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Journal of No. 118

January 4th, 2006

Hindsight is 20/20, Second Sight is Baloney @ 09:25 am

Apparently, Sylvia Browne was on George Noory's radio show last night. When the topic of the lucky surviving WV miners came up, she said she knew it all along. Of course, what she knew was wrong, because all but one of them was, in fact, dead.

The media is taking lumps from all directions from outraged, grieving families, from its watchdogs and from itself. But no one will take Sylvia to task for her fantasies passed off as fact. Her own reaction was apparently to bash the media for making her post-diction look foolish.

Sure, telephone psychics are all labelled 'for entertainment value only', but how many people disregard that warning and waste their money? Enough that Miss Cleo alone had racked up $1 Billion with a B during three years of operation. Were people that desperate for entertainment? And Sylvia doesn't say that her services are for entertainment only. It's the genuine article, except (of course) when she's wrong. But what have you got to lose, other than $700 for a 30 minute phone call?

It's not just the money that pisses me off, but the way psychics prey on the fragile and despairing. Just ask Marc Klaas, father of Polly Klaas:

"I have very strong feelings about psychics," Klaas said Tuesday. "They're part of a second wave of predators. The first wave is the person who takes the child. The second is the ambulance-chasing lawyers, the exploitation journalists and psychics. She came up with the same crap that we heard from every other psychic we talked to. She said she saw rolling hills and green trees and a babbling brook. She described nearly every spot in northern California."

Or perhaps you might ask Elizabeth Smart's uncle about his dealings with PSI-TECH, who declared that Elizabeth was dead? Or imagine yourself in Elizabeth's shoes; imagine that psychics have told your family and the police that you're dead; imagine them searching for bodies on a psychic wild goose-chase, while you're being sexually assaulted by a nutball.

Everyone yells at the media when they get it wrong; why do the psychics get a free pass?

Edited to Add: Partial Transcript from Faux News:

Noory: "Had you been on the program today, would [you] have felt if — because they heard no sound — that this was a very gloomy moment — and that they might have all died?"

Browne: "No. I knew they were going to be found. I hate people that say something after the fact."
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Date:January 5th, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC)
Hold on, you mean to tell me that Montel Williams might be promoting a fraud. Dude, that's not the Montel I know. Maury, hell yes, but Montel? No way. That guy was in a Perry Mason tv movie! Next you'll be telling me that there weren't any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or that I won't soon be a millionaire despite letting my new Nigerian friend have access to my bank account to transfer some money out of his country.

All kidding aside, of course, I did happen to tune into Browne's "Predictions for 2006" episode on Montel. I could only stomach it by taping and then fast forwarding through all the interactions with audience members. What I came away with was this... Psychics can be put into two camps, the believers and the frauds. Believers are those who truly believe they have the gift and pronounce their intuitions as examples of it. They use cold reading methods largely unconsciously due to skills they have with empathy and social interaction. I didn't use to think this type existed, but judicious research into cults and their techniques shows that self-delusion is as easy (perhaps easier) than deluding others. (And who knows, maybe they do occassionally have some psychic experiences. I'll allow them the possibility. But I won't be paying $700 for a reading like Browne charges!)

The other side is the fraud. And generally, I'm inclined to think that there isn't any way of becoming a famous psychic without becoming a fraud. Think about it. If you believe you have psychic powers of any sort, it becomes apparent that they aren't very reliable. As a result, you tend to construct reasons for why your predictions don't always work out. And that means that your predictions come out as "I have a strong feeling that you'll find your cat and I'm usually right" instead of the more impressive "They'll be a nuclear accident in the Florida panhandle during the Summer of 2006. You can count on it." The latter is, of course, the way Browne conducts herself and the only way to become a famous psychic. You can't hedge your bets by explaining that you might be wrong, you have to be straight forward and give the impression that you are always performing at your best. Its only afterwards that you allow the possibility that your prediction might have been faulty.

Which brings us to this latest incident. Take notice of how Browne doesn't say, "I knew they were alive." She says instead, "I knew they were going to be found." There is enough ambiguity here that she can legitimately claim that she knew they would be found, but not that they'd be found alive. She can say that at that moment, she believed that they'd be found dead, except maybe for one, but that the news reported it differently. So she doubted herself. She took the credit that she knew they'd be found, but choose to omit her mistake that they'd be found dead. She now regrets that she didn't admit her mistake since it would have silenced her critics so eager to find fault with her.

That's how I think she'll spin it anyhow.

The problem is that no one who really thinks they are psychic is going to talk like that. They won't talk as though they know everything they say needs to be open to different interpretations. (Though with the present wiretapping of Americans going on, we'd best start learning.)

--- Steven Marc Harris
Date:January 7th, 2006 09:04 am (UTC)
True dat.

There was a great article in the New Yorker recently on "experts" (reviewing a nonfiction book dealing with the topic).

Experts as in political pundits, mostly, and how they "predict" things based on current social events. They also go into how they are often more wrong than random guessing. It's human nature to generalize and predict things (the article goes into), and those who make the more outlandish predictions get the bigger spotlight (and money).

Anywya, go read it now. It's not just psychics (or "phyics", as I like to call them, based on a huge blue awning on the Atlantic City boardwalk) who do this, it's everyone who thinks they know anything about the world.

Journal of No. 118