Skeptic News: Conference, Vax exemptions, and Well Beings

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.


We’re very close to our annual conference which we’re running in conjunction with the Australian Skeptics. I encourage you to check it out - and we’d love to have you there.

This past week’s seen more drama around COVID and vaccinations, and worryingly, increased cases and spread outside of Auckland. 

Read on below...

Craig Shearer

What are you doing on 20th and 21st of November...

…or up to 3 months after?

Our fantastic online conference - Skepticon 2021 - in conjunction with the Australian Skeptics is fast approaching. 

We’re online on 20th and 21st of November, but if you buy a ticket you don’t have to watch it live - you’ll be able to watch the talks at your leisure for up to 3 months afterwards.

We’ve got a fantastic bunch of speakers from both sides of the Tasman, as well as a few joining us from other parts of the world - speakers such as Richard Wiseman and Siouxsie Wiles, Susan Gerbic and Richard Saunders.

Full details are at the conference website and you can read the full program of talks. You can buy your ticket here:

Come join us for a fun and informative weekend!

So, we’re pretty happy with this. While some will view the numbers with some distaste, it’s good to get our message out to a wider audience.

My favourite response to our tweet was this:

Vax exemptions scam

In my last newsletter from two weeks ago, I wrote about the vaccine exemptions that anti-vaxxers wanted to use. They intended to use the wording of section 7A of the COVID response act to exempt themselves from the requirements to be vaccinated for work in professions where the vaccination has been mandated - teaching, healthcare, etc. 

The wording of the section allowed for “suitably qualified health professionals” to issue exemptions to vaccination. 

Last week, the infamous bunch at Voices for Freedom set up an event in Palmerston North at Newbury Hall where people could turn up and, for $10 (or $20 for a family), be issued with a vaccine exemption certificate. The event was eventually cancelled and people left empty-handed. 

Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, last week commented about the vaccine exemptions being handed out:

“If someone is offering to sell you an exemption or otherwise suggesting that you could pay a fee for the service of getting an exemption, they are trying to rip you off.”

The government has since removed section 7A from the legislation and tightened things up around exemptions, requiring that these will need to be approved by the Ministry of Health.

This has put Voices for Freedom into a bit of a flurry, urgently setting up a Saturday night “CRITICAL WEBINAR 8pm for all affected by “no jab, no job” + exemptions”

Sue Grey was in court a couple of weeks ago, as I previously reported, representing aviation security workers from Christchurch who had lost their jobs after refusing to get the COVID vaccine. 

Well Sue Grey is now the subject of a format complaint to the law society. There have been multiple informal complaints in the past - I’ve written one myself - but this one is being taken seriously. It was organised by FACT Aotearoa and involved doctors and other lawyers.

You can read the text of the letter to the Law Society here: (PDF link)

Sue had until 5th November (this past Friday) to respond. It will be interesting to see what transpires, but the fact that other lawyers were involved should make the case fairly strongly.

Protest - TFRC and the Tamakis

This coming week has the threat of action against the government with yet another protest organised by Destiny Church and its leaders Brian (variously adorned with the title of Bishop, or Apostle) and Hannah Tamaki. 

As you’re no doubt aware, Brian has organised a couple of protests in Auckland during lockdown, which earned him two charges from police, and some time in jail, for breaching his previous bail conditions. (Amusingly, Hannah complained Brian was “treated like a prisoner”, which he was!)

Brain is currently bailed, under strict conditions that he comply with COVID-19 level requirements and not attend or organise protests, and not access the internet for the purpose of organising or inciting non-compliance. It would seem that those conditions aren’t being strictly enforced.

Destiny Church has an offshoot - The Freedoms and  Rights Coalition. It’s not clear who the coalition is between though. They have a website which, incidentally, has some awful letter spacing! Quite offensive to the eyes. Anyway, the domain was registered by Jenny Marshall who is Director of Operations at Destiny Church.

The latest action is a protest at Parliament in Wellington on Tuesday 9th November. “It is 9/11 for Adern & the Labour Government” - obviously alluding to September 11 attacks, which is kind of shocking really, and sounds a lot like a threat of domestic terrorism. (David Farrier has a good write up on this with some quite shocking developments.)

They’ve issued demands which include revoking all workplace vaccination mandates, returning to level 1, and removing the Auckland border.

If the demands aren’t actioned they’re threatening a “gridlock” involving cars, trucks and tractors blocking roads until their demands are met. 

Laughingly, they’ve suggested

“We will ask Apostle Brian Tamaki and the TFRC [The Freedoms and Rights Coalition] executive team to head up any potential negotiations with the NZ Police and the government”.

Destiny Church has a reputation of being very cash hungry. Obviously, lockdowns and having to run services virtually are affecting their cashflow, which could be why he’s referred to as EFTpostle Tamaki.

Bruising from COVID vaccines?

It continues to amaze me the lengths science deniers and anti-vaxxers will go to to try to convince people of vaccine harm. This week, Daniel published some pictures from an anti-vax group on our Facebook page, purporting to show extreme bruising after the COVID vaccine. You can take a look at Daniel’s post here but here’s a taste of the claimed bruising

The screenshots in the post make fascinating if alarming reading. There are people who claim they can smell vaccinated people (well, yes they can but do they smell any different from unvaccinated people? I’d be intrigued to see this demonstrated in a double-blinded experiment!)

These people are clearly detached from reality, and possibly the group that these posts and pictures were from is encouraging some sort of mass delusion. I’m no psychiatrist but I have a feeling it’s going to end badly when some of the most extreme people are backed into having to get vaccinated or likely deal with the consequences of COVID once they’re exposed to it, as we’ll likely all be at some point in the future.

Dominic Bowden on WellBeings

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen articles about Dominic Bowden on a new podcast about “wellbeing” called WellBeings. Dominic Bowden is a bit of a celebrity - having appeared on The Bachelor NZ amongst other shows.

The podcast purports to be science-based on how to live an extraordinary life. While the podcast mentions science quite often, from my initial listen to it, it appears to want to use the mantle of science for credibility, but doesn’t really follow through.

This week, the podcast is embracing Wim Hof, who promotes the idea of extreme cold and breathing techniques as a means of improving one’s health. The podcast is being promoted by Stuff, who have partnered with Bowden. The write-up of this week’s episode talks about sceptics: 

His message to the sceptics? “Be very critical. That polishes the diamond of the truth. Be critical, but have your two feet on the ground, because I’m doing my science.

“If you are still a sceptic, just try it once, and if it doesn’t work, never do it again. But you will see if you do it once... you are hooked.”

Um, no, that’s not how to tell if something works. 

Having listened to the episode, there's some strong claims in there which we should be very sceptical of! (for example, that his method cured a woman of her endometriosis and allowed her to become pregnant.) Dominic Bowden himself seems to be a true believer, revealing that he's been doing the Wim Hof method of breathing for the last five years. (Actually, in the first episode he made mention of breathing too, so it appears that's his "thing".)

Harriet Hall wrote about Wim Hof’s claims in a Science-based Medicine article.

Oh No, Ross and Carrie did a series of episodes that experiences the Wim Hof method. It’s very good.

Stuart Landsborough feedback

Last week Mark published an item from Stuart Landsborough, from Wanaka’s Puzzling World about his recent epiphany about how we can deal with climate change. I found Stuart’s item contained some great points, and it resonated with me. I’m worried about whether we’ll be able to prevent catastrophic climate change. 

We’ve had a few responses to Stuart’s item:

Jeff Bryant wrote:

“I like Stuart’s lateral thinking.


Unfortunately, the spread of wilding conifers creates an ever-increasing threat of fire hazard with climate change.  Just ask the residents of Ohau village who lost their homes a few years back.”


Lance Kennedy wrote:

“Stuart talks about fighting global warming by permitting wilding pines to flourish.  I would like to point out the big flaw in that argument.


Pines are flammable.   When we get a very hot and dry summer (guess what global warming promises!) they become very, very flammable.  It is kind of obvious what will happen if NZ ends up with vast areas of these pines.


We have a wonderful native rain forest.   Surprisingly, most of our rain forest trees are highly resistant to forest fire.  The only very flammable native trees are manuka and kanuka.  NZ native trees generate a forest that is long lasting.  


I come from a tree loving family.  My father was the founder of the Tauranga Tree Society, and he planted tens of thousands of trees in his time, and established the McLarens Falls Park.  He has an arboretum inside that park named after him.  I have been strongly influenced by his example.   Where my father has planted tens of thousands of trees, my feeble effort amounts only to thousands.


My tree thing, though, is natives.   In my last home in Tutukaka, I planted out four acres of native rain forest, which is now growing well and absorbing carbon.   According to the New Scientist magazine, every acre planted, while the trees are growing, will absorb the carbon emissions generated by the average western adult.  So the four acres I planted there should be taking care of the carbon emissions of my wife and myself, and two other adults.


My recent project at my new home is just one acre.   The first planting is now complete, and those small native trees are growing.  Not too many manuka though!  Next winter, I will be planting more trees to replace the ones that died (inevitable but sad).   Given a few years, a new native rain forest will spring up.


Carbon sequestration, of course, is strong only during the years that those trees are growing.  It takes ten to twenty years before growth of our slow growing natives reach the point where they make a major dent in carbon dioxide.   But global warming  is a long term problem.  We will be fighting it long after I am resting in my grave.  But by 2050 the forests I plant will be doing sterling service.


It is also worth bearing in mind the added benefits.  Native forest brings and supports the native bird population.  It reduces flooding.  It increases precipitation (vitally important in the face of climate change driven droughts). It provides a joy to those of us who love the outdoors.


Pines may grow quickly.   But they burn even more quickly.  They are ugly.  They are poor supporters of our native birds and animals.  Any benefit from permitting wilding pines to flourish is short term and short sighted.   Let's plant the native forests that will still be here after the passage of centuries.”


Mark and I love getting items for the newsletter. If you’ve got something to contribute, we’d love to hear from you. (Email us [email protected])

Book Review

Reviewed by Jonathon Harper


Covid-19 The Pandemic That Should Never Have Happened - by Debra MacKenzie 2020 (available on Amazon)

MacKenzie is a journalist who has covered infectious diseases for New Scientist for several decades. She certainly canvases expert opinion very thoroughly.

This book gives a very good recent history of coronaviruses and influenzas, and our efforts to control outbreaks. I learnt a few new facts – that is I was convinced by Mackenzie that these things are either facts (for all practical purposes true) or highly likely to be true given what the consensus of experts are telling us as reported by MacKenzie:

  • China already had an early warning system when covid-19 broke out in Wuhan. The local officials failed to trigger the alarm when faced with clear evidence that human to human transmission was occurring.  
  • Big Pharma cannot afford the huge costs involved in producing vaccines and treatments for viruses until it is clear we need millions of doses. By then, it may be too late to prevent a pandemic. So she is clear that governments must invest ahead of time. Trump had cut off this kind of funding in the USA before the outbreak.
  • Covid-19 probably came from fruit bats, possibly through as traditional Chinese Medicine that uses bat droppings for an eye product (I refer to unproven “treatments” as products). Or, as a result of our encroachment into wild environments where bats used to live further away from humans.
  • NIPAH is another bat borne virus is a likely candidate for  the next pandemic, which I’m sorry to say may not be all that far into the future according to Mackenzie. NIPAH has a higher mortality rate than the Covid-19 coronavirus (NIPAH is a Henipavirus). Should this virus acquire particular mutations, which have already been identified, it could become very contagious.
So although the book was likely cobbled together quickly in order to stay current; and it has a little repetition in places, I think it is a good source of background information to help understand the current pandemic.
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