sorry to revert to Latin, but I don’t know the Greek for this. Perhaps Nikos could help).

PS If you are in doubt about my theory, please check with John Welch for a second opinion.

PPS I’ve just realised that in sending this by email I cannot sign this in my usual manner (copyrighted) which you seem to have appropriated! However, I hasten to assure you that I am not planning legal action in the matter. When I did attempt to sign in my usual manner, the pen skidded on the monitor screen, which now has some nasty inky scratches.

(That’s OK – we Davids have to stick together! – ed.)


Sensing Murder or Sensing Money? I am a skeptic when it comes to psychics, mediums and anything to do with the ‘paranormal’. Over the last couple of years, I have watched perhaps four or five episodes of the popular show Sensing Murder, each time growing more annoyed.

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Potassium article activates BS-meter

One thing that activates my BS-meter is a miracle treatment with too many claims. Consider the following extract from an article, The Nutritional Benefits of Potassium Citrate, by John Gibb, from (search for “potassium citrate”).

A paragraph entitled Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency reads:

“Some of the symptoms of potassium [deficiency] to be noted are: tiredness, high and low blood pressure, acne, dry eyes, irritability, irregular or rapid heartbeat, muscle weakness, depression, confusion, anxiety, insomnia, frail skeletal structure, bone and joint pain, decreased reflexes, constipation, high cholesterol, water retention, respiratory problems, excessive thirst, evidence of protein in urine, less than adequate growth, infertility and headaches are other symptoms of potassium deficiency.”

The funny thing is that I have many of the same symptoms and have always ascribed them to increasing age.

Another funny thing is that I do believe that we don’t get enough potassium in the typical NZ diet. Since potassium can counteract the hypertensive effects of salt, the anti-salt campaigns here in NZ are seriously imbalanced by not mentioning potassium.

Jay Mann

Letter to Timaru Herald

It has long been known that you should never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.

“An alternative way to clean ears”, run recently in this publication (Not us! The Timaru Herald! -ed.), must be branded as unscientific, and possibly dangerous, nonsense. By what mechanism can ‘ear-candling’ possibly be beneficial?

Does the updraft from the burning candle draw wax from the ear? Apparently not, because “warm smoke circulates in the ear canal”. So, no updraft but, rather, falling smoke.

Is there capillary action drawing wax out of the ear? If so, the candle would be trimmed at the lower end to clear this wax. However, it is clear that the top end is trimmed and relit, so no capillary action then. The claimed amount of wax removed from each ear should have given your reporter some inkling of the nonsense she was paying for. How on earth would she get a tablespoon-full out of each ear? Oh, wait, we have a burning candle here. Look at the waste wax. Does it look like candle wax? Yes it does. Now we have a clue as to the amount and its source.

All together now… “It’s melted candle wax!” As Bart Simpson would say; “Duh!”.

This writer is astounded at the numbers of ‘New Age’ peddlers of modern equivalents of snake oil allowed to go about their dishonest business without critical comment. I refer to ‘clairvoyants’, ‘psychics’ , tarot readers, mediums, reflexologists and naturopaths and their variants.

Please make sure that these charlatans do not rip off you or your friends.

Clive A Shaw

PBRF assessments flawed

The Tertiary Education Commission has again issued flawed Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) assessments of academic research, sparking anger at its inaccurate labelling of hard working researchers as “Research Inactive” if they do not play the system. The United Kingdom has given up its similar scheme, and academics in Greece went on strike rather than accept the introduction of such nonsense there. For how much longer are New Zealand scholars going to put up with this insulting bullshine?

Raymond Richards


Do we really need a name change?

Given that we’re called the NZ Skeptics in virtually all instances-our website, journal, the flyers, the publicity posters etc-do we need to go through a formal change to the incorporated society’s constitution to implement it?

What do we achieve by that, that we do not already have? Not a lot, as far as I can see, except possibly an easier word to spell on the annual membership form 🙂 Though I suspect the bank would bank stuff addressed to the NZ Skeptics these days-and we can always list that as a trading name, in any case!

What do we lose by that, that we currently have? I still have to say that I appreciate the ability to point out that we do have a defined area of skepticism as exemplified by our formal name, rather than being skeptical about everything under the sun-I get calls asking me to comment as official head of the Skeptics on everything from religious beliefs to economic theories, from the smacking bill to Treaty settlements, climate change to whether New Brighton Mall would benefit by changing to a slow road…

At present, I feel I can point to the formal name and say, this is not our brief-given the diffuseness of the aim to “promote critical thinking”, per se, how do we define what we are thinking critically about? Or do I need to have an official position on all things…

Just want you to think about the ramifications here folks.

Vicki Hyde, Chair-entity

‘Paranormal’ no longer our brief

Isn’t there a reverse side of this coin? If we insist that our role is limited to the paranormal, how can we claim to speak authoritatively on important non-paranormal matters such as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)? How do we justify the almost universally non-paranormal content of our conferences? How do we justify Bent Spoon and Bravo awards that do not relate to the paranormal? If we insist that our role is limited to the paranormal, how can we claim to speak authoritatively on important non-paranormal matters such as CAM?

On this last point, I note that in the summary of submissions given in the MACCAH report to the Minister, our submission was cursorily noted as being from an organisation concerned with investigations into the paranormal, not as from the NZ Skeptics.

Keith Garratt

No name is perfect

As I see it, any name we choose (even the NZ Society for Skeptical Inquiry) is not going to convey our specific areas of interest. Only the aims and objectives can do this to any extent. Broadly speaking we avoid politics and religion, but with regard to the latter we do comment on religious claims that impinge on science.

I’m still for making our informal name the formal one. Worth reminding ourselves that our fellow Australians call themselves Australian Skeptics Inc.

Warwick Don

Maori sniping uncalled for

I must add my voice to Hugh Young’s plea in the last New Zealand Skeptic. There is a fairly constant sniping in the magazine about Maori religious practices. As if somehow they’re any different from anyone else’s. I would be a lot happier, if we are going to be snide about this, if we gave equal time for instance to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s yearly prayers for the souls of those who died in World Wars I and II. I am as atheist as the next guy, and quite happy to go on the offensive against religion, but let’s spread the offence equally. Actually, this sort of quaint practice is treated with much more grace in Britain, where fairy rings become tourist attractions. Does anyone imagine that people want to come here as tourists just to see a little England?

I was also a little puzzled at a reference to absenteeism in John Welch’s column. What on earth has this got to do with scepticism? We all know that people sometimes lie to take time off work. And in my view, many people in this country work long and hard for very little reward, so good on them. I could argue about this all day, but my opinion of this has nothing to do with scepticism either, Welch is merely pushing a political barrow, as I have just done.

Lastly, I was unable to make the last conference, but one reason I was anxious to go, was that titles of ‘Ethnic fundamentalism’ and ‘Linguistic fascism’ had sounded warning bells. Perhaps as used to be common, they could be reprinted in the next issue of the Skeptic so those of us who were unable to hear them can judge for ourselves.

Bob Metcalfe

(Look for Elizabeth Rata’s article on ‘ethnic fundamentalism’ in the next issue -ed.)


During a short visit to Texas, my wife Hazel and I caught a session of Larry King Live, on which ‘psychics’ battled skeptics. It was clear from the outset the production was heavily biased towards the psychics. Three of them were in the studio with King, shoulder to shoulder. The two skeptics were on video feed, separately.

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JIM Ring’s article, Lamarck’s ghost rises again (NZ Skeptic 80) does an excellent job in laying Lamarck’s ghost, and its recent revival, but it is bitterly unfair to Darwin and to one of the fundamental concepts of evolution when he attacks group selection and sociobiology. He is also wrong when he claims that social behaviour does not influence genetics.

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The leading medical journal The Lancet recently published yet another analysis of trials of homeopathy. After examining 110 such trials, the Swiss researchers concluded that there was no convincing evidence that homeopathy was any more effective than placebo. In the accompanying editorial, the editor, Dr Richard Horton, made a comment which has an uncanny, and no doubt intentional parallel with the views of the founder of homeopathy over two hundred years ago:-

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