The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘esp’

Psychic Charlatan Sylvia Browne Dies… Good Riddance

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 21, 2013

The title of this blog post may seem harsh, but when it comes to douchebag charlatans who bilk the desperate and grieving out of their money, self-declared psychic Sylvia Browne was the bottom of the proverbial dung-heap.  And now she’s dead. Ironically, in 2003 she predicted that she would die at the age of 88, yet she died 11 years earlier than that…

ScumbagPsychicSylviaBrowne-7182

Good riddance to bad rubbish (image source)

Over the course of writing this blog, I have dedicated some posts specifically to the late Ms. Browne in order to point out just how much of a self-aggrandizing and deceitful person she was, claiming to have psychic powers and often failing spectacularly in her “predictions” (none of which she ever apologized for, even given the pain she caused).  In honor of her death, I shall reproduce those posts below in the hopes that people do not celebrate her as a “lost light to the world” or similar rubbish.  Rather, it is my hope that people take the time to reflect upon Ms. Browne’s life and death and think carefully about just how much damage she did by hoodwinking the most gullible and vulnerable among us.  Hopefully, perhaps people will be a bit more skeptical of the next psychic scumbag who comes along.

When Psychics Fail: The Sylvia Browne and Amanda Berry Fiasco

Psychic Charlatan Sylvia Browne Gets a Dose of Skepticism

Jay Leno Sticks It to Sylvia Browne — On Live TV

Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

When Psychics Fail: The Sylvia Browne and Amanda Berry Fiasco

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2013

I make no bones about how I feel about various psychic charlatans who take advantage of the desperate, grieving, and bereaved: they’re pretty close to scraping the bottom of the barrel, in my view.  At the top of this list is none other than the queen of psychic charlatans: Sylvia Browne.

Ms. Browne has made a career, literally, out of taking advantage of any opportunity, no matter how sleazy, to get in front of cameras in order to promote herself and her supposed “psychic powers”.  In many cases, this takes the form of her going on a popular daytime television show, such as the Montel Williams Show, and giving readings to various audience members.  And sometimes, she has stooped so low as to give authoritative-sounding psychicly-guided advice to people who have lost loved ones.

Of course, such psychic predictions can backfire when people actually take the time to examine them critically (such as keeping track of the New Year predictions made by prominent psychics which are complete and total duds).  But sometimes, especially when dealing with those who are really going for the gusto (like Ms. Browne), these predictions can fail in a truly spectacular and despicable manner, as it did with what is turning out to be a huge fiasco regarding the discovery and rescue of kidnapping victim Amanda Berry in Cleveland, Ohio.  It just so happens that not long after their daughter went missing over 10 years ago, Amanda’s parents went onto the Montel Williams Show to consult with Ms. Browne, who told them – rather unequivocally – that their daughter was dead…

… yup, dead.  Which is kind of exactly the opposite of what Amanda really was… you know, alive and hoping someone would find her?  Whoops…

Sylvia Browne: TV Psychic Under Fire For Telling Family Kidnapping Victim Was  Dead

Sylvia Browne: TV Psychic Under Fire For Telling Family Kidnapping Victim Was Dead

Sylvia Browne is coming under fire after the television psychic told the  family of Cleveland kidnapping victim Amanda Berry that their daughter was  dead.

The case made national headlines this week when Brown and two other kidnapped  girls were found safe in Cleveland. But for the family of Amanda Berry,  that does not undo the heartache caused by Sylvia Browne.

Browne was a weekly guest on The Montel Williams Show, and in 2004 Berry’s mother  Louwana Miller appeared to talk about the case.

As Miller pleaded for her for information on her daughter’s whereabouts,  Sylvia Browne, got  it completely wrong:

Miller: Can you tell me if they’ll ever find her? Is she out  there?

Browne: She’s — see, I hate this when they’re in water. I  just hate this. She’s not alive, honey. And I’ll tell you why, here we go again.  Your daughter was not the type that would not have called you.

Miller: So you don’t think I’ll ever get to see her  again?

Browne: Yeah, in heaven, on the other side.

Brown was correct on the last prediction, though it does not appear to be  intentional. Berry’s mother would die of heart failure two years later — her  family said she died of a “broken  heart” after her hopes of a rescue were dashed by Browne’s vision.

Now Sylvia Brown has come under assault, with commentators calling her a “grief vampire” and her Twitter page coming under assault. [emphasis added]

And to me that is one of the real tragedies of this whole sordid affair.  Not only have Ms. Browne and similar psychic charlatans used the grief of people to take advantage of them in their most vulnerable moments to promote themselves and their cheesy, pseudoscientific agenda, but they have also propped themselves up as some kind of authority with no evidence to support their claims.  And then they go making terribly irresponsible statements such as what Ms. Browne did regarding Amanda Berry; sadly, because Louwana Miller gave some kind of credence to Ms. Browne and her psychic claims, because she trusted Browne, she was horribly and terribly deceived… eventually dying thinking that her daughter was dead.

[ **Side note: Lest you think I'm being a bit too hard on Ms. Browne, it should be noted that this isn't her first high-profile grade-A screwup.  For more history, check out her involvement in the Shawn Hornbeck fiasco. ]

I’m not one to say there should be a law against being a douchebag, especially such a self-aggrandizing and deceitful one such as Ms. Browne and her psychic ilk, but I do think it is incumbent upon those of us who call ourselves skeptics and critical thinkers to call these charlatans out on their lies and douchebaggery.  We need to call them out long and loud on their lies and deceit, and we need to use these sad episodes as a lesson in teaching others the use of thinking a bit more critically about such extraordinary claims.

Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

New Years Psychic Prediction Failures: 2012 Year in Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 2, 2013

Well, here we are once again, and it’s time for that time-honored tradition of checking the accuracy of famous psychic predictions of the past year.  As you’ll see, when subjected to scrutiny, the vast majority of these predictions fail pretty badly.  However, there are all too many faithful followers of psychic woo who want to believe that it works.  One of the primary ways in which believers fool themselves is to cherry-pick the predictions and results; in skeptic-speak, we call this “counting the hits and ignoring the misses”.

psychic fair cancelled

Ummm… yeah.  It’s kind of like that.  Image source

And there are a LOT more misses than hits, folks.  In addition, many of these psychics tend to make very vague and ambiguous predictions which can be twisted and interpreted in a number of ways.  This creative interpretation of misses or vague predictions after-the-fact as hits is well documented in the history of psychic woo.  Let’s see how well those predictions for 2012 worked out by referencing this About.com article from one year ago…

A LOT OF people are looking at 2012 with a mixture of dread and hope. The last few years have been tough financially for many people, and there’s been all of that apocalyptic talk about Mayan calendars and doom and gloom. What will really happen in 2012 I’m sure will surprise all of us. Recently, readers like you made your predictions for 2012, but we always seem to be curious about what the professional psychics foresee. Here are selected predictions for 2012 from some of the most well-known and sought-after psychics, seers, and mentalists from around the world.

Let’s just begin this exercise by examining the first psychic on the list:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Halloween: The Perfect Opportunity to Promote Skepticism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2011

My favorite time of the year is almost upon us: Halloween! :D

I love Halloween not just because of the candy, the costumes, and the decorations (when else can you be a complete freak and it be socially acceptable?) but also because of the wonderful potential for promoting skepticism and critical thinking about various paranormal claims.  Let’s face it: at this time of the year, ghosts, witchcraft, psychics, and various other kinds of woo are on everyone’s minds, so why not take advantage of that fact and use it to inject the skeptical viewpoint on things?  I have found this to be a very effective teaching technique over the years, so that’s why I pass it along to you.

So in the spirit of the season (pardon the pun), allow me to share with you some links to various Halloween-ish skeptical resources that you can use, including a few of my earlier blog posts on the subject…

A Skeptic’s Halloween

Snopes: Halloween Legends

South Park Spoofs “Ghost Hunters”

Halloween Lesson, Part 1: Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics”

A Historical Halloween & Skepticism Lesson: The 1938 “War of the Worlds” Broadcast by Orson Welles

Halloween Lesson, Part 2: The Haunted Physics Lab

Happy Halloween!!!

Posted in aliens & UFOs, education, ghosts & paranormal, humor, magic tricks, physics denial/woo, psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific at it Again: This Time They’re Selling an “ESP Lamp”

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 20, 2011

You may recall that I made a blog post in 2009 – titled Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific Sells “Ghost Detectors” & Other Woo – wherein I strongly criticized the science teaching outlet called Edmund Scientific for caving in to the “ghost hunter” fad. They started to sell all manner of goofy things: ghost detectors (which are actually just electromagnetic field meters) and even DVDs on remote viewing. And all of this from a science teaching catalog – you might as well turn to the biology section and see creationist materials for sale!

[**Addendum (6/28/11): to get a good look at why I view such claims about EMF meters "detecting ghosts" so skeptically, take a look at this post - Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review - which outlines that so-called ghost hunters, when pressed, basically admit they aren't doing any serious science.  But they want to look like it]

Well, not to be outdone in their tumble down the rabbit hole, Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific now has for sale an “ESP Lamp”.  I kid you not – they claim this thing can actually read your thoughts… as in extra-sensory perception… as in psychic woo-woo… and it only costs about $200!  But don’t take my word for it.  Read their own description of the product:

Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific’s “ESP Lamp and Money Burner” :)

Lead your own experiments in the mind’s possible influence on machines, PSI testing, and more with this colorful LED lamp. Four different color LEDs are lighted dependent upon a random number generated from a miniature Geiger counter included on the back. You may even figure out how to use it to tell the future. And, when you need a break from the lab, it makes a very interesting lamp too.

I’ll agree that it makes an interesting lamp, but that’s about the only thing in the description that’s factual.  Everything else is pretty much pseudoscientific gobble-dee-gook because many decades of research has clearly shown that no such phenomenon as ESP exists.  And that part about “telling the future”?  I suggest just saving your money and buying a Magic 8-Ball, because it would cost a LOT less and give you just as accurate results! ;)

But, sadly, that won’t appear to stop Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific from catering to the lowest common denominator in their quest for a quick buck off the gullible.  Unfortunately for them, they don’t seem to have done the math on the other side of things: how do they think science teachers across the country are going to react when they see this sort of garbage for sale in their catalog?  I know that I’ve spoken to a large number of science teachers who are quite upset about this (and justifiably so) and who are boycotting Edmund.  I’m among them, and I encourage all of my skeptical colleagues (especially those teachers among us) to do likewise: until Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific pulls products like this “ESP Lamp” and their “ghost meter” from their shelves – or at least until they advertise them in an honest and scientifically-accurate fashion – we should refuse to give them any business.

Posted in education, ghosts & paranormal, physics denial/woo, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Women Thinking Free Hosts an Un-Psychic Fair in Indianapolis!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 19, 2011

I just wanted to pass along to you some news which might interest those of you in the Midwest next weekend: another Un-Psychic Fair!  You may recall the first WTFF Un-Psychic Fair in Chicago last year, and we hope that this one will be even more fun, more skeptic-y, and more un-psychic-y!!!  Read on for details…

John Edward, un-psychic douchebag, endorses this event :)

… This event launches our presence in Indianapolis, a city where we’ve found great skeptics and the potential for a truly bad ass skeptical mofo community. Our only option was to invade Indy and bring some mofos together to help us save them from their little notch on the Bible Belt.

Come out to the Unpsychic fair this weekend and be a part of WTF Indy! We’ll give you all you can eat food and buy your first drink. Then, we’ll be raffling off an entire bottle of alcohol. And we’ll do unpsychic readings… by real fake psychics!

The Women Thinking Free Foundation has arrived in Indianapolis!

Please join us on June 25, 2011 for our first ever Indy event: Mysteries of the Totally Explained, an Unpsychic Faire.

Tarot card readings!

Psychic predictions!

Discover your fate with a oujia board!

You will be amazed at the occasional accuracy of your readings!
We can already sense your presence!


Tickets are $20 and include all you can eat appetizers, cash bar with drink specials and your first drink is on us!
FREE admission for ghosts entering through the Ouija board or other spiritual portal.
We predict an awesome time!

Register to attend

Contact

Louise Kellar
Women Thinking Free Foundation
louise@womenthinkingfre.org
312-869-9833

When

Saturday June 25, 2011 at 6:00 PM EDT

Where

Loughmillers Pub
301 W Washington St
Indianapolis, IN

Posted in psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

New Years Psychic Prediction Failures: 2010 Year in Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 1, 2011

Among the New Year traditions that seem to get bantered about these days are psychic predictions for the upcoming year.  Of course, psychics are a bunch of hooey – ever seen a newspaper headline titled “Psychic Wins Lottery, Gives Money to Starving Kids!”?  You never will, because psychic & other related paranormal phenomena just don’t work, period.

However, there are all too many faithful followers of psychic woo who want to believe that it works.  One of the primary ways in which believers fool themselves is to cherry-pick the predictions & results; in skeptic-speak, we call this “counting the hits and ignoring the misses”.  And there are a LOT more misses than hits, folks.  In addition, many of these psychics tend to make very vague & ambiguous predictions which can be twisted and interpreted in a number of ways.  This creative interpretation of misses or vague predictions after-the-fact as hits is well documented in the history of psychic woo.

As a way of illustrating this, let us take some time to examine a series of predictions made one year ago by a number of famous psychics, shall we?

What the Psychics Are Predicting for 2010

By , About.com Guide

THESE ARE THE people who are supposed to be able to tell us the future, right? Okay, so here are 2010 predictions from psychics, astrologers and mentalists from around the U.S. and around the world about the economy, politics, Hollywood – and a few very weird things.

Christopher St John, Psychic

  • Another crash in the stock market… maybe a little bit later in the year.
  • Increased recording and reporting of sightings of UFOs will place pressure on world governments to admit “the truth” of extra-terrestrial life. …

Another stock market crash?  Hmm, let’s see how the ol’ market did this year.  According to Yahoo News Finance, it seems like it was a pretty damn good year for the market, specifically the Dow Jones:

Of course, if Mr. St. John wants to call the dip in the market from May to July (which amounted to ~1000 points over the course of two months) a “crash”, I suppose he could do that.  But given what the markets went through back in 2008, I think this two-month-long dip could hardly be called a “crash”.  I’m going to call this one a miss.

As for the supposed “pressure” put on world governments to release “the truth” of ET-life, I don’t seem to recall any major headlines on that front.  In fact, a brief search of Google News using the terms “extra terrestrial life ufo governments” revealed pretty much nothing; well, nothing except for this headline: ‘Cosmic masters’ call for Govt investigation into UFOs

I suppose this is marginally interesting, but the prediction was that world governments (note the plural there) would have these UFO files released and facing pressure.  As it is, it seems that this has only occurred in New Zealand, not worldwide as predicted.  Not to mention, in the last few years we have seen the release of a number of formerly secret files on supposed UFO sightings by a number of governments, so this sort of “prediction” comes as no big revelation.  If this is a psychic hit, it is a really vague & lukewarm one.

Who is our next psychic? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in astrology, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Do You Have ESP? A Lesson in Skepticism from the JREF

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 9, 2010

As a member of the organization’s educational advisory panel, I’m happy to announce that the James Randi Educational Foundation has released its first free, online module for use in the classroom!  It’s called “Do You Have ESP?” and addresses the common perception that extra-sensory perception (ESP) is real.  Here’s the announcement from the JREF website…

First JREF in the Classroom Module Now Available Free

Written by Michael Blanford
Friday, 05 November 2010

Do You Have E.S.P.? is a downloadable lesson module for use in high school and junior high school science and psychology classes that allows students to explore the scientific method, critical thinking and parapsycholological research through an examination of the history of possibly flawed research methods of E.S.P. claims. Students can come to their own conclusions about the existence of paranormal abilities as they conduct E.S.P. experiments and learn first-hand about the pitfalls of bias, experimenter error and fraud in the laboratory. Classes may share their results with the James Randi Educational Foundation for publication online and view cumulative data from schools around the country on our website. …

I highly recommend that you check out this lesson!  If I have some time this year, I plan to try it out in my own classroom – download it here. And if you’re a teacher, make sure to tell your colleagues about it :)

 

Posted in education, psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

U.S. Public Only Seems to Like “Practical” Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2010

I just caught this post over at the Woo-Fighters blog, and thought it worth sharing.  The results of these polls give me some reason to hope, but it also shows that those of us in the pro-science community certainly do have our work cut out for us.  Read on…

Science? Only when it’s practical, please.

April 25th, 2010 | Author: Matthew Newton

When the idea of “science” is brought up, most people agree that this so-called science is a good thing. In fact, in a somewhat recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 84% of Americans surveyed believed the science in their lives to have a positive influence on society, with only 6% indicating the opposite. 70% said they believed scientists to have a positive influence on society, which is even more than doctors!

While the magical idea of “what science is to me and not to you thank you very much” sounds preferable to your average consumer of science, the reality behind belief in American scientific progress is a bit more bleak. From the same poll, only 17% of those surveyed believed America to among the “best in the world” when it comes to scientific research, with 49% believing America to have the best scientists in the world. It’s a lot easier to deny an intangible idea, isn’t it?

Three separate Gallup Polls taken between 1990 and 2001 measured public beliefs in various paranormal phenomena. Notably, and in spite of the 84% of Americans putting their faith in science, a large portion in all three time periods (50%) said they believed in Extrasensory Perception (ESP) , with only 21% definitively certain about its nonexistence.

How do Americans, who are so sure of science’s contributions to society, have such a poor misunderstanding of such basic concepts? Principal researcher Heather Ridolfo’s recently published paper entitled “Social Influences on Paranormal Belief: Popular Versus Scientific Support” examined differences in perception of ESP based on both public and scientific opinion. What was found is that while people tend to evaluate the validity of claims based on how many other people support said claims (a cognitive bias known as the Bandwagon Effect), the support of the scientific community (or lack thereof) has no impact on evaluating the validity of claims made about ESP.

From this, the researchers concluded that their finding “may reflect decreasing trust in the institution of science”. Whatever the reason, the romantic idea of science and the reality behind science have a long way to go before they meet.

Posted in scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Psychic Gary Spivey Mega-Fail on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 4, 2010

It never ceases to amaze me how psychics and their ilk manage to persist, despite numerous moments of spectacular fail – such is the nature of cognitive dissonance with the psychics & their followers.  Well, at least we can have a little fun with it… A few days ago (on March 31st), just for a little bit of skeptical fun, Jimmy Kimmel had a psychic named Gary Spivey on his show to make a series of Final Four picks for the NCAA tournament.  Of course, as Kimmel outlines in his opening remarks, most of these games had already taken place, and some of the “teams” (such as Balboa and Flanders) don’t even exist!  Watch as master psychic Gary Spivey makes his predictions…

That’s pretty damn funny, if you ask me.  I will give Gary Spivey one thing, however: he’s got the most wicked-cool looking hairdo EVER!!! :)

Message to Gary Spivey…

Posted in humor, psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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