Posts Tagged Simon Singh
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.
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.
The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.
You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.
The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at
Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.
If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.
We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at
‘QED: Question. Explore. Discover.’ proudly announces 9 of the spectacular speakers who are taking to the stage in front of 500 skeptics and fans of science in The Piccadilly Hotel, Manchester (UK) on the 5th and 6th of February, 2011.
In addition to George Hrab’s unique abilities as host, the following exciting and original speakers span an eclectic, diverse line-up covering issues such as alternative medicine and health, religion, media, conspiracy theories, scams, psychology and the sciences: a body of topics and personalities that will convince and energize all skeptics and critical thinkers:
Given the recent controversy around faith schools including anti-science and anti-evolution in their curriculums, Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the US National Center for Science Education, is a perfect voice of critical reason on some of the most pressing issues in the UK today.
Jon Ronson is the former, sometime keyboard player in Frank Sidebottom’s band, manager of The Man from Delmonte and more recently an investigative journalist and documentary maker, with fame both nationally and internationally. His work includes The Men Who Stare At Goats, a book, documentary and most recently a hugely successful Hollywood film that charts Jon’s experiences with surreal elements of the US Army. At QED Jon will be revealing never-before-seen material from his upcoming book.
Co-host of the recent C4 web series The Science of Scams, Kat Akingbade is a passionate communicator of science and educator in the public arena whose history has included posts at Oxford University, The World Health Organisation as well as working with the BBC for both TV and radio.
Bruce Hood, director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre, is a well-known skeptic and psychologist whose work with superstitions led to the publication of Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable and his most recent work The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs.
The co-founder and twice editor of The Skeptic magazine, blogger and journalist Wendy Grossman is an exciting addition to the festival from the founding of the skeptical movement in the UK. Speaking about ‘policy-based evidence’, Wendy will to show the danger of letting ideology lead the research.
Director of both BAFTA nominated Taking Liberties and the 2009 tour-de-force Starsuckers, Chris Atkins is a clear voice in accessibly exposing how the public are manipulated through the real-world motivations of the media in creating and perpetuating news and celebrity. As the perpetrator of the recent ‘Urban Fox Hunter’ hoax, Chris demonstrated the ease by which the national and international media can be fooled.
Next up: Juggling. Or, specifically, science and mathematics explained by Colin Wright via the medium of juggling. This is a unique talk, comically covering what are often thought of as dull subjects in an incredibly engaging and enjoyable way. Having been around the world and beloved by all who see it, now it’s time for QED!
Simon Singh is the particle physicist and former producer of Tomorrow’s World who has published several outstanding books, including Fermat’s Last Theorum, The Code Book and Big Bang. These excellent works have recently been outshone by the legal maelstrom that surrounded his work with Edzard Ernst in Trick or Treatment and the Guardian article that developed those themes with regard to chiropractic: Beware The Spinal Trap. After almost losing his house in the lottery of a libel trial and touring the country to campaign for libel reform, Simon is taking to our main stage in February – to talk about the subjects he’s passionate about, putting aside the horrors of libel!
Last but not by no means least, is the star of 3 science series on BBC TV during 2010 Jim Al-Khalili. His easy style and clear explanations are making science and the history of science, including Islam’s major, but often overlooked influence, ever more accessible to both young and old.
The above list is enough to sate the needs of any hungry rationalist, while the bar will take care of their thirst… but this newly established feature of the skeptical and science festival calendar has one more, unique feature to introduce to the thousands of people who are already keenly following what QED has to offer: The amazing price.
- Standard: £99
- Students: £75
- Gala Dinner with Celebrity Special Guests: £45
QED is affordable by all, easily accessible from every part of the country by road, rail or air and, even with the cost at an incredibly low level, it will raise a significant sum for two amazing causes that are much in the minds of anyone with an interest in science, rationalism and skepticism: Sense About Science and the National Autism Society.
Tickets can be purchased from the QED website from: http://www.qedcon.org/tickets/
Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial
by Simon Singh
When: Thu, Jan 21, 2010 6:30 – 8:30 PM
Where: The Vines (aka The Big House), 81 Lime Street, Liverpool, L1 1JQ
Prince Charles is a staunch defender and millions of people swear by it; most UK doctors consider it to be little more than superstition and a waste of money. But how do you know which treatments really heal and which are potentially harmful? Simon Singh and his co-author Professor Edzard Ernst investigated the evidence for and against alternative therapies and published their conclusions in “Trick or Treatment?”, an honest, impartial and hard-hitting examination and judgement of more than 30 of the most popular treatments. Singh, who has also authored “Fermat’s Last Theorem” and “Big Bang”, will discuss how and why he got involved in writing about alternative medicine. In particular, he will discuss the origins, philosophy and testing of acupuncture and homeopathy, two of the most popular forms of alternative medicine. Singh, who is currently being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association, will also comment on his ongoing legal battle and the impact of libel laws on scientific journalism.
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