Last week, the British newspaper, “The Daily Mail,” acquiesced in the face of a lawsuit filed by Sally Morgan, aka “Psychic Sally,” a talk-to-the dead medium and self-styled professional psychic. The paper agreed to pay £125,000 in libel damages and issued a full apology for running a story written by the British magician, Paul Zenon, which alleged that Ms. Morgan had relied upon concealed electronics in order to gain information used in a public performance of psychic readings and mediumship.
Obviously this is a tremendous disappointment to skeptics everywhere, because many in the general public will take the judgment as some kind of evidence that Morgan is genuinely psychic. Of course there is no basis in the judgment for such an interpretation because the case was purely about whether the paper could prove that Morgan had used the alleged radio devices and hidden earpieces to gain information about her subjects. The case began when two women who were at the show in question later called into a local radio talk show and claimed they heard Morgan repeating information that they overheard in transmissions from the production crew’s headsets. Morgan immediately denied the charges and the venue eventually announced that the crew in question was a local house crew that was not on Morgan’s payroll.
Given what we know of the British libel system, albeit very recently reformed and legally improved, we might speculate that the paper decided that it was less costly to settle now rather than pursue the case in the courts, with an uncertain outcome. Then again, with the theater confirming that the crew in question was not in Morgan’s employ, it does seem quite conceivable that the assumptions made by the women callers were in error. It is simply sad to see someone who makes their living on the dubious claims of Ms. Morgan ends up being further rewarded beyond the already grotesque sums she makes portraying herself as a communicator with the dead relatives of grieving supplicants.
But I think there are also lessons to be had for skeptics in these events, beyond thoughts about the British libel system.
Skeptics – even skeptical magicians – can and have often been misled by their own complex theories about how phony psychics ply their trade. When Uri Geller first came on the scene, the noted magician and author Milbourne Christopher theorized that Geller was using corrosive chemicals on his hands in order to achieve his “psychic” spoon-bending. Christopher was an expert magician and a skeptic, but he was fooled by Geller, and concocted an elaborate but completely mistaken theory in order to fill the gap in his knowledge and understanding.
Similarly, the two women who thought that Sally Morgan was getting inside information relayed by her crew were doubtless sincere in their theorizing, perhaps because they did not believe that Morgan was psychic, but could not explain how she was achieving success with her readings.
- Psychic Sally Damages (In More Ways Than One) (randi.org)
- Sally Morgan Libel Suit (theness.com)
- British Psychic TV Channels Fined For Not Telling Viewers It’s All B.S. (illuminutti.com)