Long Island Medium is a television program on The (so-called) Learning Channel featuring Theresa Caputo doing readings as a psychic medium in the tradition of Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh, John Edward, and thousands of other men and women claiming to get messages from dead people. What are the odds that Caputo is not deluded or a fraud? I’d say they’re about the same as those for Gordon Smith or Allison DuBois or Char Margolis or Noreen Renier or Sylvia Browne or Rosemary Althea or Lynn Ann Maker or Greta Alexander or Phil Jordan or James Van Praagh or John Edward or George Anderson or Dorothy Allison.
Theresa Caputo is just one of many unsinkable rubber duckies, as James Randi calls them. No matter how many of these characters skeptics expose, dozens more will pop up to replace or join them. Why? Not because they really get messages from the dead or have special powers, but because people want to believe in them, people are easily deceived, and most people don’t understand subjective validation and how it works. For more on how subjective validation works see “Gary Schwartz’s Subjective Validation of Mediums.”
It is understandable that many people want to reconnect with loved ones who have died. Belief in the afterlife and in spirit communication seems natural to many people. People who are skeptical of life after death seem to be in a minority, so there is little reason to distrust such beliefs when there is substantial communal reinforcement for them.
Another reason these rubber duckies remain unsinkable is that they are playing a win-win game. Skeptics don’t have a chance against them. Even when caught in egregious falsehoods–as Sylvia Browne has been several times–support for their work increases rather than suffers. When Sylvia Browne appeared on the Montel Williams show and told the parents of a missing 10-year-old boy that their son was dead, she did not lose any followers when four years later Shawn Hornbeck was found alive. Browne had also claimed that the man who took Shawn was a “dark-skinned man, he wasn’t black — more like Hispanic.” She said he had long black hair in dreadlocks and was “really tall.” She was wrong on all counts.
She was also wrong about the vehicle driven by Michael J. Devlin, the man convicted of kidnapping and child molestation in the case. Another alleged psychic, James Van Praagh, said that two people were involved in the abduction and that a person who worked in a railroad car plant was involved and the body might be concealed in a railway car. He was wrong on all counts.
A look at Van Praagh’s message board will reveal why such errors do little to destroy people’s faith in characters like Browne or Van Praagh. To the devoted believer, the psychic can do no wrong. If there was an error, it wasn’t the psychic’s fault. What may appear to be an error may not really be an error. It’s possible the psychic got his or her wires crossed and mistook one spirit for another. And so on. And, as Van Praagh and Browne have often said, they’re not gods and not infallible. When you’re validated you’re right and when you’re wrong your fallibility is validated. For the alleged psychic it is always a win-win with your devoted followers.
MORE . . .
- Automatic writing (trance writing) (illuminutti.com)
- Is Caputo Kaputo Yet? (illuminutti.com)
- The Problem With Psychics Meddling With Missing Person Investigations (businessinsider.com)
- Social Media is a Gold Mine for Cold Readers (skeptools.wordpress.com)
- Social Media – A tool for “psychics” (bluelyon.wordpress.com)
- Psychic Devastates Dead Student’s Family (livescience.com)
- Is Caputo Kaputo Yet? (skepticblog.org)