Kia ora: With another year almost past it is time to recall our Humanist beginnings as outlined by Epicurus, who lived in Greece from 341 BC to 270 BC. Epicurus believed that what he called “pleasure” was the greatest good, but that the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one’s desires. These attitudes seem very relevant in today’s world, with climate change and inequality being massive issues. With Epicurean philosophy, humankind was first recognized as the centre of “the nature of things.” There is no place for superstition and divine intervention. It was this view of life that initiated the Renaissance period that brought Western civilization out of the Dark Ages and away from the dominating control of the Roman Catholic Church that had prevailed for more than one thousand years. Sadly, this humanist philosophy of life did not have enough momentum to overcome the publicly accepted meme of divinity, and it was again subverted for close to five hundred years. Michelangelo was greatly influenced by the Epicurean philosophy of life and sculptured the marvellous David that would be a symbol of man for Florence. Michelangelo selected David, as a symbol of a small man conquering a giant that all the people would recognize. So, here we are about to be carried by time into 2018. We must think again about living simply, gaining knowledge of our world, and to limit greed and consumerism. We send greetings to the Zimbabwe Humanist Society as their country endeavours to mould a new society, now that Mugabe has departed.

Monthly meeting: Monday December 4

End of Year Reflection

@ The Old Bailey 101 Lambton Quay, 6.30 pm

How has this year gone? Chew the cud about the past year. What are your predictions for 2018? The Humanist Society of NZ will host the General Assembly of the International Humanist and Ethical Society, the IHEU, August 3 til August 6, 2018. We welcome, and can discuss your suggestions for the Saturday 4 August Conference in Auckland with our overseas IHEU visitors and the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists. The General Assembly will be held on Sunday 5 August. On Monday 6 August the International Humanist Ethical Youth Organisation, the IHEYO, will have a meeting. There will then be an interval for travel to Wellington for a Closing Gathering on maybe Thursday 9 August or Friday 10 August. This will give our visitors time to visit some of our favourite spots on the way down. If you would like to help host a visitor on the journey down please be in touch.

Note the change of date to the 1st Monday, 4 December, and venue change.

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Venue: The Old Bailey, the private area to the left of the Bar.

2018 Humanist Society of NZ Officers and Committee: At the AGM the following people were elected to the positions of President: Sara Passmore, Vice-President: Mark Honeychurch, Treasurer: Lachman Prasad, Secretary: Gaylene Middleton, Committee: Iain Middleton, Pamela Mace, Jolene Phipps, Aaron Davies. We farewelled Rochelle Forrester and thank Rochelle for the nine years that she has spent with us on the committee. Rochelle has taken flight to London where she will indulge her passion for history by exploring the Museums. A cruise on the Rhine is planned and in the coming colder months Rochelle will move onto warmer Italy and Rome, and finally some time in Nepal to meet up with the two students whose education she has been sponsoring.

2018 Naenae College Eileen Bone Scholarship: This year’s scholarship in memory of Eileen Bone has been awarded to Duka Munhuu who is going to Victoria University to study design Innovation. She was born in NZ and is of Mongolian descent. Duka told us that she believes in living a life shaped by a set of core human values. Sara and Mark attended the Senior Prizegiving to meet with Duka and wish her well with her tertiary studies.

NZ Skeptics Awards announced at the 2017 Skeptics Conference

Bravo Awards:

Rob Stock  Don’t waste money on superfoods and supplements

On Stuff, Rob Stock published a great article talking about how “pharmacy shelves are filled with stuff no self-respecting clinician would endorse”. He went on to explain how misleading advertising is often used to give the false impression that herbal remedies, for example, work.

Duncan Grieve  Sensing Murder a ‘grotesque sham’

Duncan wrote an article for the NZ Herald slamming Sensing Murder, saying: “Sensing Murder, one of the most preposterous shows in New Zealand television history, made an unwelcome return from the grave last night.” “It’s a cruel fraud of a profession, practised by the confused, preying on the hopelessly vulnerable.”

Simon Maude Naturopathy under microscope after cancer sufferers speak from under shadow of death Simon wrote a great article about a Naturopath who was involved in treating the cancer of two patients who have died recently. The patients spoke out about how they think they made a mistake in trusting the naturopath. The naturopath’s response to Simon was “It’s not my place to refer them to a specialist, I can’t do that because I’m a naturopath”, which seems like nonsense to me. There’s no law that stops naturopaths from telling people that they are horribly unqualified to advise people with cancer and that they should see an oncologist. Although Simon didn’t name the naturopath, it only took a quick google of the qualification she is said to have earned from South Africa – an MDipNat.Herb – to find “Dr” Monica Maritz. Thankfully, and presumably as a result of Simon’s article, Monica decided to shut up shop. She told Simon: “I’ve just had it. At the end of the day it’s a thankless job, I’ve given my life to people to try and help them, I’ve had enough”

Bent Spoon Award Runners Up

Go Green Expo For the increasing amount of alternative medicine and other pseudoscientific nonsense at their annual expos, and the corresponding dwindling amount of real environmentally friendly products and services on display.

Vern Coxhead & Dr Mitch Feller For selling bleach as a cure for cancer to hundreds of New Zealanders.

Libby Weaver  For firstly using the word “mongolism” to talk about children with Down Syndrome and then being found out for having plagiarised the section of her book using that word from a 1990s conspiracy magazine article.

Bent Spoon Award Winner

The NZ Veterinary Association The NZVA have tried to perform a “balancing act” with their “complementary and alternative veterinary therapies” policy, but instead have ended up falling squarely into the pseudoscience camp. They’ve used an argument similar to the one we saw the Pharmacy Council use recently – that it’s better for professionals to administer alt-med, as they can warn people away from it. Of course, the NZ Skeptics’ secret shopper effort with pharmacists showed that rather than trying to talk people out of using alt-med, they enthusiastically promote it. We suspect that the same will be true with the NZVA’s new stance on alternative medicine – vets will likely not offer alternative therapies as a way to warn pet owners away from them, but rather as a way to make money from ineffective treatments.

Skeptic of the Year Award

The 2017 Denis Dutton award for New Zealand Skeptic of the Year is jointly awarded to Helen Petousis-Harris and Lance O’Sullivan for their courageous and highly visible contributions to the promotion of immunisation and vaccination in New Zealand.

2017 saw the release of the anti-vaccination propaganda film VAXXED, which features disgraced former gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, who was struck off the UK medical register for his fraudulent 1998 research paper suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Screenings of VAXXED took place around New Zealand.

There have also been a number of serious outbreaks of communicable diseases in New Zealand this year, including mumps, measles and whooping cough. The mumps outbreak is the most significant the country has experienced in over 2 decades.

Helen and Lance both made important and high-profile actions during the year in support of vaccination, and have been widely vilified by anti-vaccination proponents as a result.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris is the Academic Head of Immunisation Research and Vaccinology at the Immunisation Advisory Centre. She has also recently become a member of the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety. She is regularly contacted by journalists to comment on immunisation. She writes for SciBlogs, and several of her articles about immunisation and the VAXXED film saw wide circulation in the media. Dr Lance O’Sullivan is a medical doctor based in Kaitaia and was made New Zealander of the Year in 2014 for his work in rural healthcare. In May he took to the stage at the Kaitaia screening of VAXXED to discredit the anti-vaccine agenda and to discourage people from watching the film. His action made international news.

Looking for a Christmas Present? Check out Siouxsie Wiles’s, Brightenz-your life and mind, https://brightenz.net/ A kit has been developed, a collaboration of art and science using glowing living microbes. These are natural and completely harmless bacteria that glow in the dark only when they are alive. Intriguing and fascinating.

 

2017 AGM President’s Report – Sara Passmore

I am hugely proud and grateful for all the work of the Humanist Council for the past year. With the support of volunteers and members we’ve been able to continue to promote Humanism and work on behalf of the many New Zealanders who are not religious, to make sure their voices are heard in public policy and debate.

Our focus in the past year has been on campaigning. In this we have focussed on three main areas – repealing New Zealand’s blasphemy law, changing legislation on assisted dying, and ending religious instruction in state primary schools.

Blasphemy repeal

In May we called for the public to contact their MPs and ask them to support the repeal of Section 123 of the New Zealand Crimes Act [1961]. This campaign came in quick response to publicity after actor and humanist Stephen Fry was threatened with prosecution for blasphemy in Ireland. Although the campaign was well-supported, with politicians saying that the outdated law “could be gone by next week” it was not to be. Chris Hipkin’s Supplementary Order Paper which would have added the blasphemy law to the Statutes Repeal Bill was voted down by National and Māori Party MPs. We also asked to meet with Amy Adams which fell on deaf ears at the time of the passing of the Digital Communications Act. We are grateful to the work of our council member Iain Middleton for his diligence in reviewing legislation to inform this campaign.

Assisted dying

In September we presented oral evidence to the Health Select Committee on Assisted Dying. Our submission supported changes to New Zealand law to allow physician assisted dying under certain circumstances with appropriate safeguards. We affirmed that we uphold the right to life but we recognise that this right carries with it the right of each individual to make his or her own judgement about whether his or her life should be prolonged in the face of pointless suffering. We stated that being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must be understood to be a fundamental human right. We acknowledge the work of Humanists UK in laying the groundwork for us in developing our position on this issue.

Ending religious instruction in state primary schools

800 NZ public schools run Bible in Schools type programmes, also known as Religious Instruction. These are typically Christian-only devotional programmes run by Church missionaries with the intention of evangelising children. We have lent our weight to the campaign of the Secular Education Network (SEN) to end religious instruction in state primary schools. Since its formation, SEN their campaign has gained supporters from all religions and beliefs who want our schools to be secular and inclusive. They have mounted legal challenges to end discrimination in schools and protect children’s human rights, and they have raise the issue in the national media and made it a household topic of conversation.

Membership

We are a small membership organisation and have not been heavily promoting membership for the last few years. We have chosen to do this for two reasons. One, because we are in a strong financial position and so do not currently need to rely on membership fees to sustain our organisation. And two, because we see the body of people we represent as being far wider than those who want to participate in a membership organisation. Instead we have grown our Facebook audience to 660 people and our email list to 287 subscribers. By using technology effectively we can better communicate and represent New Zealanders from across the country..

Meetings

We have held monthly meetings on a variety of topics throughout the year, as well as special events with partner organisations.

Some key highlights include hosting British science teacher, humanist, and author of the Young Atheist’s Handbook Alom Shaha; a free film screening of A BETTER LIFE with a Q&A with the filmmaker Chris Johnson; and a visit from Jerry Coyne. We also covered topics like Effective Altruism, decision-making under uncertainty, and the Syrian refugee crisis.

The Future

Over the next year we will be promoting Humanism and secularism in the wake of the 2017 general election. We also plan to run a campaign before the 2018 census to encourage non-religious New Zealanders tick the ‘not religious’ box.

We also look forward to hosting the General Assembly alongside our national conference in Auckland from the 3rd – 6th August 2018, with a Closing Gathering in Wellington later in the week.

I would like to once again thank the Council for their commitment, support and encouragement.

It’s a Wrap for 2017: Every wish for a safe, relaxing and restorative summer break. There are two outstanding topics which I will include in early 2018 newsletters. Firstly, an account of Jonathon Harper’s insightful discussion on the injustice done to Peter Ellis and secondly, Part 2 of Iain Middleton’s Basic Income Calculator article. Today, 28/11/17 is International Giving Day, and the Victoria University Foundation, which administers our Eileen Bone Scholarship, has sent a Thank You letter with a student Thank You video you may watch on the following link.

                                       Gaylene Middleton