Skeptic News: Psychic survey, Anti-vax sting, UFOs and why I'm a skeptic

NZ Skeptics Newsletter

Welcome to the NZ Skeptics newsletter.


This week I look at the Australian Skeptics psychic survey, some more COVID-related stuff, UFOs, and I talk about my introduction to skepticism (and you can too).

Craig Shearer

Psychic survey

Our recent Skepticon saw Richard Saunders, from the Australian Skeptics, present the results of The Great Australian Psychic Prediction Project. 

Over the past 12 years, the Australian Skeptics recorded and documented psychic predictions covering the 21 year period of 2000 - 2020. They then analysed the predictions of accuracy. This was an impressive effort. It meant recording predictions made by psychics in a variety of media - such as magazines, TV, newspapers, websites and YouTube. 

The methodology needed to be carefully devised as it’s difficult to describe exactly what constitutes a successful prediction. I can predict, with 100% accuracy, that the sun will rise tomorrow but that doesn’t make me psychic!

There was a ton of work in doing this. The size of the database was impressive, with around 3,800 predictions collected over the 21 year period. Each prediction was then analysed to determine what the result was. 

“This was done with each prediction being discussed and online searches used to discover the result. At times this was a quick task with the answer found easily as either a predicted event happened, or it did not. At other times it took great effort and much searching to discover the answer. Stock market charts, interest rates over the years, housing markets, exchange rates and so on all took a great deal of time to research. Even the plight of any particular sporting team took time and effort to research. If the conclusion was debated, the author made the final call. Many of these uncertain predictions ended up being catalogued as “Too Vague”.”

Summarising their findings:

  • Only 11% of predictions are “correct”. 

  • The profession’s journal, the International Psychics Directory, has only 8.5% correct.

  • Most predictions were too vague, expected, or simply wrong.

  • Most of what happens is not predicted, and most of what is predicted does not happen.

While it may sound impressive that psychics actually got some claims right, it generally comes down to chance. For example, a psychic may predict that a particular political party would win an election. That they were correct in their prediction doesn’t mean they were able to see the event in advance - just that they guessed an outcome and wrote it down.

Many psychics are prolific. If you make a lot of predictions, and they’re vague enough, by chance some of them are going to turn out to be correct.

Then there are those predictions that are expected, such as the deaths of elderly prominent people, such as celebrities, politicians or royals.

Finally, it’s fairly obvious that psychics can’t really predict the future as none of them have predicted major recent events such as the advent of COVID-19 (despite claims that Sylvia Browne did so in a book written just after the SARS outbreak - checked by Snopes).

You can read the article describing the project in detail in the Australian Skeptics magazine.

The Girouard Sting

No doubt this week you will have seen the “sting” executed by Paddy Gower from Newshub. 

If you haven’t, Newshub journalist Paddy Gower organised an undercover investigation which revealed an American doctor who runs a weight loss clinic with her husband (also American) is handing out medical certificates as exemptions to the COVID vaccine.

The two doctors run The Girouard Centre, based in Kaiapoi, just north of Christchurch. You might want to look at their website, but it’s now essentially shut down (being a password protected Wordpress login). Of course, the Wayback Machine allows us to see previous snapshots of the site and go exploring. 

It would seem that the Girouards have run weight-loss clinics in the US, and that these are still in operation. 

The key points from the investigation are that the doctor - Dr Jonie Girouard - is a GP registered with the New Zealand Medical Council. They are investigating her, but she’s also being investigated by the NZ Police. There are number of relevant points here - they're running a business where they're actively encouraging people to remove their masks in an enclosed space. They're both unvaccinated, so shouldn't be operating their business and exposing people to risk. Then there's the potentially fraudulent aspects of charging to provide a certificate they know will be virtually useless, to providing a very dubious "medical examination" in the form of a blood pressure test.

While the string centered on Dr Jonie Girouard, one would probably rightly assume that her husband is on board with her approach. It appears that he has participated in anti-vax messaging here in NZ. While he’s not registered with the Medical Council so can’t legally practise medicine in NZ, he still gives advice on weight loss at their clinic, and is reportedly unvaccinated also. 

They'll likely get shut down, and I hope that they actually suffer some consequences from the irresponsible actions they’ve taken. (And deporting them back to the US would be a good move too!)

The multi-vax man

It has emerged that there’s a man who’s been showing up to receive the COVID vaccine on behalf of other people (for which he’s being paid), having up to 10 vaccinations in a single day.

Obviously the effects of this haven’t been studied, as it’s outside the bounds of what would actually be given in a standard vaccination dose. 

This does boggle my mind though. What does it say about people willing to pay somebody else to take a vaccine for them, that they believe is harmful? Or is it only harmful to them? What does it say about the anti-vaxxers who say that the vaccine has terrible and risky side effects? I don’t think I’ll ever understand how these people work.

On a more serious note, it is a difficult problem to solve. On the one hand, it seems it would be a good idea to require photo ID when getting the vaccine. But, as we know, this puts barriers up, and for particular populations (such as Maori and Pasifika) having to produce photo ID can be problematic. Not everybody has a driver’s licence and many won’t have a passport.

The vast majority of those currently eligible to receive the vaccine (over 12s) have had it, with almost 95% having had their first dose. Those remaining are in populations where hesitancy is rife, or vaccinations are difficult to access, but also the staunch anti-vaxxers, who may well be subject to vaccine mandates, requiring them to be vaccinated to remain in their job.

Part of me finds it difficult to have much sympathy for anti-vaxxers, but I then realise that most of them are likely to have been subjected to misinformation and aren’t the evil characters that some would make them out to be.

UFOs and the Pentagon

NZ Skeptics occasionally received email asking about skeptical topics:

English and grammar issues aside, our correspondent is asking what we think about Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (the new term for UFOs and flying saucers).

What triggered this query was likely the recent announcement of a new intelligence group at the Pentagon. Back in June the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a report which analysed Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs). 

In the July report, they categorised the phenomena into five categories:

  • Airborne clutter (birds, balloons, recreational drones, plastic bags)

  • Natural atmospheric phenomena (such as ice crystals, moisture and thermal fluctuations)

  • Industry or other government programmes

  • Foreign adversary systems

  • Other.

The “other” category is where they place everything they can’t identify, and where the uncertainty lives. The report states:

“And a Handful of UAP Appear to Demonstrate Advanced Technology”

“Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernible means of propulsion. In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings.”

What they don’t do is claim there’s any evidence of extraterrestrial life visiting us. 

By Touch Of Light - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Last month it was announced that the Pentagon will track unexplained airborne objects through a new intelligence group.

So they’re going to provide better systems for reporting such incidents. This is a good thing. What we typically see is that when unexplained phenomena are better studied, better explanations emerge. And often, such explanations involve natural phenomena that have been mistaken for artificial objects - for example, bugs close to a lens being interpreted as distant objects moving very quickly, or commercial aircraft (as was the case with the triangular “UFOs” we’ve previously reported).. 

What we’re unlikely to see is that these explanations will uncover that aliens are visiting us. I, for one, would love that to be the case. The chance to see, study, and possibly communicate with beings from elsewhere in the universe would be fascinating. But the vast distances involved, and the well-established limit the speed of light puts on travel make it extremely unlikely.

So, sorry, but while UFOs might be fun to think about, the recent developments at the Pentagon don’t change our stance that ET visiting us is unlikely. Show us some good quality evidence!

WAYAS - Why are you a skeptic?

We love getting feedback on the newsletter, and hearing others’ perspectives. And, we think that others would like this too.

We’re starting a new section in our newsletter which shines a spotlight on people in our local skeptical community. With that in mind, we invite short contributions from readers telling us why you’re a skeptic, what you’re skeptical of, what ideas you have for activism. Anything like that.

If you want, we can keep you anonymous, or if you’re happy to be identified, we can use your name, and a profile picture if you’d like to submit one.

You can send us your contribution to [email protected] 

So - I’ll start - my name’s Craig Shearer, and I’m a skeptic. 😀

I think I’ve always been naturally sceptical, and had an interest in science from my earliest years. I was taken to church by my parents, but recall usually expressing doubts about its veracity. I guess I had atheist leanings from my teenage years. But I went along, as most people did in the 1970s and 80s. 

My introduction to organised skepticism occurred back in about 1993 when I was teaching software development at Manawatu Polytechnic. A fellow lecturer, a seemingly smart guy, was a fundamentalist Christian who was a firm believer in Young Earth Creationism. 

He and I had quite a few discussions about the evidence for evolution. The internet was in its infancy at the time, so finding resources was quite a bit more difficult. By the mid 90s I was participating in discussions in skeptic forums, and encountering the likes of Michael Shermer (who, it now seems, is a quite unpleasant character).

One Christmas, my wife gave me a 1st generation iPod, and I downloaded some skeptical podcasts - and I was hooked. Skepticality, Skeptoid, and the Skeptics Guide to the Universe were great listening pleasure for me. I became more active when I attended a Skeptics in the Pub in Auckland back in about 2009, and then formally joined NZ Skeptics. 

I think skepticism has been a big part of my life. I see a lot of value in being able to support your beliefs with evidence. It’s a shame so few  people do though!

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