Paranormal Skepticism/critical thinking

A contest you don’t want to win…

…is to be among the 5 most fraudulent psychics of all time.

Still, this is as good an excuse as any to post one of my all time skeptical demolitions, namely that of Uri Geller on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson:

Yeah, now that’s an oldie but a goodie.

Still, I wonder: Who are the young, up and coming psychic frauds? After all, the psychics listed above are all getting rather old, and one of them’s been dead a long time. Who makes up the next generation of psychic frauds?

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

47 replies on “A contest you don’t want to win…”

To paraphrase:

Don’t listen to him he’s ATHEIST.

I believe in God and I know she is full of it! So I guess it has nothing to do with James Randi’s atheism. It kind of pisses me off when people make it seem like everyone who believes in God must be gullible enough to believe anything that they put the “spirituality” label on.

I accept that my beliefs cannot be measured scientifically, and deeply respect James Randi and other skeptics. I don’t know why more people don’t accept that belief in God doesn’t automatically mean hating atheists (or vice-versa).

I am still struggling with the title “most fraudulent psychics.” All psychics are complete frauds. How can one be more fradulent than another? What would the least fraudulent psychic look like?

“Who are the young, up and coming psychic frauds?”

Those saying, “vaccines cause autism. Soon the truth will be known”

Obviously a so-called psychic who is totally aware he has no special powers and is totally in it for the money is more fradulent than someone who is deluded and actually believes they have powers.

When I first heard Uri Geller supposedly bent spoons, I thought: “I can do that myself. What’s the big deal?”

It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized he was supposedly bending them with his *mind*.

I never paid much attention to this when Geller was famous.

Why would anyone think that bending spoons is important?

Did he do this by convincing the mind of the spoon to bend?

This is similar to the problem of studies that only look at surrogate endpoints. This is one of the things that I am pretty critical of. There are so many treatments, both medical and alternative, that claim to be able to make us live longer. The medical treatments will be studied with a surrogate endpoint of lowering blood pressure, or eliminating irregular heart beats, . . . .

These are acceptable only until it is possible to actually study what the treatment is supposed to do – improve survival. Until then, these treatments are just experimental and expensive unknowns.

When studied, a lot of them do not show any improvement in survival. Some worsen survival. When somebody claims that they can do something, but they will show us by doing something else, such as bending a spoon or lowering blood pressure, we should be suspicious.

Maybe they can do what they claim, but we need to continue to demand real evidence.

For some readers, this material may be familiar and not particularly startling. For others, you may be feeling quite skeptical. I can understand a skeptic’s reaction considering the history of new scientific discoveries and how human nature typically responds. To know the history of paradigm shifts, however, will help you if you are an open-minded skeptic.

I want to take a moment to talk about paradigms and human nature. It’s amazing to look at the different concepts over the years that were once considered absolutely ridiculous, and now they are considered just common sense. I very strongly believe that using intention to facilitate healing will one day become one of these concepts considered to be common sense. Using the least invasive healing modalities first makes common sense, but this is not practiced in our society. Encouraging people to use their minds to influence changes in their bodies is considered an alternative therapy.

Presently mainstream medicine uses toxic substances to induce cascades of unknown interactions in our bodies. There will come a day when we will be shocked that this was the first choice of treatment, similar to how we now feel about bleeding the patient, which was a commonly accepted medical protocol in the 1800s. In the future we will look back at what we’re doing now in amazement, as we are overlooking the incredible power of intentions in healing. There is now so much solid evidence for healing with intention that the data would fill volumes. In short, I feel that harnessing self-empowerment through focused intention is the way of the future in medicine.

One story that demonstrates how hard it is to shift the paradigm of mainstream thought is that of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a highly respected physician. In 1847 he proposed that washing hands and cleaning operating room instruments before procedures would reduce the mortality rate. He was met with harsh criticism from the medical community and ultimately lost his medical practice. People listened to the medical authorities and no one wanted anything further to do with him and his ridiculous idea.

Now we think that this is just common sense, but other physicians at that time cited many reasons to discredit Dr. Semmelweis First, his claim lacked any scientific basis because no theory existed to explain the transfer of disease (germs) between patients by dirty hands or tools. You have to remember this was before Louis Pasteur’s work in the1860’s, so there was no scientific evidence to explain how something invisible could transfer between two individuals—very analogous to the situation of healing with intention. We know it’s happening, but we don’t have a mechanism to prove how it can happen, especially over great distances. I see many similarities between the resistance to the belief in hand-washing and resistance to the belief in healing with intention.

As a result of the unfortunate experience of Dr Semmelweis., someone has coined the phrase “the Semmelweis reflex.” This amazing phenomenon describes a not uncommon human reaction – automatically dismissing or rejecting out of hand new information without thought, inspection or experiment. It is interesting that this reaction is still very common, even 140 years later. Some people are unable to even consider healing by intention, energy healing or healing at a distance, and reject the concept immediately, even though they’ve literally done zero reading on the subject. They have had no experience in the field of energy healing or healing with intention, yet they dismiss it totally from a stance of total ignorance. That is the Semmelweis reflex.

Where are you on the Semmelweis reflex spectrum? You may have little or no skepticism since you are reading this book. but probably you have encountered intelligent individuals who have quite rigid Semmelweis reflexes. First they say “there is no data” and when shown data, either refuse to look at it or describe it as “flawed,” a judgment reached ahead of time. People will only accept new ideas when they are ready to do so.

This attitude may be easier to tolerate in others if we recognize that the resistance to change is a universal human trait, found even at times in those of us who consider ourselves open-minded. I have great respect for scientists who are willing to hold true to their convictions in spite of resistance from mainstream thought.

“Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

From “Intention Heals” by DreamHealer

I find it pretty amusing that Adam DreamHealer uses Mark Twain as the conclusive authority that he feels represents his particular brand of woo.

In reality, Twain was the 19th centuries’ foremost skeptic- he stood firm against the claims of religion, the supernatural and medical charlatanism (see his letter to the snake oil salesman:

Jim, you are an idiot. You cut and pasted a bunch of stuff without any comprehension. In the real world, Semmelweis practiced real science… which was later quantified.

Adam “Dreamhealer” gets his guidance from large ravens in dreams. Not exactly a form of evidence I would accept.

The “Semmelweis”effect, is actually , every loon in the world quoting this story, when their particular form of woo is not immediately taken up by the mainstream.
Reserving judgement is often (not always) the path of Wisdom.

Some people are unable to even consider healing by intention, energy healing or healing at a distance, and reject the concept immediately, even though they’ve literally done zero reading on the subject.

In terms of decent peer-reviewed literature with positive results, there *is* zero reading to do on the subject.

Jim @11 : you could at least get the Semmelweis story right when using it as your own personal Galileo Gambit.
his hypothesis was wrong, but his action right.
And blind squirrels sometimes find acorns and a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Oh, and in case you missed it:
Our host has written about this before.

As for fake pyschics.. John Edward. . . Sylvia Browne… and that horrible woman mimiced on TV by that horrible actress.

What a bunch of gobble de goop responses!!! I still nominate Amazing Randi as the biggest scam around.

Painful to watch. I know it’s necessary, but soooo humiliating for Geller.

Jim’s post is of course, nonsense. Science requires facts, theory, replicability, explanatory and predictive power, experimental tests, measurement, public scrutiny, skepticism, data, controls, convergent evidence, and ultimately the ability to replicate findings on a regular, reliable basis. These are all aspects that have built up over time as definitions and methods of science have accumulated. Waving about an example from over 150 years ago is nonsense; cutting edge from 1847 is woefully inadequate in 2010. If there is actual truth to the claims of quacks, it’s simple laziness (and/or greed) that they make no effort to rigorously test them like real scientists. If your intervention is really effective, reliably so, it should be relatively easy to show it consistently in well-controlled experiments, and the better-controlled the experiment, the better and more apparent the results should be. So before people cry foul at being dismissed for claims that wildly contradict present theory, they should first make the effort to accumulate, publish, criticize and accept criticism of their data. Primary sources are not sufficient – specific tests of specific interventions are required before anyone can reasonably be expected to accept claims that would be surprising and paradigm-breaking.

I initially read jim’s post as intended to support Mario’s (#5) nomination for a new contender for the contest.

Ohhhh Science wants facts!!!! You mean like facts that AstrZenica used to hoodwink the public in taking a drug for which it doesn’t work? On Tuesday, the federal government agreed on a settlement with pharmaceutical manufacturer AstraZeneca for an amount of $520 million. The issue over the illegal marketing of the brand’s illegal marketing of the company’s was resolved at this deal.

I am sure I could come up with hundreds of drugs that are rushed through the FDA for approval and place on the market to recoup all the money invested in research. Who cares if the drugs work. That is the scam you are looking for… the Pharmaceutical Industry and all those who act like lemmings supporting them.

We aren’t rejecting action at a distance a priori: we’re rejecting the sort of “healing at a distance” that you’re handwaving about because there is no evidence for it, despite numerous attempts to find some.

Depending on your definition of distance, many hospitals do healing at a distance–it’s called the radiology department. There is plenty of repeatable data showing that X-rays are real, and affect real matter (including but not limited to human and other animal tissues). The key point isn’t even that we understand that X-rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum: it’s that engineers can build X-ray machines, and medical people can use them, and they have measurable effects.

Telling a patient who has cancer that there is nothing more that can be done is wrong and irresponsible. A better way would be to tell them “There is nothing I can do with the tools and education I have.” However there are other modalities that have helped others. To shut down hope is cruel.

Measurable effects!!!! Well why do you totally discredit all the measurable effects from research done by Dr. Dean Radin, Rupert Sheldrake and other who have not been afraid to defy the medical paradigm… I nominate those who blindly defend a system that is broken and unethical!!!

When I first heard Uri Geller supposedly bent spoons, I thought: “I can do that myself. What’s the big deal?”

It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized he was supposedly bending them with his *mind*.

I experienced it in the other direction. I had never seen his act, but had just heard that “this guy bends spoons with his mind!” I assumed that meant that you could put a spoon on a table in front of him, and he could make it bend without physically touching it. Which wouldn’t necessarily be supernatural, but would certainly have been a damned impressive trick.

When I found out that he actually HOLDS THE SPOON IN HIS HAND while making it bend, I couldn’t figure out why anyone put the guy on TV to begin with.


Sometimes, the choice is between saying “I’m sorry, we’ve done everything we can and this cancer isn’t curable. We want to make your remaining time as comfortable as possible” and discussing things like what level of pain medication the person wants, and whether they want to stay at home, and lying to them. Those “other modalities” aren’t free: they take time, may cost significant amounts of money, and may not be the best use of a person’s limited time. If I had a month left, and limited strength, I would want to spend that time at home with my loved ones. If I had six months, and more strength, I’d rather travel with my loves to see interesting things and people, or tropical birds, rather than the inside of a clinic waiting room. I’d rather buy a first-class ticket to Paris or Barcelona or Kyoto than a bunch of expensive “supplements.”

You are telling people that it’s wrong for them not to lie and shill for products they know don’t work.

If you’re arguing for better pain meds, good, but I don’t think many oncologists would disagree with you. If you’re saying admit more people to clinical trials, again a good idea, but tell people that it’s experimental.


I don’t know who deserves to make the list of fraudulent psychics (there are so many candidates), but you would definitely make the list of the top 5 gullible suckers of the year. Bonus points for using the word “paradigm”.

Typical skeptic response… name calling. When you can’t defend your position you start name calling. Points go to you for words from the typical skeptics dictionary ” gullible sucker” Soooo predictable!!!

There’s a Texas-based “psychic” — I’ve forgotten his name but he bills himself as the “Queer Guy with the Third Eye”. He’s fairly young and hip and — of course — popular with the ladies; perhaps he’s a good candidate for up-and-coming high-profile fraud?

I nominate: Pharmaceutical companies

Pharmaceutical companies may be liable under the False Claims Act for Medicare and Medicaid fraud in any case where the government loses money directly or indirectly. This would include practices such as:

paying kickbacks and inducements to physicians, hospitals and pharmacists to prescribe or otherwise favor their drugs;
engaging in off-label marketing;
misreporting the “best price,” the “federal ceiling price” or other benchmark prices that pharmaceutical companies report to the Medicare and Medicaid programs;
overcharging for “340B” program drugs;
manufacturing or diverting substandard or tainted drugs.
Providing false data to the Food and Drug Administration or withholding negative data from the FDA about the efficacy of a pharmaceutical drug or medical device in clinical research trials to get FDA approval to sell and market the pharmaceutical drug or medical device.

Investigators said a former oncology doctor at Clearfield Hospital is facing multiple charges following a three-year investigation.

According to a news release from Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office, authorities said more than $44,000 worth of medications were found inside Dr. Amer Khouri’s office after he was dismissed in 2007.
Nominating Dr. Amer Khouri’s

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for a securities fraud lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant, Merck & Co Inc., over its disclosures to investors about Vioxx, said Reuters.

Vioxx, was approved for use in 1999, quickly becoming a bestseller for Merck, with annual sales of $2.5 billion; however, the painkiller was pulled off the market in 2004 after an analysis of patients using Vioxx linked the defective drug to more than 27,000 heart attacks or sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. from 1999 through 2003. The withdrawal prompted thousands of product liability lawsuits that claimed Merck didn’t properly warn doctors and patients of the drug’s risks.
I nominate Merck & Co Inc

Angioplasty is no more effective than medication for a large segment of heart-attack victims. Or, to put it in stark statistical terms, heart doctors have been performing as many as 50,000 unnecessary operations every year.
I nominate Heart Surgeons

Every year millions of Americans go under the knife, but many of them are enduring great pain and shelling out thousands of dollars for surgeries they don’t really need. In fact, the only people who seem to really benefit from these unnecessary medical procedures are the medical professionals who stand to make exorbitant amounts of money from performing them.

An estimated 7.5 million unnecessary medical and surgical procedures are performed each year.

Nominate Doctors

Americans take so many drugs that 100,000 of us die every year because of those drugs. It is not illness that causes those 100,000 deaths, but the damaging effects of drugs taken for illness. Beyond these deaths there are millions of adverse drug reactions every year, resulting in hospitalizations, lost days from work, lost income, and sometimes chronic disability.

I vote for the Pharmaceutical indistry as the #1 winner in fraud and deceit

I would like to see anyone come up any where near the same magnitude of deaths caused by alternative treatments. You would be lucky to come up with any. However I am sure you will be digging. Iatrogenics is the number one killer..the system is killing people and it has it’s little army of supporters out there trying to make alternative medicine look bad… give it a rest!!!

Interesting. A search on the IP address from which Jim is posting pulled up comments from John, George, Sam, Val, and Jen, among others.

I hate sockpuppets and will deal with the situation.

You know, you probably would have escaped my notice if you hadn’t gotten greedy and posted a whole bunch of nonsense all resembling each other.

I nominate myself as a genuine psychic. I knew that Orac was going to say that all those posts were Jim’s sock-puppets. 😉

@John (#10), aka @Jim (#18):

Yeah, you’re right, James Randi IS the biggest fraud/scam! There he is, saying he’s only an illusionist and making it look like his powers are just (simple) tricks and sleight of hand when in fact everyone knows he’s doing REAL magic O_o

@Harry #38,

Has it occurred to you that some of those may be due to improper administration of drugs rather than the drugs themselves?

@Paul – So people who argue for science behind their medicine, and don’t chose to be so open-minded that their brains fall out the back of their skulls are “loosers” (SIC)?

Forgive me for not believing in magical, touchy-feely beliefs with no quantifiable proof.

“Jim” retorts:

“When you can’t defend your position you start name calling.”

That, folks, is called projection. “Jim” comes onto this ‘blog, makes a lot of claims and then, when he is asked to defend his position, does a bunch of name-calling.

To “Jim” and other members of his sock-puppet clan, I give the following advice:

If you’re the one claiming that “energy healing” exists and works, the burden is on you to defend your position. It is not our responsibility to disprove your position; it is – by definition – unproven until you provide the supporting data.

Now, “Jim”, put the socks back in the laundry basket.


it seems like the word “psychic” covers a wide range of things.

>> Encouraging people to use their minds to influence changes in their bodies is considered an alternative therapy.

I agree with what Jim posted, the mind and beliefs can have a powerful impact on the body. Time magazine has run several stories on this topic.

I think that the belief in that connection is being more main stream. I had never heard of Gellar before, but it is really interesting to watch this now considering the Mindflex game was one of the most popular toys for last Christmas.

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