Female ‘sorcerers’ tortured and murdered
Four Papua New Guinea women, believed by fellow villagers to have used sorcery to cause a fatal road crash, were tortured with hot metal rods to confess, then murdered and buried standing up in a pit (Stuff, 25 January).
A local newspaper said that police had only recently uncovered the grisly murders, which occurred last October near the town of Goroka in the jungle-clad highlands some 400km north of the capital, Port Moresby. Black magic is widespread in the South Pacific nation where most of the 5.1 million population live subsistence lives. Women suspected of being witches are often hung or burnt to death.
Local police commander Chief Inspector David Seine told the newspaper that people in the village of Kamex accused the four women of sorcery after a road crash killed three prison officers. The women were reportedly tortured into admission by being stabbed with hot metal rods, said Seine.
It appeared the women were blindfolded with thick sticky tape strapped across their faces and mouths and their hands had been tied before they were murdered, he said.
Commander Seine said the women were buried in an old narrow toilet pit in the standing position. The pit was then covered with soil and two old vehicle tyres placed on the top.
“They planted a banana tree on top of the pit with fresh grass making it difficult for anyone to discover the site, but police got to it with the help of some elders from the village,” he said.
Red netting benefits ‘a myth’
A retired scientist is questioning the effectiveness of red horticultural shade cloth which is being erected on a growing number of orchards around the Nelson region (Nelson Mail, 17 March).
Orchardists use the red cloth because it is thought to enhance pipfruit crops. But the bright red netting has run into a storm of controversy with lobby groups and neighbouring land owners who say it is visual pollution.
Now Rob James of Motueka, who was involved in tobacco research at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research for 18 years, claims the benefits of red netting are a myth.
Mr James said he had been in touch with scientists in New Zealand and at Cornell University in New York and none of them knew of any research that proved that red netting was better than any other coloured netting.
“There’s no published research on the use of red netting in the world. If there was, we would have found it.”
If people did have scientific evidence on the benefits of the netting on pipfruit he would like to see it.
Pipfruit New Zealand chairman Ian Palmer agreed there was no scientific proof of the benefits of red netting, but said that was irrelevant. Fruit grown under red netting was “elite”, he said. “The evidence is in the fruit itself.
“It had the sort of appearance that made it some of the best fruit I’ve seen.”
Mr Palmer said the red netting seemed to enhance the colour of the fruit, giving it a pinkish finish. He said he had not seen the results of fruit grown under white netting.
Vitamins ‘do more harm than good’
Proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) may be attracting a lot of attention, but they have yet to convince anyone who counts that their ideas should be taken seriously. In the latest setback, school authorities in Kansas have deleted language from teaching guidelines that challenged the validity of evolutionary theory, and approved new phrasing in line with mainstream science (Guardian Weekly, 23 February).
The 6-4 vote by the state board of education is seen as a victory for a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, science educators and parents who had fought for two years to overturn earlier guidelines. It reverses the decision taken by the same authorities two years ago to include language undermining Darwinism on the insistence of conservative parents and the ID movement. The board removed language suggesting key concepts, such as a common origin for all life on Earth and for species change, were seen as controversial by the scientific community. They have since received a petition of nearly 4000 signatures opposing the new decisions.
Herbal medicine perceptions studied
The perceptions that consumers of alternative medicines have about the treatments they use are to be studied by a Waikato University psychology student (Hamilton Press, 21 March). Kirsty Bell is concentrating her research on depression, and she is seeking people who are interested in sharing their experiences.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 75 percent of the world’s population uses some form of alternative medicine, and New Zealand statistics show that one in four New Zealanders over the age of 15 use them.
Alternative health industry setback
A letter from Tertiary Education Minister Michael Cullen has quashed the alternative health industry’s hopes of establishing a New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA)-approved industry training organisation (Sunday Star Times, 23 February).
The Health Training Organisation (HTO) is now considering removing itself from the national qualifications framework. HTO executive officer Roger Booth said responsibility for setting standards in the industry was held by the NZQA, but it stepped down from this role on February 28. The HTO wanted to take on responsibility itself, but its application to establish itself as an Industry Training Organisation (ITO) had been turned down. The NZQA wanted the organisation to align itself with another ITO, Mr Booth said.
NZQA deputy chief executive, quality assurance, Mike Willing said alternative health standards and qualifications would eventually be removed from the framework if no ITO took over standard-setting for the sector.
Mr Booth said discussions with several ITOs had found no natural partner.
‘Used car salesman’ a ‘fraud of the worst kind’
John of God got short shrift in the Sunday Star Times (25 February). Described as a “faith healer and used-car salesman” by journalist Ruth Hill, the Brazilian otherwise known as Joao Teixeira de Faria was holding a four-day event in Lower Hutt.
He claims to cure cancer, Aids, and other conditions including ‘spiritual desperation’ by channelling 36 ‘spirit doctors’. New Zealanders are the biggest single group of foreign visitors per capita to his çheadquarters in southwest Brazil, largely through tours promoted by Wellington naturopath Peter Waugh.
NZ Skeptics chair-entity Vicki Hyde said she was unimpressed by what she had seen of his performance, which consisted of “old carnival tricks”.
“If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a quack.”
She said the Skeptics were concerned the ‘healer’ was preying on vulnerable, desperate people. Victims of failed faith healings were often reluctant to speak out because they blamed themselves for not having enough faith-“another nasty piece of psychological manipulation” on which faith healers relied, said Hyde.
US stage magician James Randi, best known as a debunker of pseudoscience, is convinced John of God is “a fraud of the worst kind, making money from other people’s suffering. To any experienced conjuror, the methods by which these seeming miracles are produced are very obvious.”
Haden sticks to his guns
The passing of long-standing NZ Skeptics member Frank Haden was widely reported. Perhaps the best tribute came from Tom Scott’s cartoon in the Dominion Post (March 9). A voice booms from the clouds: “What’s all that swearing at the gate?” St Peter, standing at the Pearly Gates, replies: “Crusading journalist Frank Haden is refusing to come in. He says he didn’t believe in this place before and isn’t about to change his mind now…”