Aug 12 2010

Alleged Psychic Finds Fish

Self-proclaimed psychic Crystal Newage (rhymes with “sewage”) claims that she was psychically led to find a large trout in a lake near her home.

She was fishing with some friends and claims that her spirit guide told her where to fish, and which lure to use. After about an hour with her line in the water she pulled up a 3 pound rainbow trout. She is quoted as saying:

You can call it luck, but what are the chances that I would have caught this particular trout right where my spirit guide told me to look. I could sense that there was something special about this location – it has a clear energy.

“We were fishing for bass,” her friend recalls, “but I guess trout was in our destiny that day.”

Skeptics argue that Crystal’s experience is not evidence of genuine psychic ability, but for those who believe it is all the evidence they need.

The above fake news story could stand in for many stories of alleged psychic events in the mainstream media. Psychics often go on figurative fishing expeditions, and then declare whatever they find as evidence of their psychic ability. This is a form of the “sharpshooter fallacy” – shooting randomly at the side of a barn, then drawing targets around the holes and claiming amazing accuracy.

It is also an example of going for high probability hits – the chance of catching a fish in a lake is pretty high. In addition there is the lottery fallacy – misinterpreting retrospective statistics for prospective statistics. There may be a small chance of John Smith winning the lottery, but a high chance of anyone winning. After the fact it makes no sense to ask – what were the odds of John Smith winning (unless he was predicted to win before hand).

Similarly – Crystal wonders what the chances are of her catching that particular fish – but that’s the wrong question. The real question is, what are the chances of her catching any fish in a lake stocked with fish?

And finally there is a combination of remembering hits and forgetting misses (we don’t hear about all the times Crystal went fishing and caught nothing, or the other kinds of  “fishing expeditions” she has been on without results, or the other alleged psychics who went fishing and came home empty handed), and also turning a miss into a hit – Crystal’s friend acknowledges they were looking for bass, but caught a trout.

Now let’s apply these principles to the latest news story of a self-proclaimed psychic trying to promote themselves by exploiting a bit of luck. From Australia we hear of the sad case of a missing little girl, Kiesha Abrahams. This is a high profile case – sure to attract the vultures. A local psychic (name not reported) reported to the police that she found the torso of an adult woman while walking in the Nurragingy Reserve. The body is believed to be of Kristi McDougall, a local woman missing for two months.

The “psychic”, of course, claims that she was lead to the spot by her psychic intuition, thinking she was being led to the body of Kiesha.

We don’t have many more details, but we can put this story into a logical context. The “psychic” and a friend were walking in a remote reserve looking for a discarded body – so they were looking in locations that would make a good place to dispose of a body, and they found one. This is not a remarkable occurrence. It wasn’t the body they were looking for, and we don’t know how long they were looking. We also don’t know if this is the first time the alleged psychic tried to insert herself into a high profile case, or what other attempts she has made to get a lucky hit she could use to promote herself.

In other words, we have no idea how many misses there were before this pseudo-hit (really a miss reinterpreted as a hit). We also need to consider how many self-promoting psychics are also trying to do the same thing. We should expect, even in a world without psychic power, that occasionally the random psychic will get lucky and produce an apparent hit.

I should also point out that the police should consider all possibilities – perhaps this alleged psychic has some connection to the MacDougall case, and used her knowledge of the body’s probable (or exact) location to exploit the Kiesha high profile case. This is not a necessary hypothesis, but should not be ignored by investigators. Fortunately, Chief Inspector Young who is in charge of the case seems to be on the ball, saying:

“I have certain strong feelings about people who claim they are psychic. I don’t think it will help if we enter a discussion on that.”

Sounds like a polite way of saying that she thinks psychics are bollocks. Many police are annoyed at psychics trying to take credit for their hard detective work. Joe Nickell has an excellent review of self-proclaimed psychic detectives, and it is no surprise that there is no credible evidence to support their claims.

Hopefully there will be some enlightening follow up on this story, but for now it is just another “psychic” fishing expedition.

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