Skeptic News: 4 Simultaneous Days Rotate In Same 24 Hours Of Earth

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

 

4 Simultaneous Days Rotate In Same 24 Hours Of Earth

We’ve just come out of another short spell spent at level 3 lockdown for Auckland, and level 2 for the rest of us. Well done to all of you who managed to follow the rules and help keep us all safe, and a boo to everyone who thought that protesting in large groups and not wearing a mask is an acceptable response.

My first news story involves a political figure, Jami-Lee Ross. We’ve received a complaint that I, and possibly others who write this newsletter, sometimes venture into political territory, and that our political views are not shared by everyone in our organisation. I will admit that I lean to the left (as do many people I know who are active members of the NZ Skeptics) but, despite this, as much as possible I try to keep my political views out of my writing. If I’m criticising or commending politicians, my aim is to be mentioning them because the things they’re saying or doing are of skeptical interest (and sadly, more often than not it’s because what they’re doing flies in the face of good skeptical thinking). If I ever fall short of this, and fail to give a skeptical angle when I mention politics (or religion or any other topic, for that matter), feel free to pull me up on it.

We have also been asked about a right of reply, especially as to an extent this newsletter has replaced our journal, and the journal used to have a Letters section. Coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago I added a note to the bottom of our newsletter which lets you all know that if you have something of interest that you want to see published in this newsletter, you can send it to us and we’ll look over it and add it to the next week’s newsletter (unless you’re uncritically reviewing the TimeCube website, that is). The more skeptical voices we can promote, the stronger we’ll be as an organisation - and the more you all do my job for me, the happier I am ;)

Mark Honeychurch
Secretary, NZ Skeptics

Worried about 5G? There’s a pill for that!

I’m guessing that Jami-Lee Ross, head of the failed conspiracy themed political party Advance NZ, has run out of money. Why else would he be planning to flog useless anti-5G pills to us?

Charlie Mitchell at Stuff found out that Ross has recently formed a new company called Praesidium Life along with a naturopath called Michael Kelly. Looking at Michael’s current business, The Health Centre in St Benedict’s, it’s obvious that Michael has no interest in evidence when it comes to healthcare. The website appears to be almost entirely devoid of any useful, honest medical advice, instead pushing chiropractic, reflexology, hCG for weight loss and coriander for heavy metal detox.

When I clicked on the Shop link I was greeted with even more egregious nonsense at a website called Natural Solutions - curcumin (turmeric), probiotics and GcMAF.

NZ Skeptics committee member Dan Ryan told Stuff:

“The spread of health misinformation is not slowing down, and people are being harmed or even dying because of it. We need more regulation with regulatory bodies that actually have the power and the resources to stop it.”
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/124069747/jamilee-ross-behind-anti5g-supplement-business

I’m no psychic, but given what I know about the Society for Science Based Healthcare (disclaimer: I’m currently chair of the society), I see Michael’s future involving one or more emails from the Advertising Standards Authority, and a lot of work trying to defend claims such as that “the Ketogenic Diet is a low carbohydrate, high fat diet, that starves the cancer cells” and “the higher someone's cholesterol, the lower their risk of death due to cardiovascular disease”.

As for Jami and Michael’s potential future business, it is reported to involve selling Praesidium - “the natural solution to electromagnetic radiation”. Dr Marco Ruggiero from Italy is apparently behind the product, and his other accolades include a probiotic yogurt for treating autism and AIDS, and a magic anti-ageing pill.

Rest assured we will be keeping a close eye on how this one develops, and we will be quick to pounce on any dodgy claims we find when the new company’s website goes live.

Skeptics 0, Ken Ring 1

After last week’s nocturnal earthquake, Ken Ring has been on Facebook proving how right he is. He’s pointed out that he predicted the earthquake in his 2021 almanac:

From the "Earthquake diary", on p339 of the 2021 NZ Weather Almanac, it is written that the days of earthquake activity for March would be the 4th, 9th, 18th-20th, 25th, and 29th. This morning's shake struck at 2 hours after midnight, close enough to 4th to be counted as a prediction.

I guess it’s time for the NZ Skeptics to throw in the towel and admit defeat, in the face of this uncannily accurate prediction. Except, I can’t help shaking the feeling that maybe, just maybe, by Ken’s own admission, his predictions cast the net wide enough that it’s hard for him to miss...

So, pulling this one apart, let’s have a look at the dates in Ken’s March predictions. If we allow Ken his one day leeway, that would mean that he predicted an earthquake for the 3rd-5th, 8th-10th, 17th-21st, 24th-26th and 28th-30th of March - a grand total of 17 out of 31 days in the month. For any earthquake that happens in March, he appears to have a slightly above even chance of the quake landing on one of his predicted dates, even if his predictions are totally random guesses lacking any kind of scientific rigour.

However, a one day leeway isn’t all Ken has asked for. Last year, talking about his earthquake predictions on Facebook, Ken stated that people need to “Allow 1-2 days error as in all forecasting”. Gosh, if we were to allow him the “2 days error” he asks for, his March predictions would have covered 26 out of 31 days. It seems that, if he’s willing to be this loose in his predictions, it’s going to be hard for him to fail. But maybe that’s the point.

We’re now going to be a little bit cheeky, and borrow the ideas of sensitivity and specificity from the field of medicine. What we need to know in order for us to do this are very rough ideas of Ken’s true and false positive and negative rates. The “true positive” rate for Ken’s predictions is okay (maybe half or more of the major earthquakes we experience fall on one of Ken’s predicted earthquake dates). However his “false positive” rate (the times Ken predicts an earthquake and it doesn’t happen) is much higher - most of the dates Ken throws out there don’t turn out to be days where a sizable earthquake hits New Zealand. His “true negative” rate appears to be fairly good (many of the dates he doesn’t predict an earthquake for, earthquakes don’t happen), but his “false negative” rate (dates for which a major seismic event occurs but he hasn’t predicted it) is not great. The upshot of this is that both the sensitivity and the specificity of Ken’s earthquake predicting ability are pretty abysmal.

The astute among you (and I’m assuming that’s many of you, given that you’re skeptics and prone to questioning what other people say) will have spotted that this method doesn’t translate overly well to Ken’s earthquake predictions - not least because of several major issues with the kinds of predictions Ken makes.

To explore this, let’s play a game of make-believe. Imagine a world where Ken Ring has figured out a way to predict the timing of earthquakes, a method that the world’s leading seismologists have somehow totally missed. Even if that were the case, and Ken’s ability was real, it turns out it would still be almost useless. In our make-believe world, where Ken’s specificity and sensitivity are both 100%, let’s look at his March 2021 predictions. If earthquakes occurred somewhere in New Zealand on the “4th, 9th, 18th-20th, 25th, and 29th” of March and not on any other days, exactly as Ken predicted, what practical steps could Civil Defence, or any branch of government or business, take that would help people? Ken usually offers no useful information beyond listing dates, and occasionally a rough location. He has claimed weak and strong earthquakes, and quakes thousands of kilometres away, as “hits” for his predictions. Without knowing specifics about location, depth, strength, time of day, etc, these dates are not terribly useful. I’m struggling to think of how this level of predictive power would change how we live our lives, or make any difference to our earthquake preparedness. In short, Ken offers too little information in his predictions for them to be of any practical use.

As we said before we know that, in the real world, Ken’s predicted earthquake dates - no matter how vague he makes them - still aren’t very accurate. His specificity and sensitivity are not 100% - in fact, they’re nowhere near. We have to conclude, given his lack of accuracy, lack of detail, and lack of plausibility (using phases of the moon to predict earthquakes seems iffy), that it’s vanishingly unlikely that Ken Ring really has the ability to predict earthquakes at all. It’s much more likely that Ken has found his schtick; a trick that allows him to extract money from the unwary, with which he lines his pockets.

tldr; Ken Ring’s earthquake predictions are not accurate, and even if they were they wouldn’t be very useful.

Now that we’re fairly confident that Ken’s more shyster than visionary, I think that we can safely ignore his recent advice that tsunamis are not a risk for New Zealand. He’s been asserting that most of New Zealand is underwater, i.e. shallow waters surrounding our islands, and that these shallows mean that a tsunami will never affect New Zealand. If the experts say that we are in danger of a tsunami after a large offshore earthquake, as they did last week, and Ken tells us we’re not in any danger, I’m going to follow the advice of the experts with science and computer modelling behind them. Plus, Wikipedia has a thing or two to say about tsunamis affecting New Zealand. Sorry Ken, it’s nothing personal.

Ken Ring - famed Swedish Rapper. No, hang on a minute, that's not the right one...
Ken Ring - Long Range Forecaster. Yep, I'm pretty sure that's what I was looking for.

An unexpected endorsement for the COVID vaccine

I’ve recently read calls for high profile figures in New Zealand to endorse the new COVID vaccines, as a way to reassure the portion of the public who currently feel unsure about the vaccines’ safety. It’s been suggested that public figures such as Jacinda Ardern, Ashley Bloomfield and others might want to allow the media to record them being immunised against COVID. Personally I think that, at least for those who are conspiracy minded, watching those who are supposedly a part of the conspiracy be injected is probably not going to be very convincing.

I’ve also heard the idea that famous Kiwi sports figures might be a better group to take on this task, given that so many in our country look up to them. It’d be nice to see sports personalities make up for some of the damage to health literacy that others in the sporting world have caused, with their reckless endorsement of useless supplements and dangerous treatments. Colin Meads’ thumbs up for Te Kiri Gold, a bleach based “cure” for cancer, and Sir Bob Charles’ hawking of deer velvet, spring to mind.

Thankfully we now have another kind of endorsement of the COVID-19 vaccines - an inverse endorsement, I guess you could call it. Hannah Tamaki, the wife of “Bishop Apostle” Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church, has stated publicly that she won’t be getting the vaccine after the two of them were hauled over the coals in the media last week for skipping town just before Auckland went into lockdown on Sunday. Given the lack of public support for Brian, Hannah, and their shoddy excuse for a church (which, let’s be honest, appears to be nothing more than an ATM for the Tamakis), I’m hopeful that Hannah’s public shunning of the vaccine will just drive more people in New Zealand to be vaccinated.
 

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