Junkfood Science: As seen on TV

June 20, 2008

As seen on TV

Psychic mediums on television can be fun to watch, but everyone knows, just like the cold readings of parlor tricks, fortune tellers and magician acts, that the psychics don’t really have psychic powers. Right?

A psychic reading is fun... until it is believed by school officials to be real and used against you.

Can you imagine having child protective services called by school officials, and having your family investigated for sexually abusing your handicapped child, based on a psychic medium’s cold reading to a teacher’s aid? This story is so incredible, here are several sources confirming this report:

The Mother, The Child, The School Board And The Psychic

... Leduc's weird tale began on May 30, when she dropped young Victoria off for class at Terry Fox Elementary and headed in to work, only to receive a frantic phone call from the school telling her it was urgent she come back right away. The frightened mother rushed back to the campus and was stunned by what she heard — the principal, vice-principal and her daughter's teacher were all waiting for her in the office, telling her they'd received allegations that Victoria had been the victim of sexual abuse — and that the CAS had been notified.

How did they come by such startling knowledge? ...The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of "V." And she said 'yes, I do.' And she said, 'well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'"...

But things got worse when school officials used the "evidence" and accepted the completely unsubstantiated word of the seer by reporting the case to Children's Aid, which promptly opened a file on the family. "They reported me to Children's Aid," Leduc declares, still disbelieving. "Based on a psychic!"

This mother was more fortunate than most accused people might have been. She had proof because she’d equipped her daughter with a recording GPS unit for her safety because the school had apparently lost her in the past, according to the news report:

The mother was long dissatisfied with the treatment her daughter had received at the school, after they had allegedly lost her on several occasions. As a result, the already cash strapped mom had spent a considerable sum of money to not only have her child equipped with a GPS unit, but one that provided audio records of everything that was going on around her. So she had non-stop taped proof that nothing untoward had ever happened to her daughter...

And so a case worker came to the Leduc home to discuss the allegations of sexual misconduct, only to admit there wasn't a shred of evidence that anything had ever happened at all. They labelled Leduc a "diligent" mother doing the best she could for her child under difficult circumstances, closed the file and left, calling the report "ridiculous."

...Leduc is now more convinced than ever that her daughter isn't safe at the campus and that she needs more intensive therapy. As a result, she's refused to send Victoria back to class - or to the educational assistant who allegedly started the entire chain of events in the first place. As a result of her stress and the need to stay home with her daughter, Leduc is now unable to work, has no place to send her child for the rest of the year, isn't sure where she'll go when school begins in September...

Mom wants apology after psychic's abuse claim

... Colleen Leduc, from Barrie, Ont., told CTV's Canada AM she was called back to her 11-year-old autistic daughter's school and told they had something urgent to tell her.

She said she was told that her daughter Victoria's teaching assistant had been to a psychic recently. "And the psychic asked her if she worked with a little girl by the name of 'V'." Leduc alleges that when the assistant said yes, the psychic then told the assistant: "'Well, you need to know she's being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'"

...Officials at Terry Fox Elementary School then gave Leduc a list of behaviours exhibited by her daughter, which taken together with the report from the psychic, formed a theory of abuse. "You have to keep in mind she has autism, and she's in pre-pubescence so she's developing, and she has no inhibitions," Leduc says, "so she's exhibiting behaviours that may be construed as sexual in nature in a social environment."

Mom says school board 'unprofessional' to allege abuse based on psychic's perception

The mother of an autistic girl says the public school board in this city north of Toronto was "completely unprofessional" to formulate a theory that her daughter was being sexually abused based on a psychic... Leduc immediately pulled her 11-year-old daughter, Victoria Nolet, out of Terry Fox Elementary School. "I have trust issues now," Leduc said. "What are they going to concoct next week?"

...a school board superintendent whose portfolio includes special education, said the school was just following protocol, adding the board is bound by the same legislation -- Child and Family Services Act -- as the CAS when it comes to suspected neglect or sexual abuse... The CAS said the legislation stipulates that all cases of suspected abuse be reported "if there are reasonable grounds."

...But Leduc said information gleaned from a psychic shouldn't be the impetus for the board to launch a CAS investigation. "First of all, what were they doing taking a psychic's word?... The board stands by its decision, despite where the initial information came from.

Psychic Information Began Child Abuse Investigation

A Canadian mother was recently subjected to a child abuse investigation on the grounds that a psychic informed a school district employee that a child was being abused... Considering that a child abuse allegation can follow someone around for life even if they are vindicated, this is a particularly deplorable act. This is the twenty-first century! It should be a matter of shame and social stigma that somebody believes in psychic abilities and trusts a psychic enough to act on the “information” provided. The fact that some con artist’s word led to an investigation that might have separated a mother from her daughter is simply disgusting.

How'd they do that?

Psychics on TV can seem so convincingly real that it you might be curious how they do that? The staff at Straight Dope wrote a great and in-depth explanation in a 2003 article. They started off by reminding readers that there is no scientific evidence that psychics really exist:

How come TV psychics seem so convincing?

... "He told us things he couldn't possibly have known." Psychics and their fans say it's evidence of genuine psychic ability. But keep a couple things in mind:

(1) To date there's no scientific proof of the existence of "real" psychics. A stage or TV performance or a personal reading doesn't prove anything. Yes, a psychic can come up with amazingly accurate "hits." But people who are NOT psychics and make no pretense of having psychic powers can do readings and get equally good results.

As an example, Ian Rowland (whom we consulted for this report) is an entertainer who claims no psychic ability. He has given TV demonstrations posing as a tarot reader, an astrologer, a clairvoyant, and a spirit medium (someone who talks to the dead.) He scored just as many hits as the "genuine" psychics even though he openly admits he isn't psychic. He got his impressive results using a technique called cold reading. More on this later.

(2) Demonstrations of psychic ability aren't considered evidence unless they're done under scientifically-controlled conditions – which is a fancy way of saying no fudging, trickery, or cheating is permitted... All that research and effort has failed to produce a single psychic who can demonstrate genuine psychic ability.

So how do entertainers, carnival fortune tellers, tarot readers, and others get those amazing results?... They rely on three main techniques:

(a) Hot readings, where the psychic has secretly obtained advance information about the person being read.

(b) Cold readings, where the psychic has no advance information, but instead shrewdly elicits facts during the reading and plays them back to the subject, to the latter's amazement. This is the most common technique used by entertainers, and we'll spend the most time on it.

(c) TV editing.

OK, let's dig in....[The full article is here.]

Amaze your friends!

Despite the claims and near magical abilities of psychics that we think we’ve seen with our own eyes, “there has ever been a successful demonstration of these powers in a laboratory, under properly controlled conditions,” said Dr. Ray Hyman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. The most common technique they use is called cold readings.

You, too, can learn how to do cold readings and amaze your friends with your psychic abilities!

If you want to be a psychic, Dr. Hyman wrote a “Guide to Cold Readings” for the Australian Skeptics. He began his 13 key techniques, by writing:

1. Remember that the key ingredient of a successful character reading is confidence. If you look and act as if you believe in what you are doing, you will be able to sell even a bad reading to most subjects...

2. Make creative use of the latest statistical abstracts, polls and surveys...

The very last trick he insightfully called the Golden Rule. It’s the one used by all hucksters trying to sell us something and prey on us, by offering hope and promises: “Always tell the subject what he/she wants to hear!”

People get mad and don’t like it when you give them the truth... and, of course, the truth also often leaves nothing to sell. :-)

Psychics, as seen on TV, are not real. It’s entertainment. Televisionland is not real, no matter how convincing it might seem. It’s ‘comforting’ to know that education professionals teaching our children don’t know this stuff, isn’t it?

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