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Stardate 10.014

Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team


Maori curse seeks Chinese thief
A Maori carving belonging to the Canterbury University has been stolen at an earthquake engineering conference in Beijing, China. It wasn't old — less than 40 years — nor very valuable in dollar terms, and hardly of much cultural significance in my view. It was simply created at the request of the president of the International Association for Earthquake Engineering back in 1970. I see this as little different from asking a carpenter to knock me up a deck chair for my patio. A business transaction where a skilled craftsman produces a piece that I can enjoy and display to my friends. Still, be it a carving or a deck chair, no one likes having their belongings stolen, regardless of their value. The University's engineering staff are obviously annoyed that the theft has occurred and are trying to recover it.

Rawiri Taonui If the media had left the story there all would be well, unfortunately it is left to Dr Rawiri Taonui, head of Canterbury University's School of Maori and Indigenous Studies to drag us back to primitive times. Touted as a cultural expert he has stated that "the theft could bring bad luck or even a makutu — a Maori curse — to the thief." The media story had two main points — one, the carving was stolen, and two, the thief could well be in big trouble from the supernatural realm. No mention of what might happen if the Chinese authorities catch him, who aren't known for their leniency, only the "fact" that a Maori curse has most probably been initiated and native justice will soon be served. Since the Chinese thief probably knows nothing about Maori witchcraft, it can't be argued that the mere psychological fear of a curse will bring him misfortune. Dr Taonui must sincerely believe that an intelligent — and malevolent — supernatural force must either reside in the carving or will journey to China from NZ to have it's evil way with the thief.

It's quite disappointing that educated people in the 21st century still believe in such rubbish. And we have to assume Dr Taonui does believe this, since the only other option is that he is lying, that he is being condescending to us ignorant, superstitious plebs in society. In fact this is not the first time Dr Rawiri Taonui has voiced an opinion on witchcraft. When the family of Janet Moses killed her while trying to remove a makutu or Maori curse, Dr Taonui stated that a makutu can have real effects. So it seems Dr Taonui isn't lying to us, he really is gullible. The worrying thing is that Dr Taonui isn't spouting these crackpot ideas at some witchcraft get-together, while dancing naked around a tree, he's a lecturer at one of our universities and is sought after for comment by the media. While our ancestors' belief in witchcraft can certainly be taught from an historical perspective, do his students actually believe, like Dr Taonui, that it really works? What other crap is he filling their heads with? That the Big Bang and evolution theories are false and we have the Maori gods Rangi and Papa to thank instead? That conventional medicine should be shunned and replaced with Maori spiritual healing?

I know there are a lot of intelligent, educated people in the world who believe really stupid things, but why is it that our media go along with their delusions? Why do they seek out crackpots like Dr Taonui to ask what the supernatural ramifications might be from this theft, or if he approached them, why do they take him seriously? If someone says 'God dammit' or 'Jesus H Christ' on TV, do reporters rush off to consult a priest to determine how this blasphemy might play out in the afterlife? If the media — not counting Maori TV — doesn't really swallow all this witchcraft codswallop, is it then just political correctness that causes some journalists to nod obsequiously when Dr Taonui rambles on about curses? I suspect it is. They do a disservice to their profession. They need to find some integrity and base their reporting on facts and evidence, not silly beliefs that were shown to be false centuries ago. They need to learn how to ask the following question: "What evidence do you have to support your view?" If they say none or offer primitive myths as evidence, then this must be followed up with "You don't honestly expect me to believe that do you?" Laughter is optional.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 22 Oct, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by Keri, 01 Nov, 2008

    Kia ora John - I'm part-Maori (Kai Tahu) and while I do *not* believe in makutu et al, I am very aware of the hold superstitions (down to & including Xtian/Muslim ones) have on the people who hold 'em - some of these people include family members...
    Maybe Rawiri is referencing these whanau among his own?
    As an atheist, I always go for a) evidence that can be scientifically ascertained, and b) Occam's Razor. If you've ever been in a wharetipuna & the ghostie stories told therein, you quickly realise that science is a dose of Epsom Salts and the delicious frisson of the 'supernatural' is the whole point - entertainment!

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Nov, 2008

    Hi Keri, perhaps Rawiri is merely referencing the beliefs of some family members, but if he is, as a teacher he is failing badly to get his point across.
    Personally I'm not a fan of witchcraft/supernatural (or ghostie stories) as entertainment, but I know a lot of people are, eg Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer etc, and I wouldn't for a moment suggest that they be banned. The world would be a dull place if these entertaining stories didn't exist. For entertainment I prefer science fiction stories. My problem is with people confusing fiction (be it witchcraft, science or historical fiction) with fact.
    I agree that superstitions do have a hold on many people, religion being the most powerful. When witches turn a person into a mouse or ride on broomsticks most people see them as just stories, yet many of these same people believe Jesus turned water into wine and walked on water. What's the difference? It's all superstition where only the characters' names and powers change. Like you I opt for evidence as to what is real, and I'd like influential people like Rawiri to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Kaikoura UFOs "return"
A recent NZ Herald article entitled "UFO flight will be re-enacted on 30th anniversary" tells us that "the Kaikoura UFO sightings of 1978 are to be repeated in a replicated flight in December". I suspect they really mean that just the flight is to be repeated and not the UFO sightings, unless of course they have arranged for the aliens to return as well.

We're told that "Various theories have been put forward to explain the lights including atmospheric disturbance and distorted lights from the ground, but those aboard have no doubt what they saw."

Blenheim film-maker Paul Davidson, who has organised the re-enactment, gave the sighting credibility since it was seen by "trained observers" [pilots] and "filmed by a professional cameraman". Yet pilots are NOT trained to identify alien spacecraft. There are numerous examples of experienced pilots being confused by natural phenomena and NOT ONE example of them identifying an alien spacecraft. Not one. Like psychics, they have a terrible track record with zero successes. Likewise I suspect this was probably the first time the cameraman had filmed through a thick aircraft window, at night, in a moving aircraft, with a handheld camera. I also suspect that this would have been his first encounter with UFOs, meaning he had no experience at filming them or identifying them. The article said that, "those onboard have no doubt about what they saw". Yet the ONLY thing they can confidently say is that they saw lights that they couldn't identify. Saying that you have "no doubt" that you couldn't identify something is a very empty, worthless statement.

Yet the article gives us the impression that they definitely saw an alien spacecraft and "close-minded skeptics" like myself are in denial. But another article on this upcoming re-enactment quotes journalist Quentin Fogarty who was on the original flight as saying, "If there are bright lights in the sky again when we fly down the coast, that would be pretty remarkable, but it still won't convince me that they are aliens. They are just some bright lights we can't explain." So when Fogarty says he has no doubt about what he saw, he evidently Kaikoura UFO means he has no doubt it wasn't aliens. This article goes on to say that "The [film] footage is jerky and largely unfocused, but a spherical outline is visible. It does not take much imagination to see the shape of a flying saucer, as if viewing it from above or below."

But this "flying saucer" wasn't flying directly above or below them otherwise they wouldn't have been able to film it out the window. So seemingly only if you imagine the "flying saucer" lying on its side does it resemble one! Picture a plane or bus on its side and you get an idea of how the alien passengers must have felt, all squashed against one side. But the above statement doesn't even make sense. It all rests on the false assumption that we actually know what alien spacecraft or flying saucers look like. We don't. We have not one single confirmed or convincing example of what an alien spacecraft looks like.

You can't logically say something resembles something else that you've never seen before. You can compare it to a plane or a helicopter or a tree — because you've seen these things — but not to a deep sea monster or a frogler or a flying saucer, because we have no evidence that these things even exist, and thus no description of them. What people confuse their sighting with is something they saw on "Lost in Space" or "Star Wars". What they're saying is they saw something resembling a miniature movie prop or computer generated special effect or a bright light.

A good analogy might be me and art. I know little about art, and on seeing a new painting I seldom recognise the artist. If asked I simply profess my ignorance and say I don't know. Yet believers in aliens and UFOs, even though they know little about the universe and alien life, on seeing a bright light in the sky immediately say, "That's an alien spacecraft", or in their lingo, "A UFO". This is like me saying every time I see a new painting, "Ahhh... that's a Rembrandt". Art experts would correctly say that if I know nothing about art, why would I make the silly guess that it was a Rembrandt? Why not ask an art expert? There is a very slim chance that I could be right, but if so, I have reached the right conclusion with nothing other than an ignorant guess. Not an educated guess, but an ignorant guess. I don't in fact go around saying, "I saw a painting last week. Experts say that going by my description it was a da Vinci but I have no doubt it was a Rembrandt". But this is a stance that many UFO believers do take. They claim that somehow their ignorance trumps scientific knowledge. They say, "I saw a bright light last week. Experts say it was most likely the planet Venus but I have no doubt it was a UFO under alien control".

And it's no good saying people know what they saw. It's a proven fact that over 90% of UFO sightings have rational explanations. That means 9 out of 10 people who were convinced they saw a UFO — a flying saucer — were mistaken. 9 out of 10 people DIDN'T know what they saw. 9 out of 10 people are unreliable witnesses when it comes to UFOs. As for the less than 10% of sightings that haven't been explained, it's usually because insufficient information was obtained regarding the sighting to reach a decision. Often because it happened so quickly or because the witness was just too vague, usually both. Saying "I saw a light in the sky when I was a kid. Do you thing it was aliens?" is next to useless when investigating a UFO sighting.

Many people that believe in alien visitors and abductions are little different from those that believe in the likes of psychics or astrology. They have a belief that they know little about and they refuse to try and understand why skeptics dismiss their belief. They read the books and watch the TV shows that support their belief while gaining little real knowledge, answering their critics with the claim that skeptics are simply close-minded. And it's in the media's interest to maintain their delusion. Mystery sells. The chance that people on the flight re-enactment might see UFOs and aliens sells tickets. The reality that they won't attracts no one. So the delusion is maintained and the facts suppressed.

It must also be noted that even though the re-enactment flight is taking place at the same time as the original, it is not likely that it will resolve anything. Everything will be different from 1978. Different weather conditions and cloud cover. Planets such as Venus or Jupiter that cause many false UFO sightings won't be visible. Squid boats with their floodlights won't be there. A different plane with different window glass composition (which can cause photographic distortions) is being used. Light pollution from Kaikoura will have increased. This flight is about profit for its organisers and relies on nostalgia from its original participants and gullibility from UFO believers.

If you're interested, we've also written a longer article on 'UFOs and Aliens' which attempts to explain why some people think they see aliens.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Oct, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by Jonathon, 16 Oct, 2008

    There is a recent article in NZ Skeptic mag that seems to give a good rational explanation of what the Kaikoura UFO was (I don't think it turned out to be flying).

    Maybe they should call them UAFOs - apparently flying.

    Another good ref I think is worth quoting is a book by Elaine Showalter 1997 "Hystories... " She shows how fads of UFO beliefs relate to films and the whole nonsense is a socially transmitted disease.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Oct, 2008

    Some people investigating UFOs have taken to calling them UAPs, meaning 'unidentified aerial phenomena', since because the 'sighting' is unidentified then you can't truly say it was an object or that it was flying. However I doubt that UAP will replace UFO as even it doesn't cover all circumstances, such as lens flare or dust on a camera lens, since neither are aerial phenomena. It also just introduces unnecessary confusion.
    I haven't seen the book "Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media", but it sounds as though it matches our view of the UFO/Alien craze.

  3. Comment by Quentin, 21 Feb, 2009

    Just found this blog. Interesting. Might have to come back and have a good read. Love seeing how I have been reported and mis-reported over the years and people putting their own spin and belief system on things. 30 years and it is still happening. Predictably good fun. Hey, just for the record, I am sure we didn't see aliens but I can't prove it one way or the other!!!!

    Just to prove how things gets distorted. The photo linked to my story is not from Dec 31 1978. I think you will find that it's Venus filmed by TVNZ a few days later. Glad to be of help.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 22 Feb, 2009

    Hi Quentin. Thanks for your comments. I'm with you, I don't think the sighting indicates aliens either, even if it is hyped as one of the best in the world. As far as proof goes, there is very little one can prove 100%, but by looking at the evidence from various sources one can still be extremely confident that a particular view is correct. Take the sun, no one can prove it will rise tomorrow, but I'm sure it will. And yes it must be interesting to see how others — me included — interpret comments that the media have attributed to those of you that were there.

    As for the photo of the UFO, we got it from the TV3 website story, and it was labelled "The Kaikoura UFO". I agree that it does look a lot like Venus, so I've replaced it with what I hope is a genuine image from the sighting. In researching this photo, I also discovered that the re-enactment flight didn't actually take place due to insufficient numbers, although the organiser Paul Davidson hopes that it may yet take place in April. I hope the aliens got their memo in time, otherwise it would have been a wasted trip.

  5. Comment by Geoff, 30 Mar, 2009

    Interesting blog. Kaikoura UFO was observed by humans, recorded on film, recorded on aeroplane's radar and recorded on Wellington Airport radar. Can we at least assume it was a solid object flying at three thousand feet emitting its own light and apparently able to control its movements around the aircraft?

    Literally, a UFO.

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 31 Mar, 2009

    Thanks for your comment Geoff. I agree that what was observed in Kaikoura were UFOs in the true sense, that is, objects spotted in the sky that remain unidentified. Neither skeptics nor UFO believers have been able to convincing explain the sightings. However I don't believe we can assume it was "a solid object flying at three thousand feet emitting its own light and apparently able to control its movements around the aircraft".

    Firstly, many different lights were sighted ranging from star-like in size up to the size of a house by some and a large ship according to Captain Startup. These all exhibited different colours, some varying in brightness, some steady, some flashing. These lights were all sighted in different directions at different times, sometimes individually, sometimes several in a group. There is no evidence or reason to believe that all these different lights were the sighting of the same object or craft. It makes sense to assume that they were seeing different lights on each occasion. If we assume that one or two of these many sightings was in fact a controlled craft, must we not then assume that all the others lights were misidentifications? Yet if they misidentified most of the lights they saw, indicating that they can be easily fooled, why should we assume that they correctly identified one or two out of many?

    Was it a solid object? As I've said there were many, not one, but if we assume that these objects were solid since they were picked up on radar in the plane, in Wellington Air Traffic Control and in Christchurch Air Traffic Control, this raises a problem. Why couldn't they consistently be observed? Sometimes those in the plane and in Wellington could both apparently see the same objects, visually and as radar targets. However more often than not when the plane's crew could see objects Wellington radar could not, and when Wellington radar placed objects near the plane the crew couldn't see them. On other occasions Wellington radar could see objects but Christchurch radar couldn't, even though they were closer to Christchurch. On another occasion Wellington radar reported an object but couldn't, in contrast to their previously accurate locations, tell whether it was to the left or right of the plane, on another the pilots reported two large objects but Wellington radar could only see one. We're lead to believe that every time the plane's crew saw something then Wellington radar verified this sighting on their radar screens. This is far from true. Radar is not as precise as Hollywood movies would have us believe, being able to pick up not just big planes but also birds and even bad weather. When both the plane's crew and the radar operators were in complete disagreement as to what was near the plane, this suggests that one or both were misidentifying what they were looking at, either visually or on radar.

    As for the object being "apparently able to control its movements around the aircraft", I don't believe it performed any sort of manoeuvre that would indicate intelligent control. Lights did appear and disappear in different parts of the sky over time, with different sizes and colours, but there is no indication that these objects were the same object flitting from place to place. One object is claimed to have kept pace with the plane for some time but this is hardly indicative of intelligent control. My shadow manages to follow me without anyone in control. There are many instances of people claiming that an object was following them at night, but it usually turns out it was just a bright planet or star which causes this illusion. As for the radar target, maybe they were just tracking a weird radar reflection of the plane itself. And it may have been a typo on your part, but I believe the plane was flying at around 13,000 ft, not "three thousand feet".

    As for the light itself, just because something lights up in the sky doesn't mean it emits its own light. The moon doesn't, nor does Jupiter or Venus or artificial satellites. This is something I don't understand. Why do people insist that alien craft should glow brightly? The space shuttle doesn't need to glow brightly to fly, why do alien spaceships? One popular image from that night was the above bright, blurry, roughly circular disc with faint horizontal lines. But what in the sky could cause an image like that? How about a magnified, badly out of focus image of Jupiter with its horizontal atmospheric bands? And yes, Jupiter was in the sky that night.

    What do I think it was? To be honest I haven't studied it enough to have a reached a firm conclusion. However nothing that I have read or seen suggests an alien craft. The different types of light in different locations over several weeks all suggest different causes. The radar targets matching visuals initially seem compelling but closer inspection shows they fail more often than they match. We can't just trumpet their apparent successes and ignore their failures. A few years ago I listened to a talk by retired DSIR scientist William Ireland who suggested that the lights could be explained by squid boats which use large floodlights at night. He also went into detail about the shortcomings of the various radar systems to explain their connection. I can't remember all the details now but he did present a good case. And it must be remembered that at no time did any object get close enough to the plane for the crew to discern any physical, artificial structure and no structure is visible in any photo. Also too many people give too much credibility to the likes of pilots to be able to correctly identify strange things in the sky. You might be interested in reading this short list of what it takes to be a trained observer: The Trained Observer of Unusual Things in the Sky (UFOs?)

    I'll agree that the Kaikoura lights are unidentified, but I'm not prepared to go further than that at this stage.

  7. Comment by Geoff, 02 Apr, 2009

    Hey John, thanks for taking the time to write back. Extremely interesting stuff. All the best.

  8. Comment by Paul, 09 Apr, 2009

    Hi. In regard to the Kaikoura UFO story, here is a link to a rational interview on National Radio by Alan Gilmore [Astronomer and Superintendent of the Mt John Observatory].

    The Audio file is here.

    You may wish to listen to this and post the link on your Kaikoura UFOs return page to help people understand what happened.

    I think that most rational people after listening to the Radio NZ article would have problems saying "the Kaikoura lights are unidentified". It is clear to me that they were identified and they were not aliens. Maybe you can listen to it and it will convince you that there is a rational explanation to what was observed.

  9. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Apr, 2009

    Hi Paul. Thanks for that link. It was an interesting interview.

    I think the main confusion with the Kaikoura lights is that most people aren't aware that there were numerous sightings. Therefore they won't accept Venus as a cause since they're told Venus wasn't in the sky when the film was taken. They laugh at the suggestion of squid boats because they couldn't have followed the plane at high speed. They won't accept Jupiter or mirages since they couldn't show up on radar. They won't accept lights from cars or trains because they don't fly in the sky. And so on. And they'd be right if the Kaikoura lights involved just a single sighting. But they didn't, these were multiple sightings of different objects in different places at different times seen by different people. So while Venus may perfectly explain a sighting on Dec 21st, it won't explain a sighting on Dec 31st. While the lights from squid boats may explain some of the images on the film, they don't explain the radar targets.

    Only when you realise that different sightings require different answers can you acknowledge that there are rational explanations for the Kaikoura lights. While I believe that these rational explanations are most likely correct, none have been proven to be correct, that's why I say the Kaikoura lights are still "unidentified". Simply saying that the pilots most likely saw Venus doesn't mean they did. Stating that the lights could have been mirages since mirages have been observed in that region in the past is merely offering a suggestion. Note that in the last 30 years no one has bothered to film these mirages. Likewise claiming that the Wellington radar had previously shown spurious targets doesn't mean it was that night, and again no one has bothered to prove the radar was faulty. This is another reason why believers kept referring to the Kaikoura lights as mysterious, since they see these explanations as guesses rather than definitive answers. Of course you and I, along with Alan Gilmore and those that contributed to the NZ Defence Force report, all agree that one should accept the most rational explanation, the one that has the most supporting evidence, the one that is most likely to be correct. As I said in my previous post, nothing that I have read or seen suggests an alien craft, and the "suggested" causes put forward by Alan Gilmore — "mirage conditions, one bright planet in the eastern dawn sky and one bright squid boat", a view which simply reiterates the 1979 NZ Defence Force report into the sightings, are at present the best explanations of the Kaikoura lights. Believers may correctly note that they haven't been conclusively proven, but neither have their explanations, and as explanations go, the rational, scientific ones win hands down.

    During Easter and after listening to the Gilmore interview I got the chance to read Peter Hassall's book "the NZ files ~ ufo's in New Zealand". He's a kiwi who has evidently been a UFO researcher for over twenty years and allocated a chapter to the Kaikoura lights, plus included the entire NZ Defence Force report as an appendix. The following two quotes appear to sum up his view: "The Kaikoura UFO film... is tantalising, but not definite, proof of UFOs. I personally doubt the Jupiter/Venus/squid boat explanations are adequate to explain it, but the possibility of one of these cannot be 100% ruled out." "The ultra-sceptical will accept the Venus... or the squid boat explanations. The witnesses, and the more open-minded, still say the light is unexplained."

    Don't you just hate it when people imply that those that don't agree with them are close-minded? And Hassall appears to say that one of these explanations might be correct, although he doubts it. Again, one explanation will never explain all the sightings, and trying to find a single cause will forever keep these lights unidentified in the minds of believers. But like you, I think the sightings have prosaic explanations.

  10. Comment by Anonymous, 09 Sep, 2010

    Just happened upon your blog, evidently 2 years too late to partake in a discussion.
    However, you ought to read the following discussions and analyses and then ponder the implications.
    The Dec. 31 NA sighting northeast of Christchurch is still, so far as I know, the only UFO sighting to be "argued out" in the refereed technical press (Applied Optics).

    go to
    and scroll down to "NEW ZEALAND SIGHTINGS" for an overview.
    just below that is NEW ZEALAND RADAR SIGHTING which gives a detailed description and analysis of the most "bizarre" radar contact
    http://www.brumac.8k.com/NEW_ZEALAND/NZSB.html gives an analysis of the "squid boat" sighting (which wasn't a squid boat)
    http://www.brumac.8k.com/NEW_ZEALAND/NZFlashingLight/NZFlashingLight.html gives a description' and anlysis of the last filmed UFO sighting that night

  11. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 10 Sep, 2010

    We read those articles a couple of years ago by UFO believer Dr.Bruce Maccabee and they didn't convince us that the Kaikoura lights were alien spacecraft. In our article on UFOs and aliens we noted that 'we have invented rudimentary stealth technology. Why haven't they got advanced stealth technology? Not only that, the great majority of UFO sightings only happen because people spot extremely bright lights zipping across the sky at night. Why are their craft lit up like Xmas trees? Why don't they just switch their bloody lights off?'

  12. Comment by JOE, 17 Sep, 2010

    Hi. I was there when the "kiakoura lights" were doing there thing and i can tell you they were lights and they were in the sky! Also i can tell you that we watched them all night and then into the next morning and during the day the objects were of a silver colouring, we were watching them with binos and observed several smaller objects flying around a larger one they looked disc like during the day and seemed to flying into the larger one. We watched it all for about 24hrs. They were not seagulls/venus/squidboat lights...........they did show up on radar . If i was to give my best guess they were experimental flying craft of earthly design. ??? All i know is I saw it with my own eyes and it was amazing.

  13. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Sep, 2010

    Hi Joe. Thanks for your comments, but for us they just raise more questions. Everyone seems to have different descriptions, and we believe this is the first we've heard that the 'lights' were still in the same place during daylight hours, and for around 24 hours in total. Why didn't anyone fly up during the day to have a look, since they were extremely interested during the night? You mentioned them showing up on radar, but how do you know this, as no one else reports objects during the day? Also the pilots that filmed the night time lights said that some lights did not show up on radar.

    We also find it unbelievable that top secret 'experimental flying craft of earthly design' (and they must have been secret as no one has come forward), would continue to fly around at the same location after they had been chased by aircraft, recorded on radar and reported on the TV news. And the same can be said for alien craft.

    We suspect that what you saw most likely has a natural explanation, maybe even a planet, though you discount this. We have seen too many people be fooled by natural objects in the night sky, amazing as they appear to be, to be tempted by more exotic explanations. Unfortunately UFO sightings are usually a one off event, seen by very few people, usually with no experience of the night sky, poorly recorded, and often not reported until long after the event because of fear of ridicule. Thus it is often extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine what people might have seen. But we can still say that it was unlikely to have been aliens.

Movies — true or false?
Our website is called 'Silly Beliefs'. In this post we're going to look at a modern source of silly beliefs. We don't know who first said that Jesus rose from the cross or that King Arthur was real or that having sex with a virgin cures AIDS. All we know is that in some places these fictions somehow got elevated to fact. But today we can watch new myths being made and spread around the world. And this modern myth factory is the ubiquitous movie. We ask why it is that most movie producers, directors and scriptwriters can never retell history as it actually happened? We're not talking about plainly fictional movies like 'Star Wars', 'James Bond' or 'The Godfather'. We're talking about movies that have that authoritative phrase on the movie poster: 'Based on a True Story'. Let me explain.

Out of the Blue Recently I noticed the NZ movie 'Out of the Blue' on the TV news (something to do with awards). It was the one about the 1990 massacre at Aramoana — near Dunedin — where David Gray killed 13 people. I felt the movie was OK I guess, although I suspect that if these murders happened in the back blocks of Canada or China most Kiwis wouldn't bother to see it. But this was local and most people are a bit vague on what really happened. We all know roughly how many were killed and by whom, so we go along to have the movie fill in the gaps in our knowledge. I don't believe most go because they think this is an outstanding movie of its genre or that they have an interest in mass-murderers. After all, most of my friends (and me) have never bothered to see the Columbine movie about the US school massacre. No, this is simple curiosity about something that touched us as Kiwis.

So — I believe — the main reason that most of us will see the movie is to understand what really happened, to maybe contemplate on how we would have reacted compared to the way these real people acted, and to wonder whether this tragedy could have been prevented.

And thus we come to my gripe about 'Out of the Blue'. It is a movie ostensibly made to inform us about a real event yet it weaves real actions with fictional actions or it documents real deeds but has the wrong character perform them. Of course it doesn't tell us which bits really happened and which didn't. It doesn't even tell us that some of the events depicted didn't actually happen the way they are portrayed. It insidiously rewrites history.

Some of the Aramoana locals have complained about the inaccuracies in the movie and some have insisted that it shouldn't even have been made. I disagree with this second point. If we were to prohibit movies (or books etc) that tackled real but sensitive topics we would have to prohibit almost everything. Not just movies about WW2 or the Vietnam war, since combatants are still alive, but even movies about romance for example, since there are people who have had sad and traumatic experiences in love and wouldn't want to be reminded of this through some movie. Where would it end? Every movie ever made probably offends someone somewhere. If I were in charge I would ban horror movies. Of course the most sensible and fair solution is just to avoid those movies you know you won't like. Having said that, I read on the Internet that Taylormade (a Dunedin film company) made a documentary about the Aramoana shooting on the agreement that it would only ever be screened once, on the 1st anniversary of the shooting — 1991. They need to recant on that agreement and rebroadcast it, assuming they haven't destroyed it. Imagine if every film featuring Hitler or the Nazi death camps were only show once in 1946 then banned forever. You shouldn't be allowed to censor history.

Unfortunately, when you've been told that there are inaccuracies in a movie but not told what they are, you're continually questioning each scene. Did that really happen or did the director add that bit for dramatic effect? By the end of the movie we can't confidently say that we know any more facts about the Aramoana incident than we did beforehand.

Perhaps some examples will help. The movie pretty much shows the real hero to be Helen Dickson — and she did act heroically — an elderly woman on crutches recovering from a hip operation. Gray has already shot several people when Chris Cole is shot as he stands next to Dickson on the road. Dickson heroically crawls to her house to dial 111 and alert the police of the carnage and call an ambulance, and then crawls back to the wounded man. Yet what the movie doesn't tell us is that before this happened Julie Ann Bryson had already been alerted to Gray's killing spree by Chiquita Holden, who Gray wounded after shooting her father Garry Holden. In the movie Bryson is shown simply bundling Chiquita in to her van and driving her back to the scene of the shooting, hopping out and walking towards the house. Why, we asked, didn't silly Julie Ann Bryson immediately dial 111 and why did she try to enter the house where Gray was? My movie companion suggested that perhaps many of the houses didn't have phones. In actual fact, contrary to what the movie depicted, Bryson did immediately dial 111 and Gray merely fired at the van as she drove past the house fleeing the scene. She never stopped the van and did not attempt to enter the house with Chiquita pleading "I'm scared" (or such like). So it wasn't Dickson that initially raised the alarm but Bryson. My initial impression of Bryson was, "You stupid bitch. Call the bloody police and don't go to the scene of the killing, even if your daughter is there." But as I've said, in real life, unlike in the movie, Bryson actually did all the right things. I would be very annoyed if my actions were falsely portrayed in this way.

Then we have Sergeant Stu Guthrie, the cop that is killed by Gray. Evidently the facts are that the cop fired a warning shot at Gray who shouted, "Don't shoot". Thinking that Gray is surrendering the cop relaxes and Gray shots him, hitting him in the head. Yet in the movie this cop deliberately tries to shoot Gray but misses. Gray runs off and is later shown creeping up behind the cop who is hiding in the dunes. Without warning Gray then shoots the cop several times in the back. Why did the director feel the need to lie about the nature of the Guthrie's death? Gray did enough horrific acts without having to invent more. This is possibly the most disturbing of Gray's acts portrayed in the movie, one that will be fixed in the viewer's mind (along with the initial killing of Garry Holden), and yet it is the one act he was not guilty of.

Likewise the armed teenager the cop met on arriving at Aramoana. Evidently the cop only had one gun so they went to a house and got a local teenager to dig out his father's old .22 rifle, which they borrowed. The teenager was not out hunting Gray as the movie depicted. And what about the teenagers fleeing the killing that warned Cole and Dickson of Gray's actions. This is an old lady on crutches. Why didn't they bundle her into their car rather than simply leaving her on the road? I'm thinking very poorly of the actions of these youths. And what about the mysterious actions of the cop Nick Harvey (played by Karl Urban), one of the main protagonists in the movie, who simply leaves the hunt for Gray to return home and watch his son sleep. And he does this in such a way as to initially avoid his wife who is worried sick that he has been killed by Gray. Certainly he returns to the manhunt, but what responsible cop would abandon their hunt for a killer for such a frivolous reason? Then we have the questionable behaviour of the cops after they have shot Gray, their total detachment. Lighting up cigarettes and casually chatting in a huddle while Gray gets on with the business of dying. This doesn't show the police in a good light. Why aren't they complaining about their portrayal? One Kiwi who lives in the US wrote a review of the movie for Amazon and had this to say about that scene: "the final scene where Gray is roughly shackled and the police smoke cigarettes while he bleeds out is a satisfying glimpse of Kiwi justice." Is it really? Is this how we want the world to view NZ police and "Kiwi justice"? But then again, did any of these events really happen or are they mere inventions, more dramatic licence by director Robert Sarkies?

Obviously some bits, eg all the scenes with David Gray by himself, especially the bit just before he is shot are pure invention, and are solely the director's take on how Gray may have felt about his actions. But even this final scene was inappropriate I felt. We don't know what Gray was thinking just before his death, yet Sarkies' scene of Gray in front of the mirror appeared — to me — to have Gray reach realisation of the atrocity he had committed, with an unspoken cry along the lines of "Oh my God. What have I done? I don't deserve to live." He then promptly forces the cops to shoot him by rushing them — the evil had been purged, the good redeemed. Yet we don't know if Gray repented or felt remorse for his actions. If we knew these were Gray's thoughts then fine — but we don't — it's not a movie director's role to play psychiatrist or God. If Sarkies wants a protagonist to have an epiphany at the end of his movie then he should be writing fiction. Unfortunately for the viewer, for parts of this movie he was writing fiction.

My movie companion replied to my criticism (and you might agree) that the movie never actually says that it's a true story. Even director Sarkies has said it's not a documentary. Yet the cover of the DVD clearly says "The true story of a small town massacre" (Click on the above pic for a larger image). Other posters proclaim: "From the last place on earth comes a true story of courage and survival" and "BASED ON THE TRUE STORY OF THE ARAMOANA SHOOTINGS". Some people believe that there is a big difference between a true story and a movie 'Based on a True Story', others don't. But I contend that if you were to mention this movie to someone ignorant of Aramoana you would very early in the piece inform them that these people are real and that this massacre at Aramoana really happened. It's important to most people to get across to others that this movie isn't some Rambo shoot-em-up or some teen horror flick. This really happened. This is not some fiction. This is a true story!

Another reviewer on Amazon had this to say about 'Out of the Blue': "Overall, this movie was Bad with a capitol B... [however]... There were two pros to this movie. 1. It was factual. 2. The scenery of some shots were pretty." He hated it but he still thought it was "factual". A writer in The Guardian wrote that the movie showed: "remarkable acts of bravery recorded with documentary fastidiousness." It certainly sounds to me that viewers thought they were seeing what really happened, not some fictionalised version.

Because of the movie, from this day forth, 99.9% of people will insist that the terrible events that unfolded at Aramoana were those portrayed in the movie and not the actual ones. Some heroic acts have been portrayed but some brave acts that really happened have been deleted. Some heroes have been erased and their deeds given to others. Gray's actions have been modified on a director's whim. History has been changed. Knowledge of Aramoana for future generations will be part fact and part fantasy. I mean, who hasn't heard the popular saying, "No, I haven't read the book, I'm waiting for the movie to come out".

Let me give you another example of a local Kiwi movie rewriting history lest you think 'Out of the Blue' is a mere aberration. This one is 'The World's Fastest Indian', the story of Invercargill man Burt Munro setting a world speed record on a motorbike he modified in his garage.

Contrary to the movie, Burt Munro had in fact been to Bonneville in the USA and broken records several times before 1967. In his first run at Bonneville in 1962 the bike handled poorly and he was going to withdraw but the officials told him it handled well and to go ahead. This is just the opposite to the movie version of pedantic US race officials who threatened to have him disqualified. There's also little reason to believe a nave Munro made a 'Forest Gump' like pilgrimage across the States to Bonneville, enriching the lives of transvestites, Latinos, Indians and sex starved widows en route. Remember this wasn't his first trip. The death of his twin brother couldn't have taught him an important lesson since he didn't have a twin brother and why was Burt's wife and children never mentioned, with Annie Whittle's character referring to him as a 'dirty old man' instead?

The most important thing that this movie described was an enterprising NZ'er breaking a world speed record. So why did they have to lie about that as well? He never set a record of 201 mph — as claimed in the movie — it was 190.07 mph, yet every moviegoer will now argue to the contrary. How easy it is to change history. And how depressing it is that most of us don't care that we do.

Of course it's not just Kiwi movies that play hard and fast with the facts. For example there was the American movie 'U-571' about the capture of a Nazi Enigma machine and code books from a German U-boat by US forces. The capture of this device greatly aided the allied war effort as the Germans didn't realise the allies had it and kept sending coded messages which the allies could now decode. This is a true story apart from one minor point — the Americans had nothing whatsoever to do with its capture, it was the British. But there is now a movie-going generation of kids that will be utterly convinced that this is another example of the US saving Britain's butt in WW2.

Why do movie directors feel the need to rewrite historical events? You may have heard that at the moment Peter Jackson is trying to decide whether to change the name of a dog belonging to a key character in his new WW2 movie "Dam Busters". The dog's name was used as the name of the top-secret project. Its name was Nigger. That name may be considered offensive now, but so what, we're talking history here, not the name of Toyota's new model. Think about it. Apart from Neo-Nazis, everyone considers what Hitler did to the Jews as extremely offensive, so to protect people's sensibilities should we rewrite history and have future movies portray the Nazi's as simply calling the Jews nasty names?

One final example, on a flight to Spain a while back I got to watch Mel Gibson's 'Apocalypto', a violent chase movie set in Central America in ancient Mayan times. I mention the plane because after sitting through his disgustingly violent 'The Passion of the Christ' I wasn't going to pay to see another one of his movies. Anyway, Gibson said he wanted to accurately portray the Mayan culture, so much so that the whole movie was in Mayan with English subtitles, yet he got the history wrong in a number of important places. I won't bore you with too many details, but one of the most obvious was that he had the Spanish arriving in the New World at the movie conclusion, even though the Mayan cities portrayed in the movie had been deserted for over 500 years when Columbus arrived. It's suggested by some that Gibson did this to show Christianity coming to save the evil heathens. The hero even got a spear wound in his side aka Jesus. Contrary to the movie there is no evidence of mass sacrifices or of widespread slavery in Mayan history. Gibson also gave no hint of the advances developed by the Maya such as astronomy and mathematics and a written language. They were just a bunch of sadistic savages. Stephen Houston, professor of anthropology at Brown University complained that "For millions of people this might be their first glimpse of the Maya," he says. "This is the impression that is going to last. But this is Mel Gibson's Maya. This is Mel Gibson's sadism. This is not the Maya we know." When Alicia Estrada, an Assistant Professor of Central American Studies, challenged Gibson over inaccuracies in his movie, he said "500 years ago, a mouthy broad like you'd be tethered to a stone altar with your still-beating heart high above my head!" He then had her removed from the venue with, "Lady, fuck off... Make your own movie!"

A movie director friend of ours defended Gibson's movie (and others we criticised) by saying that since schools are failing many, at least young people would be getting a bit of history mixed in with their adventure movie. But my point was that if that history was wrong, they're not being educated at all, they're being lied to. They don't know which bits are historically accurate and which bits are just Gibson fantasising.

If history needs to be recorded, and it does, surely it needs to be recorded accurately. Those that just can't stop dreaming up "what if this happened instead" scenarios should stick to writing fiction. People love fiction, most movies are fiction, so there is an enormous market for their fantasies. We need to start insisting that people telling true stories actually tell the truth. All the time. Rather than praising producers, directors et al. for their skill in bringing the past to life, we need to criticise them for their inability to inform us without lying to us. And if they say 'But real history is boring, we have to spice it up', then forget history, make another 'Shrek' or 'Finding Nemo' movie. If they aren't up to the task, find another job.

We have too many silly beliefs as it is. We shouldn't be producing new ones for our children.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 Oct, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by Bob, 02 Oct, 2008

    Hi John, I'm glad you brought this subject up. The problem is films are made for entertainment to make money. Unfortunately most of real life is boring so has to be jazzed up for visual effect. Mundane conversations have to be given meaning. If they are fictional then the writer can invent any scenario he likes. When conversations and events are filled in to make a smooth film real events become distorted. I just don't watch most of them and if I do I take them with a grain of salt.

  2. Comment by Rex, 05 Oct, 2008

    Landon Powell farmed deer velvet at the Gully farm at Kereru from 1955 and Alan Smart farmed deer velvet at Welcome Bay from 1966- 1973, just 2 commercial places that I was associated with. Mr Munro was a friend of landons son John and knew of the farm in the Hawkes Bay. I could level the same complaint about your historical facts that you lay at the feet of movie makers.

  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 08 Oct, 2008

    Thanks for your comment Rex. The purpose of our post was to state that we hate people deliberately passing off fiction as fact. Thus we are naturally grateful that you take us to task over a comment we've made that could be misleading. We didn't mean to imply that deer had never been farmed for its velvet, but that the large-scale commercial deer farming as implied by Munro did not take off until the late 1970s. Up until that time NZ was on a path to control if not completely eradicate the pest. In the movie Munro is asked by an American if we have deer in NZ and he replies: "Oh yes... We breed them down there on big farms and cut off their antlers and send them over to Hong Kong and they grind up the antlers into dust and they eat that stuff." His statement "We breed them down there on big farms" implies an activity that was widespread in NZ in the mid-1960s. It wasn't. That claim would have been appropriate for sheep, but not deer. In fact it was apparently illegal to farm deer until 1969.

    We did not invent numerous "facts" as the movie did. If we made an error it was one of poor communication, and to this end we have deleted our original sentence to avoid any confusion. We still believe the movie claim was false, or at the very least misleading, but unlike the movie, we can make changes to improve accuracy. The movie and its historical falsehoods are out there forever. Your annoyance at one — and only one — of our statements at least shows that you must concur with the theme of our post — that we shouldn't change history on a whim.

  4. Comment by Paul, 09 Oct, 2008

    Move over David Irving, Hollywood scriptwriters must be the largest historical revisionists on the planet! During WW2 the British Navy captured an intact German U-Boat in 1941 and of greater importance onboard was an Enigma encryption machine. This machine was taken back to England and the German Code broken thus changing the very course of WW2. So what do the Hollywood filmmakers do with this piece of history? They produce a movie called U-571 when the sub in question was U-110. They then delete all references to this being a British initiative and instead tell film-goers it was all the U.S Navy and Secret Services doing & gallingly 'it's based on a true story'. Like f**K it is!

  5. Comment by Matthew, 03 Feb, 2009

    Hi John, have just discovered your website and am thoroughly enjoying it. Sadly I have very little to comment on as I agree with just about everything you post (I am a big fan of Dawkins, Sagan, Penn & Teller, etc) but on this particular subject I think it's worth considering the following. Movies that portray an historical event (or simply take place in history) & are successful often draw attention to that event or person to a mass audience that would have otherwise remained ignorant or uninterested.
    Often it is the inaccuracies that spark the biggest debates and thereby creating more interest in a subject that otherwise would never have occurred. If I enjoy a movie I hunt out more information on that subject and I've noticed that this must be a common trend as popular movies are often followed up by doco's on the History or National Geographic channels etc.
    Braveheart was one of the most offensively inaccurate films I can recall off the top of my head but due to the movies popularity and then the resulting outcry from the media about the date fiddling, character swapping, etc I learnt more about that part of history than I ever would have if Braveheart had never been made.
    The following are other examples of movies that sparked docos and where I personally learnt more about the subject than if they'd never been made: Titanic, U571, Gladiator, Salvador, Hotel Rwanda, Elizabeth, Kingdom of God and so on. The beauty of DVD's is also that we sometimes see the doco's on the same disc as the movie.
    Yes, I think that movie makers do have an obligation to stick as close to the truth as possible but when you have an average of 2 hours to tell a story that's not always possible. If people rely on movies for their history then that's sad but if they use them to become interested in an event or person in history then that's great!
    There is something far more sinister going on in the world of movies and that is the resurgence of the so called "Documentary films" which all seem to be accepted without question. I love watching these but will always do a little digging after each one to see how much of a balanced viewpoint we're getting. I am appalled that Al Gore can win an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth when it's about on par with U571 as a mixture of fantasy & fact. I was particularly surprised that so many Kiwi's bought into it when there is a throwaway line that says 'ALL of the civilians of this Pacific Island had to be evacuated to New Zealand'. Say what? What island? When? It never happened.
    And anyone who has seen a Michael Moore film and loved it (I fit that category) should rent 'Michael Moore hates America' to see how manipulative he is with his so called 'documentaries'. The ends don't justify the means.
    Keep up the work on this brilliant website :-)

  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 08 Feb, 2009

    You're right of course Matthew, these movies do expose events from history to the masses, and for that reason alone I accept that they can have a positive effect. And like you, they have often inspired me to learn more about the specific subject matter.

    Unfortunately my experience is that the majority watch the movies, accept them as gospel and leave it at that. Too often I have listened to arguments based solely on what people have seen in popular movies. Many people I know rush to see the latest blockbuster historical movies starring the latest heartthrob but would never consider watching a documentary — or gawd forbid, read a factual book — on the background theme of the movie.

    I'm sure it's difficult to produce a movie that is both historically accurate and that appeals to a general movie audience, but I'm not for a moment suggesting that every little thing must be accurate. However I believe the crucial facts that make the story worth telling should be accurate. They got it right in the movie Titanic, the ship did hit an iceberg and sink, and in Pearl Harbour it was the Japanese that attacked, and I assume most people know that the character stories we follow in these movies are fictional. However in U-571 it needs to be the British that capture the Nazi Enigma code machine, not the Americans, and in Gladiator the Roman Emperors shouldn't be seen giving governing power back to the Roman Senate. In Apocalypto the Spanish shouldn't be shown causing the collapse of the Mayan Empire. These important claims about history never happened, and in my view are completely superfluous to the plot. And for that reason it would be child's play to correct these major historical bloopers without affecting the appeal or flow of the movie. Why can't these acclaimed movie directors, producers and script-writers weave historical accuracy with an engaging screen play? Are they not the geniuses that people make them out to be?

    I would prefer it if movies — that imply to be relating history — offered a basically correct, although simplified account of history, so that those who delved no further would still have factual information. We can't just hope that moviegoers will seek out documentaries, websites and books that explain what really happened and what was merely cinematic licence. It's great that you're motivated to delve deeper into the background of these movies and you're lucky if your group of friends also research the facts and discuss inaccuracies. But I fear you are in the minority.

    And yes, I agree about these so-called "documentary films". Their format suggests that they are factual and can be trusted, but they are often quite selective in what they say and while not necessarily false, they can be biased and manipulative. In contrast to a true documentary they usually have an agenda and often it's not what they say but what they don't say that is really important. As you say, you always have to do further digging to see whether their view is the correct one.

Sensing Murder and true believers
Last week's finale of Sensing Murder had police detective Ross Levy of the Lower Hutt CIB consulting psychics Deb Webber and Kelvin Cruickshank. He wasn't just there to provide the police view of a murder case as usual, he was actually trying to get the psychics to pluck information from the spooky realm to help him solve the disappearance of Wellington woman Kaye Stewart. This post isn't about that episode since we have already written a longer article that criticises it here — the dangers of the police using psychics, the admission that the psychics had prior knowledge, the slick editing and our view of what really might have happened to Kaye Stewart.

This post is about a comment regarding our article that was posted on Ninox Televison's own Sensing Murder website. There they have something they call the Sensing Murder Forum where the producers and supporters of Sensing Murder and its psychics discuss the various episodes, praise the saint-like qualities of the psychics and marvel at the contributions they have made to modern crime investigation. Posts often conclude with things like "sending him lots of love and light!" and "Big Huggles DEB & KELV, also Huggles to the LOWER HUTT POLICE DEPT, and to the SM Team, HUGGLES also for giving the families hope." Also appearing on these forums are a few brave skeptics, willing to sacrifice their sanity to promote the idea of critical thinking in all things, not just nebulous spirits. We marvel at their fortitude and tenacity. When a link to our article was placed on the forum by one of the forum members — a skeptic obviously — the response by another member clearly illustrates the dangerous attitude held by some members of our society when they confront a conflicting view. The message read simply "I wish we had a "Vote to Remove" option", and this forum member tellingly labels themselves "Believer". By this they mean they wish they had the ability to simply delete all reference to our article so that other forum members will not be bothered, offended — or more importantly — threatened by it. (Some other forums have this option, Trade Me for example. If you don't like an alternative view, you simply have it removed.) "Believer" and others like them obviously have no comprehension of what this forum is that they are a part of. A forum is defined as "a public meeting place for open discussion". They forget that we live in a democracy, a free society that will cease to exist if we continually censor and suppress opposing views. They need to be reminded of past times when "open discussion" was not championed and a "vote to remove" was a little more serious, often involving being burnt at the stake. It depresses us to realise how little some people have advanced over the centuries. If they had any real authority their superstitions and their ignorance would have all non-believers razed from the planet.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 16 Sep, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Sep, 2008

    Anyone that has clicked on our above link to the thread in the Sensing Murder Forum will see that it is missing. Sensing Murder has "removed" it with the comment "The topic "what happened to Kaye a sceptical perspective" has been removed on legal advice due to the speculation about the possible identity of a possible offender. Please refrain from discussing this type of material on this site, as topics will have to be removed."
    Yet looking back through my copy of the thread (nothing disappears from the internet), no one mentioned anyone by name or anyone that the police won't already haven't investigated — or at least should have. As the police say, when an investigation begins, everyone is a potential suspect and must be eliminated from their inquiries.
    As the person that started the thread commented after the fact, "Seems it's okay to speculate about the possible identity of a possible offender on primetime TV but not an obscure forum that gets very few visitors." And Sensing Murder didn't just speculate, they accused. They gave viewers a list of things to look for in the offender. They even went to his house. Where were their lawyers then? OK, so you and I wouldn't recognise it from the little we saw but I guarantee that the owner does and his neighbours. Are they now saying "Oh my gawd!! Our neighbour is a killer!!"
    This wimpish excuse by Sensing Murder is pathetic, and it's taken up by many of their supporters. Many have said to us that Sensing Murder would have solved the crimes if it weren't for the legal system putting obstacles in their way, like their petty insistence on something called "evidence".
    But as was also said, why didn't Sensing Murder just remove the specific post from the forum, why remove the entire thread? Was it just to prevent the majority of their supporters from being aware of our article that shows their own public speculation to be badly flawed?

  2. Comment by the Tony, 17 Sep, 2008

    I was the one that started the thread and posted the link to your article. I have now been banned from the SM forum without warning or reason. Not aware that I broke any forum rule. Their forum is as fair and honest as their show.

TV's "Ghost Hunt" a sham
We've noticed that TV2 has been repeating the New Zealand made show "Ghost Hunt". The program states that its "mission" is to "Search for evidence of paranormal activity at haunted sites." We're told that they will "explore a number of spooky locations" around NZ. The Ghost Hunt program narrator also tells us that the "Ghost Hunt" team are made up of "Brad Hills, resident paranormal expert and Director of Paranormal Investigations, paranormal investigator Michael Hallows and paranormal investigator Carolyn Taylor". All this implies that we are following a real team of experienced paranormal investigators, like the shows that follow real police or real surf lifesavers as they go about their work. Yet not only are they not experts, they have no knowledge of the paranormal whatsoever. They're all actors/TV presenters, Hills having appeared on "Shortland Street" and "Power Rangers", Hallows in "Mercy Peak" and Taylor's former job was as host of the TV2 kids show, "What Now".

They claim that "the Ghost Hunt team will use a combination of technological gadgets" and that "Hills' contribution included ghost-hunting gadgets such as infrared heat senses" [sic], and that he "took on the role of analysing footage and measuring temperature changes". Yet Hills did not provide the "ghost-hunting gadgets" — they were obviously provided by the film company — nor did he provide the expertise to analyse the collected data. He admits in an online interview that "My first true [paranormal] investigation was actually on the show. I was brought on more for my technical knowledge than my ghost hunting prowess." So he has never actually hunted ghosts before, meaning he would not know what instruments would be needed, how to arrange them or how to analyse the received data. He mentions his "technical knowledge", implying that he has previously worked in a technical sphere, yet the interview also mentioned that as well as TV acting, Hills has "tried his hand at most jobs including Insurance Broker, professional tennis umpire, running a talent agency, managing celebrities, working in children's television for six years, Theatre actor, Voice-over artist and live mc... and has written and directed his first short film... which was a finalist at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival." None of these fleeting career choices would have given Hills the technical knowledge he claims to possess.

After supposedly setting up various cameras, microphones, heat sensors etc, in a location that is supposedly haunted, "resident paranormal expert" Hills gets to sit in a van at night watching the live video feeds from his two "paranormal investigators" as they wander around the site. After a night of running and screaming, the three of them sit in the van in the early hours and Hills points out "weird and unexplained" images, sounds and events on the recorded video and still camera data. At no time do we see any one else filming or helping Hills analyse data. We're led to believe that all the video shots are coming from cameras the team are carrying or ones that Hills has set up. Yet Hills again admits in his interview that what we see on screen is not what happened, stating that he wasn't alone in the van analysing the data. He said that "I must admit I had help! It was usually myself, and the producers, plus a production assistant all trawling through the footage looking for evidence." We suspect that the footage of the team running around the site and then later going over the video was probably filmed on different nights. They no doubt filmed the site shots, took it back to the office where the production team looked for "spooky" bits, then they wrote a script and filmed the debrief in the van several nights later, pretending it all happened in one night.

It's strange that it is illegal to misrepresent your product or make fraudulent claims in TV adverts — the annoying fillers on TV — yet the real programs can misrepresent what really happened, ignore real evidence and alternative explanations and lie outright, and few people are bothered by this deception.

And did they ever provide evidence of ghosts? No of course not, none whatsoever. And even if they had shown something that on the face of it appeared paranormal, it would have been worthless, because the show is just as scripted and heavily edited and as fake as those other shows that Hills and Taylor acted in — "Shortland Street" and "Celebrity Treasure Island".

It's very misleading, not to mention dishonest, to claim that these mere actors are experts in the scientific investigation of the paranormal, or that the data they and the production team obtain supports a belief in ghosts. But then this is the typical stance of shows about the paranormal these days. Shows about ghosts, psychic mediums, remote viewing, psychokinesis, psychic healing etc all have to be manufactured. That is, faked. You can certainly go out with fancy instruments and investigate these things, but the data obtained all support the fact that these silly, primitive, superstitious, spooky things simply don't exist.

If believers have to rely on silly shows like this to maintain their primitive beliefs, then they should realise that their battle to win over skeptics is lost. They should retreat back into their medieval worldview and leave the future to those of us that have embraced the ideals of the Enlightenment.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 08 Sep, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by Keri, 08 Sep, 2008

    Sighhhh... unfortunately a lot of humanity is lost in a medieval viewpoint, and we sceptics are *not* the target audience. *But* the more good sites like "Silly Beliefs" are around & on the case the better - I can at least direct some of my cuzzies to sane objectivity instead of their confirming ghosty sites... sighs again, heavily

Reiki meets Star Wars
Reiki What's the connection between Reiki, a bogus technique employed by New Age healers and Star Wars, a movie about Jedi Knights set 'long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away'? The connection is belief in an invisible, undetectable and wholly imaginary force that permeates the universe and all living things.

A recent newspaper article on Olympic cyclist Hayden Roulston was titled: Cyclist's recovery thanks to 'miracle', and many papers and internet sites are carrying similar articles. It seems that back in 2006 he was diagnosed to be suffering from a rare heart disease that can cause sudden cardiac death. Roulston was resigned that he would have to give up his cycling career, and then we suddenly learnt that he was undergoing some secret treatment, the details of which he was reluctant to divulge. Now he has won cycling silver and bronze medals at the Olympics and is happy to tell the world what "cured" him. It seems it was a healing "miracle" produced by a spiritual practice called Reiki. Now don't get us wrong, we hope that Hayden's good health continues and congratulate him on his success at the Olympics, but it's disappointing that he has mistakenly attributed his "recovery" to Reiki, a bogus spiritual healing scam.

Why would this be? Why would he think that his Reiki practitioner — people that believe themselves to be some sort of cross between a witch, a New Age spiritualist and a Jedi Knight — could cure him of arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia? Well no doubt because his health improved at the same time as he was undergoing Reiki sessions. But was it really Reiki or something else? Was he also undergoing conventional treatments such as antiarrhythmic drug therapy? Had he altered his lifestyle in anyway?

Many people don't understand cause and effect, and in general sports people are a notoriously superstitious group. If something good happens, they look around to see what might have caused it, and try to repeat that behaviour. Perhaps they were wearing lucky socks or believe some specific routine caused their good fortune, perhaps eating a certain meal or saying a certain prayer. Roulston's health problems certainly seem to have abated, but there is no evidence that the Reiki sessions were the cause. It just happened that he was wasting his money on Reiki as his body was improving. If instead he had started eating king size blocks of chocolate or became a Jedi Knight during this period instead of discovering Reiki, no doubt he would have attributed this to his health improvement. Roulston tells us that it was 'through the "miracle" of unconventional treatment' that he was able to compete at Beijing. Yet he is as cagey about providing evidence that it was in fact Reiki that helped him as he initially was of revealing that he was even using Reiki. But of course he can't provide evidence that some Jedi Master — sorry, Reiki Master — manipulated an intelligent force that permeates that universe and all living beings, because no such force exists. Science with its extremely sensitive instruments has not been able to detect any such force, nor does it seem that there is any reason that such a force should exist. We also have no evidence that his disease has been cured or that his condition, which is a progressive one, won't reassert itself in the future. Roulston appears to be merely assuming that since he feels healthy then he is healthy. We hope he's right but we don't for a moment believe that some "spiritually guided life force energy" caused his present state of health.

And in fact Reiki practitioners do have many similarities to the Jedi Knight of Star Wars' fame. (1): Both claim to channel an invisible energy force. The Jedi Knight is a conduit for Jedi something called 'The Force', an energy force that suffuses the entire universe, while Reiki practitioners are a conduit for something called the "Universal Life Force", an energy force that suffuses the entire universe. (2): Both claim that their particular energy force is intelligent. (3): As Reiki practitioners and Jedi Knights progress with their studies they become known as a 'Master', either a Reiki Master or Jedi Master. (4): As far as the real world is concerned, both energy forces are completely fictional. (5): Both Reiki Masters and Jedi Masters see their skills as superior to solutions provided by science and technology. (6): Both Reiki and Jedi ability is stronger in some than in others. (7): Both Reiki Masters and Jedi Masters can use their skills for evil and to fulfil selfish desires, eg to make money and give themselves false prestige by conning gullible, desperate people and/or controlling the universe. (8): Playing around with either force can be dangerous, as in delaying people from getting appropriate medical treatment and in allowing some to be seduced by the Dark Side. (9): Both forces can be used to cloud the minds of others as to the reality of the world. (10): Both forces can be detected and felt locally through a body "aura" or remotely over large distances. (11): I know we've already said this, but it warrants repeating: both energy forces are completely fictional, utterly magical, wholly imaginary.

You can call yourself a Reiki Master or a Jedi Master and believe in your ability to manipulate your appropriate invisible energy force. You can wave your hands around and chant "Use the Force Luke" all you want. You can believe that forceful exhaling is expelling negative energy or that your plastic light sabre is real. You can do these and all manner of other silly things but the only people you're fooling are those willing to participate in your delusion. The only place where Reiki practitioners are taken seriously is psychic fairs full of other scam healers and the only place where people professing to be Jedi Knights aren't ridiculed is at science fiction conventions.

Roulston claiming that a Reiki practitioner healed him is no more credible than if he had actually said it had been a Jedi.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Aug, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by Bob, 31 Aug, 2008

    I am a little puzzled as to why someone with a rare heart disease which could cause sudden death would subject himself to the extreme stress of training then an olympic race. Was he prepared to drop dead in the middle of the race? Even those in top physical condition were exhausted after their events when they had given everything they had. I'll bet his doctor has a different version of events.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 31 Aug, 2008

    I guess Bob, that since Roulston believes a healing "miracle" has happened, he no longer sees himself as having the disease. As you say, his doctor will have a different view on whether he is "cured" and whether he should have taken the risk of competing.

  3. Comment by Joe, 25 Sep, 2010

    I was offered the REIKI treatment several years ago by a massage therapist who seemed to believe that she possesed special powers of healing, and that her power once threw her against a wall during a session! I didnt try it because it sounded like a complete load of bollocks........ anyhow i would like to mention that the famous Dr Oz from the Oprah show swears by it so I guess 150 million housewives do as well now. That's a lot.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Sep, 2010

    Re those housewives Joe, and Dr Oz, as Anatole France said, 'If 50 million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing'.

Psychics still refuse to be tested
Stuart Landsborough of Wanaka's 'Puzzling World' has for some time now offered a Psychic Challenge where people believing they have psychic abilities can quickly and easily earn $100,000 by finding a hidden promissory note. The catch is of course, that they have to use their psychic powers to glean its location. Of the few that have tried, none have succeeded. Last year he challenged the psychics featured on TV's 'Sensing Murder' — principally Kelvin Cruickshank, Sue Nicholson and Deb Webber — to attempt the task. Communicating through Ninox Television — the makers of 'Sensing Murder' — the challenge was declined. Now he has sent a modified challenge to the 'Sensing Murder' psychics, offering each psychic $100,000 if they pass mutually agreed upon tests of their paranormal abilities. Not surprisingly, Ninox Television has once again refused to let their pet psychics make complete fools of themselves by failing the challenge.

Why won't psychics — and others claiming paranormal powers — allow themselves to be tested? Admittedly a handful around the world have attempted to demonstrate their powers under controlled conditions — and have failed — so perhaps this 100% failure rate serves as a valuable lesson to Ninox Television. Even if their nave psychics wanted to take the challenge, Ninox Television no doubt knows that they would fail miserably and publicly, and that this humiliation could have serious ramifications on their cash cow that is 'Sensing Murder'.

Some psychics and their supporters claim that they simply refuse to be tested because validation is not important to them and that they won't deal with people that doubt their abilities. Yet it must be remembered that 170 psychics in NZ and Australia all willingly agreed to undergo testing by Ninox Television before they could be part of 'Sensing Murder'. So it appears that it's only testing by skeptics and scientists that psychics fear. That is, testing that is thorough and that will consistently expose fraud. Testing by TV producers and writers that are desperately looking for believable scam artists is different. Of the 170 psychics that Ninox Television tested, we are told that only 8 passed. These 170 psychics were all prepared to be tested with no promise of a monetary reward. Yet none of these eight that "proved" they could pass a test are prepared to take a further test that could net them $100,000 here in NZ or well over one million dollars in the US. Why does a psychic willingly submit to a test by a silly TV company for little or no reward yet refuse to take one by a skeptic that could net them a fortune and worldwide fame?

It's simple really. They know they are bogus and have as much chance of passing a real test as I have of winning a Nobel Prize. They know they can easily fool TV producers who want them to appear genuine, but realise that controlled scientific tests will expose them quicker than lightning. How should we view someone whose integrity is questioned but who doesn't strive to prove their case?

Let's pretend that you have a good friend who has been accused of sexually abusing his children. The police have insufficient evidence to present a case. However the case is publicised nationally with half the country believing your friend is a caring father and completely innocent and the rest believing he is a monster and should be locked up. To try and clear things up, the police request that your friend voluntarily present himself for an interrogation and polygraph test. He refuses to cooperate. A private detective offers to investigate the case free of charge, your friend refuses the offer. A scientist offers to use his expensive gene sequencer and DNA profiler to help your friend prove his innocence. Again your friend point blankly refuses. A lawyer familiar with child abuse cases offers to research your friend's case. Again the offer is declined. Instead your friend travels the country professing his innocence to anyone that will listen, lecturing to little old ladies in country halls, speaking on TV breakfast shows and even opening a playcentre to demonstrate his safe behaviour around children.

However the very people that could conceivably confirm your friend's claims of innocence — the police, the private detective, the scientist, the lawyer — are all shunned. Your friend insists that you must simply just take his word for his innocence. Would you have complete confidence in his innocence or would you suspect that maybe he had something to hide? He desperately wants people to believe him but he refuses to take steps that would prove his innocence. Let's now assume that you are your friend. You know you are innocent and want everyone else to know it as well. You hate people viewing you as a lying, child abusing monster. Would you willingly take any and all tests to prove your innocence or would you refuse them all, content in the knowledge that you at least know the truth?

Now back to psychics and the real world. Psychics claim they have paranormal powers. Gullible people believe them and rational people don't. Like the child sex abuser in our example, psychics refuse to undertake any constructive course of action that would help them prove their claims. They also waste their time travelling the country professing their magical powers to anyone that will listen, confusing little old ladies in country halls, speaking on TV breakfast shows and even appearing on bogus TV reality shows.

We accuse psychics of lying, of defrauding the public with their silly notions of talking to the dead. Like our child sex abuser example, many are annoyed that people like us don't believe them, while at the same time they continually shun help from the very people that could validate their claims. What are they afraid of? What are they hiding?

In the real world, innocent people accused of child sex abuse, of theft, of rape, of fraud, of murder, of deceit etc would readily accept any and all help to prove their case. Those that don't are viewed with extreme suspicion. What stance do psychics take? Scientists and skeptics have offered to help psychics test their claims. Some skeptics have even promised monetary incentives if paranormal claims are shown to be true. James Randi provides the $US1,000,000 paranormal challenge. The Australian Skeptics will give $A100,000 to anyone that passes their psychic challenge. The UK Psychic Challenge offers £12,000, and of course we have the $100,000 Psychic Challenge offered by Stuart Landsborough.

And yet still psychics refuse to be tested. Based on the ridiculous charges to their silly stage shows and the obscene amounts they demand for personal readings, money is obviously paramount to psychics, but even if the dollar incentive were unimportant to them, surely refuting the accusations of us silly skeptics would be motivation enough? We think of most of them as deluded and some as lying scum. Why don't they want to prove us wrong? We all know why the scam artists and fraudsters refuse to be tested, but why do the "genuine" ones also refuse? If they really do believe in their abilities, why aren't they lining up to be tested? They could have their cake and eat it too. They would have the satisfaction of proving skeptics wrong and of opening up a new field of scientific research. They'd be considerably richer, and if they truly weren't interested in the money, they could give it to their favourite charity or medical research. They'd raise their profile immensely and convert everyone into potential clients. With their abilities proven, their services would be sought after as never before.

But still psychics recoil from scientific tests like a hand on a hot element. They have something to hide and they know it. They know they're frauds and that testing results can only be negative. Each test they refuse only reinforces their deception.

So come on psychics, grow a backbone and stand up for your convictions. Go get tested.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 22 Aug, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by Bob, 07 Sep, 2008

    This article — 'Sensing Murder Responds to $2 million Paranormal Challenge' — is an insult to any reasonable person's intelligence. The straw sceptic put up and knocked down is supposed to represent serious sceptics such as the Skeptics Society. The police are supposed to be following up leads from the psychics. There is no mention of any success. To me what the article says is "I'm on to a good thing here don't queer it". What the producers of the programme could do in going some way to redeem themselves is to put a disclaimer at the beginning of the programme to the effect the makers don't guarantee the legitimacy of the psychics but viewers can judge for themselves.
    Then there is Nigel Latta. The programmers built him up as an expert who can see through sham. I recall Uri Geller with his spoon bending used to love being investigated by scientists. They were easily fooled. What he didn't like was investigation by professional magicians who knew all the tricks. Latta is what the cynical Soviets used to call Western fellow travellers "useful idiots".
    If people want to spend money on tickets to a psychic show or watch television inflating the ratings that is fine by me. It is the follow up where a prominent psychic takes money off vulnerable people for private readings. It appears they could be prosecuted for fraud for not delivering what they promised. I can't find any reference to psychics in New Zealand law but it appears there is in Britain. Prosecutions are difficult because first the sort of people who go to them are not likely to file complaints and second wiley fraudsters used all sorts of tricks to claim they are not charging, such as charging the client rent for the room where the reading is to be held.
    James Randi says these psychics are engaged in a form of stage magic known as mentalism. As a magic expert himself he hates seeing people using magic techniques and claiming they are real to cheat people. Fraud is as old as the human race.

  2. Comment by Bob, 07 Sep, 2008

    A bit more - I found a comment on a blog - [Police interview Sensing Murder psychics] http://poneke.wordpress.com/2008/09/07/sense-2/" - I saw a comment also on another blog. As the word gets around the show will probably fold eventually as it loses it's credibility. I was surprised to learn a policeman was prepared to listen to psychics. I thought the police regarded psychics as nuisances more than anything. At the time of the Hope murders in the Marlborough Sounds the police with the help of the navy were searching and dragging the water. Another boat was seen in the vicinity with the parents on board. The man in charge of the investigation was annoyed because a "psychic" insinuated herself into the case convincing the parents she could find the bodies. The policeman was annoyed mainly by the psychic approaching the parents while they were in a distressed emotional state.
    I hope the general public get the message about psychics who then find the business is not worth the effort.

  3. Comment by Bob, 12 Sep, 2008

    After reading - Police flooded with calls after Sensing Murder show - NZHerald - I wonder if the police had an ulterior motive in going to Sensing Murder over the missing Kaye Stewart. They might have realised they would get far more publicity than a normal media report of a reward and appeal for information. It appears they did. As for the person of interest supposedly identified by a psychic I doubt that will get anywhere. The trouble is if anything comes from the show it will give undeserved credit to the psychics.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Sep, 2008

    We agree Bob, and as you say "if anything comes from the show it will give undeserved credit to the psychics". People forget that both psychics had already failed to solve the case a few years previously, then they failed again in the presence of Detective Levy. The episode only went to air around 2 months later because the psychics had failed to produce any new leads. The episode wasn't documenting how psychics solved the case, it documented how they failed. If the case is solved now it will be because of public input, but many people will still believe we have the silly 'Sensing Murder' psychics to thank.

Survey - What do Kiwis really believe?
Survey If you're quick — and a Kiwi — there's an on-line survey that all Kiwis can take to help reveal our level of belief in things like religion, the paranormal, conspiracies, superstition etc. It's run by the Sunday Star-Times in conjunction with Dr Marc Wilson, a senior lecturer in psychology at Victoria University. It's called the "Believe it or not" survey and it can be taken here. You can read the Sunday Star-Times article describing the survey here. It's only running for a couple of weeks and the results will be published from August 24. Participating in the survey will put you in the draw to win one of two Vodafone BlackBerry Pearl 8110s, worth $899 each. For the uninitiated, a BlackBerry is a fancy cell phone.

I've done it and it was quite interesting, although there was the odd question that seemed out of place, perhaps to scan for people that just blindly pick the same option for all answers without fully understanding the question. It will be interesting to see the results, although like all surveys, there are a few questions that I think will skew reality. For example it asks if you have ever read a horoscope or watched Sensing Murder. There should have been an option along the lines of "Yes I have but only to point out how flawed they are." I mean, who hasn't read a horoscope and even those of us that think they are crap will be counted as people that read horoscopes. I suspect the horoscope result will be "100% of Kiwis read horoscopes to varying degrees." The question should have been something like "Do you read horoscopes (or watch Sensing Murder) believing they have some validity?" Being an on-line survey will also bias who might complete it. My parents, like many of their age group, don't bother with this interweb thingy so their beliefs won't be factored into the survey. It's pity we couldn't include the questions in the next census.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 15 Aug, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend

Astronaut claims aliens are here
Last Friday night TV3's Campbell Live interviewed Dr Edgar Mitchell, a former NASA astronaut who walked on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission and now firmly believes and promotes the contention that aliens crashed at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. While the Roswell incident is one of the most well known alien stories — with numerous books, TV Autopsy shows, movies, magazine articles and websites duping a gullible public — the fact is that the story is just that, a story. Anyone that truly researches the facts of the Roswell incident will soon discover that there is no evidence of an alien spacecraft crash, no evidence of a coverup and tellingly, much deception from believers, including forged documents, fake alien autopsy movies and omission of crucial facts.

And furthermore Mitchell adds nothing new to the controversy. He wasn't there and is merely relying on his astronaut title to recount silly stories from 'old timers' as he calls them — Roswell "locals, and others military and intelligence people" of the period. He said they haven't been able to tell anyone about what they knew because they were under "severe oaths to not reveal any of this", and yet, strangely enough, here they are all spilling their guts to a complete stranger. Mitchell claims that they all "selected me and said, independently - this wasn't a group effort - independently that maybe I might be a safe person to tell their story to. And all of them confirmed... the Roswell incident was a real incident." All these 'old timers', people who Mitchell claims "were utterly sworn to secrecy under severe penalty if they talked", suddenly decided to ignore their oath — one that carried "severe threats and things" — and they all just happened — independently — to select Mitchell to squeal to. And yet Mitchell wants us to believe that if this communication actually happened it wasn't a group effort. That it was a mere coincidence that these 'old timers' all chose him. Bullshit. And if they all did in fact relate their alien fantasies to him, it's pretty obvious that they would have made sure they were all telling him the same story. They've had over 60 years to refine it. Yet when Mitchell tells their story to gullible reporters, he tells different stories. For example in one interview he claims that "The crash of an alien spacecraft in the Roswell area was a real event... the fact that dead bodies were recovered and live ones were recovered, that they were not of this world, was the story." Note that Mitchell indicates that more than one live alien was recovered — "live ones were recovered" — plural, and yet in his interview with John Campbell he said, "It was an alien spacecraft and... there were three bodies recovered and a live individual that... worked with authorities for some time." Why does he give actual numbers in one interview — three dead and one alive — that contradicts with another interview — unspecified dead and more than one alive? And what's the alien that worked for the authorities doing now? Retired in a nice little condo down in Florida perhaps or maybe CEO of some research company? I guess it depends on how long aliens live.

Mitchell comes across as deluded as others who believe aliens are visiting us. Their arguments are often childish, badly flawed and merely reveal their desire for aliens to be here. Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately if you've seen movies like Independence Day — the evidence doesn't support their desire. If you're interested, we've written an article stating why we don't believe there is any real evidence that aliens are visiting us. You can read it here. It's not about Roswell per se, but there are several links to articles concerning Roswell at the end of our article, here.

While these fluff pieces may bring in viewers who normally get their history and science from movies and the likes of 'Woman's Weekly', we wonder if intelligent, educated people like John Campbell lose sleep over the rubbish they are Campbell screening. It is my opinion that Campbell appeared not to believe Mitchell's story, so what benefit was there in screening the interview? If Mitchell's source — the 'old timers' — had come from Ireland and told him instead that they believed the existence of leprechauns was being covered up by the government, would Campbell have broadcast that interview? Or would he have said that this guy is a crank, with no evidence to support his claim, and refuse to help him spread a blatant fantasy? So why give Mitchell's alien fantasies nationwide publicity with no real attempt to debate them? I mean it's not as though Mitchell was in NZ spreading his delusion, Campbell Live had to actively seek him out in Florida. Why did they go to such lengths to feed us bullshit? It's just another example of the media knowingly feeding us lies in an attempt to bring in viewers, and hence advertising dollars. They know morons love all this mysterious stuff about aliens, ghosts, psychics and alternative histories like the unexplained skull we mentioned a couple of posts ago. Coupled with comprehensive updates on what Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are doing, they are willing to sacrifice their journalistic integrity if it stops viewers switching channels.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Aug, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Aug, 2008

    And now it's witchcraft that Campbell Live believe we need to know about. I just caught the end of last night's show where John Campbell was interviewing a Massey University lecturer who is teaching a course on witchcraft. Asked by Campbell if there is any proven case in history where a curse or spell worked, the lecturer refused to give a clear and categorical "No". Instead she said something along the lines of, 'Well people throughout history keep using witchcraft so that must say something about whether they believe it works.' That's like a science teacher saying, 'Well people throughout history thought the world was flat so there must be something to it.' While we have no problem with witchcraft being taught from an historical perspective or as an example of superstitious behaviour, we do wonder about a lecturer who isn't prepared to immediately deny there is any validity to it. Ask yourself how you would feel about a lecturer teaching students about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany who when asked, refused to say that what the Nazis did was wrong? Regardless of whether this lecturer actually believes in witchcraft, what impression, unintentionally perhaps, is she passing on to her students? I read one comment in an internet blog belonging to one person taking this paper, and she believes in withcraft.
    But like the piece on aliens, Campbell refused to seriously debunk the belief in witchcraft and failed to demonstrate that learning about witchcraft and believing in it are two completely different things. Like TV1's Good Morning show which today featured Sensing Murder psychic medium Sue Nicholson, Campbell Live is fast becoming our equivalent of that silly US tabloid The National Inquirer where all manner of nonsense is feed to a gullible public.

  2. Comment by Bob, 19 Aug, 2008

    I have a side comment. One of the characteristics of the fantasy brigade is their lack of imagination. Aliens as shown in your picture are depicted as variations of human beings. With big heads and large black eyes but just a variation of the human. But lifeforms are thrown up by mutations which are then selected naturally for suitability. The basic plan of torso, 4 legs or legs and arms and head holding brain, ears and eyes worked so became the plan for all advanced life here. That is the plan which was successful. Any variations on that probably required too many changes to take off.

    Now on another planet with no connection to earth why should the basic plan have been the same? I think we would have been better off with our brains in our chests. There they would have been protected by the ribcage much less liable to damage. The head is a heavy object to carry around having to be held up causing neck problems. I think different body plans would have evolved on other planets. In fact if I found the same body plan everywhere I would probably then be convinced there is a central designer.

    It's not hard to think up any number of possible weird and wonderful lifeforms. Think of the fantastic creatures being found on the bottom of the ocean. I am convinced there are numberless creatures with no end of variations right through the universe. Star Wars and it's variations tend to amuse and sadden me. The best Hollywood movie makers can think of are aliens who want to fight us. For thousands of years humans have lived in groups always afraid of the group over the hill resulting in constant wars. If aliens really came here they would probably regard us as savages and be very wary. I have little time for science fiction and somebody's imagination because I think reality is much more exciting. It is just a shame we have little chance of contacting other life in the universe because of the huge distances.

  3. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 20 Aug, 2008

    Bob, I agree entirely with your statement, "One of the characteristics of the fantasy brigade is their lack of imagination." They don't realise how limiting their view of the universe is. I let science fiction entertain me and rely on science to inform me. It's a shame that many let science fiction do both.

Chiropractors attack NZ Medical Journal
When I was younger I never heard of anyone visiting a chiropractor. I'm not even sure there were any chiropractors where we lived. I'd heard them mentioned on US TV sitcoms and in cartoons but Spine they didn't seem to have a high profile in NZ. I had the impression that people went to see them when they'd hurt their back and I always thought they were real doctors. I was wrong.

Now it seems the NZ Chiropractors' Association Inc is threatening the NZ Medical Journal with defamation for pointing out that fact. That is, the fact that they are not medical doctors.

In the 25 Jul 2008 issue of the NZ Medical Journal Professor David Colquhoun wrote an editorial entitled "Inappropriate use of titles by some alternative "medicine" practitioners", where he stated:

"Gilbey finds that the abuse of the title doctor is widespread and that chiropractors are the main culprits. An amazing 82% of 146 chiropractics used the title Doctor, and most of them used the title to imply falsely that they were registered medical practitioners."
This editorial was commenting on another article in the same issue by Andrew Gilbey entitled "Use of inappropriate titles by New Zealand practitioners of acupuncture, chiropractic, and osteopathy". We have the guys at Holford Watch to thank for alerting us to this situation. You can read their take on it here, and the NZ Medical Journal editorial here.

According to the lawyer for the NZ Chiropractors' Association Inc it seems they don't like it being revealed that the majority of chiropractors use the title Doctor to mislead the public, or the insinuation that people that use quacks masquerading as doctors are "weak-minded, ignorant and superstitious". It wasn't actually Prof Colquhoun who said this but a 1894 US newspaper article. Even back then intelligent people could see that simply calling yourself doctor didn't actually make you one.

Many people don't realise, including myself years ago, that chiropractors are part of the alternative therapy crowd, not the conventional medicine community where real medical doctors live and work. While there is some evidence that chiropractors can effectively treat lower back pain — although no better than other treatments — the problem is that a great many chiropractors believe they can treat all manner of diseases. It's like your motor mechanic saying that not only can he repair your car's faulty fuel pump, he can also consult his tarot cards and determine if any other repairs are needed. While it's likely he's qualified to repair fuel pumps, claiming he can use tarot cards to diagnose other unseen mechanical problems would be promoting nonsense, and a good reason for you to find another mechanic. Likewise, much of what chiropractors claim is pure pseudoscience. There is no evidence that they can treat diseases by manipulating your spine and plenty of evidence that they're talking crap. And unlike homeopathic treatments that can't directly cause harm since it's just plain water, chiropractors have killed people in rare cases. PH Long said "the public should be informed that chiropractic manipulation is the number one reason for people suffering stroke under the age of 45." (Stroke and spinal manipulation. J Quality Health Care. 2004;3:8-10). Chiropractors believe in silly things like 'subluxations' and 'innate intelligence' within the body, which have as much reality as chakras and a third eye. They believe displaced vertebrae and joints cause the likes of pinched nerves that in turn cause all organic diseases. Of course if this were true then paraplegics and quadriplegics who have severely damaged nerves should have bodies riddled with many different diseases compared to a healthy body. They don't. This crackpot idea also contradicts all we've learnt about germs as being the cause of many diseases. This silly view of what causes diseases is why many chiropractors speak out against vaccination.

Thus the NZ Chiropractors' Association Inc don't want the NZ Medical Journal exposing them as modern witchdoctors. But let's be realistic here, how many people outside the medical fraternity subscribe to the NZ Medical Journal? And real doctors already know that chiropractors are over there in the alternative therapy paddock. I won't call it alternative medicine because we all know it's not medicine. If it were it wouldn't have the prefix alternative. Medicine is medicine. So why didn't the idiots just keep quiet rather than getting lawyers involved and creating a fuss over an article that the public would otherwise have been oblivious to? If they had kept mum then I wouldn't have heard about it and you wouldn't be reading this. Remember the Catholic Church giving The Da Vinci Code unimagined and unintended publicity, alerting the world to the very thing they were trying to hide? Rather than learn from this mistake they did it all again trying to get South Park's episode Bloody Mary censored. As a result the show got the highest viewer rating ever it received. Now following the stupidity of the likes of the Catholic Church, the NZ Chiropractors' Association Inc believes that by creating a public fuss over their silly pseudoscience they can somehow hide their flawed beliefs from us. They're just not very bright it seems. Maybe that's why they're chiropractors rather than real doctors.

Thankfully the NZ Medical Journal has told them to either front up with evidence or to get lost, with the statement, "let's hear your evidence not your legal muscle."

In support of the NZ Medical Journal article contention that chiropractors attempt to mislead the public by calling themselves Doctor, which is illegal, we've noticed that a local Dunedin chiropractor used to advertise himself simply as Tat Loo. Now he has suddenly started to refer to himself as Dr Tat Loo, both in his adverts and on his webpage. Why has he suddenly added Doctor if not to fool us in to thinking that he is a registered medical practitioner?


Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 11 Aug, 2008 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by Bob, 14 Aug, 2008

    A doctor is the holder of a doctorate in some discipline. I don't know if it is illegal to call yourself a doctor when you hold no such qualification. It is more serious for the public to call yourself a medical doctor as against say a doctor of physics or mathematics when you are not. However it always sounds good. Christian fundamentalists in particular like to describe their leaders as doctor so and so usually with a qualification from a degree mill that no one has ever heard of.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Aug, 2008

    It seems that while anyone can call themselves Doctor, especially if they have a PhD for example, it is illegal to use this title if they work in healthcare and they are not a NZ registered medical practitioner. According to the NZ Medical Journal articles even people that have no qualifications can call themselves Doctor, such as The Hose Doctor or The Love Doctor, but NOT if they work in healthcare. Chiropractors usually gain a 'Doctor of Chiropractic'. While some may genuinely believe that this gives them the right to call themselves Doctor, they are wrong.

    In hindsight, people with PhDs should have been given some other title so they aren't confused with medical doctors, since as you say, many use it to give themselves expertise that they don't have. Like someone who calls himself Dr Bloggs and lectures us on genetic engineering, implying that the Dr title signifies knowledge, when in fact his doctorate is in medieval history.

  3. Comment by Bob, 14 Aug, 2008

    Your mention of Dr. Bloggs brings me to another though different point. People tend to talk about scientists as though they are an homogenous group all the same all believing the same thing. In fact science covers a lot of different occupations. For instance one scientist might work for the meat industry in meat research. Another qualified in chemistry works on plastics formulas. Another is a meteorologist and another an astronomer. When we come to creation and evolution we tend to think of a solid mass of scientists all supporting evolution. In fact the opinions of many have no more validity than the opinions of a tradesman. That might explain why some scientists with genuine qualifications join creationist societies or spout Intelligent Design. No doubt they are experts in their fields but hopelessly out of their depth in other fields.

    An ordinary person like myself has to take care not to give too much respect to any experts, scientist or otherwise, but to listen to them then work it out for himself. Titles tend to confer a sense of respect which is sometimes unwarranted. Imagine if you went to Mr. Jones for a medical opinion instead of Dr. Jones. It wouldn't be the same would it?

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 25 Feb, 2009

    In last week's Dunedin free weekly newspaper The Star, a reader complained about local chiropractor Tat Loo and his use of the title "Dr", and also his call to shun the new free vaccine for cervical cancer. Both Tat Loo and The Star's advertising manager wrote replies.

    Tat Loo claimed that some dentists and vets also call themselves doctor — and are evidently entitled to — but this is misleading. No dentist or vet claims that people should see them for their medical concerns rather than a real doctor, and no one is confused about where their expertise lies — teeth and animals respectively.

    The Star's advertising manger Sonia Gill wrote in defence of Tat Loo that the title "doctor" is not protected in law but "medical practitioner" is, and no one may claim, suggest or imply in advertising that they are a medical practitioner. Yet if working in the healthcare field, describing yourself as a qualified, registered healthcare professional, claiming you can heal people and keep them healthy, saying that people should avoid vaccinations and visit you instead for health protection — and calling yourself doctor — if this is not suggesting or implying you are a medical practitioner, then what is? Like most media, The Star is first and foremost interested in advertising revenue, and Tal Loo's large, weekly colour adverts must be of considerable importance to them. While Gill mentions Tat Loo by name twice in her reply, neither time does she call him Dr Tat Loo. She defends his right to use the title Dr but nevertheless still refuses to call him Dr.

    We again note that when Tat Loo began advertising in The Star he never referred to himself as "Doctor". It is only recently (May 2008) that this title has crept into his weekly ads. What advantage does he think it now confers that it didn't initially?

    His adverts read more like articles than advertising, he talks in an authoritative manner about medical matters such as vaccine risks and states that "Chiropractors use the same basic science knowledge base as other registered healthcare professionals". Tat Loo confusingly describes himself as a doctor who is a qualified, registered healthcare professional rather than a doctor who is a qualified, registered medical practitioner. Certainly he never identifies himself as a "medical practitioner", but then neither has any doctor I've ever met. I assumed by their title and their claims to be able to help me with my health problems that they were real doctors, so why wouldn't people assume the same with Dr Tat Loo?

    It is well-understood worldwide and in many languages what the title doctor means, and while working in the healthcare field Tat Loo is disingenuous to label himself as one. In a public venue, when someone cries out, "Is there a doctor in the house?", are they really looking for a chiropractor? And like all alternative medicine therapists, Tat Loo demonstrates his lack of confidence in his healthcare assertions by adding a disclaimer to his ads: "This content reflects personal opinions...". You don't see real doctors doing that.

    Tat Loo advertises himself as doctor solely to impress and confuse the general public, and The Star will support his scam as long as he pays them to.

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