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.
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.
- You Too Can Be A Mindreader (randi.org)
Remember the Bible Code? You don’t hear as much about it now, but it used to be kind of a big deal for some Christians. It was sort of the TAG argument of the 1990s — the magical, undeniable proof that Christianity was true. The only thing it actually proves is that some people will believe anything.
If you want to search for “codes” like the Bible Code on your own, there’s a program called Code Read Inspiration that allows you to search any .txt document. It’s the program I used to find my name “encoded” in the text of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason 91 times. Download it at:
Cassandra Vanzant calls herself an “extraterrestrial communicator,” among other things. I appeared with her on CBS’s Anderson, hosted by journalist Anderson Cooper. (The show aired on April 24, 2012.) Vanzant claims to be in communication with alien intelligences whose messages she allegedly receives telepathically and then “translates.” She informed Anderson that he, too, had a star family, the “Lamarians” living in “the fourth dimension.” (See Nickell 2012.)
New Age Contactee
Vanzant’s claims are legion. At one time or another (sometimes under the pseudonym “Cheryl Hill”) she has acted as a tarot-card reader and instructor, ghost hunter, spiritualist medium, angel communicant, ordained minister (nondenominational), professional psychic (although she failed to foresee a serious car accident in which she was a passenger), and of course, telepathic “Master Alien Communicator” (“About the author” 2012; “About me” 2012; Vanzant 2012a).
When an amused Anderson Cooper asked his TV audience how many believed Vanzant’s claimed ability to communicate with aliens, a single person raised her hand. The audience was right to be skeptical. Ms. Vanzant is only the most recent embodiment of the contactee, a person who purports to be in repeated communication with extraterrestrials.
Contactees emerged in the early 1950s, following an influx of flying saucer reports. The Space Brothers were supposedly making themselves known to a select group of chosen persons (who thus function rather like the prophets in religions of yore) to spread their supposedly advanced wisdom to mere Earthlings. The contactees tended to be mystical folk of a type we would today call New Agers, embracing Eastern “mystery” religions, notably Hinduism, as well as Western Messianic traditions (Story 2001, 134). Today, contactees have been largely supplanted by abductees who themselves now also frequently serve as alleged cosmic messengers (Nickell 2007, 255–56).
Revealingly, like many other claimed extraterrestrial communicants (Nickell 2007, 251–58), Ms. Vanzant has several of the traits associated with a fantasy-prone personality. Such a person is sane and normal but with an unusual ability to fantasize, according to a pioneering study by Wilson and Barber (1983).
For example, Vanzant has ostensible imaginary friends (“Artoli” and “Madascrat”), claims to receive special messages from higher beings (not only extraterrestrials but also angels and spirit guides), purports to have psychic powers and fortunetelling abilities, reports having had an out-of-body/near-death experience (NDE), and so on, as well as appearing to generally have a rich fantasy life (Vanzant 2012a; see also her website, http://www.starfamilymessages.com).
Describing her near-death experience Vanzant (2012a) recalls floating up to the hospital roof and onward, “toward the stars.” She soon entered a “green tunnel,” then found herself “surrounded by angels, extraterrestrials, and spirit guides,” each of whom gave her a message. The experience, she says, “started my quest.” (The NDE—although only a hallucination produced by an altered brain state—is often life-transforming for the experiencer [Blackmore 1996].)
- Likenesses between spirit channeler mediums and alien contactees/experiencers (examiner.com)
- Bombshell Report Reveals Activities and Motivations of ET Races Interacting With Humanity (projectanunnaki.wordpress.com)
- Aliens & UFOs – Re: Contact, Disclosure, and Deception (disclose.tv)
- Russia Says Its Space Troops Are “Not Ready To Fight Extraterrestrials” (disinfo.com)
Slate writing was a trick used by mediums that involved school slates and the claim that spirits were writing messages on them. Usually, a pair of slates would be used. They would be shown to the viewer clean, hidden in some way, and then shown to the viewer again but now with a written message. Henry Slade (1840-1905) is credited with inventing slate writing and incorporating it in his act as a psychic medium. Slade called himself a spiritual doctor and is often referred to as Dr. Henry Slade. Whether he invented slate writing or not, I can’t say, but he popularized the trick and was found guilty of fraud several times for his efforts.
The trick was done in several ways, but could be done either by surreptitious replacement of a blank slate with a slate that had a prewritten message on it or by surreptitious writing on the blank slate by the medium with a hidden piece of chalk. I imagine the trick could be done with or without the help of an accomplice. Clearly, it’s a good trick when done properly.
At one time Slade was reputed to be worth $1 million. When he was at the height of his fame it was impossible to gain an audience with him without making arrangements weeks in advance. He lived with great prodigality, but as he grew older, his wonderful powers weakened and gave way under the strain of his dissipation. His fortune was soon squandered and he eked out a miserable existence by slate writings at 50 cents a sitting.*
His luck ran out, though, and Slade died a poor man in a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan.
The idea of a spirit writing silly messages on a slate kept out of view may strike us as absurd as the idea of pulling cheesecloth out of a sleeve and calling it ectoplasm from the spirit world, but at one time such ideas were taken seriously by many looking for some evidence of the reality of life after death. Perhaps the fact that science was discovering more and more about the universe that supported materialism was disconcerting and opened up a crack in the critical thinking abilities of laymen and scientists alike. Whatever the reason, ideas that seem transparently deceptive to us (séances in dark rooms, table rapping, apports and deports, spirit photography, etc.) were once willingly accepted as proof of the spirit world by educated people, many of them eminent scientists.
[ . . . ]
The deception is easy because of the overwhelming desire to survive death and be reunited with loved ones, and to believe, despite the incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that the universe is not indifferent to our existence. For some, even survival of consciousness and purposiveness to the universe would not satisfy their cosmic cravings. They want, like Hodgson, a universe of “ineffable Love and Wisdom.” The contemplation of the fact of their existence as percipient beings against all odds and the magical discoveries of science about how things work and came to be cannot satisfy their unquenchable thirst for mysticism. Join that unquenchable thirst to a belief that one is too intelligent to be fooled by a trickster and you have a perfect formula for gullibility among the learned.
I’m sure everyone has heard about them and the groups that they form around them and their “teachings”. I’m also sure you’re aware of how they act…
Well anyways, I’ve been examining cult leaders for a long time, and people who act like cult leaders as well. During my observations I’ve notice certain traits that most of them have, and from that I’ve come up with five things they all tend to share.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about cult leaders:
5. They’re narcissistic.
If you were to ever meet the leader of a cult they will tell you that all of their teaching are for you to help better your life, and on the surface that sounds great… except this is a lie.
In reality it is all about the leader of the cult, and the power that leader has over you and the members of that cult.The leader doesn’t actually care about you, they only care bout what you can do for them, and how much you respect (or fear) them.
And as for their teachings? Well, just remember this is something that THEY created, and therefore can change at any time they want to (which most do) to suit whatever needs that they have, and they do this while telling you it’s for your own good.
4. They like to surround themselves with important people.
Because of a cult leader’s narcissism and their need to feel important, and also feel the need to gain influence (as well as new members), they tend to try also try to surround themselves with people who are either important, or they feel are important. This of course could be politicians, community leaders, celebrities, Playboy models (which I can’t really blame them for), and especially people who are rich.
They do this because not only does it help them get new members (via influence of the important person), they also do this because they feel it gives them a kind of bubble of protection (which does work sometimes).
Now, if they can’t actually get important people into their cult, then they’ll do the next best thing: make members of their cult important and rich (as this helps get them more money).
3. They try to destroy their critics.
Probably one of the most well known and enduring practices that L. Ron Hubbard created for his Church of Scientology was the Fair Game policy, which is basically guidelines on how to destroy a critic of Scientology using whatever means necessary to silence that critic. This policy is still used today (although some in the cult claim it isn’t), but it is far less effective than it was years ago as most people are no longer afraid of the Church of Scientology.
L. Ron Hubbard isn’t the only cult leader whom did this, or something similar to this. In fact many, if not all cult leaders do this, mostly because they see their critics as their enemies (although this might not be to far off in some cases, it’s usually for good reason).
While most have a direct hand in their handling of critics, most of the time they aren’t the one whom actually handle their critics. In fact the actual handling of their critics is done by other followers, they just give out the orders on whom they feel should be targeted, and how, and this is because…
- Created Equal (cultoclock.wordpress.com)
- Leah Remini Files Missing Person Report For Scientology Leader’s Wife (huffingtonpost.com)
- To Parents: Does Your Daughter Listen To Kesha? You Better Watch This: : Kesha The Satanic Cult Leader (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- ‘Cult’ leader gets two life sentences in Durham murders (myfox8.com)
- Church of Scientology plans October opening for Flag Building (bizjournals.com)
- Leah Remini May Fear Release Of Confidential Scientology Files As Retaliation For Defection (huffingtonpost.com)
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.
- Skeptical ‘Zombies’ Attack Alleged Psychic James Van Praagh (VIDEO) (illuminutti.com)
- Talking to the Dead: James Van Praagh Tested [57 mins, 27 secs] (iamthemirus.wordpress.com)
Via The Soap Box
There’s been a lot of doomsday predictions and prophecies over the years (and I mean a lot), and fortunately none of them have ever come true. While I have noticed a lot of things about them, there are five things that I have really noticed about them that tends to stick out.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about doomsday prophecies:
5. They have a bad track record.
Every single doomsday prophecy and prediction ever made has always failed to come true, including the big ones that a lot of people believed would happen and were actually preparing for. The most recent example of this is 12/21/2012 ending of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which many people thought would mark the end of the world, despite the fact that nothing in any Mayan religious texts ever stated this, and even if there was, it wouldn’t have meant that the world was ending anyways…
Thinking about, it’s actually a pretty good thing that these doomsday prophecies and predictions has such a bad track record…
4. They tend to get pushed back.
While sometimes when a doomsday prediction fails it will go away, more often then not they just get pushed back to a later date, or will inspire someone else to make a similar prediction for a later date.
One of the most common types of doomsday predictions to this are the New World Order type of predictions. These are predictions that proclaim that the imaginary “New World Order” is going to take over the world and kill lots of people in the process. These types of predictions have failed every single time to come true, and have been pushed back so many times I can’t even count how many times now, and that’s just from Alex Jones alone…
3. They’re pretty vague.
Most of these doomsday predictions and prophecies are quite vague and often times lack many details, if any.
While some of these predictions will at least say what type of disaster is suppose to occur, sometimes they don’t even do that. This causes people to add in their own details about what is suppose to happen, which often times gets very… strange.
- After Failed Prophecies, Harold Camping’s Ministry May Be Facing Doomsday. (greatriversofhope.wordpress.com)
- Doomsday cult (disiplm.wordpress.com)
- Prophecies, Panic, and God’s Covenant of Peace – Part 2 (hanginoutwithgod.wordpress.com)
- Peter Schiff doubles down on Doomsday views (sgtreport.com)
Turns out this Scientology thing isn’t just a load of harebrained bulls**t after all.
As an added bonues, here is the leaked Scientology video that established Tom Cruise as some kind of loon:
- Science VS Scientology [infographic] (illuminutti.com)
- British tabloid apologizes to aliens for linking them to Scientology (illuminutti.com)
- flying saucers over british scientology hq (thesun.co.uk)
- Reverse Apology: British tabloid apologizes to aliens for linking them to Scientology (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- Run… it’s the Church of Scientology! (russellmdawn.wordpress.com)
- Did the Church of Scientology silence this “After Earth” parody? (dailydot.com)
Ah, Scientology, the pseudo-religion/cult built on a premise straight out of science fiction. It’s mind boggling to think that Scientology has as large a following as it does, and even more upsetting that celebrities continue to endorse its ideals.
This infographic, courtesy of Visual.ly gives the low-down on Scientology – from it’s strange beginnings through to its ongoing legal battles.
Image Source: http://visual.ly/things-you-dont-know-about-scientology
- Scientology sucks at photoshop (boingboing.net)
- Scientology’s Photoshoppers Are At It Again (moralcompassblog.com)
- Google Ordered to Alter Search Suggestions Linking German Person to Scientology (news.softpedia.com)
- Scientology (probings.wordpress.com)
- Federal officials accuse chiropractors of forcing Scientology on staffers (rawstory.com)
Nearly half of Americans are sure that life began no more than 10,000 years ago [Diethelm]. This would have humans and dinosaurs co-existing, make carbon-dating a fraud and outright dismiss any evidence of evolution.
Creationists are not alone. About one-fifth of Americans believe vaccines can cause autism, even after the discovery that the study data used to make the connection was faked [Gross, CNN]. A 2010 Gallop poll found that half of the U.S. population thinks human actions have nothing to do with climate change, despite the countless studies linking the effect to CO2 emissions [Rettig].
Don’t forget these, either: Smoking does not cause cancer; sex positions can help you conceive your gender of choice; raw milk can’t really do any harm.
The thinking might be rational in people who don’t buy science at all — no germs leading to illness, no evolution or genetic code, no “heat-retention” nonsense. But in those who do believe in the principles of science, in the scientific method and in most of its conclusions, how does this happen?
Psychologists call it “belief perseverance,” and it’s a widely studied phenomenon. All of us fall prey to it to some extent, but some people are more prone to it than others.
What exactly is at work here? To put it very simply, the human mind will go to great lengths to keep the peace.
Now That’s Perseverance
At the Flat Earth Society Web site, an open membership list reveals a group about 500 strong, all of whom apparently believe the society’s core theory: “Earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth”
On Dec. 22, 1954, some of those cult members felt pretty foolish. But, to the shock of psychologist Leon Festinger, who had been studying the cult, others went the opposite way: They believed even more strongly than they had before the prophecy failed. In fact, to these true believers, the prophecy had not failed at all. They, the cult members, had managed to stop the flood with the power of their faith [Mooney]. That there was no flood was proof that they were right to believe.
In 1957, Festinger coined the term cognitive dissonance to describe what he had seen.
Also See: the Flat Earth Society
- Are there secret messages in da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’? (illuminutti.com)
- Fill Thy Vat of Knowledge! (stressingoutcollege.wordpress.com)
Psychic Kenneth Quinn connects Today Now! studio guests with former landlords and friends of work friends who have died for stilted conversations from beyond.
- You Hear and See Dead People? Mediumship in a Nutshell (tarotdreamer.wordpress.com)
- Mediumship 101 – What You Should Know (omtimes.com)
Subjective validation is the process of validating words, initials, statements, or signs as accurate because one is able to find them personally meaningful and significant. Subjective validation explains why many people are seduced by the apparent accuracy of pseudoscientific personality profiles. Subjective validation deludes everyone from the housewife who thinks her happiness depends on her blood type or horoscope, to the FBI agent who thinks criminal profiles are spot on, to the therapist who thinks her Rorschach readings are penetrating portraits of psychological disorders.
Subjective validation is an essential element of any successful cold reading done by astrologers, palm readers, tarot readers, mediums, and the like. The sitter in such readings must cooperate. Fortunately for the medium, most sitters are usually eager for the reader to succeed and are willing to work hard to find personal meaning in whatever the reader throws out. In a successful cold reading, the sitter will be convinced that the accuracy of the reading was not due to her ability and willingness to cooperate but rather to the powers of astrology, palmistry, tarot, or mediumship.
Sitters are often very compliant. A medium will say he senses a father figure trying to contact him from the spirit world and the sitter has only to find someone to fit the bill. It need not be the sitter’s father. So, when the sitter identifies this father figure as her deceased husband, the medium is validated by the subject. The medium is validated by the subject when the medium says she is getting the message “I do not walk alone” and the sitter makes sense out of this by seeing it as a communication from a departed soul who was in a wheelchair before she died. There may be thousands of ways to make sense out of an ambiguous stimulus like the name ‘Michael’ or the expression ‘broken wheel’ but all it takes is for the sitter to find one and the medium is validated.
Selective memory is also involved in subjective validation because it is very unlikely that any sitter will be able to find meaning in every utterance the medium makes. Fortunately for the reader, the sitter will usually forget the misses and remember only the hits. That is, the sitter will remember what she was able to make sense out of and forget the stuff that made no sense to her. Also, it rarely occurs that anyone makes an independent check of the accuracy of the sitter’s rating of the reader.* So, if a sitter is satisfied that a reading is very accurate that is usually taken as sufficient evidence by the medium – and by experimenters who test mediums such as Gary Schwartz – as proof of the accuracy of the reading.
The stronger the desire to make contact, the harder the sitter will work to find meaning and connections in the medium’s items. This fact should impact the design of experiments that are supposed to test a medium’s ability to get messages from spirits. Experimenters should always checks factual claims made by sitters. But even though the concern with factual accuracy is important in verifying the success of the medium, one should not lose sight of the importance of the studies that have been done on how the human mind works when it comes to making sense out of and giving significance to disparate data presented to it. The overall effect of subjective validation should show up in the way sitters rate the accuracy of the mediums’ claims.
- Top 10 Things You Can’t Prove But People Believe Anyway (illuminutti.com)
- Halloween challenge: psychics submit their powers to a scientific trial | Chris French (guardian.co.uk)