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Episode Notes for
MonsterTalk meets Skeptiko:
The Psychic Detective Finale

Missing Cheerleader Found Dead
Paranormality (book cover)

James Koedatich

IN SEPTEMBER OF 2008, Ben Radford appeared as a guest on the podcast Skeptiko, hosted by Alex Tsakiris. During that interview, he agreed to take up Alex’s challenge to investigate the best case of the efficacy of psychic detectives. What followed was months of research, numerous interviews and a follow-up which ended in acrimony. Now, three years after the initial challenge, Skepticality presents a discussion between the hosts of MonsterTalk (Blake Smith, Ben Radford and Karen Stollznow) and Alex Tsakiris about Skeptiko, the interface of skeptics and believers, and the matter of whether or not Ben’s investigation disproved the psychic’s claims.

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The following is an excerpt from the Skeptiko podcast that includes the psychic detective challenge.


Alex: But that’s back to the last point. You were about to say you can’t figure out…well, I’m a believer. I’m going to hold onto that title. But, I would not go so far as to say what you just said. I don’t understand the nature of the spirit world and how it works and all the rest of that. You know, you just waded into a subject that I did want to talk about today in this whole idea of psychic detectives, because I’ve read many of your articles, and you’re obviously a very talented writer, and you do a good job of summing up these cases. You’re not flying off the handle in a really incendiary way, but I do feel like a lot of times you pick on cases that have failed and make the case that that somehow proves something. To me it’s like you’re trying to be the Better Business Bureau for psychics and say that some of these psychics are not as good as other ones or some of them are outright fraud. Fine, but as I was reading, I was thinking, “Gosh, why hasn’t he looked at the best cases.”

Let me give you an example. Here’s someone I’ve actually spoken with, a psychic I’ve spoken with. Nancy Orlen Weber is her name, and she was on the Psychic Detective show. I go to her website in preparation for this interview we are doing here, because I’ve seen your cases where you’ve said that some of these psychics that appear on TV never solve any cases, and all the rest of that. You go right to her website, and you read her letters of reference from detectives, detectives who have been in the New Jersey State Police for 25 years and say, “Yeah, I’ve worked with her on all these cases and she really helped.” “Yeah, I spoke with these other investigators who worked on murder cases with her. She did a really good job. She received a letter of commendation.” It’s like there’s this total disconnect. Do we really care that there’s all these failures? Or do we care that the phenomena does seem to happen at some times with some people to the extent that it’s proven beyond a doubt to the very folks who are very skeptical to begin with? When you talk about a detective on the New Jersey Police – these people are not easily going to go in and dupe with some tall story. Where’s the investigation on the best cases?

Ben: Well, there’s a couple answers to that. First of all, in my investigation of psychic detectives – or anything else for that matter – I cannot and will never prove that psychic powers don’t exist. I cannot and will never prove that Bigfoot or ESP or whatever…that’s not provable. All I can do is I can say, “We’ve looked into this. This is what’s been found, and in these cases, the evidence is right there. Look for yourself. This is not true.”

Look at the case, for example, of Allison DuBois, who was not only one of the subjects for Gary Schwartz, but was also the basis for the TV show, Medium. She claimed that she had actually solved cases for the Texas Rangers and the Glendale Police Department, and I called the Texas Rangers and I called the Glendale Police Department, and they said she hadn’t done that. Now, there’s some investigation right there. You have a high-profile medium who is making claims that she solved cases. All it takes is a couple phone calls to find out that’s not true.

Now, in terms of the best cases, part of the problem is that – and I get this all the time – people will say, “Here’s the best case. Look into this.” So, I look into it, or Joe Nickell or someone else will look into it, and we solve the case, and someone says, “Oh no, this is the best case over here.” The problem is there’s always somebody new claiming that, “No, no, no. Maybe you explained those, but this, this is the best case.” It’s a never-ending battle because every time you explain something, there’s always some other case somewhere else, some other psychic who claims this.

Alex: Okay. I understand. I understand how that could be frustrating. But, I do have to kind of call into question the basic methodology in terms of you were calling it the methodology of the investigation. I’ve just given you a specific case where I wouldn’t rely on the medium. If I were doing an investigation, I wouldn’t start with the medium. I’d start with the police. It’s like the show, Psychic Detectives, and we can take the cases that Nancy Weber’s been on, and take the police that have gone on the record and said, “This person did help us in the investigation and found all this information that we couldn’t have found any other way, and came up with this stuff totally out of the blue,” and ask them if there’s any misrepresentation – which we know sometimes happens in the media – of what you said.

Ben: There’s a problem there, though. The problem is that instead of doing investigating, you’re taking another person’s words for her claims. That’s not an investigation.

Alex: I’m saying as a starting point…

Ben: For example, I’ve talked to police captains who believe in psychics and believe in psychic detectives. I mean I’ve interviewed them. I know that they exist. There’s a hidden assumption in what you’re saying that all police and detectives are hardboiled, hardcore skeptics, and would necessarily be able to verify or not verify a psychic’s help.

Alex: Hold on. Let me interject here. All you have to do is watch that old show Psychic Detectives, or take any of these cases that are documented here, and you’ll find plenty of detectives who say – the story gets repeated so many times it’s like they’re reading it off a script – “Hey, I was completely skeptical. I never trusted these people, and then I got in this case. They found the body; they found the car; they found this…,” specific things. Now, to me, that’s the place to start an investigation.

Ben: You’re right, and I’ve done that.

Alex: Tell me where you’ve done that, where you’ve started with someone who’s…

Ben: Okay, the case of Charles Capel, a guy who went missing. If you do a Google search for my name, Benjamin Radford, plus Charles Capel, you’ll find my investigation into the case of Charles Capel who was an old man who wandered off. There was a well-known psychic detective – I forget which one it was, probably Noreen Renier – who said that she had solved the case, and when you go back and look at it, she didn’t solve the case at all.Part of the problem is…

Alex: But did the police say she had solved the case?

Ben: No, she did.

Alex: That was my point again. Why not start with a case where the police have said they psychic solved the case?

Ben: Actually, in that particular case, the detective did say that, in fact. His name is Sergeant Squance, and I interviewed Sergeant Squance and I said, “You know, you’re quoted in this article as saying that this psychic helped in the investigation.” He said, “Yes.”I said, “What exactly do you mean by that?” He said, “Well, when we found the body, some of the stuff she said was right.” I was like, “Oh, oh, oh, oh hold on here.” There’s red flags all over the place. That is not “helping them in the investigation.”

If that’s the criterion for solving a case – and that’s what this police detective said; I think he was a Sergeant – that was the criterion that he was saying led him to think that she had helped solve the case. I said, “Well, who found the body.” “Well, it was found by a passerby.” So, the psychic did not locate the body. If that’s your criterion, then any psychic who says, “Well, the body will be found partially clothed, somewhere near water” is always right, because most bodies are found partially clothed and somewhere near water. If that’s your criterion, then sure, psychic detectives are always right. But, if you criterion is does this psychic provide specific information that leads people to the body – that leads people to the body…not afterwards some parts of it are found true like “Oh there was a white house somewhere nearby,” or “There was a rock nearby” or whatever else – that’s not psychic information.

Alex: Fair enough, fair enough. But, hold on, because we’re going to have another follow-up on this one, too, because this psychic detective topic is something that’s always been of great interest to me, and I’ve never been motivated to devote a whole broadcast to it.

Ben: Okay, tell you what we’ll do. Why don’t we do this: you find the best case you can find. Just look at all the psychics you want. Figure out one, and pick the one case that you think is airtight and give it to me, and I’ll get back to you in a couple of months, and we’ll see what we find.

Alex: Fair enough. That’s a challenge that I can live with. And I’ll tell you what. We’ve taken about an hour of your time, and we’re really going to try and cut it short. You know, we’re going to talk again, because it’s been a real pleasure to talk with you. It’s been a great exchange and I totally respect where you’re coming from. There’s a lot of follow-on work we can do, so we’re going to follow up with Julie Beischel, and we’re going to talk some more about the psychic medium – both the demonstration that we’re doing with the folks at the Skeptics’ Guide and the past work that’s been done – and then we’re going to do this psychic detective thing too. I think it will be really, really interesting to follow up with that.

Ben: Absolutely. I’m looking forward to it. And, I’m hoping – let’s just set it out – if I’m wrong, and sure enough this airtight best case you can find really does show solid good evidence for psychic powers, I’ll be happy to admit that. I would expect that if I can show serious flaws and errors and mistaken assumptions and bad logic, etc., then you would say, “Yes, the best case that I found turns out not to be so good.”

Alex: I will admit that publicly. If you want me to stand on a chair while I’m doing it and videotape myself, I’ll do that too.

Ben: It should be fine. Fair enough [laughter].


Skeptiko Podcast Transcript for Episode #50
Posted Sep 17, 2008

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