Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Psychics and the harm

With recent advertisements for, I think it is important that we explain a little bit about the movement and why it matters. 

We have good reason to deny and no good reason to accept the existence of psychic (paranormal) phenomenon (and there have been many attempts to prove the existence of psychic abilities).  The James Randi Educational Foundation offers $1,000,000.00 to anyone who can show the existence of paranormal abilities.  The prize has been offered for many years and not a single person has been able to do so.

With that out of the way, Robbie Thomas is not psychic and nobody has ever been able to prove that they have psychic powers.  No crimes have been solved by 'psychics' using this claimed psychic power.  Those are facts.

Robbie Thomas Specifically

Robbie (Poulton) Thomas is a local (Sarnia) self-styled 'psychic' who has appeared in local papers, on local radio and in local magazines.  He has focused on a number of different 'titles', as it were, throughout the years.  Most recently he has been claiming that, for the past 20 years, he is a 'Psychic Criminal Profiler'.  We have addressed that title before (Criminal Profiling is fairly useless and does not point to a specific person, does not get used in court and is never credited with solving a crime.  'Psychics' are completely useless, have never solved a criminal case and are not admissible in court.  Add the two together and you get Robbie Thomas nothing of value.) so I won't go any further than to say that though Robbie has only recently begun to claim the title, he suggests that he has been doing it 'successfully' for 20 years.

In 20 years, Robbie (Poulton) Thomas has never solved a missing persons or murder case with his claimed 'psychic' powers.  We don't consider that to be 'successful' and feel that his activities and claims might be considered fraudulent and misleading.  It has definitely enabled Robbie to prey on unsuspecting and desperate people who have lost loved ones to horrendous crimes.  'Prey?' you ask? Let us explain...

Robbie (Poulton) Thomas has, for quite some time, claimed involvement in a local murder case that, to this day, remains unsolved.  When we started to blog about Robbie Thomas (SarniaSkeptic, one of the contributors to this site was the one blogging about him), the family of the murder victim was speaking out against Robbie.  He, obviously, had not solved the crime at that time and has not done so since.  The problem, we encountered, was that people that he was 'preying' on were under the impression that he had solved the case.  A number of people had come forward to inform us that they thought because of the way Robbie spoke the Police were given the evidence by Robbie and the crime was solved.  This was not only a lie but it actually distracted people from the reality.

Looking further into Robbie (Poulton) Thomas we realized that he has done this in a number of cases.  He has lied to families, destroyed their real memories, replaced them with false memories and he has created false hope that would ultimately be shown to be completely without merit.  Hard to believe? Consider this...

An Ontario schoolgirl, Victoria Stafford, goes missing on April 8, 2009.  Later that day, the kidnappers buy garbage bags and other items at a Home Depot store in Guelph and then discard the brutally murdered girl's body.  On April 13, Robbie discloses to Victoria's aunt (and to X-Zone Radio - search for Robbie Thomas) that Victoria was still alive and would be returned home alive.  What sane person would accept what Robbie (Poulton) Thomas is doing as humane, ethical and moral?  He is intentionally misleading people.  (See the sidebar of this site for links about Robbie Thomas for more information.)

Psychics in General

Though I mentioned this above, psychics almost certainly do not exist.  Robbie Thomas, John Edward, and Sylvia Browne are not psychic.  If they were, they'd sue me and/or collect the million dollars from James Randi.  The issue that we have with psychics is that they are not what they claim to be.  Except where required by law (and in a position where it can be proven or they are likely not to be exposed) psychics do not make the necessary and obvious statement that it is 'for entertainment only'.  It isn't entertainment, it is serious business that has serious risks for those who are taken in by it.

We have all lost people who are close to us and we cherish the memories of those people.  Members of this site are actively trying to stop 'psychics' from abusing, destroying and desecrating those real and true memories.  Psychics do this on a regular basis - and that's not entertaining - that's an outrageous mistreatment of people. 

This is a serious topic - your lost loved ones don't deserve to be taken advantage of by some scam artists doing parlour tricks.  We shouldn't be allowing people like this to ruin all that is left of those who we have loved but have since died.

Psychics know why most people go to them - they are interested in questions about the future where they relate to love, money and health.  They perform cold readings - making generalized guesses and statements (often contradictory ones) knowing that you so want to believe in them.  One partial 'hit' will make any believer forget about the dozen or so misses.  We encourage people to send us tapes of their readings and we'll go through them to help people see the 'truth'.  (If you are going to a 'psychic', get a copy of the reading on tape.  After the reading, write down everything you remember about the 'psychic' reading in the order you remember it being told to you - and be specific.  Wait a week, don't re-visit your original list.  Re-write the list, in the order you remember it, of everything that was said.  Compare the two lists and then listen to the tape again.  You'll see how easily you are mislead by your own memory and willingness/desire to believe.)

Though trivial, have you ever considered: If the 'psychic' could really predict something, why do they buy life insurance?  Why do they have Call Display or Caller ID on their phones?  Why would they ever need to call an ambulance?  How could they ever be late for a meeting or an appointment?  Why would their businesses have 'Open' and 'Closed' signs?  Couldn't they predict all of that?  Why would they ever organize a North American Tour if it was going to be a flopWhy can't they figure out who actually runs this blog?

Do Police Listen to Psychics?

The short answer is, 'Yes'.  The long answer is a bit more than that. The Police do take evidence from 'psychics' - they have to.  It is possible that a 'psychic' is actually providing useful information - they may have come about it from another means, it can't be automatically assumed that they got it from their supposed 'psychic' powers.  Police accept and follow-up on tips from everyone and that is where it becomes a tough issue.

If police didn't follow-up on leads and the leads could have potentially solved the crime or prevented another crime, they would be chastised/reprimanded for it and trust in their services would be eroded.  That does not give credibility to the claims of 'psychics' 'working' with Police.  The 'psychics' are taking advantage of an established and necessary system and, for the most part, are wasting valuable resources and time.  The tips often send Police on wild goose chases, take focus off of other potential leads and can be a distraction from the task at hand.  Psychics have never solved a crime using such powers and are abusing the public trust as well as wasting your money (and mine!).
What are we doing and why?

As part of the skeptical movement, it is our goal to expose 'psychics' for what they are - liars and frauds.  We don't think that it is alright for people to be conned out of their money, we don't think it is acceptable for people to have their memories destroyed by scam artists and we don't think that society should accept the continued abuse and revictimization of people who have lost loved ones to horrific crimes.

There is real harm in what 'psychics' do.  Sylvia Browne and Robbie Thomas have wrongly claimed that people were still alive when they were actually already dead.  Psychics are wasting resources of police services, are abusing the trust of trusting people and destroying trust in things that actually work.

We all need to stand up against liars and frauds.  We all need to protect the vulnerable and we all need to take a stand against the abuse.  The next time someone mentions 'psychics', let them know what it really is - bullshit!

In the first episode of Bullshit! on Showtime, Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller) says the following after watching a 'psychic' reveal information that a man's mom was supposedly providing from 'the other side':

Before we bust up this party- and god dammit we're gonna bust it up- we have to make it very clear where our hearts are. We have nothing but empathy for the people who are experiencing the loss and grief of the death of a loved one. That guy who lost his mom rips my heart out. I'm a momma's boy whose mom died a couple of years ago, and I'll never get over it, and my dad died at around the same time, and I was very close to both of them. I loved them so much there isn't a moment that goes by that I don't miss them. Houdini didn't really go nuts busting these mediums until he lost his mom. Once you've felt that pure grief, seeing it exploited can take away your sense of humor. Once a loved one has died, all we have is our memories of them. There is nothing more precious to me than my memories of my mom and dad. We don't give a rat's ass about the money these bastards are taking from the grief stricken; what we do care about deeply is the desecration of memories. These "performance artists" are, in a very real sense, mother-fuckers. That poor guy's grieving memories of his mother are now all fucked up by somebody else's images. All he will ever have left of his mom are memories, and this pig has pissed on those for a buck and a little un-earned fame. I'm sure these lame fucks tell themselves that they're easing the grief, but skits for money can not replace loving memories. How low do you have to be to exploit someone's true grief to sell some bullshit book?

and later in the show...
One of the weird things Houdini discovered is that some of these mediums actually slip into believing their own bullshit. They forget their own misses, or as John Edward, the Biggest Douche in the Universe, does, rewrite them as hits that we're just not able to recognize. Cold reading can be done accidentally. That doesn't mean the psychic is a better person. Lying to themselves does not make lying to others OK. It can make intellectually lazy scumbags more convincing and dangerous. But even if these fucks know they're just making this shit up and pushing people's buttons, they tell themselves, "At least I'm comforting the bereaved." Who the fuck are they to decide that lying about the universe and a dead loved one is what the bereaved needs!? That's condescending bullshit!

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