In retrospect, it was a cunning move to give us each a Hopi ear candle. Wrapped in pretty cellophane, the little beeswax treats – if used correctly – would ensure people would be in prime mental health. This is essential if you’re attending the NZ Skeptics annual conference, as we were. The candles are an amazing elimination technique which improve mental clarity, energy and wellbeing. By inserting them – lit – into the ear canal, they allow glucose and oxygen to enter the brain, restoring neural functions. Of course, expecting a bunch of skeptics to follow instructions was perhaps asking too much. They put them on the ends of their noses. They twirled them and flung them. Anywhere but lit and inserted in the ear.

I didn’t see what Jeremy Wells, winner of one of this year’s Bravo Awards, did with his candle but maybe all will be revealed in the Eating Media Lunch episode he and his team were filming.

All in all, it was a cracker of a conference. About 70 skeptics from throughout New Zealand flocked to Rotorua for a weekend of convivial sceptical thinking and mingling. Rotorua historian and local character Don Stafford kicked it all off with a talk on the area’s long pre-European history. Then, on Saturday night, he led us on a tour through Rotorua’s famous bath house, down deep underground where the plumbing now lies exposed and one or two ghosts and the odd taniwha hang out.

Organised stirlingly by Keith Garratt, Munir Kadri and Bill Buckland, the two-day event saw a range of talks that got the sceptical juices flowing. Raymond Bradley put Intelligent Design “theory” in its proper philosophical context, then Keith gave us his thoughts on genealogy, reprinted in this issue. Consumer’s Martin Craig gave an update on the Maria Duval scam and an insight into the institute’s way of thinking. Watch out for his byline.

A highlight was the Saturday afternoon session on medical matters, with a strong turnout from local doctors. Harry Pert spoke on the balance between art and artifice in medicine, Kinsley Logan considered reasons why alternative medicine continues to attract patients, and clinical rheumatologist John Petrie told how the defensive application of medicine-based evidence can be to the detriment of the individual. His strong comments on MSD’s withdrawal of Vioxx were particularly interesting. Joanna Wojnar’s presentation on the use of natural products as sources for new pharmaceuticals complemented these admirably. And Hamish Campbell rounded off Sunday with a wide-ranging and entertaining talk on his experiences as resident geologist at Te Papa and elsewhere.

Best of all was the chance to spend a bit of time with like-minded people, with lots of conversation and good humour. Perhaps the Hopi ear candles did something after all.

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