US CSICOP Skeptics Library

CSICOP has been trying to have available, both to its staff and to anyone else who wishes to use it, the finest library of skeptical materials on the paranormal in the world. We have been gathering material for this collection as a part of the Center for Inquiry’s library, under the direction of Dr. Gordon Stein. He has been combing the used bookstores of the country for appropriate material.

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Chemists aren’t Pharmacists

When reading the latest issue of the NZ Skeptic, I was somewhat dismayed to find that both our worthy Chair-Entity, and our Hokum Locum failed to appreciate the difference between a chemist and a pharmacist/druggist. Although this is a common failure on the part of the general public I would have expected better from fellow Skeptics.

For example, I have a BSc in chemistry (and biochemistry) and am a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry. Thus I may rightly claim to be a chemist, yet I cannot sell drugs or dispense prescription medicines. In my experience, few pharmacists/druggists have much knowledge of chemistry, let alone any formal qualification in chemistry, so have no right to be called “chemists” despite common misuse of the appellation.

John R.L. Walker, BSc(Hons), PhD, FNZIC, Dept of Plant & Microbial Sciences, University of Canterbury

Grovel, Grovel and a Quick Right Cross

OK, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

Sorry John, and all you other real chemists out there for defaming the name of the chemically competent. Yes, I was talking about pharmacists when discussing those so-called “health professionals you see most often”.

(In defense, and appealing to authority — something we Skeptics never do — the dictionary does accept chemist as a synonym of pharmacist — but then it offers it as a synonym for alchemist too!)

Vicki Hyde, Chastened Chair-entity



Walter C Clark, Chuck Bird and Nicky McLean criticise Hitting Home for not investigating women’s violence towards men, that is, for not being another piece of research altogether. When biologists can produce papers about the hairs on the legs of one species of fruit-flies, this does not seem excessively specialised. One reason that that was not done is simply money. To have achieved the same accuracy would have required interviewing 2,000 women, doubling the cost.

According to the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, 95 percent of all domestic violence is men beating women. Analysing violence along ethnic lines would likewise have doubled the cost, since presumably only about 200 of the present sample were Maori. It would cost as much again to interview 2,000 Pacific Islanders, also commonly characterised as violent.

Greg Newbold’s references to Maori in prison are disingenuous. He of all people should know that Maori are more likely to be imprisoned not because they are intrinsically more violent than Pakeha but, among other things, because they are disproportionately in lower socio-economic groups and less well-educated, and (in consequence) less able to manipulate the system to produce the outcome they want.

Again, Hitting Home did not look for or find the specific extent of Maori men’s violence against women because that is not the piece of research it was. All that research certainly should be done, but it is to the credit of Hitting Home that it didn’t pretend to attempt it. This was, after all, primarily about men’s attitudes towards violence, not about which men are violent.

As for Bird’s proposal that men be asked if they were abused, what would that prove? The most violent men might also claim to be the most put-upon, so?

Clark’s and McLean’s elaborate discussions of “provocation” are taken care of by the wording of the questionnaire (p 224) which specifies “ways of settling differences”. “Banging the table” (Clark) is not mentioned, nor “restraint of a spouse intent on mayhem with a French cook’s knife.” They seem to think some lower threshold of abuse, one that they think justified, should be ignored. That it is not does not fault Hitting Home, it just shows their places on its spectrum.

Does Nicky McLean really think that a man who thinks it is okay to take a knife to his wife would draw the line at shouting at her? The more items he agrees to, the more abusive/violent he is. There is no suggestion in Hitting Home that the different levels of abuse and violence are equivalent. Obviously the scale is quasi-logarithmic, like the Richter and decibel scales, and hence more sensitive at the lower end. Once that is understood, “number of types accepted” is a perfectly valid measure.

Chuck Bird confuses de-facto marriages with reconstituted families: it is step-parents who are more likely to abuse children than natural parents, regardless of the legal status of the marriage. This seems to be biological and has nothing to do with men’s violence toward women.

Pace McLean, it will be news to co-author Robin Ransom that he is a woman.

Hitting Home does have a significant flaw (as well as the truthfulness problem I mentioned in my main submission), not mentioned yet by its supporters or opponents. The level of non-response is very high, with only 60% of men contacted agreeing to be interviewed. It is hardly a way-out, New-Age supposition that violent men are less likely to talk about their violence than non-violent men. Therefore, Hitting Home probably significantly under-reports male violence and abuse against women.

Hugh Young, Porirua

More Comments on Hitting Home

Definition of Abuse

It could reasonably be expected that the term “abuse” would have been defined and its parameters explained at the beginning of the report. Instead it is not until p.30 that any definition is given — when it is, it is found to embrace a long list of behaviours (physical and psychological) of varying levels of seriousness. This does have the effect of trivialising the subject and of diverting attention from the more serious cases. The data would appear far less confusing and a far greater reliance presumably could be placed on the results if the more serious aspects had been separated from the less serious from the start.

Lack of Balance

On p.31 we are informed that “in this study <@145>domestic abuse’ is used to mean the abuse of women by male partners”. Such a restriction seems misguided given that behaviours in a partnership are never restricted to one partner. And often other people are involved. Such an approach to the subject resembles that of a biologist who decides to study the dynamics of a parasite-host relationship by concentrating on only one of the participants.

Exclusion of Ethnicity

A basic criterion of any survey which purports to be scientific is that all avenues are followed which are likely to provide vital information. If this means disregarding claims that following this or that line of investigation “would lead to unhelpful, inappropriate and insensitive cross-cultural comparisons”, so be it. To maintain that the survey’s methodology was inappropriate for making such comparisons does seem a way of avoiding the issue, particularly when we are informed that an ethnic analysis became a significant issue in the consultations made during the development stage (p.35).

Questionable Methodology

A number of the most puzzling and questionable aspects of the study appear in the section: The findings of Study 1 — a survey of 2,000 men. We are told that “most New Zealand men do not approve of a man hitting a woman,” and that nine in ten do not approve of hitting in any of twenty different circumstances (p.62). It seems this clear indication of a high level of disapproval did not satisfy the researchers. A “ten-point scale of disapproval” was applied from which each man was given “an approval of hitting score”. Suddenly “non-approval” becomes “approval” in relation to hitting a woman.

The conclusion drawn from this questionable methodology is “that New Zealand men do not strongly disapprove of hitting”. Somehow what began as a strong positive has become a strong negative, to the detriment of New Zealand men in general.


On p.98 it is stated: “as in our research, the Dunedin study found that domestic abuse was more likely to occur when the male partner was young and when he was poorly educated, of low socio-economic level, and unemployed”. Yet a major conclusion from the study is that “a man’s socio-economic level, educational level and personal income group give us no clue of the likelihood of his being abusive to a woman partner.” (p.146). Also little is made in the report of the fact that this “finding” was contrary to that arrived at in the majority of overseas studies.

How can questions be “less direct” and, at the same time, “more specific”? (p.35).

Major Conclusions of the Report

There seems no justification for concluding (a) that there is an underlying male acceptance of abuse in New Zealand, and (b) that a substantial proportion of New Zealand women are abused by their male partners, both physically and psychologically (p.21). The results of the survey, particularly when taking into account the wide definition of “abuse” and the suspect methodology, do not warrant these conclusions. It is worth noting that a desire to fit data to preconceived notions is a characteristic of pseudoscience.


The NZ Skeptics Society is opposed to pseudoscience in any of its manifestations. There seems little doubt that vital parts of Hitting Home can be described as pseudoscientific. It is therefore a fair target for skeptical attention. I have to agree with those critics of the report who have concluded that it trivialises domestic violence and conveys a level of abuse perpetrated by men which is not supported by the evidence. I support fully the awarding of the Bent Spoon for 1995 to the report, Hitting Home.

Warwick Don, Dunedin

I have carefully examined the Department of Justice report on domestic violence entitled Hitting Home. I feel that this report fully deserved being made recipient of the 1995 Bent Spoon award.

Robert Woolf, Auckland


Despite the third paragraph of my contribution to the September issue, I would like it to be known that I do distinguish affect from effect (and impact for that matter), and an issue would be assessed rather than accessed, such as men’s abuse rather than man’s. And in the last paragraph I wrote few persons rather than four persons. But otherwise, my scribblings must have been clear enough.

As for the report, I too had to stare long and hard at some paragraphs, including the one quoted by Mr Clark in his letter [September, p.25, first paragraph]. I think the authors mean that when asked about “abuse” people disapprove readily, but if asked less directly about general abuse by being offered specific actions not labelled as abuse, many more say that they might do that, or could understand someone doing it. My bafflement peaked on p.148 of the report with “…most likely to agree with this statement were the non-abusive men” … “a clear relationship between seriousness of abuse and level of agreement with the statement” … “four out of ten in the most serious abuse group agreed…two out of ten in the least serious group.”

After a lot of thought, and checking with my father, I concluded that the paragraph was saved from literal self-contradiction thanks to overlapping definitions of “non-abusive”, “most serious” and “least serious” groups. A plague on the whole business!

Nicky McLean, Lower Hutt

Support for Award

Hugh Young writes, “Hitting Home is careful, thorough, mainstream scientific research.” And later, “It is social science, not `hard science’…”

It seems to me he is using definitions of “careful”, “thorough”, “mainstream”, “scientific”, and “research” which are quite different to those commonly used in the community of “hard science”.

Hitting Home is a muddle. One could give numerous examples but Page 88 is a classic. It lists a “Seriousness of Abuse Scale (SOAS)” although this seems to have become contaminated with frequency. What to make of this sentence explaining the scale? “Where two types of abuse had the same frequency, the one with the lower number of times in the past year was given the higher ranking.”

Some time last year a young couple from next door came to use our telephone. Later the man shot and killed the woman. According to the SOAS that ranks as less serious than “Threatened her with knife or gun”.

Hugh Young seems so certain of things which he cannot know as established facts. “Any torturer will tell you that the `best’ torture is purely mental.” How many torturers does he know? Has he consulted a random sample?

Hugh Young again writes, “It is a truism among anti-violence workers (but apparently unknown to the critics) that domestic violence cuts across class boundaries, and a high court judge or cabinet minister is just as likely to beat his wife as a freezing worker or opossum [sic] trapper.” This gets us to the real point: how do they know? This is just political correctness.

I spent 25 years in teaching where I encountered a number of families where there was violence against children and wives. My experience was that domestic violence was very strongly correlated with socio-economic class and ethnic group. Furthermore most of the serious stuff was inflicted by men.

Now I am quite prepared to be shown to be wrong (I certainly did not encounter a random sample), but this will require evidence; I will not be convinced by a politically correct truism common among social workers. Just how many wives of cabinet ministers and high court judges are to be found in women’s refuges for example?

Hugh Young again writes, “-the report came to this counter-intuitive conclusion by careful scientific study…”. It did not. It confirmed a “truism among anti-violence workers” by means that will naturally confirm prejudices.

The statistic that I found least believable is that 67% of New Zealand men had personal knowledge of physical abuse by a man or a woman. Because this implies that 37% have no such knowledge and I find that incredible. What kind of sheltered life do these people lead?

Jim Ring, Nelson

No Evidence

I enjoyed reading the opposing points of view regarding the Bent Spoon Award, but was surprised to be advised by Hugh Young on p.24 that “We Skeptics are now on record as thinking it beyond question that once a woman has struck a man, he need take no responsibility whatever for all his subsequent violence”.

I have personally never seen a scrap of evidence to support that statement and can only conclude that someone has been “behaving like a tabloid newspaper” having “taken information out of context, re-written it in a biased way, and generally put the kind of spin on it that we so often accuse our opponents of doing”.

John Turner


Chelation Study

Ian McWilliam’s comments on the Dunedin Chelation Study [Forum, September] indicates the many difficulties in understanding medical research papers. In consideration of his critique of the study:

Re the number of patients:

  1. Whilst 32 is not many, they were all typical claudication sufferers, being mainly smokers, male, and average age 67.

  2. Van Rij et al arrived at this number in the correct method: using “power” and type error and allowing for detecting a predicted significant improvement in the order of 10% in terms of walking distance. Thus the study would easily detect the sorts of improvement that would be clinically significant (ie the 50-100% touted by some chelation clinics).

Re Mr McWilliam’s doctor friend’s analysis:

  1. His statement that only 12% of the controls achieved 100% walking distance improvement versus 26% for the chelation group is poor presentation of statistics: We don’t know how many of the controls achieved 99% or similar walking distance improvement.
  2. Van Rij et al quote a change in the average walking distance to pain (ie how long before the patients stopped walking because of pain) in the order of 25 metres improvement for the controls verses only 12 metres for the chelation patients. In other words the chelation group did worse. An average is a better statistic in this case than the ones quoted by Mr McWilliam.

  3. Mr McWilliam’s statistical analysis (95% confidence limits) is irrelevant given no explanation of the statistical method used and who performed the test.

Comments that “Those who supply the expensive drugs, equipment and surgery would lose much if research into other simpler, less expensive…” ignores the extensive research by the “heart industry” into the likes of aspirin and warfarin, hardly expensive medications.

I have found the results of the Dunedin Chelation Study significant for my clinical practice: It has reaffirmed my clinical observation of several patients who have undergone chelation; they all feel significantly better for the extensive attention they receive and the improvements they achieve in their lifestyle — i.e. enhanced placebo effect. Unfortunately the cost of this “placebo” is excessive, its long-term effects questionable and I have a degree of unease when I consider the number of chelation-treated patients I have had die from their heart and circulation disease within two years following therapy.

Jim Vause, Blenheim


Shonky Research

My feeling after having read the report is that when it was ready for the printer, the authors had in fact reached the point where they were about ready to consult with people experienced in such research, as a necessary preliminary to the main investigation. I would have suggested a smaller pilot sample. This should have disclosed the pitfalls that lay in wait for them. By taking such steps they could have avoided the traps that they later fell into.

In my view the study was very seriously, if not fatally, flawed by choosing either defective definitions, or no definition at all. Poor definitions results in banging the table and knifing the wife being placed in the same continuum of physical abuse. Absence of definition seems apparent where they compared their results with results from other studies. There is no guarantee that apples were being compared with apples, and not pumpkins. Similarly, to continue the metaphor, they studied only half the apple — no comparable study of female on male abuse/violence/insult a great many of the comparisons and conclusions were inappropriately drawn, though often there can be no certainty about this.

I found much of the writing rather confused, so that I cannot interpret it with certainty — e.g. p.35

“It has been shown that when asked direct, general questions about abuse, people [?men] say that they disapprove, but when the questions become less direct and more specific [sic!], a kind of underlying condoning begins to emerge.”

What does that passage mean? It is not highly charged, but the meaning is obscure to me.

There also appears to have been an unwillingness to face possible outcomes squarely, so rather than risk discovering that abuse could have a racial component [ethnic is only Greek for race], the possibility of having to face such data was excluded from the outset. It was neither honest nor wise. I found much the same problem with the discussion of education and income levels etc. as potentially associated factors in abuse quite unconvincing, and in fact very confused because different results appeared to be reported on different pages.

I thought it unfortunate that the authors discounted a valuable notion from an Australian study (p 61) of “justifiable” abuse and “okay actions“. There seems to be no recognition that different circumstances may justifiably alter perspectives. For example, it could well be justifiable to use some force to avoid a greater evil, such as real harm to a child. Restraint of a spouse intent on mayhem with a French cook’s knife could well be necessary rather than merely justifiable or okay. I found it unreal that there was no description of the circumstances of the questioned “abuse” or “violence”.

It seems to me that the researchers were just not up to the task. This showed in a variety of ways. They had no hesitation in citing data on non-molestation orders, but failed to note that most of these are granted on ex parte actions, where husbands have no chance to challenge the initial application. How many are struck out after the husbands are heard?

Again, on p. 25 I read “…nearly all research has looked at the abuse of women by men, presumably because it is regarded as the most common form of domestic abuse.” Is that presumption justified? Fide Newbold, in the US where handguns are freely available, the likelihood of being shot by a spouse is about equal for both sexes! What price this pre-eminence of male on female violence in the absence of any data?

Perhaps the most surprising outcome of this study, I deliberately refrain from dignifying it with the name of “research”, is that the authors do not make an urgent demand for the complementary sexually directed study.

The subject is of real importance. The investigation deserves to be carried out in a workmanlike manner. Sadly this was not competent.

If the Bent Spoon is for shonky research, which is more likely to mislead than to illumine future action, there can be no doubt that Hitting Home richly deserved such categorisation. It was ill-considered and of no value in the pursuit of reliable information upon which to categorise a problem, and to plan remedial action.

The Skeptics should not, in my view, change the award of the Bent Spoon. It seems that the investigators knew the results they wanted, and set out to get them. Their reportage achieved that end.

Walter C. Clark, Woodend

Missed Opportunities

The Bent Spoon Award going to the authors of Hitting Home is what attracted myself and others to the conference. I was very impressed at the quick response of a group to this report after the lack of response to misleading studies done on sexual abuse.

I am concerned that changing the award at this time would not only give credence to this sloppy piece of research but would diminish the credibility of the New Zealand Skeptics.

I see little in value in reiterating the point about adding apples and oranges, that, Denis Dutton has done very well. What concerns me as much as the misleading statistics is that the authors of the report missed opportunities to find some of the causes of spousal abuse.

Firstly, there was no distinction between de facto and legally married couples. The incidence of sexual abuse of children is higher when they are living in a de facto household. It is likely that the cases of extreme physical abuse would also be higher in de facto relationships. I believe that the question was left out deliberately as the result would not suit the agenda of the authors of the report.

Secondly, the men should have been asked if they were victims of the various categories of abuse. It would have been interesting to see the correlation between those abusing and those receiving abuse. Overseas studies for multiple forms of violence between intimate partners indicate that men and women do use about the same amount of violence in relationships. Please note enclosed list of references.

In short, the authors asked questions that would give the desired answer. Namely that men are primarily responsible for domestic violence.

The fact is that this report is clearly flawed. It made no attempt to take a scientific approach to a serious social problem which can only lead to further polarisation of the sexes. This is why the executive of the Skeptics collectively awarded the Bent Spoon to the report.

Even if it could be demonstrated that some other publication is more deserving of the Bent Spoon, it is simply too late.

Firstly, that would be taken as endorsement of the report. It would have been better not to have even commented on the report in the first place.

Secondly, and more important for the long term future of the Skeptics, future awards would only go to publications that would not upset members of the Skeptics.

Next year ASH might get the award for using flawed data in regard to the effects of passive smoking. I personally support ASH, although I am not a member. However, I would not support ASH, Greenpeace, or any other organisation deliberately or even accidentally distorting the facts in the presentation of a study.

Perhaps in future awards could be selected in a different manner. A short list could be published in a newsletter. Members would then have an opportunity to express their view. A postal vote could possibly be arranged.

These matters are very much secondary to the question of giving the Bent Spoon Award to someone else. In hindsight the “Hitting Home” report might not have been the best choice. I and many others thought it was. To give the award to someone else now, would permanently affect all future award choices and no doubt restrict the topics printed in the newsletters.

Chuck Bird, Auckland

Bent Spoon Valid

At the Auckland confab when the dispute over Hitting Home burst over the AGM, I felt that there was little that I could contribute since I had no idea of the content of the report and only recollections of other information, so rather than add ad hominem remarks to an argument that was already involving strong emotions, I stayed quiet. But now that I have read the report, I feel that the award of the Bent Spoon was valid and deserved. Whether it was the most deserving of the possible candidates I can’t say, as I watch very little TV, rarely listen to the radio (when chancing on a talk-back show while in search of music, I’m tempted to flee to a cave and ignore any shadows on the walls), and don’t read the infamous Women’s Weekly.

To be worthy of a Bent Spoon, or criticism generally, the candidate should be important enough to deserve attention, be a stupid or bungled or confused effort by people who should know better, and worst, be wilfully misleading with intent to profit. Although the report contains work by persons and organisations that has been properly done, nevertheless the report is dishonest. Honest research requires conclusions that best represent the evidence collected, and the evidence collected is that which most directly bears upon the issues of interest. (Spare me remarks about circles.)

The authors fail to follow principle. They mention discussions over the form of the surveys yet give no details, the only time they access issues of internal consistency is when they consider whether the sex of the interviewer had any affect (it didn’t). All they have to say about their decision to study only man’s abuse of only women, and only by interviewing men is that it breaks new ground. They make brief mentions of other research (providing that it can be found in computer catalogues) but no attempt to cross reference men’s self-assessment with their wives’ opinion, although one can easily imagine difficulties.

The authors do not seem to have noticed that they are all three women, and that going by the names in the acknowledgement, nearly everyone else in the Justice Department involved with the project is likewise a woman. Yet there is a hint that they could have noticed when comparing their results with those of other groups: strangely enough, the group that notes the highest prevalence of men’s abuse of women is the Women’s Shelter (p 87).

Another comparison is just brushed aside. Their sample group has a different pattern of income from that of the nearest NZ census. This is due to inflation, they suggest, except that inflation has been relatively low. What is less often admitted is that lower incomes have been falling, while high incomes have risen still higher. But this is a quibble.

What I regard as the most serious failing is the flaw in the basic data collection in that the questions are ambiguous. They wish to investigate men’s abuse of women, which I take to mean unjustifiable acts, since obviously, if there was a good reason for doing something, then it could not be regarded as abuse even if nasty because its motive was not a desire to inflict nastiness on a woman but something else again. To give a specific example, suppose that mum was chastising a child and dad shoves her away. (Ah, but what if the child had been hitting the cat, for catching a bird.) Whatever the complications, surely this is quite different from him shoving her aside as he walks by, just to show who’s boss, and the difference in the quality of the act bears directly on the question of abuse and abusive attitudes. This seems to me to be so obvious that it must have come up in discussion, yet the authors say nothing on the issue

Even if it didn’t occur to the researchers it must be likely that some at least of the two thousand interviewees had similar thoughts and responded accordingly to their question “not OK in any circumstances”, indeed some may even have lived such scenarios. So of what use is the remark “Not a single behaviour, even using a knife or gun, was judged as unacceptable by all New Zealand men” (p 144). Instead of judging their attitudes to women, it may be their imagination that is being put to the test.

Yet the authors remain oblivious to this issue when on page 61 they compare some Australian research that used the word “Justifiable” rather than “OK” in some circumstances. They merely recite the differences, with no sign of thought as to possible reasons. Thus, 7% thought that lethal violence was possibly justifiable (Oz) but only 1% possibly OK (NZ). Could this not suggest a difference in the meaning of the two words, as exemplified by the arguments over just wars even though all agree that wars are not OK? Data is however data, and fascinating patterns await your notice, as the comparison shows. As the severity of the act increases (shoves, slaps, throws object at, assaults), the Oz figures run 15,14,10,7, while for NZ 19,11,8,1. What might this mean, if anything? But instead, silence. The authors simply view women as irreproachable in all circumstances so that irrespective of motive, any act against them is fully and purely abuse, by definition.

Much of this could have been avoided by the simple means of instructing the interviewers to exclude thoughts of self-defence or protection of third parties. What is at issue is men’s attitudes towards women as revealed by their own choice between alternatives, not as driven by some factor external to this relationship. You could argue that some men might decline an act on absolute principle, whereas others might require severe provocation, some less and another group no provocation at all, and that this does indeed reflect their attitudes to women, but it also reflects attitudes to humanity at large. Few people are Jains.

Thus the questions asked, especially those concerning physical acts, fail to address the research issue square on and allow needless confusions that could have been excluded.

The authors’ treatment of the results they do obtain is grotesque. They are determined to push them into showing that abuse is common and serious amongst all men to such a degree that I feel that this was their fixed view from the beginning, and they ignore all interpretations other than the one they want upheld. This requires some crude steps.

They list eleven acts of physical abuse that can be ranked by the seriousness of the likely physical injury. For acts of psychological abuse, ranking is more a subjective matter but nevertheless the number of persons accepting such acts in some circumstances has the same strongly skewed distribution, from 19% down to less than 1% and 33% to 1% respectively. Well and good. But the factor they choose for analysis is “Number of types accepted”. This is lunatic, for it equates “uses or threatens with weapon” (two counts) with “shoves or slaps”, also two counts. No explanation is given as to why this choice was made or others rejected, instead they leap at once to shout (in bold type, p60) “one in four said yes to at least one type of physical abuse” and also “six in ten…psychological”, plus further drivel about the average number accepted and standard deviations.

Lunatic is the wrong word, and stupidity is out of place. This is deliberate misrepresentation, and I don’t mean that they got their arithmetic wrong, or that the interviewees didn’t make those responses. There is the story of the beggar with a sign reading “Wars 2, Legs 1, Wives 2, Children 4, Wounds 2; Total 11”. No doubt if a survey was made, statistics on this factor could be generated. What should have been used is “Worst type approved”. There may have been some thought of this as it is noted that if a particular abuse is approved, lesser ranked acts are likely to be approved also, but although the approval rates vary by a factor of about thirty with a clear connection to severity, this is ignored in favour of shouting (in bold) “A significant number say that physical and psychological abuse is OK in some circumstances” without noticing that 75% deny approval to any physical act, and 42% of psychological acts (such as harsh words), even as the authors have defined them.

It could be argued that reducing a wide range of acts to a single severity scale and scoring men’s views through their acceptance of various acts with a possible further weighting according to frequency is a hopeless task and to be avoided. Yet exactly that happens in courts when a judge decides on the number of years of imprisonment to impose, a practice with millennia of history, and operated by personnel in a not too distant department.

Yes there would be problems (which haven’t dissuaded the IQ testers!) and there would be arguments over rankings, but Weight of Abuse Approved or Worst Type Approved are at least attempting to assess abusiveness, unlike Number of Types, which involves declaring that all acts have equal weight, an absurdity built in from the beginning and which flies in the face of the prevalence data that by their existence demonstrate that everyone else views murder as more serious than shoving, rather than both being worth one demerit each.

One act, hitting, is considered in various contexts, and on p 65 there is an interesting list of circumstances ordered by the proportion of men who apportion blame to the woman being hit. At the top with 48% is “He catches her in bed with another man” (I suppose that everyone interprets this common euphemism the same way) down to 1% for “He can’t find a job”. As before, any thought about the possible meaning of this ordering or what men might be thinking is not mentioned. Instead, all are immediately equivalenced so that we have another Number of Circumstances report thereby enabling a leap to the obvious and only conclusion. Combining the trivial few percent who assigned blame to neither allows the authors to say “In one circumstance half the men say the man is not at all responsible”. Yes, but it is also true that the other half think otherwise. The next paragraph notes some acceptance of blame by men but ends with “there are no circumstances in which every man says that the man alone is responsible”.

The authors simply deem an act abuse and therefore wrong (which is anyway what the word means) no matter what motive lies behind the act. There are no distinctions between malicious hurt, wrong, justifiable, or what else do you expect? All acts are solely expressions of a wish to abuse. There seems to be no recognition of the fact that a relationship involves two people in close interaction. Men are assessed by an impossible standard whereas women are held to no standard at all for they are perfect in act and thought.

The conclusion states that men must accept responsibility for their actions; well enough, so also must women. Women must know that being caught in bed with another man is likely to provoke extravagant behaviour, as is endlessly reported in the news media, depicted in films and plays, and found in novels. In fact they do, and are not above flirting with someone else in a pub precisely so as to stir up the boyfriend (who is expected to go for the other bloke!). He of course should remain calm (dear friend, let us reason together) but may well not. If she abhors violence, she has a free choice not to precipitate it but sometimes prefers drama and risk. One can imagine circumstances when infidelity is his fault (he is boring, infertile, inadequate, obnoxious, unfaithful…) but her choices have their likely outcomes. Human behaviour is not often driven by one factor acting in isolation.

But the authors admit no complications. Scrutiny of their list of abusive actions shows what a surprised husband can’t do without being declared abusive. Violence is out, so are threats. Destroying something belonging to her is displaced violence, and abusive. So are words as they will almost certainly involve putting down family and friends (especially the close friend), and anyway, he is seeking to stop her from doing something she wanted to do and so is abusing her.

It appears that he must simply apologise for the intrusion, pack and leave. Only that would be approved of by the authors, who note on p 28 that 47% of the 193 female homicide victims in NZ (78-87) were killed by an existing or former male partner. Well, no-one approves of murder, but what has happened to the statistics on the other obvious combinations of who kills whom? Is it even surprising, considering that few people would have strong feelings about strangers?

In short, the ideals of research have not been met. The information that has been collected is of poor quality, and its analysis deformed. The conclusions offered were predetermined, and other possible conclusions ignored. Indeed, I doubt that the authors have a good understanding of statistical analysis, given that on p 181 they complain that their analysis computer programme allows only fifteen predictor variables for a logistic regression, and that they regularly used fifty predictor variables in their linear regressions. (See F. S. Acton’s Numerical Methods That Work, the section “What not to compute”.)

And while this “research” and argument continues, unambiguous abuse that is unambiguously serious also continues.


I hope that no-one imagines that I deny that there is a problem, or that things could be better. I am saying that this report isn’t going to help. I hope that we can stay clear of escalating displays of superiority in caringness, concernedness, and righteousness.

I agree that the procedure for selecting the recipient of the Bent Spoon award involves four persons other than the Executive so that our collective responsibility falls rather heavily on Dr Dutton, but I don’t see that there is much of an alternative for so scattered a group as the NZ Skeptics, especially when the members of the Executive happen to live in the same city. I was as usual surprised by the choice of recipient, but only in the sense that I hadn’t heard of it beforehand. I regard the award as appropriate, and retain confidence in the ability of the Executive to select the worthy in the future.

Nicky McLean Lower Hutt



TV3 on 20/20 at 8.30pm on Monday 19/06/95 screened an American story titled “A State of Mind”. Extravagant claims were made about the medical significance of hypnosis and its therapeutic uses. One doctor claimed that up to 50% of her patients could be cured by hypnosis. I have just completed a course in rehabilitation studies at Massey University. The course text book had an interesting summary on hypnosis.

“Despite evidence that the use of hypnosis can produce analgesia for acute pain such as that experienced during surgery and childbirth (Hilgard & Hilgard, 1986), studies of the effects of hypnosis on experimentally induced pain and on chronic pain show no reliable evidence that it is more effective than that oldest of remedies for pain, the placebo procedure. For example, Melzack and Perry (1975) analysed the effects of hypnosis on patients suffering from a variety of chronic pain problems, such as low back, arthritis and cancer. An average pain reduction of 22% was achieved, which was not significantly greater than the 14% reduction obtained in placebo baseline sessions. In summary, hypnosis itself does not have a sufficiently powerful effect on clinical chronic pain to be considered a reliable and useful therapy. Merskey (1983) concluded that hypnosis is not worth using in anyone with a pain of physical origin and very rarely in patients with pain which is psychological in origin (p39).”

Text quote was taken from:

Young, M. (1991) Chronic pain and the rehabilitation process. In B. Hesketh and A. Adam’s (Eds), Psychological Perspectives on Occupational Health and Rehabilitation. (pp376) Marrickville, NSW; Harcourt Brace Jovanich

Andrew Hart, Tauranga

Magic Mushrooms Materialise

The extract quoted from the Marlborough Express by Dr John Welch regarding magic mushrooms in Fiji [Hokum Locum, Skeptic 36] is most interesting. They are well and truly established in New Zealand! I first heard about them a year ago from an elderly woman in Rotorua. At the time they were called Manchurian mushrooms and she assured me they were associated with Shangri-La as featured in Lost Horizons (book and film) and were connected with eternal youth. She swore by the efficacy of the brew and was quite upset when I asked where they were purchased. It is all done by giving and receiving, not by commercial transaction.

A sheet of instructions goes with each gift. The mushroom must be treated kindly. It must be talked to gently. If bad behaviour occurs near by (swearing, fighting) it will die. When the mother mushroom has budded off a daughter ready for the next brew the old one must be buried under a fruit tree.

I returned to Auckland convinced that life beyond the Bombay Hills was primitive indeed. A few weeks later I was with a group of young mothers several of whom were exchanging ideas about their Manchurian mushrooms and I have since learned that in the offices of several Auckland firms dealing with modern technologies that the mushrooms are all the rage.

I guess the concoction is no worse or more effective than the yeast brew willingly swallowed by me in the 1940s for a few months to combat adolescent pimples. After a few years the pimples went. Proof positive indeed!

P. Williams, Auckland

EDTA Chelation

I am at least as skeptical about the methodology and results of the EDTA chelation trial in Dunedin as I am about the efficacy of the treatment. The trial involved only 32 people, 15 in the treatment group and 17 in the control group, which I would have thought was rather too few to produce definitive results.

A doctor friend of mine, who runs a chelation clinic, tells me that he had to engage the services of the Ombudsman to obtain a copy of the raw data. Why was it not readily available? He says the results were published in the Circulation Journal of the US. Heart Association and the conclusion reached that, as 60% (9/15) of the treatment group and 58% (10/17) of the control group achieved an increase in walking distance, chelation was no more effective than placebo. His analysis of the raw data produced a different conclusion:

  1. 26% (4/15) of the treatment group compared with only 12% (2/17) of the control group achieved 100% increase in walking distance;
  2. Of the non-smokers and those who had stopped smoking (six in each group continued to smoke tobacco) 66% (6/9) in the treatment group improved with an average of 86% increase in distance walked compared with 45% (5/11) in the control group with an average increase of 56% in distance walked; and
  3. Only 6% (1/15) of the treatment group showed a decrease in blood flow to the feet by Doppler measurement compared with 35% (6/17) of the control group.

My friend claims that independent statistical analysis of these results confirmed a 95% confidence factor.

In deference to my medical friend, my wife and I submitted ourselves to the minimum 21 EDTA chelation treatments two and a half years ago. I was in good health but my wife suffered high blood pressure and had been told she should take appropriate medication for the rest of her life. Following chelation her blood pressure fell to a marginal level and has remained so without medication. I can vouch for the fact that pre-chelation her lower legs and feet were freezing when she came to bed whereas since chelation they are warm.

Science, being a human pursuit, is sometimes the victim of human failings. I recall my time amid about 70 agricultural research scientists who tended to debunk what, in their own fields, they could not explain. So a lady farmer who claimed that zinc supplementation was effective in the prevention of facial eczema was derided until her persistence led to official trials. Eventually she was proved correct and awarded the OBE for her work.

The controversy over chelation admits at least the possibility of less innocent human failings. It should be no secret that the “heart industry” includes a very powerful and very wealthy international lobby of vested interests. Those who supply the expensive drugs, equipment and surgery would lose much if research into other, simpler, less expensive and less glamorous procedures proved fruitful. Likewise the researchers have their substantial funding to lose.

Chelation is accepted practice for the removal of heavy metals from the bloodstream, but not for removal of the plaque which clogs arteries. Could in vitro laboratory experiments not establish the effect of EDTA on plaque?

Alan McWilliam, Rotorua



As a subscriber to your magazine, I am concerned by the general trends evident in the statements made by a number of your contributors. For example, in the last issue Mr Wyant complained about “whinging leftists”, while Dr Welch claimed that “our own welfare state is a classic illustration of this problem” (i.e., assumed dependency).

While I understand that these and other similar views are the writers’ personal opinions, the general impression is that your organisation is biased towards the ideology of the “New Right”. Is this true and can you assure me that you have no links to political groups such as ACT?

M. Muir, Auckland

Diversity Reigns

From my experience at conferences and meetings of the Skeptics, I am reasonably assured that our organisation represents a diverse range of views, most of which tend to be volubly expressed.

Like all organisations, the main impression one may get of the Skeptics stems from the public face the organisation presents through the newsletter and through media commentary by our officers. Our diversity is celebrated even here, with Owen McShane (Skeptic editor) being an ACT supporter and Denis Dutton (the previous editor and our media spokesperson) being a founding supporter of Future New Zealand. As for the Chair-entity (yours truly), I remain skeptical of party politics and loath to vote along party lines, so will probably exercise my rights and responsibilities in becoming a McGillicuddy Serious list voter, in the belief that they, at least, will bring a little humour into the House.

Politically, NZCSICOP members as a whole range from traditional socialists to those I consider slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun, the major exception being a lack of ultra-orthodox politically correct adherents. It’s much the same as the religious/spiritual expressions in the society, which seem to lack only the true fundamentalists. I believe that both exceptions are a result of the tendency for the ideologies involved to discourage their followers from thinking critically. That (and a sense of humour) seem to be the only common factors amongst members of the Skeptics.

Vicki Hyde Chair-entity, NZCSICOP

NaCl PC?

“I believe that this data sheet [urging stringent precautions in the use of NaCl] does not represent a simple error of judgement but unfortunately reflects an ideology which holds that all ‘chemicals’ are bad…” — PC Chemistry in the Classroom, Skeptic 35.

Well, I’m still a skeptic. What is the evidence for this belief? How about a mistake? Ian Milner of Carina Laboratories (source of the original story) told me the precautions for a variety of chemicals are identical, and he thinks what looks like hyper-caution is just the result of “sloth”. After all, even the most airheaded New Ager has handled table salt in the home (before they saw the light and switched to kelp) without absurd precautions. For the life of me I can’t see how both the ideology that all “chemicals” are bad and the mainstream science that warns of global warming can both be “PC”. I find my thinking a lot clearer if I don’t use the wretched expression at all.

In his reply to my letter in the same issue, Owen McShane quotes me as saying there has been “a long and significant silence on the subject of plunder etc.” A glance at my letter will show I was referring to rape and plunder. Will Mr McShane deny that there has been a long and significant silence on the subject of rape? Or that there was a long silence about the plunder of Aotearoa/New Zealand from the Maori? Mr McShane gives a long list of notables who have “thundered against tyranny, slavery and despotism in all its forms.” Can we have chapter and verse from Aristotle, Epictetus (Who?), Aquinas or Plutarch against slavery? From any of them for equality of the sexes or against homophobia? I know that’s unreasonable, but he did say “all its forms.”

Mr McShane offers new unsupported allegations: that he might lose his job if he made a particular statement, that “US…universities now accept and even encourage so-called scholarship which seeks to rewrite history so as to deny that there are any good tales to be told.” History is always being rewritten as new facts come to light and earlier historians’ prejudices become clear, and in my limited understanding of history, its study is more than just the telling of “good” or bad “tales”. The University of Michigan’s Speech Code seems to have been intended to prevent abusive speech in the classroom. Is there something wrong with that? If it went beyond that brief, well, the court seems to have put it right. Mr McShane wants to rely on “tolerance, good manners and the normal standards of civilised behaviour”. So do I, but nowadays, whenever these are extended towards minorities more than they were in “the good old days”, the effect is derided as “Political Correctness” as a sneaky way of doing those minorities down without seeming to.

Hugh Young, Pukerua Bay

The Editor Replies

(About NaCl)

You are quite right; I was expressing no more than a personal belief, which is why I asked for some evidence from our readers, such as my suggested example that Sea Salt is regarded as more benign than NaCl.

The point regarding PC is also nicely made. It may be more accurate to propose that promoting chemophobia is Politically Correct, while criticising the science which warns of global warming is Politically Incorrect. (As our Minister of Science made clear when he attacked the “Centre for Independent Studies” for sponsoring the visit of Professor Lindzen, because it would confuse the public.)

(About rape and plunder)

I confess to reading Mr Young’s reference to “rape and plunder” in the sense of “pillage and plunder”. However sexual rape has been a crime through most of history even if some verses of the Old Testament seem to take a lenient view of it. In recent years the courts and legal system have taken a much more enlightened view of the reality of rape but this contemporary movement towards justice and equity began long before the current PC movement — I remember lively arguments in the late fifties. And I am sure earlier generations have made their own contributions.

Similarly I have been reading about the plunder of Aotearoa/ Maori for as long as I remember. Dick Scott wrote his Ask that Mountain — the Story of Parihaka twenty years ago in 1975, while Eric Schimmer’s symposium The Maori People in the Sixties (published in 1968) records King Tawhuai saying “Truly I am this day seeking wherein the Maori has been at fault. The Pakeha on the other hand has done one misdeed after another against the Maori. He, the Pakeha, has indeed made me suffer. Tomorrow will come his day of reckoning and great will surely be his distress.” There was never a silence. It’s just for many years there were no Maori lawyers to transform such thoughts into action.

I suspect that even Mr Young knows that I was not claiming that each and every one of these dead white (or tinted) males thundered against each and every form of tyranny. But in total they have. For example, Euripides thundered against rape, pillage and plunder in The Suppliant Women, The Trojan Women, Hecuba, and Andromache back in the sixth century BC. More recently, John Stewart Mill (with his wife Harriet) wrote On the Equality of Woman. Homophobia will surely be recorded as a curious and temporary aberration when considered against the total course of human history; hence many philosophers of the past never felt the need to thunder against something which they never experienced.

My point about the Michigan State University was that it should not take a district court to remind a University of its need to protect free speech.

Some red-necks might deride the extension of good manners towards minorities as Political Correctness. Such behaviour is as despicable as using such good intentions to cloak suppression of legitimate questioning and debate. We should put up with neither.

De Tocqueville made the point that the best intentioned reforms are often seized upon by others with less noble intent. I genuinely believe that if Mr Young and I were exposed to both expressions of political correctness we would find ourselves in agreement as to which were which.

Owen McShane, Editor


PC for Me, See?

“US Universities, cringing under a wave of Political Correctness and an extreme form of “multi-culturalism” are abandoning programmes which present the history of Western Civilisation as anything other than the history of the rape and plunder of minorities and other victims by a conspiracy of middle-class white males.” (“The Challenge to Reason”, Skeptic 34.)

Well I’m a skeptic. What is the evidence for that claim? And how does “multi-culturalism” differ from multi-culturalism? Bear in mind that for a very long time, the history of Western Civilisation (or Western “civilisation”) was presented as the activities of few but middle-class white males. The relatively sudden inclusion of non-whites and and non-males, and of the rape and plunder of minorities and other victims by middle-class white males (after such a long and significant silence on the subject) might make it look like that — especially to other middle-class white males.

I don’t see a wave of Political Correctness. I see only a war against something described as PC by its enemies, but which looks to me suspiciously like social justice and cultural sensitivity.

Here in Wellington, we see article after article, syndicated world-wide, all saying in effect, “Help! I’m being silenced! I can’t say that horis/niggers are lazy (and stupid — as in The Bell Curve), homos are unnatural, Jews are avaricious, women are bitches any more. Waaaaaah!” And in saying so, they contradict themselves. And just try to get a rebuttal published. So who is being silenced?

It’s not that something called Political Correctness has arrived for the first time, it’s that the struggle between two paradigms is hotting up. When the prevailing PC was white, male, heterosexual, etc. it wasn’t called that. Hell, it’s only 1993 when the Gisborne Herald refused to publish an advertisement containing the word “lesbian”.

If, as they say, PC is taking over the world, where do I join?

Hugh Young, Pukerua Bay

The Editor Replies

Hugh Young is obviously an excellent Skeptic; he quite properly asks for evidence for my claims regarding Political Correctness in America and for a definition of “multi-culturalism”. Until a few months ago when I was forced to familiarise myself with what is actually happening in US universities I would probably have asked the same questions.

The evidence for the PC Cringe and the new version of “multiculturalism” can be found in a number of publications including P.J. O’Rourke’s All the trouble in the World, Robert Hughes The Culture of Complaint, “End Game” by Pete Hamill in the November ’94 issue of Esquire magazine, “What to do About Education, 1: The Universities” by Gertrude Himmelfarb in the October issue of Commentary, and many issues of the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement.

The most appropriate piece of evidence on the PC cringe, given Mr Young’s particular interest in the issue, is from the case of Doe vs University of Michigan. In the Doe case a student had been subjected to a formal hearing under the university’s “Speech Code” (Yes, they actually have them) because he had expressed the belief, during a class on social work, that homosexuality was a disease susceptible to psychological treatment.

It should come as no surprise that an American student held this belief; until a few years ago it was the official position of most of the medical professional bodies in that country. Many fundamentalist groups refuse to consider any alternative. I am sure that had Mr Young been in the class he would have willingly mounted a well reasoned and well researched rebuttal of the claim. But if a University’s Speech Code prohibits a student from even expressing such a belief in class how will Mr Young or anyone else know that these beliefs continue to be held — and when will they be granted the opportunity to challenge them?

Fortunately the Court held “What the University could not do …was to establish an anti-discrimination policy which had the effect of prohibiting certain speech because it disagreed with the ideas or messages sought to be conveyed.”

Surely the terrifying aspect of the case is that a District Court Judge (of evidently limited literacy) has to point out this obvious truth to such a highly regarded academic institution as the once great University of Michigan. Does Mr Young look forward to such PC Speech Codes being introduced into New Zealand? Is this the PC rule he really wants to join?

As for “multi-culturalism” I experienced the difference between what we mean by the word and what the word means in the US in the course of preparing a paper for presentation to a group of American business executives in Florida later this year.

Here in New Zealand I am happy to call myself a multi-culturalist because it means no more than that one is tolerant of other cultures and is prepared to assess those cultures and their belief systems on their merits. But in the US, a declared “multi-culturist” holds that one can only respect other cultures if one is prepared to despise everything associated with Western culture or civilisation. My essay objected to those who present the history of Western civilisation as anything other than the history of the rape and plunder etc — a point which Mr Young appears to have overlooked.

Of course the history of Western civilisation has its share of horror stories including the Inquisition, slavery, the Salem witch hunts, Nazi Germany, Marxist Leninism and many cases where it never realised its own ideals. But name the culture that doesn’t. At least the Enlightenment led to constitutions which promoted ideals of liberty, equality, freedom of speech and belief and the other ideals which underpin any form of democracy and freedom.

Mr Young claims that there has been “a long and significant silence on the subject of plunder etc”. Well, the following white males have thundered against tyranny, slavery and despotism in all its forms: Aristotle, Epictetus, Aquinas, Plutarch, Calvin, Shakespeare, Milton, Hobbes, Locke, Swift, Voltaire, Mostesquieu, Rousseau, Smith, Kant, the Authors of the Federalist Papers, Mill, Boswell, Hegel, Tocqueville, Dickens, Doestoevsky, Twain, Darwin, and even Marx. So where is this long silence?

Multi-culturalism in the US means that universities now accept, and even encourage, so-called scholarship which seeks to re-write history so as to deny that there are any good tales to be told. Because Jews have played such a prominent role in the development of Western thought this new “multi-culturalism” has given new legitimacy to a remarkable rise in anti-Semitic “scholarship” such as texts widely circulated within black communities which claim that Jewry was responsible for the slave trade and that the slave trade was a uniquely western crime. (See for example The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, Volume One, The Nation of Islam, 1991)

In fact France was the first nation in history to make slavery illegal. Long after England, and then the US, abandoned the practice, the African slave trade continued to be run by joint ventures between African and Arabic states, as it had been for thousands of years. I have now learned that to write this last paragraph within many once-great US universities would probably cost me my job.

I can understand that given New Zealand’s limited and restrained practise of PC and multiculturalism Mr Young has found the concepts to be positive and encouraging for himself and his friends and colleagues battling against decades of homophobia. But these ideas, which have been taken to extremes in the US, have no place here. We know that child abuse exists; we also know that the US was first to turn this real problem into a victim-based industry which threw many hundreds of innocent people in jail and has damaged the lives of scores of thousands of others.

I don’t need ideologically driven speech-codes to tell me not to refer to kikes, niggers, and bitches in my classes, in my writings or in my private life. Tolerance, good manners and the normal standards of civilised behaviour are quite sufficient.

Owen McShane, Editor, author of “The Challenge to Reason”

Speaker’s Other Interests

Skeptics who attended the conference in Palmerston North will doubtless recall with amusement a talk on magnetic resonance devices given by Bruce Rapley, BSc, Dip. Psych., of Massey University. Mr Rapley, whose calling card describes him as “Bio-Electro-Magnetic Consultant (E.L.F.)”, is an energetic and entertaining speaker who cast a skeptical eye on Australian firms that are marketing magnetic paraphenalia that appear to me to be quack medical devices.

I was therefore surprised to be made aware of some of Mr Rapley’s other interests as described in literature that has come into my hands. Mr Rapley is a leader of something called Resonance Research, a non-profit organisation involved in “furthering the understanding of phenomena occurring at the margins of traditional knowledge”. RR offers “a variety of inspirational seminars and workshops”, and networks in the areas of Bio-Energy, Counselling, Geopathic Stress, Homeopathy, Radionics/Radiesthesia, and Vibrational Memory.

In particular, Mr Rapley has recently been energetically arranging a visit to New Zealand by Viera Scheibner, PhD, who warns against vaccinations. In particular Dr. Scheibner finds “obvious” the connection between “vaccine injections and cot death”.

Denis Dutton, University of Canterbury


Desperately Seeking Psychic Photographer

I am writing in the hope that your readers may be able to help me in a little research I am doing, in my position of Publicity Officer for the Wairarapa Archive.

We have in our collection a pair of albums of local cartoons and photographs made by a local photographer, Edward Arthur Sanders Wyllie, in the 1880s. In following up the life of Wyllie, I stumbled onto his later career as a “psychic photographer”.

It seems that when he left Masterton in 1886 he went to America and continued in his photography career, which ultimately proved to be a failure, so he moved into providing his “psychic” photographs.

He became one of the world’s foremost exponents of this art, and is mentioned in all the modern works on the phenomenon. I have been unable, however, to locate any copies of his work, either in New Zealand or in the places one might expect them to be overseas — British and American Societies for Psychical Research, Mary Evans Library (UK), Californian State Library, etc.

I know there were copies of Wyllie’s “work” in New Zealand as a man calling himself the “Rev S. Barnett” gave a lecture on Wyllie at the time of his death in 1911. This lecture, given in Masterton, was illustrated with glass slides of Wyllie’s exposures. I assume this to be the same S. Barnett who was a prominent Spiritualist in New Zealand, and who authored a Celestial Survey of New Zealand which must surely rate as one of the most incredible books ever printed in New Zealand.

I am writing to you in the hope that either you, or one of your readers, may have an interest in skepticism in this area, and may know of the whereabouts of some of these “psychic” photos. I have some poor quality reproductions of some, from a photocopy of an old book.

Any help that you can afford me will be most appreciated.

Gareth Winter, Lansdowne Nursery, 65 Te Ore Ore Road, Masterton


Reasoning About Reason

Congratulations on featuring the superb contribution from Peter Münz in Skeptic 31. It seems to concur with a passage from Antony Flew I have just been reading. He says that to know something is “to believe what is in fact true, and to be rationally justified in that belief”. Like most people shivering in the postmodernist shadow, my first reaction was to draw back, thinking that all seemed a bit too definite. Surely it’s not still allowed to be definite about something?

To question the veracity of crystals, palm-reading, apocalyptic prophecy and all the rest of it has been to incur the disapproving epithet “dogmatic”, or even “fundamentalist”. Now that’s really scraping the barrel of abuse.

The warning about the morass of justifications and provisos that await the advocate of “reason” is also timely. Is it not too harsh, however, to write the process of reason off as “woolly”, given the thoughts of Karl Popper, who Münz very rightly quotes approvingly elsewhere? Does not the distinction between critical and uncritical rationalism discussed in The Open Society and its Enemies ensure that the reasoning process, while at times being tortuous, need not be woolly? This is not a rhetorical question, I’d be very interested in an opinion on this point.

Bill Cooke, Auckland

Of Postal Permits and Other Weighty Matters

Readers who take time to study the face of their Skeptic when it arrives, rather than impatiently tearing open the seal to devour the contents, will have noticed a change with this issue. Gone is the Postage Paid Permit, “Merrilands No. 2”, replaced by a Christchurch number. With this change we let go a bit of our history and the connection with our first Editor.

Keith Lockett saw the first fourteen issues through the press, and, at his local Post Office in New Plymouth, into the mail. Keith died in 1990 (see the obituary in Skeptic 16). Now, Merrilands Post Office is also dead, killed by restructuring, and a new, valid permit has had to be negotiated.

The change is one of label only, not procedure. The Secretary and his long-suffering partner will continue to hand the boxes of newsletters over the counter of their local Postshop. Groaning under a load which is heavier with each issue, we console ourselves with the thought that this reflects a growing membership.

Bernard Howard, Secretary, NZCSICOP


Where Were the Hunters?

The account of the meeting between the Moa hunters and the Christchurch Skeptics was interesting, but contained some very odd statements. How many skeptics had done any hunting, I wonder? The account reads as though there were no experienced hunters present who could challenge some of the statements made. That is rather like examining key-benders without a magician present. However, the account, like many UFO sightings, contains several inconsistencies which are not obvious to the inexperienced.

I have shot many hundred deer, plus pigs, goats, chamois, wild cattle and sheep so I count as an experienced hunter.

While hunting, one sees difficult-to-identify objects all the time. It is very hard to spot animals unless they move, even when cover is light. Any bush, rock or shadow that is approximately the right colour needs to be scanned. Many a deer or pig turns out to be something inanimate when examined through binoculars or telescope. It will perhaps astound the inexperienced to be told that this applies even to objects which are very close.

Sometimes one could swear the thing moved.

One of the odd things about the story is that there is no mention of binoculars or telescope; were they not used?

“His rifle didn’t even go near his shoulder”. This implies no telescope and suggests he is not a very serious hunter. My rifle, on a hunting trip, would be constantly at my shoulder — not to shoot but to carefully examine objects through the ‘scope. It is essential not to shoot until one is certain of the identification.

“The beast was unmistakably not a deer.” That is simply the voice of inexperience. If the party had no binoculars and no telescope then their story cannot be taken seriously however close the object was. Anyone with moderate experience in looking at wildlife should know that the human eye without the aid of magnification is incapable of such assessment.

To my horror, I once found I had shot a goat, not a deer. I had wrongly identified a very close goat with a distant deer in excellent light! The bullet had struck high of course. But I was certain of my target; I was just wrong. The diagnosis was simply that I needed to start wearing my glasses and have done so ever since.

In a long career of shooting there will inevitably be a number of targets which were allowed to escape because positive identification was impossible. I can think of several — I am still not sure what they were. But I never thought they were extinct birds. I suggest it takes a particular mindset to make such an identification.

If this is the first Unidentified Running Object the party had seen then they simply lack experience, however many years they claim.

Jim Ring, Nelson

Missing Address

In the December Skeptic you have a note by B. Premanand asking New Zealand skeptics to help their Indian counterparts by subscribing to Indian Skeptic. However, he does not give an address. Do you have one?

Gordon Hewitt

Apologies for omitting the address. It is:

B. Premanand
Convenor, Indian CSICOP
10 Chettipalayam Road
Podanur 641-023


Letter from India

The Indian Skeptics sometimes seem to be up against some very big opponents. Our Chair recently received the following letter:

Dear Friend,

[There have been] 6 murders in the bedroom of Satya Sai Baba on 6.6.93. As the Sai Baba with the collusion of the police have committed this crime as the State and Central Ministers and the president of India are inner circle members of the Sai Baba Mafia, on 27.9.93 with great difficulty we have filed a writ petition in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh for an impartial enquiry into the murky happenings in Sai Baba’s alleged abode of peace, where his very near accomplices were murdered, and the petition came up for admission on 28.9.93.

The government pleaders tried their best to refer the case to the full bench of the High Court, where many such cases are pending the report of the judicial commission as to whether the courts have powers to order an impartial enquiry or a CBI enquiry. Mr K.N. Balgopal, our advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India at New Delhi, produced the recent judgement (in which he himself had argued the case for the petitioner in September ’93) where the bench of the Supreme Court, which included the Chief Justice of India, stated that the Courts are supreme as far as the upholding of law, justice and Constitution are concerned, and when the State and the Central Government fails to uphold law, justice and the Constitution they have the powers to order an impartial enquiry into the allegations. After seeing the judgement, the Hon. Judge issued notices to the State and Central Government to file their counters within four weeks and posted the case for orders on 4.11.1993.

The three advocates […] have taken up the work free. But we have to pay them their actual expenses. The air travel of Mr Balgopal comes to Rs 10,000 for every hearing, ie about US$335. With great difficulty we have ourselves paid for the expenses for the first visit, and the expenses. We are wondering how we will be able to send the air tickets for the 4th November hearing. The average income of our members is in- between Rs 10,000 to 20,000 per year! […]

We will be happy if you will share our expenses in the following ways:

  1. By collecting annual subscriptions for Indian Skeptic from your willing members, which is US$12 or its equivalent in your currency.
  2. By enlisting life subscribers for Indian Skeptic, which is US$150 or its equivalent in your currency. By collecting even $1 or more from each member.
  3. By ordering for the press clippings on the murky happenings at Sai Baba’s bedroom (about 300 clippings in English) at US$20 per set. The cheques may be made in the name of Indian Skeptic and posted to my address.

Hoping to hear from you at an early date. I am approaching you with great hesitation as I have no other way.

Yours sincerely, B. Premanand

Astrology Book Defended

In Skeptic 27 we announced the appearance of a new book on astrology written by one of the TVNZ folks who brings us the news every night. We remarked on how pleased TVNZ must be to have the services of this person in its newsroom.

We’ve now received a response from the author of The Astrologer and the Paradigm Shift, who obviously expects to be taken very seriously.

Overleaf is the press release I distributed within the TVNZ newsroom after publication of my book last year.

This book is now available via the National Library network. Since I believe it contributes greatly to the progress of science in particular and the advance of civilisation generally, I would like to publicise the ideas it contains.

I therefore challenge anyone to detect any error of logic in its core thesis. I’m a friendly person who would find it unfortunate to have to make a fool of anyone on national television, so I’d best be fair and let you know one physics professor has already been unable to detect any such error.

I expect anyone interested in taking up this challenge to read my book first. That means NOT skimming the chapters dealing with scientific philosophy in general and the nature of reality in particular.

Dennis Frank