Friday, November 30, 2007

Skeptic on Psychic Crime Solving

As Benjamin Radford writes in this article, journalists tend to banner the use of psychics in criminal cases without following up to see if the psychics did any good. Radford details a case where 30 psychics joined in the search for two missing women. Not only did they fail to help, but every clue they gave was wrong, and police wasted a lot of time chasing them down. Sloppy journalism like this, Radford points out, is what allows psychics (both the sincere and the publicity-seekers) to trumpet their rare "hits" and ignore their far more numerous "misses."
COMMENT: There is, as yet, no validated scientific theory that would permit any sort of ESP. I don't discount it entirely: I have two experiences with what's called "crisis telepathy" that I don't think I'll ever explain to my satisfation. This matter of psychics claiming to solve crimes is serious, though, if a psychic tip sends police in the wrong direction. If there are a hundred wrong tips from pyschics and one that turns out right, even if it's only general (e.g., "the body is near the river"), journalists tend to focus on the interesting story of the hit rather than explore the misses. Psychics were all over the Washignton sniper case without providing anything of use (of course, that was also true of the psychologists and profilers, all of whom gave the "while male loner" profile in a crime committed by two African-Americans).

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