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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:
- 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.
- Psychic ability is genetic; it runs in families.
- Although it's an innate ability, psychics must learn their craft. Trial and error helps them to perfect their senses.
- Psychic profilers often become physically ill or fatigued after tapping into the minds of victims or perpetrators.
- Psychics can physically feel heart-attacks, cancers and other ailments when in the presence of someone ill.
- Psychics believe they can see the dead.
- Psychics believe that everyone has a sixth sense. Most people just don't know howto [sic] use that part of the brain.
- Many psychics like to "escape" the weight of their abilities with movies and television.
- 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.
- 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?
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[ Filed under: % Allison DuBois Week % Bullshit % Greatest Hits % Media & Censorship ]
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