Skeptic Answers Your Questions on Psychics

Q: Is there any kind of legal statute that would allow someone to prosecute those who participate in this type of activity? I believe John Edward and people like him inflict unnecessary emotional harm on people who have, most probably, already had a significant trauma in their lives. — Lori McCurdy

A: For the most part, no. Since it is next to impossible to prove fraud in such cases the law has a difficult time prosecuting psychics.

Q: Dear Mr. Shermer, Have you heard of "psychics" using audience ticket and mailing lists to obtain information and family histories so they already know about some of the people watching that day? I was surprised this wasn't mentioned in the story. — Kevin Hughes

A: It is quite possible that John Edward gets information on his subjects, but I doubt that he actually needs to. As you saw in the show, his hit rate is embarrassingly low, yet he is hugely successful nonetheless, so why bother to cheat and risk getting caught when people will believe you anyway?

Q: In response to your story on John Edward, psychic. The other day my wife and I saw a house that had a big sign in front yard. It read "Madam X talks to the dead and predicts the future — $100.00 per session". Beside her sign was another sign that read. "Home for Sale". It showed the Realtor's name and MLS capability. I wondered why Madam X had listed her property with a realtor. Why didn't she just look in her crystal ball and get the name and phone number of the person that was going to buy her home and deal with them direct. She would save herself the 6% Real Estate Commission fee. — Dwight Crawford

A: Nicely said. And, while we're at it, why aren't there any psychics living in Las Vegas and scoring big at the casinos, or at Santa Anita race track betting on the ponies? And, while we are on the subject, why didn't one psychic foresee the demise of the Psychic Friends Network? Or Princess Di's death? Or 9/11? The psychics always seem to know when some celebrity is going to get divorced, but they somehow miss things like terrorist attacks and earthquakes.

Q: Where can teachers access lesson plans and resource materials to help provide students with the skills to separate baloney from reality? It seems a majority of Americans hold beliefs in impossible things and are credulous enough to be ripe for hucksters such as Edward. — Edmund Smith

A: Thanks for asking! We have a Baloney Detection Kit and Jr. Skeptic magazine (which comes with a subscription to Skeptic magazine) just for teachers and students. You can get those at The Baloney Detection Kit includes course syllabi and materials on how to teach a course on this subject.

Q: Why don't you ask John Edward to do a reading for you? It may open up your heart and soul. — P. Mason

A: I would love to get a reading from John, but I seriously doubt he would entertain (if you will) the idea.

Q: What makes you think he's a phoney? Could you come any where near as close to a name or a sickness as he does? I would bet not. — Brett

A: I can do much better than John Edward, and I have! See my article "Psychic for a Day" at, which discusses my psychic abilities on a television show.

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