NZ Skeptics

NZ Skeptics
Formation 1986 (1986)
Founders Bernard Howard, David Marks, Denis Dutton, Gordon Hewitt, Jim Woolnough, Kerry Chamberlain, Ray Carr[1]
Type Nonprofit organization
Legal status Incorporated Society, Registered Charity[2]
Location
Chairperson
Mark Honeychurch[3]
Main organ
Committee
Website skeptics.nz
Formerly called
New Zealand Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

The NZ Skeptics is a New Zealand incorporated society created in 1986, with the aim of promoting critical thinking.[4] The main areas of interest to the NZ Skeptics are claims of psychic abilities, alternative medicine, creationism and other pseudoscientific claims. At its founding in 1986, it was known as the New Zealand Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (NZCSICOP). In 2007 the name was formally changed to NZ Skeptics Incorporated.

History

The NZ Skeptics was co-founded (as the New Zealand Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) by David Marks, Denis Dutton, Bernard Howard, Gordon Hewitt, Jim Woolnough, Ray Carr and Kerry Chamberlain in 1986.[1] Other similar organisations exist in the USA (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry), Australia (Australian Skeptics) and India (Indian CSICOP). Denis Dutton was the first chair. Vicki Hyde took over as the first chair-entity (a title devised by Hugh Young both to be all-inclusive and to parody inclusiveness[5]) from 1997–2010. Gold (his only name), who founded the New Zealand Skeptics in the Pub, was chair-entity from 2010–2014. Mark Honeychurch is the current chair.[3] Vicki Hyde continues in the society as a media spokesperson. The English spelling of the word "skeptic" was chosen over the British spelling "sceptic" to more closely associate with the American organisation, and to avoid negative connotations of "being cynical and negative". In 2007 the committee decided to formally change the name to NZ Skeptics Incorporated (NZSI).[6]

The society does not address the topic of religion, not only because there are other organisations better equipped to deal with it, but also because religion is not testable unless the supporter makes a specific claim. The founders felt that people with religious beliefs could also be skeptical of claims of the paranormal and did not want to exclude them.

Due to a concern that the word "skeptic" was being confused by the public and media with respect to climate change NZSI made the following statement in 2014:[6]

The New Zealand Skeptics Society supports the scientific consensus on Climate Change. There is an abundance of evidence demonstrating global mean temperatures are rising, and that humans have had a considerable impact on the natural rate of change. The Society will adjust its position with the scientific consensus.[6]

In 2015 NZSI adopted a new logo that incorporates a kiwi, koru and a question mark,[7] and released a new website and journal.[6]

In 1989 after its first conference NZI had 80 members; by 1999 there were over 500 members.[8] Some notable skeptics such as James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Susan Blackmore, Ian Plimer and John Maddox had visited in that time.[8]

Activities

The NZ Skeptics hold an annual conference during the New Zealand summer. Conferences generally alternate between the three major New Zealand cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, with other cities hosting as and when there is sufficient interest.

The NZ Skeptics produce a quarterly journal, called The New Zealand Skeptic, which they send out to all members. The journal has been produced continuously since 1986; shortly after the society's inception.

On 30 January 2010, members in Christchurch participated in a mass overdose, a protest against the selling of homeopathic remedies in pharmacies.[10] The protest was in line with similar activities held on the same day by the 10:23 campaign in the UK.[11][12]

The first New Zealand SkeptiCamp was held at the Black Dog Brewery in Wellington.[13]

Skeptics in the Pub events are held throughout New Zealand in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.[7]


Sue Nicholson

Sensing Murder psychic Sue Nicholson spoke at the 2013 Wellington conference about her 21 years of experiences as a psychic medium. Organiser Vicki Hyde applauded Nicholson's willingness to speak at the conference, saying "many people working in this profession are very reluctant to expose themselves to any critical scrutiny.” Hyde is quick to add that “critical” in this case "involves a spirit of genuine interest and inquiry", even if proof of spirits from the after-life continues to be elusive.[14]

Nicholson talked about her life history as a psychic for 18 minutes and opened up the lecture for questions.[15]:18:40 Despite being skeptical, the audience remained respectful and questioning. [16][17]

Nicholson stated that her friends told her not to attend the conference, but she said, “I believe in healthy discussion, and we all have our opinions and that’s great. I’m not here to prove anything. I’m not here to convince you. We all have our thoughts, we all have our ideas and that’s how the world goes around.”[15]

3 News attended Nicholson's lecture and wrote, "But despite a colourful performance from Ms Nicholson, this lot remains unconvinced."[18] Nicholson agreed to talk at the conference with the stipulation that the $500 speakers fee would be donated to a Women's Refuge."[7][15]

Controversy

In 1988 NZCSICOP member Trevor Reeves wrote a series of letters about psychic Shona Saxon and sent them to the editor of the Dunedin Star Midweek paper, to the Citizens Advice service, to the Dunedin police, and to social welfare. Saxon sued Reeves for malice, claiming embarrassment, humiliation and loss. According to Saxon, Reeves stated that she was "misleading people", "persuading people to go off their prescribed medications" and "upsetting disturbed people... on welfare benefits". The high court judge ruled in favor of Saxon. "[e]ssentially because he did not believe that Ms Saxon had deliberately set out to deceive clients". The judge held that Reeves' "statements were actuated by malice... by gratuitously attack[ing] Ms Saxon's personal integrity." Saxon was awarded a total of $12,000 damages, $6.000 against Reeves and $6000 against Allied Press Ltd.[19] Reeves appealed to the High Court and the damages awarded against him were reduced to $4,500.

Because of the way the NZCSICOP public statements were worded, they were not a party to this action, and escaped what could have been a crippling penalty. The constitution provides suspension or expulsion of any member who brings the society into disrepute. Reeves left NZCSICOP shortly after the judgment was made.[20] The case is recorded as Saxon v Reeves High Court Dunedin A39/87.[21][22]

Conferences and awards

Each year at the conference the NZ Skeptics hear from a wide range of local and International speakers. A number of awards are presented at the annual conference dinner,[23] notably the 'Bravo Award' for "critical thinking in the public arena",[24] the 'Bent Spoon Award' for "the most gullible or naive reporting in the paranormal or pseudo-science area"[25][26] and the 'Skeptic of the Year Award' (created in 2014).[27] The name "Bent Spoon" is a reference to the psychic power claimed by Uri Geller.

Conferences
DatesLocationSpeakersThemes and notes
August 8–10, 1986Dunedin"What is Pseudoscience?" and "Psychics, Clairvoyants and Cold Reading" by Denis Dutton, "Creationism and the Misuse of Biology" by Gordon Hewitt, "The Australia-New Zealand Stop-over for International Psychics" by Mark Plummer (Founding Chairman, Australian Skeptics), "Psychics I Have Known" by David MarksFirst conference held at the University of Otago. Registration $5–$10.
1989ChristchurchFirewalking held
1992Wellington"UFO update" by Felke de Bock,[28] "E-Meter" by Eric Geiringer,[29] "The Placebo Effect" by Bill Morris[30]
September 3–5, 1993[31]Christchurch"Police Use of Psychics" by detective Ian Holyoake,[32] "Naturally Skeptical" by Margaret Mahy,[33] "Satanic Panics" by Michael Hill, "Maori Science" by Mike Dickison, "The Manna Machine" by Feike de Bock[34]Membership moves to over 300 persons.[34]
1994unknownDave Wilson, "Grand Interplanetary Hoax of 1952" by John Scott[35]
1995Auckland"Active Skepticism" by Vicki Hyde,[9] "Pseudo-medicine" by John Scott[36]
1996HamiltonMalcolm Carr,[37] Big Muffin Serious Band[38]Held at the Chanel Conference Centre[39]
1997Vicki Hyde, "Political Correctness at the Supermarket" by Jay Mann,[40] Denis Dutton, Mike Bradstock, Alan Clarke, David Novitz, Debra Nation, George Balani[41]
1998Wellington"Satan’s Excellent Adventure in the Antipodes" by Michael Hill,[42] "Can Sharks Save the Human Race?" by Paul Davis,[43] "Real Memories of False Facts" by Maryanne Garry[44]John Welch opened conference with "do-it-yourself acupuncture". Conference attendees over 140.[45]
1999Auckland"Hedgehogs, Counselling and the End of the World" by Annette Taylor,[46] "The Danger of Absolute Safety" by Felicity Goodyear-Smith,[47] "The Global Messenger Hoax And The Misinformation Economy" by John Scott,[48] “Reading Cats’ Paws” by Ken Ring, "Philosophical Skepticism Based on the Work of David Hume" by James Allen"You Are Not Alone" Conference title[49] "From ERA to EAV, the Sorry Saga of the Black Box" by David Cole[50]
2000DunedinIan Plimer, David Marks,[51] Bill Peddie, Barbara Benson, Warwick Don, "Kaikoura UFOs" by Bill Ireland, Richard Mullen[52]Theme Evolution, Creationism and Education[53]
September 21–23, 2001HamiltonBernard Howard, "Gulf War Syndrome" by John Welch, Nick Kim, Mike Clear, Raymond Richards, Doug Edmeades[54]Held at the Waikato Diocesan School for Girls
September 13–15, 2002Christchurch"How To Stop a Witch-Hunt" by Lynley Hood[55]Held at St. Andrews College
September 19–21, 2003Wellington"Science and Environmental Policy – Challenges and Opportunities" by Bruce Taylor[56]Held at the Victoria University
September 10–12, 2004Christchurch"The Mesmerisation of the Media" by David Mcloughlin,[57] "Why are we crying into our beer?" by Owen McShane[58]Held at St. Andrews College
September 30 – October 2, 2005Rotorua"Skeptics and the environment" by Keith Garratt,[59] Raymond Bradley, "Maria Duval scam" by Martin Craig, Harry Pert, Kinsley Logan, John Petrie, Hamish Campbell[60]Held at the Millennium Centre, Rotorua Boys High School
September 29 – October 1, 2006AucklandJonathan McKeown-Green, Te Radar, Grant Christie, Judith Goodyear[61]Held at King's College; 20th Anniversary Celebration
September 21–23, 2007ChristchurchMichael Woolf, Geoff Diggs, Mark Orton[62]Held at St. Andrews College
September 26–28, 2008HamiltonMatthew Dentith, Nikos Petousis, Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Alison Campbell, Nathan Grange, Kamya Kameshwar, Zachary Gravatt, Martin Wallace, Glynn Owens, Vincent Gray, Lisa Matisso-SmithHeld at Waikato Dioesan College[63]
September 25–27, 2009WellingtonBernard Beckett, Matthew Dentith, John RobinsonDocumentary Poisoning Paradise: Ecocide in New Zealand was shown and dissected by the Skeptics as a "political push to stop 1080 poisoning that isn’t based on sound scientific facts."[64]
August 13–15, 2010AucklandMental magic by Wayne RogersFirewalk on Friday the 13th, conference registration $60–80.
August 26–28, 2011ChristchurchMark Quigley, Kylie Sturgess, Michael Edmonds, Martin Bridgstock, Mark Ottley150 in attendance[65]
August 31 – Sept 2, 2012DunedinMichael Edmonds, Nick Barbalich, David Winter, Richard Walter, Ewan Fordyce, Andrew Scott, Colin Gavaghan, Jean Fleming, Mark Ottley, Dave VeartHeld at Otago University[66][67]
September 6–8, 2013WellingtonKylie Sturgess, Siouxsie Wiles, Martin Manning, Matt McCrudden, Pamela Gay, Aimee Whitcroft, David Bulger, Elf Eldridge, Sue Nicholson, Vicki Hyde, Peter Griffin, Loretta MarronKeynote Pamela Gay[68][69] Free conference registration for anyone using psychic powers revealing contents of a sealed envelope.[14]
December 5–7, 2014AucklandGeorge Hrab, Steven Novella, Rebecca Watson, Jay Novella, Bob Novella, Evan Bernstein, Helen Petousis-Harris, Steven Galbraith, Nicola Gaston, Michelle Dickinson, Toby Ricketts, Ben Albert, Ngaire McCarthy, Siouxsie Wiles, Vicki Hyde, Karen Toast Conger, Darcy Cowan, Mark HannaPricing $195–155, live recording of the SGU podcast. SGU quiz show on Friday night run by George Hrab.[70][71]
November 20–22, 2015ChristchurchSiouxsie Wiles, Kim Socha, Mike Joy, Karl Haro von Mogel, Shaun Holt, Colin Gavaghan, Grant Jacobs, Douglas Campbell, Karen Healey, Vicki Hyde, The Nerd Degree podcastCalled "Apocalypse How?"[72][73]
December 2–4, 2016[74]QueenstownRichard Saunders, Loretta Marron, Susan Gerbic, Andrew Digby, Mark Hanna, Tania Lineham, Catherine Low, Mark Bryan, Scott Kennedy

James Randi toured New Zealand in July 1993, visiting Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. "However, those unable to see him in person had plenty of opportunity to see him on TV, hear him on radio and read about him in newspapers and magazines. He was tireless in submitting himself to the punishing round of interviews, etc, arranged by our enthusiastic Media Representative. Every interviewer wanted to see him bend spoons, and he left behind him a trail of bent and broken cutlery, the bill for which was not negligible."[34][75]

George Hrab traveling to the North Island stopped in Wellington on December 1, 2014 for a special skeptics dinner event. Seating was limited to twelve, tickets were auctioned in a blind auction on the NZ skeptic website.[14]

Denis Dutton Skeptic of the Year Award

A Founder of the New Zealand Skeptics, Denis Dutton was a "thought-provoking, good-humoured and inspirational critical thinker" which the group decided to honor with a yearly prize... "to the skeptic who has had the most impact within New Zealand skepticism. The award comes with a year’s free membership to the NZ Skeptics and $100 prize money."[76]

Denis Dutton Skeptic of the Year Award details
YearRecipientReason
2014Mark HannaFor tirelessly battling pseudoscience via the ASA, MedSafe and many other means, and for creating the Society for Science Based Healthcare.[76]
2015Daniel RyanFor his work as President of Making Sense Fluoride, including giving a presentation to Hutt City Council – as well as his efforts helping to run the Society for Science Based Healthcare, NZ Skeptics and the Skeptical Activism group in Wellington[76]
2016Siouxsie WilesFor her continued efforts to bring skepticism to the media. This year alone she’s taken on MPs, anti-vaxxers and Mike Hosking, tackled topics such as e-cigarettes and the zika virus, and appeared in her regular radio slot “Skeptical Thoughts” with Graeme Hill on RadioLive.[76][77]

Bravo Award

The New Zealand Skeptics recognises "media professionals and those with a high public profile who have provided food for thought, critical analysis and important information on topics of relevance to our interests."[78] According to co-founder Bernard Howard, the Bravo award was meant to be a "carrot" to journalists to reward and encourage good critical thinking in their reporting.[8]

Bravo Award details
YearRecipientOrganisationReason
1995Kim Hill, Maryanne Ahern, Heather ChurchNational RadioKaimanawa Wall critical coverage
1995Simon CollinsCity VoiceMarch 21, 1995 article on the “Tabaash phenomenon”, an investigation into a Wellington channeller
1995David McLoughlinChristchurch Civic Creche case TV documentary
1995Mark McNeillFirst Hand ProductionsTV documentary on false memory syndrome
1996TVNZ AssignmentFor the shows The Doctor Who Cried Abuse and Ellis Through the Looking Glass
1996Vincent HeeringaMetro MagazineWeird Science and Suppressed Inventions and other Discoveries
1996Noel O'HareNew Zealand ListenerFor False Memory Syndrome
1997Simon SheppardThe Sunday Star-TimesApocalypse Soon
1997Jan SinclairThe Sunday Star-TimesLoving the Aliens
1997TVNZ's Fair GoPsychics who give "lucky lotto numbers"
1998Nick SmithFor working against psychics in the Olivia Hope and Ben Smart disappearance
1998Angela GregoryNorthern Advocate“0900 psychic hotlines”
1998Noel O'HareNew Zealand ListenerHealth columnist
1998Greenstone TVThe Mighty Moa
1999Roderick MulganGraceWellness column in Grace
1999Pamela StirlingNew Zealand ListenerArticle on Quantum Booster and on Cellasene
1999Brian RudmanThe New Zealand HeraldArticle on quantum radio frequency booster
2000Michelle HollisconsumerArticle on how to assess medical claims
2000New Zealand Association of Rationalists & HumanistsFor work with Ellen Greve "Jasmuheen"
2000Kim HillNational RadioInterview of John Read
2000Matt PhilpNew Zealand ListenerGod's Classroom
2001Susan WoodFiordland moose interview
2001T.W. WalkerChristchurch PressGardening column
2001Denise TutakiHorowhenua-Kapiti ChronicleCalling 0900 Psychic… Okay, now tell me something I don’t know
2001Pippa MacKayCommentaries on cancer remedies
2002Lynley HoodA City Possessed: the Christchurch Civic Creche Case
2002Noel O'HareNew Zealand ListenerHealth columns including Silent Spring Fever and Get your snake oil here
2002Diana WichtelA Monstrous, Lethal Arrogance
2002Joe BennettPress columns
2003Alan PickmereAlternative medicine claims in Northland
2003Barry ColmanPublication of transcripts from the Christchurch Civic Creche case
2005Rose HipkinsCampbell Live, TV3Comments regarding Intelligent Design
2005Chris BartonMannatech’s sugar-coated moneymaker
2005Tim WatkinsNew Zealand ListenerStar Power
2005Jeremy WellsEating Media LunchArticle psychic and medium business
2006David RussellConsumer InstituteLeadership in critical thinking
2006Linley BonifaceThe Dominion PostClairvoyants dead wrong
2007Tristram Clayton3 NewsPsych Addictive
2007Annette KingAttempt to provide standards and accountability via the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill
2008Kathryn RyanInterviews with psychic Deb Webber and Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Levy
2008Royal Society of New Zealand2008 Big Science Adventure video competition
2008Raybon KanThe Sunday Star-TimesThe column I see dud people
2009Colin Peacock and Jeremy RoseMediawatch on Radio New Zealand National"Every week Colin and Jeremy cast a critical eye on New Zealand media."[64]
2009Rob Harley and Anna McKessarTV OneDocumentary The Worst That Could Happen[64]
2009Hannah OckelfordCloseup Filtering the Truth[64]
2009Rebecca PalmerThe Dominion PostThe Devil’s in the Details[64]
2010Kate NewtonThe Dominion PostItem on Victoria University’s embarrassment over the homeopathy course it was offering
2010Jane Luscombe3 NewsA informative look at the belief that amber teething necklaces leach a substance to help babies with pain and depression.
2010Linley BonifaceThe Dominion PostColumn Why psychics should butt out of the Aisling Symes case
2011Jan Wright
2011Philip MatthewsMarlborough ExpressArticle on 1080
2011Janna ShermanGreymouth StarSceptics revel in Hokitika ‘earthquake’ non-event
2012Margo WhiteNew Zealand ListenerHealth columns
2012Clive SolomonWhanganui District Health BoardSupporting evidence-based medicine as the core focus for hospital care
2013Shelley BridgemanThe New Zealand HeraldArticle Can we communicate with dead people?
2013Darcy CowanSciBlogsGetting the Immunisation Awareness Society status corrected within the Charities Register
2014Graeme HillRadio LiveChallenging of pseudoscience on Radio Live
2014Russel NormanGreen Party
2014TV One Breakfast ShowTV OneCoverage of the dangers of Miracle Mineral Solution.
2015Ben AlbertUniversity of AucklandExcellent submission and submitting a letter to the Editor of the NZ Medical Journal
2015Adam SmithMassey UniversityRebuttal in the Herald to TV3’s emotional 3D programme on Gardasil
2015Rosanna PriceStuffSkeptical angle on All Black, Waisake Naholo’s “miracle” natural cure
2015Simon MitchellUniversity of AucklandRebuttal of claims made in an NZ Herald article entitled: Hope is in the air: Hyperbaric chambers – the real deal or a placebo?
2016Lachlan ForsythNewshubWriting pro-vaccine articles and publicly taking on the anti-vaxxers[79]
2016Jess Berentson-ShawThe SpinoffSkeptical parenting articles[79][80]
2016Laura WaltersStuffArticle on 2016 New Zealand earthquakes providing scientific explanation for origin.[79][81]
2016Rachel ThomasStuffArticle debunking superfoods[79][82]
2016Mark Hanna[83] & Mark HoneychurchNZ SkepticsProvided data to The New Zealand Medical Journal detailing scientific research into Chiropractic[79]

Bent Spoon Award

The Bent Spoon Award is "named in honour of Uri Geller".[39] Throughout the year, selections are considered for the Bent Spoon award. Ideas are sent to the officers whom gather and retain all ideas until the committee reviews candidates. Those that are considered "truly ridiculous" and selections from outside New Zealand are usually not considered, typically a dozen nominees are selected and voted on by the executive officers. The announcement is usually made in few weeks before each conference in order to "help boost interest in the conference".[84] Candidates considered must be "important enough to deserve attention" and by people who "should know better" ... and be "wilfully misleading with intent to profit."[85] According to Chair-entityship Vicki Hyde in 1996, the group saw an increase in calls from the media which begin with '“We don’t want to get the Bent Spoon so we thought we’d better check with you guys…”' It is gratifying to note that such calls have increased over the past four years."[9]

Bent Spoon Award details
YearRecipientReason
1992Consumers' InstituteAlternative medicine article
1993Country CalendarBiodynamics as a serious pest control option
1994TV3Satanic Memories documentary
1995Ministry of JusticeHitting Home report on domestic violence.[84][85][86][87]
1996New Zealand Qualifications AuthorityFor seriously considering awarding a Bachelor of Science status for a course at Aoraki Polytech on naturopathy[39]
1997Correspondence SchoolNumerology lessons in maths class
1998TV2For misleading the public over the truthfulness of an alleged documentary on alien abductions
1999Paul HolmesCoverage given to the Liam Williams-Holloway case
2000Wellington HospitalSupporting healing hands therapy by its nurses
2001TopShelf ProductionHallelujah Healing documentary on faith-healing
2002Jeanette FitzsimonsFor supporting the concept of biodynamic’s “etheralised Cosmic-Astral influences” as a means of ridding New Zealand of possums[88]
2003Justice Minister Phil GoffFor refusing to open the can of worms that is the Christchurch Civic Creche case (Goff was awarded the first-ever Bent Can Opener Award from the New Zealand Skeptics)
200420/20For reporter Melanie Reid’s August 22 segment “Back from the Dead” profiling Taranaki medium Jeanette Wilson
2005Tertiary Education CommissionFor identifying homeopathic training as a nationally important strategic priority for New Zealand
2006Diana BurnsCome and Be Healed the article in the Listener on Brazilian medium and “miracle-worker” João de Deus
2007TV3 news and Current Affairs and Carol HirschfeldFor her August 31 interview with self-proclaimed energy healer and clairvoyant Simone Simmons, who claims to be visited regularly by the spirit of Diana, 10 years after the death of the Princess of Wales.
2008Detective Senior Sergeant Ross LevyFor promoting psychics as “just another tool” in the investigative policing toolbox, helping the “exploitainment” show Sensing Murder
2009Clyde and Steve GrafFor their documentary Poisoning Paradise – Ecocide in New Zealand which claims that 1080 kills large numbers of native birds, poisons soils, persists in water and interferes with human hormones.
2010Rural Women New Zealand and FonterraFor supporting homeopathic practices on the farm, thereby indicating an ignorance of basic science and a lack of concern for animal welfare.
2011Gullible media outlets and personalitiesFor taking Ken Ring's earthquake prediction claims at face value
2012Consumer magazineFor continuing to promote homeopathic products as a viable alternative to evidence-based medical treatments
2013Hamilton City CouncilFor ignoring the evidence of the public health value of fluoridation
2014Steffan BrowningFor signing a petition that called on the World Health Organisation to “End the suffering of the Ebola crisis, by testing and distributing homeopathy as quickly as possible to contain the outbreaks.”
2015Pharmacy CouncilFor suggesting, when faced with the fact that pharmacists were not complying with their Code of Ethics, that a viable solution was to change their Code of Ethics.
2016The New Zealand HeraldFor publishing a variety of pseudoscience articles presented as fact without refutation.[89]

See also

References

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