Posts Tagged ‘psychics’
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 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: abduction, accuracy, Amanda Berry, charlatan, cherry pick, Cleveland, cold reading, dead, death, died, esp, fail, failed, fake, hits, hot reading, kidnapping, medium, mentalism, mind reading, misses, Montel Williams, New Year's Eve, New Years, paranormal, post diction, prediction, predictions, pseudoscience, psychic, psychics, Shawn Hornbeck, skeptical activism, skepticism, Sylvia Browne, talking to the dead | 15 Comments »
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”.
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: 2012, 2013, accuracy, astrology, cherry pick, esp, fail, failed, future, Hamilton, hits, James Randi, LaMont Hamilton, mentalism, Million Dollar Challenge, Million Dollar Prize, mind reading, misses, Monte, New Year's Eve, New Years, paranormal, post diction, prediction, predictions, pseudoscience, psychic, psychics, skepticism | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 14, 2012
I know I’m posting this a little late, but I wanted to let you all know that I’m going to be interviewed tonight (Monday, May 14th) live on Darkness Radio at 11:00pm CDT. If you recall, I blogged some time ago – almost two years – about a very interesting discussion I had with paranormal investigator Dave Schrader at Convergence 2010 on the topic of “ghost hunting”. Despite the fact that Dave’s a believer in ghosts and the paranormal and I’m a skeptic, we hit it off and he invited me to be on his show so that I could give my perspective as a skeptic… well, it took awhile, but tonight’s the night!
If you can catch the show, please click the Darkness Radio icon below to listen live. Otherwise, try looking it up on the Darkness Radio archive afterwards.
Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: afterlife, Darkness Radio, Dave Schrader, death, demons, ghost hunters, ghost hunting, ghostbusters, ghostbusting, ghosts, interview, investigator, live, mediums, paranormal, Paranormal Radio, psychics, radio, sensitives, skeptic, spirits, supernatural, TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2011
My favorite time of the year is almost upon us: Halloween!
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…
Posted in aliens & UFOs, education, ghosts & paranormal, humor, magic tricks, physics denial/woo, psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: 1938, AAPT, aliens, American Association of Physics Teachers, broadcast, cartoon, critical thinking, delusion, detectors, education, electromagnetic fields, EMF, equipment, esp, extrasensory perception, Flim Flam, ghost hunter, ghost hunters, ghost hunting, ghost meter, ghosts, Halloween, Haunted Physics Lab, high school, hoax, humor, hysteria, infrared, invaders, invasion, James Randi, Lake Forest, lesson, magic, mars, Martians, mass hysteria, media, Mercury Theater, meters, NOVA, orb, Orson Welles, Ouija, Ouija board, panic, paranoraml, paranormal, PBS, physics, pseudoscience, psychics, radio, Randi, science, Secrets of the Psychics, skeptic, Skeptic's Dictionary, skepticism, Snopes, South Park, spacecraft, spirit, spirits, TAPS, teacher, teaching, temperature, The Amazing One, The Amazing Randi, The Atlantic Paranormal Society, UFO, war, War of the Worlds, waves, woo | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on August 25, 2011
In a welcome break from some of the usual credulousness that seems to permeate the modern media landscape regarding all things paranormal, recently ABC News did an episode of “Beyond Belief” on the topic of psychics and mediums. Titled “Can Psychics Really Talk to the Dead?”, the episode focused upon famed dead-talker James Van Praagh. The interview of Van Praagh by Josh Elliot is excellent, as Elliot is respectful but appropriately skeptical of Van Praagh’s claims, especially when he conducts a bit of a deeper investigation beyond simply swallowing Van Praagh’s parlor act whole. In the interview, Elliot even nails Van Praagh for using time-tested tricks such as cold reading…
Another well-done segment in the show focused on the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge to anyone who can display, under a properly controlled setting, evidence of supernatural or paranormal abilities. It is important to note that in the following video, all of the claimants agreed to the conditions of the tests they underwent before the tests took place. After agreeing to these conditions, it is telling that upon seeing their obvious failure, the psychics still insisted they had legitimate psychic powers and also complained about how the test “wasn’t fair” (even though they agreed it was fair before they failed). Take a look at this segment at this link (it’s the video at the bottom of the article).
So, even though they agreed to the test ahead of time, were fully informed of the conditions of the test and what was required to declare success and the million dollars, and the fact they were predicting (quite confidently in some cases) that they were “sure to win the money”, they all failed – and failed spectacularly. But then they turn around and blame the skeptics for not making the test fair; I’m sure that if they had won the million dollars they’d be saying the test was fair!
To read more about the entire show and get a skeptical perspective on how it went, check out the JREF’s blog post on the matter.
Posted in psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: ABC, ABC News, Banacheck, belief, Beyond Belief, cable, Can Psychics Really Talk to the Dead, cards, cold reading, dead, James Randi, James Randi Educational Foundation, James Van Praagh, Josh Elliot, JREF, media, mediums, Million Dollar Challenge, million dollars, news, Nightline, palm, palmistry, Prime Time, prize, psychics, reader, reading, show, talking to the dead, tarot, television, trick, TV, Van Praagh | 1 Comment »
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?
By Stephen Wagner, 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: 2010, 2011, astrology, cherry pick, esp, future, hits, mentalism, mind reading, misses, New Year's Eve, New Years, paranormal, post diction, prediction, predictions, pseudoscience, psychic, psychics, skepticism | 7 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 28, 2010
I want to share with you all a couple of Halloween-related lessons I give to my students every year. That’s because this time of year is the perfect time to inject some explicit critical thinking & skepticism of all things spooky that go “bump” in the night. I also tie it all in to scientific inquiry…
The first lesson I give my students is that I show them James Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics” video from NOVA. Though it was released in 1993, it is still one of the most well-done videos on the topic, and it is the perfect length & tone for a high school or college class. Below is a link to Youtube where you can access the entire episode (50-60 minutes long), and I would also like to share with you the notesheet that I have my students fill in as they’re watching the video – Secrets of the Psychics Notesheet
Over the next few days, I will share with you part 2 of my Halloween lesson. I’m certain you’ll enjoy it, so stay tuned
Addendum: In addition, I share some good Halloween & skeptically-themed weblinks with my students on the course website. They are the Snopes.com page on Halloween urban legends and the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on Halloween – I highly recommend sharing these with your friends, family, and students.
Posted in astrology, education, ghosts & paranormal, magic tricks, psychics | Tagged: critical thinking, education, ghosts, Halloween, James Randi, lesson, magic, NOVA, paranoraml, PBS, psychics, Randi, science, Secrets of the Psychics, Skeptic's Dictionary, skepticism, Snopes, teacher, teaching | 3 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 25, 2010
**Update: It seems that, due to unforeseen circumstances, the interviewed may have to be postponed. Stay tuned!
As a follow up to my earlier post regarding Dave Schrader’s talk on paranormal investigation at Convergence/Skepchicon in Minneapolis, I wanted to let everyone know that Dave will be interviewing me for Darkness Radio in the next few days. I’m not exactly sure when the interview will be airing (probably within the next week or so), but if you watch this blog I’ll be letting you know.
The nature of the interview will basically be me & Dave talking in general about the paranormal, ghost-hunting, and the role that science & skepticism play (or, as is often the case, don’t play) in such investigations. Here are some points that I plan to bring up in my discussion with Dave…
1. What is a “ghost”? Has anyone ever come up with any kind of quantifiable definition for such an entity?
2. What is the proposed mechanism by which ghosts interact with the physical world around us? How can they be measured? Why would ghosts interact in this manner with the world?
3. How can we distinguish a potentially legitimate “ghost signal” from other phenomena?
4. Do any ghost hunters conduct double blind experiments?
5. Are the investigations by some believing ghost hunters replicable by skeptics?
6. Is there any way to “catch” a ghost, or its essence (ectoplasm, etc), for study?
7. Why is it that much of ghost hunting seems to be arguments from ignorance (i.e., ghost-of-the-gaps reasoning, I call it)?
I’ll also tell some stories from my own experiences ghost hunting, going all the way back to my high school years, as well as why I’ve come to the conclusions that I’ve never seen any evidence for a ghost or anything supernatural or paranormal during my life.
I anticipate that this will be a fun discussion, and I eagerly look forward to it. If you have suggestions for topics to discuss and/or questions for me to ask Dave Schrader, please let me know.
Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: afterlife, Darkness Radio, Dave Schrader, death, demons, ghost hunters, ghost hunting, ghostbusters, ghostbusting, ghosts, investigator, mediums, paranormal, Paranormal Radio, psychics, sensitives, Skepchick, skepic, spirits, supernatural, TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 3, 2010
On the second day of Convergence/Skepchicon, one event especially caught my eye – a talk titled “The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review” given by Dave Schrader, the host of Paranormal Radio. Almost immediately I was skeptical, as I have analyzed the claims & methods of various ghost hunters before and found them to be quite dubious. In addition, many of my skeptic colleagues cringed a bit when they heard his name and my mention of his talk. Thus, in the spirit of learning more for myself I attended his talk and took many notes – in the end, I was both a bit impressed with Dave but also quite disappointed. Read through my notes, which is a transcription of his talk, and please see my specific comments in italics. Also please make sure to read my closing question to Dave Schrader and his response…
The Other Side: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review
How to investigate the Paranormal, from setting up a team to reviewing evidence. Presented by Dave Schrader, host of Paranormal Radio and author of The Other Side: A Teens Guide to Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal.
Dave is walking around handing out info TAPS, ghost hunting, and talking about a local [Minneapolis] show called Ghostbustin’ 911 (lolz).
How many people have ever gone on a ghost hunt before? [a few hands raise, including my own]
I’m going to show you a bizarre, demonic picture from a possible demonic haunting. The lady of the house claimed she was smelling weird smells like rotting meat or poop along with strange cries. While there I was taking photos and got a shot of a demonic, and here it is… [shows photo of a little kid in a costume – laughter]
Title: A Common Sense Look at Paranormal Investigating and Evidence Review…
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in ghosts & paranormal, skeptical community | Tagged: afterlife, Convergence, Dave Schrader, death, demons, ghost hunters, ghost hunting, ghostbusters, ghostbusting, ghosts, investigator, mediums, paranormal, Paranormal Radio, psychics, sensitives, Skepchick, Skepchicon, skepic, spirits, supernatural, TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society | 15 Comments »