Tag Archives: Psychic Testing

The Myth Of The Psychic Disclaimer

You might have noticed that “psychics” advertise their shows (in the UK, anyway) with a disclaimer, the wording of which will usually say that the performance you are paying to see is “for entertainment only,” and should be regarded as “an experiment,” because the nature of the presentation “is considered controversial by some.”

Such a disclaimer for psychics is quite new, and has only been common since the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951 was repealed. Since then, psychics have to be wary of The Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which puts psychics in the same category as double glazing salesmen and any other trader. In short, the claims made by the person concerned should be fair, honest, truthful, etc. If you are paying money for goods or services, you are entitled to get what you pay for.

Although some disclaimers in business are fair, in that they give customers honest information, some can be unfair and possibly illegal. A car servicing business, for example, that crashes your car cannot escape its obligation to take reasonable care of your property by having a notice on display saying that they do not accept responsibility for any damage they cause.

When it comes to psychics, I have to ask myself: if they really can contact the dead, why do they need a disclaimer anyway? Surely you would think something was wrong if your dentist had a notice in his surgery informing you that your scheduled root canal surgery is “experimental” and “purely for entertainment.”  No, you expect him or her to be suitably qualified and experienced, and not relying on disclaimers. He is already fully trained and regulated by a professional body that exists to maintain professional standards.

That’s not the case with psychics, not least because no one has ever proven the existence of an afterlife, much less the idea that the dead can communicate with the living. Psychics do not have to prove their alleged abilities to an official regulatory or professional body (there aren’t any of course), so the only protection ordinary consumers have is through the law.

But let’s be clear about something here – although some psychics claim that they are required to display a disclaimer because of “the law” or “the regulations,” there is no such requirement at all:

Psychics are not required by law to have a disclaimer.

The purpose of a psychic’s disclaimer is to protect that psychic from being prosecuted for providing a service that is not real (even if a psychic honestly believes they can contact “the other side”). By saying that a disclaimer is displayed because of the regulations or the law, they give the false impression that they have no choice legally but to have a disclaimer. I’m finding it more and more common that supporters of psychics do believe that they have no choice in the matter. “Psychics have a disclaimer because that’s the law,” is a phrase I am hearing more often nowadays, but  it is not true.  

No psychic has a legal obligation to display a disclaimer of any kind regarding their claimed abilities, any more than a heart transplant surgeon has to have a disclaimer in the operating theatre telling his patients they are there “for entertainment purposes only.”

A psychic cannot be prosecuted for “Failure to have a disclaimer.”  

No, I don’t buy it. The reality is that if psychics didn’t bother with their disclaimers, then there would likely be a flood of complaints to consumer protection departments around the country. They would be required to prove their claims or be prosecuted, but as we all know, there isn’t a psychic in the world who has ever proven they have powers over and above the power of wishful thinking. I don’t think a Trading Standards officer, or a court of law, is going to be converted to a belief in the paranormal by a psychic,under oath, gushing the usual, “I’m getting a “J” or a “J – sounding” name; does that mean anything to you?”

It’s quite simple, really, a genuine psychic would have no need for any disclaimers, yet they use them as a shield to protect themselves from prosecution because they know that without it they would be facing fraud charges in a court of law – and that, I think, is the only predictive power they have (which doesn’t need any paranormal ability at all).

My own opinion is that any psychic who displays a disclaimer is also someone who admits that they know they could not pass an objective test of their professed paranormal abilities. The famous psychics almost always refuse the many challenges that are out there to be objectively tested; the few who have, have failed and then vanished into obscurity; some lesser-known psychics have failed such testing and then later rationalised their way out of their failures but are still in business, and some unknowns have tried to beat the statistical odds and failed miserably but without having anything to lose by trying.

How nice it would be if a psychic’s disclaimer could say something like:

This show is for entertainment purposes only, and I’m telling you that because if I didn’t,  I could be prosecuted, fined, possibly jailed and be shown to be a complete and utter fraud who has been demonstrated to be a heartless conman/woman who has no scruples about ripping off gullible (and often very vulnerable) people without compunction and worse than that, I could lose a lucrative income because of it even though I think that I might be genuine in my belief that I can communicate with the dead, but if I’m not a fraudster then I am at least just a deluded but well-meaning person who thinks I can put you in touch with your deceased loved ones, which gives me genuine satisfaction as I think about it when I drive back to my luxury home in my luxury car, paid for by you, my followers, some of whom have paid money you can’t really afford, to hear me tell you, in all honesty on my part, that I really believe I got the letter “J” and it was meant just for you.

Please note: no one claiming to have psychic abilities has ever passed an objective, scientific test of their claimed paranormal powers (including me) and I refuse to undertake any such test, so if I give you statements from your deceased loved ones that contradict what you know about them, then keep in mind the fact that you have already been told that you are here to be entertained, not that you will be given accurate information from the “other side” (whatever your own interpretation of that means, but that’s up to you and has nothing to do with me).

If psychics are real, there is no need for a disclaimer, and there is certainly no legal requirement for those people to use one if they can really do the paranormal feats they claim. So why do they use them?

If there really were a law that insisted that psychics, mediums and all the rest of them had to have some kind of notice presented at their shows, I think it should read something like:

No one who claims to have psychic abilities has ever proven that their claims are real; there are, however, many purported psychics who have been demonstrated to have been frauds, and some of those have been jailed because they have defrauded innocent people. You are paying money to see someone who claims to be able to put you in touch with your deceased relatives, but who has not proven their so-called paranormal abilities in any objective sense. If you are dissatisfied with the service you have paid for, please telephone [the number of the local Trading Standards office] who will be happy to take up your complaint on your behalf. You might be entitled to substantial compensation after the subsequent legal proceedings.

That’s more like it. That’s what I call consumer protection! And even better than that, not a single psychic has made any comments on this post before it went live. How do you explain that? Eh? Eh?

To put it bluntly, if the paranormal were real then it would be an accepted part of science, regulated in the same way as science-based medicine is recognised. Psychics would have to undergo rigorous training followed by stringent exams, after which they would be licensed to practise by an accredited regulatory body that would constantly monitor their performance (not their “performances,” maybe). Their right to continue working would be dependent on their tested and proven ability, not a disclaimer.

Some people, unfortunately, make life-changing and sometimes personally destructive decisions based on what they are told by some psychics. If a doctor is negligent and causes harm, then there is at least some recourse to be had through the doctor’s professional body, and sometimes a doctor could be prosecuted for malpractice – maybe even jailed for it for disregarding his training and legal obligations to his patients.

That’s not the case with psychics. No training, no exams, no accreditation, no accredited professional body, no accountability, no responsibility, but lots and lots of money to be made. If you come to harm by following any advice given to you by a stage psychic, just remember that the advice they gave you that you followed was provided as part of a stage show you attended in which you implicitly agreed to absolve the psychic from all personal responsibility whatsoever.

Nice work if you can get it –  just display a disclaimer and the law can’t touch you.

Maybe it’s time for a new campaign – a campaign to make it illegal for anyone to make money from their claim to be a psychic unless they prove they can do what they say they can do. You can’t set yourself up as a doctor, gas fitter, lawyer or a host of other professionals without validation, so I think it’s about time the same thing applied to anyone who claims to talk to the dead (and get them to talk back, of course). And – like any other real professional person – no disclaimers allowed.

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Bad Thinking Disclaimer – The advice given on this blog is based on logic and rational thinking. If you disagree with anything posted here, then you are probably wrong. Read this blog at your own risk. The author accepts full responsibility for any reader who, after studying its contents, converts from Bad Thinking to rational thinking.

One last thought: it’s OK to ridicule something that happens to be ridiculous. I found this illustration on Twitter; unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to find its origins so I can’t offer full credit. Nevertheless, it’s so funny I’ll republish it here and see if the author wants to be credited, which I don’t mind, of course. (I think it was meant for as wide a publication as possible anyway.)

IMG_20141028_180031

 

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A Guide For Paranormal Investigators

Let us be clear about one thing: the existence of anything supernatural or paranormal (including alien visitation and abduction, not to mention magic medicine like homeopathy) has not been proven. For such claims to be true, there would have to be something fundamentally wrong with everything that science has discovered about the world around us and across the whole universe. The laws of nature are pretty well understood, and for the usual claims of the paranormalists to be valid, they would have to demonstrate how their claims do not contravene those laws, or at the very least they would have to show that they have discovered some hitherto unknown law or laws of physics.

It is claimed that telepathy, for instance, is real, but there is no testable hypothesis suggested, and there is certainly no theory (in the scientific sense) that explains how information can be transmitted directly from one person’s brain (or consciousness) to another. The proponents of such claims sometimes talk in terms of a mysterious energy that is undetectable to science (which just happens to be very good at detecting and measuring energy), but which is somehow just transmitted and received by certain rare people who also cannot explain it in any sensible way that could lead to objective confirmation.

Parapsychologists, of course, claim they have the proof, but when their claims are tested by others they just don’t work. At least they usually seem to be following scientific protocols, but replication is the acid test for any scientific claim; so far, however, no one else can get the same results, so the paranormal is not taken seriously by science. That’s the way it is.

Quite honestly, however, I would not be bothered by science rejecting, say, dowsing, if those dowsers could actually do what they claim they do in the real world. If a dowser could clear minefield after minefield, I would be convinced, never mind what those “closed-minded” scientists say. My own hypothesis, however, is that the number of dowsers it would take to clear a minefield is exactly equal to the number of mines in any minefield. (That hypothesis is testable, so it is a scientific hypothesis. As a proposed experiment it would not pass any ethics committee, of course, but my other hypothesis is that no dowser would volunteer anyway, so it’s a moot point – unless any dowsers want to travel to any of the many war zones in the world to prove me and science wrong.)

Things get murky, however, because there are a lot of enthusiastic but scientifically illiterate paranormal “experts” who go on various “ghost hunts” and “vigils” and so on, promoting absolute nonsense in lieu of rationality. To put it bluntly, they have no idea what they are talking about. They go on about “energy” but flounder about when asked what, exactly, they mean. Over a year ago, I listened to a local radio station broadcast where a group of ghost hunters were interviewed by an equally credulous presenter. One of the interviewees, a local beauty therapist by trade, “explained” that when someone dies, their energy can’t dissipate. It’s electricity, she said, although she didn’t mention Ohm’s Law, or the relationship between voltage, current and resistance in a circuit, nor did she give any of the basic mathematical relationships between those concepts that would explain why the well-established laws of thermodynamics are invalid within her interpretation of reality. Michael Faraday, et al, did not rate even a mention. I can only assume that she is qualified in her chosen career, and that when her clients leave her beauty salon they are (at least in a statistically significant way) less ugly than when they entered. But I think she should stick with make-up rather than making it up.

In short, parapsychologists are doing it wrong, ghost hunters are doing it wrong; psychics, dowsers and all the rest of them are doing it wrong. If they could get it right, there would be no dispute. So, as an aid for those self-styled experts in the paranormal, and as a public service, I present the Bad Thinking Guide For Paranormal Investigators:

Arse elbow illustration 4

Feel free to use the above illustration for educational purposes.

They Called Me A Pseudoskeptic!

No, I don’t believe there is anything paranormal going on. I’m sceptical of extraordinary claims that the psi folk make but which they cannot confirm. It would be different, perhaps, if psychics really did solve crimes, or predict lottery numbers, or if minefields were being routinely cleared by dowsers, or if anything – anything paranormal at all – could be proven clearly and unambiguously.

It seems, however, that anyone like me who doubts the existence of any of the myriad claims made about the paranormal is not merely a sceptic, but a pseudosceptic. Gosh! I need testable, confirmable evidence before I will believe that a claim that contradicts the known physical laws might be true! I just don’t have faith, and that won’t do.

I’ve been called a pseudoskeptic often by the believers, who seem to think that a “true sceptic” is someone who goes through the motions of examining the evidence offered by the psi proponents, and thereafter accepts it uncritically. In fact, it is claimed that the reason people like me do not accept the paranormal is because I just haven’t examined the evidence. But the opposite is true: I spend as much – or more – time looking at paranormal claims and the supposed evidence supporting it as I do reading about actual science. And I find the evidence in favour of the paranormal woefully inadequate. But I do have a knowledge of science and its methodology, although I make no claims to be a practising scientist.

The believers put great emphasis on the research offered by parapsychologists – often people who do actually have scientific credentials. It sounds good to say that scientists have proven the existence of psi; they have Ph.D. qualifications (usually), so what more do I want? Am I just rejecting science that does not conform to my personal prejudices – as the believers claim?

Actually no – I am rejecting research that no mainstream scientist can replicate. That’s a key point, because nothing is accepted in science unless it can be replicated, and even then it can take a long time to overcome the scepticism of other scientists. Plenty of parapsychologists have claimed to have found proof of psi, but if it only happens in their own laboratories, and no-one else can reproduce the same results and there turns out to be absolutely no practical benefits from it, then why believe? If the psi believers and researchers cannot provide evidence that stands up to independent scrutiny then it is reasonable to doubt the claim – to be sceptical, even. After more than a hundred and fifty years of scientists dabbling in paranormal research there is not one single practical application that has come out of any of it. Of course I’m sceptical – any rational person should be.

In the real world, paranormal claims fall flat. Psychics simply do not do the things they – and others – claim for them.

Consider this scenario:

You meet someone who claims to be a concert pianist. He is with a group of his friends who all confirm his story and even offer anecdotes about the concerts he has performed in the past. They tell you that he has been tested by qualified music examiners and passed every test and exam they have put to him. They regale you with accounts of this pianist performing musical feats that seem impossible to you, a non-musician. You protest that there is no evidence that this person has any musical ability, so why should you accept such a claim?

The matter can be resolved, however: there is a piano in the room, so you invite this pianist to play something. You propose that even though you are not a musician, you will accept the claim that this person is at least a pianist if he can play a recognised piece of classical piano music. You will even leave the choice of music to him, just so long as it is a known classical piece. You are not going to accept “Chopsticks” – you want some kind of Waltzy Sonata or something; nothing less will do.

If this person sits down and plays, say, Mozart’s Alla Turka, note-perfect, I think I would be be convinced. And so should any other reasonable person.

But what if your request for the alleged pianist to perform as he claims he can is met with the reply, “It doesn’t work like that”? That’s the standard reply from psychics and their supporters, after all.

And what if you are told that because you are sceptical of his abilities, his musical abilities will not manifest themselves – that’s the way it is in the presence of sceptics and unbelievers?

Suppose he said that he will not do it because the piano that is there is an upright, and the performance of music on anything less than a Steinberg  grand piano is “not conducive” to musical performance?

What if he said to you, “The production of music is a rare and elusive phenomenon that cannot be called up at will”?

Maybe he might say, “Musical phenomena are spontaneous and cannot be predicted, so I can’t be expected to perform on demand.”

OK, then, suppose he finally agrees to do the test and sits down at the piano, only to produce nothing more than a jumble of notes with no melody whatsoever. He might acknowledge that he got it wrong then, but he assures you that he gets it right about eighty or ninety percent of the time, i.e., every time you are unable to see or hear him perform.

By now I think I would conclude that this fellow can’t play a piano. I might even tell him to his face that I don’t believe he has any musical ability.

But then his followers would probably call “foul.” They just know that he can do what he claims, because they have heard him with their own ears, not realising that they are themselves tone deaf and have no knowledge of music theory.

In a similar way, psychics and their supporters are like that. They have lots of faith, but no knowledge of how science works, or even what constitutes valid evidence (and no, anecdotes are not evidence).

If you have watched some of the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent auditions by people who are truly awful singers but who – together with their supporters – believe they are great performers, you might start to understand my analogy. The show’s judges – who do know something about music – can usually be relied on to weed out the hopefuls who cannot do what they think they can.

The reality is not that I have not studied what the paranormalists believe is evidence for the paranormal; in fact,  they themselves have little or no understanding of science. Even many of the parapsychologists who do have scientific credentials are themselves practising pseudoscience. In fact the believers often dismiss empirical findings with the casual refrain, “Science doesn’t know everything.” Some self-styled “experts” also claim to have evidence but they just won’t let you examine it. And science itself is usually referred to by the derogatory term “scientism.”  Oooooh!

If there is such a person as a pseudosceptic, then its definition boils down to this: a pseudosceptic is another name for a denialist. A denialist, like a believer, has a fixed point of view that is impervious to reason. I can be convinced of the existence of the paranormal if anyone can ever prove it. A belief backed up only by excuses for constant failure will not do it for me; nor will anecdotes, personal testimony, heartfelt declarations and so on.

Show me a psychic that can actually do anything psychic and I will accept it. But make a claim for the existence of psi without backing it up with testable evidence and I will doubt it. That’s what scepticism is about.

For your entertainment:

Here is someone who claims to be a pianist, and actually proves it. This is brilliant.

Someone who does what he claims.

 

Here are some people who genuinely believe they have talent, but are making complete fools of themselves. Tragic and sad.

Ambition goes beyond ability

 

Here are some psychics who do what psychics do, (fail when tested) but just happen to be exposed as charlatans. (And they didn’t see it coming, for some inexplicable reason.)

Psychics: the reality

 

Naturally, it might just be that the three mediums featured above were just having an off day. I mean, psi doesn’t work like that, does it? It’s a rare and elusive phenomenon that can’t be called up at will. They are also in the presence of a sceptic and the conditions are therefore not conducive to psychic effects Etc., etc., etc.

No doubt there will be believers who will make excuses – as they always do – for these psychics and other psychics who can’t do anything psychic. But the main point still remains: paranormal proponents have yet to prove beyond any doubt that the paranormal is real. They have not done that, nor have they produced a testable hypothesis that would make any headway into psi, and they certainly do not have anything approaching what could be described as a theory (in the scientific sense) that can explain psi or be predictive in any way that science would accept.

No one can prove a negative, so no one can actually disprove the existence of the paranormal. The burden of proof is on those who claim that the paranormal is real; until they do so, I remain sceptical.

There is nothing pseudo about reasonable doubt.

Psychic Refuses Scientific Testing

Celebrity psychic Derek Acorah has been arrested this week after his Nissan sports car was in a collision with another vehicle. Although the famed medium was uninjured in the accident, the two occupants of the other vehicle were taken to hospital suffering from possible whiplash injuries.

Acorah has been charged with careless driving, but he declined an offer to be scientifically tested to see whether he had been interacting with the world of spirits – he refused a breath test, so he’s been charged with that as well.

This is one case where no psychic powers are needed to work out what the outcome of that is going to be.