Archive for category Skepticism

First, fool yourself: the sincerity of the psychic

Derren Brown gave us some interesting skeptical TV viewing this week, investigating the Liverpool based “psychic medium” Joe Power in a Channel 4 documentary. Brown has previously covered the topic of contacting the dead in a special called “Messiah”, which I highly recommend.

Power seemed convinced of his ability to contact the dead, although he obviously sees what he does as a “career”, hoping to be as big a star as Derek Acorah or Colin Fry.

It seemed pretty clear to me that Power was using a combination of “cold reading” (drawing out information from the sitter and feeding it back) and “hot reading” (using information obtained in advance): techniques that Brown and Richard Wiseman explained during the programme. In the heated final exchange, Brown tried to get Power to admit to being a “fake” and asked him “How do you sleep at night?” Power responded with righteous indignation.

If a so-called medium is using non-paranormal means to create effects or paranormal powers, does that mean they are consciously faking? Maybe not. I’m going to argue that a lot of psychics fall into the space between “genuine” and “knowing fake”. Read the rest of this entry »

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World Health Organisation condemns homeopathy

Joyful news today on the BBC about a successful campaign for the charity Sense About Science. They asked the World Health Organisation to comment on the use of homeopathic treatment for diseases like HIV, malaria, TB and infant diarrhoea, and various WHO authorities have responded, stating in very clear terms that these conditions need to be treated with actual medicine and actual evidence. SAS have passed on these WHO statements in an open letter to the world’s health ministers (PDF link). Using “remedies” without any active ingredient to “treat” these horrible diseases, when effective alternatives are available, is an obscenity.

It’ll be interesting to see how much popular attention this gets (it was second-most-read on the BBC News site this morning): is the tide finally turning against alternative medicine?

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