Jun 17 2019

Fake Skepticism About Psychics

I was recently sent a link to a site purporting to advise – “5 Easy Ways To Tell If Your Psychic Is The Real Deal Or A Fraud.” The title itself is a red flag. A better title might be – 5 ways we can know that all psychics are frauds. So of course I can replace these five ways with one even simpler more surefire way – they are giving you a psychic reading. If they are doing that while taking your money and pretending it’s real, they are a fraud. They may believe it’s real themselves, but that doesn’t make it real.

In reality this is just an advertisement for this specific psychic – they are warning you away from their competition by arguing that they are genuine. This is a age-old advertising technique, to make people feel insecure about your competition, so they will buy your product or service just to be safe.

But let’s take a look at these five ways. The first is: They don’t offer a refund. Offering a refund is a common sales technique in itself, it gives the customer the impression that there is no risk. However, you always have to read the fine print. What are the conditions under which a refund is given, what do you have to do to get your refund, and are there any hidden costs (like – just pay shipping and handling).

They also say, “It’s a fallacy to think that psychic gifts should be given free, they aren’t, because time is still being utilized and spent.” This is true in that anyone is allowed compensation for their time. But the stated assumption is that the person has “psychic gifts.” There are no standards for determining if someone has such actual gifts. Essentially they are saying – if it feels right to you, then its genuine. This just means that this particular psychic is confident in their performance skills.

The next one is interesting – that you should be suspicious if a reading is “too” accurate. They state: “Contrary to reality, no psychic or medium is always 100 percent accurate.” I think they mean contrary to “belief” but I would challenge the assumption that most people believe that. Following this is that standard defense that psychic powers are finicky and require interpretation. So really, no matter how well a psychic performs, it’s all good. This defense simply renders the psychic performance unfalsifiable.

They do correctly reference so-called “hot” readings, where an alleged psychic will Google a client prior to a reading. The internet has made hot readings much easier. But this ignores, of course, the staple of the psychic reading, which is cold reading. This is a suite of techniques, perfected by mentalists, for gleaning information from targets and convincing them that they knew all along information they either just guessed or obtained from the client.

So this one simultaneously scares clients away from potentially “cheating” psychics, while excusing their own poor performance and diverting from the real technique of cold reading.

Number three on the list is – there are no references, meaning testimonials about how great they are. I doubt there are many working psychic readers out there who don’t have testimonials, which are completely useless in any case. Testimonials are cherry picked and can be used to support nearly everything.

Number four is actually a useful, but tricky, bit of advice – “You’ll have to return X amount of times before you get results.” You should be suspicious of a service that requires a curiously long term commitment on your part. That does seem like a money-extraction feature. But of course, context is everything. Some diseases legitimate require many treatments or long term follow up, for example. Maintenance services (like lawn care) are almost by definition long term. But chiropractic maintenance treatments are not evidence-based and seem like a scam. In the context of this alleged psychic it seems like just another sales pitch – come back only as long as you feel comfortable.

The last feature is dubious – “It is that simple. Your instinct is telling you, that you can’t trust them — listen to it! It’s important to believe that feeling you get and not ignore it.” Of course this is what self-professed psychics want you to do, listen to your feelings (not your intellect). Your feelings can be manipulated. All sales-people want you to listen to your feelings. That is basically what most marketing is.

What they don’t want you to do is listen to your reasoning, to facts, logic, and evidence. There is no compelling evidence for any psi phenomena, and not for lack of trying. When objectively examined the performance of alleged psychics is terrible, no better than guessing. They are clearly using cold reading techniques, and many have been caught doing hot readings. Mentalists, who admit what they are doing is for entertainment, perform much better, in my experience.

In fact there is a strong culture and history among psychics and fortune-tellers of being con-artists. This is largely a ruthless business, which includes actual crime syndicates. Sure, there are solo “mom and pop” psychics, but I would not make that assumption about any particular psychic. Even at best, I would argue, the psychic industry is exploitative. They are often grief vampires. Their clients are often vulnerable in one way or another. They are playing with their clients’ emotions, needs, desires, and personal history in order to deceive them (even if they themselves are deceived) and take their money.

So I would replace the five ways to tell a psychic is fraud with one simple rule – assume they all are to one degree or another. There is no evidence they offer anything of value, there is good reason to believe what they do is not benign, and there even a chance they may in fact be part of a syndicate of some kind. Your money and emotional bandwidth are better spent elsewhere.

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