This scam involves making a series of opposite predictions (on winners in the stock market, football games, or the like) and sending them to different groups of people until one group has seen your perfect track record sufficiently to be duped into paying you for the next “prediction.”
For example, Notre Dame is playing Michigan next week, so you send 100 letters to people, predicting the outcome of the game. It doesn’t really matter whether the recipients of your letter are known to bet on college football games. The information you provide will stimulate some of them to want to bet on the game. You name your letter something swell like The Perfect Gamble. In 50 letters you predict Notre Dame will win. In the other 50 you predict Michigan will win. You write a short introduction explaining that you have a secret surefire method of predicting winners and to prove it you are giving out free predictions this week. Notre Dame wins.
The next week you send a free copy of The Perfect Gamble to the 50 who got the letter that predicted a Notre Dame victory. In the introduction you remind them of last week’s prediction and you inform them how much they would have won had they followed your advice. To show there are no hard feelings and to give them one more chance to take advantage of your surefire system you provide—free of cost—one more prediction. This week Notre Dame is playing Oregon State. You divide your list of recipients and you send 25 letters predicting Notre Dame will win and 25 predicting Oregon State will win.
After the second game, you will have 25 people who have seen you make two correct predictions in a row. Three correct predictions in a row should convince several recipients of your letter that you do have a surefire way to pick winners. You now charge them a substantial fee for the next prediction and, if all goes as planned, you should make a handsome profit even after postage and handling costs.
Since you are a crook for running this scam, you won’t feel guilty in promising the prospective suckers their money back if not completely satisfied with your predictions. Your hope is that they will be greedy and say: “How can I lose?” You needn’t remind them how. You might even be able to rationalize your behavior by telling yourself that they deserve to be scammed because they’re so greedy!
For different audiences, you can pretend to be a psychic or an astrologer or a mathematician or a gambler who knows how to fix college football games. If you are cheating the gullible as well as the greedy, you may be able to convince yourself that you are performing a beneficial service to the community by cheating these people out of their money. You might persuade yourself that rather than try to put you in jail for being a fraudulent scammer, society should give you an award for reminding people to use their common sense and critical thinking skills.
A variant of the perfect prediction scam is used by some psychics. If you tell enough clients “someday you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams,” then if one of them inherits a great sum or wins a lottery, you may get credit for being psychic.
I’ve discussed here and here how practitioners of paranormal piffle wish to look scientific. They fail under actual scientific scrutiny but, we have to admit, they are pretty effective at bamboozling the public with a sciencey show.
I came across a news story in Business Insider about an astrologer who was doing mighty well for herself. In times of uncertainty, society tends to turn to anything that will give them a sense of control. Astrologic and psychic advisors seem to fill that role for some people, even professional businesspeople. This astrologer, who thinks quite highly of her craft, had these things to say:
“What I do is scientific. Astrology involves careful methods learned over years and years of training and experience.”
“There are so many things we don’t understand in the world. What if 200 years ago someone had said that these metal barrels in the sky would get us around the world in a few hours? Or that we’d inject ourselves with mold to treat illnesses? People are so skeptical.”
And then I laughed.
Few examples of pseudoscience are more perfect than astrology, which has been studied A LOT, and whose practitioners still cannot demonstrate a root in reality.
There are times that I think the woo-woos are engaging in an elaborate game of self-parody, just to see how far they can push us skeptics before we realize that it’s all a huge joke.
Or at least, I live in that hope, because it’s better than the alternative, which is that these people are serious whackjobs. Take, for example, the case of the astrologer who recently commented on a crop circle that occurred in 2011 near Stonehenge:
Those of you are are aficionados of punk rock may recognize this as the logo of Crass (to the right), a punk rock band formed in the 1970s that was involved in the anarchic/political end of the punk spectrum, and which produced several albums, including the memorable Penis Envy.
Not much doubt, is there? Some wag with a taste for punk and way too much free time decided to make a crop circle as an homage to his (or her) favorite band. As we’ve seen before, crop circles can be generated in short order as long as you have some kind of device to orient yourself and a piece of plywood with which to flatten the crops. No other explanation necessary, not that we’d be likely to look for one given that it’d be an odd alien race that would come all the light years to Earth and leave behind a punk rock logo as their only communiqué.
That point, however, apparently flew past astrologer Donna Provancher so quickly that it didn’t even ruffle her hair. Excuse me, though; Provancher isn’t an astrologer, she says she’s an “astronomologer.” What, exactly, is an “astronomologer,” you may be asking? In her words, “astronomology is the practice of astrology using astronomy to build the chart and supply new insights.”
Which doesn’t sound that different from astrology, frankly. It’s as if I decided to open a practice doing Tarot card readings and started calling it “Tarothematics” because the Tarot cards have numbers on them, and expected that people should take me more seriously than the ordinary Tarot card readers because of it.
Be that as it may, Provancher was just enthralled by the crop circle, and had a wonderful explanation of what it meant. None of which, I hasten to say, had anything to do with punk rock. Here’s Provancher’s explanation . . .