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« Skeptics' Circle #48 The RantsTemporarily Out of Service »

Credulous Asshats of the World: You Can't Have it Both Ways
2006.12.01 (Fri) 13:46

As we've mentioned in the past, we still gets lots of correspondence regarding our various posts on Allison DuBois. Even though we've shut down comments on some of the older posts, we still get a fair number of comments via our contact page, as well as on the posts where comments are still open. One such comment came to us a few days ago from kyoumans. Believe us when we say that this was one of the more intelligent retorts we've received from someone who disagreed with our position on Ms. DuBois. Don't misunderstand us, though — kyoumans' position is still very much incorrect. Here is the message we received:

This excerpt is from wikipedia and answers.com:
Regarding DuBois's claims to have worked with law enforcement, the Two Percent Company contacted the Texas Rangers, with whom DuBois claims to have worked, and were told by representatives of that agency that they have never utilized psychics, including DuBois. Attempts to investigate DuBois's alleged association with the Glendale, Arizona police department also met with negative results. DuBois claims that Two Percent was "misinformed by those agencies". Two Percent doubts this, arguing that the agencies would hardly have reason to deny using psychics if doing so yielded the positive results that DuBois claims. Two Percent also points out that these two agencies were explicitly named on NBC's official website for the show as late as February 1, 2005, but were deleted by the following month. Two Percent also argues that even if DuBois were confirmed to have worked with these agencies, it would not confirm the notion that she has psychic abilities, or that any criminals were captured as a result of her use of those abilities.

I went to your website to read more; I read the first installment about Allison Dubois but haven't found anything very compelling...It's hard for me to keep reading when your assumption that the police agencies had no reason to deny using psychics seems flawed. Common sense tells me they would have many reasons to deny it; loss of credibility and lawsuits to name a few. I expect many psychics would accept that their work will be kept secret.

I have been skipping around in your website and phrases like "incoherent and utterly fucking stupid beliefs" and "simple-minded, fuckheaded asshats of the world" does not help to make me want to continue reading.

The passage quoted is indeed an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on Allison DuBois, but the conclusions that kyoumans has drawn are patently incorrect. Our reply to this oft-heard argument is below:

First things first: we didn't write the entries on Wikipedia or Answers.com. However, whoever did correctly points out the important aspect of this discussion that you seem to be missing when he says that "the agencies would hardly have reason to deny using psychics if doing so yielded the positive results that DuBois claims."

You speak of a loss of credibility and of lawsuits if the police admitted to using psychic assistance, but if the "psychics" were actually helping, and it could be demonstrated that they were, then why wouldn't [the police] come out and say it? Judging from people like you and from the countless others who have offered ridiculous responses to our DuBois Rants, the public is more than ready to buy into the psychic story; so with whom would the police lose credibility, and why would [losing credibility even be possible] if the psychic assistance actually worked?

In the real world, where psychics are fake, you are correct that there are many reasons for law enforcement to deny using psychics. After all, if they admitted that they leaned on one of these carny acts in a life or death situation, and spent days running down "the body is near water" leads, only to get nowhere in the investigation, there might be justified public outrage (though we tend to doubt it, based on the gullibility of the general public). However, if psychics were able to get actual results that definitively helped to solve a case, as Ms. DuBois claims to have done, then there would be no reason for law enforcement to deny using her "services." Remember, DuBois claims that the unbelievable events in the pilot of her show are accurate, and that her psychic abilities assisted directly in solving the case. So our basic assertion (not assumption) isn't at all flawed — your understanding of it is.

Finally, if someone is a simpleton, we call them a simpleton. If someone is a moronic asshat, we call them a moronic asshat. And if a set of beliefs is incoherent and utterly fucking stupid, then we call those beliefs incoherent and utterly fucking stupid. If you don't like our language, or our habit of calling a spade a spade, and if it doesn't make you want to keep reading, then by all means, don't keep reading. In all sincerity, we couldn't care less.

kyoumans presents an all-too-common argument that misses an important point. The argument holds that, in reality, police officers really do have good reason to hide their use of psychics from the public. And that's a true statement. But, what the argument ignores is that the reason that police in the real world are loathe to ever admit that they tried using "psychic assistance" to solve a case is because psychics are fakes and their "assistance" never helps to solve a case. As such, after realizing that they made an error in judgment, most police officers would likely choose to cover up their poor choice. However, if psychics were real, and if they performed as Allison DuBois claims to have performed in assisting law enforcement, then there would be no reason at all for the police to deny leveraging the "astonishing powers" of psychics. The flaw in this argument is really that simple.

But meanwhile, people like kyoumans want to have it both ways. They want to lean on the real world to point out that police officers truly do have good reasons to deny using psychic assistance (the public reaction to the police being shammed by charlatans); but they fail to grasp the fact that, if psychics were real, then the assertion that they just made is no longer valid (because they aren't charlatans, and they're not shamming). These folks rely on reality to make their point, but then they manage to handily forget all about the real world when it suits their needs to do so.

Bottom line — there are only three internally consistent options here:

  • Psychics are real, and they can and do help police officers to solve cases. If this is true, then it's clear that the police have no reason to deny using psychic assistance. Logically, they should openly admit to this as, in a world where psychics are real, leaning on psychic input is clearly a wise move in any investigation.
  • Psychics are not real, and when they try to help police officers solve cases, they only provide vague and/or misleading guesses that don't help at all in an investigation. If this is true, then then it's clear that the police have every reason to deny using psychic assistance. Logically, they should hide such choices from the public as, in a world where psychics are fake, leaning on the input of a so-called psychic is clearly an unwise move in any investigation.
  • Psychics are real, but their abilities are fairly unreliable (due to lying spirits, or misinterpretations, or vague predictions), and when they try to help police officers solve cases, they only provide vague and/or misleading information that doesn't help at all in an investigation. After all, if we don't know whether a given prediction is true or if it's an outright lie told by the spirits to hinder the investigation, then the only logical choice is to ignore all of the predictions. If this hypothesis is true, then it's clear that the police have every reason to deny using psychic assistance. Logically, they should hide such choices from the public as, in a world where psychics are as unreliable as random guesswork, leaning on the input of a psychic whose abilities are no better than random guesswork is clearly an unwise move in any investigation.

No other combination of the above scenarios is logically valid (for example, psychics being fake and yet reliably aiding investigations makes no sense — the humorous premise of Psych aside — and psychics being real and reliably helping investigations but still somehow being an embarrassment to police is just as nonsensical). And what type of behavior do we see most often in practice? Right: police failing to publicly embrace the use of psychics. So, that means that either they aren't real, or they are real but their predictions are so unreliable that they can't be differentiated from random educated guesses. If anything, the fact that police do not openly and publicly embrace the use of psychics provides some evidence that psychics are fake or, at the very least, completely useless.

And please, don't give us any crap about the police being afraid to validate psychics because it would put them out of a job if psychics were real. If psychics were real (which they're not), and if they were as effective as Ms. DuBois claims to be (which they're also not), then not only would police officers be out of a job, but most of the rest of us would be as well. How could anyone compete for just about any job when they're up against someone who sees all and knows all? (Think about it: you work in information technology, and a router is having problems. While you try to run diagnostics and go through troubleshooting steps, Psychic Bob the IT manager announces that the spirits have confirmed a bad chip on the supervisor module, and promptly solves the problem. Damn you, Psychic Bob!) So the question isn't whether the police are keeping their psychic connections on the down-low to protect their jobs, the question is why psychics haven't already taken over every job in the marketplace, including law enforcement (and, we might add, the stock market and professional gambling circuits). We're pretty confident that we know the answer to that question. [Yeah: "It doesn't work that way." Except, of course, Allison has made it clear that it does. Sheesh. — Ed.]

So the next time someone tosses this nugget of crap on your plate, just point them here. We've made this argument more times than we can count, and if we can save you a little bit of pain, we're happy to help.

Allison DuBois: Debunked! (2%Co)

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[  Filed under: % Allison DuBois Week  % Bullshit  % Greatest Hits  ]

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Comments (11)

Tycho the Dog, 2006.12.07 (Thu) 07:57 [Link] »

There would seem to be a fourth option, which I believe DuBois has already relied upon. Namely, that she is a genuine psychic, but many other psychics are frauds. Therefore, law enforcement departments deny using psychics because of the stigma associated with the fraudulent ones, but secretly use her because she's real.

Personally, l think she's full of shit, just like every other so-called psychic.

The Two Percent Company, 2006.12.07 (Thu) 14:49 [Link] »

Well, yes and no, Tycho. We tend to see a scenario in which many psychics are fake and only a few are real as a subset of possibility number one above. Yes, a plethora of fake psychics could create a stigma that hurts the real ones, but ultimately, if the real psychics are providing the level of invaluable assistance that they claim to be providing, then we still tend to think that law enforcement should have no reason to deny using their services. We wouldn't throw out or stigmatize fingerprint evidence or any other reliable investigation technique just because of the corrupt or fraudulent behavior of a few of its practitioners.

To us, it's somewhat like the process of securing a home mortgage (or dealing with any sales representative). Many — if not most — mortgage agents are utter assholes who are interested solely in squeezing every penny from their clients, and who make the process of getting a mortgage a living hell. However, if you come across one who is honest, helpful and friendly, who makes the entire process easy and effective, then why wouldn't you sing their praises? Yes, the stigma exists, and for good reason, but if you've found one who is exceptional, then there's no reason to hide your experience. In fact, if anything, finding that one diamond in the rough often creates a greater incentive to blab about your find.

All that said, we agree that this is exactly the scenario that Allison is relying upon. Her constant insults aimed at all "psychics" other than herself make that pretty clear to us. Too bad the part that's missing is the "Allison is real" part.

Ben McKnight, 2007.03.01 (Thu) 22:03 [Link] »

With powerful entities like Allison DuBois, I can't believe there is any crime at all in the state of Arizona. Glendale, AZ should have a 100% conviction rate, and crime should be dropping through the floor.

If Allison is so damn good at Texas Hold'em, why doesn't she play in any tournaments? Too busy doing readings? It just seems like there are more lucrative ways for a Medium to turn a greasy buck then bilking grieving families with cloudy judgment (at best) and writing books.

What would you do if you could talk to dead people? One thing is for sure...I'd feel a lot weirder every time I wanted to jack off.

Bronze Dog, 2007.03.01 (Thu) 22:53 [Link] »

Well, if she wants to gamble, she can get some seed money from Randi. 'Bout an hour with his testing staff should win her a million bucks.

BethanytheMartian, 2007.10.28 (Sun) 01:37 [Link] »

I guess this is a bit of a devil's advocate question, but oh well:

You mention in this article that the fact that police don't come out and embrace using psychics could be used as evidence that psychics don't work. This is an understandable claim- police departments would be screaming from the mountain tops if there were a reliable way to track down criminals without putting officers on the case, or as many.

However, you have mentioned previously that just because a department does (in the hypothetical sense, mostly) use a psychic isn't proof that psychics work.

I'm afraid I'm giving some creduloid ammo, but I can't help it- would you mind explaining how it works both ways?

On a side note: some of these Letters from Creduloid sound achingly familiar, and I think I know why now. It was all of the 'the cussing is offensive and blah blah blah...' that did it for me. Most of these are defensive 16-year-olds who want to validate their existence by being better and more mature than adults. So, keep in mind, you're most likely dealing with a 16-year-old sack-o-hormones when that kind of talk comes along.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.10.28 (Sun) 13:18 [Link] »

We can understand your confusion, Bethany, but really the answer is pretty straightforward. One example is social, and the other is scientific.

When we talk about the lack of overwhelming law-enforcement praise for psychics strongly suggesting that psychics are bullshit, we are referring to a social phenomenon. Basically, if psychic assistance worked, then socially (politically, culturally...) there would be no reason for the police to hide that fact. There would be no social stigma attached to singing the praises of a demonstrably effective psychic intervention. So it has nothing to do with "evidence," it's simply about a tendency to report such information. If something amazing happens, and it's a big deal, then the people involved will talk about it. If nobody's talking about it, it's likely either not a big deal (for instance, the "assistance" from the psychic was vague or useless), or it's not even happening (at all). What it comes down to is that this example is more about applying common sense to human behavior and drawing a general conclusion, rather than examining evidence in a rigorous, scientific way. There's no empirical data; just a very human behavior that we all tend to understand.

The other example isn't about applying common sense — it's about scientific evidence. A police department claiming to have benefited from psychic assistance does not constitute a scientific test. This is because the police don't take the time to set up controls when they utilize the services of a psychic — they're trying to solve a crime, not confirm or refute psychic phenomena. So, by its nature, it can't and doesn't constitute scientific evidence of anything — even if, at the end of the investigation, a police officer determines that the psychic was useful.

Putting all of this together, if one police officer were to sing the praises of a psychic who cracked the case, then common sense, science, and logic would dictate that, given the complete lack of evidence for psychic powers, we remain skeptical of the officer's claims, as that we assume that the officer is likely biased and/or being duped. If, however, a plethora of law enforcement agencies were suddenly to speak out about the efficacy of, say, Allison DuBois, while that wouldn't in any way prove her claims in a scientific sense, it would certainly make us stop and think about her claims, and perhaps consider them to be more worthy of further scientific study.

The bottom line here is that nothing that the police — or anyone else (including us!) — might say, positive or negative, can prove or disprove the claims of psychics. Only proper scientific tests can do that. Our observation that the police departments of the world aren't singing the praises of psychics doesn't in way translate into "disproving the claims of psychics" — it is merely a common-sense strike against them. That is, evidence based on logic and reason drawn from the circumstances is useful, but we would not determine our conclusion without more empirical evidence and statistical data on hand — the fact that we have reached our own conclusions is merely due to the already copious amounts of empirical data available.

Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2007.10.28 (Sun) 13:25 [Link] »

As a note, Bethany, you'd be surprised how many adults have used the very arguments that you imagine must be coming from children. We've engaged in a number of exchanges with people who have not hidden their identities from us (both online and in person), and who are verifiably adults, in which these people have expressed the same sentiments as the ones you mentioned.

So while we're sure that some percentage of the immature comments are coming from actual immature contributors, we don't think that percentage is nearly as high as you might imagine.

And as a note, we've come across more than our share of intelligent, insightful teenagers whose mental maturity would put that of some of their elders to shame.

TonyBaker, 2008.09.28 (Sun) 15:43 [Link] »

Referring again to the three options listed above... I'd offer a fourth alternative, one similar (but at least slightly different) from Tycho's...

What if some (read: a VERY small portion) of psychics have SOME degree of genuine ability, and that ability is real (read: consistent, reliable, whatever) enough to be useful at least some of the time (i.e., to be better than mere random guesswork), but NOT reliable enough to be able to pass a scientific test?

Say, for instance, that a person can genuinely read minds, but can't necessarily read the mind of every single person they come across. If you happen to be one of those people the psychic can't read, then there's no way they could prove the existence of their ability to you. Even if they appeared to accurately read the mind of someone close to you, someone you trusted, you'd still have the lingering doubt of... "Well, since I don't really KNOW what that other person was thinking, for all I know they might just be more impressionable than I think they are, and the psychic managed to win them over with a good guess."

Conversely... in the context of a criminal case, say a person receives impressions, makes predictions, whatever, that are accurate enough (at least some of the time) to be useful, but not enough to "blow the case wide open," or to stand up to rigorous scientific testing. Given that this person's "power" can't be proven, and that their degree of usefulness to the investigation is probably a subjective issue at best, I can see why the cops would deny utilizing such people's services (or, at least, not go out of their way to publicize the fact). Because their usefulness to the case can't be "proven" any more than the existence of their power can be, the cops might still end up being embarrassed because of the stigma and whatnot.

All this has nothing whatsoever to do with specific cases like Sylvia Browne or Allison DuBois, of course, since they've both been caught lying and/or making vague or inaccurate predictions too often. But I would guess that for those who DO believe in the existence of psychic ability (and I don't consider myself to be one of those, but I don't think I'm closed-minded to the idea, either) , this might give you more of an idea where they're coming from, and I don't think it's necessarily internally inconsistent.

Bronze Dog, 2008.09.29 (Mon) 23:55 [Link] »

Essentially, sounds to me that someone who ends up using that sort of argument will pretty much be saying that psychic powers are too weak and useless to bother researching.

Jason Spicer, 2008.09.30 (Tue) 03:07 [Link] »

Actually, I think the utter lack of statistically significant results puts the kibosh on this argument, TonyBaker. Even a weak ability, if real, would show up in the long run. It would not be unprovable. The fact that nobody has ever demonstrated even a weak psychic effect in the long run suggests that there is no such thing. Think of it this way, if Vegas casinos are happy with winning 51% of the time (and are they ever!), then a psychic with a 1% edge over chance would be employable as such.

Melanie, 2011.01.28 (Fri) 11:23 [Link] »

Maybe the problem is that you are trying to make an intelligent argument with ill-equipped people. If it ain't a sound bite, it ain't getting through, perhaps?
Anyway, since they are too lazy/ignorant/whatever to read before posting, maybe they need it dumbed down for them.
Such as: if psychics are real and just want to help people, where the fuck is Natalee Holloway and Maddy McCann, what happened to Jon Benet Ramsey and who killed Nicole and Ron? These have been burning questions for the general public for years now. You'd think one of these generous, helpful psychics would want to really make a name for themselves and answer some of those questions, wouldn't you?
I know, I know, "it doesn't work like that"! Yet if I walk in , plunk down several hundred dollars and ask to speak directly to my dead grandma, all of a sudden, it DOES work just like that.
It's really not rocket science after all. Just a little common sense, which is sorely lacking in some of your 'posters', I'm afraid.
Hope you guys have rubber walls down there - you must beat your heads against them every three or four minutes, I would imagine! How do you stand it?
BTW, I'm psychic, too, cause I'm pretty sure what happened to Natalee was she was killed by Van Der Slut, and I see Nicole and Ron dying at the hands of a tall, black, famous football player. That will be $700, thank you.

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