Medium Dead

July 2000
by Jon Blumenfeld

If you’ve ever wondered what the phrase ‘heebie-jeebies’ means, tune into the Sci Fi channel Sunday through Thursday at 11:00 p.m. and you’re sure to get a good, solid case. The show in question is called ‘Crossing Over with John Edward,’ and it features yet another medium using age-old carnival mentalism to appear to ‘communicate’ with the dearly departed. Readers of this publication might recall our reaction to another of these charlatans, twice published author James Van Praagh (or as Michael Shermer calls him, James Van Fraaud) – we were not amused then, and we’re not amused now. After all, sometimes the hooey we all encounter on a day-to-day basis is good for a few chuckles, even (our guilty secret) a few derisive laughs when we all get together at our not-so-secret meetings, but taking advantage of the vulnerability of those in mourning, well, if we knew what dander was, ours would be up (NB to letter writers: we secretly know what dander really is, so put the caps back on your pens).

Anyway, the Sci Fi channel prefaced this charade with a special entitled ‘Messages from the Dead: The John Edward story,’ in which we were exposed to a treatment of John’s childhood discovery of his ‘ability’ and his supposed openness to skepticism. His answer to the skeptics is twofold: If he were just a good guesser, he’d be at the tables in Vegas everyday winning a bundle, and he’s not reading minds, so he must be talking to the dead. Well, John, we’re certainly not accusing you of reading minds, and as for the guessing game, nobody thinks you’re just a good guesser. You get plenty of help from your victims, who are encouraged to provide information – here’s a quote from the show’s website: ‘Validation Is Important! Since John does not know your friends and relatives, it’s very important you give feedback. A simple nod of the head, a yes or no answer goes a long way in a reading.’ No kidding. We won’t bore you with yet another discussion of cold reading, but we can say that validation isn’t just important – it’s practically the whole act. No need to take chances in Vegas when the Sci Fi channel will pay you big bucks to take advantage of the vulnerable.

So now John Edward has an entire, editable show on which he can feature his hits and edit out his misses, set up ground rules to get the most out of his audience, and get national exposure to boot – a situation which must truly be the envy of fraudulent hucksters everywhere. He’s even found a group of ‘scientists’ at the Human Energy Systems Laboratory at the University of Arizona who are willing to validate his abilities, through a series of remarkably badly controlled tests – suffice it to say that the NESS board believes that it could easily duplicate the supposed 88% accuracy achieved in one test – with one hemisphere of our collective brain tied behind our backs.

What do we do about it? Write angry editorials in the NEJS? Boycott the Sci Fi channel? Easy and easier, done and done, but the true answer as always lies in the mere existence of organizations like ours. The very fact of a dissenting voice, crying in the wilderness, means that somewhere, someone may just ask a question, and we’ll be there. Meanwhile, just rest assured that a male relative, first initial ‘J’, John, Jack, maybe James, someone to whom the number 3, or possibly 7, is important, someone holding a white flower to indicate a birthday – is stuck in the afterlife spin cycle.