Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Date: Sunday 20 October, 3pm.
Place: Lake Hawea Hotel

Our October discussion topic is Genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This covers any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.

There is controversy over GMOs, especially with regard to their release outside laboratory environments. Many of these concerns involve GM crops and whether food produced from them is safe and what impact growing them will have on the environment.

Two short videos that provide an introduction on GMOs are:

Scientific American – What are Genetically modified organisms?
Kurzgesagt – Are GMOs Good or Bad?

There is also a Royal Society talk on Genetic Tools for Pest Eradication this Friday evening by Professor Neil Gemmell that I highly recommend and we can use as a starting point for our conversation.

Cold/hot reading and other techniques commonly used by psychics

Cold reading is a technique used widely by mentalists, psychics, astrologist, fortune-tellers, tarot readers and horoscope writers who want to convince people that they posses some sort of paranormal abilities. It enables you to make complete strangers believe that you know a lot about them, even though you have never met them before. Using cold reading, you can tell them everything about their personality and reveal amazing details about their private life, without any prior knowledge. All you need to know are some simple tricks and techniques which can make anyone look like a mind reader.

(Hot reading is similar, but using information about the subject obtained prior to the reading.)

So, how does cold reading work? We will discuss the basic techniques to explain what exactly cold reading is and how it can be done.

Date – Sunday 15 September 2019
Time – 7-8.30pm
Location – Please get in touch to confirm location

Everyone welcome!

Electromagnetic Fields, Cell Towers and 5G

I’m really excited to announce that Martin Gledhill from EMF Services has agreed to talk us about safety concerning electromagnetic fields (5G and Cell towers)! (Bio below).

Because this is a rather controversial topic within the community, we have decided to make this a closed meeting for our group (and by invitation) so we can concentrate on the science rather than risk getting distracted by politics and/or conspiracy theories. Martin has kindly offered to hold a public meeting at a later date if there is demand.


Date – Monday 19 August
Time – 6-7pm
Location – Please get in touch to confirm location ([email protected])
Format – 30 minute presentation followed by 30 minute discussion
Cost – $5 (to help with cost of hall hire cost)


Martin Gledhill has an MA degree in Natural Sciences (Physics) from Cambridge University and an MSc in Medical Physics from the University of Otago. He is a member of the Australasian Radiation Protection Society and of the Bioelectromagnetics Society. He was head of the non-ionising radiation section at the National Radiation Laboratory of the New Zealand Ministry of Health, where he worked for over 20 years. In this position he:

Advised central and local government agencies on research findings into the health effects of ELF and RF fields and non-ionising radiation, and helping develop policy and information material in these areas
Presentation of expert evidence to local authority and Environment Court hearings on electrical infrastructure and radio transmitters
New Zealand representative to the WHO EMF Project

He is now heads EMF Services, a division of Monitoring and Advisory Services NZ Ltd (MAASNZ), that provides professional measurement and advisory services related to possible health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs), such as the extremely low frequency (ELF) electric and magnetic fields found around any wiring, appliances or infrastructure carrying mains electricity, and the radiofrequency (RF) fields produced by radio transmitters and some industrial equipment.

Sustainable Tourism: How many is too many?

Sunday 7 July, 7pm.
Albert Town Tavern.

Main Discussion Topic – Sustainable Tourism: How many is too many?

Join us to objectively discuss the future for tourism in Queenstown Lakes District and New Zealand, what are your thoughts or concerns? Consideration on how expected growth in the industry will impact wider development.

Designing Responsible Artificial Intelligence

Monday 27 May, 7pm.
Location TBC (but will be Lake Hawea).

Main Discussion Topic – Designing Responsible Artificial Intelligence

There will be a short presentation at the start of this meeting by Dave Sherwin (Head of Emerging Technologies for Datacom).

Designing responsible AI -> Help understand the ethical challenges when working with AI and have better control over the possible consequences on people and society.

Logical Fallacy to Discuss – Appeal to Nature.

Making your claim seem more true by drawing a comparison with the “good” natural world.

Should we continue using glyphosate (Roundup)?

Sunday 14 April, 7 pm.
Location: TBC.
Main discussion topic: Should we continue using glyphosate (Roundup)?
Logical fallacy: Confirmation Bias – when did you last fall victim to this fallacy?

For this meeting, I suggest we use our Critical Thinking skills to create an argument in standard form from our Glyphosate discussion:

P1 – Premise One
P2 – Premise Two
P3 – Premise Three
(continue for however many premises are required)
C Conclusion


Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant.

It was discovered to be an herbicide by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970. Monsanto brought it to market for agricultural use in 1974 under the trade name Roundup. Farmers quickly adopted glyphosate for agricultural weed control, especially after Monsanto introduced glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready crops, enabling farmers to kill weeds without killing their crops. In 2007, glyphosate was the most used herbicide in the United States’ agricultural sector and the second-most used (after 2,4-D) in home and garden.

Glyphosate is absorbed through foliage, and minimally through roots, and transported to growing points. It inhibits a plant enzyme involved in the synthesis of three aromatic amino acids: tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine. It is therefore effective only on actively growing plants and is not effective as a pre-emergence herbicide.

In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” (category 2A) based on epidemiological studies, animal studies, and in vitro studies.

In contrast, the European Food Safety Authority concluded in November 2015 that “the substance is unlikely to be genotoxic (i.e. damaging to DNA) or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans”, later clarifying that while carcinogenic glyphosate-containing formulations may exist, studies “that look solely at the active substance glyphosate do not show this effect.”

The WHO and FAO Joint committee on pesticide residues issued a report in 2016 stating the use of glyphosate formulations does not necessarily constitute a health risk, and giving admissible daily maximum intake limits (one milligram/kg of body weight per day) for chronic toxicity.

In June 2018, Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old former California school groundskeeper who is dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, took Monsanto to trial, alleging that it has spent decades hiding the cancer-causing dangers of its Roundup herbicides. The jury awarded Johnson US$289 million in damages.


IARC Monograph on Glyphosate
NZ Herald – Roundup controversy and NZ
New Zealand Food Safety – Glyphosate
National Pesticide Information Centre (US)

Wilding Pines – what are the problems and possible benefits of these trees

Sunday 10 February, 7pm.

Lake Hawea Community Centre (Main Hall).

20% of New Zealand will be invaded by wilding conifer forests within 20 years without rapid action. Wilding conifers currently cover more than 1.8 million ha of land, and are spreading at an estimated rate of 5% a year. (Source: DOC website).

Some relevant links and possible discussion points:

DOC Website  Wilding Conifers

“As wilding conifers overwhelm our native landscapes, they kill our native plants, and evict our native animals. They also have a huge impact on our economy. They suck valuable water out of catchments, they add big costs to farming and they impact on tourism and recreational opportunities.”

Biosecurity NZ

“It’s estimated about $11 million is spent each year on wilding conifer control nationwide. In May 2016, the government pledged an extra $16 million over 4 years for the first phase of a national control programme. The new funding will be used to tackle wilding conifers in the highest priority areas.”

Landcare Research

“Wilding conifers are a problem primarily in the Marlborough Sounds, the South Island high country and the central plateau of the North Island, but are also invading natural habitats in Otago.”

NZ Farm Forestry Association

“It is largely a myth that most wildings can fetch good money in timber or fibre sales. ”

“Forests established after 1989 can now be registered with the ETS, after which there is an allocation of carbon credits, acknowledging the amount of CO2 taken out of the atmosphere and stored in the trees. …some wilding forests (not all) can qualify for ETS registration.”

UK Forestry Commission Report

“The carbon sequestered (or stored) by half a hectare of conifer woodland over one rotation can compensate for the carbon dioxide emissions associated with carfuel consumption during one average driver’s lifetime.”




2019 Discussion Program

  • Wilding Pines – what are the problems and possible benefits of these trees (February)
  • 1080 – closed meeting just for established members (March)
  • Glyphosate (Roundup) – Jury vs Science (April)
  • The Ethics around Artificial Intelligence (May)
  • Logical and rhetorical fallacies (June)
  • Sustainable tourism – how many is too many (July)
  • Toxiplasmosis and how it (and other neuro influencing parasites) might be affecting human behavior and even culture (August)
  • Cold/hot reading and other techniques commonly used by psychics and mentalists (September)
  • Resistance in parasites and microbes (October?)
  • GMOs (November)

Meetings are on: Second Sunday of each month, 7pm. Location varies. Please get in touch with us to find out more.

‘Sceptics in the Pub’ monthly meetup

Friday 9 November 2018, 7pm – Lake Hawea Hotel

Come along to our ‘Sceptics in the Pub’ meetup!

This months topics for discussion will be: 1. Water Chlorination. 2. Logical Fallacies.

Water Chlorination Links

QLDC – Disinfection of network drinking water supplies to protect public health

Ministry of Health – Drinking Water Guidance & Information

WHO – Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality – Information on chlorination by-products. Information on alternative treatments. (From page 171.)

QLDC Website – with some interesting links at the bottom.

Scientific American Q&A – How does chlorine added to drinking water kill bacteria and other harmful organisms? Why doesn’t it harm us?

IARC Book – Click PDF button to download. – Evaluates the carcinogenic risk to humans posed by the consumption of chlorinated drinking-water, by two chemicals used in the chlorination of drinking-water, and by a number of halogenated by-products formed when chlorine interacts with organic matter in water.

Bladder Cancer and Exposure to Water Disinfection By-Products through Ingestion, Bathing, Showering, and Swimming in Pools

Reply from NZ Dermatological Society Incorporated when posed with the question ‘Does chlorinated drinking water cause dry skin’.

High doses of chlorine in water is associated with irritable eyes, dry irritable skin and hair. However, the concentration in water supplies is much lower than that used in swimming pools (which in turn seldom cause significant public health issues, and are mitigated by wearing swimming goggles, swimming caps and applying liberal emollient to the skin in sensitive individuals who spend a lot of time in and around swimming pools), so is extremely unlikely to be an issue for people drinking and bathing municipal chlorinated water supplies. Moreover, chlorinated water is safer to drink (lessens risk of Havelock North type of community gastroenteritis E coli outbreaks) and adding chlorine bleach to bath water weekly is an internationally recognised treatment approach for managing patients with eczema who are prone to recurrent skin infections. They are a group of people with very sensitive skin and are helped by chlorinated water.

DR L Reiche, NZDSI

Logical Fallacies Link

Here is a list of Rhetological Fallacies – Errors and manipulation of rhetoric and logical thinking

Hope to see you there!


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