Skeptic News: Beware of Scientologists Bearing Gifts

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

 

Beware of Scientologists Bearing Gifts

I recently heard about someone who signed up on the MeetUp website for a conversational English course in Auckland, and when they arrived they found out that the course was being run by Scientologists. This type of bait and switch sneakiness is about what we’d expect from Scientology, so I decided to search google and find the course in question.

I used Scientology’s Auckland address in quotes as my search term - “136 Grafton Road” - and added “site:meetup.com” to restrict my results to just the MeetUp website.

https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Ameetup.com+%22136+grafton+road%22

I was not prepared for the sheer number of meetings I was shown:

  • Success through Communication
  • Grammar and Communication
  • How to get RID of STRESS!
  • What are the key factors for being successful?
  • How to Keep Yourself and Others Well Workshop

One MeetUp group appears to have been re-used for meetings on totally unrelated topics, possibly through laziness, and had the following meetings:

  • Communication for Business
  • English Study Group
  • Rubik’s Cube Master Class
  • Predict - Human - Behavior - Seminar
  • FREE movie night Auckland
  • Open House for Coffee :)

If this was another group I wouldn’t be so suspicious, but as we skeptics know Scientology has a long and sordid history of trying to lure people in under false pretences, and then selling them overpriced books and courses under extreme pressure. There’s a big drive in Scientology to get people through the door, called “body routing”, and I’ve been to the showing of an internal Scientology video where exaggerated numbers were used, boasting of increases in course completion, conversions, body routing and many other metrics Scientology like to measure, inflate and promote. I’m betting that Auckland’s Scientologists have had pressure applied to improve their stats ever since they spent millions of dollars opening their new “Ideal Org” building. These meetings are likely a way to boost the numbers of people coming through the door, so that head office can be told of how much better they’re doing now they are doing things the “Hubbard” way.

So, if you hear of anyone you know in Auckland who is looking for a new social group to join, please make sure they steer clear of groups who operate from 136 Grafton Road.

Mark Honeychurch
Secretary, NZ Skeptics
 

An Open Letter to Plan B

A new group called FACT (Fight Against Conspiracy Theories) has published an open letter to Plan B about their connection with Voices for Freedom. The letter calls on Plan B to distance themselves from Voices for Freedom and the group’s anti-science stance on COVID related issues.

The letter is signed by scientists such as Siouxsie Wiles, Des Gorman and Alison Campbell, as well as a few organisations including the NZ Skeptics.

Plan B have always framed themselves as a group of evidence based academics who disagree with the idea that lockdowns are an acceptable solution to the COVID pandemic. However their flirting with Voices for Freedom includes promotion of Voices for Freedom content, and Plan B’s Dr Thornley giving the keynote talk at a Voices for Freedom event. This really sows doubt on the idea that Plan B is an evidence-driven academic group. Rather, it suggests that their beliefs are more of an ideology than a rational conclusion, and that anyone who agrees with them is a worthy ally, no matter how dangerous their ideas may be.

For example, Voices for Freedom’s recent misinformation spreading, on their website, includes suggesting that COVID vaccines are unsafe, vitamins can help lessen COVID symptoms, wearing a mask is ineffective, Invermectin is a “miracle drug” for treating COVID, and PCR testing is ineffective. Of course none of this is evidence based, and much of it is likely to be dangerous.

They also accuse scientists of “flip flopping” when they change their minds. This one really gets me. As science is a continual process of gathering evidence and making tentative conclusions, scientists changing their minds as new evidence comes to light is expected, and perfectly reasonable. Trying to frame people who are willing to change their opinion based on new evidence as flip floppers is pretty galling, and shows either a lack of understanding of science or a deliberate attempt to malign it.

Christchurch Skepticism Talk

Jonathon Harper, a new member of the NZ Skeptics committee, is giving a talk in Christchurch this Thursday (8th of April) on an Introduction to Skepticism. Despite the title I'm sure that both new skeptics and those who've been around the block a few times will get something out of this talk, and knowing Jonathon this is likely to be a fun event with engaging conversation and some interesting topics.

For more details, see the Christchurch Skeptics in the Pub MeetUp event at:

https://www.meetup.com/Christchurch-Skeptics-in-the-Pub/events/277063570/

Should we worry about LED bulbs?

Stuff published an article recently about the dangers of LED light bulbs, arguing that the blue light from LED bulbs disturbs our circadian rhythm and disrupts our sleep, with wide ranging knock-on effects to our health. My skeptical radar beeped at reading this, as I’ve looked into this issue in the past and found much speculation and very little actual science.

However, the article mentioned a study from Australia, and actually included a link - which is unusual. The linked study was “interesting”, as the researchers attempted to guesstimate melatonin suppression in study participants by attaching a “spectrophotometer” to them, rather than actually measuring the melatonin levels in their blood or urine. Their conclusions about the effects of the light, because they weren’t actually measuring levels of melatonin, were purely based on numbers they derived from elsewhere. Because of the huge variation in how much blue light suppresses melatonin in different people (a 50x difference between the most and least sensitive people), and their lack of direct measurements, when they tried to correlate evening blue light exposure and people’s ability to sleep they found that the variance in their unknowns swamped the data, and no useful results could be gleaned. So, basically, the study was practically useless when used to work out if blue light in the evening causes people to have worse sleep.

On top of reading this study, I searched google for reputable sources. I found an informative page on the Ministry of Health website which warned about blue light at night. However, of the three external links they gave to support their claim, only one of them actually made any claims about blue light being bad for you - on the Royal Society of NZ’s “Blue light Aotearoa” project page. The other two links, to the International Commission on Illumination and the European Commission, both concluded that there is no risk from the blue light emitted by LEDs:

“The CIE considers that the “blue light hazard” is not an issue for white-light sources used in general lighting, even for those that are blue-enriched… The term "blue light hazard" should not be used when referring to circadian rhythm disruption or sleep disturbance.”

“There is no evidence that the general public is at a risk of direct adverse health effects from LEDs when the lights are in normal use“

From a personal standpoint, I recently replaced all of the light bulbs in my house with WiFi enabled LED bulbs. As I suspect is the case with most modern smart bulbs, I have the option of warm or cold white - as well as many shades between the two (and a rainbow of other colours if I feel like making my house look like an 80s French Discotheque). The warmer shades have a lot less blue in them, so it seems that even if the blue light from LED bulbs was an issue with early bulbs, it's unlikely to be a problem nowadays.

Although I wouldn’t consider this matter to be settled, it looks likely that these blue light warnings are premature at best, and likely to be needlessly worrying people. At worst, they are being used by companies, despite a lack of any solid evidence, to sell overpriced screen filters, tinted glasses and warm white LED bulbs from companies like OSIN Lighting, a new startup in New Zealand who just happen to be mentioned in the Stuff article.

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