Medium Poor

Totally psyched

John Edward... oh puh-lease

John Edward, Psychic… oh puh-lease

I have a long-standing dislike of psychics… the mediums who prey on the desperation of bereaved people.  They claim to speak to people who have passed, while patently doing no such thing.  And we know this for three main reasons.  First because what they are doing makes no sense (these dead people are where?).  Second the fatuous nature of the contact is so peculiar – why do the dead people speak in generalities (a pain on my left side…) and platitudes? (I’m OK, don’t worry).  And third, a long-standing million pound challenge to anyone who can demonstrate any proper evidence of communicating with dead people has never been claimed.

In spite of our overwhelming desire to communicate with people we have lost, the sad truth is that it has never happened, and never will.


I remember sitting in a hotel room in New York late one night, watching the Larry King show on CNN.  I had arrived there from London earlier that evening, so it felt even later.  King’s guest that night was one of the more successful psychics, John Edward, who was running through his usual asinine shtick, and comfortably coping with King’s gentle cross-examination.   People like Edward are never called out on their bullshit.

The following morning, it was while walking to the BBC’s office in mid town Manhattan and listening to Howard Stern on a personal radio, that I heard that the second plane had gone into the World Trade Centre, and the day’s terrible consequences unfolded.

John Edward and most psychics make few claims to predict the future, perhaps because their veracity is so easily checked, but I’ve often thought about the closeness of the interview to the tragedy.  If anyone had any claims to the paranormal they would have been able to predict 9/11.  As we know, no-one did.

And one could, if pushed, draw a direct link between the transparently silly but harmless image of the afterlife that psychics propagate, and the peculiar ’72 virgins in heaven’ scenario (or are they raisins?), supposedly believed by some of the more credulous hijackers.

More broadly, it seems to be a failure of television that it has failed to subject these people, and the Derek Acorahs and Sally Morgan’s that we get in the UK to the ridicule that their cabaret acts deserve.

We live in enlightened times, and television offers the means to set us free from charlatans by the forensic light it can shine into dark places and deliver to a mass audience.  This is one medium that ought to be forcing another type of medium out of business.  In fact TV should be embarrassed sharing the word ‘medium’ with such lowlifes.  And rather than providing the opportunity to expose the psychic industry in an exercise of collective consciousness raising, it has given them a platform.

In television terms, the bonkers can outgun debunkers

Here's another one.  Give me strength

Here’s another one. Give me strength

While TV is putting on series presented by psychics, the forces of rationality are meeting in pubs.  Derren Brown (in Derren Brown Investigates) has done a sterling job in covering these issues, but it’s all a bit piece-meal.  Why is this?

Perhaps this: TV is so brilliant at telling stories and taking us somewhere special that it lends itself to the intoxicating idea of communing with the dead, and the emotional charge that this would deliver for participants.  The truth is far more prosaic, and less fun, and is (essentially) a single, very short story (it’s a lot of obviously crafted nonsense). The idea of contacting dead people can be told many ways, and television needs a lot of material.  Until the forces of rationality can find a way to create a range of exciting and transporting story-lines, they will inevitably be out-gunned by their ‘psychic’ opponents.


In a battle between the absurdist and the scientist, the former has a range of dramatic tools, while the scientist has only one.  Though it is the only one that makes any sense.


Choon!  It’s got ‘psychic in the title…

I wouldn’t equate religion to the belief in talking to the dead, but still I like this guy Matt Dillahunty, and this type of programme (on public access TV in Houston, Texas).  Why don’t we have them in the UK?.