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.
There are many people who promote themselves as psychics or clairvoyants, and who claim that their powers enable them to read your character, make contact with dead relatives, or provide insights into your life and your future.
Despite their claims, there has never been a successful demonstration of these powers in a laboratory, under properly controlled conditions. Indeed, the National Committee of Australian Skeptics offers a cash prize of $100,000 for any PROVEN demonstration of such powers. See The Prize.
By far the most common method employed by psychics who have been put to the test is called cold reading. This method involves the psychic reading the subject’s body language etc, and skilfully extracting information from the subject, which can then be fed back later, convincing the subject that the psychic has told them things they couldn’t possibly have known!
The following is our 13 point guide to cold reading — Study them well, then amaze your friends with your new found psychic powers!
1. Remember that the key ingredient of a successful character reading is confidence.
If you look and act as if you believe in what you are doing, you will be able to sell even a bad reading to most subjects. One danger of playing the role of reader is that you may actually begin to believe that you really are divining your subject’s true character!
2. Make creative use of the latest statistical abstracts, polls and surveys.
These can provide you with much information about what various subclasses in our society believe, do, want , worry about etc. For example, if you can ascertain a subject’s place of origin, educational level, and his/her parents’ religion and vocations, you have gained information which should allow you to predict with high probability his/her voting preferences and attitudes to many subjects.
3. Set the stage for your reading.
Profess a modesty about your talents. Make no excessive claims. You will then catch your subject off guard. You are not challenging them to a battle of wits – You can read his/her character, whether he/she believes you or not.
4. Gain the subject’s cooperation in advance.
Emphasise that the success of the reading depends as much on the subject’s cooperation as on your efforts. (After all, you imply, you already have a successful career at character reading — You are not on trial, your subject is!) State that due to difficulties of language and communication, you may not always convey the meaning you intend. In these cases, the subject must strive to fit the reading to his/her own life. You accomplish two valuable ends with this dodge — Firstly, you have an alibi in case the reading doesn’t click; it’s the subject’s fault, not yours! Secondly, your subject will strive to fit your generalities to his/her specific life circumstances. Later, when the subject recalls the reading, you will be credited with much more detail than you actually provided! This is crucial. Your reading will only succeed to the degree that the subject is made an active participant in the reading. The good reader is the one who , deliberately or unwittingly, forces the subject to search his/her mind to make sense of your statements.
Use of props serves two valuable purposes. Firstly, it lends atmosphere to the reading. Secondly, (and more importantly) it gives you time to formulate your next question/statement. Instead of just sitting there, thinking of something to say, you can be intently studying the cards /crystal ball etc. You may opt to hold hands with your subject — This will help you feel the subject’s reactions to your statements. If you are using , say, palmistry (the reading of hands) it will help if you have studied some manuals, and have learned the terminology. This will allow you to more quickly zero in on your subject’s chief concerns — “do you wish to concentrate on the heart line or the wealth line?“
6. Have a list of stock phrases at the tip of your tongue.
Even during a cold reading, a liberal sprinkling of stock phrases will add body to the reading and will help you fill in time while you formulate more precise characterisations. Use them to start your readings. Palmistry, tarot and other fortune telling manuals are a key source of good phrases.
Detecting psychic scams & debunking mediums is easier when you know how psychic methods like cold reading work. Don’t be fooled by psychic misdirection. Cold reading tricks are used by psychics to convince an audience that they know things that they don’t – using high probability guesses, generalized statements, and linguistic techniques. Stay skeptical, dare to be curious, but don’t fall for this bullshit, and don’t drink the koolaid.
These two videos are absolutely brutal to watch. I love it. I enjoy watching these con artists fail at their con game.
Part 1 –
Part 2 –
It starts out in Russian, the English begins at the 0:50 mark. The description below the video has been translated from Russian to English by Google Translate.
I have my fingers crossed. 🙂
Description via Google Translate:
Paul Zenon is one of the most famous British magicians with extensive experience in the representation of different tricks, illusions, frauds and paranormal topics. It has several hundred appearances in television shows and almost 30 years experience in participating in public. Began to earn money as a street magician and learns how people can be fooled and manipulated. Then apply their practical knowledge of human psychology and attention to good causes like exposing pseudoscientific “stars”.
Gender Ratio of Zeno presented the most common techniques of mediums, illustrated with examples from the past few centuries. Cold reading (cold reading) and pre-collect information about companion enjoy the same frequency as in the 19th century and television fortune-tellers today.
By Jon Donnis via BadPsychics
Number 10 • Helen Duncan
Victoria Helen McCrae Duncan (25 November 1897 – 6 December 1956) was a fraudulent Scottish medium best known as the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735.
But to make our list, she convinced gullible people that a Papier Mâché doll, covered in an old sheet was a materialised spirit! This is the closest to a ghost from Scooby Doo that you will ever find!
Photograph taken by Harvey Metcalfe during a séance in 1928.
Number 09 • Derek Acorah
This very site (BadPsychics) was the worlds first media outlet/website to expose Derek Acorah as a fraud, and we could very literally do a Top 10 just for ridiculous moments Derek has been involved, but instead I have chosen this one.
A quick bit of history on this clip, as you will see the below clip is in colour, the original pre-recorded clip was broadcast “as live” and using a green filter to make it appear as if it was in night vision. Most Haunted would often do this on the Most Haunted Live events as a way to fool the gullible viewers.
BadPsychics originally released this clip as a way to prove the show would fake scenes, the clip was recorded from an un-encrypted satellite feed, which an associate of ours had tuned in on. We originally claimed that a member of the staff or “The Most Haunted Mole” had sent us a video tape, this was designed to cause disruption amongst the Antix crew, and it did with Karl Beattie holding many a meeting about this mystical figure, I took great pleasure in pulling the wool over his eyes!
The clip speaks for itself, so watch and enjoy.
Number 08 • Sylvia Browne
Where to start with this horrible vile witch, a truly disgusting human being, who is now dead in a rather hot place.
“At around 7:45pm on April 21 2003 (the day before her 17th birthday), Amanda Berry left her job at a Cleveland area Burger King. She called her mother on her cell phone, told her that she had gotten a ride, and would call right back.”
She would then disappear.
Amanda’s mother Louwana Miller would appear on the Montel Williams Show a year and a half later, to get a reading from Sylvia Browne about her missing daughter, whereby Sylvia said the following.
“Miller: So you don’t think I’ll ever get to see her again?
Browne: Yeah, in heaven, on the other side.”
“On May 6th, 2013, Amanda Berry, along with two other young women (Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight), was found alive and being held captive in a house in Cleveland.”
Unfortunately, Amanda’s mother did not live to see this day.
So just think about that for a second, a Mother died believing her daughter was dead because Sylvia Browne told her so. If I believed in Hell, then I know that Sylvia Browne would be right there. But instead she is dead, and the only comfort we can take from that is that Sylvia can’t hurt any more people with her lies.
You can read more details on this case at my good friend Robert Lancasters site at http://www.stopsylvia.com/articles/montel_amandaberry.shtml and see a news report at http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2013/05/09/celebrity-psychic-sylvia-browne-under-fire-for-telling-amanda-berrys-mom-was/
Some People Certainly Think So
Every show on TLC really knows how to tug at your heartstrings, but The Long Island Medium does it pretty much better than anyone else. That is because the Long Island Medium herself, Theresa Caputo, has an amazing ability to connect strangers with their loved ones who have passed away. By communicating through “spirit,” Caputo can learn how someone died, his or her nickname, and even deliver a message to the living. Her readings are so spot-on, it’s freaky.
Maybe even a little too freaky for some people. When a person has a supernatural ability like this, there are of course going to be skeptics. Caputo encounters them all the time on her show, like when one self-proclaimed skeptic, Brian, started to believe after Caputo’s tape recorder magically stopped without any prompting. Like with most issues in our society, the debate has mainly been alive and well on the Internet, the trolliest of troll-y places, since the show premiered back in 2011. Whether it’s through opinion pieces, blog posts, or videos, there are plenty of people online who make it their mission to debunk Caputo’s ability. So who are these people, and why do they think Caputo is not for real?
Caputo’s main opponent is James Randi, a former magician and escape artist who now spends his days “as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims,” according to his website. Randi is famous for his “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge,” where anyone who can prove “evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event” will be awarded $1 million.
Randi claims Caputo uses a technique that many mediums employ called “cold reading,” where it may look like Caputo is simply chatting with the person, but she’s actually picking up information that she’ll use to make what she says seem very specific to the person she’s reading. He says Caputo’s questions about initials and life events are basically just guesses that she hopes turn out to be true. Randi, who has also taken on the famous mediums John Edward and James Van Praagh, awarded Caputo a 2012 Pigasus Award, which is awarded to parapsychological frauds who are most harmful to society.
Inside Edition performed an entire investigation on Caputo in 2012, which found that she was much less accurate in her live readings than she is shown to be on her TV show, as she would “strike out time and again.” Inside Edition had former psychic Mark Edward perform the “cold reading” techniques he believed Caputo uses, and the audience believed him.
Attention All Psychics!!!
This is your chance!!!!!
How would you like to silence your critics once and for
all while becoming very, VERY rich in the process?
To all persons claiming psychic abilities,
I have been very critical of your claims over the years. I think i usually refer to your claims as fraudulent and i refer to you, the person making the claims, as either a scam artist or delusional.
But being the fair-minded person that i am, i want to make you aware of an awesome opportunity for you to not only prove all your critics wrong once and for all by demonstrating that your miracle abilities are real, but you’ll also become a billionaire in the process!!!!
What an opportunity! A billionaire!
All you need to do is fill out a perfect 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket! How will this make you rich? Because Warren Buffett will award anyone who fills out a perfect 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket with $1 billion.
That’s it! That’s all you need to do to win $1,000,000,000.00! How much simpler can it be to shut down your critics AND get rich!
But wait! There’s more! … it doesn’t cost a dime to fill it out and the odds are only 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (1 in 9.2 quintillion)!!! That may seem like really bad odds, but i’m confident your psychic abilities can even those odds and allow you to bring home the bacon!!
You’re welcome and enjoy your new found wealth!!!
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
P.S. Shouldn’t you have known about this special offer before i mentioned it here? Just saying.
In a trifecta of pseudoscience, Dr. Oz calls upon Dr. Amen to demonstrate (live on TV) how the Long Island Medium is real.
Where do I begin?
Dr. Oz has long ago abandoned any scientific legitimacy, not to mention self-respect. He has gone from giving basic medical advice, to promoting alternative quackery, and now he is just another daytime TV sellout, gushing over psychics. With Dr. Oz, however, it is all done with a patina of science.
Theresa Caputo is just another fake psychic doing bad cold readings before audiences that have more of a desire to believe than apparent critical thinking skills. Her performance on Dr. Oz is fairly typical – she fishes with vague and high probability guesses, working multiple people at once, who then struggle to find some connection to what she is saying.
For example, she tells one mark who is trying to connect with her father, “Your father wants to talk about the coin collection?” This is a great vague statement. First, it is one of those statements that seems very specific, but in actuality is a high probability vague statement. Anything to do with coins can seem to be a hit, and in the fairly good chance that an older gentleman had a literal coin collection it will seem like a fantastic hit.
In this case, however, the target found a nice face-saving hit. Apparently another psychic told the same person that her father sends her “pennies from heaven.” There you go.
In another segment with Caputo she demonstrates almost a parody of terrible cold reading. She senses a father figure and a daughter figure. She says to an entire audience that someone lost a father and someone lost a daughter. She also goes out on a limb and says – something to do with the chest. Shockingly, someone from the audience steps forward. Caputo then makes two clear misses. She says that she senses the person was lost suddenly. The target clearly indicates this was not the case, at which time Caputo tries to recover by saying that – even when someone is ill, we did not expect to lose them at that exact moment. Right. She then goes for the daughter, which is also a clear miss, leading to that awkward moment when an alleged psychic so thoroughly fails that they struggle to find an escape hatch.
I also found it interesting that when asked about the brain scan test she was about to have, Caputo responded by saying that no matter what the tests show, she just wants to help people. She was seemingly pre-rationalizing for possible failure. Infer from that what you will.
Dr. Daniel Amen
Dr. Amen as made millions of dollars proving SPECT scans for a long list of diagnoses. SPECT scans use a radioisotope to track blood flow in the brain, which can be used to infer brain activity. The problem with SPECT scan is that there is a tremendous amount of noise in brain activity so you need to be very careful about interpreting the results. There is some utility in looking for dead areas of the brain following a stroke, for example. SPECT has also been used to localize seizures (increased activity during a seizure and then decreased activity following the seizure).
Clinical use of SPECT, however, has been very limited because it is just too noisy. The test often does not have good specificity. Amen is using SPECT for a wide range of indications for which it has not been validated – we do not have data to show that the results of the test can be used to predict confirming diagnostic tests or response to treatment. But SPECT is very useful for generating pretty pictures that seem scientific and can be used to imagine any result you wish.
- Brain Scans and Psychics (theness.com)
- Dr. Oz. Performs LIVE Brain Scan On Medium Theresa Caputo & Turns From A Skeptic Into 100% Believer (feelguide.com)
- Brain Scans and Psychics (skepticblog.org)
- Loving my Inner Child (amomentwithgod.com)
- Gluten, psychology, and your brain. (thehybridhuman.wordpress.com)
- My first psychic reading (besttarotcardreader.wordpress.com)
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)
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)
There’s a simple bias that seems to endure. Anyone may accidentally fall into its trap. Once they do, they make it impossible for others to avoid doing the same thing. It’s called the Survivorship Bias, and it can be used to convince people of nearly anything.
Let’s say that I walked up to you in the street and told you I was psychic and I could prove it. The more fleet-footed of you would manage to keep walking, but I think I’d back a few of you into a corner and make you watch my demonstration. It’s a video of me walking into a room with a group of witnesses. One of the witnesses – picked at random – flips a coin. After he flips, but before he shows the coin to anyone, I guess whether it’s heads or tails. He reveals it to the witnesses. I’m right. The demonstration goes on, and each time I’m right.
You’re naturally skeptical, so you start questioning the set-up. I have sworn statements from all the witnesses that they were all pulled off the street. I even have the video of the selection process. I have a video of what I did all that day, showing that I didn’t set up anything that might clue me in on the coin flip results. After a lot of investigating, you determine that there’s no trick. I’m just correctly guessing the coin each time. You’re right. There isn’t a trick.
There’s just hundreds days of set-up. On every one of those days, I have people go out and find witnesses, and people film me going about my business. On every one of those days, I walk into the room and start guessing. And on every one of those days, except for the day that I showed you, I guess wrong. I’ve showed you the one remarkable case, the one day that I guessed right.
To be fair, that’s more survivorship deception. But it does show how coincidence can, when taken out of context, look like something more. It’s been used by psychic researchers in the past. Test enough people and some of them will give answers that are coincidentally accurate. Then pretend that those people are psychics.
It’s also been used in economics. I had an economics teacher who joked that the best way to make millions as an investment adviser was to send out, to thousands of people, two variations of a letter. One would predict one trend in the stock market and the other would predict the opposite trend. Let the market takes its course. Strike the people that got the inaccurate letter from your mailing list. Then send out another set of letters. Repeat the pattern until you’ve got only a few clients, and each one of them is absolutely convinced that you’re infallible.
- The Survivorship Bias convinces people that psychics are real (io9.com)
- Psychic test cards were actually invented to make psychic tests easier (io9.com)
- The great psychic con (illuminutti.com)
- 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)
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)
A new study has found that people who believe that psychics can predict the future tend to feel more in control of their lives than those who don’t.
A group of Australian researchers from the University of Queensland led by Katharine Greenaway offered the hypothesis that belief in psychic prediction would be positively correlated with a sense of control over one’s life.
“If it is possible to predict what the future holds, then one can exert control,” the study reports. “Having insight into what will happen in the future would therefore allow people to control their outcomes in a way that would guarantee personal success and survival.”
Several experiments were done to examine this phenomenon. In one of them, two groups of people were asked to read passages either promoting or disputing the idea that scientists have found evidence of precognitive psychic powers.
Afterwards, each group was asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements about how much control they feel they have over their lives and circumstances.
Those who read the information confirming the existence of psychic powers agreed more strongly with statements such as “I am in control of my own life” and “My life is determined by my own actions” than those in the other group.
The Psychology of Prediction
What’s behind this psychology of prediction? Humans are a pattern-seeking species, and we constantly look for ways to make sense of the world around us. Many superstitious people, for example, find — or, more accurately, believe they find — ways of knowing and even influencing the future. Gamblers may wear a lucky shirt to a casino, for example, or an athlete might perform a small ritual before a game to assure good luck.
- Belief in Psychic Abilities Increases Sense of Control (illuminutti.com)
- Belief in Precognition Rises When People Feel Helpless (livescience.com)
- Loss of Control Increases Belief in Precognition and Belief in Precognition Increases Control (plosone.org)
- latest psychic predictions 2013 (educationbulletinboard.com)
- Belief in Psychic Abilities Increases Sense of Control (counselheal.com)
- How Psychic Readings May Benefit You (martinaclarke.wordpress.com)
- Belief in precognition increases sense of control over life (medicalnewstoday.com)
- How Psychics Use Precognition (proberthuges.wordpress.com)
By Jamy Iam Swiss via randi.org
The secret is out: professional storefront psychics are mostly comprised of fakes, frauds, cheats, and con artists. Step into a psychic storefront – especially in New York City or Southern Florida where organized criminal elements of the Romani (gypsy) culture is a significant presence – at your own extreme risk.
Well, maybe that doesn’t seem like a secret to many skeptics, but the fact is that since the inception of the modern skeptic movement, skeptics have pursued and possessed specialized knowledge in the realm of paranormal claims such as psychic phenomena. Of course, skeptics are interested in a vast panoply of pseudoscience – a glance down the list of subjects at the Skeptic’s Dictionary [skepdic.com] will produce an alphabetical list of nonsense, from the doofus to the deadly, “From Abracadabra to Zombies,” as it says on the home page.
But the paranormal is a special area of interest and expertise, partly because of the so-called science of parapsychology, which for more than a century-and-a-half has attempted to establish the existence of psychic phenomena in the laboratory. Unfortunately, this science has yet to produce so much as a single replicable, paradigmatic experiment (as compared with even a “soft science” like psychology which has hundreds of such examples that can be readily replicated by new students and scientists alike).
Another reason for this interest is the role of magicians in the skeptic movement, who themselves possess specialized knowledge not only of deception and illusion in general but also in particular of the methods of psychics, which often encompass techniques that magicians and particularly “mentalists” routinely use in their own work. Thus the magician has been a key player in parapsychology investigation since the first committee on psychical research was organized by “Scientific American” magazine, with Harry Houdini as a member.
And finally – surely far from least – there is the terrible predation and damage that professional psychics do. Whether it is a television talk-to-the-dead medium who entraps people in their grief rather than helping them to return eventually, as they must, to the normal living of their own lives, despite the loss of their loved ones – or professional storefront fortunetellers-and-takers who use their traditional finely honed psychological weaponry to rob people of their dignity and self-respect, their self-control, and often their life savings.
In 1993, the “Nova” television series devoted an entire program, entitled “Secrets of the Psychics,” to James Randi and his work as a psychic investigator and consumer protection advocate. Although this episode of the famous science documentary series has been available in various recorded forms, including in segments on YouTube, the program has just been posted in its entirety [here (illuminutti.com) and] here.
The show covers the gamut of psychic claims, and Randi’s investigations and insights. He looks at Russian psychics who claim to be able to gain special knowledge about a person just from examining a photograph. He tries to test specially psychically altered water, which seems to (rather hilariously) possess the special quality of being untestable. He looks at claims of the alleged psychic power to alter people’s blood pressure and brain waves. The program provides a synopsis of Randi’s legendary investigation of the faith healer Peter Popoff, and also provides a useful overview of Randi’s debunkings of Uri Geller during Geller’s metal-bending heydays.
Oh, and a young long-haired magician with a waxed moustache offers a brief original demonstration of psychokinesis in the first three minutes of the show. Go take a look!
The show is twenty years old but its principles and subjects are as fresh as today’s headlines, and literally so.
- (Psychic) Staring Effect (illuminutti.com)
- Whatever Happened to Parapsychology? (illuminutti.com)
- Mediums, Psychics – Snakeoil Salesmen (illuminutti.com)
- Psychic Secrets (randi.org)
- A History of Parapsychology and Psychical Research by George Hansen (disclose.tv)
- James Randi exposes Uri Geller and Peter Popoff (ritholtz.com)
This program is not to be confused with a later UK documentary Secrets of the Psychics, which was transmitted under this title as well as Secrets of the Super Psychics.
- Psychics and Alternative Medicine Practitioners: Who is worse? (illuminutti.com)
- Whatever Happened to Parapsychology? (illuminutti.com)
- James Randi exposes Uri Geller and Peter Popoff (ritholtz.com)
- Psychic Sally? (paranormalee.wordpress.com)
- Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions read online (iydifusu.wordpress.com)
- Newsweek Features James Randi and The Amazing Meeting in Latest Issue (patheos.com)
- James Randi (renjiveda.wordpress.com)
- What magicians can teach scientists about skepticism – NewsWorks (richarddawkins.net)
- James Randi, The Amazing Meeting, and the Bullshit Police – Newsweek and The Daily Beast (richarddawkins.net)