Skeptic News: Realisations

NZ Skeptics Newsletter




Hi there

This week has been pretty interesting in the arena of skepticism. As you’ll no doubt be aware, this week saw the inauguration of Joe Biden as president of the US and the beginning of his administration. We’ve seen various pro-science, evidence-based actions taken in just the first couple of days - for example, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, rejoining the World Health Organisation, and halting the Keystone XL pipeline, which I personally celebrate.

This week is also a week of realisation for many, with QAnon predictions failing to come to pass. More details on that below.

Hope you have a great week…

Craig Shearer

The events of January 6th with the storming of the Capitol in Washington DC were pretty shocking. However, believers in QAnon conspiracy theories were holding out for January 20th - the day of inauguration of the new president. Expectation was that all was going to be revealed - and that Joe Biden wouldn’t, in fact, become president (but, in fact, be arrested). This was the day of “the storm” when president Trump would bring down the “deep state” and expose an extensive pedophilia ring among Democrats.

Of course, this didn’t happen. Refreshingly there have been reports that the QAnon believers are now coming to the realisation that their beliefs weren’t anchored to reality. “We all got played” was a common theme.

I listened to a really fascinating interview on the Oh No Ross and Carrie podcast this week. The interview was with Joe Ondrak who is a researcher at a company called Logically. Logically is a company set up to combat fake news. The interview covers a lot of detail about QAnon and who the believers are, and what we should do about them. I highly recommend listening to this episode.

The interview led me to reflect on the consequences of conspiracy theories. It’s easy to poke fun at believers in outlandish ideas, but I think we also need to have some sympathy. They indeed did “get played” and were, to some extent, used as pawns by those who would exploit these beliefs for their own political purposes.

The bottom line for me is that part of being an adult is being responsible for the consequences of your actions. We can’t absolve poor actions because some people went “down the rabbit hole”. Beliefs have consequences - and as adults we’re much better off if we can ensure that our beliefs are anchored to reality.

In another example of “realisations” we have the uplifting story of a person who was in the anti-vax camp who has since realised the problems with her views and has now become pro-vaccination. It’s fascinating to read her story and how the change came about. It’s all the more important because her original story went “viral” and received wide attention in the media. You can read her story on her Facebook post. Oh, and you don’t have to be a Facebook member to read the post.

Plan-B dishonesty

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage with close to 100 million cases over 2 million deaths worldwide. As I’ve said before we can be thankful that we pursued an elimination strategy here in New Zealand. Still, we can’t afford to become complacent, particularly with the emergence of more virulent strains of the virus. (Keep using the COVID app and scanning in!)

Of course there have been groups that have criticised our response - we’ve mentioned the Billy Te Kahika crowd many times, but also the Plan B group of academics. Shockingly for a group of academics, it was revealed that they’ve simply deleted an embarrassing post off their website that claimed that elimination must be ended. The original post is available on the wayback machine but the page on their site now simply returns a 404.

I think it’s pretty shameful that a group of scientists would delete “data” that is now inconvenient to their message!

Speaking of Billy Te Kahika, one of our skeptical operatives had an interaction with him this past week at Wellington Airport. Here’s his amusing story containing 3 dilemmas:

I arrived late at the airport, thanks to mis-judging Wellington traffic, at 17:35 for a 18:00 take off with a cabin bag full of survey equipment which sometimes attracts extra attention in security.

Heading into the pre-security screening zigzag line and immediately in front of me is Billy Te Kahika. He's walking very slowly, fumbling with his phone, as he is just finishing a live stream about the day’s protest outside Parliament. 

Dilemma 1 - Should I subdue the urge to shout "He's talking bullshit" as I really need to get through security without a fuss?   I pass him and carry on around the bend in the line but, as I walk back towards him, notice a $50 note fall from his pocket.

Dilemma 2 -  he's a conman, should I tell him about his loss?   I do tell him he dropped something and, as he turns to look, the man behind him scoops it up and hands it to him. He looks genuinely grateful and says 'Thanks, you're both gentlemen'.

Dilemma 3 - Briefly consider, but resist the urge, of replying 'thanks, but I think you're a morally bankrupt dangerous influencer'

The survey gear did trigger a second bag scan but was OK after that. I just made the flight annoyed that I didn’t confront him but with the certain knowledge it would have been futile.

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