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« On Being Almost Famous in Kansas City The RantsCarl Sagan's Cosmos Returns to Television »

Quite Reasonable Doubt
2005.10.05 (Wed) 10:57

These days, it's impossible to watch television without seeing advertisements for various shows — even when those shows aren't on the network you've tuned in to! So please keep in mind that we were not watching CourtTV when we were bombarded by an advertisement for Psychic Detectives which prominently stated the following (also on their website):

It's the show that's turning skeptics into believers.

Oh yeah? Name one. Anyone who is "turned" into a believer by this load of crap was a credulous fool to begin with, not a skeptic. If you're going to simply invent facts, CourtTV, why not at least come up with...oh, let's say...maybe ten "Fun Facts" about genuine, bona fide psychics?

Oh — they did:

  1. Although they can be better than the average person at gambling, psychics are unable to accurately pick lottery numbers since there are no human thoughts attached.
  2. Psychic ability is genetic; it runs in families.
  3. Although it's an innate ability, psychics must learn their craft. Trial and error helps them to perfect their senses.
  4. Psychic profilers often become physically ill or fatigued after tapping into the minds of victims or perpetrators.
  5. Psychics can physically feel heart-attacks, cancers and other ailments when in the presence of someone ill.
  6. Psychics believe they can see the dead.
  7. Psychics believe that everyone has a sixth sense. Most people just don't know howto [sic] use that part of the brain.
  8. Many psychics like to "escape" the weight of their abilities with movies and television.
  9. Some psychics are able turn their abilities "down" or "off" in order to relax and live like any other person. They don't want to read every stranger they see.
  10. Psychics mentor each other. Veteran psychics teach the less-experienced how to better read visions and feelings.

Our favorite thing about this list is that it's stated so matter-of-factly. "Psychic ability is genetic; it runs in families." Ah, so we should eventually track it down somewhere in the fully mapped human genome, right? No, because by the time we've worked out the actual function of every bit of the human genome — and found none that maps to any super-dooper psychical powers — we're sure the die-hard Newage fanatics will move the goalposts. You know, just so we really have to work for it.

On second thought, though, our favorite part is the fact that, if we polled a few dozen "psychics," we'd be willing to bet that we could find clear disagreement on most (if not all) of these "facts" from within their own ranks. Seriously, that bit about psychics being able to "feel heart-attacks, cancers and other ailments when in the presence of someone ill" — as far as we know, most psychics do not make such claims. Who is CourtTV kidding? What complete bullshit.

To support this complete bullshit, CourtTV turns to media whore extraordinaire Allison DuBois. And what, you may ask, is Allison's claim to fame? As far as we can tell: claiming fame. That seems to be about the sum total of her "powers." (Hey, at least Paris Hilton had to do something to be famous — talking on the phone while screwing some guy on horribly produced video demonstrates a great talent for, um...multitasking?) If you aren't familiar with Allison's totally unsubstantiated (and, in some cases, totally refuted) claims to have used her "spirit medium powers" to help law enforcement, you can read all about them in our Allison DuBois Week series.

Wherever there's a microphone, you'll find Allison; wherever silly psychic bullshit needs a spokeswoman, she'll be there. This occasion was no different, as Allison spewed out some interesting tidbits:

Q: I bet you're good at gambling.

A: Yes, when I'm playing poker I can hear other people's thoughts. But I can't pick lottery numbers because people aren't attached.

Hey, that's easily testable. If she can really hear other people's thoughts while she's playing poker, she should never lose a hand, right? After all, she wouldn't be able to be bluffed, and she'd always fold when someone had her beat. We say bring her on! In fact, we're willing to sit at the table and play poker with her while thinking actively and repeatedly about our cards. Let's see if she can tell us what cards we're holding on each hand. We're willing to play with real money. Are you, Allison?

Q: So if you're watching something, let's say like "Law & Order," can you figure out what's going to happen in the end?

A: Yeah, it's generally boring for me, and my husband doesn't like going to movies with me. Something that I see as being obvious ruins the movie for him.

Hold on...huh? We thought Allison couldn't pick lottery numbers "because people aren't attached." Exactly which "people" are being "read" by Allison to provide her with the ending of an episode of Law & Order? It's on the fucking television. What, is she remote viewing the script writers? Delving into the actors' minds to scan their memories of shooting the episode six months earlier? Or are the fictitious characters on the show enough of a "people" for Allison to read their futures? Oh, wait, that's right — she's a medium. We suppose the afterlife must get their NBC broadcasts an hour earlier, and Casper comes down to let Allison know how it'll all turn out. Because, you know, she can't get specific details of a real crime — it "doesn't work that way" — but she can get advanced supernatural screenings of televised crime dramas. Great. What a useful power.

Hey, we usually know how a given episode of Law & Order is going to end, too. Of course, our educated guesses are based on rudimentary (or better) knowledge of police procedure, the legal process, dramatic license, and narrative structure. As usual, the fucking "psychics" are confusing knowledge from ordinary sources (like common sense, education and experience) with "mystical abilities."

CourtTV also provides a link on the main Psychic Detectives web site to an article in the CourtTV Crime Library. The article, a behemoth written by Katherine Ramsland that spans fifteen web pages, is, one would assume, meant to bolster the CourtTV claims of real psychics helping the police solve crimes. But actually reading this piece yields another message entirely. Here's a snippet:

One interesting project was set up by Joe Nickell, a confirmed skeptic. He assigned 12 psychic investigators (who ranged from journalists to professors) to take on one famous psychic each to study for a period of one year, and their results were reported in Psychic Sleuths. They were to find a single case in which the psychic actually found a missing person or solved a crime. The overall results indicated that psychics fail to come through on scientific tests, and that when put into such conditions, their powers "invariably desert them." In some instances, they've shown they guess about as good as anyone else. (Of course, just because a psychic is famous doesn't make that person's powers authentic, and looking at only 12 of them is far from conclusive.)

One controlled experiment that Nickell includes, which involved a dozen psychics looking at evidence from four crimes and was conducted by the director of behavioral services for the Los Angeles Police Department, indicated that psychics scored no better than estimated chance levels.

Lyons and Truzzi, in The Blue Sense, criticized the study, saying those psychics were not a representative sample.

So the study was undertaken once again, with two control groups added: college students and homicide detectives. The psychics produced more information by far, but the students had a better overall accuracy rate than the psychics in their guesses. No group produced information that would have been useful in solving the crimes.

Wait...so it was pretty well established by these studies that psychics have no special ability to know or perceive information any more than anybody else. Not that this comes as a surprise to us — we're just a little shocked to see this conclusion in an article linked so prominently from the Psychic Detectives web page. So why the hell does CourtTV persist with the "psychics are real but mysterious" line of shit given the conclusions of this article that they themselves have published? These psychics were tested; they failed. Where's the great injustice? Where's the huge mystery?

This reminds us of Anton Zolotnikov, a commentator on one of our previous Rants, and his insistence that alleged psychic Natasha Demkina was unfairly flunked out of a CSICOP study because she failed to meet the criteria outlined in the first test, despite an assured boast that she would exceed said criteria. Hey, psychopowered folks: if you agree to the elements of a particular study or test, and you fail to hold up your end of the bargain, don't start crying that the test was rigged, or that your "powers just didn't work this time." It's over; pack it in, call it a day, and hang up your crystal ball.

But no, when a study strongly suggests that psychics have no more success at "guessing" than people who claim no psychic powers, the psychic cheerleaders insist that we didn't study the right group of psychics. Right. So every psychic that skeptics actually study just so happens to be one of the fakes...but the rest are real? Oh, please.

Our favorite bit from the above quotation:

The overall results indicated that psychics fail to come through on scientific tests, and that when put into such conditions, their powers "invariably desert them."

Ah, of course. See, the psychics would have us believe that they really do have psychic powers, but if you actually try to check up on them, they might not work. How utterly scientific. (No Heisenberg witticisms, please; we're firmly aware of the uncertainty principle, but that in no way dictates that a phenomenon would be inherently undetectable through observation or experiment.) Excuses like this are just more examples of the time-honored "psychic" tradition of moving the goalposts. Hey, if they are unable to pass the tests put before them, what else can they do? If they were to stand by the established rules, the jig would be up, and they'd have to go get real jobs working in, say, the fast food industry. (Actually, we wouldn't mind having a psychic working the counter at our local Wendy's — that way they'd know without asking that we never want our meal "Biggie Sized.")

The article also has the following to say:

Thus far, a psychic's reliability for law enforcement has not been established. Anecdotal information is sometimes impressive and even surprising, but nothing can be concluded about using psychics as resources in solving a crime.

And the following:

So despite all the hype, we still don't have a clear instance of someone in real life who psychically offers accurate and specific leads that have solved crimes.

Perhaps CourtTV ought to read its own "Crime Library" web site before continuing to peddle their nonsense about how Psychic Detectives is based on true stories. What, did they just see the word "psychic" and decide to link to it from their Psychic Detectives web page? Oh, right — they don't really give a shit as long as they can sell time slots to advertisers. We forgot.

Is it any wonder that we — along with most other intelligent people — consider the abilities of psychics to be more than slightly dubious?



Allison DuBois: Debunked! (2%Co)

— • —
[  Filed under: % Allison DuBois Week  % Bullshit  % Greatest Hits  % Media & Censorship  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/224

Comments (12)

MBains, 2005.10.06 (Thu) 14:31 [Link] »

(Actually, we wouldn't mind having a psychic working the counter at our local Wendy's — that way they'd know without asking that we never want our meal "Biggie Sized.")

WOW! You must be psychic for reading my mind as to these folks' proper utility!

Thanks. (but you knew that too di'n't chya? ;-} )



The Retropolitan, 2005.10.06 (Thu) 20:55 [Link] »

It's all true! Psychics helped my find my wait who am I kidding psychics are fake and I don't even have enough energy to finish the 'psychics are real' joke here.

Damn.



The Two Percent Company, 2005.10.07 (Fri) 14:54 [Link] »

Clearly, neither of you skeptics has been watching Psychic Detectives, or you would've instantly been turned into believers.



Rockstar, 2005.10.07 (Fri) 16:38 [Link] »

I don't need to watch it; I already know what happens...



Grendel, 2005.10.07 (Fri) 17:43 [Link] »

Psychic detective 'work' ought to be a crime in itself, and in many forms it is (the 'psychic' part).

Many of thse psychics offer to help the police for one reason only -to gain access to the grieving famly members of the murdered and/or missing so they might discern who among them is the paranormal bleever to be used to milk them for 'fees' for said psychic work.

Other psychic detectives work it the other way -they determine the family members from news reports and get the bleever members of the victim family to insist the police listen to the psychic. They then parlay that into media coverage if possible.

Some few already have fame and fortune and offer their 'impressions' unbidden from their radio, magazine, and website pulpits. Sylvia Browne once pronounced that a missing little girl (in Texas, if memory serves) was in fact already dead, savaged by a heartless killer. This news, of course, completely devastated much of her family, especially the little girl's mother who believes in such nonsense. The little girl was later found alive and well, and Sylvia Browne absolutely tortured her poor mother for no reason whatsoever other than to appear to be a 'real' psychic.

That is absolutely despicable behavior.

Another psychic scam is to tell the mark that they are cursed by their own money, that their money needs 'cleansing'. The psychic tells the mark to liquidate all assets, everything possible, and then to put all that cash in an envelope for the 'cleansing' ritual. Th mark is assured the psychic will never actually touch the money. Making sure to be alone with the mark, the psychic then performs some made up mumbo jumbo with much chanting and waving of hands over the cash filled envelope. Then, the mark is typically told to leave the envelope sealed and place it in a safe place for a short period of time, usually 24 hours or so, a time frame given some further mumbo jumbo significance to the cleansing ritual. When the mark opens the envelope the next day, he or she finds it stuffed full of newspaper and for some reason the psychic isn't answering the phone and cannot be found anywhere. The mark has been 'cleansed' of all his or her available cash by virtue of a simple switch of envelopes. That one has brought in cash to the tune of $20-30-40-50,000 at a time.

Despicable.

It did get me through grad school though.



% Trackback » 2005.10.27 (Thu) 10:14
"College of Skepticism" from The Uncredible Hallq

Welcome to the Skeptic's U! I'm Chris, and I'll be your tour guide today. Here at SU, we provide an education in critical thinking and what's known about many seemingly mysterious things in life. Here, you'll meet some of today's brightest up-and-com... [More]


psychfun, 2005.10.27 (Thu) 18:28 [Link] »

From my Psych text (Dr. David Myers of Hope College): there is a cartoon with a Pizza Delivery guy. Back of shirt says, "Psychic Pizza Delivered 15 minutes BEFORE you order it or it's FREE!" HA! There is another of a woman answering the phone "Thank You for calling the Psychic Hotline. How can I hlep you? Caller says, "You tell me..." HA! Some more facts cited in our text: A study by Strentz (1986) looked at New Year's predictions of the National Enquiror's favorite psychics between 1978 & 1985. They yielded 2 accurate predictions out of 486! They miss huge events like even OJ being charged much less the outcome of the trial, Hurricanes, presidential outcomes & claim so many erroneous things no one calls them on like Madonna becoming a gospel signer and Queen Elizabeth abdicating the throne to enter a convent. Sweat & Durm (1993) reported 65% of police departments state they have never used a psychic. Of those that had, not one found it helpful. There were thousands of psychics who overwhelmed police on Chandra Levy but all were wrong. Psychologist Richard Wiseman from Hertfordshire Univeristy had a coin tossing machine which people could try their luck at predicting around the country at varoius festivals. 28,000 people had used it by the end of the study in Jan 2000. They predicted 110, 972 tosses & were 49.8% accurate! Ok, so half the people can predict...are they all psychic??? Ha!



psychfun, 2005.10.27 (Thu) 18:30 [Link] »

From my Psych text (Dr. David Myers of Hope College): there is a cartoon with a Pizza Delivery guy. Back of shirt says, "Psychic Pizza Delivered 15 minutes BEFORE you order it or it's FREE!" HA! There is another of a woman answering the phone "Thank You for calling the Psychic Hotline. How can I hlep you? Caller says, "You tell me..." HA! Some more facts cited in our text: A study by Strentz (1986) looked at New Year's predictions of the National Enquiror's favorite psychics between 1978 & 1985. They yielded 2 accurate predictions out of 486! They miss huge events like even OJ being charged much less the outcome of the trial, Hurricanes, presidential outcomes & claim so many erroneous things no one calls them on like Madonna becoming a gospel signer and Queen Elizabeth abdicating the throne to enter a convent. Sweat & Durm (1993) reported 65% of police departments state they have never used a psychic. Of those that had, not one found it helpful. There were thousands of psychics who overwhelmed police on Chandra Levy but all were wrong. Psychologist Richard Wiseman from Hertfordshire Univeristy had a coin tossing machine which people could try their luck at predicting around the country at varoius festivals. 28,000 people had used it by the end of the study in Jan 2000. They predicted 110, 972 tosses & were 49.8% accurate! Ok, so half the people can predict...are they all psychic??? Ha!



John Merrell, 2006.03.12 (Sun) 00:57 [Link] »

In response: Court TV's psychic detective Noreen Renier has been sued in the state of Washington by skeptic John Merrell, twenty years after a case was lost in Oregon. Renier is the author of a recent book 'A Mind For Murder' which drew extended media attention in 2005 and 2006. For more, view the website http://www.amindformurder.com



Bill, 2007.02.23 (Fri) 06:32 [Link] »

Hey, you know... I always wondered about this: Allison says she wouldn't take the JREF million dollar challenge because she believes it would be rigged in a way that it would be impossible for her to win (I mean, other than the fact that it wouldn't allow her to cheat and hold her to real results). What I want to know is: If the test was rigged, wouldn't a psychic know it? And wouldn't they be able to tell you exactly what was wrong with the test before they took it? I mean, wouldn't they KNOW the results of the test before they took it?



Bronze Dog, 2007.02.23 (Fri) 07:42 [Link] »

Of course, it's rather hard to rig: The JREF would have to somehow take over the third party that Dubois approves of before the test.



Rockstar Ryan, 2007.02.23 (Fri) 10:42 [Link] »

Bronze Dog:

By "rigged" I think DuBois means "removing the ability to cheat" - just like everyone else who makes that claim when they are negotiating the conditions of the test.

I love reading the log of applicants on the JREF forums. If you ever want to see the definition of "squirmy", check out a few that won't agree to the conditions of the test.



TimmyAnn, 2007.02.23 (Fri) 12:34 [Link] »

Oh, but you see psychics all have very specific "powers", so if theirs didn't happen to include the ability to tell if a test is rigged, then they wouldn't know.............Don't misread me here, Ipersonally don't think they have ANY powers, I'm just saying that even those who believe they do have powers don't think they can see absolutely everything. Each one has very specific things they can "see" or "hear" or whatever. I guess that gives them a built in excuse for when people ask why they didn't see something coming.




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