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Sovereign Insanity

Is it true that the Sixteenth Amendment—empowering Congress to levy an income tax—was never legally ratified? In Michael Shermer’s November 2013 ‘Skeptic’ column for Scientific American, he recounts his experience appearing as an expert witness on the psychology of why people fall for such schemes, in a Portland, Oregon court in the case of USA v. Miles J. Julison.

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SKEPTICALITY EPISODE 218
Make a Connection

Many of us who are science-minded, or are champions of rational thought, may lament the fact that our messages often fall upon the deaf ears of a populace seemingly without the patience, nor care, for science literacy. Past Skepticality guest, Randy Olson, has spent his time working on ways to help people to understand and communicate information to a broad audience. Teaming with actors Dorie Barton and Brian Palermo, he has formed a well-proven storytelling methodology, which anyone can learn to use, to engage an audience and help people better understand complex information. In this episode of Skepticality, Derek sits down with Randy, Brian and Dorie to discuss their work, its origins, and how anyone can learn to become a better storyteller.

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Alfred Russel Wallace Centenary:
Natural Selection and Beyond

with Sir David Attenborough
at the American Museum of Natural History, NYC

Alfred Russel Walace

This year marks the centenary of the death of naturalist-explorer Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), the co-founder, with Charles Darwin, of evolutionary biology. A special all-day program on TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City features a diverse roster of speakers on many facets of Wallace’s life and work.

There will be ten short lectures from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM, featuring, among other top scholars, Harvard’s Andrew Berry, ecologist James Costa, Wallace historian Charles H. Smith, prize-winning author David (“Song of the Dodo”) Quammen, and the legendary field biologist Biruté Galdikas, who spent 30 years studying orangutans in the jungles of Borneo. The program is free to the public; register for seating by phoning 212-769-5200.

To cap off the Wallace Centenary Celebration a special evening lecture features internationally celebrated wildlife filmmaker Sir David Attenborough, speaking on “Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise,” illustrated by film clips of the birds in their spectacular courtship displays. Attenborough shares a passion for the birds of paradise with Wallace, who spent eight years seeking them in his travels through the Malay Archipelago. He will speak in the LeFrak Imax Theater at the museum at 7:30. Tickets ($15) may be purchased by calling the museum’s Ticket Central at 212-769-5200. Ticket holders should arrive at the museum by 7:00 pm.

Following the lecture, Sir David and co-author Errol Fuller will sign copies of their book Drawn from Paradise.

The Wallace Centenary Celebration is co-produced by the Ornithology Department at the American Museum of Natural History and by Richard Milner, historian of science and Associate in the Museum’s Division of Anthropology, and is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.

Learn more, and reserve…


About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, Ryan L.A. Shaffer reviews How to Get Rich in Your Own Psychic Business, by Herb Dewey and Marc Sky. Dewy and Sky. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 15.3 (2010), which is available digitally with the Skeptic Magazine App.

Ryan Shaffer is pursuing a Ph.D. in modern British history at State University of New York, Stony Brook. He has an M.A. in history and B.A. in philosophy. His academic research explores radical social movements.

The Psychic Industry
Selling the Trade of Trickery
to the Next Generation

by Ryan L.A. Shaffer

One day, while browsing in my local bookstore, I came across a new book titled How to Get Rich in Your Own Psychic Business, by Herb Dewey and Marc Sky, self-described psychics who have taking credit for predicting everything from finding missing children to “causing” earthquakes. While it is common for psychics to write books filled with anecdotes about their amazing psychic feats, this one was different. By describing their feats as “cold reading,” the authors were admitting they used a technique whereby information is gained from a client by non-paranormal means and is fed back as new information. It is even rarer for psychics to admit that they’re in it for the money. Yet, that is precisely what Dewey and Sky do.

How to Get Rich in Your Own Psychic Business includes chapters such as “historical and genealogical societies,” “singles organizations,” “your press kit,” and “more money making ideas.” Dewey, who is now deceased, worked as a psychic for the Globe and claimed to have “discovered missing children and the bodies of murdered people.”1 Sky is an active psychic in New Jersey, whose website includes press clippings claiming that he “caused” an earthquake and can predict the outcome of court cases.2 According to his website, Sky is hosting adult classes for $30–$49: “Renown psychic Marc Sky will do group and individual readings in this enlightening and entertaining class.”3 It won’t surprise Skeptic magazine readers to learn that the book is self-published at the same address as Sky’s psychic business in Marlboro, New Jersey.

Actually, Dewey has several books to his credit, including: Red Hot Cold Readings: The Professional Pseudo-Psychic, King of The Cold Readers (co-authored by Thomas K. Seville, in which they explored the methodology of the psychic trade), and Mind-Blowing Psychic Readings: Complete Scripts for Specific and Generic, edited by Dewey and Sky that includes cold reading scripts categorized by gender, age, and other visual characteristics.4 The book’s cover suggests, “use it for one-on-one readings, phone readings, written readings, and more.” The book’s purpose is to give the would-be psychic a general set of issues that most clients are interested in, how to extract information from the subject, and how to feed it back to them as new information.

In his preface to Mind-Blowing Psychic Readings, Sky wrote about how psychics develop comparable routines to match various personality types: “In talking to Herb, he too had a specific type of reading he would offer to that same type of person.”5 Sky explained the use of scripts “to fill gaps in your own readings.” The book contains 32 “types of readings” based on gender, age, weight, attractiveness, race, and sexual orientation. For example, one reading for a “physically attractive female” notes that such women will be receptive to hear that: “In dealing with men it would be very difficult for a man to work with you or have you as a coworker without that man attempting to cross the line to make the relationship closer than perhaps what it would be.”6 The book demonstrates that Sky and other psychics who use this type of material know that they are not being fully honest with their clients about where their information really comes from. They know they are using the physical appearance of people, as well as other physical clues to give the appearance of knowledge about a stranger’s past, present, and future.

Yet, in How to Get Rich in Your Own Psychic Business, the authors warn, “this booklet is not for the con-artist or charlatan, but rather for the person who has a sincere desire to help others, while at the same time attaining financial success.”7 Despite this disclaimer, the book seems to have been precisely designed for someone who intends to pass off mentalist skills as genuine paranormal ability. It includes a lengthy discussion on legal issues and advises the reader to advertise their skills as “entertainment” for legal protection.8 A sample advertisement in the book suggests wording to create the impression of real abilities, “your true secrets revealed by psychic Marc Sky.”9 In chapters on libraries, adult schools, singles organizations, and things to sell, the authors explain how to exploit people during times of uncertainty and desperation. They advise, “singles organizations offer a lucrative way to promote your readings. Most people who have readings usually want to know about relationships…single people are usually involved in more relationships than married people, they are more prone to visit psychics to find out about their relationships…libraries and adult schools are another very lucrative way to expand your business.”10, 11 The authors note, “The pay is not exceptional, but you will make most of your money on related sales and when the students call you for private readings, etc, at a later date.”12 It’s refreshing in a way to hear psychics admit doing what skeptics have known all along about their techniques and morals.

Psychics use other tools of deception for producing convincing readings. Sky and Dewey give advice on obtaining information in a real, non-psychic ways. The authors write, “I have found that not a week goes by that someone comes to me with a question of their heritage. ‘Who was my real father? How can I find them’?” If your psychic powers are weak for dead-beat dads, the authors provide a list of genealogical and historical societies in every U.S. state. While the authors recommend the psychic “advise” their clients of the list, perhaps this is a canard like the “entertainment warning.”

When psychics claim they “help” their clients (and so who cares what methods they use?), one must examine what they actually do for their clients. As Herb Dewey and Thomas K. Seville explain in King of the Cold Readers, “Each of us likes to think of ourselves as unique with problems and needs…that set us apart from all the others. We’re not. Although we may mistrust generalities, whether we like it or not, there is a commonality about our fears, wants, and aspirations that make them predictable…. Psychic readers recognize this, and use it to their advantage.”13 Indeed, if each person is not “unique” and the psychic is simply generalizing from elicited information, then the “help” cannot be specifically useful. In order to help someone the psychic must actually produce a form of aid, but generalizations from a cold reading cannot supply anything a client’s friend cannot do. In that case, the friend is more likely attuned with the person’s needs and can give better advice (without charging for it).

Dewey and Sky explain that it is generalizations and knowledge of human nature that gives them their ability to read their clients and play off the feedback they receive. In light of the widespread use of these mentalist techniques, it should be clear why psychics have not been able to demonstrate paranormal ability in a double-blinded test. Perhaps this is also why famous psychics do not apply to the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge for demonstrating a paranormal claim in observable conditions.

Finally, there is an important distinction to be made between magicians and psychics. The audience is aware by common definition of “magic” that there is nothing paranormal about such performances. In fact, many magicians make a point of informing their audience that they are performing illusions. The famed mentalist Banachek, for example, tells his audience that he “uses his five senses to create the illusion of a sixth sense.” Psychics, on the other hand, do nothing of the kind, even if they call their readings “entertainment” for legal purposes. The final sentence in Dewey and Sky’s book tells the prospective psychic “to be as good as your advertising.” Indeed that is what the psychics seem concerned with. They are not concerned about the lives they may change if people following their advice, nor about the emotional dependency they may create. They cross the ethical line between performance and fakery. A mentalist uses natural processes to create an illusion of transcending reality. A psychic uses similar techniques, but claims to be transcending reality by supernatural means. This is fraud, pure and simple. END

Skeptic Magazine App
References
  1. Angela Gambill, “Psychic Envisions Bright Future for Friends, Newcomers Organization Offers Members Camaraderie,” The Sun, 16 January 1992, p. 5.
  2. Marc Sky, “Press Articles” http://www.marcsky.com/media.html accessed 21 August 2009.
  3. Marc Sky, “NJ Adult Schools,” http://www.marcsky.com/njadult.html accessed 21 August 2009; “Millstone Township Community Education Offers Classes,” Allentown Examiner, 23 April 2009 http://examiner.gmnews.com/news/2009/0423/schools/008.html accessed 21 August 2009.
  4. Herb Dewey, Mind-Blowing Psychic Readings: Complete Scripts for Specific and Generic ed. by Marc Sky. (Woodbridge, NY: Mindreaders, 1997)
  5. Ibid., 1.
  6. Ibid., 63.
  7. Herb Dewy and Marc Sky, How to Get Rich in Your Own Psychic Business (Marlboro, NJ: Mindreaders, 1992), p. 5.
  8. Ibid., 8.
  9. Ibid., 48.
  10. Ibid., 45.
  11. Ibid., 44.
  12. Ibid., 44.
  13. Dewey and Thomas K. Seville, King of the Cold Readers (unknown), p. 8.
11 Comments »

11 Comments

  1. Bob Pease says:

    The problem here is that folks seriously seeking a psychic are predisposed to accept flim-flam and trickery.
    Many of them are desperately ill.
    I think that I am “humanist” enough to disregard the
    “if they are stupid enough to fall for this horsepuckey then they deserve what they get” tone of book portrayed in the article.

    I think the ethics of the reviewed book are (is) reprehensible and amount(s) to victimizing some people who need medical aid.

    I refer to Randi’s classic “Flim-flam”

    In particular, the chapter where pseudo-academics accepted
    Targ and Puthoff’s claim of “psychically identifying”
    a picture of the Thresher submarine as “Queen Elizabeth”

    Their claim of correctness was based on the fact that
    Queen Elizabeth was known as “Elizabeth Regina”

    (They both contain the letters “THR” in sequence )

    I claim to be a psychic because of the fact that I just made a typo in the last sentence , but corrected it… the typo was “thr” for “the”.

    I gotta go now because I am going to the Denver Museum of Natural History
    for a lecture on “Astrobiology” , but i might find
    soi-disant psychics as a rich supply of specimens!!

    sic transit

    Dr. Sidethink Hp.D.

  2. john roberts says:

    I agree with many points made by skeptics and have many good skeptic friends, but i must say many skeptics seem to have a near obsession with psychics. Most of the time they are talking to the converted, and it involves an enormouse amount of self rigthous back slapping and bouncing around of club Jargon.
    There are so many vital issues/injustice we with science need to be addressing urgently. Iam sure we can all think of many. Do we really want to keep on about psychics. Its a fine line between Skeptism and bullying the vunerable some times!

  3. John Pearson says:

    Some so-called psychics are complete crooks. My sister died recently and while looking through her papers I found certificates from various “psychics” all with similar addresses, offering her money, lucky charms, membership of secret societies and so on, provided she paid them £35 (£40 for express delivery).
    These scams are not just on line, as often they are of the type which also tell you that you have won a large prize, but need to pay a fee to get the cheque cleared (This isn’t just psychics, of course).
    It is not the psychics who are ‘vulnerable’, John Roberts, but people like my sister who was conned while dying of cancer.

  4. john roberts says:

    Hi John, I am very sorry to hear that, and I agree with every word you say. I am not suggesting its psychics whom are vunerable, more the abuse aimed at many ordinary people whom believe ‘Strange things’ sometimes.There can be a low tolerance of people outside the the sheptic belief system.

    Whilst supporting your point (and its disgusting what some people do) I am making the point, the the skeptical community have been making this point for years and has almost become a stereo type image of them.
    Millions of people stuggle and die from poverty, every year. Climate Change is endangering the lives of millions, and could come with a heavy price for humanity.
    Many ploiticians are caught with their ‘hands in the till’ fuel companies are pushing many to desperation.
    There have been many questions about drug companies reseach, costing us all billions maybe.
    Funding cuts to the health service can mean people don,t get treated in time for cancer.
    There Con merchants of all types out there that need exposing and prosecuting.
    We need the Positive Skeptical Community out there being seen to have a voice on these subjects (and many more) .
    Sadly the majority of the public when asked about skepticism and Climate Change, think of the very vocal group associated with certain newspapers-denying the massive amount of scientific evidence now available, and winning the argument to do almost nothing and bury out heads in the sand holding hands with the huge and powerful fosil fuel industry.

    • Bob Pease says:

      in general I agree that Skeptics can psoend an inappoririaet amount of time debunking Psychics, and are , in general, preaching to the choir.
      However, the particular book under review ( if accurate) here ,
      represents the viewpoint that it’s OK to screw people over for fun and profit.
      It’s like being a Bookie…. but less dangerous.
      Your best customers are likely to be people with a destructive compulsion.
      The fact that many “Psychics” actually believe in what they are doing is not the point here.

      RJP

  5. john roberts says:

    Hi Bob, i see what you mean,I jumped into quick I just read the review, very unsettling!

  6. Loughlin Tatem says:

    I enjoy every blooming thing Skeptic sends to my mailbox. It was Skeptic who introduced me to great minds such a Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and I have many of their books. Long live Skeptic.

  7. cartographer says:

    i watched someone go through this process, starting a psychic business based on an event which gave them a semi high profile.i didn’t realize what the individual was prepping for at the time and i don’t think they considered me anyone of consequence so i heard a lot of off the cuff remarks about ‘getting rich and famous and never having to work again’. what i found revealing was the ‘pre launch’ planning and strategizing, with the occasional inadvertent leak of cynicism’, compared to the ‘post launch’ persona of someone projecting universal scale woo, i.e. the true believer,though with a twist. Today’s savvy psychic entrepeneur is as likely to proclaim themselves to be a skeptic (to separate oneself from the run of the mill psychic), to have been tested by scientific methods (no particulars there)and will tosse in large doses of pseudo quantum mechanics and pseudo physics ,to add credibility. i admit, the pseudoscience bit irks me.
    i do wonder about the internal compromises such a person makes to operate under such a duality, though from observation i noticed 1. rationalization(people want the comfort i can deliver, so it is helping them, whether i’m pulling it out of thin air, research,information i get from them, or my own ass(scuse me). and 2. I am entitled to this.
    i think quite quickly the person does believe their own PR, otherwise they would have to accept themselves as disingenuous, and goodness knows that would break all known space time energy universal woo modalities. that’s what i’ve observed

  8. Mr.C says:

    I have been to dinner parties where a psychic was the night’s entertainment and must say that I enjoyed it–even though I knew it was a mentalist performance. The part of the night that I did not enjoy was the conversation that took place after as more than half the guests believed in him. The problem is that most people do not read or are unaware of the entertainment disclaimer which should be mandatory before the reading is to commence. I think psychic entertainment is like professional wrestling—as long as we understand that it is for entertainment purposes only than it does no harm or at least reduces the potential for harm.
    As for Bob’s comment about psychics being less dangerous than bookies I must say I disagree. Bookies are known scoundrels, liars and cheats—most people know exactly what they are getting into when they employ a bookie. When dealing with psychics, people believe that these individuals are there to help which is completely fraudulent and can lead them to extremely poor decision making leading to emotional and/or financial ruin—granted there are no broken bones.
    A side note about psychic readings—I had a girlfriend during my first year of university that broke up with me because of a psychic reading since I would not marry her after six months of knowing each other. So if that psychic is reading this THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

  9. lili shane says:

    life had been throwing me lemons for awhile so i opened the can of quick-psychology and learned a few tricks about keeping my sanity in an insane world. being in the moment was very important. many psychics practice quick psychology and are pretty adapt at learning this stuff. so, if you want the latest in pop psychology go see a psychic, but disregard the psychic part. there is absolutely no reason one should ever believe someone is psychic. if i were psychic i would never be dealing with another human being, period! they are all nutz, relatively speaking. the only thing you need to know is that you create your experience and love comes from your heart. don’t let anyone mislead you, whether thru religion or mumbo jumbo.

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