Archive for category cold-reading
Simon Singh – supporter and friend of the MSS and all-round skeptical legend – has had the unfortunate and somewhat masochistic experience lately of seeing ‘psychic’ Sally Morgan at one of her many lucrative live shows. His latest report from one of the shows, which can be found on his blog, is well worth reading in full, but for those pushed for time I’ll quote here what appear to be the most disturbing elements of a ‘psychic’ Sally live bonanza:
In the first half, in a pained and distressed voice, Sally linked to a spirit who had committed suicide. She linked the spirit with a woman in the audience. She then proceeded to explain that the deceased man had tried to commit suicide four times. This was news to the woman in the audience. Sally also said that the spirit was “furious at the reason” he had to commit suicide. Not only does the woman in audience have to consider telling her family that their deceased relative is still angry, but she also has to explain that they might have missed three previous attempts at suicide, which could be interpreted as three cries for help that were ignored by his family and friends.
In the second half, Sally spoke to another woman in the audience and revealed that her uncle had drowned many years ago. As far as her family were concerned, the uncle had gone abroad as a boy to live with relatives and had never returned to Britain, but now Sally was filling in the gaps by introducing a tragic event. She had also removed any hope that the relative might still be alive. Again, it is easy to imagine how such a message could cause upset within a family. Indeed, it is quite possible (based on something else that was mentioned by the woman in the audience) that the elderly mother of the deceased boy is still alive. She might now have to cope with this revelation.
Scary stuff. Scary, but unfortunately not uncommon, as Simon goes on to point out:
The impression I get from others who see Sally’s shows is that a spirit who committed suicide is a fairly standard part of the show. (Of course, Sally has no control over which spirits will choose to speak to her.)
It may well be that suicide victims are disproportionately likely to be drawn to a genuine psychic. Or, it may well be that those who have lost a loved one to suicide find it exceptionally hard to deal with their grief, seeking out ‘psychics’ to offer some scant and empty comfort for their loss. And it may well be that a non-genuine psychic would be well aware of the particular vulnerability of someone whose loved one committed suicide, and will therefore play the odds by ensuring at least one suicide connection per show – be it an open question of ‘I’m sensing someone lost someone close to suicide’, a vague hint with ‘and, in some ways, he was partly to blame for his death, wasn’t he?’, or even through a good old-fashioned hot reading (where the psychic has read for the sitter before, and invites them along to the theatre show to ‘connect’ with their loved one further – feeding back snippets of past readings amongst unremarkable details, astonishing the rest of the audience with their insight).
It is, of course, impossible to tell how Sally Morgan’s regular claims to contact the spirits of suicide victims come about – we can but speculate. However, what we can do is put Sally’s wider claims to the test – can she really contact the dead? Do the spirits of the deceased really reach out to her?
Regular followers of the Guardian online will already have read that Simon Singh is working with us to devise just such a test for Sally. Very soon we’ll be offering Sally the opportunity to silence her many critics, and demonstrate that communication with the deceased is indeed possible. More details to come very soon – watch this space.
From time to time in the world of skepticism, something happens which you really don’t see coming – something totally unexpected. Often, these are positive things – like the media interest in our 10:23 Campaign, or the random discovery that comedy-legend Ed Byrne knows who you are. From time to time, they’re somewhat negative things – like discovering childhood-hero Johnny Ball thinks farting spiders are responsible for the high CO2 levels in the world. And then there are the things that are just utterly unpredictable, out of the left-field, and hard to wrap your head around.
On Friday of last week, I got a phone call. From Ormskirk police. The polite and friendly officer assured me there was nothing to worry about, but that he was looking into alleged threats of violence coming from people on Facebook. Specifically, within the group page of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. And aimed at non-psychic non-detective Joe ‘I’ll just pop to your toilet‘ Power.
This was news to me. It was also utterly untrue.
As I explained to the officer, we at the Merseyside Skeptics Society have never made threats to anyone, ever, and nor would we; further, we’d NEVER condone physical or personal threats made by anyone else. Aside from a complete and utter aversion to violence – which for one thing has been shown by many people in history to be a truly terrible way to get a point across – making personal threats would go completely against the whole point of what the MSS is about: examining the evidence, and pointing out where the claim (and subsequently the claimant) is lacking. In fact, when I met Joe over a year ago, I went to great lengths to remain calm and even-tempered while he continually insulted me in increasingly bizarre and surreal ways. Paedophile? OK Joe, go for it. Homosexual? Sure, if you like. Atheist? Absolutely (well one out of three isn’t bad, for the Man Who Talks To Dead People. Or at least 1/3rd of dead people, presumably).
Fortunately, having spoken to me for a good five minutes, the officer was able to assure me that he was quite confident no wrong-doing nor anything malicious had taken place. After I’d explained Joe’s full history with the MSS, our polite insistence that Joe at some point, some time, in some way – any way at all – shows some evidence that he can indeed contact the dead, and the fact that when I met Joe a year ago I ended the conversation by wishing him well – after I’d explained all of this, the officer concluded that I’ve almost certainly not gone beyond practising freedom of speech, which is true.
He also asked whether I’d mind clarifying my lack of violent or threatening intent to Joe – which I’m more than happy to do: I’ve never, in anyway, suggested or advocated anything threatening in the direction of Joe or his family.
You can probably imagine my surprise – and, indeed, deep disappointment – to now hear from Joe via the police, with tales of his wife being ‘unable to sleep’ due to worrying about threats made against him. It’s a shame, but not really that much of a surprise, that Joe decided to go direct to the police with these unfounded allegations of threats, rather than email me – I am, after all, easily reachable and more than amiable. I’m sure it’s nothing more than a simple misunderstanding, which I’m happy to clear up. Because, were it that Joe was creating spurious reports of threats in order to use the police to silence entirely reasonable criticism of the magical claims he makes, that would represent a serious waste of police time, which is in itself not a laughing matter. Still, Joe’s not one for wasting police time, really, so I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding. Read the rest of this entry »
In the wake of Derren Brown’s stinging exposé on ‘Psychic’ Joe Power, I thought it worth sharing with the world a conversation I had with Joe back in June 2009, when the MSS was still young, and I was but a naive, innocent skeptic with a dream, and an application form for Randi’s $1million Challenge…
Cool drizzle fell onto the grey Saturday streets of Liverpool, a light breeze tumble-weeded a sweet wrapper down the road in a clichéd fashion, and I was becoming increasingly aware that this would be the strangest conversation of my life. And I didn’t need psychic powers for that. For I was in the company of ‘Psychic’ Joe Power, fresh from his latest in-store book-signing (signed copies of which, I add, are still on the shelves of Waterstones – supply quite exceeded demand it seems), and things were getting weird.
“The thing about you sceptics,” he said, standing on the step of a plus-size lingerie shop to raise himself to my eye-level, “is that you sit there, festering in front of your computers at 3am, thinking up ways to get at people. What if I were to sit in front of your house and tell people you’re a paedophile?”
“Well,” I say, “that’s for you to decide to do if you want to but it’s not really the same thing – I’m raising questions over what you do and the service you claim to provide; insinuating I was a paedophile would be just a personal attack, and wildly baseless. It’s not really the same thing. At all.”
“Oh I think they’re very similar,” he answers, “because you’re there festering, at 3am, plotting to get at me, in the same way that paedophiles fester and plot to interfere with children – you both have to be sick in the head to do what you do.”
With Herculean effort to suspend my natural what-the-fuck? reaction, and with a curt politeness that in retrospect now seems other-worldly, I manage a swift retort: ”Sorry, can I just clarify – are you comparing sceptics to paedophiles? Could you explain that? I mean, are you saying that paedophiles also ask questions of you, or what exactly?”
Joe: ”I think most sceptics probably are paedophiles. I mean you’re sat around at 3am, plotting, aren’t you? Do you deny that?”
An-incredulous-Marsh: “Do I deny what? That I ask questions? That I’m sometimes awake at 3am? Or that I am a paedophile? Could you please be clear what you’re asking me, Joe?”
It’s not often that you’re 5 minutes into a conversation with someone you’ve never met before and they’ve already played the paedophile card. I had a feeling it was going to be one of those days.
Sometimes, just sometimes, I could almost be convinced that there’s someone up there listening. Not all the time, of course, and only half-heartedly – I’m not about to go all Goddy on you guys – but who could blame me, when things like this happen:
Derren Brown – beardy mind-meddler and generally top fella – investigates those who claim to have psychic powers… starting with my old mate Joe Power. I’ll come to Joe in a moment (we’ve a bit of a history), but first I’d like to say well done to Derren. I remember after his ‘Messiah’ show, it looked like he was heading into a more publicly skeptical position. While that hasn’t happened quite as far as we’d have liked (the lottery show for example), this latest show, coupled with his role in ‘Science of Scams’ suggests that skepticism is something Derren’s focusing on a little more. If that’s the case, this is excellent news – where Randi has been a major figurehead for decades (possibly even centuries, he seems to always have existed), he needs somebody to help shoulder the weight and take up the slack. With his public persona, showmanship, reputation and expertise, I really think Derren can play that role, should he desire to.
One person who certainly can’t play that role, is Mr Joe Power. For those of you not aware, Joe and the Merseyside Skeptics Society (and myself in particular) have something of a past – in fact, long before the 10:23 Campaign, taking on Joe Power was one of the first pieces of skeptical activism I got involved in. Having criticised his appearance in a local paper, blindly promoting him as ‘The Man Who Sees Dead People’, I decided to meet Joe Power at his Liverpool book signing, and invited him to take the million dollar challenge. What I got wasn’t polite declination, but bizarre insults – with Joe genuinely comparing all skeptics to paedophiles. You can read the whole account here, and I recommend you do, to really get a feel for the kind of man Joe Power is. It was during this conversation that I heard Joe had been investigated for a prominent TV show, and at the time I put two and two together and predicted it was Derren Brown who he was referring to.
I can’t wait to see the show on May 10th.
In recent weeks and months we’ve seen many celebrities contacted from beyond the grave – including Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Kurt Cobain and Jade Goody. Or rather, we’ve seen psychics claiming to contact these people, as there’s never been anything to suggest for a moment that they were actually in contact with the dead.
Well we’ve a new name to add to the list – crocodile hunter and all-round Aussie legend Steve Irwin. Irwin died in 2007 after being struck by a stingray, and has been sorely missed since then, not least of course by his family. Which makes it all the more terrible that psychic Deb Webber is claiming to have made connection with the Steve whilst doing a reading for his father Bob.
“We talked about so many things, some too personal to talk about,” Mr Irwin said. “He told me everything is OK, not to be sad and to keep up the fight, to continue looking after the animals.”
Obviously Deb’s powers are pretty accurate there, because I remember Steve Irwin being on TV and he definitely seemed like the kind of person who’d advise you to look after animals, so her reading definitely sounds like him. Therefore it’s true. Yeah. Read the rest of this entry »
As our educated, smart and – I’ll say it! – downright sexy readers are doubtlessly aware, the Huffington Post is a great source of… well… crap. For one thing, there’s Dana Ullman making wild statements about homeopathy, Jenny and Jim trying to kill babies… it’s rarely a tome worthy of a great deal of respect.
However, even I was surprised to see the angle taken by the Huff-Po this week, when I spotted Patricia Martin’s column ‘The Politics of Astrology and the Secret Lives of CEOs‘. In an interview with Astrologer Susan Miller, the article explores the ways in which astrology can play a part in politics and business… and, bizarrely, doesn’t come to the conclusion ‘none’. Quoting the article:
Over slabs of glazed salmon at the Drake Hotel dining room, Ms. Miller and I discussed the astrological year ahead for American politics. Cheerful even when delivering hard news, Ms. Miller offered up the following outlook:
So, lets take a look at what the stars predict for the political year ahead in America -
Healthcare reform will pass, but undergo tweaks and revisions for several months to come.
I think that’s fair to call it a hit. I think it’s also fair to say it’s a hit I could have come up with – the political weight behind the healthcare reform definitely had it in the ‘plausible’ pile, and the opposition to it most certainly had it in the ‘undergo tweaks and revisions’ pile. What’s more, what controversial bill doesn’t get tweaked and revised? Poor hit.
President Obama should not stop with health care reform, she twinkled. “He’s going to be very powerful these next few months and he should use it to his advantage”
Excellent, this is interesting – for one, she’s saying the President of the USA will be powerful. Which is obvious. What’s more, she’s not actually making a prediction there at all – his level of power isn’t quantifiable, for one thing, so nobody can dispute it. On top of that, she’s said he should use it to his advantage, not that he will, or can, or anything definite. So if he doesn’t make the most of it, she can claim that she told him he should have! These kind of predictions of potential (rather than actuality) are classic examples of cold reading, and something to look out for – a good psychic (ie someone who’s good at faking magical powers) will never tell you anything for certain, instead they’ll give you statements about your potential, leaving themselves the exit strategy of the ‘untapped potential’. Add to that the fact that Obama’s potential is to use his power to ‘his advantage’ – an entirely vague outcome – and we can see how lame this ‘prediction’ really is. Read the rest of this entry »