What Fresh Hell Is This?

June 5, 2011

John Edward's Coming To Pittsburgh!

Not the one you think. Check the punctuation.

On the way to work last week, I saw a billboard advertising a visit by "Internationally acclaimed psychic medium" John Edward. That's Edward - with no "s". The douche bag who's been indicted is Edwards - with an "s". I'm not talking about him but imagine what sort of political hell it would be for the Democrats had he been elected.

I am talking about John Edward, the "psychic." Please note the irony quotes as they're quite intentional. Edward's gonna be in town in November.

Let me first say that in a capitalist society, much like the one in which we all live, each of us is free, for the most part, to spend our money as we see fit. So if you want to part with the $125 necessary to see John Edward do a group reading, you are of course completely free to do so. It's your money.

Before you do, however, you might want to watch the first episode of the first season of Penn and Teller's Showtime series. The series, in case you were wondering, is called "Bullshit." That pretty much sums up P&T think of John Edward, James van Praagh and other "psychics" who claim to speak with the dead.

You can find the video for the show on youtube, if you're so inclined to go look for it.

Before you spend the $125 to see Edward, you should also know what a "cold reading" is. More than 20 years ago philosopher Denis Dutton defined it as a practical use of something called "The Barnam Effect":
That there is a sucker born every minute is the cynical slogan most often attributed to the great nineteenth-century circus entreprenuer Phineas Taylor Barnum. Though there is in fact no record that he ever made such a remark, Barnum did claim that his success depended on providing in his shows “a little something for everybody.” Both the cynicism and his recipe for success are relevant to understanding the persistent tendency for people to embrace fake personality descriptions as uniquely their own. This in turn gives a particular aptness to Paul Meehl’s phrase, the Barnum Effect, to describe the phenomenon. [emphasis added.]
In discussing the Cold Reading technique used by a night club magician named William W Larsen, Dutton writes:
His standard cold reading description is his so-called Life Span Reading, which can be used “straight or with a crystal ball,” or can be “given while seemingly reading the subject’s palm, laying out the cards, toying with numbers, or gazing at tea leaves in a cup.” It is a one-size-fits-all reading which can be delivered to “any adult person of either sex.” As Larsen puts it, it is “based upon events which occur in the vast majority of human lives yet, adroitly stated, the reading will become personalized and the person receiving the reading will be willing to believe that the seer has correctly told the past and probably foreseen the future.” Every word is the purest Barnum: a clever account of the subject’s life and personality up to the present time in terms of six “life cycles” of vague length (some last “but a few days,” while others “may endure for years”). There was in childhood a close brush with death “by you or someone close to you.” There were trials and many changes, the loss of someone close, and an illness or “bad accident.” Along with the predictable Barnum personality attributes (including, on the negative side, “a note of stubborness”), there are forecasts of finanacial gain, perhaps having to do with real estate or “property changing hands.” [Emphasis added.]
And then:
Larsen explains to his magician readers that the procedure works so well because the cold reading “you will give is the one that will pretty generally fit any person of that sex and age group. Only occasionally will you miss entirely and even then you will be a miracle man to the majority. For example, in a room of 50 people you read for one and happen to hit, you are 100% a mental genius. But, should you wholly fail, you are still a psychic wonder to 49 other people.” However, he continues, you will find that you will not miss often: “The average person will accept anything you tell him or her, and apply it personally. In other words, they”ll make your reading fit themselves. As a psychic, people want to believe you.” [Emphasis added.]
In this setting the "psychic" will be facing an audience who all want to speak with someone who's passed away. If it's an older person, it's a good chance the deceased is younger. If it's a younger person, there's a good chance it's older. A miss (ie a mistake) is quickly stepped over, corrected and then forgotten by the audience. The death itself is either quick or prolonged. If it's prolonged, it's a disease of some sort. If it's quick, there's a good chance it's an act of violence or a heart attack that came out of nowhere.

See how easy that is? And I'm not even trying!

The guesses all proceed in this way until a hit is made. In reality, the "psychic" has no ESP but the audience thinks he or she does and is awed by the act anyway.

Think of that before you shell out the $125.

Edward is not new to the "psychic" game. He got an award in 2001. Each year the Amazing Randi gives out something called a "Pigasus" award and that year, Edward won in the "Psychic" category. Take a look:
Category #4, for the "psychic" performer who fooled the greatest number of people with the least talent, of course goes to John Edward, the man who plays "Twenty Questions" for higher stakes than anyone ever has — millions of dollars a year — via the "Crossing Over" TV show that is featured on major networks, here and abroad. Edward, far more often wrong than right in his guesses, uses the grieving, the bereaved, the vulnerable, as his subjects and victims, people who desperately look for evidence that their loved ones are still around somewhere. Though hardly the most talented performer of this variety of scam, Edward adopts an aggressive attitude and an unctuous smirk to lubricate his escape from his frequent blunders.
It's your money. Caveat emptor.


Maria said...

Or, just watch this episode of South Park.

Ol' Froth said...

Just to add, the cold reader also uses feedback from his mark to further make the "reading" more "accurate."

Piltdown Man said...

I KNEW you were going to post about this :-)

Blue Number 2 said...

True story...I passed a car on the road this weekend that. Had a sign on the door that read "Paranormal Investigations - Classes and Lectures".

I think they were headed to Erie...