Sick Psychics

There is so much to blog this week but I thought I would report something about money-grabbing, attention-seeking, bloody psychics. Not the nice deluded psychics who contact me and really believe they have powers. No, I’m talking about the ones who are milking the gullibility of people.

In an article in Saturday’s Guardian, we learned that a Welsh police force had spent approximately £20,000 following up leads from psychic mediums regarding a suicide. They claimed to have been contacted by the ghost of the man and that he had been killed by gangsters who had forced him to drink petrol and bleach. A second autopsy was ordered and no evidence of such substances were found.

A statement from Dyfed-Powys police said: “The revelations of the mystics were brought to our attention via the family and these were followed to reassure the family that the full circumstances of the death were as they appeared. Police have a responsibility to the deceased, their family and the public to investigate all deaths thoroughly.” You can read the story for yourself but clearly this sets a terrible precedence. I imagine the distraught family were fleeced for cash and told a cock-n-bull story about a murder.

Derek-Acorah-001But it’s Sky1’s broadcast of über psychic conman Derek Acorah’s attempt to contact Michael Jackson in a live seance watched by more than 600,000 viewers on Friday, 6 November that sticks in the throat. I think Derren Brown writing on his blog put it most appositely, “Can you honestly imagine anything – anything – more anus-invertingly unpalatable than this? I hate myself for drawing attention to it. So proud to be in telly.” The Guardian review does a pretty impressive hatchet-job on this most irritating of scousers but here’s an excerpt, “Acorah’s manipulation of the vulnerable was in such bad taste that it couldn’t be seen as entertainment on any discernible level. It was depressing. That’s all it was.”

The sooner psychics are made to provide scientific evidence to support their claims (which they can’t), the sooner we can persecute I mean, prosecute them for taking money off the gullible public. And that includes exploitative television. Burn the witch!

17 Comments

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17 responses to “Sick Psychics

  1. Oh I hate that that poor family, in the midst of their grief and completely stressed, was taken in by that crook.

    I didn’t know anything about the M. Jackson seance or whatever the hell it was, and I wouldn’t have watched it if I had. Acorah is at the top of the shyster heap, a pile that is unfortunately far too large.

    I agree with your opinion that they should all be made to suffer as their victims suffer.

  2. jacarandamimosifolia

    Agree that Acorah and his ludicrous programme represents a new low in the annals of British broadcasting…but can’t help thinking that he’s not the only (or biggest) villain.

    He’s a nasty little shyster, sure, but it’s the TV execs and the production company owners that commission and make this stuff that are really responsible for getting it into people’s living rooms (and for making the most money in the process). In this case they are: Stuart Murphy, Director of Programmes Sky1 and Melanie Leach (sic) Managing Director of TwoFour Broadcast.

  3. Tessa K

    I read a different news report of the Welsh case where the family denied that the psychics had come to them. It all seems a bit muddled – no wonder the police are saying they have become a laughing stock.

    I blogged this story and another one this week about a police trainer appealing against being sacked because he thinks using psychics is a good idea. (It does start with a British cultural reference that Bruce may be too foreign to get…)

    http://tessera2009.blogspot.com/2009/11/psychic-detectives.html

    http://tessera2009.blogspot.com/2009/11/psychic-detectives.html

    • brucehood

      Thanks Tessa, I did the usual lazy thing of reading the papers and taking the story at face value – which of course- is exactly why we have to be so careful on the truth of stories.
      On another note that maybe worth a blog in itself. I used to think the profileration (?) of internet blogging would dilute truth, I am now thinking (given the number of times I have been picked up for inaccuracy) that actually it might be a slight antidote to churlinlism .. where journalists simply re-hash old stories

      • I’m with you on that one Bruce.

        If a given number of bloggers report an article as ‘the truth’, then I find there are a greater number who will start digging to check for themselves.

        This was not a luxury that we had before blogging took off in such a big way.

        Oh, and did you have to post that photo of Acorah? I can feel the nasty little git just willing my wallet out of my pocket.

        He’s the worst of a bad bunch….. remember ‘Mary loves Dick’?

        No? – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8H_v8cM9CQ

    • It’s a real plaurese to find someone who can think like that

  4. dorian

    i used to watch ‘most haunted’ on occasion because the sites of their spook investigations we usually beautiful and historic castles, mansions, forts, etc.
    the ladies screaming every other minute was a bit annoying but they were charming enough. i knew acorah was a charlatan the first time i saw him but this was what confirmed it for me: there was one episode where they investigated a house said to have been haunted by one of the owner’s relatives who recently passed. when they were in the living room, the telly made a popping/thumping noise. acorah asked if this has happened before and the owner said it did, occasionally. well, acorah immediately said “that is your uncle (or whoever), letting his presence known to you, blahblahblah…”

    my telly does the same thing, especially after i shut it down after a few hours of watching brain shrinking shows. the popping/thumping would be thermal expansion and contraction as the tv heats and cools. so it isn’t anybody’s dead uncle saying hi.

    the man is still around and making money from the gullible, eh? he should come to america – he’s bound to make lots more.

    • A friend of MrsN’s once went to one of Acorah’s stage shows, and met the odious little oik in person.

      Being a fan, and wishing to impress, she asked for his opinion of a digital flash photo that she had taken at home, that featured some ‘ghostly orbs’.

      Now, I knew them to be either dust inside the lens, or blemishes on the CCD of the camera (I used to work in the camera industry), but Acorah told her that they were the spirit of her mother (whose ashes were in an urn in the room).

      Being a caring soul, I took the piss mightily, and myself and No1 son photoshopped one of the photos to include the word ‘Boo!’ in one of the orbs.

      To the best of my knowledge as far as MrsN’s friend is concerned, Acorah is still genuine, but I’m even more of a jerk than she thought previously.

      …..suits me fine.

  5. Tessa K

    There have been exposés of Acorah, at least in the skeptic community. The researchers fed him information or ‘happened’ to mention things around him that then turned up as messages from The Beyond. Allegedly.

    There was a long interview with him in the Guardian a while ago. He sounds like a really nasty man.

    An interesting show on BBC4 recently about ghost stories on TV suggested that all these haunted house shows on TV were started by one the BBC did on Halloween, which was a hoax, but gave certain producers the idea. Some people even thought that one was real.

    • brucehood

      Yup … he is pretty odious… But do check out Nobbly Sam’s you tube “Mary loves Dick” – it really is quite funny how the presenter can hardly keep a straight face!

  6. OT – Bruce, I have finally started reading your book (sorry, it was behind The Blank Slate, The Selfish Gene, and Guns, Germs, and Steel in my reading queue — good company, though, eh?). I am enjoying the provocative nature of the book, and it definitely has already given me a lot of “water cooler” moments, as you say.

    I have a lot of thoughts about where you are going, and the in-depth treatment of the “killer’s cardigan” experiment in the book has given me a lot to think about (count me among those few who would wear it willingly, though it has inspired me to think about similar actions where I would not be so “rational” and I intend to write a full blog post about this soon).

    Two things I want to say even after a few chapters:

    First, I am a little surprised you think skeptics would tend to be less interested in this book. On the contrary, I have so far found it to be perfectly complimentary to my skeptical worldview, an important caveat that we all too often fail to make. Then again, I am always the guy on atheist blogs/message boards arguing that we should not consider science to be the epistemic be-all end-all (the epistemic trump card, to be sure, but not the only “way of knowing” there is) so maybe I am an exception.

    The other comment I really want to make, even though this is ultimately a semantic disagreement, is that I do not really buy your characterization of “rational”/”reason” and “supernatural” as being antonyms. It seems to me that “supernatural” is a subset of “irrational”. As an example, I would offer up the emotion of jealousy. Jealousy is surely irrational, but I would hardly say it is supernatural. Again, I suppose this is purely a matter of definition, but it seems to me important to distinguish between the merely irrational — in the sense of a skewed evaluation of costs and benefits in the natural world — vs. the supernatural, which entails costs and benefits which do not even exist in the natural world.

    It would not, for example. extend beyond the natural world if I felt jealousy towards my wife for being able to spend the days at home watching my infant son grow up. Of course there is nothing rational about this — the extra time she gets to spend with him does not take away at all from time I get to spend with him, since I would be at work in either case — but neither is it supernatural, since undeniably she is spending time with him and I am not.\

    Of course, I don’t deny that I hold a small handful of bona fide supernatural beliefs as well… but you could probably count the number of those on one hand, and they pretty much all have to do with immediate family. Still, I surely engage in irrational behavior all day long, despite my avowed skepticism and dedication to rationality — one cannot be human and not behave irrationally most of the time.

    I think this distinction is important, but alas, I am off to a housewarming party for a neighbor at the moment so I cannot elaborate on it at this time. And of course, maybe I should finish your book first anyway🙂 In any case, thanks for the great read!

    —Jay Sweet

    • Tessa K

      Jay – I think Bruce’s reservations about skeptics liking his book was based on him not knowing the skeptic community in the UK very well at the time. He does now – he posted a while ago that he was pleased to discover we are not all weirdy beardies.

      I’ve read the book and Bruce isn’t saying that irrational behaviour is exclusively supernatural.

      As a side note, jealousy is not necessarily irrational. Like other emotions that can be destructive, in the right context, it’s a useful survival mechanism. If your mate was eyeing up a rival, then jealousy would prompt mate guarding, for example, thus ensuring that any offspring you put energy into raising were yours. It’s only when it is provoked in an inappropriate context that it can be problematic – and even then only if acted on.

      I don’t think you’d be truly jealous of your wife staying home, more resentful. There’s also the tricky dividing line between jealousy and envy to consider.

      As for the killer’s cardigan. Hhm. Depends what colour it was.

      • Well, I’m a US skeptic, and still not a “weirdy beardy”. 🙂

        That actually kind of brings me to my one other objection so far to Bruce’s book, and this is a nitpick, but it’s something that is important to me. I don’t have the book in front of me right now, but there is a sentence something to the effect of “Not all atheists I know are church-burning militants.” I wonder if Bruce knows any church-burning atheists :p It seems to me that pretty much all church-burnings in the past have been religiously motivated…

        I know that was not the point, and in context the sentence made sense… but given that, in some parts of America, even acknowledging the existence of atheism can result in violent threats, we need to be very careful about the “I’m not one of those atheists” language. You and I might know that “those atheists” are largely a myth, but unfortunately a large segment of the general public does not!

  7. Tessa K

    James – some of us are just weirdy no beardies!

    There is a trend in the UK media to caricature atheists as militant at the moment, partly because of Dawkins. Not many public figures have outed themselves as atheists; politicians often say they are humanists because that’s a softer image and a set of values. Atheists are easy to demonize as being value-less people who want to kill Christmas (yes, really).

    I work for the National Secular Society. Most people don’t know what that means and we get portrayed as Christmas killers who want to rid the world of religion too.

    There is a tendency among some Americans I’ve encountered to equate atheist with communist (and they were church-burners, kind of).

    • Atheists are easy to demonize as being value-less people who want to kill Christmas (yes, really).

      Oh believe me, I know.

      I do have to say, one of the nice perks of being a godless ex-Christian married to a godless ex-Jew is that I get to celebrate Christmas and Channukah (double gifts!), as well as celebrating both Easter and Passover (double feasts!) without hypocrisy. Rawk.

  8. I wouldn’t say that all psychics are sick like this example. There are people in this industry trying to take advantage of the uninformed and it is quite a shame. Thanks for posting.

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