Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993
Description via PBS.org:
Can psychics predict the future? Many people seem to think so. Others argue that, in most cases, so-called psychic experiences are really misinterpretations of events. In this episode of NOVA, magician and confirmed skeptic James Randi challenges viewers to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of psychic phenomena.
Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers. The program highlights some of the methods and processes he uses to examine psychics’ claims. Using his own expertise in creating deception and illusion, Randi challenges specific psychics’ claims by duplicating their performances and “feats,” or by applying scientific methods. His goal is to eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the psychic phenomena. He also looks for evidence that they are not merely coincidental. His arguments can motivate your class to discuss the differences between psychic performances and legitimate cases of unexplained phenomena.
From October 2017 –
TODAY Show national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen set out to test if psychics could predict his future … for a fee.
Another Law School for You
WASHINGTON, December 24, 2017: Psychics, or fortune-tellers, predict information about a person’s life. For most people, sitting in front of a psychic is for fun. The laugh is worth the five dollars. Unfortunately for some, the weak or vulnerable, consulting a psychic is too often a sure way to lose significant money and to be emotionally thrown down the proverbial rabbit’s hole.
Psychics in person, online, or on the telephone, cheat people experiencing times of trouble in the areas of romance, money, and health. Those who are lonely, have undergone a recent romantic breakup, who have suffered a financial setback, who have been sued, are sick, or have sick relatives sometimes turn to psychics. They actually pay these frauds significant sums of money so that they can hear their future in the hope that their future will be better.
P.T. Barnum, of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus fame, is widely credited for his understanding of this phenomenon. He summed it up in one famous statement: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Millions consult psychics, mediums, palmists, card readers and others who claim supernatural abilities to predict the future every year. In one 2009 study, the Pew Forum found that in that year about 1 in 7 people reach out to psychics or other types of fortune-tellers.
Regulation of psychics
While virtually every part of our lives is regulated in some way, it is shockingly surprising that these fraudulent psychics are not as regulated as one might think. Laws governing fraud exist in every state. But few states actually have laws addressing the scams perpetrated by psychics and their like.
Regulating an industry that calls itself supernatural is challenging. Particularly one that claims it is beyond the understanding of modern science and one that has no educational requirements. Yet these fortune tellers charge, often heavily, for their services.
Some psychics claim their services are a religious activity. They claim their earnings are similar to donations made to other religious organizations, i.e., not taxed. Others offer that they are entertainers. They even post disclaimers to shield themselves from any losses or injuries suffered by their customers who take their advice. Some rely on the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation. While some psychics are known to cheat and acquire information ahead of time, these ten tips focus on what is known as “cold reading” — reading someone “cold” without any prior knowledge about them.
I’ve discussed here and here how practitioners of paranormal piffle wish to look scientific. They fail under actual scientific scrutiny but, we have to admit, they are pretty effective at bamboozling the public with a sciencey show.
I came across a news story in Business Insider about an astrologer who was doing mighty well for herself. In times of uncertainty, society tends to turn to anything that will give them a sense of control. Astrologic and psychic advisors seem to fill that role for some people, even professional businesspeople. This astrologer, who thinks quite highly of her craft, had these things to say:
“What I do is scientific. Astrology involves careful methods learned over years and years of training and experience.”
“There are so many things we don’t understand in the world. What if 200 years ago someone had said that these metal barrels in the sky would get us around the world in a few hours? Or that we’d inject ourselves with mold to treat illnesses? People are so skeptical.”
And then I laughed.
Few examples of pseudoscience are more perfect than astrology, which has been studied A LOT, and whose practitioners still cannot demonstrate a root in reality.
Space is full of unexplored mysteries and secrets. Despite Mankind’s achievements in Space Exploration, we have barely scratched the surface of what lies in deep space. Here are the 10 Biggest Space Conspiracies Of All Time.
These theories are purely abstract and without hard evidence to support them … they cannot be proven.
A critical analysis of archeology leads to rejection of astrology, conspiracies, etc.
The world as a whole has become increasingly reliant on science to provide its technology and inform its policy. But rampant conspiracy theories, fake news, and pseudoscience like homeopathy show that the world could use a bit more of the organized skepticism that provides the foundation of science. For that reason, it has often been suggested that an expanded science education program would help cut down on the acceptance of nonsense.
But a study done with undergrads at North Carolina State University suggests that a class on scientific research methods doesn’t do much good. Instead, a class dedicated to critical analysis of nonsense in archeology was far more effective at getting students to reject a variety of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. And it worked even better when the students got their own debunking project.
The study, done by Anne Collins McLaughlin and Alicia McGill, lumps together things like belief in astrology, conspiracy theories, and ancient aliens, calling them “epistemically unwarranted.” Surveys show they’re widely popular; nearly half the US population thinks astrology is either somewhat or very scientific, and the number has gone up over time.
You might think that education, especially in the sciences, could help reverse this trend, but McLaughlin and McGill have some depressing news for you. Rejection of epistemically unwarranted ideas doesn’t correlate with scientific knowledge, and college students tend to have as much trouble coming to grips with reality as anyone else.
Joe and Neil discuss a wide variety of topics, including the flat earth conspiracy theory.
VSauce blows my mind. I love it. 🙂
VSauce (Michael Stevens) blows our minds . . . again.
Say you’re not one to believe the mainstream media. Maybe you think climate change is an elaborate hoax or the medical community is trying to hide the myriad dangers of vaccinations. Perhaps you are utterly convinced the government is overrun by reptilian beings.
Where on Earth can you go to get away from it all, and mingle with those who share your views? Well, Conspira-Sea, of course. It’s a seven-day cruise where fringe thinkers can discuss everything from crop circles to mind control on the open sea. Last month’s cruise featured a caravan of stars from a surprisingly vast galaxy of skeptics and conspiracy theorists, including Andrew Wakefield, known for his questionable research and advocacy against vaccines. Also aboard was Sean David Morton, who faced federal charges of lying to investors about using psychic powers to predict the stock market.
But they had an outsider among them, and not one from another planet. Harvard-educated attorney Colin McRoberts is writing a book about people who believe in conspiracy theories, and used a crowdfunding campaign to book passage on the cruise. He blogged about his adventure and told us all about it—including the bit where the IRS arrested Morton when the ship returned to port.
What were some of the conspiracies discussed on board?
We had about a dozen presenters of all different stripes. Some technical or scientific experts, but only one scientific speaker, Wakefield, had a legitimate education. The rest were into new-age or were conspiracy theorists in the traditional sense. Or aliens. They all had their various specialties.
What was the relationship between the attendees and observers like you on board?
It was a very tense environment on the boat. There were a couple of instances in which the journalists on board had been treated poorly by a couple of the presenters. One of the journalists was ambushed in the Internet cafe by a couple who had accused her of being an agent of the CIA. She managed to persuade them that she was not an undercover agent.
Also see Colin McRoberts’ daily blogs of his trip:
By Joseph L. Flatley via The Kernel
In the year 1543, the Pope teamed up with Copernicus, the Church of England, and possibly Aristotle (who, inconveniently, had died in 322 B.C.) to convince unsuspecting Europeans that, despite the Earth’s obvious flatness, it’s actually a sphere, and that the sun is the center of the universe. In the years since, the usual bad guys—Catholics, Jews, and bankers—have jealously guarded the secret of the flat Earth. And with the birth of the space age, NASA (basically a joint project between the Freemasons and the Nazis) got involved. That, at least, is the story according to the Flat Earth Truthers, a small but vocal group who believe that the world is flat, and that this knowledge is the key to understanding who really runs the world.
Eric Dubay is arguably the most visible Flat Earth Truther. On his Blogger bio, Dubay describes himself as just another 30-something American cool dude, “living in Thailand where I teach Yoga and Wing Chun part-time while exposing the New World Order full-time.” That work involves publishing exposés like “Dinosaur Hoax – Dinosaurs Never Existed!” and “Adolf Hitler vs. The Jew World Order.” That’s right—the Jew World Order.
Dubay’s latest e-book is titled 200 Proofs Earth is Not a Spinning Ball. In it, he lays out the basics of modern flat Earth theory. The moon, he writes, is a self-luminescent, semitransparent object, not solid at all. The International Space Station, which you can actually see through a telescope, is really a drone or a hologram (like the planes that hit the World Trade Center). And the Earth itself is a disc, like the emblem on the flag of the United Nations, or an old Beatles record. The North Pole is in the center of the disc, where you secure it to the turntable, and traveling south takes you to the beginning of Track 1 (“Taxman”). Antarctica, instead of being a continent, is a wall of ice that rings ’round the edge of the disc, holding the oceans in place.
According to Dubay, this is all common sense.
By Elizabeth Palermo via LiveScience.com
People who believe in ghosts may be more afraid of actual, real-world dangers — things like violent crimes or nuclear war — than are people who don’t hold paranormal beliefs, a new survey finds.
The Survey of American Fear asked people in the United States to divulge the terrors that keep them up at night. For the survey, nearly 1,500 participants responded to questions about 88 different fears and anxieties, ranging from commonplace phobias (like fear of heights) to less tangible concerns (like fear of government corruption). The survey also asked participants about their beliefs concerning paranormal and mythical things, like ghosts, Bigfoot and ancient aliens.
“The reason we ask [about paranormal things] on the survey is that we’re interested in finding out what kind of clusters of beliefs tend to be associated with fear,” Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman University in California and leader of the second annual Fear Survey, told Live Science.
Last year in the survey, researchers asked questions that gauged the respondents’ scientific reasoning. This was done to find out how the individuals’ knowledge of scientific ideas (how electricity works, why the sun sets in the west, etc.) related to those respondents’ fears. But this year, the focus was on supernatural beliefs, not scientific ones.
Bader and his colleagues found that quite a few Americans hold paranormal beliefs. The most common of these is the belief that spirits can haunt particular places; 41.4 percent of the demographically representative group of participants said they held this belief. A lot of Americans (26.5 percent) also think that the living and the dead can communicate with each other in some way, the survey found.
Many survey participants said . . .
New Scientist usually puts out great stuff, but this video? Eh. I was tossed up over whether to post it or not. Check it out for yourself, maybe i’m missing something. 🙂
Full story: http://bit.ly/1IXg7Yu
Every now and then an idea comes along that upends how we see ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The rumblings of the next revolutions in our thinking may already have started. Here are four potential “what ifs” with the potential to change us forever.
There are times that I think the woo-woos are engaging in an elaborate game of self-parody, just to see how far they can push us skeptics before we realize that it’s all a huge joke.
Or at least, I live in that hope, because it’s better than the alternative, which is that these people are serious whackjobs. Take, for example, the case of the astrologer who recently commented on a crop circle that occurred in 2011 near Stonehenge:
Those of you are are aficionados of punk rock may recognize this as the logo of Crass (to the right), a punk rock band formed in the 1970s that was involved in the anarchic/political end of the punk spectrum, and which produced several albums, including the memorable Penis Envy.
Not much doubt, is there? Some wag with a taste for punk and way too much free time decided to make a crop circle as an homage to his (or her) favorite band. As we’ve seen before, crop circles can be generated in short order as long as you have some kind of device to orient yourself and a piece of plywood with which to flatten the crops. No other explanation necessary, not that we’d be likely to look for one given that it’d be an odd alien race that would come all the light years to Earth and leave behind a punk rock logo as their only communiqué.
That point, however, apparently flew past astrologer Donna Provancher so quickly that it didn’t even ruffle her hair. Excuse me, though; Provancher isn’t an astrologer, she says she’s an “astronomologer.” What, exactly, is an “astronomologer,” you may be asking? In her words, “astronomology is the practice of astrology using astronomy to build the chart and supply new insights.”
Which doesn’t sound that different from astrology, frankly. It’s as if I decided to open a practice doing Tarot card readings and started calling it “Tarothematics” because the Tarot cards have numbers on them, and expected that people should take me more seriously than the ordinary Tarot card readers because of it.
Be that as it may, Provancher was just enthralled by the crop circle, and had a wonderful explanation of what it meant. None of which, I hasten to say, had anything to do with punk rock. Here’s Provancher’s explanation . . .
Palmistry, also known as chiromancy, is the practice of telling fortunes from the lines, marks, and patterns on the hands, particularly the palms.
Palmistry was practiced in many ancient cultures, such as India, China and Egypt. The first book on the subject appeared in the 15th century. The term chiromancy comes from the Greek word for hand (cheir).
Palmistry was used during the middle ages to detect witches. It was believed that certain spots on the hand indicated one had made a pact with the Devil. Palmistry was condemned by the Catholic Church but in the 17th century it was taught at several German universities (Pickover, 64). Britain outlawed palmistry in the 18th century. It is popular enough in America in the 20th century to deserve its own book in the Complete Idiot’s Guide series.
According to Ann Fiery (The Book of Divination), if you are right handed, your left hand indicates inherited personality traits and your right hand indicates your individuality and fulfillment of potential. The palmist claims to be able to read the various lines on your hand. These lines are given names like the life line, the head line, the heart line, the Saturne line. The life line supposedly indicates physical vitality, the head line intellectual capacity, the heart line emotional nature, etc.
Some palmistry mimics metoposcopy or physiognomy. It claims that you can tell what a person is like by the shape of their hands. Creative people have fan-shaped hands and sensitive souls have narrow, pointy fingers and fleshy palms, etc. There is about as much scientific support for such notions as there is for personology or phrenology. All such forms of divination seem to be based on sympathetic magic and cold reading.
I just saw the trailer of a new movie, The Principle. The movie is produced by Robert Sungenis, who writes the blog Galileo Was Wrong. Sungenis is what we technically call a kook. He believes the earth is at the center of the universe and that there was no Jewish holocaust, but rather the Jews were conspiring with Satan to take over the world.
Sungenis, however, is apparently a kook with money, so he is making a documentary film preaching his bizarre notions to the world. This much is nothing new. There are plenty of such films out there, like What the Bleep Do We Know and Expelled. They superficially follow the science documentary format, but they have an ideological agenda.
This film, unfortunately, will be narrated by Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. Old Star Trek stars lending their fame to pseudoscience is also, sadly, nothing new.
I was surprised to see Lawrence Krauss and Michio Kaku in the film. I know that Kaku has been flirting with the edges of responsible science promotion, but not Krauss. I suspect that they were duped into being interviewed for the film.* Perhaps they were not aware of the film’s editorial stance. (I will be seeing Krauss this weekend and will ask him.)
Krauss did tweet about the movie: “It is nonsense,” in case there was any doubt there.
It seems that Krauss and Kaku are there to simply say how strange and mysterious the cosmos are, and to discuss the edges of our current knowledge. This is a common ploy – focus on what we do not currently know in order to make it seem like we don’t know anything. The movie trailer opens with Mulgrew saying that everything we think we know about the universe is wrong.
Apparently Sungenis thinks he is smarter than the entire scientific community. Perhaps he thinks that modern science is all a conspiracy.
*Update: This is from Krauss’s blog:
“I have no recollection of being interviewed for such a film, and of course had I known of its premise I would have refused. So, either the producers used clips of me that were in the public domain, or they bought them from other production companies that I may have given some rights to distribute my interviews to, or they may have interviewed me under false pretenses, in which case I probably signed some release. I simply don’t know.”
The Principle trailer via YouTube
I thought i’d do my duty and let everybody know the world is going to end tonight or tomorrow night – maybe, kinda, NOT! But you KNOW the loons are out there screaming apocalyse!!!!
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Via 'Blood Moon' Attracts Stargazers, Conspiracy Theories – YouTube:
After my recent run as a cut-rate media critic with the 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to resist taking on another television show. Fortunately, the highly anticipated Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey has premiered only a few weeks later. Time to cut my media-writing chops on some higher quality fare.
I want to do something different with these than a simple recap. A review would be fun, but every media outlet on the Internet seems to have a review of the new Cosmos series already, so adding one more seemed like a wasted effort. Instead, I’ve decided to take bit of a skeptical eye to the proceedings, watching each episode and identifying the high points and the low points — the Best of and Worst of the new Cosmos, if you will. So without further ado …
Episode 1: “Standing Up in the Milky Way”
THE BEST MOMENTS
First off, the host. I’ve liked Neil deGrasse Tyson ever since the days when he hosted NOVA ScienceNow, and I listen regularly to his Star Talk radio podcast; so I knew going in that he would probably slip nicely into Carl Sagan’s role as narrator of the series. He did not disappoint. While he’s not quite the noble poet of science that Sagan was, he has an affable way of making scientific ideas accessible and entertaining to the lay person, which is exactly what this series needed in 2014 on FOX. This isn’t Tyson as the fierce science advocate, though; instead, this is Tyson playing the straight man to the wonders of the universe.
Second, I’m really fond of the visual narrative motif built into the Spaceship of the Imagination. I think most people can agree that the Spaceship is one of the cornier moments of the original Cosmos; so if it had to come back for this sequel, why not make it a more functional part of the narration? The visual cue of Beneath/Past, In Front/Present, Above/Future is a elegantly simple way to help cue viewers in a series that is so often going to be jumping back and forth. Not paying close attention to every word Tyson says? Well the shot is moving “Below,” so whatever they’re about to talk about must be science history. Subtle but effective.
Finally, some of the FX visualizations during the “Cosmic Address” segment were pretty cool. The Spaceship flying past the Mars Rover; the visualization of the inside of Saturn’s rings; the dark, icy rogue planet — honestly, I just enjoyed the whole tour of the universe. Opening with the whole concept of scope — and how being tiny doesn’t mean we have to be insignificant — set a fine tone for things to come.
THE WORST MOMENTS
I think the weak point of the first episode was definitely the animated Giordano Bruno story. The whole sequence fell flat for a number of reasons.
The online psychic industry is a seemingly bottomless collection of clairvoyants, tarot card readers, psychic healers, and other people in purple outfits. Like its predecessor, the psychic telephone hotline, and its contemporary, the “internet modeling” industry (which involves less clothing and more talking than the more traditional modeling industry), online psychics typically charge several dollars a minute for personal encounters, with some charging as much as $200 for a 30-minute session, making seeing a psychic often as expensive as seeing a therapist.
Those who doubt the existence of psychic abilities point to the fact that clairvoyance would go against everything we know about science. But the vagueness of psychic powers poses a real problem when someone offers them for a price: when a psychic’s service cannot be pegged down by science, the practitioner can claim to do nearly anything… including curing cancer, ending suicidal depression, or bringing a lover back who is long, long gone. In fact, I once had a psychic tell me that my newly-ended four year relationship was “not over yet.” Fortunately for me and my ex, she was wrong.
But what happens when someone goes to a psychic for something really serious? I visited one of the most popular live-psychic sites on the internet, Oranum, and spent five hours speaking to thirteen of their psychics. Knowing I would never again have the patience for such a venture, I picked the boldest claim I could think of: I told each psychic that I had serious, life-threatening cancer. At first, that was all the information they got. But if asked, I was prepared with a back story: It was stage 3 ovarian cancer, and among other treatments, my doctor wanted to me undergo chemotherapy. I instead preferred, I said, “to find a spiritual solution.”
How many of the psychics would offer to help me skip medicine in favor of psychic healing?
The first psychic I spoke to said that she could not tell me to stop seeing my doctor. “That’s against the law, okay?” she said, looking directly in the camera, at me and the others who were tuned into her “channel.” We were all typing in a group, trying to grab her attention, but the word “cancer” had apparently won. Someone else in the group thought she was talking to them anyway.
“Why are you talking about cancer? Oh my god, do I have cancer?!” they asked.
I quickly left, satisfied that this psychic had refused to endorse my choice not to get real treatment from a real doctor.
The second psychic, a young woman with only two other people in her chat room, was eager to . . .
“I believe in a lot of astrology.” So commented pop megastar Katy Perry in a recent GQ interview. She also said she sees everything through a “spiritual lens”…and that she believes in aliens.
According to data from the National Science Foundation’s just-released 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators study, Americans are moving in Perry’s direction. In particular, the NSF reports that the percentage of Americans who think astrology is “not at all scientific” declined from 62 percent in 2010 to just 55 percent in 2012 (the last year for which data is available). As a result, NSF reports that Americans are apparently less skeptical of astrology than they have been at any time since 1983.
The data on Americans’ astrological beliefs are compiled by NSF but come from a variety of sources; since 2006 they have come from the General Social Survey. Over the years, the GSS and other surveys have asked Americans a recurring question: “Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?”
In response, a substantial minority of Americans, ranging from 31 to 45 percent depending on the year, say consider astrology either “very scientific” or “sort of scientific.” That’s bad enough—the NSF report compares it with China, where 92 percent of the public does not believe in horoscopes—but the new evidence suggests we are also moving in the wrong direction. Indeed, the percentage of Americans who say astrology is scientifically bunk has been declining ever since a high point for astrology skepticism in 2004, when it hit 66 percent.
The recent increase in astrological credulity was most dramatic among those with less science education and less “factual knowledge,” NSF reported. In the latter group, there was a staggering 17 percentage point decline in how many people were willing to say astrology is unscientific, from 52 percent in 2010 to just 35 percent in 2012. Also apparently to blame are younger Americans, aged 18 to 24, where an actual majority considers astrology at least “sort of” scientific, and those aged 35 to 44. In 2010, 64 percent of this age group considered astrology totally bunk; in 2012, by contrast, only 51 percent did, a 13 percentage point change.
The word “pseudoscience” is used to describe something that is portrayed as scientific but fails to meet scientific criteria.
This misrepresentation occurs because actual science has creditability (which is to say it works), and pseudoscience attempts to ride on the back of this credibility without subjecting itself to the hard intellectual scrutiny that real science demands.
Other things typically branded pseudoscience include astrology, young-Earth creationism, iridology, neuro-linguistic programming and water divining, to name but a few.
What’s the difference?
Key distinctions between science and pseudoscience are often lost in discussion, and sometimes this makes the public acceptance of scientific findings harder than it should be.
Other misconceptions about science include what the definition of a theory is, what it means to prove something, how statistics should be used and the nature of evidence and falsification.
Because of these misconceptions, and the confusion they cause, it is sometimes useful to discuss science and pseudoscience in a way that focuses less on operational details and more on the broader functions of science.
What is knowledge?
The first and highest level at which science can be distinguished from pseudoscience involves how an area of study grows in knowledge and utility.
The philosopher John Dewey in his Theory of Inquiry said that we understand knowledge as that which is “so settled that it is available as a resource in further inquiry”.
This is an excellent description of how we come to “know” something in science. It shows how existing knowledge can be used to form new hypotheses, develop new theories and hence create new knowledge.
It is characteristic of science that our knowledge, so expressed, has grown enormously over the last few centuries, guided by the reality check of experimentation.
In short, the new knowledge works and is useful in finding more knowledge that also works.
No progress made
Contrast this with homeopathy, a field that has generated no discernible growth in knowledge or practice. While the use of modern scientific language may make it sound more impressive, there is no corresponding increase in knowledge linked to effectiveness. The field has flat-lined.
At this level of understanding, science produces growth, pseudoscience does not.
To understand this lack of growth we move to a lower, more detailed level, in which we are concerned with one of the primary goals of science: to provide causal explanations of phenomena.
I’ve written more than once about astrology, a slice of woo-woo that has never failed to impress me as the most completely ridiculous model on the market for explaining how the world works. I mean, really. Try to state the definition of astrology in one sentence, and you come up with something like the following:
The idea that your personal fate, and the course of global events, are controlled by the apparent movement of the Sun and planets relative to bunches of stars that are at varying (but extreme) distances from the Earth, patterns which some highly nearsighted ancient Greeks thought looked vaguely like scorpions and rams and lions and weird mythical creatures like “sea-goats.”
It definitely falls into the “how could that possibly work?” department, a question that is usually answered with vague verbiage about vibrations and energies and cosmic resonances.
But like I said, all of that is old territory, here at Skeptophilia. But yesterday, thanks to a loyal reader and frequent contributor, I found out something that I didn’t know about astrology; lately, astrologers have been including the asteroids in their chart-drawing and fortune-telling.
Don’t believe me? Listen to this lady, Kim Falconer, who tells us that we should consider the asteroids in our astrological calculations — but only use the ones we want. There are too many asteroids, she said, to track them all; “Use the asteroids that have personal meaning to you.”
Falconer is right about one thing; there are a great many asteroids out there. Astronomers currently think there are between 1.1 and 1.9 million asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter alone, and that’s not counting the ones in erratic or elliptical orbits. So it would be a lot to track, but it would have the advantage of keeping the astrologers busy for a long time.
As far as which ones to track, though — this is where Falconer’s recommendations get even funnier, because she says we should pay attention to the names of the asteroids. Concerned about money? Check out where the asteroids “Abundantia” and “Fortuna” are. Concerned about love? Find “Eros” and “Aphrodite.” And I’m thinking; where does she think these names come from? All of them were named by earthly astronomers, more or less at random. I mean, it’s not like the names have anything to do with the actual objects. For example, here’s a photograph of Eros:MORE – – –
Another year has come and gone, and with it, a slew of failed and forgotten psychic predictions. Each year, the world’s “leading” psychics give us their predictions in January, and then we review them one year later to see how accurate they were.
Before reviewing their track record for 2013, let’s consider a handful of significant news items that were not predicted.
What the world’s leading psychics didn’t predict for 2013:
- The surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI…
- The revelation of PRISM and the NSA spying scandal revealed by Ed Snowden, which is still arguably one of the biggest news stories of the year…
- The meteor which exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,491 people and damaging over 4,300 buildings. It was the most powerful meteor to strike Earth’s atmosphere in over a century…
- The Boston Marathon bombings…
- Typhoon Haiyan “Yolanda”, one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record, which hit the Philippines and Vietnam, causing devastation with at least 5,653 dead…
- Iran agreeing to limit their nuclear development program in exchange for sanctions relief…
- William and Kate’s royal baby – a boy, named Prince George… (more details below)…
- The Bronx train derailment…
- The Rob Ford crack cocaine scandal, which was on just about every North American TV network…
- The recovery of Amanda Berry, who was a 16-year-old girl when she went missing in 2003, and was rescued from an unassuming house in Cleveland. She was held captive for a decade. High-profile psychic (Sylvia Browne) told Berry’s mother in 2004 that she was dead.
- Speaking of Sylvia Browne, she incorrectly predicted her own death. She thought she’d make it to 88, but died at 77.
- A number of high profile deaths: Ed Koch, Hugo Chavez, Margaret Thatcher, Roger Ebert, Tom Clancy, Lou Reed, James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith, Jean Stapleton, Lisa Robin Kelly, Paul Walker, Nelson Mandela…
And that’s just a sample of the things psychics forgot to predict. Now let’s look at how well they fared for the things they did… *
What the world’s leading psychics predicted for 2013:
Predicted: A fire and explosion at a subway in New York City kills many.
Accuracy: There was a fire, but no explosion, and no one was hurt. It was just really annoying for commuters.
Predicted: A chemical attack on the United States.
Accuracy: Thanksfully, this did not happen.
Predicted: Another cruise ship breaks in half. (Nice try here, but nope, didn’t happen.
Predicted: Another Super Storm like Sandy hitting the USA, Canada and Europe.
Accuracy: Did not happen. It would have been one helluva storm to hit both North America and Europe!
Predicted: Nuclear attack on New York.
Accuracy: Also, thankfully, this didn’t happen.
Predicted: A huge earthquake in the Caribbean.
Accuracy: Swing and a miss.
Predicted: Cuba and Puerto Rico becoming part of the USA.
Accuracy: Anyone know of another way of saying “didn’t happen”?
Predicted: A weather satellite will come crashing into a building.
Accuracy: A satellite did come down to Earth, but we’re not quite sure where it landed. Certainly not into a building.
Predicted: A huge earthquake in St. Louis, Missouri, Chicago and Tennessee.
Predicted: The map of the world will change due to catastrophic events happening around the globe.
Accuracy: The map of the world looks the same.
Predicted: Experimental monkeys escape from a lab causing a pandemic.
Accuracy: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, perhaps? Oh wait, that movie came out in 2011.
Predicted: Giant prehistoric sea monsters under the sea.
Accuracy: Now, I wish this one panned out. The Kraken, Godzilla, or maybe C’thulu would have been pretty neat. Alas, no sea monsters in 2013. But the Godzilla reboot is due out in 2014 – does that count?
Predicted: A possible landing of a spaceship.
Accuracy: Made by humans or ET? Landing on Earth, or elsewhere?
Predicted: An attack on the Vatican and Pope.
Accuracy: Didn’t happen.
Predicted: Daniel Day Lewis nominated for an Oscar for Lincoln.
Accuracy: This was pretty obvious, so this doesn’t count as a hit.
Predicted: Jack Nicholson hospitalized.
Accuracy: He wasn’t, however the actor who played the doctor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest died…
Predicted: Another sex scandal around Arnold Schwarzenegger and has to watch his health.
Accuracy: Just part of the ongoing scandal, but nothing that would qualify as another (separate) sex scandal.
Predicted: An earthquake of great magnitude wiping out Mexico City.
Accuracy: Did not…
Predicted: Giant tornadoes in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Accuracy: Like any year, many tornadoes – some “giant” – hit Tornado Alley. 2013 would be no different, so this is a non-prediction.
Predicted: An assassination attempt around Queen Elizabeth.
Accuracy: Unless if this was covered up, this didn’t happen.
- Psychic (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- The Death of Sylvia Browne (illuminutti.com)
- The Late ‘Psychic’ Sylvia Browne Made 14 Final Predictions. All Are Wrong. (patheos.com)
- 2013 Psychic Predictions: Same old same old, as usual – FAIL (doubtfulnews.com)
- Sylvia Browne: Dead Psychic’s Legacy Riddled With Failed Predictions, Fraud – Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com)
Yesterday one of the world’s most famous fake psychics (I know, that’s redundant) died.
Now being a skeptic and someone whom believes that all psychics are frauds (apart form those that are mentally ill and really do believe that they have psychic powers) many people might assume that I am rejoicing, and perhaps even celebrating her death (especially those who believe that people can have psychic powers, or just people who don’t like skeptics).
To be quiet honest I’m not sure how I should feel about her death, because there are just so many feelings I have about it that I can’t seem to focus on one to just go with.
On the one hand I am sort of glad that she’s gone because now she can no longer hurt people and mess with their emotions with her stage magician like “readings” while at the same time exploiting those people for fame and money.
On the other hand I’m also a bit angry, not only because of her exploitation that she basically got away with up until she died, but also because she would never would come clean about being a fake, despite the numerous failed readings and predictions she has had. Now that she’s dead, she never will.
Yet on the other hand I also feel a tad bit sad for her . . .
- Sylvia Browne’s Death (illuminutti.com)
- ‘Psychic’ Sylvia Browne is Dead (patheos.com)
- Psychic Sylvia Browne has died, son tells @TMZ; she was 77 (tmz.com)
- Author, TV psychic Sylvia Browne dies at 77 (globalnews.ca)
- Sylvia Browne, World Famous Psychic, Dies At 77 (hollywoodlife.com)
- Sylvia Browne dead: World famous psychic dead at 77 (myfox8.com)
- “Psychic” Sylvia Browne Dead at 77 (disinfo.com)
- Sylvia Browne “Psychic” Dies at age 77 (guardianlv.com)
- Psychic Sylvia Browne Dead (4umf.com)
- Sylvia Browne Blows Another Psychic Prediction (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
14 new Sylvia Browne failures exposed
By Mason I. Bilderberg
According to the Sylvia Browne webpage, Sylvia Browne passed away at 7:10am on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
Now i’m not a heartless person, i don’t wish ill on anybody and i certainly don’t take any pleasure in Miss Browne’s passing.
But i can’t go blind to Browne’s record of past failures (The stories of Shawn Hornbeck and Amanda Berry come to mind.) simply because she is no longer alive and i certainly can’t go blind now when her passing has exposed 14 new Sylvia Browne failures:
Come to think of it, did ANY psychics ANYWHERE predict Browne’s death? I thought not.
MORE – – – Sylvia Browne (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Psychic told parents that son was dead (Anderson Cooper Blog)
- AC360: Sylvia Browne’s Best Evidence? (stopsylvia.com)
- Dead Wrong, . . . Again (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Girl Recovered After 10 Years Claimed Dead by Psychic (livescience.com)
- Psychic Sylvia Browne told Amanda Berry’s mother she was dead (deathandtaxesmag.com)
- Psychic on The Montel Williams Show said Amanda Berry was dead. She wasn’t. (macleans.ca)
- I See Dead People. Oh, Also Profits. (moralcompassblog.com)
- Cleveland abductions: fans lash out at ‘psychic’ Sylvia Browne over false prediction (guardian.co.uk)
- Amanda Berry psychic was wrong — and they usually are (mnn.com)
- Case stirs memories of Hornbeck finding (stltoday.com)
- When Psychics Fail: The Sylvia Browne and Amanda Berry Fiasco (skepticalteacher.wordpress.com)
- Amanda Berry is alive and well … and proves Sylvia Browne’s to be a total fraud (skeptical-science.com)
- Dead Wrong, …Again (skepticblog.org)
- Shame on you, Sylvia Browne, for telling Amanda Berry’s mother her daughter was dead. (badscience.net)
- Psychic Sylvia Browne slammed for declaring Amanda Berry dead (twitchy.com)
- Fans lash out at ‘psychic’ Sylvia Browne for false Ohio abduction prediction (rawstory.com)
- Sylvia Browne dead: World famous psychic dead at 77 (myfox8.com)
- ‘Psychic’ Sylvia Browne is Dead (patheos.com)
- Sylvia Browne: Dead Psychic’s Legacy Riddled With Failed Predictions, Fraud – Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com)
Earlier this week we did a post on survivorship bias, and how it could trick people into believing in psychic ability. It turns out that the most famous test of psychic ability was made expressly to allow for this kind of bias.
One of the most famous tests of psychic ability was made by J. B. Rhine. He claimed to identify strong psychics by testing a lot of people with Zener Cards. The tests involved two people, the examiner looking at the card, and the person being tested trying to guess the card that the examiner is looking at. Rhine noted that some people, a small minority, got a disproportionate number of cards right. They were “strong psychics.” Skeptics countered that, if you were to test any group on the street, some would do far better than average – just as some would do far worse than average. That’s the point of survivorship bias. You test a large amount of people and hold up the few who do better-than-average as examples of proof rather than coincidence.
One could argue that there shouldn’t be a coincidence at all. What are the chances that if someone looks at a card – a card that could show any picture at all – that another person will be able to guess the picture on it? The chances, it turns out, got a lot better once Zener Cards were invented. Zener Cards were made by Karl Zener, a paranormal investigator.
- Psychic test cards were actually invented to make psychic tests easier (io9.com)
- Witches Are Not Psychic (aulberich89.wordpress.com)
- The Survivorship Bias convinces people that psychics are real (io9.com)
- 10 Signs That You’re Psychic (dangerouslee.biz)
- Secrets of the Psychics (illuminutti.com)
via Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — They’re in a mystical business with few guarantees, so perhaps anyone could foresee tension between psychics and the law.
In two prominent examples, self-declared clairvoyants were recently convicted of big-money scams in New York and Florida, where one trial featured a romance-writing titan as a victim. But beyond those cases is a history of legal wrestling over fortunetelling, free speech and fraud.
While the recent trials involved general fraud charges, numerous cities and states have laws banning or restricting soothsaying itself.
Authorities say they aim to distinguish between catering to people’s interest in the supernatural and conning them. Still, some psychics feel anti-fortunetelling laws are unfair to them and to people who believe seers have something to offer.
New York psychic Jesse Bravo decries seers who make impossible promises or press clients to consult, and pay, them frequently. “There are a lot of predators out there,” he says.
But Bravo, an investment banker who moonlights as a medium, rues the disclaimer he’s compelled to give clients: Readings are for “entertainment only.” Unless solely for amusement, telling fortunes or using “occult powers” to give advice is a misdemeanor under New York state law.
“It’s a little insulting,” he says. “I believe in what I do, and the people who are coming to me believe in what I do. … But that’s OK — the state doesn’t have to believe in what I do.”
For all those who discount psychics, a 2009 survey for the Pew Research Center‘s Religion & Public Life Project found about one in seven Americans has consulted one.
Some visits evolve into extended — and expensive — relationships.
Best-selling historical-romance novelist Jude Deveraux paid psychic Rosa Marks about $17 million over 17 years, she testified at Marks’ recent federal fraud trial in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to newspaper reports. The psychic said she could transfer the spirit of Deveraux’s dead 8-year-old son into another boy’s body and reunite them, among other claims, the writer said.
“When I look back on it now, it was outrageous,” she testified. “I was out of my mind.”
Marks’ lawyer argued that Deveraux’s account was unreliable and that Marks was being blamed for some relatives’ confessed schemes.
Marks, based in New York and Florida, was found guilty and could get up to 20 years in prison on the top charge alone when sentenced this year.
Two weeks later, a Manhattan jury convicted seer Sylvia Mitchell of bilking two clients out of tens of thousands of dollars. Mitchell linked their problems to past lives and “negative energy” and prescribed cures such as giving her five-figure sums “to hold,” according to testimony.
Mitchell’s lawyer said her psychic efforts were sincere, even if their effectiveness wasn’t proved — or disproved. She’s due to be sentenced this month, with the top charge carrying up to 15 years in prison.
A private investigator who specializes in such cases says they’re about proving clients were exploited, not about passing judgment on clairvoyancy.
In such cases, “you’re dealing with a confidence scheme,” says Bob Nygaard , who’s based in New York City and Boca Raton, Fla. “It becomes clear to you the script (the psychics) are following.”
Some states and communities have concluded fortunetelling is so rife with rip-offs that it should be regulated or prohibited, at least as a paid business.
- Psychics say soothsaying laws unfair to believers in clairvoyance (salon.com)
- Psychics say soothsaying laws unfair to believers (miamiherald.com)
The idea of summoning the spirits took thrilling hold of the Victorian imagination – and has its adherents now. But the psychology behind spiritualism is more intriguing
As the evenings get darker and the first hint of winter hangs in the air, the western world enters the season of the dead. It begins with Halloween, continues with All Saints’ and All Souls’ days, runs through Bonfire Night – the evening where the English burn effigies of historical terrorists – and ends with Remembrance Day. And through it all, Britain’s mediums enjoy one of their busiest times of the year.
People who claim to contact the spirit world provoke extreme reactions. For some, mediums offer comfort and mystery in a dull world. For others they are fraudsters or unwitting fakes, exploiting the vulnerable and bereaved. But to a small group of psychologists, the rituals of the seance and the medium are opening up insights into the mind, shedding light on the power of suggestion and even questioning the nature of free will.
Humanity has been attempting to commune with the dead since ancient times. As far back as Leviticus, the Old Testament God actively forbade people to seek out mediums. Interest peaked in the 19th century, a time when religion and rationality were clashing like never before. In an era of unprecedented scientific discovery, some churchgoers began to seek evidence for their beliefs.
Salvation came from two American sisters, 11-year-old Kate and 14-year-old Margaret Fox. On 31 March 1848, the girls announced they were going to contact the spirit world. To the astonishment of their parents they got a reply. That night, the Fox sisters chatted to a ghost haunting their New York State home, using a code of one tap for yes, two gaps for no. Word spread and soon the girls were demonstrating their skills to 400 locals in the town hall.
Within months a new religion had emerged – spiritualism – a mixture of liberal, nonconformist values and fireside chats with dead people. Spiritualism attracted some of the great thinkers of the day – including biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who spent his latter years promoting spiritualism in between knocking out Sherlock Holmes stories. Even the admission of the Fox sisters in 1888 that they had faked it all failed to crush the movement. Today spiritualism thrives in more than 350 churches in Britain.
Last week I spent 40 minutes with a telephone spiritualist who passed on messages from four dead people. Like all mediums, she was skilled at cold reading – the use of probable guesses and picking up of cues to steer her in the right direction. If she hit a dud – the suggestion that she was in the presence of a 40-year-old uncle of mine – she quickly widened it out. The 40-year-old became an older person who felt young at heart. And then someone who was more of an uncle figure. She was also skilled at the Barnum effect – the use of statements that tend to be true for everyone.
Among dozens of guesses and misses, there was just one hit – the correct name of a dead relative. Their relation to me was utterly wrong, as were details of their health. But the name was right and, even though it was a common name among that person’s generation, it was a briefly chilling moment.
Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist and magician, says my response to this lucky guess is typical. People tend to remember the correct details in a seance but overlook statements or events that provide no evidence of paranormal powers.
Wiseman’s work has also shown that we are all extremely susceptible to the power of suggestion.
- The psychology of spiritualism: science and seances | Science | The Observer (theguardian.com)
- The World’s First Recorded Séance (sunstarxpress.wordpress.com)
- The ‘Levitating In The Face Of Science’ Séance (sunstarxpress.wordpress.com)
- Derren Brown …. Mind control! (hrexach.wordpress.com)
By Hemant Mehta via patheos.com
Cory Cove (a.k.a. “Sludge”), a morning talk show host on KFAN radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul, invited host of A&E’s “Psychic Kids” show Chip Coffey to the studio on Monday and they had the best exchange ever.
Normally, talk show hosts (like Montel Williams and Larry King) treat psychics with deference. They ask the psychics to make predictions, they “ooh” and “aah” at the specificity of the claims, and then they rarely, if ever, take them to task when those predictions fail.
Cove, on the other hand, used the 7-minute segment to call Coffey out on his bullshit. (Note: Coffey had previously told Cove that he would have a prostate problem, setting up this exchange.)
- Morning Radio Host Interviews Psychic and Puts Him to Shame (patheos.com)
- Secrets of the Psychics (illuminutti.com)
- The great psychic con (illuminutti.com)
- Good work, Minnesota talk radio (freethoughtblogs.com)
The Dogon people are renowned for their artistic traditions — and their spiritual traditions are no less fascinating. But why did a French anthropologist believe they may have had contact with extraterrestrials? Tune in to learn more about the Nommo.
- Who are the Nommo (projectanunnaki.wordpress.com)
- ‘If the Dogon…’ by Mary Douglas (kjbarberblog.wordpress.com)
- African Spirituality | African Religion: Rediscovering the Way (ceasefiremagazine.co.uk)
A jury found a Manhattan psychic guilty on Friday of swindling two women out of $138,000 in a case that probed the fine distinction between providing an unusual service and running a confidence scheme.
The fortune teller, Sylvia Mitchell, 39, who plied her trade at the opulent Zena Clairvoyant psychic shop on Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village, scowled as the verdict was read, reaching up only once to dab an eye.
After the verdict, Justice Gregory Carro of Manhattan Supreme Court said he considered Ms. Mitchell, who lives with her two teenage children in Connecticut, a flight risk and ordered her held in jail. She faces up to 15 years in prison when she is sentenced on Oct. 29.
Outside the courtroom, Ms. Mitchell’s longtime companion, Steve Eli, had sharp words with her defense lawyer, William Aronwald. “You should have let her testify,” he said as he walked away. “You should have let her testify.”
After deliberating for six hours over two days, the jury convicted Ms. Mitchell on 10 counts of grand larceny and one count of scheme to defraud. The jury found her not guilty on five other grand larceny counts.
During a weeklong trial, prosecutors portrayed Ms. Mitchell as a clever swindler who preyed on distraught people, promising them that she could alleviate their troubles through prayer and meditation to remove what she called “negative energy” and rectify problems that arose from their “past lives.”
- NYC psychic on trial on charges of conning clients (miamiherald.com)
- NYC psychic on trial on charges of conning clients (azstarnet.com)
- Manhattan Psychic Unable to Predict Grand Larceny Charge (observer.com)
- NYC psychic on trial on charges of conning clients (newsday.com)
- NYC psychic on trial on charges of conning clients (heraldonline.com)
- NYC psychic on trial on charges of conning clients (nbc-2.com)
- Trial Begins For Manhattan Psychic Accused Of Duping Desperate Customers (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Psychic accused of scamming clients out of tens of thousands (huffingtonpost.com)
- Another psychic life coach on trial for swindling (doubtfulnews.com)
- Customers of Psychic Gave Her Thousands to See Their Past Lives (gawker.com)