Respectful Insolence

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Last night, I was sitting on the couch, my laptop, appropriately enough, on my lap creating my paean to Homeopathy Awareness Week in which I had a little fun discussing homeopathic plutonium. Because Homeopathy Awareness week is not yet over, I’ll probably have one more bit of fun at the expense of The One Woo To Rule Them All before it’s over. However, while I was getting into the possibilities suggested to me by diluting and succussing plutonium in order to treat all sorts of “Pluto-y” illnesses, I happened to flip through the channels, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a commercial for last night’s Hannity that actually caught my eye.

Sean Hannity was going to interview that psychic fraud, John Edward. Yes, that John Edward, the guy who has taken cold reading to new levels of popularity by claiming he can speak with the dead. I was intrigued.

Now, dear readers, many are the depredations of pseudoscience, quackery, and paranormal bullshit that I have endured for you, all in order to bring you nearly each and every day (some weekends excepted) only the finest in Insolence, both Respectful and not-so-Respectful. I’ve watched Jenny McCarthy. I’ve delved into the anti-vaccine lunacy that is Generation Rescue and Age of Autism and the quackery promotion that is Mike Adams’ NaturalNews.com. I’ve read Vox Day. I’ve even delved into the deepest depths of mighty white power ranger racist sites to the point where I felt like I needed a shower–nay, a hosing down with a firehose–afterward. That’s why I momentarily thought about actually–shudder–watching Hannity, all the better to report to do a blog post about it last night and serve up the skepticism hot and fresh. I thought better of it, though. The reason is that there are some things that I won’t do even for my readers, and suffering through Sean Hannity’s smug, self-righteous, Limbaugh wannabe schtick is not one of them. I’ll listen to Rush occasionally if there’s a reason to do so. Believe it or not, Rush is sometimes entertaining, his idiocy on many matters notwithstanding. Hannity, however, is Limbaugh, only without any of the wit or talent.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I won’t read the transcript of John Edward’s appearance and have a little fun with it, both for my amusement and (hopefully) yours.

Before I start, let me just preface my post by saying that I really despise self-proclaimed “psychics” like John Edward or Sylvia Browne. They are dishonest ghouls who prey upon credulous people who have experienced a tragedy. No amount of opprobrium is too much to heap upon such crooks. That being said, you can tell immediately that Sean Hannity is clueless (what else is new?) by how he introduces the piece:

Psychic medium John Edward is well known for his ability to connect the dead with the loved ones they have left behind, and while sometimes the connection could be upsetting, it’s not always the case.

Sean, Sean, Sean. Let me fix that statement for you: “Con man John Edward is well known for his ability to use cold reading to convince the credulous that he can speak with the dead.”

There, that’s much better.

Not surprisingly, Sean thinks himself a “skeptic”:

HANNITY: All right. I’m a bit of a skeptic. But you’re saying in articles and stuff you don’t answer skeptics that much. You’re not trying to convince people to buy into what you’re doing.

EDWARD: Right.

HANNITY: Why? Why don’t you feel a need to defend what is a controversial practice?

EDWARD: That’s the reason, right there. Because as soon as — as soon as you have to defend something, then you’re admitting that something needs defense. So I kind of, like — I come from a place of I’m a spiritual person. I believe in God. I would never defend my belief in God. People either do believe or they don’t believe, and that’s OK. That’s their choice.

So I feel the same way about this. As soon as I go to a place I have to defend it, I feel like you immediately lose. I have no problem explaining it, though, or trying to teach about it.

Like wow, man. I’m so…like…awed by the profundity. I mean, really. Think about it. As soon as you have to defend something, like, maaaaan, it means it’s something that needs defending. Whoa (channeling Keanu Reeves in The Matrix). Of course, this is a lovely (and remarkably lazy) excuse for not defending his claim that he can communicate with the dead. Indeed, the reason John Edward feels that he “immediately loses” when he has to defend himself is because, well, what he does is indefensible and vile. He really does lose each and every any time he’s forced to defend his woo, mainly because he comes across as the slick con man that he is. However, even assuming that what Edward does were not indefensible and vile, if he can really do what he says he can do, why not defend it? Why not prove it? Fame and riches could be his. Oh, wait. Fame and riches are already his. Trying to prove his ability scientifically can only hurt him. Refusing to “defend” himself keeps the gravy train rolling.

Now, let’s see what our resident “skeptic” Sean Hannity has to say:

HANNITY: That’s fine. I’ve read a lot about you, and I think — and I’ve watched you a number of times. I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other about what you do. I really don’t. And I’ve watched and observed.

But I have seen people in your industry, just like in, you know, religious evangelicals. And I’m a Christian. I was born and raised a Catholic. I’m a Christian. But I think there are people that are frauds that are ministers.

Do you see people in your industry that you think are frauds and hucksters and phonies and harmful?

It was very, very hard to restrain myself from laughing out loud uproariously at this. Frauds and hucksters among psychic mediums? Being a fraud and a huckster is the sine qua non of being a “psychic medium.” Well, maybe not in every case; a lot of psychics honestly believe they have the ability to speak to the dead or read minds, or whatever. Indeed, many such hapless souls who agree to be tested under controlled conditions in, for example, James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge, are honestly chagrined when they fail the test. They really thought they had something, a talent that no one else (or only very few) had, but the cold light of science and reality show them that they don’t. Almost inevitably, though, the self-delusion of such people is so great that they usually find excuses to justify why they failed, most often involving something lame like not being able to function under the conditions they had agreed to beforehand.

I also really like Hannity’s insistence that he has “no opinion one way or the other” about what Edward and other “psychic mediums” do. Really? That would explain a lot about how day after day Hannity can dish out right wing talking points so idiotic that they make any intelligent conservative cringe in embarrassment. Of course, it’s also fairly amusing in that Hannity virtually always has an opinion about pretty much everything he ever talks about. Why no opinion here? Maybe it’s because he’s promoting Edward’s latest endeavor. Whatever the reason, John Edward’s reply is a tour de force of, well, pure bullshit. (There’s just no other word for it.) Showing that he has absolutely no sense of irony (or perhaps such a finely developed sense of irony that he puts us all to shame), John Edward has a reply that almost made my head explode when I read it:

EDWARD: I absolutely think that there are individuals. I mean, I think there are people who actually seek an opportunity, and they can do that. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s important for people to empower themselves with information, so that they know what’s real, what’s not real. Like, I don’t believe, personally, that all these gifted psychics would be sitting at home waiting for you to call them on a 900 line. I don’t see that.

HANNITY: That’s what I mean. That’s fair.

Ah, skepticism! (Kind of like “Ah, Venice!” but without Harrison Ford and the sex.) That’s right, folks. Edward is telling you to arm yourself with information and watch out for those nasty fake psychics. Be “empowered,” just like Jenny McCarthy “empowers” parents and Hulda Clark “empowers” cancer patients. Personally, my retort would be that I don’t believe personally that a truly gifted psychic (if such a person existed) would be scamming the credulous on TV and on the Internet, as John Edward does. But that’s just me.

Hannity does try to demonstrate some actual skepticism later in the interview. The problem is, he’s doing it wrong:

HANNITY: It’s a great book. And it talks about — and I, when I read this book about how he had literally been, you know, declared dead, went to heaven, describes the scene in the book, and it’s very believable to me.

Hypnosis I believe is real. The only problem I guess I have is that, you know, if God or somebody who passed on in my life wanted to talk to me, why wouldn’t they come directly to me? Why would I need you?

Shockingly, despite all the mystical nonsense about a near-death experience and description of heaven that preceded it, that’s actually not that bad a question. If he exists and wanted to pass on a message to me (or anyone else), why would God need a huckster like Edward as a messenger? If there really was life after death, and the deceased wanted to get a message to the living, why would they need someone like Edward? Naturally, Edward has a response:

EDWARD: I think they do. That’s a great question. I think they do. And one of my — one of my things, you know, when I was a kid, and I started doing this 25 years ago, my grandmother would hear me say to my clients, you know, “You don’t need me. If you pay attention to the energy that’s around you, you’ll be able to recognize the signs and symbols of how your family communicates with you.”

And then these people leave, and my grandmother would go, “What are you telling people stuff like that for? You’re not going to have any business.”

And I’m like, “Listen, it’s not about business. It’s about teaching.” And I said, “And if I can, you know, raise somebody’s awareness to recognize that they’re family’s OK.”

Such a generous human being that John Edward. A regular humanitarian, that guy. Everyone can speak with God or the dead. They just don’t know how, and Edward, benevolent and caring soul that he is, just wants to teach them. Still, Hannity tries on his skeptic shoes one more time. He does it poorly, but at least he tries. Sort of. He asks Edward if he uses cold reading or microphones:

HANNITY: Do you actually hear voices? Because as — look, I’ve read all your critics. I read the New York Times magazine. I read the whole dateline thing. TIME accusing you of using these very — you know, cold read, where you can read people.

I’ve been able to read people my entire life, because I’ve interviewed people now for 20-some-odd years. So you can read people that way.

Or Houdini used to have microphones, and he’d pick up stories, and then he’d seem like a genius: “I know exactly what you’re thinking.” But meanwhile, they’d picked that up earlier. So there are techniques that hucksters and fraud people use. You’re saying you never use that?

EDWARD: Never. No, actually…

HANNITY: Never? Do you use open-ended questions?

EDWARD: No.

HANNITY: Never? I’ve watched your show. You seem to ask, like…

EDWARD: I’ll ask questions to help people validate the information, so that if I’m getting information, I want to know that I’m actually saying that.

But one of the things that I — I call that lazy mediumship, actually. And when I say “lazy mediumship,” it’s like I can say to you, “Is your dad passed?” And you can say yes or no.

Or I can say, “Your dad has passed, yes?” I’m basically giving you the same information and I’m asking you to validate, because I don’t know…

Of course, open-ended questions are not really a necessary part of cold reading. At least, they don’t have to be. Cold reading tends to involve asking questions for which the expected answer would be common, often throwing out so many questions and options, the answer to the vast majority of which is “no.” However, when the cold reader asks enough questions, sooner or later he gets a “hit” that allows him to hone in more on what he wants to learn. This is known in the psychic scammer biz as “fishing for details.” Bob Carroll elaborates:

Fishing is a real art and a good mentalist carries a variety of bait in his memory. For example, professional mentalist and author of one of the best books on cold reading, Ian Rowland (2002), says that he has committed to memory such things as the most common male and female names and a list of items likely to be lying about the house such as an old calendar, a photo album, newspaper clippings, and so on. Rowland also works on certain themes that are likely to resonate with most people who consult psychics: love, money, career, health, and travel.

Also, human nature being what it is the mark and audience generally remember the few hits and forget the many, many misses. Clearly (and not surprisingly), Hannity is easily snookered because he simply doesn’t understand what cold reading is. It also doesn’t help that Edward lies like a rug, as demonstrated here when he denies editing his show in order to eliminate most of the “misses” of cold reading:

HANNITY: Let me ask you this. Did you — in your show do you edit out parts that doesn’t make you look good, as TIME magazine?

EDWARD: You can literally — you can speak to every…

HANNITY: You read the piece that said that you do?

EDWARD: Absolutely.

HANNITY: You don’t do that?

EDWARD: They edit it for time. People edit for time. But if they took out things that were inaccurate, they took out things that were more accurate, I tell them all the time, if you see this work done live, it’s better than what you would see on TV.

Actually, maybe Edward is not actually lying. Notice how he never actually denied editing out parts that make him look bad. He never actually said, “No, I don’t do that.” Instead, he moved on to editing for time. Very clever. Well, not really, but it was enough for Hannity, who concluded with this gem:

And I hope you use it for good. And not like some of these hucksters. These people in New York are nuts, you know, that supposedly do this for a living.

Because, you know, to Sean Hannity all those other psychics other than John Edward are hucksters. There really are “real” psychics, and John Edward is one of them. Not only that, but John Edward is using his talent for good. Good for John Edward, that is, particularly his bank statement and investment portfolio. Also good for promoting his unbelievably woo-filled new website, Infinite Quest, which requires a membership (both free and paid, of course). It’s all there: Astrology, Tarot, numerology, reincarnation, alternative medicine. And I’m sure it will make John Edward lots of money.

No wonder Hannity was able to parrot so dutifully Bush Administration talking points all those years.

Comments

  1. #1 Skeptico
    June 18, 2009

    Edward doesn’t use open-ended questions?!  Here’s a few direct Edward quotes from John Edward Re-revisited

    Does the month of August have a meaning for her, or the 8th of a month?

    The first thing that’s coming through is I’m getting the feeling that April or the fourth of a month holds some type of a meaning. In the family does April have a meaning? Birthday or anniversary?

    Is there an Anne in that family?

    OK, do you know if she just miscarried or if somebody’s just lost a baby there?

    OK. Does she have a brother who’s passed?

    It’s an older male though; who is this?

    Now, is there a Ganette or a Janet-

    Kathy, did your mom pass from congestive heart failure?

    Kathy, did your mom pass from congestive heart failure?

    Was he in a different country from you?

    Did dad go first?

    Who had the leg missing?

  2. #2 James Sweet
    June 18, 2009

    My favorite story about a psychic reading: In college a friend did a Tarot card reading for me, and while that would not technically be a “cold reading” (because she knew me) she was just reading the descriptions of the cards straight out of the book, with no personal interpretation.

    It was scary how accurate it was… it seemed to perfectly describe a crisis I was going through at the time, and provide pretty good advice on how to solve it, to boot.

    Except here’s the kicker: We discovered part way through the reading that we had failed to sufficiently shuffle the deck (it was brand new) and a lot of cards were just showing up in the sequence in which they had been packaged. Here was the most “accurate” psychic reading I’ve ever had in my life, and it was coming from a person who had no idea what she was doing, and an insufficiently shuffled deck of tarot cards. The only possible explanation was that the cards and the descriptions were meaningless, and that it was rather me projected my current emotional state onto the prose that made it seem so accurate.

    So yeah, whenever some supposed psychic seems to have a “hit”, or when something just seems “too coincidental,” I think back to that fateful Tarot card reading.

  3. #3 Ranson
    June 18, 2009

    I wonder how much Edward paid for that infomercial.

    I mean, he’s not even a good cold reader. Not as bad as the Talons , but certainly not good.

  4. #4 JD
    June 18, 2009

    Yep, Edward could fit in a matchbox.

  5. #5 Antiquated Tory
    June 18, 2009

    I think James Sweet has illustrated the usefulness of things like tarot and I Ching. If you’re faced with a decision they can help you sort your thoughts out and see what you’re supposed to do (esp when you know what it is anyway but haven’t quite acknowledged it at the conscious level). A Chinese roommate explained the I Ching to me like this, adding that the ‘fortune telling’ nonsense was just something the intellectually unsophisticated used it for. He left me with the impression, on this and other matters, that the Chinese were “Straussian” quite some centuries before Leo Strauss was born.

  6. #6 Calli Arcale
    June 18, 2009

    However, when the cold reader asks enough questions, sooner or later he gets a “hit” that allows him to hone in more on what he wants to learn. This is known in the psychic scammer biz as “fishing for details.”

    This relies on a very essential part of human nature, of course, and that’s the fact that we like to talk about ourselves and our experiences. While this is good for building societies and sharing knowledge among the community, it can be exploited. If you’ve ever been through ISO audit training, or other forms of security training, the most important thing drilled into you (if the training is at all effective) is to never offer information. When you are obliged to give information, make it succinct and tell no more than you actually have to. In an audit, elaborating can be confusing and if you speak outside of your area of expertise, may give the auditor a false impression. (I remember my team failing an audit once because of that. We were in full compliance, but the way we answered the questions gave the impression that we were not.) In a security situation, the ramifications can be more serious, and this is actually the basis of most espionage. Very rarely do they do the cool James Bond stuff. Most of the time, spies (both government and industrial) get their information simply by asking for it.

    “Psychics” do the same thing, of course, though their objective is to relieve you of some money rather than to extract valuable information. But those fishing expeditions can be quite profitable. And most people who give up information won’t even be aware that they did it.

  7. #7 Linda
    June 18, 2009

    You obviously have never had a reading. I’ve had one that told me things no one else would ever know. So, I don’t think you should call someone a con-man, and show your ignorance. Also, I’m sorry you don’t like Sean Hannity’s show, but no reeason to be so rude. I think he makes a lot or sense and so do millions of viewers. So you might need to look inward to critque yourself instead of others.

  8. #8 Happeh
    June 18, 2009

    Scientists cannot be trusted. They are all about money

    The story below is about scientists who would print false facts for public consumption. As long as you paid them enough.
    ———

    “The editor-in-chief of an academic journal has resigned after his publication accepted a hoax article.

    The Open Information Science Journal failed to spot that the incomprehensible computer-generated paper was a fake. This was despite heavy hints from its authors, who claimed they were from the Centre for Research in Applied Phrenology – which forms the acronym Crap.

    The journal, which claims to subject every paper to the scrutiny of other academics, so-called “peer review”, accepted the paper.

    Philip Davis, a graduate student at the University of Ithaca in New York, who was behind the hoax, said he wanted to test the editorial standards of the journal’s publisher, Bentham Science Publishers.”
    ——–

    You scientists do not know everything. This story proves it. That journal’s editors were not smart enough in an area outside of their expertise to understand if the submitted computer generated paper was real or not.

    You all are not smart enough and do not have the expertise to understand if Happeh Theory is real or not.

  9. #9 Shay
    June 18, 2009

    I will start to take Hannity seriously AFTER he has subjected himself to his promised water-boarding.

    (Then again, maybe not. It’s hard to respect someone who repeatedly uses the word “teabagging” with a straight face).

  10. #10 Squillo
    June 18, 2009

    Wait: Edwards wants people to “empower themselves with information, so that they know what’s real, what’s not real” but refuses to defend his beliefs.

    Where are we supposed to get the information to empower ourselves?

    Maybe we’re supposed to use our own psychic powers.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    June 18, 2009

    Also, I’m sorry you don’t like Sean Hannity’s show, but no reeason to be so rude. I think he makes a lot or sense and so do millions of viewers.

    And we can’t criticize Twilight until we’ve written a book which has sold ten million copies, right?

    That journal’s editors were not smart enough in an area outside of their expertise to understand if the submitted computer generated paper was real or not.

    Fortunately, random people stopping by my blog were all smarter than those journal editors.

  12. #12 bob
    June 18, 2009

    In Richard Wiseman’s Quirkology, he reprinted an astrological reading that something like 80% of people would agree “fits them perfectly” or “contains info [they] couldn’t know naturally.”

    All you have to do is speak vaguely and phrase your statements like so: “in general, you are X, but in some situations you’re not-X.” Only extreme personalities wouldn’t fit that mold. But, if you sell it well, it sounds amazingly accurate to individuals.

    And, who is Happeh?

  13. #13 simba
    June 18, 2009

    Happeh theory, yay! It’s like Christmas during exams…

    Happeh has many and fascinating theories on how (i) women have freakishly pointy feet because of their yin energy which is why they wear pointy shoes which are never, ever painful (ii) all martial arts skills can be learned from dragonball z, (iii) people are giant triangles…
    It’s basically something which would make Freud go into paroxysms of delight. He’s either an uber-troll or one of the most insane and deluded people on the internet.
    He showed up at badscience as well.
    http://www.happehtheory.com/

  14. #14 James Sweet
    June 18, 2009

    @Linda: Please read my comment #2 above. I know that subjectively the reading your received felt eerily accurate. That doesn’t mean anything supernatural was happening.

    @Antiquated Tory: I tentatively agree… although great care must be taken, because these memes are really dangerous if people take them too seriously.

    In addition, this quote from Richard Dawkins is relevant:

    Scientific truth is too beautiful to be sacrificed for the sake of light entertainment or money. Astrology is an aesthetic affront. It cheapens astronomy, like using Beethoven for commercial jingles.

    (shrug) I dunno… like I say, I partially agree with you, but I am more cautious about endorsing that then I was five or ten years ago.

  15. #15 Joshua White
    June 18, 2009

    From an earlier thread someone mentioned imagining Happeh talking like elmo. I never watched it so that didn’t work for me. However if anyone here is a Ranma 1/2 fan the character Happosai was called “Happy” a few times in the series. Now I hear Happosai talking in my head when Happeh talks. I hope he never goes away I love the lols.

  16. #16 Raging Bee
    June 18, 2009

    Yes, John Edwards is clearly bogus, whether he admits it to himself or not. But “vile?” Isn’t that a bit harsh? I’ve watched Edwards, and even though I don’t believe any of it, he really seems, at worst, to be just a guy making lots of money telling grieving people certain soothing non-substantial things they may need to hear to feel better and get on with their own lives. Where’s the harm in telling someone “your dead mother/son/whatever is okay, and loves you, and wants you to be happy in this world?” That’s certainly a helpful tonic for someone who may have been conditioned to believe his dead relatives are burning in Hell for the rest of eternity because they touched themselves in an impure manner or something. Unless there’s a side to Edwards I have yet to see, there’s all kinds of BS that earn the title “vile” far more than he ever will.

    And let’s face it — that quote of his about how everyone can “talk to the dead” themselves, without his help, is a pretty honest admission for his line of “work.”

  17. #17 Anon
    June 18, 2009

    I’ve given cold readings and had people react like Linda.

  18. #18 colmcq
    June 18, 2009

    I think JE is genuinly deranged and not neccesarily nefarious (I have no evidence either way).

    I find his shows entertaining though, especially when he gets things very WrOnG. But you know what, if this is the only way for people to get closure then good luck to them – individual choice etc although a better alternative may be for them to see a proffessional councelor or pyschologist or therapist, but some people just wont do that I guess.

    Discuss…

    right, I’m back to work….

  19. #19 DLC
    June 18, 2009

    It’s simple. I refuse to take a reading from anyone who has not claimed the $1,000,000 James Randi Educational Foundation prize. The million is out there, just waiting for someone to claim it. So why hasn’t John Edward ? Becuase he knows full well he won’t succeed.

    For Bob @12: Happeh is a guy who suffered through some Respectful Insolence™, didn’t like it, and so now hangs around here nay-saying everything Orac posts.

  20. #20 John
    June 18, 2009

    Raging Bee:

    What’s the harm, you ask?

    http://whatstheharm.net/psychics.html

  21. #21 snoeman
    June 18, 2009

    There was a South Park episode a few years ago that skewered John Edward. I wish I could remember the dialogue exactly, but there was a great exchange that went something like:

    John Edward: “I’m a psychic who talks to the dead.”

    Kyle: “No, dude, you’re a douche.”

    John Edward (angrily): “What if it’s not an act? What if I really believe I can talk to the dead?”

    Kyle: “Then you’re a stupid douche.”

  22. #22 Stu
    June 18, 2009

    It’s basically something which would make Freud go into paroxysms of delight.

    Naaaaahhh… it’s not like he has a pathological fixation on masturbation and peni or anything!

    Oh, wait.

  23. #23 Sastra
    June 18, 2009

    “Because as soon as — as soon as you have to defend something, then you’re admitting that something needs defense. So I kind of, like — I come from a place of I’m a spiritual person. I believe in God. I would never defend my belief in God. People either do believe or they don’t believe, and that’s OK. That’s their choice.
    So I feel the same way about this. As soon as I go to a place I have to defend it, I feel like you immediately lose. I have no problem explaining it, though, or trying to teach about it.”

    Really, it’s getting hard to find a pseudoscientist who doesn’t somehow manage to drag in God, and the importance of believing in God, and the importance of having faith and trust that there are things beyond the material world — and hey, the same kind of people who believe these things will then accept my pseudoscience! Conversely, the people who are skeptical about my pseudoscience are behaving just like atheists: close-minded, hostile to beauty, and unwilling to believe anything beyond the material. So they’ve got their skeptic-as-villain, ready-made.

    Many people who are skeptical of pseudoscience are also skeptical of religion — and the pseudoscientists love to use this against honest challenge to their claims. It’s one of their favorite talking points, and the perfect dodge. They take the warm culturally-acceptable fuzzies associated with “having faith” in one form of magic, and try to co-opt it for another form of magic.

    The template is already there. You have to want to believe, and then you’ll have all the evidence you need. Jonathon Edward will be found genuine in the same way prayers will be labeled as “answered.” The believer does all the work.

    Phony psychic Sylvia Browne first accepted, and then refused James Randi’s million dollar challenge. After quibbling over whether the money was actually there (it was), she escaped from her commitment by breezily announcing that Randi was an atheist, and therefore she couldn’t and wouldn’t deal with him. To the woos, this made perfect sense, and was a very acceptable excuse.

  24. #24 Karl Withakay
    June 18, 2009

    “Whoa (channeling Keanu Reeves in The Matrix)”

    Just in case we might have thought you were channeling Joey Lawrence. ;)
    ——————————————–
    “I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other about what you do. I really don’t.”

    In my experience, more often than not, when someone says they don’t have an opinion on something, it usually (but not always) means they really do, but deny it so they can maintain the appearance of impartial objectivity.

  25. #25 Stu
    June 18, 2009

    snoeman: You mean “The Biggest Douche In The Universe”.

    John Edward gets the award.

    http://www.southparkstudios.com/guide/615

  26. #26 Stu
    June 18, 2009

    Ah, found the dialog. I heartily recommend watching the episode at the link above — it has Stan doing cold readings in it.

    Stan: Look, my friend Kyle won’t fly back home to Colorado. All I need you to do is talk to him and tell him, ya know, that the whole talking to dead people isn’t real.

    John Edward: Maybe it is for real.

    Stan: Right, but it’s not. It’s a trick you do, and I need you to just let my friend Kyle know that so that he can go on with his life.

    John Edward: Look. People have the right to be skeptical. I really hear voices in my head.

    Stan: Yes. We all hear voices in our heads. It’s called intuition. Get over yourself and tell my friend it’s just for fun.

    John Edward: Look. What I do doesn’t hurt anybody. I give people closure and help them cope with life.

    Stan: No, you give them false hope and a belief in something that isn’t real.

    John Edward: But I’m a psychic.

    Stan: No dude, your a douche.

    John Edward: I’m not a douche. What if I really believe that dead people talk to me?

    Stan: Then you’re a stupid douche.

    John Edward: I think that I have had enough of your bullying me. Get out of my house or I’ll run upstairs, lock myself in my panic room, and call the police.

    Stan: I’m 9 years old.

    John Edward: (screaming) I’m not talking to your friend and I’m not a douche. (runs upstairs) You better get out of my house or I’ll call the police.

    Stan: You are so a douche. I’m nominating you for the biggest douche in the universe award. You douche.

  27. #27 James Sweet
    June 18, 2009

    In my experience, more often than not, when someone says they don’t have an opinion on something, it usually (but not always) means they really do, but deny it so they can maintain the appearance of impartial objectivity.

    Dead on the money. Anti-vaxers are particularly bad at this. Recently, I actually heard a person say, about two minutes apart, the following two things:

    “I’m not trying to tell people what to do with vaccines. I think everyone will come to their own conclusion, and the right conclusion is different for everybody. I am just trying to give information so you can make your own decisions.”

    “My kids will get vaccinated over my dead body.”

    Apparently, she saw no contradiction between these two statements. When you look up “disingenuous” in the dictionary…

  28. #28 Trin Tragula
    June 18, 2009

    For a thorough treatment of various techniques involved in cold reading:
    Full Facts Book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland

  29. #29 Raging Bee
    June 18, 2009

    John: thanks for the reply; but the link you offer cites people who were seriously harmed by scams very different from what Edwards does. To my knowledge (which is limited ’cause I don’t have time to watch his show that much), Edwards has never given bad medical advice or bad tips to cops, demanded that people join his cult, or soaked anyone for their life-savings, or in any way cultivated long-term dependency in those who go to him for help. All he does, AFAIK, is say a lot of soothing nothings to grieving people about how their dead relatives are okay and there’s no need to beat themselves up about issues that weren’t resolved when the relatives died.

    If, for example, Edwards had said something like “Your dead father wants you to vote for Pat Robertson/send Bibles to Iraq/give me your life-savings” or some such harmful advice, that would be another matter, as would “Your dead relative is being punished in the afterlife because he was the wrong kind of Christian;” then Edwards could quite justly be called “vile.” So far, however, I’ve seen no sign of Edwards saying any such thing.

    Short answer: the stuff I read in your link is indeed “vile;” but Edwards isn’t THAT bad.

  30. #30 Scott
    June 18, 2009

    Personally, I think that exploiting the grief of those who have lost a loved one by lying to them for monetary gain is quite enough to warrant the term “vile.”

  31. #31 Calli Arcale
    June 18, 2009

    I don’t have a reference on hand, but I do recall reading some years ago an account of a skeptical audience member at a John Edwards taping. His shows are apparently heavily edited, partly because he’s actually pretty bad at cold reading (a mid-range illusionist should be able to outperform him without breaking a sweat), but also because sometimes he gets people quite upset. After all, something might *seem* innocuous, but if you’re not careful, you might step on a nerve.

    On a larger level, however, he greatly encourages people to believe in the likes of Sylvia Browne and others mentioned at whatstheharm.net. For the people in his audience who believe he’s communicating with their deceased relatives, it isn’t just light entertainment. It’s not just warm fuzzies. Their lives go on after the show is over, and what he has said affects them. This is something easy to forget when watching talk shows, with or without skeptics — you see the guests at a very emotional moment in their lives, but you seldom see them a month later, a year later, ten years later. These things affect them in ways that are hard to predict, but the hosts seldom see any responsibility for whatever befalls the guest later on (unless it’s positive, of course, and they happen to find out about it).

  32. #32 James Sweet
    June 18, 2009

    Another argument that could be made to answer the “What’s the harm?” question is that by giving people false comfort, he is robbing them of an opportunity for personal growth by actually coming to terms with their loss in a meaningful way. One could argue that it is rather condescending, even insulting, to suggest that people be coddled in this way.

    Of course, a potential rebuttal to that — which I may or may not buy, I’m not sure — is this: Damn right it’s condescending, but a lot of people need to be condescended to, and that’s the nature of humanity, and if you have a problem with it, good luck.

    I don’t really know what I think about that… But, regardless, I still feel comfortable asserting that John Edwards is a big douche.

  33. #33 Raging Bee
    June 18, 2009

    Okay, if he’s getting people upset, and editing the shows to cover it up, that puts him a bit more in “vile” territory.

    As for “monetary gain,” how does he make his money exactly? Does he charge individuals for readings, or does he just get paid for his TV shows and books?

    As for long-term consequences, if he’s not giving them specific advice that they follow to their detriment, then how do we know the long-term consequences are from what Edwards said? It’s also possible that the long-term harm could be caused by the original grief issues (and of course by their choosing the wrong guy to talk to about them), not by Edwards’ actual words.

  34. #34 bob
    June 18, 2009

    @Raging Bee: He puts a complete stop to the grieving process. His lies keep people trapped in the denial (first!) step: “the deceased person isn’t gone, they’re still here talking to me!” This is *hugely* harmful to people psychologically.

  35. #35 Scientizzle
    June 18, 2009

    It’s not completely on-topic, but it’s too à propos to pass up.

    The collision of overly credulous right wing talking heads and Homeopathy Awareness Week: Rush Limbaugh, Zicam promoter.

  36. #36 Scott
    June 18, 2009

    As for “monetary gain,” how does he make his money exactly? Does he charge individuals for readings, or does he just get paid for his TV shows and books?

    Don’t know about the former, but certainly the latter – which is enough to prove the point.

  37. #37 Raging Bee
    June 18, 2009

    bob: again, good point; but isn’t that the kind of thing many people tell themselves anyway? If they didn’t hear it from Edwards, they’d hear it from other relatives or their minister.

    And does it really “put a complete stop to the grieving process?” The dead relative is still gone, they’re not actually hearing the dead talking, and the survivors still have to deal with the absence, so either way they still end up coming to terms with the reality of the loss, to whatever extent they’re able.

  38. #38 rob
    June 18, 2009

    if anybody actually had psychic powers, the easiest way to make a million dollars would be to win the Randi challenge. that would be followed by book deals, shows, interviews, lecture circuit etc. they would be rolling in even more money.

    so why hasn’t anyone done this?

    ’cause psychic powers are crap. period.

    tarot is crap. astrology is crap. esp is crap. it is all crap.

    if you believe in it you are either sadly mistaken or a douche.

    if you say to yourself “whats the harm in believing in psychic stuff” you need to check out:

    http://whatstheharm.net/psychics.html

  39. #39 Karl Withakay
    June 18, 2009

    Calli Arcale,

    “After all, something might *seem* innocuous, but if you’re not careful, you might step on a nerve”

    +1 Yes. The statement, “Your father wants you to know he loves you and misses you very much, but says not to worry because someday you’ll be together again someday.” might seem innocuous enough…unless the person’s father molested them when they were a child. In that case it could have a very traumatizing effect for someone who believes.

    Bottom line, if it’s not legitimate (and it’s not), it’s dishonest and unethical at best (and it is).

  40. #40 bob
    June 18, 2009

    @Raging Bee: I’m not going to give Edwards a free pass because religious people might also screw with people’s grieving. They’re all doing harm, in my opinion. (Should we not criticize Oprah, because people are liable to hear alt-med BS from their friends and family anyways?)

    Besides that point, I think psychics are doing more damage than the typical religious pablum. Edwards claims to be CONVERSING with the deceased. Thus, to a true believer, they basically ARE “hearing the dead talking” and NOT “deal[ing] with the absence.”

    Down in the dumps and missing mom? Call up the psychic! That’s hardly appropriately dealing with the situation, wouldn’t you say?

  41. #41 madder
    June 18, 2009

    Still, Hannity tries on his skeptic shoes one more time. He does it poorly, but at least he tries. Sort of.

    Hannity tries on skeptic shoes like I try on bowling shoes. They don’t quite fit, I don’t really understand the point, and other people use them lots better than I ever will.

  42. #42 MrMarcus
    June 18, 2009

    #35

    Woo makes for some very strange bedfellows, that’s for sure. The alt-med alliance between the hardcore fundamentalist far Right and the New Age athiest far Left is almost something deserving of a post in itself.

  43. #43 Prometheus
    June 18, 2009

    I just can’t resist….

    Happeh says:

    You scientists do not know everything.

    Granted. Scientists never claim to know “everything”. Happeh, on the other hand, claims to know everything but actually knows nothing.

    You all are not smart enough and do not have the expertise to understand if Happeh Theory is real or not.

    I’ll admit that I’m still wondering if “Happeh Theory” is an over-elaborate spoof or a self-documented delusion. I can’t imagine what sort of “expertise” it would take to “understand” “Happeh Theory” – probably one of the varieties of schizophrenia that include megalomania would do the trick.

    Seriously, Happeh – your “theory” is too “over-the-top” to be a good spoof. If it’s not a spoof, go describe your “theory” to one of the nice people at the nearest Emergency Room or Mental Health facility. I think they’ll be able to help you.

    Prometheus

  44. #44 snoeman
    June 18, 2009

    @ Stu: Ahhhhhh. Thanks for posting that link and the dialogue. Good times.

  45. #45 Sastra
    June 18, 2009

    As I recall, in the South Park “Biggest Douche in the Universe” episode Stan gives a soliloquy at the end on ‘what’s the harm,’ and the character makes arguments which were either written or suggested by Penn Gillette. One of the points is that Edwards and other phony talkers-to-the-dead were messing up people’s memories of their loved ones. They were being given fake memories, and this trivializes and contaminates what had been a real relationship.

    I think one of the problems Edward can create is, ironically, huge embarrassment. I’ve read some accounts from grieving people who went to Edward (or similar), only to be given bad readings which don’t fit their loved one at all (sometimes even a Barnum statement will miss the mark, and cold readers will occasionally try a “dazzle shot” that fails big time.)

    They subsequently realize they’ve been had, and they’ve been chumps — and this is at a time when they’re emotionally unstable or weakened in the first place. They don’t laugh it off they way someone might dismiss a silly reading from a fortune teller. They pinned a lot on this, only to have it crash on them. Not good.

  46. #46 Sastra
    June 18, 2009

    Mr. Marcus #41 wrote:

    The alt-med alliance between the hardcore fundamentalist far Right and the New Age athiest far Left is almost something deserving of a post in itself.

    Yes — but I’d substitute the phrase “New Age spiritual far Left.” Most New Agers have nothing but contempt for the secular humanist/atheists, who are condemned for their scientism, their “materialist reductionist naturalism,” and their failure to properly understand the central role of spirit, Consciousness, and personal anecdote to the unfolding progress of the cosmos.

  47. #47 Milos
    June 18, 2009

    I read Scienceblogs because I’m interested in natural phenomena of all kinds. That includes psychic phenomena. I don’t maintain a presumption that such phenomena are false or impossible by definition. Well-documented and globally reported events like the near-death experience fascinate me, because they effect profound changes in the people who experience them, and because as part of the near-death experience patients often report an out-of-body element in which they view events and conversations at a distance that are later corroborated by others. Non-local consciousness does exist, although I have no idea if it proves the existence of anything other than itself. I leave the spiritual implications of such matters to others. To me, it’s the phenomenon itself that’s interesting, because it expands my definition of reality.

    Individuals such as John Edward interest me, because I don’t presume from the outset that they’re fakers, cheaters, scam artists, and liars. If you start with the assumption that psychic phenomena are garbage, then of course, John Edward must be a charlatan; what else could he possibly be? Your hostile, demeaning and rude assessment of the man is over the top and demonstrates a tightly closed mind, not one open to the possibilities. Skepticism as a way of life is a closed door: a door that requires derision towards others and self-superiority to keep it locked.

    Years ago, I attended a taping of Edward’s t.v. show when someone gave me an extra ticket. My impression of the man was favorable. I do not think he’s a charlatan. A ballroom dancer, yes, a crook no. (Edward met his wife while ballroom dancing.) Edward explained that once he started to work with a person or people from the same family, he couldn’t move on until there was some sort of closure, a sense that the “message” had been delivered. In one case, he kept seeing images of trains and airplanes, and said repeatedly to the two sisters he was focusing on, “who works in transportation?” They insisted they couldn’t think of anybody. He went around and around, trying to get at the identification. After about 15 minutes, visibly frustrated, he tried one more time: “this person worked in transportation. Who is it? I keep seeing trains and airplanes” and finally one sister said, “no, she was a travel agent.” The entire audience groaned in disgust. It was a brutal moment, but it indicated to me that Edward is not a fake. He was compelled by the information he was receiving to stick with this couple until he could make sense of what he was seeing, and in fact it produced a non-viable half-hour of television. That episode probably didn’t air.

    Whether you believe in psychic mediumship or not, your condescending, sarcastic, insulting tone diminishes whatever valid points you’re trying to make. Give me the facts as you heard/read/saw them, and let me decide if the guy is, how did you put it: “vile.”

  48. #48 Orac
    June 18, 2009

    Individuals such as John Edward interest me, because I don’t presume from the outset that they’re fakers, cheaters, scam artists, and liars. If you start with the assumption that psychic phenomena are garbage, then of course, John Edward must be a charlatan; what else could he possibly be? Your hostile, demeaning and rude assessment of the man is over the top and demonstrates a tightly closed mind, not one open to the possibilities. Skepticism as a way of life is a closed door: a door that requires derision towards others and self-superiority to keep it locked.

    If John Edward could do a single thing that passed scientific muster to demonstrate that eh can do what he says he can do and that what he does is more than the mentalist’s oldest trick in the book (cold reading), I might actually start to take him seriously. He won’t because he can’t. Heck, if he even tried to do something that might pass scientific muster to provide evidence for his abilities, I’d probably be a bit less harsh on him. He doesn’t, and he doesn’t try. Indeed, as the interview above shows, he’s very dismissive of those who ask him to defend his practices.

    As for my “sarcastic” and “demeaning” tone, well, that’s exactly what ghouls–yes, ghouls–like John Edward deserve for their taking advantage of the grief and gullibility of people the way he does.

  49. #49 DLC
    June 18, 2009

    Milos: The default scientific position is usually that a given phenomenon does not exist or happen unless it can be shown to do so to the satisfaction of competent observers or instruments. Of course it is always permissible to hypothesize that something exists or has happened, but it’s considered good form to also present a mechanism for how it happens or how it came to be along with it.
    Having personally spent some hundreds of hours studying paranormal and or psychic happenings, I can say that not only did I waste a goodly amount of my youth, I also have never found any psychic or paranormal phenomena that could be demonstrated to exist to the satisfaction of a panel of competent investigators. The few that at first seemed to do so did not hold up under scrutiny and/or were not replicable. This is the second part of scientific inquiry — your results have to stand up to critical examination and they have to be replicable. And all this has to be done in the light of day. Is it any wonder why nobody has ever successfully completed the James Randi Educational Foundation Million Dollar prize ?

  50. #50 Zar
    June 18, 2009

    In one case, he kept seeing images of trains and airplanes, and said repeatedly to the two sisters he was focusing on, “who works in transportation?” They insisted they couldn’t think of anybody. He went around and around, trying to get at the identification. After about 15 minutes, visibly frustrated, he tried one more time: “this person worked in transportation. Who is it? I keep seeing trains and airplanes” and finally one sister said, “no, she was a travel agent.”

    Yes, at first glance, that looks like a pretty amazing observation. But is it really?

    If I understand you correctly, Edward asked “who works in transportation”. The answer was “travel agent”, which isn’t exact but, hey, it had something to do with planes and trains, right? Well, there are a LOT of professions that have something to do with planes and trains. First there are all the jobs that are immediately involved in plane/train travel: pilot, flight attendant, ticket-seller, engineer.

    Then there are a lot of professions in the periphery of that; people who work in the train station or airport: air traffic controllers, security guards, waiters and waitresses, hostesses, restaurant managers, burger flippers, baristas, cooks, janitors, bank representatives (for currency exchange), duty-free shop clerks and owners, luggage handlers, shuttle drivers, parking attendants, customs officials and so on.

    Then, around that, there’s a class of people involved in getting others to the station: cab drivers, bus drivers, travel agents, reservation agents, customer service representatives, and so on.

    Then there are the people involved in producing and maintaining the vehicles: engineers, mechanics, safety inspectors, factory workers who make the vehicles, and other maintenance workers. There are also marketing executives who sell certain airlines or train lines.

    Then there are the many professions for which travel is important; they don’t necessarily work in the travel industry, but their disciplines have a great deal to do with transporting people or things with planes and trains: businesspeople who frequently travel, employees of shipping companies, postal workers, any company that ships packages overseas, Peace Corp volunteers, ESL teachers in foreign countries, students spending a semester abroad, public speakers or artists or performers on tour, travel writers, journalists, and so on.

    Then there are plane-related people who don’t work for the commercial travel industry: Air Force soldiers, helicopter pilots, meteorologists and traffic reporters who use air vehicles, etc.

    Then there are people involved in transportation, but not involved in planes and trains: government workers for the Department of Transportation, DMV employees, ambulance workers, etc.

    So there are many, many professions involved in transportation if you branch out a bit, as the two women did (travel agent is not precisely the same thing as a transportation worker).

    And remember Edward’s words: “Who works in transportation?” Not “she was in transportation”, but “who?” This is hugely important. Seeing as there are so many professions related to travel, by sheer probability there was likely to be somebody in their lives who had something to do with moving things from one place to another. It’s like asking if a dead female relative wore jewelry.

    You might think, “Well, it wasn’t just anyone who worked in transportation—it was the deceased!” Well, that does seem pretty good, but even if it had been some other dead person a confirmation would be perceived as a “win”.

  51. #51 Skemono
    June 18, 2009

    However if anyone here is a Ranma 1/2 fan the character Happosai was called “Happy” a few times in the series. Now I hear Happosai talking in my head when Happeh talks.

    Oh god damn it, now I have an image of Happeh as this short, bald lecher who runs around stealing women’s underwear. I blame you, White!

    His shows are apparently heavily edited, partly because he’s actually pretty bad at cold reading (a mid-range illusionist should be able to outperform him without breaking a sweat)

    That’s something I’ve noticed. The big stars who claim to have psychic powers (Uri Geller, Sylvia Browne, John Edward are the ones that come to mind) are usually not only cold readers or magicians, but they’re not even that good at it. I’m wondering whether there’s actually anything to that–whether these people figured these tricks out (or read about them), realized they weren’t actually any good at them, and decided to claim genuine psychic powers to gain the followers they couldn’t based solely on talent.

  52. #52 Zar
    June 19, 2009

    The big stars who claim to have psychic powers (Uri Geller, Sylvia Browne, John Edward are the ones that come to mind) are usually not only cold readers or magicians, but they’re not even that good at it. I’m wondering whether there’s actually anything to that–whether these people figured these tricks out (or read about them), realized they weren’t actually any good at them, and decided to claim genuine psychic powers to gain the followers they couldn’t based solely on talent.

    Oh, totally. No one would go to a magic act where a guy just bends cutlery.

  53. #53 mad the swine
    June 19, 2009

    “I’m wondering whether there’s actually anything to that–whether these people figured these tricks out (or read about them), realized they weren’t actually any good at them, and decided to claim genuine psychic powers to gain the followers they couldn’t based solely on talent.”

    I think it’s even simpler than that. I think Edward and his fellow ‘spiritualists’ actually believe, at some level, in what they’re doing; part of their self-deceptive belief system relies on the fact that they weren’t taught the techniques of cold reading or whatever, but that their ‘powers’ come from ‘innate talent’, ie, it’s strictly amateur hour. Because Edward hasn’t studied the subject, he doesn’t actually know – or at least, doesn’t let himself admit – that what he’s doing is manipulating his subject with leading questions instead of communicating with the so-called spirits of the dead.

    If Edward actually studied the professional handbooks and practiced his cold reading techniques, he’d be much better at what he does; but in order to do that he’d have to admit to himself that he was in fact doing cold readings, ie, not communicating with the dead. In fact, I imagine he deliberately refuses to read about cold reading procedures – why would he, with his ‘real’ powers, need to know how frauds fake a seance?

    “Edwards: That’s the reason, right there. Because as soon as — as soon as you have to defend something, then you’re admitting that something needs defense.”

    Heh. Who was the $cientologist who claimed that questioning the precepts of $cientology was an attack on his religious freedom?

  54. #54 Matthew Cline
    June 19, 2009

    I can’t imagine what sort of “expertise” it would take to “understand” “Happeh Theory” – probably one of the varieties of schizophrenia that include megalomania would do the trick.

    Having spent days reading through (most of) a huge thread where Happeh expounded on his theory, I think I can answer that:

    1) Study kung-fu for years. Not the “external” kung-fu that’s about fighting, but the “internal” kung-fu which involves the study of things like life-energy (ki/chi/qi) and Yin Yang. (Happeh considers internal kung-fu to be the real kung-fu)

    2) Using the knowledge of life energy and Yin Yang gained from #1, spend years carefully studying your own body, until you arrive at a full and true understanding of how the human body works.

    3) Once you fully understand how the human body works, it becomes obvious that masturbation will make you crippled and gay.

  55. #55 CulturalIconography
    June 19, 2009

    I would think that Hannity, being an extreme right-winger, would be more likely to criticize John Edward than just lob softballs at him in an interview. Of course, Hannity and some of the Extreme Right Wing Noise Machine are probably more political than religious–unless it suits their purposes–witness O’Reilly’s “War On Christmas” crap.

    It would be amusing to hear Dobson and the other fundies lambaste Hannity for giving Edward airtime and almost an endorsement. But I would guess the fundies are too busy with their religious wars to bother with Hannity, who technically is on their side.

  56. #56 Pareidolius
    June 19, 2009

    Milos, I’m going to swing wide and posit that you just want this metaphysical stuff to be true. You seem smart enough, but your critical thinking skills appear to be weak. Your post is long (really, really long) on wishful-thinking and logical fallacies, and short on reasonable conclusions. You sound exactly like me 20 years ago.

    DLC, I’m with you on regretting all the time I wasted believing in, and promoting woo-meisters. Like Mulder, I really wanted to believe . . .

  57. #57 Ranson
    June 19, 2009

    @ mad the swine

    There may be some “mediums” who really believe. At least one of the big names, Sylvia Browne, knows full well she’s running a scam. Even a brief perusal of the stop sylvia Browne website will turn up plenty of evidence from her own words.

    But, yeah, to agree again with one of the people above, it seems like the “psychics” who get the most air time freakin’ stink at this stuff. Derren Brown could take any one of them with two hands tied behind his back, and wearing a blindfold.

  58. #58 Fitz
    June 19, 2009

    “imagining Happeh talking like elmo” – genius. My gratitude to whoever came up with this, it’ll make Happeh’s dropping alot more entertaining.

  59. #59 BA
    June 19, 2009

    I suggest that Happeh be referred to only as Happoe. I’m with Prometheus, I can’t tell whether it is parody or not but if it is it’s brilliant. If it isn’t then it’s pathetic.

  60. #60 James Sweet
    June 19, 2009

    Skepticism as a way of life is a closed door: a door that requires derision towards others and self-superiority to keep it locked.

    Um, no.

  61. #61 colmcq
    June 19, 2009

    “Down in the dumps and missing mom? Call up the psychic! That’s hardly appropriately dealing with the situation, wouldn’t you say?”

    I do agree that in an ideal world people should be seek professional support. But I still think, that for some people, this may be the only way they deal with the grieving process.

    I guess the only way of knowing if it is harmful or not is to ask audience members if his ‘therapy’ has helped them come to terms with their loss or if it has prolonged or aggrevated the grieving process.

    Of course, the wider point is if JE knows he’s a lying son of a bitch or if he is genuinely mental.

  62. #62 James Sweet
    June 19, 2009

    On a tangentially related note, last night I learned how to do the street levitation trick (no, I’m not providing a link!) and it turns out to be ridiculously easy. I showed my wife — “I think Wikipedia said you do something like this…” — and it ‘worked’ on the first try. I mean, obviously it didn’t work in the sense that she thought I was levitating, heh, but she said it looked like my feet weren’t touching the ground.

    The tricky part is that you have to set up the viewing angle with your audience just right. But I intend to practice it and then bust it out at parties to fool drunk people. That’s going to be AWESOME.

    And let me just say, I suck at magic. I have no sleight of hand. But this is actually a really easy trick.

  63. #63 Scott
    June 19, 2009

    and because as part of the near-death experience patients often report an out-of-body element in which they view events and conversations at a distance that are later corroborated by others. Non-local consciousness does exist

    Faulty memory, chance similarities, etc. The same things that drive deja vu and dreams can readily account for such phenomena without any need to invoke “non-local consciousness.”

    Edward explained that once he started to work with a person or people from the same family, he couldn’t move on until there was some sort of closure, a sense that the “message” had been delivered. In one case, he kept seeing images of trains and airplanes, and said repeatedly to the two sisters he was focusing on, “who works in transportation?” They insisted they couldn’t think of anybody. He went around and around, trying to get at the identification. After about 15 minutes, visibly frustrated, he tried one more time: “this person worked in transportation. Who is it? I keep seeing trains and airplanes” and finally one sister said, “no, she was a travel agent.” The entire audience groaned in disgust. It was a brutal moment, but it indicated to me that Edward is not a fake.

    In addition to all the problems Zar pointed out, I should also mention the simple explanation that one of the sisters reacted nonverbally to the transportation question and Edward picked up on it.

  64. #64 Joseph
    June 19, 2009

    as part of the near-death experience patients often report an out-of-body element in which they view events and conversations at a distance that are later corroborated by others.

    @Milus: Where is it documented that near-death experience patients view things in the real world that can be later corroborated?

    I think anyone who’s had what are called “lucid dreams” and “false awakenings” can easily imagine what all the out-of-body experiences are about.

  65. #65 S. Rivlin
    June 19, 2009

    Orac,

    I think this point has been raised several times before i.e., the role played by TV shows such as Oprah, Larry King and now Hannity. These people are not less responsible for the woo we’re all awashed in than the crooks they bring on their shows. Woo sells very well in a society that believes in 6000-year old world, in intelligent design, in life after death, etc. Both the crooks and their promoters take advantage of that society to enlarge their own bank accounts. It is not surprising the Hannity is trying to compete with Oprah and Larry by bringing charlatans such as John Edward on his show.

  66. #66 ???
    June 19, 2009

    Yes, John Edwards is clearly bogus, whether he admits it to himself or not.

    And to think he could have been vice-president of the U. S. A..

  67. #67 Denice Walter
    June 19, 2009

    @ S.Rivlin-I agree. Case in point: I just saw an ad by a local clinical psychologist who mentions that she is now on Edwards’ “network” -like it was a *good* thing!This is a few miles west of NYC,I believe she has “legit” degrees.Oh,she also has a book that’s recently been published.Of course,I can think of many snarky repartees explaining why a psycholgist might choose to advertise to a medium’s audience,but seriously, this symbiotic relationship is based on its percieved profitability.

  68. #68 Patty
    June 19, 2009

    I’ve been reading this blog for a long time but never posted. This time I have to respond by asking what I’ve often wondered about these so-called psychics. If the deceased person were really conversing with the psychic, then why would it always be in vague riddles? Why would they have to say, for example, “I see a name beginning with a “g” or a “j” or some letter of the alphabet. Why “someone is in transportation.” If they were REALLY conversing with the deceased, why not say, “Gladys, who was a train conductor, wants you to know she’s really sorry about that time she hit you so hard you had welts for a week.” Then, if they had no other way to know that, I MAYBE could see something to it. But it’s NEVER straighforward as far as I’ve ever seen. It’s always a puzzle.

  69. #69 Patty
    June 19, 2009

    I’ve been reading this blog for a long time but never posted. This time I have to respond by asking what I’ve often wondered about these so-called psychics. If the deceased person were really conversing with the psychic, then why would it always be in vague riddles? Why would they have to say, for example, “I see a name beginning with a “g” or a “j” or some letter of the alphabet. Why “someone is in transportation.” If they were REALLY conversing with the deceased, why not say, “Gladys, who was a train conductor, wants you to know she’s really sorry about that time she hit you so hard you had welts for a week.” Then, if they had no other way to know that, I MAYBE could see something to it. But it’s NEVER straighforward as far as I’ve ever seen. It’s always a puzzle.

  70. #70 Clare
    June 19, 2009

    It may not be the case that Edward, Geller, etc. etc. are genuinely “no good” at cold readings, but instead that they have realized that showing a degree of incompetence in tricks that are Magic 101 seemingly “proves” that they must have authentic, “raw” talent in communicating with the dead/channeling psychic powers or whatever. Pretty much everything we know about magical activity here and around the world tells us that while the smoke and mirrors part is important, in the end, it’s a head game.

  71. #71 James Sweet
    June 19, 2009

    Clare may have a good point. Part of setting up the levitation trick I referred to earlier involves pretending that it’s really difficult, that you can’t always do it, etc. This has two advantages:

    1) By hemming and hawing about how you can only do it sometimes, you can wait until you have established favorable conditions before you “do your magic”

    2) By making it seem really difficult, the audience’s perception of a “hit” will be magnified in their memory. In the case of the levitation trick I referred to, you really only seem to be levitating about an inch or two off the ground — but if you play up in advance to your audience about how you’re not sure if it’s even going to work, they will tend to remember your feet being farther off the ground than they actually were.

    Making it seem really difficult may well be a component of Edwards’ shtick that helps him to be so successful.

  72. #72 BlueMonday
    June 19, 2009

    I suffered through the book “Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town That Talks to the Dead” because…well…maybe it was like slowing down to look at a car wreck. It is a great example of the sheep-in-wolf’s-clothing–a pseudo-skeptic showing how she turned her back on all that cold, mechanical science in order to embrace the true light of love. By believing in ghosts. Lily Dale is a town in upstate New York that is a hub of medium activity. The author went there to give the good townsfolk some “fair treatment,” you know, show how they’re just real people and don’t deserve all the cruelty the mean ol’ New York Times dishes out by not blindly accepting that they all talk to the dead. The kicker for me was that the author–who claims to have been skeptical the whole time she was there–was won over by her reading. She described her reading, and it was unimpressive at best. The medium said one of her grandfather’s had a name that started with “J,” and when she asked her parent (can’t remember which), it turns out that a grandfather she never even knew had a name that–lo and behold–started with “J.” That fact alone is still pretty lame, considering how many grandparents we all have and how common J-names are in the U.S., but that wasn’t the only aspect of the reading. There were several obvious misses that the author herself acknowledges as such. And yet, she became a believer.

  73. #73 Calli Arcale
    June 19, 2009

    I have to echo what James Sweet said; Clare may be on to something with fakes possibly deliberately making it appear “hard” so as to persuade that real effort is involved. After all, even in the real world, things don’t always work, right? Makes them seem more human if they have to struggle at it. Easier to identify with them that way.

    Mind you, it’s a pity that doesn’t work for NASA. They get another hydrogen leak, and I’ll bet you anything that when Endeavour flies (hopefully in July), the headlines will say something like “troubled NASA finally launches despite balky hydrogen vent line” or something.

  74. #74 J Todd DeShong
    June 20, 2009

    This to me is a non-issue. It’s not like anyone’s health is at risk. Perhaps they may be happier emoitionally believing their loved ones’ are near. However, I have an extremely huge issue with you even implying that Rush Limbaugh has talent!! I would love to have John Edwards “channel” Limbaugh…because then Limbaugh would dead!!
    JTD

  75. #75 The Arbourist
    June 20, 2009

    Posted by: Milos

    “I read Scienceblogs because I’m interested in natural phenomena of all kinds. That includes psychic phenomena. I don’t maintain a presumption that such phenomena are false or impossible by definition.”

    Did anyone else get the feeling, just after three sentences that Milos post would be pro-magic?

    There are a remarkable number of woo-based posts across many threads that start just like this one.

  76. #76 anthro
    June 20, 2009

    This is all very interesting and I’ll just add my two or three cents.

    To those arguing about “what’s the harm?” issues, my feeling is that the real harm is that he takes money for this “service”. If your dead Mom wants to talk to you, why would she make you pay someone to ask a lot of vague questions until you finally “get the message”? Also, all this pity for people with grief just begs the question: Why can’t people deal with death? The religious seem to have the most difficulty with death. Rational people realize that it is natural and inevitable and while they grieve, they know there’s no point in trying to short cut the process of grief by “talking” to the dead.

    To Milo: By the way, as to “near death experiences”, you should listen to Mark Crislip’s Quack Cast (podcast) on the problem with even calling them that. Either you are “dead” or you are not. The experiences that people describe happen when they are unconscious, not actually dead–one has to define “dead” and Crislip (a physician) does this in excellent detail.

    To half of the posters: The man’s surname is Edward–NO “S”! It turns out they’re both pretty vile.

  77. #77 Tommykey
    June 20, 2009

    Someone above, Raging Bee I think, asked “what is that harm in what John Edward is doing?” My answer to that is that when the media gives him a pass instead of actually investigating whether he can speak to the dead, then they are legitimating the whole idea of psychic mediums. Since not everyone can attend John Edward’s shows or have a personal reading from him, they will seek out other self proclaimed psychics.

    Case in point. I’m from Long Island, where Edward is from too. Last year he was doing a series of shows at the Westbury Music Fair. When I was watching News 12 one morning, the three newscasters on the air where talking about his appearances, what a great guy he was, one asking the other “Did you ever get a reading from him?” In other words, News 12’s morning show was basically promoting John Edward rather than doing what should have been their real job, investigating whether he really communicate with the dead.

  78. #78 Happeh
    June 20, 2009

    Promethius – “Seriously, Happeh – your “theory” is too “over-the-top” to be a good spoof.”

    That is because it is not a spoof. If the current crop of scientists have the thinking and observational ability demonstrated here, it is no wonder the USA went to the moon in 1969 and never went back.

    The real scientists back then died. None of you can match what they did.
    ————–

    Promethisu – “If it’s not a spoof, go describe your “theory” to one of the nice people at the nearest Emergency Room or Mental Health facility. I think they’ll be able to help you.”

    I laughed out loud at this. I just posted to June how scientists were all lemmings because they all said the same thing.

    June said “get help. I told her Michael Ralston already said that. Now you are saying it.

    Mindless lemmings. No wonder you can’t understand me. ;)
    ——–

    So Matthew Cline. Are you preparing to steal my work and make yourself famous? You sound like you know what you are talking about. You sound like me.

    What is your purpose?

  79. #79 Matthew Cline
    June 21, 2009

    @Happeh:

    You sound like you know what you are talking about. You sound like me.

    I sound like you because I’m summarizing you, summarizing what you said over at that huge Bullshido thread. If I didn’t sound like you then that would mean that I’d failed at my attempt to summarize the things you said.

    What is your purpose?

    My “purpose” is that I find what you say interesting, even though I don’t believe a word of it, like some of those people over at Bullshido who read through over a hundred pages of the mega-thread before jumping in to comment.

    And even if I believed your ideas and was unethical I wouldn’t steal your ideas, since I’m a computer programmer by profession, so the most I’d be able to do with your ideas would be to write books on the subject and send letters to research doctors and biologists telling them to look into life energy, bodily asymmetry, and hinting at the connections asthma has to the stomach and liver. It’s pretty obvious that you’re not getting anywhere doing all that, so there’s no reason for me to believe that I, who isn’t a doctor or biologist, would do any better. (Although, come to think of it, I actually might do a better job than you with writing to scientists, since I wouldn’t imply to the asthma researcher that he’s a simpleton for not being able to see the connections that you hinted at, and I’d actually outright tell him the connections rather than just hinting at them)

  80. #80 Happeh
    June 21, 2009

    OK Matthew. I know your game now.

    Can I offer you some advice? Those books that tell you how to manipulate people? Have you ever thought about how they affect you? Or were you so thrilled by the possibilities you saw in the books that you never really thought about it?

    You are no longer Matthew Cline human being. You are that book on how to manipulate people. You cannot give honest reactions to anything anymore. Your mind filters everything through those manipulation techniques you have filled it with.

    I don’t believe in learning techniques to manipulate people. I wanted to remain human. I don’t want to be a person that talks to people based on what page in the manipulation book they fit. I want to honestly react to them like I want them to react honestly to me.

    Goodbye Matthew. I wish someone would have warned you about those books before you gave away your honesty and your humanity.

  81. #81 Matthew Cline
    June 21, 2009

    @Happeh:

    Can I offer you some advice? Those books that tell you how to manipulate people? Have you ever thought about how they affect you? Or were you so thrilled by the possibilities you saw in the books that you never really thought about it?

    What books on how to manipulate people? I’ve never read any such books (or if I did and can’t remember, I must have done it to laugh at their lameness). And where did that non-sequitur come from? The only way I can interpret your response is that you consider not calling people simpletons and “spoon-feeding” them information instead of giving them hints to be some form of manipulation. But that is me treating other people how I want them to treat me:

    1) If someone sees that I’ve missed some obvious connection or association, then I’d prefer for them to point it out to me in a way which doesn’t imply that I’m stupid for having missed it.

    2) If someone sees that I’ve missed some obvious connection or association, I’d want them to tell me exactly what I missed, rather than giving me hints.

    Furthermore, it’s simply common sense that if you want someone to consider your idea you should avoid aggravating them by doing things like implying that they’re stupid; you don’t need to read that in any book. I also don’t consider passively withholding insulting thoughts/observations to be manipulation, but rather things like active flattery. Pretending to be friends with someone I didn’t like would be manipulative, but that doesn’t describe sending a complete stranger a new idea on researching asthma.

    Or do you consider me giving a summary of someone else’s position to not be giving an honest reaction? If that’s what you mean, I completely fail to see how giving a summary has anything to do with manipulating people. And I don’t see how it could be dishonest, given that I properly attributed you for the the points made and didn’t at all try to claim them as my own.

  82. #82 Oakes
    June 21, 2009

    What’s sad about Edward (and all self-proclaimed psychics) is, despite the fact that he seems to genuinely believe in his for-realsies psychic powers, he’s nowhere near as good as mentalist Derren Brown, who openly admits that he has no psychic powers and accomplishes his feats through manipulation and psychological trickery.

  83. #83 Denise Lescano
    June 22, 2009

    I’d be happy to read for you any time. Quite a lot of my work is volunteer for many years for very reputable non-profit organizations. Not everyone is a fraud. Check out my web site, the Home page has a list of Orgs that I have worked with over the years at NO CHARGE. However, be be prepared and humble enough to have your beliefs and ego challenged…if you dare. Feel free to use a fake name when you schedule your appointment if it makes you feel better. The information I provide is quite specific, I think you wil be quite surprised. All I ask is that you be open and honest with me.

  84. #84 Denise Lescano
    June 22, 2009

    I’d be happy to read for you any time. Quite a lot of my work is volunteer for many years for very reputable non-profit organizations. Not everyone is a fraud. Check out my web site, the Home page has a list of Orgs that I have worked with over the years at NO CHARGE. However, be be prepared and humble enough to have your beliefs and ego challenged…if you dare. Feel free to use a fake name when you schedule your appointment if it makes you feel better. The information I provide is quite specific, I think you will be quite surprised. All I ask is that you be open and honest with me.

  85. #85 T
    June 22, 2009

    Denise Lescano, take your readin’ skills to James Randi & earn yourself a million bucks.

  86. #86 Natalie
    June 22, 2009

    Not psychic enough know you’d post four times, huh?

  87. #87 Impostor
    June 23, 2009

    “Promethisu – “If it’s not a spoof, go describe your “theory” to one of the nice people at the nearest Emergency Room or Mental Health facility. I think they’ll be able to help you.”

    I laughed out loud at this. I just posted to June how scientists were all lemmings because they all said the same thing.

    June said “get help. I told her Michael Ralston already said that. Now you are saying it.”

    Hap, honey; if 10 people tell you that you’re dead…lie down.

  88. #88 AmindForMurder
    June 28, 2009

    What’s been fun to watch over the past 12 months as the psychic industry has suffered declining clients and revenues is the counter-punching. There have been numerous comments issued among the leading dozen or so “psychic intuitives” finger pointing to one another as con artists, frauds, or “unfaithful” psychics. It appears open warfare has broken out in the paranormal community and there simply is no intuitive left standing that hasn’t been cited from within their own community as questionable in one manner or another. If there is no one left then what does it say about psychic credibility? Also separately, for an update on “FBI psychic” and the leading former Court TV psychic detective and some questionable claims please see the commercial-free web site http://www.amindformurder.com Links are also provided to other investigations of psychic claims.

  89. #89 Vicki
    July 6, 2009

    Orac….wow you must not like people or the people in your life have harmed you in some way. Im sorry and I will pray for you. John Edward is simply a good hearted person who is trying to help people and yes he makes a good living because he is genuine and honest and people would rather pay him and get REAL answers then fake Psychics out there. In Johns case the good energy he gives out brings in rewards in wealth to him. When you give you recieve.

    Sorry you dont see this read the Secret sometime.

  90. #90 Bob
    July 6, 2009

    I agree with this. John is just a good guy trying to help others, how is that a crime? Why cant people just trust in what they believe in. All our dreams can come true…if we have the courage to pursue them… Walt Disney!

  91. #91 Skemono
    July 6, 2009

    wow you must not like people or the people in your life have harmed you in some way

    How does recognizing that Edward is a fraud and Hannity a gullible mark hint that one doesn’t like people, or one has been harmed by people? That’s ridiculous tripe. Yes, Orac is a surgeon who has dedicated his life to helping people overcome disease–therefore he doesn’t like people! Your attempts at attacking him are pathetic.

    John Edward is simply a good hearted person who is trying to help people

    John Edward is a con artist who is only trying to make money by tricking people into thinking he can talk with the dead.

    yes he makes a good living because he is genuine and honest

    If he’s genuine and honest, he can prove it by taking the JREF Million Dollar Challenge. Or he can stop using such obvious, and such poorly-done, cold reading tactics.

    people would rather pay him and get REAL answers then fake Psychics out there

    Real answers? Edward can’t even tell people the name of the spirit he pretends to be talking to. He doesn’t give answers–he gives a scattershot of guesses, some of which are statistically going to be correct, and the vast majority of which will be forgotten. He lets the clients give him the information and pretend that he knew it and gave it out. He spouts out questions that are fishing for information. He’s the epitome of “fake psychic.”

    Sorry you dont see this read the Secret sometime.

    Oh, you believe in that “blame the victim for not wanting it hard enough or by inviting it with their ‘negative’ thoughts” Secret nonsense, too. How surprising.

  92. #92 Sam P.
    July 6, 2009

    As if I could not think any worse of Sean. I’m a conservative libertarian and have come to realize that. Please excuse the briefness and lack of detail. Laptop shit out and I’m on my iPod touch. >.<

  93. #93 Gentry
    July 11, 2009

    Hey pal, you need to get a life. I laughed all the way though your commentary, not with you….but at you. Thank you for my entertainment tonight. Keep it up, the more you loons rant your ignorance all over the internet, the better for the REPUBLICANS…we love people like you!

  94. #94 Chris
    July 11, 2009

    Gemtry, you took three whole weeks to come up with that comment?

  95. #95 Orac
    July 11, 2009

    That’s because he’s been “Hannitized”; it’s the best he can do. (Taking a break from vacation to check on the comments.)

  96. #96 IloveOrac
    September 12, 2009

    LMARO!
    I just read this again and cannot stop laughing! I really believe the way some of these quacks work (and the reason it takes four or so months for an appointment) is simple, they get some of your identity and look the rest up on the web, that is why when you first speak with them, they want your name and birth date so they can do an intellius search, see who you are related to and get your private information! simple as shit to do with todays computer technology. Then four months later they are telling you personal details that they found out online…I have never seen a psychic or heard of one that is really real, and the point you make about the million dollar challenge was great! I read about that somewhere and so far no one is up for the challenge!!! What does that tell us haha! Ok keep up the good work Orac, your the kind of person I would love to be fun to be stranded on a deserted island with…hahahaah dont ask.

  97. #97 ann ngiang
    November 27, 2009

    dear edward, im from singapore, im female born 19-june-1953.after reading all your wedsite. what ever some said is ok to me. please edward can you help me ? i want to find up my late brother, he passed away on 21-08-2007 can you help me to communicate with him im sure his have something to tell me because im in singapore and he passed away in new zealand.

    awaiting your email with thanks.

  98. #98 ann ngiang
    November 27, 2009

    dear edward, im from singapore, im female born 19-june-1953.after reading all your wedsite. what ever some said is ok to me. please edward can you help me ? i want to find up my late brother, he passed away on 21-08-2007 can you help me to communicate with him im sure his have something to tell me because im in singapore and he passed away in new zealand.

    awaiting your email with thanks.

  99. #99 Dawn Graf
    January 31, 2010

    I went to a John Edward “show”. He ended up reading me and I can tell you what he told me, most was true and direct and not anything he could have found out on his own, unless they research everyones background and listen in on my conversations in my home. No one talked to me before or during the show. I would not believe it myself ahd it not happend to me.

  100. #100 SR
    March 21, 2010

    Wow, I have read through this entire posting and hope to be able to shed some light on the subject matter, not JE specifically, but the ability to communicate with those no longer with us.
    I am no-one special, just another person, but I discovered many years ago I did, in fact, have the ability. It’s not something I brag about or offer to others. It’s just something that is there. I don’t see it as a special ability. It feels more like I am nothing more than an antenna or mechanism that picks up signals, memories, energy, etc.. through a type of mental telepathy. I don’t see people in front of me or hear voices, it’s more like a thought, image, etc. that appears in my mind’s eye as some call it, but has no meaning, connection, or significance to me.
    I have read what the critics say and I realize there are so many tricksters out there trying to gain power, money, or just attention.
    I feel it is very wrong to ever take payment of any kind for this ability or to use it in a commercial sense. That is just my opinion. I see what I see. It’s not up to me. I have no control over it because it isn’t something that exists within me. It’s hard to explain.
    Also, humans have to remember that we are very limited in our abilities in our physical state, this dimension of physical life. We have a brain which coordinates everything and gives us a perception. We also have surrounding physical environmental stimuli. These things can affect our ability to receive information from non-physical energy, life, presence, and more. Those that have left their bodies, or died, when and if they attempt to communicate with us, have to deal with our very limited physical existence or abilities. So, they do this by communicating telepathically, showing us things, mental images of objects or words relative to the person they are trying to reach.
    I honestly believe John Edwards has the ability to sense those who have left us, but then he got caught up in the world of entertainment, media, and the money and power that goes with it. Contracts, ratings, the works. At that point it was no longer about the truth.
    Finally, I believe everyone has the ability, but it is not easy to recognize because of all of life’s distractions and stress.
    I hope this helped.
    SR

  101. #101 jenbphillips
    March 21, 2010

    SR:

    I discovered many years ago I did, in fact, have the ability. It’s not something I brag about or offer to others. It’s just something that is there. I don’t see it as a special ability. It feels more like I am nothing more than an antenna or mechanism that picks up signals, memories, energy, etc.. through a type of mental telepathy. I don’t see people in front of me or hear voices, it’s more like a thought, image, etc. that appears in my mind’s eye as some call it, but has no meaning, connection, or significance to me.

    So, to sum up, you become aware of a thought or an image in your mind that has no meaning, connection or significance to you and you attribute this to communication from the dead? Did you consider and reject other more mundane explanations before settling on this extraordinary one?

    I feel it is very wrong to ever take payment of any kind for this ability or to use it in a commercial sense. That is just my opinion. I see what I see. It’s not up to me. I have no control over it because it isn’t something that exists within me. It’s hard to explain.

    I’ll bet. So, putting your rigorous ethics aside for a moment, if you were, hypothetically, to market this skill, how would you go about it? You’ve indicated that the images you see are more or less random and hold no meaning for you personally. If you never share your gift, how do you know that these images would have meaning for anyone else? How do you know whether the particular images that are transmitted to you have anything at all to do with the other people in your vicinity at the time?

    Also, humans have to remember that we are very limited in our abilities in our physical state, this dimension of physical life. We have a brain which coordinates everything and gives us a perception. We also have surrounding physical environmental stimuli. These things can affect our ability to receive information from non-physical energy, life, presence, and more.

    Please define “non physical energy”, “life presence” and, while you’re at it, “more”. How do you know these things exist? More to the point, how can you demonstrate their existence to others?

  102. #102 SR
    March 21, 2010

    Hard to explain especially since I don’t completely understand it myself so I am trying to explain it as best as I am able.
    How do I know it is about someone who is no longer alive? Because a person comes through randomly and I am able to describe how they look, what they are wearing, distinctive physical features (hair color, eye color, height, eye shape, etc) kind of like a criminal profiler doing an artist sketch. In addition, they show me things like jewelry, scars, tatoo’s, or sometimes objects like a specific make, model, and colored car, or a specific breed of dog, bird. In addition, they will show me how they died. Sometimes they take me through the entire scenario (as in a case of a suicide victim), or I will experience a severe chest pain and be unable to breathe for a few seconds. This can happen when I am in the presence of people I don’t know or have ever met at say, a function, grocery store, party, etc. I have never had a miss, but then I don’t go out looking for this. It has happened randomly with more than 50 people. Again, it is not something I can force or make happen. People communicate at will, I do not contact them or call them forth. They appear depending on whom I am around and if it is someone a deceased person is trying to reach.
    It is not an enjoyable experience and usually drains me severely. I don’t like when it happens, which is why I seek it out, however, when someone wants to come through, they can be very persistent, and I’m guessing they see me as a means or channel to convey their communication.

    You come across to me like an angry person. Someone who has suffered in their life and feels alone in this whole realm of things.
    No need to dissect what I say. It is what it is. I’m not trying to prove anything and need anyone’s belief. I was just trying to help those who had taken the time to vent on this subject. I am not a young person or even middle aged. Maybe I am just getting senile and have been imagining all this for all these years.
    As far as the subject of a marketable skill, I have been offered money and other forms of payment many times and have refused each and every time. Why? Simply because it doesn’t feel right to me. Call it what you want. Ethics, conscience, morals. Not to mention, like I said before, I don’t enjoy it and it’s very draining on my physically.

    Finally, when I mention “non physical energy”, “life presence” etc.. I am referring to a spirit or soul of a person who has died, and our awareness or ability to “sense” them. We live in a “physical” world”. That, in and of itself, is a distraction, not to mention all the emotions that go with our brains- anger, frustration, joy, sadness, jealously, fear. Now couple this with the physical strain of aging, pollution, responsiblities, deadlines, physical ailments (infections, headache, viruses, etc).
    Respectfully.

  103. #103 SR
    March 21, 2010

    Correction-
    “It is not an enjoyable experience and usually drains me severely. I don’t like when it happens, which is why I DON’T seek it out, however, when someone wants to come through, they can be very persistent, and I’m guessing they see me as a means or channel to convey their communication.”

    I noticed I forgot to put the “don’t” in there.

  104. #104 jenbphillips
    March 21, 2010

    SR, I am trying to understand the flow of information here. You have stated clearly that you do not cultivate the experience, and that it is something you do not ‘offer to others’, especially not for your own financial gain. If this is all accurate, I’m trying to figure out how you have been able to confirm that you have ‘never had a miss’ in over 50 episodes, particularly when you receive communications from dead relatives of random strangers in grocery stores or at parties. How do you go about confirming the identity of your deceased contacts? How do you identify the target of this information in a crowd?

    You come across to me like an angry person. Someone who has suffered in their life and feels alone in this whole realm of things.

    I looked back over my original response, and I see nothing that could be construed as ‘anger’–no CAPSLOCK, no bad words, nary an exclamation point. Are you basing your opinion on some kind of non-physical energy message you might be receiving? If not, I fail to see how you can interpret my civil requests for evidence of your gifts as anger. For the record, I am quite embarrassingly happy, have suffered comparatively very little in life, and am surrounded by loving family and friends. As such, I regret to inform you that you may have just experience your first ‘miss’. Sorry about that.

    No need to dissect what I say. It is what it is. I’m not trying to prove anything and need anyone’s belief. I was just trying to help those who had taken the time to vent on this subject.

    SR, you came, of your own free will, to a skeptical science blog and made an extraordinary claim about your ability to communicate with the dead. An expectation that your assertions would be taken at face value seems…naive.

    I would very much like to understand the basis of what you say you can do, and in particular what you consider to be supporting evidence of your experience as a ‘Medium’. I’m not sure why you feel your information as presented would be helpful to anyone–are you merely providing an additional data point that someone else in the world other than John Edward has these experiences, ergo they must be real? Please elaborate on what constitutes ‘help’, as I’m sure it would be more thoroughly appreciated if we could understand what was actually being offered.

    Finally, when I mention “non physical energy”, “life presence” etc.. I am referring to a spirit or soul of a person who has died, and our awareness or ability to “sense” them.

    and again, I ask you to explain how you and others could determine the source–and, more fundamentally, the existence of this energy.

    ‘Energy’ has a very specific meaning in the physical world. On what basis do you define a discorporeal spirit as ‘energy’ at all?

  105. #105 SR
    March 21, 2010

    It seems I have offended you. Please accept my apologies.
    I am delighted to hear you are a very happy person and have suffered very little. It just felt like I was under attack. I am very unfamiliar with the nature of skepticism, hence my reason for my thought. I am beginning to understand a little better. What I took as an attack was not.

    The contacts were validated by those whom the spirit was trying to communicate with, in all respects. Everything 100% on target. No assumptions or guessing. Spirits/souls, or whatever folks call consciousness outside of the physical body, appear in my mind’s eye, at random. Each time this has happened, the spirit directed me to a specific individual nearby by describing the person or location of the person (next to the jars of pickles on aisle 3), or I was approached by the living individual in question.
    Needless to say, it was awkward for me each time, saying to a total stranger, did you know someone named Frank Celter who was a railroad engineer in Missouri? (just an example), or did you lose an aunt in a fire on New Year’s Eve?
    Each time, my conveyance of information was exact, much to the person’s shock.
    I recognize that there is always the possibility I am picking up on or sensing a person’s memory of a passed loved one or friend. I realize that is always a possibility. I just didn’t think it so because it seemed that there was an urgency on the part of this person who was appearing to me psychically to contact a living person- that it was seemingly coming from something other than the person they were trying to contact. I must also add that I have been contacted this same way days before coming across the person the spirit was trying to contact.

    I am not a physicist or scientist. I offered my experience with this matter, that is all. To you, it is an extraordinary claim- to me, it is something I have lived with since I can remember. I don’t understand it any more than you do. I don’t do drugs, drink, and I am not mentally ill or depressed.

    I’m sorry you don’t consider what I offer as helpful. Perhaps to some, it might be. If even one, then I guess it was worth the time and energy I have devoted to this blog today.
    I wish I understood it better myself. I have never questioned it before. Perhaps, now, I should.
    My best,
    SR

  106. #106 Toad
    March 21, 2010

    “I feel it is very wrong to ever take payment of any kind for this ability or to use it in a commercial sense.”

    “I’m sorry you don’t consider what I offer as helpful. Perhaps to some, it might be. If even one, then I guess it was worth the time and energy I have devoted to this blog today.”

    Here’s how you could actually be helpful.

    Would you feel it is wrong to withold it, if it could, on a one-time basis, benefit many in a non-commercial way, without harming anyone?

    If the answer is yes, then please apply for the JREF million dollar prize and donate the proceeds to a children’s hospital.

  107. #107 audrey nagel
    April 30, 2010

    I believe i John , I feel he has a gift from God I wish i could have a reading but i can not afford the price of his tickets. I am retired and that money is too much for my pocketbook. I do injoy watching him

  108. #108 evden eve nakliyat
    July 21, 2010

    you have been able to confirm that you have ‘never had a miss’ in over 50 episodes, particularly when you receive communications from dead relatives of random strangers in grocery stores or at parties. How do you go about confirming the identity of your deceased contacts? How do you identify the target of this information in a crowd?

    You come across to me like an angry person. Someone who has suffered in their life and feels alone in this whole realm of things.
    I looked back over my original response, and I see nothing that could be construed as ‘anger’–no CAPSLOCK, no bad words, nary an exclamation point. Are you basing your opinion on some kind of non-physical energy message you might be receiving? If not, I fail to see how you can interpret my civil requests for evidence of your gifts as anger. For the record, I am quite embarrassingly happy, have suffered comparatively very little in life, and am surrounded by loving family and friends. As such, I regret to inform you that you may have just experience your first ‘miss’. Sorry about that.

  109. #109 Mike
    October 29, 2010

    Well said. John Edward and all other psychics and mediums are frauds. People should check out James Randi debunking Peter Popoff on youtube.

    Also there’s a million dollar reward for anyone who can prove they have any supernatural powers. Check out this at the James Randi Institute.

  110. #110 christie
    January 16, 2011

    I feel sad for people like you. What a young, ignorant soul. You obviously know absolutely nothing about the spiritual, the subtle, and the amazing ability of the mind. Science doesn’t prove everything, and is ever evolving itself. These people don’t “cold read”. People who automatically lump all mediums into this category, or try to shove psychics in a test tube and prove their ability are very narrow minded and ignorant. It doesn’t work that way. I’m sure there is a reason for people like you, but I feel sorry for you.

  111. #111 Meryem Psychic
    September 23, 2011

    Science has yet to understand and verify each and every action-reaction, object and element etc. When it will become knowledgeable enough only than people taking help of scientific theories should try to contradict things related with belief. I agree their are hell lot of conman in the psychic medium reading field but it will be wrong to say such abilities in human doesn’t exist at all.

  112. #112 Craig
    January 14, 2012

    If you were to believe the skeptics, they would have you believing that you don’t really exist. It’s all in your mind. After all, how can you PROVE you are really here if you’re mentally gone, dreaming, etc.? Or how can you prove God exists when he’s not of this earth/dimension. Come on skeptics, you’re so in love with negativity, that you can’t believe in the saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”. You only need ONE psychic that can talk to the dead, see the past, etc. to PROVE that there is in fact more to the universe than we realize. You just don’t want to “believe” in what you perceive as the impossible, so like a good lawyer, you twist the story to support YOUR beliefs. Over 90 percent of the population belive in a higher being/God. Prove them wrong!

  113. #113 gb
    January 29, 2012

    just came across this article. he is a fraud. seen it with my own eyes. i met him and told him i was a fan of his show but didnt tell him that i still thought it was b.s. i worked security at a hotel in boston when he visited and his staff had people fill out info cards before hand. he has an earpiece in his ear while someone else sits in a room. not only that….he spent the first 30-40 minutes doing an almost stand up routine to get the crowd to warm up to him. it was sad to watch grown women from my neighborhood pay $125 to see him. he is a professional cold reader just like this article states. whats worse is kim kardashian had him on her show and even she fell for it..not realizing that he probably researched her father before hand. it is vile that he preys on people who have lost loved ones. i watched him call out names and constantly get shit wrong.

  114. #114 Chemmomo
    January 29, 2012

    Craig the necromancer @114

    Over 90 percent of the population belive in a higher being/God. Prove them wrong!

    Prove a higher being exists.

    Oh wait. That’s why it’s faith.

    On second thought, let’s go back to this, Craig: Prove a higher being exists.

  115. #115 Donna
    March 23, 2012

    I don’t claim to be a psychic, but I know things before they happen. I am not a John Edwards, a psychic who talks to deceased people, although I know of people who can, who are not on a stage, have not written books, but just have true visions. As I do. I am always 100 percent correct in my knowings, but I will never write a book or share what I see with the general public. Just with friends and family. There are others out there who do see things, that know things, don’t want fame or money. Knowing and seeing the future, or what lies beyond this life are not false abilities unless you truly don’t have the ability and are faking it for money. I don’t know if John Edwards does this. I myself don’t. I know what I know when it comes to me. Cannot really call it at will, but I experience the knowing when it comes to me. Nothing fake to it.

  116. #117 bossis
    April 21, 2012

    I was taken in by John Edwards. Bought at least 2 of his books. What convinced me he was a fraud was simple math. I looked up the cost of a ticket to one “event.” I believe it was about $175 at the time (about 5 years ago). Since as many as 5000 people attend his “readings,” I figured a fair average event number would be about 3000 people. He had at least 50 shows scheduled that year, many of which were sold out already. So, approximately $525,000 per show, X 50 = $26,250,000! Pay the road fees,and the rest of his staff, etc, and I’m sure he’s still making at least 5 – 8 million take home. That’s just for his shows. Add in the books, TV shows, talk shows (I’m sure he doesn’t do these free) – He’s obviously a multi-millionaire. Regarding Sean Hannity, talk show hosts and thier celebrity guests feed each others needs. Hannity gets the viewers, and John gets more publicity. Hannity probably doesn’t care if John is a fraud or not. It’s business.

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