The American media continues to tout the powers of psychics

January 26, 2020 • 9:00 am

Here’s a story published in both the State Journal of Frankfort, Kentucky (click on screenshot below) and Fox News. Note the headline: “Psychics were right. . ”

The story: Haylee Marie Martin, a 17-year-old, went missing on January 12 and her absence was reported to the police the next day. Baffled, the sheriff consulted psychics who predicted (sort of) where she would be found. In fact, she was found in the next county along with a 21-year-old woman when both were trying to break into the house of the woman’s boyfriend’s.  The police took them into custody on Friday. The pair won’t face charges, but the police may charge several adults who, they said, hid the girl for two weeks.

Now what about those psychics?

From the State Journal:

The sheriff said at 6 p.m. Thursday he joined a group of psychics from the Richmond area gathered at the Salyers Lane residence where Haylee was last seen on Jan. 12 or 13. Although he was admittedly skeptical at first, Quire said he “did not want to leave any stone unturned.”

“It’s hard to believe, but most (of the psychics) agreed that we would find Haylee in a neighboring county by morning,” he said. “And we did.”

Fox news gave the same report. (I wonder if they paid these psychics. If that’s the case, taxpayer money is funding woo.) Note that most of the psychics reported that she would be found in a neighboring county (correct) the day after the consultation.  Some of them apparently had other predictions, and were wrong.

This kind of reporting, of course, doesn’t mention the disparity of predictions, but it (and the headlines) serve to validate the widespread American view that psychics are accurate. But most missing people turn up nearby, so that’s not a stretch, and, most important, there’s no control here: how often are psychics consulted who turn out to be wrong? I can’t be arsed to do a comprehensive search given the palpable falsity of the idea that psychics are accurate, but a quick Google showed four cases in which psychics were brought into crime cases and gave wrong predictions.  These are “controls”, but of course a proper control would be to compare the accuracy of psychics in such cases compared with non-psychics who have comparable knowledge of the crime as conveyed by the police. I know of no such studies.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we should remain agnostic about psychics, granting them the possibility that they could be right, for they make guesses in other situations as well, and those guesses are wrong. James Randi’s “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge” was explicitly designed to test psychic abilities, but nobody has ever performed successfully (Randi is a magician well equipped to suss out tricks). You can read about a failure in 2009 here. Further, there’s no known physical mechanism whereby psychic abilities could be manifested. Now that doesn’t settle the case, as there may be unknown mechanisms. But physicist Sean Carroll has also written about how parapsychological phenomena are inconsistent with the laws of physics.

Still, Americans continue to be credulous. According to The Conversation, “there are still many people who firmly believe in the power of psychic ability. According to a US Gallup survey, for example, more than one-quarter of people believe humans have psychic abilities – such as telepathy and clairvoyance.” That study, done in 2005, also reports that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe in some paranormal phenomena. 73% of them, for example, subscribed to at least one of these claims:

To me this is a remarkable (and distressing) result, especially since scientific tests of some of these claims have never turned up any support. (See here, for example, on astrology.) But of course the same motivation behind many people’s belief in religion—faith that provides comfort, also lies behind belief in psychics. And one can’t argue that these people are harmless, because many of them take lots of money from their gullible clients. (In the clip below, John Oliver calls it a “2.2-billion-dollar industry”.)

There’s no need to further belabor the scams perpetrated by psychics, as many skeptics and their websites have debunked these claims. Let’s just watch a 21-minute clip in which John Oliver takes a few psychics apart with his characteristic wit. There are some good clips here of psychics “in action” (or rather, in inaction).  See the one starting at 16:05 for a particularly egregious case.



37 thoughts on “The American media continues to tout the powers of psychics

  1. If psychics were gifted why aren’t they rich?

    If Economists understand economics, why aren’t they wealthy? (I got a very shirty answer when I asked this.)

    If philosophers are wise why are so many unhappy?

    And so on.

    1. The Shyness Effect — since psychic phenomena are so wonderful and a boon to all, this wonderfulness comes with a built-in device to prevent psychics from getting rich off their talents. I’m not making this up. There are loopholes, naturally, because psychics have to eat, too (except for the small Breatharian contingent). Hence Targ & Puthoff at then-Stanford Research Institute set up an investment fund using some of the “talent” they’d uncovered in their CIA-funded remote viewing, etc., study.

    2. Philosophers (and climate scientists, too) might have greater understanding that we are going to hell in a handcart and therefore good reason to be unhappy. I dare say there is a reason why the phrase “Ignorance is bliss” exists.

      1. ” . . . there is a reason why the phrase “Ignorance is bliss” exists.”

        As I heard it occasionally and rudely put by (more fat than not) navy chief petty officer, “fat, dumb and happy.”

    3. Macroeconomics doesn’t tell you anything about whether a particular stock will go up or down any more than climatology tells you whether it’s gonna rain at your house on Tuesday.

    4. If psychics are gifted, why aren’t they rich? That is exactly the comment I was planning! Holy sh…, I must be psychic!!

    1. I remember this Geller humiliation well. In spite of that, I believe he’s still running his sleazy racket. There are suckers born every minute.

      1. Peter Popoff is also doing quite well, even after being eviscerated by Randi, also on the Johnny Carson Show.

        Randi’s group has such a paper trail on the husband and wife con artists that they can never sue Randi. Popoff didn’t even bother to cash checks (under $100, I believe), and just tossed them in the trash on their way out of town. Randi’s folks saved them.

        1. It’s a sad commentary on human civilization that leaches like these can go about their filthy business with impunity. I can imagine some law being enacted that prevented such blood sucking of the ignorant and innocent. I have no idea what form such legislation might take.

          1. Better education [logic, reasoning, life skills such as calculating apr%], educating people to respect education, instilling worthwhile life goals in general is easier/cheaper to implement than enforcing prohibitions on scam tactics. But nothing will improve while it benefits forces for change [such as politicians & priests] to extravagantly lie with impunity & to do nothing useful.

            I think a framework that slows down the legal theft of money/value from producers/consumers is an answer [whatever that looks like – lobbying would be banned for a start] & a restriction on numbers of lawyers. Some sort of culling may be necessary.

            1. Culling. Sounds right. Education and worthwhile life goals…yes. How about a redeemer god while we’re at it? 😎

              1. There’s a little Lebowski on the way & there’s the genius of Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – don’t ask for too much or you’ll crack the firmament & let the devils in. Dude 🙂

              2. OK, forget the redeemer god, just let’s have the education and the worthwhile life goals. 😬

  2. John Oliver has a helluva writing staff. Every week, he devotes a good chunk of his show to a serious subject, making serious points, while still bringing the funny (as they’re wont to say in showbiz).

  3. I expect the poor ratings in our country would apply similarly to at least several other countries.
    But I wonder if belief in such broader nonsense would go down in countries where the population is also less religious, like Norway or Japan. One hopes at least that curing the religious problem would vaccinate people against being bamboozled by this problem.

    1. I doubt that less religious populations are generally more rational in other matters. The Japanese love a fortune teller, the Swedes are into chiropractors & homeopathy – the sale of homeopathic products being regulated only in the sense that they mustn’t contain info about efficacy.

      We simply aren’t rational beings & the signs of this are most easily seen in our food buying choices. Around 10% of the UK population have gone ‘gluten free’ & the supermarkets are loving it & actively promoting it as a ‘lifestyle choice’ while charging 30% to 150% more for the ‘gluten free’ option. The rational behaviour would be to exclude items that contain gluten from the diet [most breads say] rather than paying wildly over the odds for breads made from flour substitutes. The same thing is happening with vegetarian foods – the supermarkets are producing veg versions of popular ready-to-eat meals & charging more than for the meat versions, while the true cost of the veg version is less. Superfoods was a recent big con that has gone the complete circle back to obscurity.

      We are weird faddish creatures & even the most rational of communities [Antarctic research stations?] – will have their social signalling in full working [irrational] order with the Converse sneakers, Apple kit, Levis etc.

    1. I hope not, but foundation money can be persistent. Wiki informs (citation needed) that the Rhine Center is now independent of Duke. Back in the early ’80s I heard a presentation of the director of the Rhine Center ramble on for half an hour with a presentation on fairies, the basic premise being they had to be real because there had been so many reports of them throughout history. Most of the crowd at Stanford did not seem impressed. James Randi also stole $5 from me that day — well, he pulled a $5 bill out of my ear, so I assumed it was mine.

      1. I think it was actually run out of the Pentagon by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

        There was a feature film a few years ago loosely based on it:

  4. Psychics are all phony, but testing for psychic abilities can sometimes be used to seduce young gullible university students- just ask Peter Venkman. 😍🃏

  5. I think it could make a funny SNL skit if they were doing a ‘psychic expose’, except that the psychic kept getting things right and they then intervened to change things to make out that he was wrong. eg. They show the psychic a picture of a man who is alive in the next room. The psychic says they are alive and nearby. There is an audible gunshot, and the host then pronounces that the psychic is wrong and that the man is actually dead.

  6. I thought the police used ‘psychics’ when they had reliable information but couldn’t acknowledge the source for legal reasons e.g. it is “fruit of the poison tree” due to an illegal search or similar. I’ve no reliable knowledge if this is the case — just a supposition on my part.

      1. In the US the investigation of major crimes are highly politically driven – because the head cops are either elected or they fall & rise at the behest of people who are. Thus you get weird situations like Atlanta, 1980 when the Atlanta Child Murders were top of the news & ‘psychic’ Dorothy Allison became part of the investigation because pressure from local citizens who’d swallowed her bullshit memoir. James Randi hauled her over the coals later for her supreme confidence & misleading, useless leads that came to naught.

        Most psychic involvements in cases arise because the ‘psychic’ offers their services to the cops or the families of victims [it’s interesting how psychics are drawn to mass murders or vulnerable missing/dead children!] – I would suppose that a psychic involvement can lead to heightened media interest – that in itself can break a case that’s gone off the boil. Cops going to psychics is a different kettle of fish & I doubt it happens often – it’s a losing move that broadcasts failure.

        A wise psychic has to walk a line of deniable vagueness that can be scored as a plus no matter the outcome of the case.

      2. P.S. Dead junkies & murdered pensioners don’t seem to emit signals from the beyond that psychics can pick up. There’s some sort of scoring system on the astral plane that allows only the sensationally killed [& often appealingly young & sinless] to break through the psychic aetherial noise that must permeate the Other Place.

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