Archive for category Psychics

Sally Morgan evicted from Celebrity Big Brother

This week, the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother came to an end, with Coronation Street actor and person-I-just-Googled-to-find-out-what-he’s-famous-for Ryan Thomas emerging victorious at the end of the month-long run. While the comings and goings of a Channel 5 reality show might not normally be the kind of event that inspire a skeptic to take to WordPress and tap out a blog, this series did have one particular point of interest for the keen critical thinker.

Billed this year as having an “Eye of the storm” theme, the celebrities (or approximations thereof) entering the house had all been chosen for their controversial past and presence at the centre of a “media storm”. Those celebrities included Sally Morgan – the well-known stage performer who claims to be able to pass messages to audience members from their deceased loved ones – who made it to this year’s final. Show producers explained why they believed she fit the ‘eye of the storm’ criteria:

Sally experienced a media storm after a report suggested she had used a hidden earpiece at one of her performances.

two CCTV cameras

While not even morbid curiosity nor dedication to his craft could convince this skeptical investigator to become a regular viewer of the show, Sally’s involvement has not gone without interest, with tabloid articles regularly setting off various Google Alerts to keep me up to date with day-to-day happenings in the house.

Celebrity Big Brother 2018: Sally Morgan CAUGHT OUT after Rodrigo Alves truth task
– Express, 23rd August 2018

Celebrity Big Brother viewers in hysterics as psychic Sally Morgan fails another prediction
– Metro, 5th September 2018

It could be argued that Sally’s involvement in this year’s Celebrity Big Brother was curiously timed, coming as it does at the start of her regular Autumn tour schedule. Having seen Sally’s performances on a number of occasions, and having been in the vicinity of several others, I’ve seen first-hand the audiences she has been able to draw: on at least one occasion at Liverpool’s Empire theatre, Sally’s audience filled almost all of the seats in the lower stalls, and as many as half of the balcony seats. For a room which boasts a 2,348 capacity, that may have been as many as 2,000 tickets sold. This, I understand, was not atypical for Sally at the time – and given that her tours at one point included in as many as 200 dates per year, her audience reach would have been substantial.

It might therefore seem unusual for Sally to spend the opening of the Autumn period locked in a house with the barmaid from Cheers (no, not that one, the other one). Sally’s tour will still be going ahead, however, starting next week at The Met in Abertillery – which, as best as I could tell, is a venue Sally hasn’t appeared at before (although I could of course be wrong). Being unfamiliar with the venue, and indeed with Abertillery, I thought it worth find out what capacity was, to see how it compares with Sally’s regular venues. According to The Met’s website, the capacity of the biggest room in the facility, The Victorian Theatre, is just 216 seats.

empty theatre seats

As this seemed to be a surprisingly small venue for Sally to be playing, I wondered if this was a one-off, or whether this was typical of her current tour. Interestingly, her Liverpool show this year is not at the Empire Theatre as in previous years, but at the considerably-more-modest Epstein Theatre – boasting a capacity of, according to Wikipedia, just 380 seats.

Curious as to what the rest of her tour looked like, I spent 20 minutes or so on Google, looking up venues Sally will be playing at, and checking websites for their capacity. What I found is therefore based solely on what the venues declare their capacity to be, and where there were numerous rooms on offer or various configurations available I opted for the biggest capacity stated – reasoning that it would be very strange, though not impossible, that a venue understated its maximum capacity.

Taking into account Sally’s Autumn 2018 tour dates as they appeared this morning, her capacities are as follows:

Date Venue Town Capacity
19-Sep The Met Abertillery 216
20-Sep Huntingdon Hall Worcester 330
21-Sep Octagon Theatre Yeovil 622
24-Sep Regis Centre Bognor 357
25-Sep Epstein Theatre Liverpool 380
26-Sep City Hall Newcastle 2135
27-Sep Burnley Mechanics Burnley 493
28-Sep William Aston Hall Wrexham 1200
03-Oct The Radlett Centre Hertfordshire 300
05-Oct Margate Winter Gardens Margate 1400
08-Oct Guildhall Winchester Winchester 620
11-Oct Royal Hippodrome Theatre Eastbourne 500
12-Oct Assembly Hall Theatre Tunbridge Wells 1020
17-Oct Palace Theatre Mansfield 534
18-Oct Phoenix Theatre Castleford 300
18-Oct Pavilion Theatre Rhyl 1031
22-Oct Cork Opera House Cork 1000
23-Oct Town Hall Theatre Galway 393
24-Oct Theatre Royal Waterford 432
25-Oct The Helix Theatre Dublin 1860
26-Oct Ulster Hall Belfast 1000
27-Oct Millennium Forum Londonderry 1000
30-Oct The Grand Pavilion Matlock Bath 550
31-Oct The Orchard Theatre Dartford 956
01-Nov Hazlitt Theatre Maidstone 382
02-Nov Palace Theatre Redditch 420
05-Nov Stockport Plaza Stockport 1314
06-Nov Grand Theatre Lancaster 457
07-Nov New Theatre Royal Lincoln 475
08-Nov Melton Theatre Melton Mowbray 340
14-Nov New Victoria Theatre Woking 1300
19-Nov The Brindley Theatre Runcorn 358
20-Nov The Festival Drayton Centre Drayton 200
21-Nov Queen’s Theatre Barnstaple 680
22-Nov Wycombe Swan High Wycombe 1076

While there are clearly some sizeable venues in there – Newcastle City Hall and The Helix in Dublin in particular – I was quite surprised by how many smaller venues are included in the list. Of the 35 Autumn Tour dates, the average capacity was 732, and the median was just 550 (suggesting the average had been skewed upwards by those Newcastle and Dublin venues).

Equally, I was a little surprised to see the only sold-out shows on the list as of this morning are the 330-seater Huntingdon Hall in Worcester, the 357-seater Regis Hall in Bognor, and the 300-seater Radlett Centre in Hertfordshire. In fact, as of this morning, a the box office informed me that there were still 29 tickets available for the first show of the tour, the 216-seater in Abertillery.

full theatre crowd

All of this may, of course, mean nothing at all – it may be that larger venues weren’t available on the dates Sally needed them, or that Sally wanted to go to smaller towns to reach fans who didn’t want to travel to bigger cities like Birmingham, Edinburgh or Glasgow (all notably absent from her schedule), or that Sally had decided to aim for more intimate venues. However, another plausible explanation is that fewer people are interested in seeing stage mediumship shows these days. It’ll certainly be interesting to see whether Sally’s fifth-place Celebrity Big Brother finish changes that.

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Challenge Sally – The Press Conference

Last week, we offered ‘Psychic’ Sally Morgan the opportunity to demonstrate to all that she is able to talk to the dead, and therefore does not rely on well-known illusions and trickery in her stage shows. As I’m sure many people are aware, she declined the opportunity – however, we wanted to leave things as open as possible for her, which is why we kept our word and gathered at the Adelphi Hotel at the appointed hour, in case she changed her mind.

The challenge we offered to Sally, which she did not take up, is still open – if at any point Sally feels that demonstrating to her critics, and indeed to her fans, that the services she sells are genuine, she need only get in contact and we’ll happily arrange for the test to take place. Collaborating with the JREF, we had the test set up as an official preliminary test for their $1m challenge, and a future test for Sally would fall under a similarly official remit.

Each Halloween, we intend to give those with paranormal claims the opportunity to demonstrate what they believe they are able to do. More details of the focus of next year’s challenge will be announced late next year.

Below you can watch the press conference we held, including talks from Simon Singh, Chris French and myself.

Part 1: Introduction from Mike Hall, and talk from Dr Simon Singh:

Part 2: Talk from Prof Chris French

Part 3: Prof Chris French Q&A

Part 4: Talk from Michael Marshall and Q&A

Note: Although it shouldn’t need to be pointed out, it’s worth clarifying that the Merseyside Skeptics Society don’t condone or support people publishing contact details for Sally, her office, her lawyers or anyone, nor do we support anyone sending her abusive phone calls or emails (if indeed anyone has done this). Our challenge was offered in an open and respectful way – we wish Sally no personal harm, we just want to establish whether the extraordinary claims she makes and the wholly-unproven services she sells are genuine, or not.

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Disturbing Reports From ‘Psychic’ Sally’s Theatre Tour

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.

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Some thoughts on Project Barnum

Project Barnum has caused a bit of a stir within the skeptical community in recent days.

Detractors claim that Project Barnum is illiberal and seeks to censor those they disagree with.  Supporters say that it is about consumer protection, preventing the unscrupulous (or even merely misguided) from making money by telling people they can do things that they can’t.

Parallels have been drawn, by both sides, with the 10:23 Campaign.  Critics of 10:23 similarly claimed the campaign was illiberal, and supporters claimed that it was about consumer protection, preventing the unscrupulous (or even merely misguided) from making money by telling people their pills can do things that they can’t.
Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Psychic’ Nurse Sacked For Data Misuse

With the issue of data security and information privacy very much in the news here in the UK with the ongoing public airing of a decade of dirty, dirty News International laundry, it’s almost too convenient that another case of information intrusion is currently being investigated over in America – and though it may be a lot less high-profile, there’s a neat little pseudoscience element too it.

Lori Neill is a former occupational nurse in Colorado Springs, who recently resigned from her job. She is also, she believes, psychic. And she believes those two facts are related, and I’m inclined to agree, though doubtlessly for very different reasons.

Lori’s story is that her psychic abilities made her supervisors uncomfortable, and that on the occasion she had told her supervisor he might be suffering from a life-threatening illness, and that he should seek medical help, he was so angered that he made up allegations about her, to force her out of work.

Officials at the hospital and city, however, tell a different story. They have accused Lori of accessing the medical records of around 2,500 patients. Given that Lori worked not for the hospital but for the city, they argue she had no medical need to look at those records. Especially given that most of the accessing happened outside of work hours. Their implication is that Lori is not actually psychic, or able to spiritually intuit the illnesses of people by tuning into the other side (where diagnosticians are ten a penny, I’d presume). They claim instead that the reason she was able to accurately tell people what ailments had befallen them, was that she’d read their medical records. Read the rest of this entry »

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Joe Power: A Career In Freefall

QED: Question. Explore. Discover.

Get your QED ticket now!

(I’d just like to point out that this story is sponsored by Schadenfreude – for all your laughing-at-people-who’ve-gotten-their-comeuppance needs)

This is actually a story that’s been covered in many other places, including by Steve Novella, and I wasn’t going to add to that… but then I saw a few people on Twitter actively saying they were looking forward to what I had to say about it, so how could I disappoint?

So, three guesses which lovable Liverpudlian fraud I’m going to talk about now? That’s right – Joe ‘just popping to your toilet‘ Power. And, to be clear, I can say fraud, as Joe’s served time in the past for fraud. Oh, and ABH, of course. Nice, friendly Joe Power. I’m not saying any of his act involves fraud at all. But then again, I don’t need to, given the fact that Joe Power’s career is going to pieces so fast that people are getting hit by the bullshit shrapnel. Read the rest of this entry »

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