Category Archives: James Van Praagh

Paul Zenon: Secrets of the Psychics

This video of Paul Zenon (Wikipedia) was recommended to me, i haven’t watched it yet, so I’ll be watching it along with you for the first time.

It starts out in Russian, the English begins at the 0:50 mark. The description below the video has been translated from Russian to English by Google Translate.

I have my fingers crossed. :)

MIB


Via Paul Zenon: Secrets of the Psychics – YouTube

Description via Google Translate:

Paul Zenon is one of the most famous British magicians with extensive experience in the representation of different tricks, illusions, frauds and paranormal topics. It has several hundred appearances in television shows and almost 30 years experience in participating in public. Began to earn money as a street magician and learns how people can be fooled and manipulated. Then apply their practical knowledge of human psychology and attention to good causes like exposing pseudoscientific “stars”.

Gender Ratio of Zeno presented the most common techniques of mediums, illustrated with examples from the past few centuries. Cold reading (cold reading) and pre-collect information about companion enjoy the same frequency as in the 19th century and television fortune-tellers today.

James Randi: How to Squash a Paranormal Claim

By Big Think via YouTube

The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a “psychic” it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.

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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.

Helen_Duncan_fake_ectoplasm_600px

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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Is ‘Long Island Medium’ Theresa Caputo A Fake?

Some People Certainly Think So

Laura RosenfeldBy via Bustle

Every show on TLC really knows how to tug at your heartstrings, but The Long Island Medium does it pretty much better than anyone else. LongIslandMedium56That is because the Long Island Medium herself, Theresa Caputo, has an amazing ability to connect strangers with their loved ones who have passed away. By communicating through “spirit,” Caputo can learn how someone died, his or her nickname, and even deliver a message to the living. Her readings are so spot-on, it’s freaky.

Maybe even a little too freaky for some people. When a person has a supernatural ability like this, there are of course going to be skeptics. Caputo encounters them all the time on her show, like when one self-proclaimed skeptic, Brian, started to believe after Caputo’s tape recorder magically stopped without any prompting. Like with most issues in our society, the debate has mainly been alive and well on the Internet, the trolliest of troll-y places, since the show premiered back in 2011. Whether it’s through opinion pieces, blog posts, or videos, there are plenty of people online who make it their mission to debunk Caputo’s ability. So who are these people, and why do they think Caputo is not for real?

Caputo’s main opponent is James Randi, a former magician and escape artist who now spends his days “as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims,” according to his website. caputo_250pxRandi is famous for his “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge,” where anyone who can prove “evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event” will be awarded $1 million.

Randi claims Caputo uses a technique that many mediums employ called “cold reading,” where it may look like Caputo is simply chatting with the person, but she’s actually picking up information that she’ll use to make what she says seem very specific to the person she’s reading. He says Caputo’s questions about initials and life events are basically just guesses that she hopes turn out to be true. Randi, who has also taken on the famous mediums John Edward and James Van Praagh, awarded Caputo a 2012 Pigasus Award, which is awarded to parapsychological frauds who are most harmful to society.

Inside Edition performed an entire investigation on Caputo in 2012, which found that she was much less accurate in her live readings than she is shown to be on her TV show, as she would “strike out time and again.” Inside Edition had former psychic Mark Edward perform the “cold reading” techniques he believed Caputo uses, and the audience believed him.

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Also See: The Long Island Medium – Can She Really Communicate with the Dead? – News from InsideEdition.com

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Calling All Psychic!! Time To Silence Your Critics AND Get Rich!!

Attention All Psychics!!!

This is your chance!!!!!

How would you like to silence your critics once and for
all while becoming very, VERY rich in the process?

To all persons claiming psychic abilities,

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

I have been very critical of your claims over the years. I think i usually refer to your claims as fraudulent and i refer to you, the person making the claims, as either a scam artist or delusional.

But being the fair-minded person that i am, i want to make you aware of an awesome opportunity for you to not only prove all your critics wrong once and for all by demonstrating that your miracle abilities are real, but you’ll also become a billionaire in the process!!!!

What an opportunity! A billionaire!

All you need to do is fill out a perfect 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket! How will this make you rich? Because Warren Buffett will award anyone who fills out a perfect 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket with $1 billion.

That’s it! That’s all you need to do to win $1,000,000,000.00! How much simpler can it be to shut down your critics AND get rich!

But wait! There’s more! … it doesn’t cost a dime to fill it out and the odds are only 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (1 in 9.2 quintillion)!!! That may seem like really bad odds, but i’m confident your psychic abilities can even those odds and allow you to bring home the bacon!!

You’re welcome and enjoy your new found wealth!!!

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)

P.S. Shouldn’t you have known about this special offer before i mentioned it here? Just saying.

More: Warren Buffett Billion Dollar Bracket – Business Insider

Brain Scans and Psychics

steven_novellaby via NeuroLogica Blog

In a trifecta of pseudoscience, Dr. Oz calls upon Dr. Amen to demonstrate (live on TV) how the Long Island Medium is real.

Where do I begin?

Dr. Oz has long ago abandoned any scientific legitimacy, not to mention self-respect. He has gone from giving basic medical advice, to promoting alternative quackery, and now he is just another daytime TV sellout, gushing over psychics. With Dr. Oz, however, it is all done with a patina of science.

The Medium

LongIslandMedium_250pxTheresa Caputo is just another fake psychic doing bad cold readings before audiences that have more of a desire to believe than apparent critical thinking skills. Her performance on Dr. Oz is fairly typical – she fishes with vague and high probability guesses, working multiple people at once, who then struggle to find some connection to what she is saying.

For example, she tells one mark who is trying to connect with her father, “Your father wants to talk about  the coin collection?” This is a great vague statement. First, it is one of those statements that seems very specific, but in actuality is a high probability vague statement. Anything to do with coins can seem to be a hit, and in the fairly good chance that an older gentleman had a literal coin collection it will seem like a fantastic hit.

In this case, however, the target found a nice face-saving hit. Apparently another psychic told the same person that her father sends her “pennies from heaven.” There you go.

psychic 856_250pxIn another segment with Caputo she demonstrates almost a parody of terrible cold reading. She senses a father figure and a daughter figure. She says to an entire audience that someone lost a father and someone lost a daughter. She also goes out on a limb and says – something to do with the chest. Shockingly, someone from the audience steps forward. Caputo then makes two clear misses. She says that she senses the person was lost suddenly. The target clearly indicates this was not the case, at which time Caputo tries to recover by saying that – even when someone is ill, we did not expect to lose them at that exact moment. Right. She then goes for the daughter, which is also a clear miss, leading to that awkward moment when an alleged psychic so thoroughly fails that they struggle to find an escape hatch.

I also found it interesting that when asked about the brain scan test she was about to have, Caputo responded by saying that no matter what the tests show, she just wants to help people. She was seemingly pre-rationalizing for possible failure. Infer from that what you will.

Dr. Daniel Amen

Dr. Amen as made millions of dollars proving SPECT scans for a long list of diagnoses.  SPECT scans use a radioisotope to track blood flow in the brain, which can be used to infer brain activity. The problem with SPECT scan is that there is a tremendous amount of noise in brain activity so you need to be very careful about interpreting the results. There is some utility in looking for dead areas of the brain following a stroke, for example. SPECT has also been used to localize seizures (increased activity during a seizure and then decreased activity following the seizure).

SPECT Imaging

SPECT Imaging

Clinical use of SPECT, however, has been very limited because it is just too noisy. The test often does not have good specificity. Amen is using SPECT for a wide range of indications for which it has not been validated – we do not have data to show that the results of the test can be used to predict confirming diagnostic tests or response to treatment. But SPECT is very useful for generating pretty pictures that seem scientific and can be used to imagine any result you wish.

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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.

MORE . . .

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The Stuff of Nightmares

James Van Praagh and the Afterlife

by Ingrid Hansen Smythe via skeptic.com

There are a number of different methods of exposing an individual as a liar and a charlatan. One way is to engage the person directly in their self-professed area of expertise and then judge their performance. You might employ an alleged brain surgeon, for example, and pay that person to perform brain surgery on you—and if the surgeon uses a cork screw and salad tongs, and the operation turns into something akin to an autopsy or a dinner party at the Todd’s (Sweeney, that is), you’ve got fairly good evidence against the so-called expert. Alternatively, you could spare yourself the agony of direct engagement and read the published papers of the brain surgeon in question. If the papers are full of contradictions, wild inaccuracies and obvious fictions—if the surgeon believes that the hippocampus is an actual college, for example, or that olfactory bulbs are planted in the spring, or the ventral horn is a member of the brass section—again you have solid evidence that the brain surgeon hasn’t a clue and is not actually all that interested in the contents of your skull but, rather, in the contents of your wallet.

In his brilliant exposé of James Van Praagh, author Miklos Jako uses the first method and actually pays the renowned medium $700 for a reading. (Watch the reading with Jako’s editorial.) In tallying up the hits (12) and misses (64), Jako calculates a success rate of 16 percent. This is remarkably low, even for a cold reading, and Jako might have gotten a higher success rate had he engaged Bubbles the chimp. Worse yet, Jako actually feeds Van Praagh a lie about his father being involved in a drunk driving accident, and Van Praagh falls for it hook, line, and sinker. “He keeps going on about how he was very sorry it hurt you,” says Van Praagh. “He knows he embarrassed you on several occasions. He’s ashamed of that. He’s ashamed. He’s sorry, he’s ashamed of that. And please don’t think of him that way.” Jako’s outrage is palpable at this point, and it’s tough for him to remain composed. “My father never embarrassed me,” he says firmly. “Never.” Based on the evidence, Jako goes on to add his dead-on-the-mark assessment of the great psychic. “James Van Praagh,” he says, “you’re full of shit.” This sums things up nicely, I think.

You’d imagine that this masterful unveiling would settle the matter once and for all—but no. The critic can always assert that the old brain tumour was acting up again and that Van Praagh was simply “off” on that particular day, or that he was subconsciously stifled by Jako’s Kryptonite-like skepticism, or that an alleged error was just a silly misunderstanding, or that the spirits were being deliberately impish and uncooperative. None of this is Van Praagh’s fault. Thus, even when a medium is wrong more often than right, support continues or even increases.1

Unlike Miklos Jako then, my approach is to use the second method, examining the writings of Mr. Van Praagh in detail to see if I can detect anything that confirms Jako’s assessment. I’ll be analyzing his book Growing Up in Heaven, Van Praagh’s singular study of the afterlife as it relates, specifically, to the deaths of children. In it, Van Praagh shares his actual conversations with dead children, his interactions with the grieving parents, his philosophical intuitions, and his revealed insights into the afterlife for those of us dying to know what really goes on behind the veil.2

Before proceeding with the specifics, allow me to briefly sum up Van Praagh’s metaphysical position. Each of us is an eternal soul that reincarnates on the earth, and on other planets and in other dimensions, in order to learn all the lessons a soul’s got to know. These lessons are, predictably, things like patience and humility, and not things like how to make napalm or take the temperature of a cat. The ultimate lesson is that “we are all love created by Love,”3 and once we’ve figured out what the hell that could possibly mean, we achieve enlightenment.

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The Death of Sylvia Browne

by via The Soap Box

sylviamontel_250pxYesterday one of the world’s most famous fake psychics (I know, that’s redundant) died.

Sylvia Browne, who had made many appearances on TV (most notably The Montel Williams Show and Larry King Live) died yesterday at the age of 77 (she had predicted should would die at age 88).

Now being a skeptic and someone whom believes that all psychics are frauds (apart form those that are mentally ill and really do believe that they have psychic powers) many people might assume that I am rejoicing, and perhaps even celebrating her death (especially those who believe that people can have psychic powers, or just people who don’t like skeptics).

To be quiet honest I’m not sure how I should feel about her death, because there are just so many feelings I have about it that I can’t seem to focus on one to just go with.

On the one hand I am sort of glad that she’s gone because now she can no longer hurt people and mess with their emotions with her stage magician like “readings” while at the same time exploiting those people for fame and money.

On the other hand I’m also a bit angry, not only because of her exploitation that she basically got away with up until she died, but also because she would never would come clean about being a fake, despite the numerous failed readings and predictions she has had. Now that she’s dead, she never will.

Yet on the other hand I also feel a tad bit sad for her . . .

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Sylvia Browne’s Death

14 new Sylvia Browne failures exposed

By Mason I. Bilderberg

According to the Sylvia Browne webpage, Sylvia Browne passed away at 7:10am on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.

Now i’m not a heartless person, i don’t wish ill on anybody and i certainly don’t take any pleasure in Miss Browne’s passing.

But i can’t go blind to Browne’s record of past failures (The stories of Shawn Hornbeck and Amanda Berry come to mind.) simply because she is no longer alive and i certainly can’t go blind now when her passing has exposed 14 new Sylvia Browne failures:

image

Image captured November 20, 2013
Click for larger view.

Come to think of it, did ANY psychics ANYWHERE predict Browne’s death? I thought not.


MORE – – – Sylvia Browne (iLLumiNuTTi.com)

RELATED:

The Survivorship Bias convinces people that psychics are real

Esther Inglis-ArkellBy Esther Inglis-Arkell via io9.com

There’s a simple bias that seems to endure. Anyone may accidentally fall into its trap. Once they do, they make it impossible for others to avoid doing the same thing. It’s called the Survivorship Bias, and it can be used to convince people of nearly anything.

The Set-Up

coin_tossLet’s say that I walked up to you in the street and told you I was psychic and I could prove it. The more fleet-footed of you would manage to keep walking, but I think I’d back a few of you into a corner and make you watch my demonstration. It’s a video of me walking into a room with a group of witnesses. One of the witnesses – picked at random – flips a coin. After he flips, but before he shows the coin to anyone, I guess whether it’s heads or tails. He reveals it to the witnesses. I’m right. The demonstration goes on, and each time I’m right.

You’re naturally skeptical, so you start questioning the set-up. I have sworn statements from all the witnesses that they were all pulled off the street. I even have the video of the selection process. I have a video of what I did all that day, showing that I didn’t set up anything that might clue me in on the coin flip results. After a lot of investigating, you determine that there’s no trick. I’m just correctly guessing the coin each time. You’re right. There isn’t a trick.

The Trick

cranac_250pxThere’s just hundreds days of set-up. On every one of those days, I have people go out and find witnesses, and people film me going about my business. On every one of those days, I walk into the room and start guessing. And on every one of those days, except for the day that I showed you, I guess wrong. I’ve showed you the one remarkable case, the one day that I guessed right.

To be fair, that’s more survivorship deception. But it does show how coincidence can, when taken out of context, look like something more. It’s been used by psychic researchers in the past. Test enough people and some of them will give answers that are coincidentally accurate. Then pretend that those people are psychics.

It’s also been used in economics. I had an economics teacher who joked that the best way to make millions as an investment adviser was to send out, to thousands of people, two variations of a letter. One would predict one trend in the stock market and the other would predict the opposite trend. Let the market takes its course. Strike the people that got the inaccurate letter from your mailing list. Then send out another set of letters. Repeat the pattern until you’ve got only a few clients, and each one of them is absolutely convinced that you’re infallible.

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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.

MORE . . .

▶ 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.

Morning Radio Host Interviews Psychic Chip Coffey and Puts Him to Shame

By Hemant Mehta via patheos.com

Cory Cove (left) and Chip Coffey

Cory Cove (left) and Chip Coffey

Cory Cove (a.k.a. “Sludge”), a morning talk show host on KFAN radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul, invited host of A&E’s “Psychic Kids” show Chip Coffey to the studio on Monday and they had the best exchange ever.

Normally, talk show hosts (like Montel Williams and Larry King) treat psychics with deference. They ask the psychics to make predictions, they “ooh” and “aah” at the specificity of the claims, and then they rarely, if ever, take them to task when those predictions fail.

Cove, on the other hand, used the 7-minute segment to call Coffey out on his bullshit. (Note: Coffey had previously told Cove that he would have a prostate problem, setting up this exchange.)

Listen Here:

Read MORE . . .

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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.

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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 . . .

James Randi – Secrets of the Psychics (Full)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Secrets of the Psychics was a PBS NOVA episode following James Randi‘s work.[1] Also appearing in stock footage are Peter Popoff, Uri Geller, and many others.

In the program, “Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers.”[2]

This program is not to be confused with a later UK documentary Secrets of the Psychics, which was transmitted under this title as well as Secrets of the Super Psychics.


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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.

Prove Your Supernatural Power and Get Rich

If you can demonstrate a power unknown to science, there are people looking to write you a check.

By Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here.

ccc

Houdini’s psychic challenge letter
Photo: Chris Perley
(Click image for larger view)

It can sometimes be quite mind-boggling to hear a friend or family member reveal that they have some kind of supernatural ability. Often they feel an empathetic connection to others, sometimes the ability to perform minor healings, or to predict future events. Many times, these are abilities for which “supernatural” seems too strong a word; they are more spiritual or metaphysical, or based on some sensing of an energy. It’s more than likely that you yourself believe you have such an ability, or perhaps did at one time. Nearly all of us have. But whether the ability is energetic or spiritual, supernatural truly is the best word that applies. A supernatural ability could almost be seen as a superpower, something a fictional superhero might be able to do. And we all want superpowers. We all want your supernatural ability to be proven true. And we want it so much that a large number of groups around the world will pay you to prove it.

Such prizes have been available at least since Houdini, who had a standing $10,000 offer for anyone who could create a paranormal manifestation that he could not duplicate. The granddaddy of today’s challenges is the James Randi Educational Foundation‘s Million Dollar Challenge, which will pay anyone who can prove an ability unknown to science one million dollars, and Chinese journalist Sima Nan will kick in a million Yuan (about $150,000) on top of it. It’s not the only big prize out there: the Belgian group SKEPP offers the Sisyphus Prize for one million Euros, which at current exchange rates, is about a quarter million dollars more than the Million Dollar Challenge. The Independent Investigation Group, with affiliates throughout the United States, offers a $100,000 prize. Puzzling World in New Zealand has long offered the $100,000 Pyschic Challenge, and just across the pond, the Australian Skeptics offer a $100,000 prize. The Science and Rationalists’ Association of India offers a INπ 2 million Miracle Challenge, worth about $50,000. These are most of the largest prizes, but many, many smaller prizes are offered all around the world. If you have a supernatural ability of any kind, you owe it to yourself – or at least to your favorite charity – to prove it and use the reward however you see fit.

It’s easy to dismiss the groups who run these challenges as cynics who just want to gloat over someone’s failure, and for sure, such people are found in those groups. But many members of the groups joined because they, too, have always dreamed of having a superpower. Should you win the money and prove that a supernatural ability is possible, you’ll not only turn the world on its head, you’ll be handed money by people who have never been happier to sign a check.

I truly do encourage you to go for it. Here are three big pieces of advice, based on the experiences of the many previous claimants:

1. Be able to succinctly describe a testable ability.

telekinesis_fullpic_1149_300pxThe biggest headache for the people who offer these prizes is that the claimant can almost never provide a simple, clear description of their ability. For example, if you believe you have the power to influence a cat telepathically, you have to give a specific and testable example. Most claimants usually write in with a great lengthy email, telling about the many examples they’ve experienced of a cat doing whatever they wanted it to do; or perhaps with long rambling experiences of sharing the cat’s feelings or of their history of owning cats with whom they felt empathetic.

The challengers have no use for a long letter. You truly must be able to describe one specific ability in a single sentence. If you have many, then pick exactly one, one that you are most confident you can consistently prove.

Nobody is going to give you a cash prize for the length of your letter, or for the number of cats you’ve felt empathetic toward. You must be able to provide a clear, testable ability. If your ability is broad-reaching and vague, it will not be possible to construct a test protocol, and you will not be able to prove it. You must be able to select, within the scope of your broad-reaching abilities, something specific that’s testable and repeatable. For example, “I can make my cat jump onto its perch, within five seconds of giving it a mental command, when the cat neither see me nor hear me, and I can do it 8 out of 10 times.”

ted_250px

Ted Serios claimed he could make images appear on Polaroid film just by thinking of an image.
(See: Thoughtography)

It has to be something concise, specific, and unmistakable. If you feel that your ability is too broad to be fairly represented by such a precise example, then you are unlikely to convince anyone, and will certainly be unable to prove your ability to the satisfaction of whatever criteria are agreed upon.

Many claimants report that they feel it’s unfair to try and represent their ability with a single demonstration that’s so much more specific than what they generally do. If you feel the same way and can’t agree to a simple test protocol, then you’re likely to leave the impression that your abilities are really just your own misinterpretation of ordinary coincidences. It’s something the psychologists call confirmation bias – you happen to notice when your cat jumps onto his perch while you were thinking of him, but you failed to weigh it against the far larger number of times your cat jumped onto the perch when you weren’t around and had nothing to do with it.

2. Be aware of why previous claimants failed.

Many people have taken such tests, and so far, all have failed. However, they’ve almost always cited an excuse or some external reason out of their control that the test failed. You must be aware of why previous claimants have failed, and be prepared not to suffer their same fate. This means preparation and anticipation of the problems.

Claimants are generally required to . . .

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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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.

MORE . . .

psychic-john-edward-2012-events_02

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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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)

How did the psychic know that?

Actually, he didn’t.
The Great Psychic Con

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

There’s no way he could have known my grandmother’s name?” “How do you explain his predicting the lights would go off at the shop?” “How did he know my uncle’s name?” “There’s no way he could have known my father died of a heart attack.” “How could he possibly know that my brother collects cuckoo clocks?

John_Edward_3_200px

John Edward has been described as a fraud by James Randi [Skeptic, v. 8, no. 3] and Leon Jaroff [Time, March 5, 2001].

These and millions more like them represent the kinds of statements we get from people who say they’re skeptical, but who’ve been to a psychic and have come away as believers in the paranormal. Many times I’ve been asked to try to explain the “paranormal” experiences of people who tell me they’re skeptics, but who can’t think of any other explanation for something than that it was paranormal. I call it the “Explain That!” game. I’ve posted responses to some of these requests, but I can’t say I’ve been able to persuade any of the believers to consider alternative explanations, even though they ask me to provide them with one. [Some of my explanations for various psychic readings are here, here, here, and here.]

George Anderson, a former switchboard operator.

George Anderson, a former switchboard operator, now claims he talks to the dead via his psychic switchboard.

How do psychics know so much about me? I’ve heard or read many times variants of that question asked by people who are intelligent and educated, but naive. For example, a local sports writer visited a psychic to get a story about her predictions for the local high school athletic teams. He ended up writing two stories. I didn’t read the second one, but the first revealed how amazed he was at how much she knew about him and how accurate she was. It made him think, he wrote, that maybe there’s something to this psychic business. There is, but it’s not what he thinks. In my letter to the editor of the local paper where the sports writer plies his trade I said:

Bruce Gallaudet is an experienced journalist, but he seems to know nothing about cold reading and subjective validation, the two tarot cards up the sleeve of a working psychic. He’s dazzled within 60 seconds and befuddled when she tells the old man that she’s sorry he had to cancel a trip. Did she ask about your knee injury? Or about the outdated calendar you keep at home, along with the box of newspaper clippings? Did she mention your business venture setback (but you’ll do well in new endeavors) or the health problems a loved one is having?

Stick to local sports, Bruce. You were in way over your head with Ms. Mertino, the Davis Psychic.

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.

The fact is, psychics may know certain things about you in the same way that many people know many things about others by knowing their age, sex, occupation, education, where they live, how they dress, what kind of jewelry they’re wearing, or their religion. Does anyone have perfect knowledge of others based on what are sometimes called warm reading techniques? Of course not. We’re dealing with probabilities, not absolute certainties here, but it doesn’t matter. The psychic is not obligated to stop the reading when she makes a mistake. If she misinterprets your wearing black as a sign of grieving for someone who has died, she doesn’t have to say “oops, wrong again.” No, she just slithers on to the next question or statement, ignoring her “miss” and counting on you to ignore it as well. Eventually, she’ll hit something that resonates with you, that you can validate. The key to a psychic reading is not the psychic’s ability to tap into a world you are not directly privy to. The key to a psychic reading is your willingness to find meaning or significance in some of the statements she makes or questions she asks. If mentioning the death of a loved one evokes no response from you, the psychic will move on to another statement, another question.

“Psychic” Sally is seen removing a microphone from her right ear, and what appears to be an earpiece from her left ear.

It is also possible that the psychic you are dealing with is a very sleazy professional fraud who investigates her clients before she does the reading. Doing a hot reading, however, is not likely if you are a drop-in. Although, even drop-ins can be conned by distracting the client and looking through her purse or wallet. Some psychics who work fairs, for example, have a colleague who walks by those in line trying to pick up information about various clients who are in conversations. The colleague passes on the info to the “psychic” via a wireless device. Most people who visit psychics on a whim are probably not going to be a victim of someone using hot reading, however. Why? Because it’s really unnecessary. Cold reading works just as well. (For a special case of using hot readings by sharing information in order to con wealthy clients who go from psychic to psychic, see Lamar M. Keene. The Psychic Mafia. Prometheus, 1997).

MORE . . .

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Telepathic Girl Baffles Researchers with Her Ability to Read Minds

I love this kind of nonsense, it’s always entertaining. If she were really psychic she would know about James Randi’s $1,000,000 paranormal challenge.

All she would need to do is “show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event” and she would take home the $1,000,000 prize!!!!!!!  Can you imagine winning $1,000,000? Wowee kazowee!!!!!

But alas, MY psychic abilities are telling me she would never take the challenge. I wonder, why?

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)

via Who Forted? Magazine

Nandana Unnikrishnan doesn’t want $1,000,000!!!

Being autistic, Nandana Unnikrishnan is not like other girls her age. Despite the troubles that come with such a developmental disorder, autism sometimes lends itself to unusual and amazing talents, but never one like this: Nandana is allegedly telepathic.

According to initial testing, it appears that the young Indian girl has the ability to read her mother’s thoughts and emotions with no physical contact, able to pass ESP tests with flying colors, even going so far as to type out entire poems that have been telepathically communicated to her. The results have stunned skeptical researchers like Dr. Phillip John of the Indian Psychiatric Society, who told the Khaleej Times that he believes Nandana’s case is genuine.

“We see several autistic children with savant skills like unusual Mathematical skills, extraordinary memory about calendar days and dates. In such cases, they have access to their memory. In some people with schizophrenia, there is a symptom called “thought broadcast” wherein they believe their thoughts are known to others. psychic_fraudIt is not transmission of memory. In Nandana’s case, she has access to her mother’s memory and there is a transmission of memory, that too without a medium. This is the first time I am seeing a case like this. Here, we are talking about memory as a function which is why it is very surprising. This is a very rare phenomenon of transmission of memory without a medium.”

Nandana’s parents first became aware of her bizarre talents when they began to notice “unusual coincidences” when it came to her almost premeditated responses to her mother’s thoughts and feelings.

“I used to feel strange when she would come to me and say the name of the food I was thinking of preparing for her”, Nandana’s mother Sandhya, told reporters. “The same way, if my husband and I had decided to take her somewhere, she would know about it without being told about it and would start reacting to it.”

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5 Things I’ve noticed about… Psychics

LongIslandMedium_250px_200pxvia The Soap Box

Ever watched a psychic on TV, or met one in real life? Well other than meeting one in real life, I sure have, and I have noticed certain things psychics that they tend to do a lot of.

So here are five things that I’ve I’ve noticed about psychics:

5. They apparently don’t play the lottery.

Despite the claims of many psychics that they can predict the future and that they can use that power to help guide other people in a positive way, none of them apparently plays the lottery so that they can win lots of money and not have to charge people $50 so they can talk to their dead relatives for 20 minutes.

Why don’t you remember this headline?

(Author’s note: that last part is just a guess. I don’t have any clue what the average going rate for speaking to a psychic is.)

4. They make lousy detectives.

There have been hundreds, if not thousands of criminal investigations in which psychics came in and either volunteered, or were actually asked by an officer on the case to use their powers to help solve a case. Currently not a one has ever solved a case.

In fact the total success rate for psychic detectives isn’t even zero, it’s actually in the negatives because sometimes the psychic leads the investigative officers to the wrong person, and this has even lead to some innocent people being arrested.

3. They ask a lot of questions.

For people who’s powers are suppose to let them know everything, they sure do ask a lot of questions before they start to give a person answer to the question that they originally asked.
psychic-john-edward-2012-events_02
Why the heck would a psychic need to ask a bunch of questions for in the first place? In fact why would anyone need to ask a psychic a question? Shouldn’t they already know what question you want to ask them?

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Medium

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

“Death is a part of life, and pretending that the dead are gathering in a television studio in New York to talk twaddle with a former ballroom-dance instructor is an insult to the intelligence and humanity of the living.” –Michael Shermer

“…we [psychics] are here to heal people and to help people grow…skeptics…they’re just here to destroy people. They’re not here to encourage people, to enlighten people. They’re here to destroy people.” —James Van Praagh on “Larry King Live,” March 6, 2001

“I’ve never heard of a skeptic helping anybody with their skepticism. To a large degree, they just want to shame somebody so they can feel greater than them. But they’re not going to shame me. I’m very proud of what I do.” —Allison DuBois in an interview with Allen Pierleoni

“…nearly all professional mediums are a gang of vulgar tricksters who are more or less in league with one another.” —Richard Hodgson

psychic 920_250pxIn spiritualism, a medium is one with whom spirits communicate directly. In an earlier, simpler but more dramatic age, a good medium would produce voices or apports, ring bells, float or move things across a darkened room, produce automatic writing or ectoplasm, and, in short, provide good entertainment value for the money.

Today, a medium is likely to write bathetic inspirational books and say he or she is channeling, such as JZ Knight and the White Book of her Ramtha from Atlantis. Today’s most successful mediums, however, simply claim the dead communicate through them. Under a thin guise of doing “spiritual healing” and “grief counseling,” they use traditional cold reading techniques and sometimes surreptitiously gather information about their subjects to give the appearance of transmitting comforting messages from the dead. Subjective validation plays a key role in this kind of mediumship: The mediums rely upon the strong motivation of their clients to validate words, initials, statements, or signs as accurate. The clients’ success at finding significance and meaning in the sounds made by the medium are taken as evidence of contact with the dead.

[…]

GeorgeAnderson_124pxGeorge Anderson, a former switchboard operator and author of Lessons from the Light: Extraordinary Messages of Comfort and Hope from the Other Side (2000), got his own ABC special featuring celebrities who wanted to contact the dead. Some mediums even get their own syndicated television programs, such as John Edward and James Van Praagh, although the latter’s show was canned by Tribune Media Services after only a few episodes.

John_Edward_150pxJohn Edward established himself as the first clairaudient to have his own show that featured deceased loved ones contacting audience members: “Crossing Over with John Edward” on the Sci-Fi Channel. Edward has been described as a fraud by James Randi [Skeptic, v. 8, no. 3] and Leon Jaroff [Time, March 5, 2001] to no avail. He may be a fraud, but he is an attractive and impressive one. Edward’s show was syndicated and for some time he joined Xena the Warrior Princess and Jerry Springer on the USA Network. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the animated series South Park, named Edward the Biggest Douche in the Universe in episode 615.

james_van_praagh_200pxJames Van Praagh is a self-proclaimed medium who claims he has a gift that allows him to hear messages from just about anyone who is dead. According to Van Praagh, all the billions and billions and billions of dead people are just waiting for someone to give him their names. That’s all it takes. Give Van Praagh a name, any name, and he will claim that some dead person going by that name is contacting him in words, fragments of sentences, or that he can feel their presence in a specific location. He has appeared on “Larry King Live,” where he claimed he could feel the presence of Larry’s dead parents. He even indicated where in the room this “presence” was coming from. He took phone calls on the air and, once given a name, started telling the audience what he was “hearing” or “feeling”. Van Praagh plays a kind of twenty-questions game with his audience. He goes fishing, rapidly casting his baited questions one after the other until he gets a bite. Then he reels the fish in. Sometimes he falters, but most of the fish don’t get away. He just rebaits and goes after the fish again until he rehooks. The fish love it. They reward Van Praagh’s hard work by giving him positive feedback. This makes it appear to some that he is being contacted by spirits who are telling him that being dead is good, that they love those they left behind, and that they are sorry and forgive them everything.

Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine calls Van Praagh “the master of cold-reading in the psychic world.” Sociologist and student of anomalies, Marcello Truzzi of Eastern Michigan University, was less charitable. Truzzi studied characters like Van Praagh for more than 35 years and describes Van Praagh’s demonstrations as “extremely unimpressive.” (“A Spirited Debate,” Dru Sefton, Knight Ridder News Service, The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 10, 1998, p. E1.) Truzzi said that most of what Van Praagh gives out is “twaddle,” but it is good twaddle since “what people want is comfort, guilt assuagement. And they get that: Your parents love you; they forgive you; they look forward to seeing you; it’s not your fault they’re dead.”

MORE . . .

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