Category Archives: Horoscope

Here Be Dragons (Brian Dunning)

Originally posted February 9, 2013 this video is definitely worth a second look.

Enjoy:)

MIB


Here Be Dragons is a 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. This video is on my “must watch” list for skeptics and critical thinkers:)

Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.

Here Be Dragons is written and presented by Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid podcast and author of the Skeptoid book series.

Source: Here Be Dragons – YouTube.

Top 10 Ridiculous Moments in the history of Spiritualism / The Psychic Industry

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.

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Number 09 • Derek Acorah

derek acorah_225pxThis 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

sylviamontel_250pxWhere 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.”

Amanda Berry

Amanda Berry

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/

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Read about Amanda Berry and Sylvia Browne here on iLLumiNuTTi.com

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Animal Predictors: Psychic, Sensitive, or Silly?

Many animals are presented in the popular media as being psychic. Is this the best explanation?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

psychic_dog_250pxIn the wake of a popular 2014 hoax email going around claiming that animals were fleeing Yellowstone National Park in record numbers to escape an impending volcanic eruption, it probably makes sense to have a Skeptoid episode addressing animal predictions in general. Most are not hoaxes. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re psychic, though. There are a range of possible explanations for the apparent ability. Perhaps the animals have some special sensitivity, perhaps it’s an error made by the people who observe them. Today we’re going to take a look at a few popular cases of famous, modern animals believed to have the power of prediction.

Oscar the Cat

In 2007, the media went wild over an article published in the highly respected scientific journal The New England Journal of Medicine claiming that a cat named Oscar was able to predict which patients at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island were about to die, and would curl up with them until they did. Psychic cat_225pxThe story proved so popular that its author, Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician at the Center, was offered a book deal and expanded the story of Oscar’s amazing predictive ability into a 240-page book, Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat. Oscar’s story has since been included in virtually every list of psychic animals in every kind of media, and is often cited as proof that the ability exists, particularly due to its publication in such an esteemed journal.

But please, hold the horses a moment. The opening section of the Journal is called Perspectives, and includes essays, editorials, and opinion pieces. Dosa’s article was in this section; it was most certainly not presented as research, but simply as a fun anecdote. Dosa made no representation that it was either scientific or based on serious study of the cat’s behavior.

psychic dog_225pxBy the time of the book, Dosa said some 50 deaths at the Center had been preceded by visits from Oscar. But as many science journalists have noted, no data was ever collected or analyzed. No mention was made of how often Oscar visited other patients. Since it’s a nursing home, most patients are terminally ill and remain there until they die, so it’s hardly even possible for Oscar to ever be wrong. No criteria were ever observed for the length of time between Oscar’s last visit and the patient’s death, the duration of Oscar’s visit, or how those numbers compared to his visits to other patients. Moreover, Dosa even states in the book that “for narrative purposes” he “made some changes that depart from actual events”.

From what we know of Oscar, there is no need to suggest that he has the power of prediction, either psychic or based on some smelling ability or behavioral sensing. Oscar’s story can almost certainly be explained by confirmation bias: the tendency of workers at the center to more strongly notice Oscar’s actions when they confirm the belief, in exactly the same way that many hospital workers notice busier nights during a full moon, a notion that’s been conclusively disproven. But we can’t know for sure since nobody has ever studied the way Oscar divides his time between the living and the dying. Until they do, we have a cute story, but certainly not a psychic cat.

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Palmistry

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

palm 817Palmistry, 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.

The Book of DivinationAccording 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.

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Earth Day Festival 2014: How was the Woo?

by The Locke via The Soap Box

Last Sunday, April 26, I went down to my town’s annual Earth Day Festival to check out everything that was there, just like I do every year.

Last year I was appalled by the amount of pseudoscience and alternative medicine woo mixed in with all of the legitimate booths and displays promoting legitimate environmental causes and advice [read about it here] to the point where they pretty much overshadowed what the Earth Day festival was suppose to be about.

The worst offender last year of course was a booth promoting Anti-GMO conspiracy theories.

Fortunately that person wasn’t back this year, but still there were people back again promoting the same woo, including the Astrology and Tarot Card reader from last year  .  .  .

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.  .  .  and the chiropractors from last year are back as well  .  .  .

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.  .  .  but I have some new ones for this year, starting with this one:

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Now I admit at first glance this one wasn’t that bad, even through it had nothing to do with environmentalism.

Creating art can help relax a person and cut down on stress. That’s the good part about what’s being presented there.

Then there’s the woo.

They also promote past life regression and trauma healing, clearing of curses, negative spirits, and other stuff of the like, and how to protect yourself from such things, all while using nature and spiritual energy.

In other words instead of addressing any real things that can cause stress in a person’s life, they’re just claiming that it’s supernatural forces, and use “techniques” they claim to get from Shamanism to “cleanse” a person of these supernatural forces.

The next offender of promoters of woo that I saw there was  .  .  .

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Will Psychics “Cure” Cancer?

Carrie PoppyBy Carrie Poppy via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

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.

psychic 856_250pxThose 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?

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

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  .  .  .

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More and More Americans Think Astrology Is Science

By via Mother Jones

astrology_854_250px“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.

astrology2

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.

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Asteroid astrology

by via Skeptophilia

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:

Eros [image courtesy of NASA and the Wikimedia Commons]

Eros
[image courtesy of NASA and the Wikimedia Commons]

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2013 Failed and Forgotten Psychic Predictions

via Relatively Interesting

psychic 856_250pxAnother 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:

PSYCHIC NIKKI

psychic nikki_250pxPredicted: 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.
Accuracy: No.

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.

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Recent psychic fraud trials in NY, Florida expose line between fortunetelling and the law

via Associated Press

psychic 856_250pxNEW 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.

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

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.

psychicFair_210pxTwo 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.

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The psychology of spiritualism: science and seances

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

By via The Observer

A Seance scene in the classic German silent film Dr Mabuse (1922), directed by Fritz Lang. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

A Seance scene in the classic German silent film Dr Mabuse (1922), directed by Fritz Lang. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

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.

Katy and Maggie Fox

Katy and Maggie Fox

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.

The tricks and techniques used by mediums have been exposed many times by people such as James Randi, Derren Brown and Jon Dennis, creator of the Bad Pyschics website.

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. psychic 856_250pxThe 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.

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▶ James Randi – Fighting the Fakers

Via ▶ James Randi – YouTube

James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.

Psychic Found Guilty of Stealing $138,000 From Clients

By via NYTimes.com

Sylvia Mitchell in court.

Sylvia Mitchell in court.

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.”

MORE . . .

The great psychic con

Georgina GuedesGeorgina Guedes via News24

Last week, I read an article about how a “psychic” in the US duped a whole bunch of clients out of $25m.

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

I am not a believer in or a fan of psychics, whether they are of the fraudulent or genuinely-convinced-of-their-own-flummery sort. However, hanging with the tree-hugging, open-minded, spiritually attuned crowd that I do, I often get to hear about my friends’ attempts to lift the veil.

I hear them report, with delight, of the positive things that their medium has told them. Six months later, when only a few of these things have materialised (even a broken clock is right twice a day), I am informed that psychics can’t be right all the time, or that it takes them some time to warm up in a session.

And even when they do get something right, it’s generally of the “I see tension associated with your mother”, or “you will have a bout of ill health”, sort of predictions.

Almost all psychics are cons

So, really, people who visit psychics would do just as well to put a bundle of scraps of paper with possible outcomes inscribed on them into a hat and draw them at random, for all the worth or insight that a psychic truly offers.

psychic_scam_362px_250pxBut then, what really boggles my mind is that these people happily traipse back for another dose of fantasy dressed up as prediction, even when the previous lot proved to be mostly off the mark.

The article about the conwoman psychic in the United States says that she told her clients that she was able to predict the future, modify the past and influence the Internal Revenue Services. Taking R25m of her clients’ money is a pretty big scam, but aren’t all psychics purporting to be able to predict the future? And taking their clients’ money for it?

So while this woman was clearly a con artist, taking money from gullible victims, actually most psychics are exactly the same thing – just dealing in smaller bundles of cash. Why aren’t they held accountable? When does it become a crime?

Regulate the profession

There should be some kind of regulation for this profession. Psychics should have to register, and if their predictions are off the mark more than, say, 25% of the time, their licence to practice is discontinued. I doubt that many of them would make the cut.

However, I believe that many people would still visit discredited psychics, seeking out the kind of false comfort that can be delivered by someone with the “second sight” telling you that everything is going to be OK.


[END] via News24

Secrets of the Psychics

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.

Jury finds ‘psychic’ Rose Marks guilty on all 14 fraud…


By Jane Musgrave via www.palmbeachpost.com

psychic_scam_362px_250pxWEST PALM BEACH (FL) — Even before the jury’s first guilty verdict was read, stifled sobs filled the courtroom. As the clerk repeated “guilty” 14 times, the quiet sobbing crescendoed.

“Psychic” Rose Marks turned to members of her family and put a finger to her lips, telling them to hush.

But it didn’t help.

Seeing the 62-year-old matriarch convicted of 14 fraud-related charges and immediately slapped in handcuffs on Thursday was too much for family members who were part of and benefited from the multi-million-dollar fortune-telling business that collapsed under the weight of a federal investigation.

Some reached out, trying to touch her. One threw a Bible. One called out to the lead investigator, mocking him. When they realized their beloved mother, grandmother and sister was about to walk through an open door and be taken to jail, shouts rang out.

“Mom, I love you!” one called. “Don’t be afraid!” yelled another.

“I’m not afraid,” Marks responded, as U.S. Marshals surrounded her. “I love you, too.”

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

The emotional end to the monthlong trial was not as unexpected as the verdict. When the trial began, cynics scoffed at the notion that a psychic could be charged with separating a fool and his money.

But, prosecutors methodically built a case, showing how Marks, her daughters-in-law and even her granddaughter preyed on broken people who came to their storefronts in midtown Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale to deal with tragedies life had handed them. Instead of solace or guidance, they told clients the only way out was to give them money — lots of it — with the promise it would one day be returned. Instead, the psychics amassed a roughly $25 million fortune.

“I’ll be the voice of the victims. Justice has been served,” said Charles Stack, who began what appeared to be a quixotic investigation in 2008 before he retired from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

MORE . . .

Psychics Boost Believers’ Sense of Control

Benjamin Radfordby Benjamin Radford via Discovery News

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.

psychic 1208“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.

MORE . . .

Billions and Billions of Planets and Stars, Twelve Personalities

By Kyle Hill via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

astrology_854_300pxYou are not special, the stars and planets decided that at your birth. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake, as Tyler Durden might say. In fact, all your complexities and quirks, your desires and passions, everything you have done or will do fits neatly into what looks like a twelve-slice pie chart laden with calligraphy. A snowflake you are not if astrology were true.

Despite what your mother may have told you, if astrology were true there would be at least hundreds of thousands of people who share in your uniqueness. Indeed, if astrologers could determine your personality and future from your hour and date of birth, there would be 8,760 different combinations available. With 7.1 billion people on the planet this means around 810,000 people would each receive your exact horoscope, your wisdom from the wandering planets above, your future. Human psychology may be broken up into general personality traits, but astrology breaks up human life into less possible variations than the combinations of a 2x2x2 Rubik’s Cube.

If astrology were true, society would fracture. Over time we would learn what days of the year gave rise to what kinds of people. Like parents who want their children to become professional hockey players, mothers would calculate conception and birthing times in order to give their son or daughter a particular star sign. Pharmaceutical companies would make a killing developing the drugs that allowed mothers to delay and control births more effectively. Being born into a specific astrological sign would create grand social rifts. Different schools would spring up as they did for different religions in twentieth century Ireland. Potential mates would need not only good looks but also descendants who shared the same sign. Libras and Aries would be the modern Capulets and Montagues.

Studies would be undertaken to establish the psychology determined by stars and planets. The zodiac would replace Myers Briggs. Modern descriptions of psychopathy would include “being a Gemini” as a defining symptom. The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual cites Mercury as much as it does brain chemistry in a world where astrology is true.

Political parties would also incorporate star signs. Candidates run on the basis of how compatible they are with Cancers and Leos—perhaps key demographics. The Speaker of the House would need to be in the astrological 10th House. And when faraway stars eventually shift enough to change star signs, revolutions follow. A new type of human would enter the mix every few centuries. The status quo would be forever challenged by the whims of gravity.

MORE . . .

Superstitious Beliefs Getting More Common

by Emily Sohn via Discovery News

THE GIST

ghost 820_250px

  • Believing in the paranormal is actually more normal than you might think and may be growing more common.
  • Contrary to common stereotypes, there is no single profile of a person who accepts the paranormal.
  • It might be in our nature to look for patterns and meaning in strange and random events.

It’s that time of year again. Ghosts, goblins and other spooky characters come out from the shadows and into our everyday lives.

For most people, the thrill lasts for a few weeks each October. But for true believers, the paranormal is an everyday fact, not just a holiday joke.

To understand what drives some people to truly believe, two sociologists visited psychic fairs, spent nights in haunted houses, trekked with Bigfoot hunters, sat in on support groups for people who had been abducted by aliens, and conducted two nationwide surveys.

Contrary to common stereotypes, the research revealed no single profile of a person who accepts the paranormal. Believers ranged from free-spirited types with low incomes and little education to high-powered businessmen. Some were drifters; others were brain surgeons.

paranormal_america_book_300pxWhy people believed also varied, the researchers report in a new book, called “Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture.”

For some, the paranormal served as just another way of explaining the world. For others, extraordinary phenomena offered opportunities to chase mysteries, experience thrills and even achieve celebrity status, if they could actually find proof.

“It’s almost like an adult way to get that kidlike need for adventure and exploration,” said co-author Christopher Bader, of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “Other people are sitting at home and renting videos, but you’re sitting in a haunted house that is infested with demons.”

“These guys who are hunting Bigfoot are out chasing a monster,” he added. “I could see the real appeal in going out for weekend and never knowing what you might find.”

There is no hard data on how common it is to believe in the paranormal, which Bader and co-author Carson Mencken define as beliefs or experiences that are not fully accepted by science or religion.

But trends in television programming offer a sense that there is a widespread interest in . . .

MORE . . .

Psychic Secrets

Jamy_Ian_SwissBy 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.

Second psychic in Hingham fraud probe surrenders to police - Quincy, MA - The Patriot LedgerWell, 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.

220px-Secrets_of_the_PsychicsVideoIn 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.

MORE . . .

Psychic Fail – Psychic’s Amber Alert Visions Bomb

by via Mind Soap

Another terrible situation unfolded in Southern California this week and self-described “intuitive” Pam Ragland is already positioning herself and her daughter for more media attention.  Ragland’s visions and claims have unsurprisingly turned out to be flat out wrong.

amber-alert-search_350pxAmber Alerts were sent throughout California Sunday evening for James Lee DiMaggio, suspected of abducting a 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and wanted in the death of the girl’s mother and younger brother.  The alerts were quickly expanded to Oregon and Washington.  [full story] [wiki]

Steven Gregory at KFI AM640 radio called Ragland to talk about the case and was aired on Bill Handel’s morning program on Thursday, August 8th.  The segment begins with a background on the Amber Alert search and the portion involving Pam Ragland begins at about 4:30.  Listen to the trimmed segment below:

Unfortunately for the Pam Ragland media jamboree, a little over twenty four hours after Ragland’s interview aired on KFI, the authorities found James DiMaggio’s vehicle after a man riding horseback spotted hikers he believed to be the missing pair.

Over 830 miles away from San Diego, California.

In the rugged wilderness of Idaho.

amber-alert-visions-fail_600px

failed_stamp_200pxJames DiMaggio was shot and killed by an FBI search team near Morehead Lake on Saturday, August 10th and Hannah Anderson was rescued.

The rescue of Hannah Anderson is such a positive outcome to such a tragic situation after the deaths of Hannah’s mother and younger brother.

This does not let Ragland and her discredited claims free from continued skepticism.  Here are a few observations and thoughts on the radio interview points that were discussed:

MORE . . .

Changing Your Fate

steven_novellaby Steven Novella via Skepticblog

There is a cartoonish sight gag that I have seen multiple times – a patient lying ill in a hospital bed has some indicator of their health, on a chart or monitor. The doctor comes by an flips the downward trending chart into an upward trending one, or adjusts the monitor so the readings are more favorable, and the patient improves.

This is a joke that a child can understand, even if they don’t explicitly understand that the humor lies in the reversal of cause and effect. And yet more subtle or complex forms of this same flawed reasoning is quite common, especially in the world of pseudoscience.

Even in medicine we can fall for this fallacy. We often measure many biological parameters to inform us about the health of our patients. When the numbers are out of the normal range it is tempting to take direct action to correct those numbers, rather than address the underlying process for which they are markers. Medical students have to learn early on to treat the patient, not the numbers.

palm_225pxOf course when the underlying belief is magical, rather than scientific, it is hard to argue against just changing the signs so that the reading is more favorable. Since the cause and effect is pure magic to begin with, does reversing it make it any worse?

Apparently not – at least for those in Japan who still believe in palmistry, according to the Daily Beast. At least one cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Matsuoka, is offering surgery to change the lines in the palm of your hand in order to change your fortune. Living longer, therefore, is just a matter of extending the life line. Of course this is absurd, but is it really more absurd than palmistry itself?

Dr. Matsuoka does not make direct claims about the efficacy of his procedure, but does justify it with the placebo effect and anecdotes:

“If people think they’ll be lucky, sometimes they become lucky.”

There is some truth to that, actually. Belief in being lucky or fortunate does seem to lead people to exploit more opportunities because they are more positive about their chances of success. This reasoning could be used, however, to defend any superstition, and it’s difficult to measure the psychological benefit against the risks of being that gullible and believing in magic.

He also reports:

The woman with the early wedding line wrote to the doctor that she got married soon after he had performed the operation. Two male patients wrote to him that they had won the lottery after the surgery. His luckiest patient collected more than $30,000 (3 million yen).

Well, there you go. I have no way to counter these completely unsubstantiated anecdotes.

Now excuse me while I roll back the mileage on my car. It’s been acting up a bit lately and I’m hoping this will make it run more like it did when it was new.


[END] via Skepticblog

Belief in Psychic Abilities Increases Sense of Control

By Christine Hsu via Counsel & Heal

A new study reveals that people given scientific evidence that supports the ability to predict the future feel a greater sense of control over their lives.

u-have-no-controlResearchers had one group of participants read a paragraph stating that scientists had found evidence supporting the existence of precognition and another group of participants read a related paper that goes against those findings.

Afterwards, participants were asked to fill out surveys.  The study revealed that people who read the paper confirming the ability to predict the future agreed more strongly with statements like “I am in control of my own life”, “My life is determined by my own actions” and “I am able to live my life how I wish” than the group who read a paper denying the ability to predict the future.

In a second experiment, participants who were made to feel a loss of control and then asked to read the same paragraphs reported feeling an increased sense of control after reading about the existence of precognition, but not when they read that it did not exist.

Im-in-ControlHowever, those who were made to feel more in control of their lives before reading and filling out surveys reported no differences in their subsequent sense of control.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that psychic predictability can provide people with a compensatory boost in perceived control.

“Humans are predisposed towards prediction; we like to know what is going to happen in our lives. Belief in paranormal abilities like precognition can help people meet this need for predictability by making us feel as though we can control our destiny,” researchers wrote in the study.

“We found that people were drawn to predictability when they experienced loss of control-even to the extent of endorsing seemingly irrational beliefs about precognition,” they added.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.


[END] via Counsel & Heal

Psychics and Alternative Medicine Practitioners: Who is worse?

Via The Soap Box

alternative-medicine-for-dummiesPsychics, and alternative medicine practitioners. Two different groups of people who peddle BS pseudoscience that wastes gullible peoples money. But which one is worse?

Now many people would say that alternative medicine practitioners are worse, because not only are they peddling something and taking peoples’ money for products and services that do not work, they’re also physically harming people as well, and even risking peoples lives by not only selling them products and services that makes them think they can forgo real medicine and medical services that could help them and even save their lives for the alternative stuff, but also selling them products and services that really can cause harm, and possibly even kill you.

So it sounds like a no brainer, right? Alternative medicine practitioners are selling you products and services that could harm you and possibly kill you, while psychics are just taking your money. Except… many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they are doing is harmful, because some do seriously believe that alternative medicine does work (this is mostly due to anecdotal evidence).

People claiming to be psychics on the other hand are different, because while many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they’re doing is fraud, psychics on the other hand almost always know what they’re doing is fraud.

psychic_scam_362px_250pxPsychic powers simply do not exist. Every person who has ever been tested for psychic powers under controlled scientific testing conditions have always failed to prove that they have psychic powers, and the really famous so called psychics have never gone and had their alleged powers proven under controlled scientific testing conditions, so it is very safe to say that psychic powers don’t exist, and that anyone who is claiming to be a psychic is most likely lying (although it is also possible that they may be self-deluded and have actually convinced themselves they are psychic, or they’re just mentally ill) and therefore if they do take any money from you for their services, are knowingly committing fraud.

Besides committing fraud, psychics also . . .

. . . MORE . . .

Did Woman’s ‘Visions’ Locate Missing Boy?

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

The search for a missing 11-year-old California boy came to a tragic end recently when the body of Terry Smith Jr. was found. The boy’s mother reported him missing July 7, and his body was found three days later not far from his home in the rural town of Menifee, according to news reports.

psychic 1208A woman named Pam Ragland, who claims to have psychic or intuitive powers, is being credited by police and others as having located the boy through her visions, according to news reports.

Driven by recurring visions of the boy, a distinctive home and a tree, Ragland searched the area where the boy was last seen, and to her surprise, found a home and tree matched those in her visions, even though she lived 60 miles away and had never been there. Ragland and her children searched the area and discovered Smith buried in a shallow grave near the tree.

The case is strange and intriguing, but not unexplainable. Clues to solving the mystery may lie in psychology and statistics.

Prophetic visions?

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

Because Ragland had never met the Smith family nor been to their property, how could she possibly have recognized their home from her psychic visions? The answer is simple: She very likely saw it on television. Ragland stated that she had been following the extensive news coverage about the missing boy, and that she had her first visions while she was watching a news report about the search for Smith.

Television reports included photographs and video footage of the Smith home and property, and whether or not Ragland remembered paying attention to those images, she had indeed seen the Smith property before she arrived there.

Therefore the fact that a house and tree in her vision “matched” the house and tree where Smith was finally found is not surprising, and merely evidence of her not remembering where she saw an image, not psychic powers.

Psychics or statistics?

psychic_200pxWhy would Ragland suddenly get a (correct) vision of Smith’s location? She has stated believes that she and her children are “intuitive” and that the senses, ideas and intuitions that come to her are meaningful and important.

In high-profile missing persons cases, it is common for police to be inundated with hundreds or thousands of visions, hunches, and feelings from psychics, most of which are contradictory and all of which turn out to be wrong. Despite popular belief and claims to the contrary, there is not a single documented case of a missing person being found or recovered due to psychic information.

Like Ragland, many psychics state they genuinely believe in their powers and abilities, and are sincerely trying to help. Over the course of many missing persons cases and tens of thousands of visions and predictions, eventually a few of them will turn out to be correct simply by chance.

In this case, however, Ragland’s chance of correctly guessing where Smith’s body would be found was much better than pure chance.

It is a statistical fact that . . .

. . . MORE . . .

Talking to the Dead: James Van Praagh Tested

This video is almost an hour long. Maybe a bit slow moving for some. But psychics are one of my favorite targets. I don’t believe in psychic abilities, i believe they’re all charlatans. So for that reason i enjoyed this very much.

Here, Miklos Jako exposes the techniques used by James Van Praagh.

:)


By Miklos Jako via MichaelShermer – YouTube

James Van Praagh and other practitioners of so-called “channeling”—communicating with deceased people—have consistently avoided any scientific examination of their alleged abilities. Here, Miklos Jako, a knowledgeable layman, tests James’ ability, simply by having a session with him, and analyzing what went on. The results, though not strictly scientific, are pretty conclusive, as well as entertaining.

Miklos Jako is a retired teacher, who has investigated religion and related topics all his life. He is the author of Confronting Believers (Infinity Publishing). He graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, and Colby College, ME.

Uncloaking the Deceptive Tactics Used by Alleged Psychics

by via Debunking Denialism

psychic-transparentAlleged psychics who claim to have supernatural powers to communicate with the “spirit realm” have been around for centuries, from the priestesses of the Oracle in Delphi to Sylvia Browne (who has been debunked several times on this blog, such as here, here, here and here). Alleged psychics may seem very convincing at first, but that is a cognitive illusion created by the fact that these supposed psychics use psychological tools and techniques to attempt to create such beliefs in the brain of their unsuspecting victims.

This article goes into detail and examines the nature of some of these tricks. Although no division is going to be perfect, they can be divided into three categories (with some overlap): basic techniques that almost all psychics use, techniques used to increase the probability of getting a hit and techniques used to salvage a miss. When combined, they constitute a powerful method for deception, especially if the victim is in an emotionally vulnerable state or if he or she already has an inclination to believe.

Basic Techniques

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

There are certain techniques that are used by almost all alleged psychics that the deserved to be called basic techniques. This involves cold reading (making guesses and getting information from the victim), warm reading (making barnum statements that apply to almost everyone), hot reading (gotten information from researching the victim) and time-shifting (asking a question and claiming that the information was gotten from the spirit world when the victim tells the alleged psychic the information).

Cold reading: cold reading is perhaps one of the most common and well-known tactic used by alleged psychics. It is a technique designed to get the victim to give the alleged psychic the information, and then the alleged psychic takes credit for it and makes it appear that he or she got that information from the deceased loved one. The alleged psychic typically employ estimates and guesses that have a high prior probability of being true about the person, often informed by body language, manner of speech, outward appearance and so on. If a guess is confirmed, the alleged psychic pushes forward in that direction, hoping that confirmation bias will make the victim forget the hits and remember the misses.

james_van_praagh_150pxWarm reading: there is a related technique refers to as warm reading. Some skeptics consider it a type of cold reading, whereas others conceptualize it as an independent technique. Warm reading occurs when the alleged psychic uses statements that apply to almost anyone (barnum statements) instead of using cold reading to get the victim to give them information. Examples include guessing for a common case of death (such as heart condition or cancer). If this technique is combined with inflating probabilistic resources, the supposed psychic has a very high probability of scoring a hit.

John_Edward_150pxHot reading: hot reading occurs when the alleged psychic has actually gotten information about the victim beforehand, either from a Google search or probing other people close the victim (such as relatives, friends, TV producers and so on). Then, when they present that information to their victims, it seems like a miraculous discovery and evidence that the alleged psychic can really talk to the dead. In reality, they have just gathered that information from living or electronic sources without you knowing it. With the popularity of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, this is becoming an increasingly powerful technique.

Time-shifting: time-shifting is a technique that begins with the alleged psychic asking a question. If the victim gives an informative response, the alleged psychic replies that the dead loved one just told him or her that. To credulous victims, it may appear that the deceased loved one provided the information before the question was asked. In reality, it was the victim that gave that information to the supposed psychic and the supposed psychic tried to make it look like he or she was actually communicating with the dead.

Techniques to Ensure a Hit

LongIslandMedium_250px_200pxThe techniques in this category attempt to increase the probability of getting hits. This is done by various means, such as making a statement without specifying what dead relative and hoping that it will fit for at least one or making a statement in front of a crowd so that at least someone will relate (inflating probabilistic resources), increasing the number of statements made hoping that some are true (shotgunning), making statements that are contradictory or cover a range of possibilities (covering all the bases), ensure that all responses by the victim can be twisted into a hit by asking questions containing negations (vanishing negative) and making unverifiable/unfalsifiable claims that can never become misses (escape hatch).

George Anderson, a former switchboard operator, now talks to the dead.

George Anderson, a former switchboard operator, now talks to the dead.

Inflating probabilistic resources: this technique can be used both when performing a private reading and when doing a reading on e. g. a TV audience. Both are based on the fact that the more possible connections that can make between what the alleged psychic claims and reality, the greater probability that the claimed psychic will score a hit. During a private reading, the psychic might make vague claims about the victim’s dead relatives (e. g. who had the cat?). Since any given person might have quite a few dead relatives, there is a greater probability to score a hit than if the psychic had asked “did your mother have a cat?”. During psychic readings on a studio audience, an alleged psychic will throw out a bait to the entire audience, such as asking “who had the dad with the clock?” or similar. The alleged psychic is almost guaranteed a hit, because there is bound to be someone who can relate to it. In this case, the inflation does not occur by making claims that could refer to any dead relative. Instead, the inflation occurs because there are so many people in the studio audience. Using these techniques, the probability of getting a hit is increased.

Shotgunning: the defining characteristic of the shotgunning technique involves throwing out a lot of claims, particularly names, and hoping that the victim can relate to at least one of them. The alleged psychic relies on the confirmation bias of the victim to ensure that he or she will remember the hits and forgetting the misses. This is based on the same general ideas as inflating the probabilistic resources, although here it is about increasing the number of allowed guesses instead of increasing the probability that a given guess is interpreted as a hit.

MORE . . .

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Here to Hereafter: Can Psychics Really Talk to the Dead?

By Benjamin Radford  via LiveScience (October 2010)

psychic 920_250pxIn the … Clint Eastwood film “Hereafter,” Matt Damon stars as George, a man who has the ability to communicate with ghosts. George, who retired from the contacting-the-dead business (calling it a curse instead of a blessing) is reluctantly drawn back into doing  readings for people who have recently lost loved ones.

People in nearly every culture have long believed that communication with the dead is possible, and throughout the ages many people have claimed to be able to speak with the dearly departed. Ghosts and spirit communication often show up in classic literature, including mythology, the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays.

In Victorian England, it was fashionable in many circles to conduct séances; Ouija boards, three-legged tables, candles and other accoutrements were used to try to contact the dead. ouija-board-gifIn the U.S., belief in communication with the dead rose dramatically in the 1800s along with the rise of Spiritualism, a religion founded on hoaxed spirit communication by two young sisters in Hydesville, N.Y. Despite the fact that the sisters later admitted they had only been pretending to get messages from the dead, the religion they helped start flourished, claiming more than 8 million adherents by 1900.

For well over a century, many mediums have been caught faking spirit communication. Harry Houdini exposed many psychics as frauds who used trickery to make vulnerable people believe in the reality of spirit messages. (For more on this, see Massimo Polidoro‘s book “Final Séance,” Prometheus Books, 2001).

ghost-1_200pxWhether real or faked, the messages supposedly conveyed from the great beyond have changed dramatically over time. A century ago, mediums “in touch with the spirit” during séances would write pages and pages of “automatic writing,” the psychic’s hands allegedly guided by ghosts to convey lengthy handwritten messages.

Curiously, ghosts seem to have lost their will (or ability) to write since that time — or even communicate effectively. These days the spirits (as channeled through mediums) seem to prefer a guessing game and instead offer only ambiguous, vague information: “I’m getting a presence with the letter M, or J in the name? A father, or father figure perhaps? Did he give you something special to remember him by, something small?”

If spirit communication is real, one might think . . .

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‘Evil Spirit’ Scam Plagues Asian Immigrants In NYC

By COLLEEN LONG via The Huffington Post

psychic_scam_362pxNEW YORK — One woman was told by a fortune teller that her son was possessed by demons. Another was approached on a Chinatown street by a stranger who eerily claimed her daughter would die in two days. A third was informed that her dead husband was communicating from the grave, telling her to hand over thousands in cash.

“Your son will die in a car accident – he is cursed,” a 65-year-old was told.

In each instance, the women bundled up cash and jewelry in a bag and gave it to strangers they’d just met – self-proclaimed spiritual healers. They were told the contents would be blessed in an effort to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck to the family or heal a sick child – they just have to wait a period of time to re-open it.

When they do, they find water bottles, cough drops and beans. But no valuables.

ScamAlertDetectives say there has been a rash in New York of what’s known as an evil spirit or blessing scam, where older immigrant women, mostly Chinese, are swindled out of their valuables by clever scammers arriving from China who prey on superstition and fear. In the past six months, two dozen victims have reported valuables stolen – in some cases more than $10,000 in cash and $13,000 in jewelry, according to police reports. A total of more than $1.8 million has been stolen.

“They know the culture, they know how to talk to these victims to get them to listen,” chief New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said of the grifts. “One person’s spirituality is another’s superstition, and they prey on that distinction.”

The scam itself has many permutations, but the basic principle is the same: A woman, usually in her 50s or older, is approached by a stranger, usually a younger woman, who asks the woman if she knows where to find a particular healer or fortune teller. Another seeming stranger joins the conversation, says she knows where the healer is located, and convinces the older woman to come along. The healer convinces the victim that in order to ward off some evil, she must hand over valuables in a bag to be blessed. And then they switch the bag.

Similar scams occur in other places in the U.S. with large Asian communities, such as . . .

MORE . . .

This undated image provided by the New York City Police Department shows a poster that has been displayed in Chinatown in Manhattan and in Asian neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens warning of blessing scams. Detectives say there has been a rash this year in New York of what’s known as an evil spirit or blessing scam, where older immigrant women, mostly Chinese, are swindled out of their valuables by clever scammers who prey on their superstition and fear. (AP Photo/NYPD)

This undated image provided by the New York City Police Department shows a poster that has been displayed in Chinatown in Manhattan and in Asian neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens warning of blessing scams. Detectives say there has been a rash this year in New York of what’s known as an evil spirit or blessing scam, where older immigrant women, mostly Chinese, are swindled out of their valuables by clever scammers who prey on their superstition and fear. (AP Photo/NYPD)

When All of Us Are Nostradamus

By Kyle Hill via the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

psychic_fraudYou open up the morning paper to check the obituaries. With a shaking hand, you read what you’ve been dreading all along—your own name. Your number is up; your fate is sealed. Sometime in the next month you are going to die. Everyone knows it. And you know it, too. At least you have time to choose your own epitaph. You’re psychic; everyone is, or at least has the potential to be.

Peeking at the hand fate dealt you is commonplace in a world where psychics actually exist. For them, the future is as clear as the past, though abilities would range from Spidey sense to Oracle at Delphi. The most powerful seers—the Nostradamuses, if you will—among them wouldn’t be relegated to pricey phones lines. Such powers almost demand public service. A Minority Report-style pre-cognition division would surely spring up in every police department that could afford one. Seismologists and volcanologists could no longer be persecuted for inadequate predictions—the onus would be on the psychics to alert the public of impending natural disasters. Predicting better than even our best computer models, tune in for the psychic weather forecast on the nightly news.

psychicFair_210pxIf people had psychic future-sight every phone number would be for a Miss Cleo. Casinos around the world would close. Gambling isn’t a matter of luck anymore; can you predict the snake eyes or not? And the lottery hardly seems fair when any real psychic could pluck the numbers from the tealeaves. Insurance plans would diversify and skyrocket. When a psychic insurance agent could predict a cancer diagnosis, future-existing conditions are what they will deny. Forget about the heat of competition. Every sports team is a group of players on a stage going through the determined script until the last whistle blows.

Raising children in a world full of actual psychics would involve going through another stage of development: existential turmoil. If a psychic taps into the loom of fate to see where a string weaves, children would quickly learn that they live in a determined world. Perhaps they will learn about free will like psychology students learn about behaviorism—a clever idea that eventually fell by the wayside in the light of how the world really is. Is anyone really responsible for his or her actions? Should we punish criminals if they are beholden to fate and not sadistic whim? Parents in a world full of real psychics wouldn’t look forward to fielding such questions. The “birds and the bees” talk is much easier to handle.

Real psychics wouldn’t just grasp the future. They would be able to sense beyond what an eye or ear can tell them—a “sixth sense” for objects and feelings. Marriage disputes over where the hell the remote is are no more. Car keys, if not in the pocket, are never lost. Neither are children or loved ones. Real psychics wouldn’t be the laughing stocks of detectives anymore; they would be their saviors. Resolving a manhunt or Amber Alert would be a simple matter of having the psychic manpower (and psychic children would find hide and seek pretty boring). Every cold case would be hot again.

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North Hollywood Woman Sues Psychic Over Love Curse

by Arin Mikailian via North Hollywood-Toluca Lake, CA Patch

psychic_250pxA woman sued her former psychic reader Wednesday, alleging the soothsayer conned her out of nearly $11,000 with false promises that she could lift a curse on the plaintiff’s love life.

Klarissa Castro of North Hollywood filed her suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Jennifer Williams and her company, Psychic Readings By Yana, located at 2201 S. Bundy Drive in Los Angeles.

Williams could not be immediately reached for comment on the complaint, which alleges fraud and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

According to the suit, Castro first met with Williams in August 2010.

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

“Upon the initial consultation, Williams informed (Castro) that there was a curse placed on her,” the suit states. “However, Williams assured her that she was able to lift the curse, but that she would require plaintiff to start a series of psychic sessions with Williams.”

Castro says she was “emotionally vulnerable” at the time and Williams convinced her that “without lifting this curse, (she) would be unable to have true, meaningful, loving relationships in her life.”

The initial consultation cost Castro $500, according to her complaint.

Castro says she saw Williams during the next two years, spending $4,025 for the psychic’s services. Williams also told Castro to buy special candles blessed by the psychic, to write special love letters and perform other acts in order to have the curse removed, the suit says.

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The Con Academy (Vol.1)

This is volume 1 of The Con Academy videos—another resource in the Skeptics Society‘s arsenal of Skepticism 101 for teaching critical thinking and promoting science through the use of humor, wit, and satire. In this faux commercial for The Con Academy you’ll see how psychics count on the confirmation bias to convince people that their powers are real when, in fact, they are just remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. We also demonstrate how psychic “organizations” con people by taking their money for services that are not real.

MORE: Skeptic Presents: The Con Academy (Vol.1) – YouTube.

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British Psychic TV Channels Fined For Not Telling Viewers It’s All B.S.

By via The Huffington Post

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

In a move no one saw coming, A British TV channel set up to offer dial-up psychic services has been fined for not telling viewers it’s all “for entertainment purposes only.”

Psychic Today, a 24-hour psychic network, was fined the equivalent of $19,079 U.S. for claiming on-air that its psychics could provide “accurate and precise” readings for callers, for offering anecdotal stories of successful predictions, and for making claims that presenters had helped solve crimes for the police, according to the Register.

Another TV channel, an interactive quiz channel called The Big Deal, was fined the equivalent of $15,262 for advertising psychic services.

The fines were laid down by Ofcom, an independent regulator of the British communications industry that has strict rules about how psychics can label their skills.

psychic_200pxIn one case, a psychic told viewers she was involved in the police investigation regarding the death of teenager named Milly Dowler, while another claimed she once accurately predicted that her friend would become friends with Michael Jackson.

Majestic TV, which holds the license for Psychic Today, told Ofcom that while the claims made in both cases were “factually correct,” the reference to Dowler was “unfortunate,” SkyNews reported.

According to a document the organization released in December 2011, anyone claiming to be in touch with a spirit guide or a dead person must qualify their powers by saying it’s “for entertainment purposes,” a phrase that must also be stated by the presenters and scrolled on screen.

Psychics are also prevented from predicting the future, offering life-changing advice, talking to the dead or even claiming to be accurate, the Register reported.

MORE . . .

Also see: Telly psychics fail to foresee £12k fine for peddling nonsense • The Register (UK).

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Skeptical ‘Zombies’ Attack Alleged Psychic James Van Praagh (VIDEO)

A slightly dated story from October 2011, but still fun.:)

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)


via huffingtonpost

James Van Praagh plays a kind of twenty-questions game with his audience.

James Van Praagh plays a kind of twenty-questions game with his audience.

Psychic James Van Praagh has made a fortune by allegedly speaking to the dead, but apparently he has no time for the undead.

That’s what a group of zombies recently discovered when they showed up at one of Van Praagh’s $100-a-head “spirit circles” hoping to pick Van Praagh’s brain about his so-called psychic powers.

For the record, the zombies were actually members of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), an organization that works to expose paranormal and pseudoscientific frauds.

Still, that doesn’t mean they weren’t out for blood, as protest signs reading “Talk to us, we won’t bite,” and “Psychics do not talk to the dead” demonstrated.

According to head zombie D.J. Grothe, who is also the president of the JREF and a Huffington Post blogger, the zombie attack was a fun way to make a point the organization is dead serious about: People who claim to speak to the dead, such as celebrity psychics like Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne and John Edward, are taking advantage of grieving people.

“We’re not rabble rousing,” Grothe told HuffPost Weird News. “This is a guy who is taking advantage of people’s grief. He’s not performing for entertainment, he’s claiming he’s giving messages from dead relatives. He gets people when they are at their lowest and sees them as his target market.”

Grothe says the group decided to dress up as the undead because Van Praagh has, so far, dodged questions about whether he’ll accept the foundation’s million-dollar challenge to prove his claimed psychic medium abilities under scientific conditions.

In the video, Van Praagh’s representatives first promise to get someone to talk with the group, but instead have the group kicked out by security.

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James-Randi-Challenge_350PX

All About Graphology

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

Can handwriting analysis really tell us about the personality and aptitudes of the writer?

Read podcast transcript below or listen here

handwriting2Today we’re going to take pen in hand and write a short passage, and then have the handwriting analyzed by an expert. Is it true that useful information about our personalities or lives can be divined through a study of our handwriting? Can the strength of our loops, the spaces between words, and the crossed Ts and dotted Is actually reveal our intentions or thoughts? Some refer to it as a science and make important business, life, or legal decisions based upon it; others regard it as a pseudoscience and dismiss its utility. Let’s see what the light of science will reveal when we shine it upon graphology.

The first thing to understand is that there are three basic types of handwriting analysis, and it’s crucial to be clear on which one we’re talking about today. The first is used in the medical profession, usually in neurology, to help diagnose conditions like Parkinson’s disease in which motor function is affected and fine skills like handwriting will degrade. This is perfectly legitimate as an aid to diagnosis in some cases. The second type is forensic document analysis, also known as graphonomy, which seeks to establish the authenticity of documents or autographs. This can include not only chemical analysis of the paper and ink, but often comes down to comparing certain metrics of the handwriting between a known sample and a test sample to see if they were written by the same person. silly-beliefs_300pxIt’s important to note that a graphonomer would never make a conclusion about the personality of the writer; as that is purely the realm of the third type of handwriting analysis: graphology. Graphology is the practice of determining personality traits, skills, aptitudes, or even fortunes, through the study of an individual’s handwriting.

Skeptical evaluation of graphology has historically found that it is in the same classification as astrology or palm reading. It’s generally described as purely unscientific, little differentiated from a psychic reading, and that any correct statements depend on lucky guesses or the reading of other cues from the subject, such as the content of the writing or the appearance and behavior of the subject, if they are present during the analysis. In short, the science-based assessment of graphology is overwhelmingly negative.

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Open Up Your Mind and Let Your Brain Shut Off

Sharon_hill_80pxBy via The Huffington Post

People tell me I should be more open-minded.

There is a clichéd saying regarding open-mindedness: “Keep an open mind — but not so open that your brain falls out”.

This piece of advice is most often said to come from physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988), but also a slew of other more or less famous people, most of them from the field of science: Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, James Oberg, Bertrand Russell, J. Robert Oppenheimer. It’s plausible that they all certainly said it at one time or another because it applies every time one is presented with a fringe or alternative explanation for something. It’s well worth remembering as a rule of thumb.

Because I peruse paranormal-themed sites and various “water-cooler” forums on the web, I frequently see ideas thrown out there that would qualify as amazing and paradigm-shifting. So, what do I think about this latest crazy thing, people ask?

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The Starchild skull.

Here’s a recent example. With all the recent speculation about “alien” remains, someone on Facebook mentioned Lloyd Pye who contends (for almost 15 years now) that a curiously-shaped skull he has is that of an alien-human hybrid. Called the “star child” skull, Pye promotes the story that this is proof that humans descended from extraterrestrial beings.

The plausibility of this idea is practically nil. There is no decent evidence in support of it except a nifty story. To accept it, we’d have to throw out all of what we know about human history, evolution, and a good bit of well-established physics. Just because of one odd-looking skull? No, thank you. That would be stupid. Thus, to consider such an idea takes me about a minute before I realize that would be unreasonable. It’s an imaginative idea, just like mermaids and remote viewing and time travelers. But in order to accept it, I’d have to discard too much (e.g., my brain and society’s accumulated knowledge). The evidence clearly suggests another more down-to-earth explanation. Since the skull DNA tested as human, and we know that certain genetic conditions can cause the enlargement of the skull in just this way, I’m going to accept the obvious and not some far-fetched story just for kicks.

Calling skeptics closed-minded because we discard wacky ideas is a common ploy. It’s often used as a personal insult because the skeptic has rejected a baseless idea that the promoters fancy. When you don’t have evidence to support your idea, observe that the proponent resorts to derogatory tactics.

But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.

“But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.”

It’s not about actually being open-minded towards new ideas. Instead, the proponent is accusing the skeptic of being stubborn, undemocratic and unfair. They see it as the skeptical person, being overly rational, ignoring a possibly worthwhile option to be considered. But all ideas are not equal. Not all ideas are worthy of consideration.

Let’s take another example: energy healing. I should be open-minded, reiki practitioners say, and try these forms of energy medicine where healing energy gets channeled or manipulated for better health. If someone offers these treatments to me and I just say “OK! Sounds good!” (and hand over my money) is that actually being open-minded? No. It’s swallowing what I’m being fed without a thought. The same would apply to . . .

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Psychic Victim: ‘How Could I Be So Stupid?’

via CBS Denver

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Adam Marks and 4 On Your Side Investigator Brian Maass (credit: CBS)

LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4)– A 65-year-old woman who says she lost her retirement savings to a Loveland psychic is now calling the psychic “a complete ripoff” and says she wants others to hear her story and avoid the mistakes she made.

“I look back on it now and think, ‘How could I have been so stupid?’” Francine Evers told CBS4.

Evers handed over more than $73,000 to psychic Adams Marks in a six-month time frame.

Marks has been charged with theft, crimes against an at-risk adult and intimidating a witness.

He declined to talk to CBS4 about the pending criminal case promising, “I’ll have my lawyer call you.”

Evers decided to open up about her experiences with Marks in the hopes others might come forward if they have had similar experiences with Marks even though she acknowledges “It’s embarrassing.”

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Cold Reading

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“In the course of a successful reading, the psychic may provide most of the words, but it is the client that provides most of the meaning and all of the significance.” —Ian Rowland (2000: 60)

Note: to understand cold reading you must understand subjective validation.

psychic_300pxCold reading refers to a set of techniques used by professional manipulators to get a subject to behave in a certain way or to think that the cold reader has some sort of special ability that allows him to “mysteriously” know things about the subject. Cold reading goes beyond the usual tools of manipulation: suggestion and flattery. In cold reading, salespersons, hypnotists, advertising pros, faith healers, con men, and some therapists bank on their subject’s inclination to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is. The desire to make sense out of experience can lead us to many wonderful discoveries, but it can also lead us to many follies. The manipulator knows that his mark will be inclined to try to make sense out of whatever he is told, no matter how farfetched or improbable. He knows, too, that people are generally self-centered, that we tend to have unrealistic views of ourselves, and that we will generally accept claims about ourselves that reflect not how we are or even how we really think we are but how we wish we were or think we should be. He also knows that for every several claims he makes about you that you reject as being inaccurate, he will make one that meets with your approval; and he knows that you are likely to remember the hits he makes and forget the misses.

Thus, a good manipulator can provide a reading of a total stranger, which will make the stranger feel that the manipulator possesses some special power. For example, Bertram Forer has never met you, yet he offers the following cold reading of you:bertram-forer_200px

Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary and reserved. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. You pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do not accept others’ opinions without satisfactory proof. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety, and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. Disciplined and controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside.

Your sexual adjustment has presented some problems for you. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a strong need for other people to like you and for them to admire you.

Here’s another reading that you might find fairly accurate about you:

People close to you have been taking advantage of you. Your basic honesty has been getting in your way. Many opportunities that you have had offered to you in the past have had to be surrendered because you refuse to take advantage of others. You like to read books and articles to improve your mind. In fact, if you’re not already in some sort of personal service business, you should be. You have an infinite capacity for understanding people’s problems and you can sympathize with them. But you are firm when confronted with obstinacy or outright stupidity. Law enforcement would be another field you understand. Your sense of justice is quite strong.

The last one was from astrologer Sidney Omarr. He’s never even met you and yet he knows so much about you (Randi 1982: 61). The first one was taken by Forer from a newsstand astrology book.

psychicFair_210pxThe selectivity of the human mind is always at work. We pick and choose what data we will remember and what we will give significance to. In part, we do so because of what we already believe or want to believe. In part, we do so in order to make sense out of what we are experiencing. We are not manipulated simply because we are gullible or suggestible, or just because the signs and symbols of the manipulator are vague or ambiguous. Even when the signs are clear and we are skeptical, we can still be manipulated. In fact, it may even be the case that particularly bright persons are more likely to be manipulated when the language is clear and they are thinking logically. To make the connections that the manipulator wants you to make, you must be thinking logically.

Not all cold readings are done by malicious manipulators. Some readings are done by astrologers, graphologists, tarot readers, New Age healers, and people who genuinely believe they have paranormal powers.

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Dead Wrong, . . . Again

by Mark Edward via Skepticblog

H/T Thomas J. Proffit

Amanda Berry

Amanda Berry

Grief Vampire Sylvia Browne has once again proven herself to be the worst possible psychic medium in known history. Skeptics should be happy she is back in the news this time for her ”incorrectly predicting”(?) the outcome of the Amanda Berry disappearance. Chalk up another totally reprehensible miss to her worthless career.

Words cannot be used here at Skepticblog that could express my utter contempt for this bottom-feeding woman and her supporters. This time out she not only caused untold grief to family and community members, but also may have contributed to Amanda’s mother Louwana’s untimely death:

From:  http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/05/amanda_berrys_mother_louwana_m.html

“The case was featured on “American’s Most Wanted.” Louwana Miller appeared on Montel Williams’ nationally-syndicated talk show in November 2004. On the show, a psychic (read as Sylvia Browne)  told Miller that Amanda was probably dead.

“I still don’t want to believe it,” Louwana Miller said in an interview after the show. “I want to have hope but . . . what else is there?”

Louwana Miller: Amanda’s Mother: Dead of a Broken Heart?

Louwana Miller: Amanda’s Mother: Dead of a Broken Heart?

Activist Art McKoy befriended Louwana Miller during her ordeal. He said he could tell that the stress and heartache were wearing her down. The visit with the psychic was the breaking point, he said.“From that point, Ms. Miller was never the same,” McKoy said. “I think she had given up.”

For those who say psychics like Browne, Edward et. al. somehow help or comfort those in need and repeat the phrase “What’s the harm?” there should be a real answer in what has taken place here. How much more can we stand without getting The Law involved in these sorts of horrible mind games? This is not comforting or entertainment – this is blatant criminality of the worst kind. Sylvia and her ilk make a very good living doing this day in and day out. How many other people have had their lives, hopes and dreams shattered by these predatory harpies?

Browne to Miller: “ She’s not alive, honey.”

The Hornbeck Family

The Hornbeck Family

In a related development: French television news program “Enquete exclusive – Voyants, mediums, mentalistes revelations sur leurs mysterieux pouvoirs’” which featured myself and CFI/IIG’s Jim Underdown, showcased through amazing interview footage the entire Shawn Hornbeck drama. If you are not already familiar with Browne’s mis-deeds in this matter – it’s too much to go into here. Let’s just say once again, Sylvia told Shawn’s parents on nationwide television he was dead when he was later found quite well and alive.

French program here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34Iji3aMAa0

Not only do the Hornbeck parents come forward and speak out about the emotional damage that ravenous bad-tempered shrew Browne inflicted on their lives, they also give a very negative shout out to that other slimeball James VanPraagh for doing the same sort of “comforting.”

Maureen Hancock

Maureen Hancock

In the “Enquete” program, “The Medium Next Door,” everybody’s darling Maureen Hancock also gets her fair share of explicit exposing when Jim and I reveal the latest trend in mediumship: using “hot reads” taken from credit card information to later reveal dramatic “hits” in a live audience performance. This isn’t a magic or mentalism show folks, this is a con pure and simple.

Later in another segment of the program, Hancock is also shown in her opulent home psychically picking out suspects and leading police (and another mother of a missing woman) on wild goose chases that lead everybody off the track. It is obvious Maureen is bluffing her way through the whole segment. Hancock has absolutely no track record anywhere for her claims as a successful “psychic detective” – other than her known background an “associate member” of the Licensed Private Detective Association of Massachusetts. What might that tell us about her ability to suss out information on people? So why isn’t this mis-use of private information a crime? Isn’t this tantamount to filing a false police report? Having the French television crew capturing her deceptions on camera in the presence of their own law enforcement officers should be extra embarrassing for the police involved. How do you feel about being seen internationally as dupes for this woman?

MORE . . .

Also see: Sylvia Browne’s Biggest Blunder (iLLumiNuTTi.com)

Graphology

by via NeuroLogica Blog

handwriting2Imagine applying for a job, a position you really want and feel is a good match for your skills, and during the interview process you are seated in front of a psychic. The psychic is wearing full regalia, with a turban, crystals, and mystical garb. They proceed to give you a psychic reading – a reading which will be used to decide whether or not you will be hired for your dream job.

You can substitute any number of techniques for the psychic reading – a tarot card reading, palm reading, astrological chart, or phrenological analysis. Would you feel comfortable with such techniques deciding your fate? Would you feel outraged?

That is exactly what is happening in many corporations today, particularly in France. The technique that is being used, however, is graphology. It is as legitimate as any cold-reading technique (that is, not at all) but retains a veneer of scientific legitimacy. Graphology, or handwriting analysis, is a psychic cold-reading dressed up for the corporate world.

Graphology was first developed by Jean-Hippolyte Michon, a French priest and archaeologist. He published his first journal of graphology in 1871. The idea is that the particular aspects of a person’s handwriting reveals their character. Graphologists study the size, slope, pressure, connections, and other tiny details of handwriting, with each detail revealing an aspect of personality.

Like iridology, palmistry, and astrology, there is a complex system of graphology that can take years to master. That in itself, however, does not say anything about the legitimacy of graphology. People are industrious and we are good at developing complex systems based on nothing at all, except our imagination. Complexity alone is not a sign of validity.

The beginning of exploration is doubt. Skeptics learn about the many mechanisms of self-deception so that we understand that just because something seems to be real, that does not mean that it is. This is the motivation for scientific analysis – controlling for all of those mechanisms of deception and bias. Only then will we know if a phenomenon is real or not.

silly-beliefs_300pxHandwriting analysis has been subjected to properly blinded experimental tests. Graphologists are given samples of text that are neutral, meaning that the content of the text does not reveal anything about the person writing it. They are also blinded to the target subject, and given the task of analyzing the handwriting. Their results are then compared to standard personality profiles of the subject, and to other graphologists examining the same samples.

The results of such studies, not surprisingly, show that graphology provides no information to the graphologist. Their readings do not match the personality of the target, nor do they even match each other. Graphology does not work.

MORE . . . .

Also see: How Graphology Fools People (QuackWatch)

Online Psychic Service Warns Public to Avoid Psychic Scams (seriously)

This is just too funny – like a burglar trying to be upstanding by warning you against other burglars.

Just for sh**s and giggles I visited the Psychic Accesshow to spot a psychic scam” page to see what kind of advice they provide to help us avoid psychic scams.

Under the header Screened, verified and accuracy tested they list these qualifications as characteristics of a legitimate psychic service (presumably referring to themselves):

  1. The psychic has been tested by an independent organization, or
  2. is registered with the local authorities, or
  3. the site clearly has a strict selection and hiring policy available to the public.

Most people would read this list and believe each psychic meets all 3 of these qualifications and is therefore Screened, verified and accuracy tested, right? You would be wrong.

Note the header DOESN’T SAY: Each psychic is screened, verified and accuracy tested”.

Also note the word “OR” placed between each of the 3 qualifications. This means, to be considered a true statement, ONLY 1 of the 3 qualifications need be fulfilled – NOT all 3. So, as long as the Psychic Access website “clearly has a strict selection and hiring policy available to the public (qualification #3),” they’re technically not being deceptive.

So rather than promising real, verified and tested psychics, these words only promise a website with a clear, strict selection and hiring policy available to the public.

Am i the only one seeing the irony of this deception coming from a psychic service warning us to avoid deceptive psychic services?

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)

P.S. The fact Psychic Access doesn’t have a money back guarantee didn’t escape my notice.

Psychic Access, a trusted global leader in online psychic reading services, has issued a public warning against fake psychics, fortune-telling scams and con artists.

Via sbwire.com

psychic_250pxCarson City, NV — (SBWIRE) — Psychic Scams conjured up by fake fortune-tellers continue to be a major concern for legitimate, professional psychic companies. Every day unsuspecting members of the public are conned into forking out ridiculous amounts of money to line the pockets of con artists, despite the fact that potential victims have access to online information on the subject.

“We often deal with the tragic aftermath of psychic scams, when the victim finally finds her way to us for skilled help and guidance,” says Doug Christman, CEO and President of Psychic Access, Inc. “Phony psychics not only damage the reputation of other legitimate psychic services, but they also wreak havoc in the lives of innocent, vulnerable people. Our team of readers at Psychic Access too often has to clean up the confusion and distress caused by these fraudsters. ”

In an effort to combat the prevalence of online psychic fraud and swindles, Psychic Access has now published a set of useful tips and guidelines on their website. The new information page offers a detailed anti-scam checklist informing consumers on how to spot a psychic scam. The set of red flags and danger signs was compiled from actual cases encountered by the experienced team at PsychicAccess.com and is made available online in an attempt to inform and educate the general public and potential customers who are interested in locating legitimate psychic reading services.

MORE . . . .

Astrology

via Mysteries and Science – The Skeptic’s Dictionary

«In a nutshell: Astrology is the idea that the stars, planets, and other objects in the sky shape who you are and what your life will be like. The science doesn’t favor this idea.»

astrology_854_300pxAstrology is a kind of fortune telling based on the positions of stars, planets, and other objects in the deep sky (called celestial objects). Astrologers believe that the position of celestial objects affect what kind of personality you have and also cause such things as forest fires, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

Astrology is sometimes confused with astronomy, which is the scientific study of planets, the Sun, stars, comets, galaxies, and other things outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Astronomers know that celestial objects like the Moon and the Sun affect the ocean tides but have nothing to do with what kind of personality you have. Astronomers also know that the position of celestial objects has nothing to do with such things as forest fires, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

[…]

Thousands of years ago in Babylon (now in modern Iraq) astrologers charted out the path that the Sun seems to make around the Earth. They divided the path into twelve equal parts. The stars in some of the twelve parts of the sky looked like the outlines of animals to them. The chart is called a zodiac (Greek for circle of animals). I was born when the Sun was in a part of the sky where the stars looked sort of like the outline of a bull’s head to those who were charting the zodiac. According to Sun sign astrology, I am a Taurus. The bull has a reputation for being stubborn. Sun sign astrologers believe that those born under the sign of the bull will have bull-like qualities. Scientific skeptics think this idea is a bunch of bull. When I’m asked what sign I was born under, I say “St. Joseph’s Hospital.”

[…]

In addition to Sun sign astrology, there are several other astrologies, but none of them are scientific. All systems of astrology make unscientific claims about the effects on people or things on Earth by the positions of planets, comets, and other things in the sky.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

Some of these systems are very complicated and involve making charts that connect the positions of many different celestial objects. With many charts covering many different possibilities, it is easy to find one that matches something on Earth like a forest fire, an earthquake, or a tragedy in some famous person’s life.

It is also easier than most people think to find evidence in support of a strong belief. We pay attention to what agrees with our beliefs and ignore what goes against them. If you believe that people born under the sign of Taurus are stubborn, you might pay more attention to stubborn behavior by someone born under that sign. You might even call that person stubborn for not doing something, while calling another person firm for not doing the same thing. You might not pay attention to or remember a Taurus when she isn’t stubborn. Psychologists call this natural bias we have to confirm our beliefs confirmation bias.

Astrologers sometimes make accurate predictions that are really nothing more than lucky guesses. Many astrologers believe that comets, the alignment of planets, or an eclipse are omens that something terrible is going to happen on Earth. Since something terrible happens on this planet every day, it is always easy to find something after the fact that the astrologer can say was predicted.

MORE . . .

10 Attempts to Use Magic and the Supernatural to Win Wars

by Listverse

Anyone who has sat through a course on medieval history knows that there was once a time when people believed in the power of magic, as a tool that could be used to crush their enemies. Eventually people realized how silly such ideas were—and ultimately, magic on the battlefield became limited to nerds LARPing around a local park, the only real magic employed being a powerful anti-coitus charm.

Or so at least you would think. Here are ten real cases of modern governments that tried to harness magic in order to win real wars.

• 10 – John Mulholland and the CIA

Screen-Shot-2013-03-05-at-8.42.09-PM_300pxSleight of hand is cool and all, but you would never expect anyone to employ a guy like Penn Jillette as an advisor to one of the most powerful organizations in the world. Of course, when we are talking about the Central Intelligence Agency, anything is possible. That’s why during the Cold War, the CIA hired illusionist John Mulholland to write an official manual that would teach its operatives the same sort of sleight of hand he used in his shows.

Called “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception,” the manual taught agents to use misdirection and hidden compartments, and also to use seemingly hidden signals—such as the way a shoe was tied—when working in the field. Of course, the CIA was not interested so much in earning the “oohs” and “ahhs” of a crowd, but something more along the lines of drugging people by discreetly slipping something into their drink. Bear in mind that this is the same CIA which attempted to use LSD for the purposes of mind control; apparently, everything was fair game for these nut-cases.

• 9 – Mexico, Drugs, and Voodoo

Voodoo-Doll-Ritual-Witchcraft-Demons-Evil-Harm-Hate-Spirit-Work-False-Fake-Curses-Hex-Exposed-African-Vodun-Religion-Practice_300pxThis one is a bit different because it’s not about a war in the traditional sense, but rather the so-called “war on drugs”. There have been a tremendous number of casualties in that particular war, at least partially because the battlefield is Mexico. The battle being waged along the US/Mexico border is one of the bloodiest ongoing “war” efforts in the world, with the drug cartels taking lives at an alarming rate. That’s why Mexican officials decided that they could do with a little outside-the-box thinking.

Specifically, they turned to voodoo. In 2010, police in Tijuana were at such a loss as to how they might combat the cartels—and so afraid for the safety of their officers—that they actually turned to ritualistic animal sacrifice in order to turn the tide. As a part of this attempt at harnessing voodoo magic, priests killed chickens under a full moon and proceeded to smear the blood on the police as a sort of protection spell. Some of the police believe it worked, too—claiming that while guns and body armor are ineffective, faith never fails. Even if it’s faith in cutting the heads off chickens and invoking spirits.

• 8 – Houdini the Spy

houdini_article_300pxWhile the other entries on this list are all well-documented, we will say up front that there are no official records that Harry Houdini ever worked as a spy. However, in 2006 a biography was released claiming to have been written with the help of over 700,000 pages of information collected over the years, with all signs pointing to the alleged fact that history’s most famous magician did spy for Scotland Yard and the American government from time to time.

The book claims that Houdini worked closely with William Melville, a British spy who worked at Scotland Yard at the same time Houdini is said to have aided them. Apparently, Houdini would use his act as a cover to travel the world collecting secret information for law enforcement officials, including secret service agencies in both Britain and the US.

• 7 – Britain and the Fake Horoscopes

Screen-Shot-2013-03-05-at-8.47.37-PM_300pxWorld War II, it would seem, was a wacky time for military strategy. Considering how many schemes involving magical shenanigans took place, it feels in retrospect like those Indiana Jones movies might have been onto something after all. Part of that is due to the fact that Hitler and the Nazis were obsessed with the occult, and that they held a strong belief in the validity of astrological charts.

The British knew this very well, and employed an astrologer named Louis de Wohl to concoct false horoscopes in order to try to throw off the Nazis and get a glimpse into their mindsets. Churchill himself sent de Wohl to America with the aim of convincing the US to join the war effort, but after Pearl Harbor his services were rendered unnecessary.

Declassified documents show that MI5 later came to regret his involvement in any of their efforts, because apparently they figured out that he was full of crap. Considering that’s precisely what they hired him to invent in the first place—crap—it’s a little shocking that Britain’s top spies took so long to sort that out for themselves.

• 6 – Britain’s Psychic Defense

Screen-Shot-2013-03-05-at-8.48.33-PM_300pxWhen you think about it, it makes sense that the British would partake in supernatural dealings, considering it has access to the Ministry of Magic and a school of wizards. Or was that Harry Potter?

Well, it turns out that the British government takes the whole “magic” thing more seriously than you’d expect. In 2002, the Ministry of Defense conducted a study to determine whether or not soldiers could be trained to become psychics. The goal was to have psychic soldiers working to find WMDs or even Bin Laden himself. If you’re from the UK, keep this in mind that you were probably paying taxes right around that time.

Following the attack on the World Trade Center and the rise of Osama Bin Laden as public enemy number one, the Ministry tried to hire “real” psychics to participate in the tests. Perhaps not wanting to be exposed as the frauds they most likely are, they declined—so some regular people decided to take advantage of the scheme, and get some easy money by partaking in the research. They quickly proved what we all could have guessed: that none of them were any more “psychic” than a rusty doorknob.

MORE . . .

‘Psychic Nikki’ backs away from JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge

via James Randi Education Foundation – JREF

Toronto-based ‘psychic’ breaks her promise to contact JREF; now says she’s “not available” to have her abilities tested

james-randi-69LOS ANGELES—’Psychic Nikki,’ the Toronto-based psychic who claimed she’d be willing have her abilities tested for the Million Dollar Challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), now says she’s “not available” to be tested.

“It’s not surprising that Nikki isn’t willing to have her abilities tested under fair conditions,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe.

"Psychic Nikki" isn't willing to have her abilities tested

“Psychic Nikki” isn’t willing to have her abilities tested

“Of the hundreds of so-called psychics and other paranormalists who have accepted our challenge and agreed that our tests were fair, not a single one was able to demonstrate any special ability whatsoever. These professional ‘psychics’ are either deluding their clients or deluding themselves.”

Nikki first said she’d be willing to take the JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge in a CBC News story on Aug. 30.1

The JREF called Nikki on Sept. 2, requesting an email address to send her information about the Million Dollar Challenge. After CBC News published a followup story2 on Tuesday, Sept. 6, Nikki returned the JREF’s call, leaving a message in which she promised “I will try to contact you in the next couple of days for sure.” The JREF called her back within an hour, again offering to send information about the Challenge and answer her questions.

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

A full week after Nikki promised to call the JREF “in the next couple of days,” she still had not responded.

Instead, she seemed to be backing away from the Million Dollar Challenge on Friday, when she said on CFNY-FM in Toronto, “I didn’t tell CBC I would do the test for sure, I said [I would] if I was available… I’m not available.”3 She went on to say, “I don’t have to take [the JREF’s] stupid test … I don’t want a million dollars.”4

These are the reasons Nikki gave for avoiding the JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge, and the JREF’s response to each:

• “I have no time [from] now until next year.”5

This is an obvious dodge, as Nikki was unable when asked to describe the plans that prevented her from taking the test, even over the next few days.

• “[Randi] doesn’t have the million dollars.”6

The JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge account is held with the investment firm Evercore in New York, and the bank statement is available on the JREF web site. ABC News recently verified the status of the account for an episode of Primetime Nightline in which the prize money was offered. ‘Psychic Nikki’ never raised this concern to the JREF, nor responded to the JREF’s repeated attempts to reach her and answer her questions.

MORE . . .

References:

  1. CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/m/touch/news/story/2011/08/30/psychic-challenge-randi-nikk.html
  2. CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/news/offbeat/story/2011/09/06/psychic-challenge-nikki-randi.html
  3. CFNY-FM, Dean Blundell Show, Sept. 9, 2011, timecode 49:42 in the file available at http://www.edge.ca/DJsandShows/TheDeanBlundellShow/Audio.aspx
  4. CFNY-FM, Dean Blundell Show, Sept. 9, 2011, timecode 59:20 in the file available at http://www.edge.ca/DJsandShows/TheDeanBlundellShow/Audio.aspx
  5. CFNY-FM, Dean Blundell Show, Sept. 9, 2011, timecode 50:20 in the file available at http://www.edge.ca/DJsandShows/TheDeanBlundellShow/Audio.aspx
  6. CFNY-FM, Dean Blundell Show, Sept. 9, 2011, timecode 53:25 (repeated at 56:50) in the file available at http://www.edge.ca/DJsandShows/TheDeanBlundellShow/Audio.aspx

2 Psychics Arrested, 3rd Sought

via CBS Denver

psychic_300pxDENVER (CBS4) – One Denver psychic has been convicted of theft, a second was arrested this month in California and Denver prosecutors are still seeking to arrest a third psychic accused of convincing clients she was a “witch doctor.”

Ralph Stevenson, an investigator with the Denver District Attorney’s Economic Crimes Unit, said victims have described the psychics as being akin to “witch doctors,” making grapefruits bleed, tomatoes taste like salt and cracking eggs open and producing gooey black yolks.

“In these cases, where after they’ve paid money for services rendered, they take additional money, I believe through theft and deception, through magic and things like that and then don’t give money back to the victims … that’s when we get involved,” said Stevenson.

Denver psychic Cathy Ann Russo is currently on probation after being pleading guilty last August to felony theft and misdemeanor theft. Over the course of five years, beginning in 2007, Russo conned a Hispanic man out of $35,250. according to court records.

She told him his money had “evil spirits” and that she needed to pray on his money to rid the cash of its evil spirits. She promised the man she would return the money to him as soon as his cash was cleansed. At one point, she told the man she had buried his money in a graveyard.

MORE . . .

psychic-john-edward-2012-events_02

James Randi Videos Added!

James Randi is one of my heroes.

I’ve just added a new series of James Randi videos from the “James Randi: Psychic Investigator” series from 1991. There were 6 episodes, Randi investigated Mediums, Astrology, Psychic Surgery, Dowsing, New Age, and Psychometry/Graphology – all in front of a live audience.

These video links are now permanently located above, in the pulldown menu links just below the iLLumiNuTTi banner. Enjoy!!!:)

Who is James Randi?

Biography*

JamesRandi_300pxJames Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.

Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural.

He has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1986.

On October 19, 1993, the PBS-TV “NOVA” program broadcast a one-hour special dealing with Randi’s life work, particularly with his investigations of Uri Geller and various occult and healing claims being made by scientists in Russia.

He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. His lectures and television appearances have delighted — and vexed — audiences around the world.

In 1996, the James Randi Education Foundation was established to further Randi’s work. Randi’s long-standing challenge to psychics now stands as a $1,000,000 prize administered by the Foundation. It remains unclaimed.
randii_600px

*From the official James Randi FaceBook page.

Here Be Dragons (Brian Dunning)

Here Be Dragons is a 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. This video is on my “must watch” list for skeptics and critical thinkers:)

Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.

Here Be Dragons is written and presented by Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid podcast and author of the Skeptoid book series.

Source: Here Be Dragons – YouTube.

The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense

This is some pretty funny stuff. Are you familiar with a periodic table? Well, this is the periodic table of irrational nonsense courtesy of Crispian Jago’s blog Science, Reason and Critical Thinking.

How does it work? Simply click on the image to be taken to the interactive page. At the interactive page you simply move your mouse over an element to view a short description.

CAUTION: SOME OF THE DESCRIPTIONS CONTAIN SOME VERY SPICY LANGUAGE!

Enjoy!    :)

Clean Woo Table v1.4_600px

Click on the image to be taken to the interactive page.

Psychic arrested; Didn’t see it coming

via Victorville Daily Press

Cindy Uwanawich

Cindy Uwanawich

CRESTLINE • A psychic was arrested after she allegedly embezzled a large amount of cash from a woman who was plagued by a “spirit,” San Bernardino County Sheriff’s officials said Wednesday.

Cindy Uwanawich, 56, was arrested Friday after the self-proclaimed psychic allegedly didn’t return an undetermined amount of money to a client in December, according to a sheriff ’s press release.

Uwanawich, who operates The Psychic Door on Lake Drive, invited the alleged victim to the psychic’s home on Dec. 17, where the victim paid the psychic $50 for two readings, the release said.

The psychic told the victim that she had the spirit of a person who had drowned attached to her, and if she gave Uwanawich nine pennies, nine nickels, nine dimes, nine quarters and $9,000 for nine days, the spirit would be removed, officials said.

Uwanawich, also known as Cindy McKinney, was booked into the West Valley Detention Center and bail was set at $50,000.

Investigators believe Uwanawich may have victimized other people in a similar fashion. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Detective Scott Thies at (909) 336-0600.

psychics 1150

Debunked: Astrology and Horoscopes

via RELATIVELY INTERESTING

astrology_854_300pxOver 2300 years ago, the Babylonians came up with the idea that the gods lived among the stars and other celestial objects, and were able to impose their will on humanity by controlling the destinies of individuals and nations alike.  The Babylonians divided the sky into 12 “slices”:  which we now know as the signs of the zodiac… Taurus, Pisces, etc.  There are many variations of astrology, but they are all founded upon the idea that celestial objects can influence a person’s personality and destiny.

Today, according to a Gallup poll, 25% of American believes in Astrology.  In this article, we’ll investigate why horoscopes and astrology sometimesappear to be correct by reviewing the concept of subjective validation, the Forer Effect, and Gauquelin’s famous horoscope experiment; we’ll take a look at what an astronomer has to say about astrology;  we’ll review some of the logical issues with astrology; and finally, we’ll take a look at how easy it is to debunk horoscopes yourself.

Subjective Validation and the Forer Effect

crystal_ball_01“Subjective validation” occurs when two unrelated or random events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectancy, or hypothesis demands a relationship. Thus, people find a connection between the perception of their personality and the contents of their horoscope.

The concept of subjective validation was put to the test in 1948 by psychologist Bertram R. Forer.  Forer gave a personality test to each of his students. Afterward, he told his students they were each receiving aunique personality analysis that was based on the test’s results, and to rate their analysis on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent) on how well it applied to themselves.

The analysis presented to the students was as follows:

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

zodiac-sun-eye_250pxThe trick?  In reality, each student received the exact same analysis:  On average, the rating was 4.26/5(that is, the students found their “personal” analysis to be 85% accurate).  It was only after the ratings were turned in was it revealed that each student had received identical copies assembled by Forer from various horoscopes.

As can be seen from the profile analysis, there are a number of statements that are vague and could apply equally to anyone. These statements later became known as Barnum statements, after P.T. Barnum, who used them in his performances, allegedly stating “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

Later studies have found that subjects give higher accuracy ratings if the following are true:

  • the subject believes that the analysis applies only to him or her (for example, a horoscope)
  • the subject believes in the authority of the evaluator (for example, a psychic)
  • the analysis lists mainly positive traits (for example, most daily horoscopes)

Guaquelin’s Horoscope Experiment

Mass murderer

Dr. Marcel Petiot

In another experiment, the famous French Astrologer, Michael Gauquelin, offered free horoscopes to any reader of Ici Paris, if they would give feedback on the accuracy of his supposedly “individual” analysis. He wanted to scientifically test the profession of astrology. As with Forer’s experiment, there was a trick:  he sent out thousands of copies of the same horoscope to people of various astrological signs – and 94% of the readers replied that his reading was very accurate and insightful.

What they didn’t know was that the horoscope was that of a local mass murderer, Dr. Petiot, who had admitted during his trial that he had killed 63 people.  This is clearly another case of subjective validation where subjects focus on the hits of some general analysis that’s supposed to be unique to them.

An Astronomer’s Opinion

So what does science have to say about astrology?

MORE . . .

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