Skeptic News: New year, skeptical you?

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

 

Happy New Year from NZ Skeptics

 

Welcome to the first newsletter of the new year. I think we can all agree that 2020 was a fairly exceptional year, and not in a good way. 2021 has rolled around, and the common expectation is that it’s going to be much better than 2020! I feel we’re falling for some cognitive effect that rolling over the calendar provides us - and that maybe it’s not going to turn out that way.

Let's see what happens...
Craig Shearer
 

Image from Scott Rodgerson/Unsplash

 

Psychic predictions for 2020

At the start of each year, it’s common for psychics and mediums to put out a bunch of predictions for the coming year. These predictions generally fall flat, although a common strategy for some psychics is to put out so many, often vaguely worded, so that there’s a chance that some of them will actually come true, at which point they capitalise on this, claiming to be the World’s Most Accurate Psychic™! 

An obvious point about the 2020 year is the huge number of astounding events that have occurred, none of which were predicted by psychics! For a humorous look at this, see Rebecca Watson’s YouTube video. Rebecca points out that
 

“Psychics are frauds that lie to people for money, though many people who think they’re psychic are just lying to themselves (and others).”


- that’s certainly putting it bluntly and accurately.

The Real News?

We’re written about the Advance NZ political party in the past, and about their conspiracy-theory-driven policies and public statements. 

It’s come to NZ Skeptics attention that they’re now promoting a new magazine to be distributed early this year. There’s a new website set up to promote this, run by a company called The Full Court Press. The director of that company, from the NZ Companies Register, is Katherine Smith, who’s also the publisher of the awful New Zealand Journal of Natural Medicine. That magazine has been popping up in mainstream magazine outlets and supermarkets for some time (and also available as a gift option on iSubscribe - hopefully that didn't get given as a Christmas gift!), but it appears that the new venture is going for a more viral distribution model.

If you’d like to read the first issue of the magazine, it’s available for free here (if you can stomach it!). 

Their distribution model is to get people to buy the magazine in bulk (minimum order of 100 copies at $1 each) then sell them at a profit to friends, family, and neighbours. 

The first issue is packed full of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and dangerous misinformation, and as expected, advertises various likely-bogus “natural” medicines.

 

COVID-19 Vaccines

As you’ll no doubt know, 2020 ended seeing the successful and record-setting development of a range of vaccines for COVID-19 from various companies. 

New Zealand is in the privileged position of having zero cases of COVID in the community. We can afford to take our time with the vaccine, which must go through local approval processes (Medsafe), unlike other countries where the transmission is rampant, and vaccines have been authorised for emergency use. 

The current predictions are that vaccines will be available in New Zealand sometime this year.  We’re also doing the right thing by our Pacific neighbours and helping them out. More information can be found on the NZ COVID-19 website.

Unfortunately, it seems that many people in the US are falling prey to vaccine hesitancy

This is unfortunate, though perhaps predictable. I believe that it’s not unreasonable for people to have concerns about the vaccines, particularly with the speed at which they’ve been developed. But, as always, the key to alleviating concerns is a deeper understanding of the science behind their development. The key takeaway is that the speed of development is mainly down to bureaucratic hurdles being removed, modern technology, and the moon-shot-like efforts that scientists put in.

Image from Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

New Year’s Resolutions

Around this time of the year it’s common to be spending time with extended family and friends. 

As we’ve seen over the last few years with the rise of social media, it’s easy for unsuspecting people to fall down the rabbit holes of conspiracy theories. 

Equally, this is the time of year that people make new year’s resolutions, often around the themes of improved health or weight loss or better eating. There are many businesses that thrive on and exploit these tendencies. I’ve seen various fad diets and detox programmes popping up on my social media feeds.

If you’re searching for your own new year’s resolution, I challenge you to become a skeptical ambassador and encourage critical thinking and spread the skeptical viewpoint among friends and family. And this year, it’s particularly important to help people establish an accurate science-based view of the COVID pandemic and the vaccines.

What can you do to promote critical thinking?

NZ Skeptics Membership

NZ Skeptics is a registered charity. If you’re already a member now’s the time to pay your subs. If you’re not a member, please consider joining us to support the work we do. Membership is only $40/year for waged/salaried people, and $20/year for unwaged people. You can sign up on our website.

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