Psychics, Mediums and Murder

I'm somewhat skeptical about psychics and mediums in general, and there are many who I'm convinced are frauds. Regardless, I try to keep an open mind about these sorts of things, though the evidence to date doesn't support the validity of psychics or mediums. No one claiming to be a psychic or medium has ever survived scrutiny in a properly-constructed test. After all, no one has ever won the million dollar Amazing Randi challenge and no one who attempted the famous Houdini test ever succeeded. Simply put, these people can not deliver under the controlled conditions essential for valid investigation.

Now I know that there are a handful of scientists who have been taken in by folks like Geller et al. Just because someone has a Ph.D. in one of the sciences doesn't mean they're qualified to pass judgment on psychic frauds. The methods that most of these so-called psychics and mediums use are from a branch of stage magic called mentalism. It takes a trained and experienced stage magician to pick up on their tricks. A lot of scientists will not spot the sorts of maneuvers required of a stage magician who is out to fool his or her audience. Few scientists are trained in how to perpetrate slight-of-hand and other stage deceptions. (I think I can vouch for this first hand, since I am one of those people with a Ph.D. in hard science.) Essentially, when it comes to exposing paranormal fraud, it takes one to know one! I call this the Houdini principle of paranormal investigation, since it was Houdini who championed the exposure of many early 20th C. fake mediums and psychic frauds. These days, stage magician James Randi, better known as the Amazing Randi, is one of the principle proponents of exposing paranormal fraud. I recommend his website highly.

On the flip side, I do know of two murder cases, the John List murders and the Lake Waco murders in Texas, where information developed through paranormal means was uncannily close to results uncovered by police work. In the first case, a psychic approached by a police detective made a number of statements about the location of the fugitive John List which turned out to be true. This psychic also made one prediction that was incorrect, i.e., that List would visit the graves of his victims on his birthday. You can read more about the List murders at Court TV's Crime Library web site.

In the case of the Lake Waco murders, a woman working as a secretary and not generally known as a psychic had a dream/vision about the chronology and location of the murder of the 3 missing teenagers. She was able to take the local cops to within a few yards where the bodies were found, regardless of the fact that the exact crime scene location had not been made public. She neither expected nor asked for any renumeration, nor was she interested in any publicity. Her description of the murder and its location was dead on the money, especially compared to the efforts of a professional psychic from Dallas who was consulted in the case. It's been a few years since I've read up on this case, so my memory might be a bit off here. For better details, pick up a copy of Carlton Stower's quite excellent book, Careless Whispers, which has recently been reissued after being unavailable for many years. It would be nice to point people to a website which summarizes the Lake Waco murder case in its entirety, but strangely enough for such a well-known case, there doesn't seem to be one. You best bet is to beg, borrow or buy a copy of Stower's book, which is definitely worth reading.

Every once in a great while, it really does look like there's something to this paranormal business after all. So perhaps not all of these folks are bogus. Cases like the Lake Waco murders and the John List murders may be just coincidences, or maybe they could really be on to something. One usually runs into cases like this in the journalistic literature, but it's dangerous to conclude the validity of the paranormal based on what is essentially anecdotal evidence. No one really knows the percentage of paranormal pronouncements which turn out to be true vs. those that are false since few people report on psychic or medium failures. In the mainline press, paranormal observations that appear to be true are newsworthy, but ones that fail are not. If you're a reporter who wants to keep your job, guess which one you're going to write about.

On the other hand, if some of these paranormal practitioners are for real, then it looks to me that a lot of the others are frauds and that real psychics and mediums are exceedingly rare. If all of the people who claim to be real psychics and mediums are genuine, then there ought to be a line a mile long to take and pass the Amazing Randi challenge. If you pass, you get one million dollars! I have to wonder, therefore, why any legitimate psychic or medium would want to avoid the Amazing Randi challenge? It would be easy money. I guess I'd feel better about the whole paranormal business if a lot of these people didn't charge an arm and a leg for their services. Some of these people charge thousands of dollars to play medium between you and your beloved deceased. If a psychic or medium turns out to be nothing better than a stage magician mentalist who charges that kind of money, then I think that's just plain wrong. I am more inclined to believe someone like the secretary who had a spontaneous vision about the Lake Waco murders and who expected no reward than to believe someone who charges a lot of money and performs on demand. I am not prepared to dismiss all mediums and psychics as frauds: it just may be that there are a handful of people who are for real. The scientist in me wants confirmation from a controlled experiment; the skeptic in me thinks that paranormal claims are all complete bunk; and the optimist in me says not to forget Arthur C. Clarke's law, that one person's magic is another person's science.

On a much lighter note, go check out the Psychic Pigs, for all the answers to your computer hardware and software problems. You'll need to have a plug-in that can play flash files. Be prepared to laugh.

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