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.
Can you test psychic claims with science? Here are a few creative ways that you can test psychic powers scientifically as well as the results of these types of tests that have been performed hundreds of times over the last fifty years. This is part of my Exposing Psychics series.
What are Barnum Statements (The Forer Effect)? Let’s uncover how psychics use the Rainbow Ruse and psychic number games to fool their victims. We’ll examine clips of Theresa Caputo, John Edward, James Van Praagh, Joe Power, Rosemary Altea, and other alleged psychics to expose psychic tricks and cold reading methods just as magicians/skeptics like Derren Brown, Paul Zenon, and James Randi have done before. Don’t fall for their tricks, stay skeptical and don’t drink the psychic Koolaid!
There are many people who promote themselves as psychics or clairvoyants, and who claim that their powers enable them to read your character, make contact with dead relatives, or provide insights into your life and your future.
Despite their claims, there has never been a successful demonstration of these powers in a laboratory, under properly controlled conditions. Indeed, the National Committee of Australian Skeptics offers a cash prize of $100,000 for any PROVEN demonstration of such powers. See The Prize.
By far the most common method employed by psychics who have been put to the test is called cold reading. This method involves the psychic reading the subject’s body language etc, and skilfully extracting information from the subject, which can then be fed back later, convincing the subject that the psychic has told them things they couldn’t possibly have known!
The following is our 13 point guide to cold reading — Study them well, then amaze your friends with your new found psychic powers!
1. Remember that the key ingredient of a successful character reading is confidence.
If you look and act as if you believe in what you are doing, you will be able to sell even a bad reading to most subjects. One danger of playing the role of reader is that you may actually begin to believe that you really are divining your subject’s true character!
2. Make creative use of the latest statistical abstracts, polls and surveys.
These can provide you with much information about what various subclasses in our society believe, do, want , worry about etc. For example, if you can ascertain a subject’s place of origin, educational level, and his/her parents’ religion and vocations, you have gained information which should allow you to predict with high probability his/her voting preferences and attitudes to many subjects.
3. Set the stage for your reading.
Profess a modesty about your talents. Make no excessive claims. You will then catch your subject off guard. You are not challenging them to a battle of wits – You can read his/her character, whether he/she believes you or not.
4. Gain the subject’s cooperation in advance.
Emphasise that the success of the reading depends as much on the subject’s cooperation as on your efforts. (After all, you imply, you already have a successful career at character reading — You are not on trial, your subject is!) State that due to difficulties of language and communication, you may not always convey the meaning you intend. In these cases, the subject must strive to fit the reading to his/her own life. You accomplish two valuable ends with this dodge — Firstly, you have an alibi in case the reading doesn’t click; it’s the subject’s fault, not yours! Secondly, your subject will strive to fit your generalities to his/her specific life circumstances. Later, when the subject recalls the reading, you will be credited with much more detail than you actually provided! This is crucial. Your reading will only succeed to the degree that the subject is made an active participant in the reading. The good reader is the one who , deliberately or unwittingly, forces the subject to search his/her mind to make sense of your statements.
Use of props serves two valuable purposes. Firstly, it lends atmosphere to the reading. Secondly, (and more importantly) it gives you time to formulate your next question/statement. Instead of just sitting there, thinking of something to say, you can be intently studying the cards /crystal ball etc. You may opt to hold hands with your subject — This will help you feel the subject’s reactions to your statements. If you are using , say, palmistry (the reading of hands) it will help if you have studied some manuals, and have learned the terminology. This will allow you to more quickly zero in on your subject’s chief concerns — “do you wish to concentrate on the heart line or the wealth line?“
6. Have a list of stock phrases at the tip of your tongue.
Even during a cold reading, a liberal sprinkling of stock phrases will add body to the reading and will help you fill in time while you formulate more precise characterisations. Use them to start your readings. Palmistry, tarot and other fortune telling manuals are a key source of good phrases.
Detecting psychic scams & debunking mediums is easier when you know how psychic methods like cold reading work. Don’t be fooled by psychic misdirection. Cold reading tricks are used by psychics to convince an audience that they know things that they don’t – using high probability guesses, generalized statements, and linguistic techniques. Stay skeptical, dare to be curious, but don’t fall for this bullshit, and don’t drink the koolaid.
Detecting psychic scams & debunking mediums is easier when you know how psychic methods like hot reading work. Don’t be fooled by psychic misdirection. Expert mentalists, skeptics, and magicians Penn and Teller, Derren Brown, Paul Zenon, James Randi, and Mark Edward will reveal the secrets of psychics by exposing disgraceful psychic tricks used by psychic Sally Morgan, The Long Island Medium (Theresa Caputo), Rosemary Altea, Peter Popoff, Joe Power, James Van Praagh, and more. Stay skeptical, dare to be curious, but don’t fall for this bullshit, and don’t drink the koolaid.
These two videos are absolutely brutal to watch. I love it. I enjoy watching these con artists fail at their con game.
Part 1 –
Part 2 –
During Sylvia Browne’s decades-long career offering psychic readings and doing television appearances, she made numerous claims about working with law enforcement to solve crimes. In an age before the Internet, fact-checking by television and newspapers was more labor intensive. It was difficult to find sources to support or deny many of her claims. While several articles in the Skeptical Inquirer have cast doubt on her psychic abilities, Browne defended herself by citing her “work” on cases and giving the media endorsements from seemingly respectable law enforcement members, such as former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Ted Gunderson. Recently obtained FBI files shatter her insinuation that she had a relationship with federal law enforcement and show that the only interest the agency had in Browne was investigating her for fraud.
Records about a person in possession of an investigating government agency, such as the FBI, are available with the person’s permission or if they are deceased. In all likelihood, Browne would not have consented to the release of her FBI file given her refusal to allow Robert Lancaster, of StopSylvia.com, to post a transcript online that her own office sent him in 2007 (Lancaster 2007a). In her haste to refute claims from an ex-husband about an alleged lack of higher education credits, Browne’s office sent Lancaster her St. Teresa’s College (now Avila University) transcripts. The transcripts, according to Lancaster, did show Browne’s ex-husband was incorrect about how long she attended college. Yet unfortunately for Browne, that transcript also demonstrated that she did not complete college and proved her often-made claim about having a higher education degree was false. Given Browne’s reluctance to make records her office sent to a critic publicly available, she probably would not have been willing to allow the release of her law enforcement records. Following her 2013 death, anyone can now obtain the government files concerning Browne.
I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI asking for documents about Browne, using her date of birth under her previous legal last name of “Brown” and her later addition of “e” to the name.
It starts out in Russian, the English begins at the 0:50 mark. The description below the video has been translated from Russian to English by Google Translate.
I have my fingers crossed. 🙂
Description via Google Translate:
Paul Zenon is one of the most famous British magicians with extensive experience in the representation of different tricks, illusions, frauds and paranormal topics. It has several hundred appearances in television shows and almost 30 years experience in participating in public. Began to earn money as a street magician and learns how people can be fooled and manipulated. Then apply their practical knowledge of human psychology and attention to good causes like exposing pseudoscientific “stars”.
Gender Ratio of Zeno presented the most common techniques of mediums, illustrated with examples from the past few centuries. Cold reading (cold reading) and pre-collect information about companion enjoy the same frequency as in the 19th century and television fortune-tellers today.
By Jon Donnis via BadPsychics
Number 10 • Helen Duncan
Victoria Helen McCrae Duncan (25 November 1897 – 6 December 1956) was a fraudulent Scottish medium best known as the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735.
But to make our list, she convinced gullible people that a Papier Mâché doll, covered in an old sheet was a materialised spirit! This is the closest to a ghost from Scooby Doo that you will ever find!
Photograph taken by Harvey Metcalfe during a séance in 1928.
Number 09 • Derek Acorah
This very site (BadPsychics) was the worlds first media outlet/website to expose Derek Acorah as a fraud, and we could very literally do a Top 10 just for ridiculous moments Derek has been involved, but instead I have chosen this one.
A quick bit of history on this clip, as you will see the below clip is in colour, the original pre-recorded clip was broadcast “as live” and using a green filter to make it appear as if it was in night vision. Most Haunted would often do this on the Most Haunted Live events as a way to fool the gullible viewers.
BadPsychics originally released this clip as a way to prove the show would fake scenes, the clip was recorded from an un-encrypted satellite feed, which an associate of ours had tuned in on. We originally claimed that a member of the staff or “The Most Haunted Mole” had sent us a video tape, this was designed to cause disruption amongst the Antix crew, and it did with Karl Beattie holding many a meeting about this mystical figure, I took great pleasure in pulling the wool over his eyes!
The clip speaks for itself, so watch and enjoy.
Number 08 • Sylvia Browne
Where to start with this horrible vile witch, a truly disgusting human being, who is now dead in a rather hot place.
“At around 7:45pm on April 21 2003 (the day before her 17th birthday), Amanda Berry left her job at a Cleveland area Burger King. She called her mother on her cell phone, told her that she had gotten a ride, and would call right back.”
She would then disappear.
Amanda’s mother Louwana Miller would appear on the Montel Williams Show a year and a half later, to get a reading from Sylvia Browne about her missing daughter, whereby Sylvia said the following.
“Miller: So you don’t think I’ll ever get to see her again?
Browne: Yeah, in heaven, on the other side.”
“On May 6th, 2013, Amanda Berry, along with two other young women (Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight), was found alive and being held captive in a house in Cleveland.”
Unfortunately, Amanda’s mother did not live to see this day.
So just think about that for a second, a Mother died believing her daughter was dead because Sylvia Browne told her so. If I believed in Hell, then I know that Sylvia Browne would be right there. But instead she is dead, and the only comfort we can take from that is that Sylvia can’t hurt any more people with her lies.
You can read more details on this case at my good friend Robert Lancasters site at http://www.stopsylvia.com/articles/montel_amandaberry.shtml and see a news report at http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2013/05/09/celebrity-psychic-sylvia-browne-under-fire-for-telling-amanda-berrys-mom-was/
Attention All Psychics!!!
This is your chance!!!!!
How would you like to silence your critics once and for
all while becoming very, VERY rich in the process?
To all persons claiming psychic abilities,
I have been very critical of your claims over the years. I think i usually refer to your claims as fraudulent and i refer to you, the person making the claims, as either a scam artist or delusional.
But being the fair-minded person that i am, i want to make you aware of an awesome opportunity for you to not only prove all your critics wrong once and for all by demonstrating that your miracle abilities are real, but you’ll also become a billionaire in the process!!!!
What an opportunity! A billionaire!
All you need to do is fill out a perfect 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket! How will this make you rich? Because Warren Buffett will award anyone who fills out a perfect 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket with $1 billion.
That’s it! That’s all you need to do to win $1,000,000,000.00! How much simpler can it be to shut down your critics AND get rich!
But wait! There’s more! … it doesn’t cost a dime to fill it out and the odds are only 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (1 in 9.2 quintillion)!!! That may seem like really bad odds, but i’m confident your psychic abilities can even those odds and allow you to bring home the bacon!!
You’re welcome and enjoy your new found wealth!!!
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
P.S. Shouldn’t you have known about this special offer before i mentioned it here? Just saying.
Another year has come and gone, and with it, a slew of failed and forgotten psychic predictions. Each year, the world’s “leading” psychics give us their predictions in January, and then we review them one year later to see how accurate they were.
Before reviewing their track record for 2013, let’s consider a handful of significant news items that were not predicted.
What the world’s leading psychics didn’t predict for 2013:
- The surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI…
- The revelation of PRISM and the NSA spying scandal revealed by Ed Snowden, which is still arguably one of the biggest news stories of the year…
- The meteor which exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,491 people and damaging over 4,300 buildings. It was the most powerful meteor to strike Earth’s atmosphere in over a century…
- The Boston Marathon bombings…
- Typhoon Haiyan “Yolanda”, one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record, which hit the Philippines and Vietnam, causing devastation with at least 5,653 dead…
- Iran agreeing to limit their nuclear development program in exchange for sanctions relief…
- William and Kate’s royal baby – a boy, named Prince George… (more details below)…
- The Bronx train derailment…
- The Rob Ford crack cocaine scandal, which was on just about every North American TV network…
- The recovery of Amanda Berry, who was a 16-year-old girl when she went missing in 2003, and was rescued from an unassuming house in Cleveland. She was held captive for a decade. High-profile psychic (Sylvia Browne) told Berry’s mother in 2004 that she was dead.
- Speaking of Sylvia Browne, she incorrectly predicted her own death. She thought she’d make it to 88, but died at 77.
- A number of high profile deaths: Ed Koch, Hugo Chavez, Margaret Thatcher, Roger Ebert, Tom Clancy, Lou Reed, James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith, Jean Stapleton, Lisa Robin Kelly, Paul Walker, Nelson Mandela…
And that’s just a sample of the things psychics forgot to predict. Now let’s look at how well they fared for the things they did… *
What the world’s leading psychics predicted for 2013:
Predicted: A fire and explosion at a subway in New York City kills many.
Accuracy: There was a fire, but no explosion, and no one was hurt. It was just really annoying for commuters.
Predicted: A chemical attack on the United States.
Accuracy: Thanksfully, this did not happen.
Predicted: Another cruise ship breaks in half. (Nice try here, but nope, didn’t happen.
Predicted: Another Super Storm like Sandy hitting the USA, Canada and Europe.
Accuracy: Did not happen. It would have been one helluva storm to hit both North America and Europe!
Predicted: Nuclear attack on New York.
Accuracy: Also, thankfully, this didn’t happen.
Predicted: A huge earthquake in the Caribbean.
Accuracy: Swing and a miss.
Predicted: Cuba and Puerto Rico becoming part of the USA.
Accuracy: Anyone know of another way of saying “didn’t happen”?
Predicted: A weather satellite will come crashing into a building.
Accuracy: A satellite did come down to Earth, but we’re not quite sure where it landed. Certainly not into a building.
Predicted: A huge earthquake in St. Louis, Missouri, Chicago and Tennessee.
Predicted: The map of the world will change due to catastrophic events happening around the globe.
Accuracy: The map of the world looks the same.
Predicted: Experimental monkeys escape from a lab causing a pandemic.
Accuracy: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, perhaps? Oh wait, that movie came out in 2011.
Predicted: Giant prehistoric sea monsters under the sea.
Accuracy: Now, I wish this one panned out. The Kraken, Godzilla, or maybe C’thulu would have been pretty neat. Alas, no sea monsters in 2013. But the Godzilla reboot is due out in 2014 – does that count?
Predicted: A possible landing of a spaceship.
Accuracy: Made by humans or ET? Landing on Earth, or elsewhere?
Predicted: An attack on the Vatican and Pope.
Accuracy: Didn’t happen.
Predicted: Daniel Day Lewis nominated for an Oscar for Lincoln.
Accuracy: This was pretty obvious, so this doesn’t count as a hit.
Predicted: Jack Nicholson hospitalized.
Accuracy: He wasn’t, however the actor who played the doctor in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest died…
Predicted: Another sex scandal around Arnold Schwarzenegger and has to watch his health.
Accuracy: Just part of the ongoing scandal, but nothing that would qualify as another (separate) sex scandal.
Predicted: An earthquake of great magnitude wiping out Mexico City.
Accuracy: Did not…
Predicted: Giant tornadoes in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Accuracy: Like any year, many tornadoes – some “giant” – hit Tornado Alley. 2013 would be no different, so this is a non-prediction.
Predicted: An assassination attempt around Queen Elizabeth.
Accuracy: Unless if this was covered up, this didn’t happen.
- Psychic (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- The Death of Sylvia Browne (illuminutti.com)
- The Late ‘Psychic’ Sylvia Browne Made 14 Final Predictions. All Are Wrong. (patheos.com)
- 2013 Psychic Predictions: Same old same old, as usual – FAIL (doubtfulnews.com)
- Sylvia Browne: Dead Psychic’s Legacy Riddled With Failed Predictions, Fraud – Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com)
Yesterday one of the world’s most famous fake psychics (I know, that’s redundant) died.
Now being a skeptic and someone whom believes that all psychics are frauds (apart form those that are mentally ill and really do believe that they have psychic powers) many people might assume that I am rejoicing, and perhaps even celebrating her death (especially those who believe that people can have psychic powers, or just people who don’t like skeptics).
To be quiet honest I’m not sure how I should feel about her death, because there are just so many feelings I have about it that I can’t seem to focus on one to just go with.
On the one hand I am sort of glad that she’s gone because now she can no longer hurt people and mess with their emotions with her stage magician like “readings” while at the same time exploiting those people for fame and money.
On the other hand I’m also a bit angry, not only because of her exploitation that she basically got away with up until she died, but also because she would never would come clean about being a fake, despite the numerous failed readings and predictions she has had. Now that she’s dead, she never will.
Yet on the other hand I also feel a tad bit sad for her . . .
- Sylvia Browne’s Death (illuminutti.com)
- ‘Psychic’ Sylvia Browne is Dead (patheos.com)
- Psychic Sylvia Browne has died, son tells @TMZ; she was 77 (tmz.com)
- Author, TV psychic Sylvia Browne dies at 77 (globalnews.ca)
- Sylvia Browne, World Famous Psychic, Dies At 77 (hollywoodlife.com)
- Sylvia Browne dead: World famous psychic dead at 77 (myfox8.com)
- “Psychic” Sylvia Browne Dead at 77 (disinfo.com)
- Sylvia Browne “Psychic” Dies at age 77 (guardianlv.com)
- Psychic Sylvia Browne Dead (4umf.com)
- Sylvia Browne Blows Another Psychic Prediction (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
14 new Sylvia Browne failures exposed
By Mason I. Bilderberg
According to the Sylvia Browne webpage, Sylvia Browne passed away at 7:10am on Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
Now i’m not a heartless person, i don’t wish ill on anybody and i certainly don’t take any pleasure in Miss Browne’s passing.
But i can’t go blind to Browne’s record of past failures (The stories of Shawn Hornbeck and Amanda Berry come to mind.) simply because she is no longer alive and i certainly can’t go blind now when her passing has exposed 14 new Sylvia Browne failures:
Come to think of it, did ANY psychics ANYWHERE predict Browne’s death? I thought not.
MORE – – – Sylvia Browne (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Psychic told parents that son was dead (Anderson Cooper Blog)
- AC360: Sylvia Browne’s Best Evidence? (stopsylvia.com)
- Dead Wrong, . . . Again (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Girl Recovered After 10 Years Claimed Dead by Psychic (livescience.com)
- Psychic Sylvia Browne told Amanda Berry’s mother she was dead (deathandtaxesmag.com)
- Psychic on The Montel Williams Show said Amanda Berry was dead. She wasn’t. (macleans.ca)
- I See Dead People. Oh, Also Profits. (moralcompassblog.com)
- Cleveland abductions: fans lash out at ‘psychic’ Sylvia Browne over false prediction (guardian.co.uk)
- Amanda Berry psychic was wrong — and they usually are (mnn.com)
- Case stirs memories of Hornbeck finding (stltoday.com)
- When Psychics Fail: The Sylvia Browne and Amanda Berry Fiasco (skepticalteacher.wordpress.com)
- Amanda Berry is alive and well … and proves Sylvia Browne’s to be a total fraud (skeptical-science.com)
- Dead Wrong, …Again (skepticblog.org)
- Shame on you, Sylvia Browne, for telling Amanda Berry’s mother her daughter was dead. (badscience.net)
- Psychic Sylvia Browne slammed for declaring Amanda Berry dead (twitchy.com)
- Fans lash out at ‘psychic’ Sylvia Browne for false Ohio abduction prediction (rawstory.com)
- Sylvia Browne dead: World famous psychic dead at 77 (myfox8.com)
- ‘Psychic’ Sylvia Browne is Dead (patheos.com)
- Sylvia Browne: Dead Psychic’s Legacy Riddled With Failed Predictions, Fraud – Huffington Post (huffingtonpost.com)