Skeptic News:  Court Cases, Vaccines, Vortices and Guerrilla Skepticism

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.

The news at present is very much concentrating on the COVD vaccine, and it’s been great to see a lot of attention paid to countering misinformation. Details below on the purveyors of this misinformation!

Wishing you a great week...
Craig Shearer

Sue Grey court case

The week before last we saw Sue Grey, a Nelson-based lawyer and co-leader of the NZ Outdoors party, bringing a case against the NZ Government claiming that the rollout of the COVID vaccine was illegal under the Section 23 of the Medicines Act.

Section 23 of the act allowed the Minister of Health to grant access to approved medicines to a limited number of patients. Grey’s argument was that rolling out the vaccine to all kiwis over the age of 16 didn’t meet the criteria of being a limited number of patients. 

It does seem that it’s a stretch to call all people over the age of 16 a limited number of patients, and on this point Grey’s argument was correct.

However, the case was never about concern that the government was following the law on rollout of the vaccine, but instead was a full-blown anti-vax argument fest. A variety of arguments were introduced claiming that the safety of the vaccine wasn’t proven, and referencing the American VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) as proof that vaccines, in general, were risky and resulting in many cases of adverse effects and vaccine injury.

Grey was petitioning the court to rule the rollout illegal and requesting that the judge halt the rollout of the vaccine. 

As it turned out the judge, Rebecca Ellis, sided with Grey, advising the government that the act’s wording needed to be revised. However, the judge declined to stop the vaccine rollout:

“For now, I decline to exercise my discretion to grant the interim orders sought. The adverse public and private repercussions of doing so are too great, by some very considerable margin.”

If you really want to see what Sue Grey is all about, you can review her video she posted after the judgement came out. It turns out, she’s a full-blown rabid anti-vaxxer, including claiming that the “cure is worse than the disease”, that COVID can be managed by drugs such as Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine, and that people should “do their own research”. 

The case was supported by Voices for Freedom (complete with their supporters holding placards outside the courthouse). To me, trying to deny people access to the vaccine is the very opposite of freedom!

VFF reaction

I have a super-secret email account that I use to sign up to various mailing lists, including the Voices for Freedom mailing list. Boy do they put out some propaganda!

From their latest email:

“Emotions ran high this past week. Some of us allowed ourselves to feel hopeful that the judiciary would act heroically. We visualised a judgment throwing caution to the wind by finding that the Government acted illegally and that the Covid vaccine rollout could be paused.


Our dreams were half-realised. 


The Judge agreed that the Government was behaving illegally – but tripped up over the rollout issue, sticking to the script that we combat Covid at all costs. Even when those costs include enrolling every Kiwi over 16 in an experimental jab with a sub-standard injury reporting system and zero information about long-term safety.


It didn't feel particularly heroic. Especially when the Government did what it seems to do best right now and tyrannically changed the law to suit them the very next day.”

It’s interesting to observe how they’re attempting to manipulate their followers, trying to paint them as “heros” doing what’s right in the face of a tyrannical government.

VFF run weekly webinars over Zoom to rally the troops. The past couple of weeks have featured “heroic” doctors - Dr Sam Bailey (who runs a YouTube channel with 240K subscribers) and Dr Alison Goodwin, who’s a maverick doctor from Hawkes Bay. These webinars, it’s claimed, have a limited number of seats available. I sign up for them in the vain hope that my signup might prevent somebody else who wants to see the content from being exposed to their dangerous misinformation. Does that make me a hero? 😊

Simon Thornley

Yet another anti-hero of the COVID story is Dr Simon Thornley, of the COVID Plan B group who we’ve mentioned many times in the past. 

Thornley is an odd case in that he’s an academic at the University of Auckland, who should know better. (And he was an expert witness in Sue Grey's case in the high court, mentioned above.)

Over this past weekend, Stuff published an excellent article by Charlie Mitchell on Thornley about how he’s gone down the rabbit hole and can’t seem to find his way back up again.

Though Thornley is a scientist, he seems to have a lot in common with the attitudes and behaviours typically seen in anti-vaxxers (and anti-science types in general), preferring to cling to flimsy, cherry-picked evidence, and holding on to positions even when the evidence is stacked against them. He’s certainly done his own research!

On one of Thornley’s theories that the COVID virus was circulating as early as March 2019. From the article: 

“At the end of his presentation, a slide notes many of Thornley’s references came from one place: A blog post purporting to describe “the manufacturing of the coronavirus crisis”, written by an architect in the United Kingdom who has no apparent medical or science expertise.

During a question and answer session, Thornley was asked if it meant Covid-19 had circulated undetected in New Zealand: “It’s very hard to believe we haven’t been exposed to the virus in quite a dramatic way”, he responded.

Only a seroprevalence survey – measuring the proportion of people with antibodies for the virus – would give the answer, he added.

Two months later, a seroprevalence survey was released. It determined only around 0.1 per cent of New Zealand had been infected with Covid-19. The finding “provides robust evidence to support New Zealand’s successful elimination strategy for COVID-19”.

Thornley, nevertheless, remains unconvinced.”

The article is well worth a read.

Vortex Water

From the hard to believe it’s real category, we found out about a revolutionary product being offered in New Zealand - Vortex Water!

From their website, they explain:

“In nature, water on it's (sic) journey in a mountain stream twists and turns over rocks, always returning to circular or orbital motion. Constantly regaining it's (sic) power and vitality to reinvigorate us and nature.

In today’s world we force water through straight pipes with hard bends after thrashing it through a centrifugal pump; leaving it lifeless. Then we add chemicals to make our water safe to drink.

Then we choose to store our drinking water in clear plastic bottles, to be destroyed even further by sunlight and heat. A journey destroyed before commenced.”

The site has some truly bizarre products available. (Notably, the site looks like it was designed in the early days of the web - somewhere around 1999. Of course, a slickly designed site is no guarantee of the quality or efficacy of a product…)

Navigating to try to purchase a product takes me to this page ( I can buy various items, including the Vortex Energiser for Household Vortex Water Revitalisation for the cost of $397.

Interestingly the picture accompanying the product seems to indicate that the water doesn’t even have to flow through the device to have its effect. 

The more likely reason is avoiding having your plumber laugh at you when asked to install the ridiculous device into your pipes 😊


If you’ve spent any time on the internet you’ll likely have encountered Wikipedia - the community-edited encyclopaedia. Wikipedia gets a bad rap as it’s possible for anybody to edit the content and put misinformation on a page.

However, it’s a useful resource, and bad information does usually get weeded out. It’s a good first stopping point on a path to further research. 

Friend of NZ Skeptics, Susan Gerbic runs the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project (GSoW) which specialises in writing informative articles on Wikipedia, centering on science, pseudo science and the people of science (and pseudoscience).

From Susan:

“GSoW has just written 1,751 Wikipedia pages in many languages. Those 1,751 pages have been viewed more than 88 million times – that’s a lot of science communication.

The team has written 31 Wikipedia pages with a New Zealand focus, some of which include; Siouxsie Wiles, Puzzling World, Robert Bartholomew, Lance O’Sullivan, Claire Deeks, Andrew Digby, Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Margaret Hyland, NZ Skeptics, Jeanette Wilson, Immunisation Advisory Centre of NZ and more. These 31 Wikipedia pages have already been viewed over 201,000 times.”

An important aspect of this is that these articles provide important background about people of pseudoscience, often highlighting unflattering and inconvenient aspects that they would rather weren’t public. Case in point is the recently written page about Claire Deeks, of Voices for Freedom. When journalists are doing background research, Wikipedia is a good first stopping point, and having this information at their fingertips promotes a balanced (and not white-washed) view.

Susan is looking for new contributors from New Zealand. If you’ve got some spare time to devote to science communication, one of the most effective ways of doing this would be to join Susan’s team.

Susan personally provides full training on how to research, write, and maintain Wikipedia pages. And you get to be part of a secret community which runs on Facebook with over a hundred people from all over the world dedicated to promoting science and skepticism.

If you’d like to get involved, please contact Susan directly via her email: [email protected]


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