Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cashing In On Tragedy Yet Again...

"Psychic detective" seems to me to be a contradiction in terms on the level of "fuel efficient SUV" or "a wonderful film by Andreas Schnaas". When psychics pretend to help the police, all they do is spout off trite vagaries (which is what psychics do in all situations) while distracting the real investigators from doing their job. I mention this because Court TV (or whatever it calls itself these days) is running a dizzying number of advertisements for its show "Haunting Evidence", in which a team of psychics play pretend while talking about famous "cold cases". Apparently tonight the show will be making a mockery of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, who vanished, and was presumably murdered, while vacationing in Aruba over 3 years ago.

The Court TV show follows a crew of three paranormalists, each one crazier than the last. The leader of the group is Patrick Burns, who is billed as a trained paranormal investigator despite having only a high school diploma. I suppose your level of education doesn't matter much when you're just making things up as you go along. Next up is Carla Baron, who claims to have been involved in a number of high profile cases, such as the JonBenet Ramsey case and the Nicole Brown Simpson investigation. Many of her claims are outright lies, while essentially all of the others are grossly exaggerated. The third musketeer on the show is a fellow named John J. Oliver, whose website not only details his magical psychic services AND sells audio tapes to help give you ESP (for a mere $20), but also refers visitors to a dojang where they can study Tae Kwon Do. (He claims that it is TKD that helped him "develop the mind necessary to work as a psychic detective".)

"Haunting Evidence" has thus far dealt with something in the area of 21 cases in the three years that it's been running. So far the psychics have a stellar record of exactly 0-21 for solving cases, though one case profiled on the show, the 2003 rape and murder of Katie Sepich, has since been solved through conventional means. One thing that has always puzzled me is that if I, as a private, non-psychic citizen, were to go to the police about an ongoing investigation and just start making things up, I'd be charged with obstruction of justice and probably spend the next few years of my life locked in an tiny cell with a man named Lucy, whereas psychics apparently lie to the cops with impunity. Now maybe some of these psychics really are just batshit and they actually do think that they have magical D&D powers, but surely most of them know that they're bullshitting. It must take a special kind of hubris of march up to law enforcement and deliberately start misleading investigators while smiling for the cameras and smugly proclaiming to the credulous public that you're just "using your gifts" to help.

So-called "psychic investigators" do little more than swoop in to prey upon the grief and confusion of people who have lost loved ones and bloat themselves on the publicity and cash that's showered on them by the "gee-whiz" media. That being said, I think a better term for "psychic detective" would be "vulture".

For more information on fraudulent psychic investigators being caught in the act, check out and also the CSICOP articles linked here and here.


Jay said...

Skippy -

I've got to disagree with your conjecture that most psychics know they're bullshitting. While I suspect some do, I'd be willing to bet you a bottle of Arrogant Bastard that a significant number of them sincerely believe what they're spouting.

You've got a huge amount of confirmation bias here - every "hit" makes much more of an impression than a bucket load of misses. (It's really no different than the person who walks away from a bus wreck thanking God for miraculoulsly saving her while ignoring the bloody carnage of everyone who was injured.)

As you're well aware, the Psychic Friends have a fairly well-architected set of reasons why they often don't succeed. In their view, the negative energy of blog posts like yours probably contributes to their reduced effectiveness. I'm kind of surprised that one of them hasn't made some sort of very public appeal to have all skeptical websites removed since the negative vibes are keeping them from catching criminals...

Skippy the Skeptic said...

I dunno man, I suspect a larger number of them than you seem to deem likely know that they're just jerking people's chains. Many of the psychics that are prominent in the public eye, like Sylvia Browne and some of the other popular cold readers, seem to me to very likely know exactly what they're doing.

Jay said...

I think you're allowing the media-savvy ones to swamp your data here. I've very little doubt that the Sylvia Brownes, the John Edwardses, the James VanPraaghs, and such know exactly what they're doing. I don't think that the lady with the neon palm in her front window on the side of the road in the suburbs does.

Eh. Even if they're sincere, it doesn't make them right.