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
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?
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.
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.
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:
Cost – SGD
Healy Holistic Health
Healy Holistic Health Plus
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
Facebook has been host to some lively discussion among Kiwis who identify as having a skeptical outlook. These pages are not endorsed by NZ Skeptics Society, and we have no control over their content. Unfortunately, some of the content falls well outside the collective views of the NZ Skeptics committee.
We have now set up an official page on Facebook which will reflect the general views of NZ Skeptics. We’ll be sharing curated content here and making general announcements that are relevant to members of the society and a broader NZ audience.
We’ve recently seen another example of psychics acting as the “grief vampires” they are and preying on a grieving family.
Northland woman Theres’a Urlich has been missing since February 2018. The family, who have not seen their loved on for over seven months, was recently approached by a psychic with some gory details of what had happened to Theres’a.
The family decided to contact the police. The response from NZ Police is:
Police do not currently work with psychics and it is entirely the decision of the family if they wish to pursue that avenue.
This is a good thing!
NZ Skeptics were approach the the NZ Herald for our response. NZ Skeptics chair Craig Shearer was quoted at length. Read the NZ Herald article for more details.
We were asked today to comment on an article on Stuff about palm reading, and how seeing the letter M on your non-dominant hand is a sign of future success. Luckily, despite it being Christmas Eve, our new Media Spokesperson (and Secretary) Craig Shearer was able to put together a solid response on short notice! Here’s the response in full:
People are good at seeing patterns in everyday life, even when no actual pattern exists. Suggesting a pattern to somebody will greatly improve the chances of them seeing it, even if it’s just one of many equally valid interpretations of what they are looking at. Think about when you see a pattern in the clouds. You can make somebody else see it much more easily if you tell them what they are looking at – a dog or a dragon, for example.
The creases on people’s palms have some connection to their development embryonically – and there are certain instances where genetic diseases can correlate with particular patterns of creases. However, it’s drawing a very long bow to suggest that the pattern of creases on a person’s palms would have any predictive effect on their life “success” – however success may be measured.
Palm readers work in a similar manner to psychics and clairvoyants – usually picking up on little cues from a personal reading that gives the person the answers they’re expecting to hear. In Jon’s case, however, this statement relating to all people with the letter M on their non-dominant hand appears to be more akin to astrology. He has offered some generically positive predictions that are bound to make anyone feel good.
The real test for these types of claims would be to see whether a particular pattern can be repeatedly and reliably matched up with a particular life outcome, without the palm reader knowing who the subjects are.
This article has an interactive survey asking readers whether they have a distinctive M pattern on their hands. At the time the NZ Skeptics were asked to comment on the article, of those surveyed a whopping 83% can see the M. This is a pretty clear demonstration of the suggestive nature of this type of fortune telling. A mixture of an identifying feature that appears to fit most people, along with a set of predictions that make people feel good, will usually hit the mark for many and make them feel positive about the accuracy of a reading.
One potentially dangerous aspect to this is that it encourages thinking that your life’s outcome is predetermined – that your life is in the hands of your genetics or fate. Even if most people find an “M” on their non-dominant hand, and are led to believe that they will have a successful future, what of those that can’t see the “M” who have a belief in palm reading? Will they walk away from this believing that their life going forward will not be successful?
While the patterns on your palms may well be fascinating, it pays to be skeptical of claims that don’t have solid evidence of their worth, particularly when someone is asking for money in return for their service.
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