Skeptic Answers Your Questions on Psychics

ANSWER: You shouldn't listen to Michael Shermer, or anyone else for that matter. The first principle of skepticism is to check it out yourself, and remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Of course, I cannot prove that it is impossible that psychics can talk to the dead, any more than I can prove that the pet psychic doesn't really talk to pet hamsters. One cannot prove a negative, as it is said. Nevertheless, we can estimate the probability of claims being true or false, and to that extent, from the evidence I have seen, it is highly probable that dead people cannot talk to us.

Q: How do you explain the live shows, like the ones he does on Larry King, or the pay-per-view ones. He doesn't see these people and it's live. I don't hear him rattling off hundreds of names, he usually gets names pretty close. Lots of times he says things no one else would know such as … "What happened to your arm, or someone you know's arm, did it get burned?" Yes, her sister's did! OR...Are holding something of your mom's in your hand right now? Yes she was. How do you explain that? — Shawna

A: "He usually gets names pretty close." Usually? Exactly how usual? Herein lies the problem in testing the validity of psychics. What constitutes a hit? How many total statements and/or questions were made? How many misses? What was the ratio of hits to misses? How many hits would be expected by chance? These are the sorts of questions that scientists and skeptics ask. The only way to really know is to run the test I proposed at the top of this document.

Q: About a year or so ago, I think it was on a late night show like Jay Leno or Letterman, another man who did the exact same thing as John Edward was on. He was obviously working off of the popularity that Edward was receiving. But he was just as "accurate", he even rubbed his hands like Edward does, and had the same vocal inflection, style of presentation, like an exact duplicate!! Physically and personality wise, he was different: he was on the chubby side and talked about his wife and family. I was flabbergasted when I saw this guy on TV, because the obvious deduction one arrived at was that whatever John Edward was "doing", so was this guy! I thought at the time, "This will destroy the J. Edward Illusion!" — and I never heard of him after that! It would have been different if his style was unique, but he was a carbon copy of John Edward. It made John Edward's "show" appear to be a complete hoax — even though it remained unclear how he gets away with it. — Laci Meszaros

A: I too have noticed that the psychics, like comedians and magicians, pick up each other's lines, patter, moves, and tricks. This is because talking to the dead is an act, and like any stage act it can be improved through practice and watching what other people do.

Q: Does Mr. Shermer still believe that the Earth is flat and that it is the center of the universe? — Helen Vasquez

A: What? It isn't?

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